Incarnational Hermeneutics

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As a field of study, hermeneutics features the science and the art of Biblical interpretation to determine understanding and meaning of Scriptural text. From the Greek hermeneuo, it purposes to explain and translate. Hermeneutics bridges understanding from the reader to the intent of the original author whom God inspired to write His Word.

Genesis 1:26-27 speaks to the first mention of the Incarnation. The expression image and likeness initially gives a composed portrait of God and a man united in a singular person, the Incarnation of God in Christ. This portrait continually builds upon itself throughout Genesis and ultimately the Bible, revealing both the Creator and the Seed of the woman. Further, as Scripture progressively reveals its meaning, this perspective emerges into the background for interpreting and unifying God’s word. The Christo-centric view increases knowledge of the Incarnation from Christ’s birth until His ascension and current standing in Heaven. In turn, the perspective renders the Incarnation’s historical, doctrinal, and theological purposes. 

The incarnational hermeneutic biblically defines the Incarnation in light of Scriptural truth. It breaks out the meaning of the mystery revealed–the Incarnation prophesied in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. In 1 Tm 3:16, its author defined the Incarnation taking into account God made visible in the flesh as Jesus without controversy, seen by angels, pronounced righteous by the Spirit, received up in glory during the Ascension. The revelation brings to bear critical three points regarding the incarnational monotheistic belief, identity and mission of God and the Messiah, and bridge between testaments.

First, it affirms the monotheistic belief of Scripture of one God, the Creator and Father of all without personal distinctions in His nature (1 Cor 8:4-6; Jn 17:3). The Old Testament teaches belief in the one true God. He alone created earth and governs heaven.   

Second, Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, embodies the human incarnation of the one God, the complete and personal revelation of what all Scripture says about God (1 Tm 3:16; Jn 10:30; Col 2:8). Jesus, as God manifested in flesh, fulfills in both identity and mission all the Word of God says about God and the Messiah. The Bible attributes all divine titles Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Yahweh, etc. to Him (1 Tm 2:5). 

Third, an incarnational hermeneutic as a periscope to interpret Scripture leads to a greater knowledge and understanding of God manifested in Christ, thus, bridging the divide between both testaments. It enables greater recognition of the truth, greatness, and sufficiency of Jesus’ person and redemptive work allowing application to various circumstances under the new covenant age. The bridging process allows recognition of Him in the Old Testament to connect with the teachings of His apostles. 

On a final note, Scripture defines the incarnational hermeneutic as a belief and understanding of God’s manifestation in flesh to reveal the person of Jesus and His mission giving an essential understanding that leads the people of God to the unity of the faith.

June 24, 2022

Pastor Daryl Cox

Jan Paron, PhD

Rivers of Living Water

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Jan Paron, PhD | March 10, 2022

Themes of water occur throughout Scripture commonly associated with nourishment/refreshment (Ps 1:3); harvest/fruit (Ps 65:1-9); restoration (Ez 36:25); and life (Gn 1:2; Ez 47:9). The Creation story sets the stage for the meaning of rivers of living water in John 7. Scripture first mentions water in Gn 1:2 as part of the day one account. When God created the earth (Heb. bārā’; בָּרָא; meaning shaped something from nothing), the narrator described it as without form and void. The passage further noted darkness upon the face of the deep. Then, the Creator added light (1:4). Water needed light to bring it to life, just as the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ needs the gospel to shine into the heart of man that he might be saved (2 Cor 4:4-6). 

The Creation story further developed water in subsequent days. On the second day, God made by His word a firmament in the midst of the waters, thus, dividing them (Gn 1:6). Then, on day three, He gathered these waters in one place and let the dry land appear (1:9). He called the water Seas, and the dry land earth (v. 10), What did the waters do in the one land? The gathered waters made the land fruitful, yielding a diversity of vegetation. The water resulted in a life-giving body. That same living water fulfilled in Christ produces spiritual maturity with the infilling of His Spirit. Continuing the Garden of Eden storyline, 2:10 describes a river that ran through it, parting into four heads that flowed outside the garden. The water produced fruitfulness resulting from the four heads known as rivers when they spread across the earth. Consequently, the river’s productiveness extended elsewhere. Moreover, God wants the believer to expand fruitfulness and reach the rest of the world for a bountiful harvest. 

Jesus in Jn 7:37-39 picks up the Creation theme of fruitfulness with rivers of living waters during the Feast of the Tabernacles, previewing it in the context of the forthcoming outpouring of His Spirit on Pentecost, thus, launching the New Covenant. Outsiders in the feast crowd, though, did not accept it through their disbelief. However, Jesus manifests the prophesied rivers of living water through His Spirit, bringing forth a new thing from the indwelling of His presence. In turn, He provides a life-giving force to those who thirst for Him. 

Feast of the Tabernacles: Rivers of Living Water

On the last day of the Feast of the Tabernacles (Heb: Sukkot) Jesus made the statement, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:37-38). Those who thirst for Him (or believe in Him) would receive rivers of living water, meaning the indwelling of His Spirit. The outpouring on Pentecost initiated receiving the Spirit of God to dwell in the life of those who believe and repent (7:37-39; Acts 2:38). His indwelling also requires humbling and surrendering one’s will to His purpose (4:35). Once filled, He takes up residence within, making the believer His tabernacle with the rivers of living water providing nourishment. His rivers continue to do a good work and will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6). As with the feast, God wants His children to remember their dependency on Him and His provisions for them.

John 7 took place in Jerusalem. Quite likely, men, women, and children attended and possibly Gentiles, too. Jews from all corners of the Roman Empire and beyond converged for the feast. Adult males had to travel to the feast as the Lord required and at a place God chose (Ex 23:17; Dt 16:16). Women and children went to the feast voluntarily. Luke 2:41 cited Mary and Jesus as a young male accompanying Joseph for the Passover Feast in Jerusalem on an annual basis. 

The Jews gave burnt offerings to the Lord at the feast signifying their total commitment or surrender to God. Numbers 29:13-38 laid out the compulsory remembrance sacrifices and free will offerings for each day of the feast. The eighth would be a holy convocation unto the Lord. This feast required more sacrifices than the others. Schorsch concluded it connected to the generosity and thanksgiving from the earth’s bounty.[1]

Water additionally played a role. Every morning during that joyful feast, a priest would take a golden vessel to the pool, fill it with water, and bring it back to the altar amid the shouts of the people. On the feast’s last day, the priests poured out water from golden vessels over the altar drawn from the Pool of Siloam. (The same place where Jesus healed the sight of a blind man.) Aside from the feast, the Jews used it for ritual cleansing and purification.[2] Located southeast of the Temple Mount, it held importance as the only location for freshwater. Physically, it served as their river of living water. Niles explained as “the crowd chanted a special prayer from the Book of Psalms– that priest poured out the water on the west side of the altar, and another priest poured a drink offering of wine on the east side of the altar.” [3] Much grandeur accompanied the ritual. Israel did not take the upcoming winter rains for granted since it supported a good harvest for the next year (Zec 14:16-17). Eisenstein explained the tradition according to R. ‘Ena confirming the water ritual may have illustrated Is 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”[4]

During the final day of Sukkot, Jesus went to the temple in secret and began teaching. His doctrine caused a stir among the people. Later, He stood among them and made the statement about coming to Him for rivers of living water: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink” (Jn 7:37). Perhaps, Jesus made this declaration just as the priest poured out the water. The implication must have stunned those who heard His appeal. In essence, He proclaimed that Israel’s hope in a man-made ritual such as the water ceremony did not suffice for new life. His words foreshadowed Spirit baptism. What followed for many arose in Israel’s rejection of Him.

When Jesus revealed Himself as the well of salvation, He partially fulfilled prophecy in Is 12:3. In Him, the thirsty who seek Jesus as the Messiah would find water. Further, His statement also addressed 44:3 “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:” However, His time had not come yet. The outpouring of His Spirit would occur after His glorification.

Based on the hostility Jesus faced from the Jewry, it comes with no surprise that His statement caused division among them. However, no man laid hands on Him at this time, nonetheless (Jn 7:44). Ultimately, though a false conclusion, the chief priests and Pharisees deduced with a prejudicial attitude that no prophet could come from Galilee. Thus, their disbelief presented a two-fold irony. First, their conclusion resulted in them erroneously rejecting Jesus as the anticipated fountain of living water (Jer 2:13a). Second, they instead focused their attention on the priests ceremoniously pouring the water (2:13b). They called the water poured at the feast Yeshua – the waters of salvation.[5] The Law did not require a libation of water during the feast, rather Mosaic tradition incorporated it.[6] One might compare the priest’s golden vessel from the feast to broken cisterns in the book of Jeremiah (2:13b). A man-made object cannot hold fresh, sustaining and restorative water from the Spirit. Thus, the rulers and Pharisees, too, forsake the fountain of living waters like their forefathers. On the other hand, the Samaritan woman at the well and many in her village recognized Jesus as the Christ. Jesus previously explained to her that drinking water from His well would spring forth with everlasting life (John 4:14; Is 12:3). 

The Jewry’s hardened hearts additionally failed to recognize an eschatological promise standing before them: the Rivers of Living Water prophetically expressed that which would flow from the threshold of the temple in the Millennial Kingdom. The Lord would provide a Sukkot harvest nourished with the clean water from the river of God (Ez 36:25; Ps 65:9). He will make Israel the harvest. Israel would no longer live in a dry place but cleansed and restored anew with the Lord in Zion on the promised land. From creation after the Fall to the creation completed in Zion through Christ, they would thrive where a fountain would come forth from the house of the Lord in the Righteous King’s eternal kingdom (Jl 3:18; cf. Ez 47:1-12).

Disbelief vs. Belief  

As noted, not everyone accepted the river of living water Jesus cried out in Jn 7:37 during the Feast of the Tabernacles. What motivates disbelief? The central issue from 7:25-44 focused on Jesus as the Christ. The passage provides some insight into disbelief among the Ancients that may be applied to contemporary people. Three different groups of people doubted His identity as the Messiah: local Jerusalemites (7:25), Pharisees and chief priests (vv. 32, 47-48), and the crowd (vv. 20, 31). The people of Jerusalem failed to see His worth and honor. They thought He came from Galilee (vv. 41, 52) and/or peasant parents in Nazareth (6:42). His origin did not match their expectations.[7] In this case, the people judged by His appearance. They lacked knowledge of His Davidic lineage and Bethlehem birthplace foreshadowed in the Old Testament.[8] On the other hand, the Pharisees and chief priests should have known of Jesus from their studies. Was it really prejudice over His origin? They may have believed Jesus committed heresy with His statement “I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me” (7:33, 36). Perhaps, Jesus posed a political threat to their power. Last, the narrator presents a divided crowd. Some viewed Him as a prophet, others as the Christ (vv.40-41). Division breeds confusion and chaos.  

Jesus affirmed His identity culminating during the water pouring ceremony when He connected Himself to the origin of rivers of living water. In essence, He verified Himself as the fulfilled Messiah who brings salvation and eternal life. Different interrupters caused disbelief among those present whether discernment, prejudice, power, confusion, or chaos. These same things show themselves today. Natural man cannot receive the things of God (1 Cor 2:14a). However, an open heart can experience God.

The metaphor of water indicates that Jesus quenches spiritual thirst (Jn 4:14; 7:38). That living water is God Himself in redemptive activity, Jesus’ Spirit in the union of God and Christ. Jesus made it available to all people upon the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (7:39).

Jesus is the Rivers of Living Water

The Old Testament often symbolizes the Holy Spirit through water (Is 44:3; cf. Ez 36:25-27; Jl 2:28). Jesus referred to the rivers of living water as the Spirit in John 7:39a: “But this spake he of the Spirit.” An ample supply of water would flow from His Spirit as the well of salvation (12:3). Jesus gave of His Spirit at His outpouring on the Day of Pentecost. Peter addressing the crowd at Pentecost, explained that the exalted Jesus “poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33c). Jesus made the rivers of living water available not just to Jews but also to Gentiles as Jewish Christians brought the gospel with them wherever they settled.  

The Word of God tells how to access the rivers of living water. In Jn 7:37, two key verbs stated in the imperative form emerge in a subjunctive clause: come and drink. A general application of a subjunctive clause pertains to an action or event as something wanted or expected. However, it also indicates a reality conditioned upon future developments[9]—the rivers of living water flow contingent upon belief (Jn 7:38). One must believe in Jesus’ saving power to receive it. The quenching of one’s thirst hinges upon the dual actions of coming and drinking. A person must trust Jesus as the provider of life through His restorative rivers of living water. However, faith precedes belief that Jesus is the Messiah resulting in His Spirit tabernacling within. Acts 2:38 expands belief with repentance (rejecting sins) and baptism in the name of Jesus. It requires a complete submission and surrender to Him (5:32)

Rivers of living water also have an eschatological dimension. Jesus spoke from the throne in New Jerusalem announcing Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. He sits on the throne as the fountain that flows from the house of the Lord, making all things new through His finished work in the New Heaven and New Earth (Is 66:22; cf. Jer 2:13; Rv 21:5-6). He has wiped away every tear from their eyes. Death, mourning, crying, and pain have passed away (21:4). 

Prior to His glorified state, Jesus told the woman at the well that those who drink of His water will never thirst again, for it will spring up and gush into everlasting life (Jn 4:14). That same promise holds during His Millennial reign. The thirsty will gather at the Righteous King’s throne without hunger or thirst. The water flows from the house of the Lord as prophesied in Joel (3:18), for He who sits on the throne shepherded them to living fountains of waters. 

Jesus remains Yeshua, the Rivers of Living Water, the Waters of Salvation. The prophet Isaiah called Him a new thing (Is 43:18-19). Amid the festivities of the special water pouring rite, Jesus revealed Himself as the rivers of living water-the One making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert to give drink to His people (43:20). Will you accept His invitation today? He provides a simple offer: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Then, “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:37-37b).

Bibliography

Bernard, David. New Birth. Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press, 1984.

Brickner, David. Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006. 

Eisenstein, Judah David. “Feast of Water-Drawing.” Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14794-water-drawing-feast-of

Janicki, Toby. “Sukkot in Genesis.” First Fruit in Zion. https://ffoz.org/discover/sukkot/sukkot-in-genesis.html

Klett, Fred. “Sukkot: A Promise of Living Water.” Jews for Jesus. https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v06-n07/sukkot-a-promise-of-living-water/

Moloney, Francis. The Gospel of John. Collegeville: University Press, 1998.

Neyrey, Jerome. The Gospel of John. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007

Niles, Randall. “Jesus at the Pool of Siloam–Rivers of Living Water.” Drive Thru History. https://drivethruhistory.com/jesus-pool-siloam-rivers-living-water/

Sapphire Throne Ministries. “Celebration of Water Pouring–Feast of Tabernacles.” https://sapphirethroneministries.wordpress.com/2017/10/06/celebration-of-water-pouring-feast-of-tabernacles/

Schorsch, Ismar. “The Seventy Bulls of Sukkot.” Jewish Theological Seminary. https://www.jtsa.edu/torah/the-seventy-bulls-of-sukkot/


[1] Ismar Schorsch, The Seventy Bulls of Sukkot, https://www.jtsa.edu/torah/the-seventy-bulls-of-sukkot/

[2] Randall Niles. Jesus at the Pool of Siloam–Rivers of Living Water. Retrieved from https://drivethruhistory.com/jesus-pool-siloam-rivers-living-water/

[3] Niles, Jesus at the Pool of Siloam–Rivers of Living Water.

[4] Judah David Eisenstein, Feast of Water-Drawing, Jewish Encyclopedia, https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14794-water-drawing-feast-of

[5] SapphireThroneMinistries, “Celebration of Water Pouring – Feast of Tabernacles,”

[6] Judah David Eisenstein, “Feast of Water-Drawing,” Jewish Encyclopedia, https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14794-water-drawing-feast-of

[7] Jerome Neyrey, The Gospel of John (New York: Cambridge University Press: 2007), 145. 

[8] Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the seed of David born in Bethlehem conceived of the Spirit and born of a woman as the deliverer and Son of David (2 Sm 7:12-16; Is 7:14; Mi 5:2). 

[9] New Testament Greek, Pt. 2. http://ntgreek.net/lesson29.htm

Contextual Study: Witness in Beroea

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Jan Paron, PhD | November 5, 2021

During Paul’s second missionary trip from 49 AD to 52 AD, he journeyed the eastern corridor of the Aegean Sea[1] down Via Egnatia making his way through the provinces of Syria (Acts 15:36-40), Cilicia (15:41), Galatia (16:6), Macedonia (17), and Achaia (18).[2] As he traveled, Paul delivered the Council of Jerusalem decrees to new believers (16:4). Additionally, the apostle carried the message of the Good News with him to the Jews and carved out a new mission to the Gentiles.[3] From a contextualization aspect, perhaps, the center point of this journey lies in his ministry in Thessalonica (17:1-9), Beroea (or Berea) (vv. 10-15), and Athens (vv. 16-34). There, one sees the diversity of his communication strategies that he adapted to culture for the purpose of bridging the salvific message as part of his Macedonian Call. Keeping in mind the varied populace Paul encountered, this writing specifically focuses on the apostle’s Beroean ministry to examine elements of the city inhabitant’s historical, cultural, and social backgrounds that influenced his contextualization methodology in a cross-cultural setting. The study analyzes ethnic Jews, prominent Greek women, and Greek men who comprised his audiences (vv. 11-12). Why look back at Paul’s evangelistic adaptations in the early church’s inception? In its ageless truths, Scripture provides lessons for the believer with methods for contemporary mission through examination of Paul’s communicative approaches to the uniqueness of wide-ranging people groups.

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To understand Paul’s contextualization techniques in his Beroean ministry, one first needs to delve briefly into the historical aspects of the Jerusalem Council within the scope of his Macedonian Call backdropping Paul’s second missionary trip. Paul began his journey on the back of the resolved conflict from the Jerusalem Council based on contextualization issues that arose from the influx of Gentile Christians into the young church. The Council of Jerusalem holds an integral piece to understanding God’s redemptive plan for both Jews and Gentiles as it approaches a pivotal moment for the Church in terms of expanding outward from Jerusalem to the nations. Further, it addressed several cultural issues pertaining to the Gentiles. Must the Gentiles become Jews first embracing the lifestyle of the law? Or could they retain their culture taking on membership in the community of believers? Further would the Jerusalem church approve of unhindered outreach to the Gentiles?”[4] Contention arose over Gentiles being circumcised and keeping the law of Moses to determine salvation (15:1, 5). The apostle and elders resolved it, noting God did not distinguish between the Jews and Gentiles purifying their hearts all the same (vv. 7-9). The council chose Paul, Barnabas, Judas Barsabas, and Silas to deliver the message to Gentile believers (v. 22). Later, Paul separated from Barnabas and traveled with Silas to strengthen the churches. Yet, Paul faced these same culturally-based issues that created liminal boundaries to cross with intentional strategies in mission. His methodologies involved contextualization. Strong defined contextualization as the “relationship of the Christian faith to its cultural context.”[5] As Paul obeyed the Spirit’s Macedonian Call resulting from a vision at Troas (16:9-10), he encountered diverse people groups of which to adapt the method of delivering the good news.

Ethnic Jews

Heeding the Macedonian Call posed challenges for Paul. He did not persuade many of the Jews resulting in agitators stirring up the city and his departure. His Thessalonian ministry followed suit likewise. After fleeing Thessalonica under the cover of darkness from angry Jews, Paul left for Beroea (v. 10). Locationally, Beroea lies 60 miles south of Thessalonica, also part of Macedonia (v.10).[6] Thus, he traveled the Via Egnatia or the Roman Road once again[7] [8] Paul probably arrived around 51 AD, during his second missionary trip but before the fall of the second temple in 70 AD. By the time of Paul’s visit, Beroea had grown to a prosperous city with a large Jewish colony (v. 10)[9]The Jews in Beroea either settled there from people exiled previously from the Northern or Southern Kingdoms. The Roman Empire protected the Jewish religion at this time.[10] Nonetheless, Paul addressed three groups with the message of salvation: Berean Jews, prominent women, and Greek men (Acts 17:12).

While Luke did not say whether Paul stopped immediately at the synagogue, the narrator highlighted it as his first stop. Acts 17:10 notes that Paul and Silas went to the synagogue upon arrival.” Luke specifically qualified it as the synagogue of the Jews. The Beroeans were Judean Jews. The synagogue served as a place of Torah study or worship. Malina described a synagogue of the Jews as a gathering or assembly, meeting place, or men’s community center for Judeans. When ten or more Jewish male adults met, the group can call it a synagogue, even in someone’s residence. As the assembly’s membership grew, they would put up a dedicated building with its size reflecting the economic side of the community.[11] The fact that Beroea had its own synagogue reflects the number of ethnic Jews in the community and their wealth. Greek Israelites also had their own separate synagogue in some cities.[12] Therefore, one might surmise that Paul only witnessed to Israelite Judeans in the synagogue rather than Hellenistic. Further, while the term Judean characterized both devout Judeans and assimilated Israelite Greeks, culturally speaking, Hellenistic Israelites from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia went to a separate synagogue called the “synagogue of the Freedmen.” Acts 6:9 cited one such in Jerusalem.[13] The Greek Israelites were less informed about traditions, while more assimilated to the Mediterranean behaviors and values from non-Israelites. Whether Berea had a separate synagogue for Macedonian converts, Luke did not specify.[14]

Perhaps, Paul intentionally stopped there because it had a sizable population of Jews. Ramsey supported this theory believing Paul went to Berea because of the Jewish settlers there. The synagogue provided a place for his gospel witness.[15] Nevertheless, Paul stopped in the synagogues upon visiting a town as was his custom (17:2). It additionally may have been habitual insofar as remaining true to his identity as a Jew educated at the feet of Gamaliel (22:3). Scripture does note Paul went to the synagogue of the Jews as customary to him and evangelized to them (13:5; 14:1; 17:1, 2, 10). Nonetheless, it provided him with a ready audience for testimony. Scriptural reference to Paul’s took advantage of a ready audience by going to the synagogue of the Jews in Berea. Berea had grown to a prosperous city in Roman times with a large Jewish community.[16] Thus, he met where they already had congregated.

In contrast to the Thessalonians, Luke describes the Bereans as eugenes meaning well born. Luke contrasted Bereans to Thessalonians of which the former showed a character of nobleness, while the latter one of rabble rouser. Thus, Berean character influenced the setting’s culture. According to Johnson, nobleness means well born (Greek: eugenes)[17] First Cor 1:26 and Luke 19:12 implies eugenes describes a person of higher standing with a social status in the world. In the context of the verse, however, it would seem to mean more gracious and open minded. Upholding this supposition, the NKJV describes eugenes as fair-minded and NLT as open-minded. Acts 17:11 illustrates their open-mindedness to Scripture with three verbs, received, searched, and find.[18] Thus, the Bereans received what Paul had to say. The group examined the Scripture daily with eagerness to confirm what he had said (Acts 17:11). The word examine in Greek can indicate a legal examination of witnesses (4:9; 12:19; 24:8; 28:18). Malina saw this as suitable since Paul’s testimony utilized Israelite traditions.[19] Acts 17:11b notes the Bereans “searched the Scriptures daily to find outwhether these things were so.” This alludes to a written form of either the Torah and/or prophetic documents. Perhaps, Paul crafted his teaching in testimony fashion, knowing the Bereans would confirm it in Scripture as their touchstone of truth.[20]

Prominent Greek Women 

Like Thessalonica, Paul’s audience in Beroea also had a Greek character. Aside from the ethnic Jews who received the word of God, a number of prominent Greek women (Greek: euschémón; εὐσχήμων, ον) also believed it (v. 12). Luke indicates their presence in reverse order than the Thessalonian account listing prominent Greek first in Beroea (v. 4). Within the cultural and social framework of Acts, the narrator highlights the role of women in the early church’s formation as all one in Christ. Ashley added that women, too, acted as recipients of God’s favor. Throughout Acts and the Pauline epistles, women became full members of Jesus’ faith community and later took on roles as leaders.[21]

At the time of Paul’s ministry, Beroea had been the seat of the provincial assembly of Macedonia. The high priest of the imperial cult headed it.[22] While an established city under Roman rule, Greek women had few rights as opposed to men. Jeffers stated married women had to abide by established household duties. Even upper-class women had to remain inside the home except when participating in important events. Notwithstanding, male relatives had to accompany them outside the home.[23] Working under these social regulations, prominent women either heard Paul in the company of their husbands or another male relative. Conceivably, the wife believed, but the husband did not. Lydia, a Macedonian, contrasts to general Hellenist gender limitations established during the classical period. Bruce explained that Macedonian women characteristically conducted themselves independently from men. Further, he said that the Roman law governing the colony allowed for different privileges for freeborn women with three children and freedwomen with four children. Their privileges included rights to make legal transactions on their own.[24] Thus, prominent women in Beroea may have had more freedom than women in other cities that Paul visited. Further, the fact that Luke mentioned prominent women first, may indicate that these same women who received the word of God may have played a major role later in the formation of the early church. 

Greek Men

Luke mentioned Greek men among the believers as well as the prominent women in Beroea. In 17:12, he did not describe the Beroean men (Greek: andrōn; ἀνδρῶν) who believed further. However, he referred to the Thessalonian men as devout (Greek: sebomenōn; σεβομένων; 17:4). His reference leaves the reader wondering whether Paul evangelized to God-fearers, proselytes, or pagans (cf. 1 Thes 1:5–2:16 for Paul’s account of the church’s founding). It additionally gives rise to the location where the Greek men heard Paul teach. Luke did not specify where. Luke made it clear that Paul evangelized to both Jews and Gentiles in the synagogue during the apostle’s travels to Antioch (Acts 13:16; 43, 48), Iconium (14:1-2), Thessalonica (17:1-4); and Corinth (18:4).

In Acts 10:2, Luke describes Cornelius as a God-fearer. He prayed to God continually and did many works of charity for the people. In essence, Cornelius had familiarity with the God of Israel and probably encountered Jewish people. Kraabel notes from Pauly-Wissowa, that God-fearers (Greek: sebomenoi or phoboumenoi ton theon) frequented synagogue services, held scriptural, monotheistic beliefs, and participated in some ceremonial traditions of the Law, but did not convert fully through circumcision.”[25] Acts 10:2 uses the adjective phobeō (cf. Acts 17:4 sebō). Paul did not describe the Greek men in Beroea as either sebomenoi or phoboumenoi ton theon. Having been assimilated to Mediterranean values and cultures, the Greeks in Beroea probably had shown favor toward the Jews, perhaps in offering financial support for a local synagogue.[26] In contrast, Gentile proselytes became full members of the Jewish community by following complete adherence to the letter of the law and its traditions, including circumcision. They also went through purity rites via baptism.[27] Few Greek men went that far. Some of the converts could have been Gentile pagans, worshippers of multiple gods. Esler believed most Gentiles mentioned in Lucan writings had converted to Christianity from idolatry; however, they previously had been associated with the Jewish synagogues.[28] From a cultural standpoint, ancient Macedonians during the Hellenistic periods had distinct ethnic characteristics from Greeks. Thus, pagan converts formerly held polytheistic views, but their gods did not include those from Greece.[29] Stefov noted Macedonians may have looked toward the philosophical and theological theories associated with a single divine being–a God in heaven.[30]Notwithstanding, whether a God-fearer, Jewish proselyte, or pagan, Paul had the opportunity to minister in a field ready for harvest.

Presumably, Paul would have presented Christ to the Gentile Beroeans with different nomenclature and language. The Macedonians spoke koine Greek. The passage does not mention translators, so Paul must have had knowledge of Greek to communicate with them. God-fearers, proselytes, and pagans more than likely would not have had the same familiarity with Scripture as the ethnic Jews. With this presumption, Paul would have made adaptations to the way he presented Christ to the Gentile Beroeans so they would understand the gospel. 

In the larger scope of Paul’s contact with Gentiles, he may have interacted with them in multiple areas like the synagogue, marketplace, or trade guilds of tentmaking. Scripture highlights the presence of God-fearers in the synagogue (ie., 14:1; 17:1-4). For example, in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, Paul addressed the assembly as “Men of Israel, and you who fear God,” (13:16). A great multitude of devout Greeks in the Thessalonica synagogue believed Jesus is the Christ (17:4). Another possibility of Gentile witness existed through mixed table-fellowship in which Paul spoke to Jews and Greeks who had attended synagogue. Nevertheless, Paul’s message of salvation went to the Jews first (cf. 13:46). Since Scripture does not specify it, one only can draw hypothetical conclusions through a historical reconstruction of Luke and Paul’s letters analyzing his patterns of witness. With surety, Paul preached to the Diaspora Jews and Greek men in bringing both into the community of believers.

Paul’s Contextualization Strategies 

Paul’s contextualization strategies in Acts 17:10-15 encompass location, rhetorical technique, culture, and gender. As customary for Paul, he would witness in the synagogue (13:5; 14:1; 17:1, 2, 10). Location played an important role in this passage as Paul brought the gospel there. In addition to the ethnic Jews, he may have interacted with prominent Greek women and Greek men in the synagogue providing a pathway to Gentile conversion (17:12). Insofar as his rhetorical technique, Paul presumably adapted it to the Jews in the Beroean synagogue. Malina saw Paul’s manner of teaching as a testimony utilizing Israelite traditions.[31] It worked well with the open-minded Beroeans who responded to Paul by receiving, searching, and finding scriptural evidence to confirm his message to them (v. 11). The word examine (NIV) in Greek can indicate a legal examination of witnesses (4:9; 12:19; 24:8; 28:18). 

One key point to take away from Paul’s witnessing strategies comes with his ability to bring the good news to the cultures associated with ethnic Jews, Gentiles, and women. He preached across diverse cultures that traversed ethnicity and gender. The fact that his reach encompassed multiple people groups, it ensured a greater chance that new converts would pass along what they learned to others within their own communities. Thus, Gentiles would have witnessed the gospel to the dominant culture of other Macedonians or Roman citizens in Beroea. [32] When Paul left Berea because of Thessalonian agitators, Silas and Timothy stayed behind. They perhaps had done so to calm the city, but additionally to establish a church. It would seem many believed because of Paul’s Beroean ministry. More importantly, Paul began the realization of mission to the nations in Beroea as part of his Macedonian Call.

Bibliography

Anguish, David. “A Model for Truth Seekers.” Berea Page 1, no. 1 (October 2019): 1-3.

Ashley, Edith. Women in Luke’s Gospel. Sydney: University of Sydney, 2000. https://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstream/handle/2123/804/adt-NU20020222.16120002whole.pdf;jsessionid=0977E91315C10579841B05602247798F?sequence=1

Balch, David L., Everett Ferguson, and Wayne A. Meeks, eds. Greeks, Romans, and Christians: Essays in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

“Book of Acts Timeline.” Precept Austin. Last modified May 2020. https://www.preceptaustin.org/acts-17-commentary. 

Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts: A New International Commentary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988. 

Cooper, Marjorie J. “Theological Perspectives on the God-Fearers, with Application to Acts 13:48.” Presbyterion 46, no. 1 (April 1, 2020): 90–99. 

Crook, Zeba A., ed. The Ancient Mediterranean Social World: A Sourcebook. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Press, 2020.

Esler, Philip Francis. Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lucan Theology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Gager, John G. “Jews, Gentiles, and Synagogues in the Book of Acts.” Harvard Theological Review 79, no. 1-3 (1986): 91–99.

Gallagher, Robert L and Paul L. Hertig, eds. Mission in Acts: Ancient Narratives in Contemporary Context: 34 (American Society of Missiology). Mary Knoll: Orbis Books, 2004. 

Gandeto, J. S. “Differences Between Ancient Macedonians and Ancient Greeks.” History of Macedonia.org. http://www.historyofmacedonia.org/AncientMacedonia/gandeto.html

Gill, David W. and Conrad Gempf, eds. The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting: Graeco-Roman Context. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

Jeffers, James. The Graeco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1999.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Acts of the Apostles. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992.

Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Volume 3: 15:1-23:35. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014. Kindle.

Kistemaker, Simon J. The New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990. 

Koch, Dietrich-Kietrich. “The God-Fearers Between Facts and Fiction.” Studia Theologica 60 (2006): 62-90.

Kraabel, A Thomas. “The Disappearance of the ‘God-Fearers.” Numen 28, no. 2 (1981): 113–26. 

Kuhn, K. G. and H. Stegemann, “Proselyten,” RE, suppl. ix (1962): 1260.

Malina, Bruce. The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Malina, Bruce J. and John J. Pilch. Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Acts, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

Meeks, Wayne A. The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Meers, Alan. “Who Went Where and Why? A Consideration of Acts 17.14.” Practical Papers for the Bible Translator 44, no. 2 (April 1993). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/026009439304400201?journalCode=tbtd

Neyrey, Jerome H. The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

“Paul in Berea.” Bible Journey. https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney1/10-pauls-journey-to-phrygia-macedonia/paul-in-berea/

Punt, Jeremy. “The Accusation of ‘World Disturbers’ (Acts 17:6) in Socio-Political Context” Verbum Et Ecclesia 37, no. 1 (2016): n.p. http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2074-77052016000100043

Ramsey, William Mitchell. St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001. Google Books.

Safrai, Schmeul and M. Stern. The Jewish People in the First Century, Volume 1: Historical, Geography, Political History, Social, Cultural and Religious Life and Institutions. 1988. https://books.google.com/books?id=9-Z5DwAAQBAJ&pg=PA160&lpg=PA160&dq=economic+background+of+Beroean+Jews+in+the+first+century&source=bl&ots=A_mHyWIOjF&sig=ACfU3U1PkEsbSMxlN65K2keUdBOwCBS3pQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjy8rWV6O3zAhVQmWoFHeuFDOsQ6AF6BAgOEAM#v=onepage&q=economic%20background%20of%20Beroean%20Jews%20in%20the%20first%20century&f=false

Schnabel, Eckhard J. Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies, and Methods. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008.

Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/textdoc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0064:entry=beroea-geo

Spencer, Aída Besançon. “A Cloud of Female Witnesses: Women Leaders in the New Testament.” Priscilla Papers 23. In vol. 4 (2009): 24. 

Spigel, Chad. “First-Century Synagogues.” Bible Odyssey. https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/first-century-synagogues

Stefov, Risto. “History of the Macedonian People – The Rise of Christianity a New Beginning.” History of the Macedonian People from Ancient Times to the Present. https://mk.wikibooks.org/wiki/History_of_the_Macedonian_People_-_The_Rise_of_Christianity_a_New_Beginning

Tannehill, Robert C. The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation: The Gospel According to Luke. In Vol 1. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.

Witherington, Ben. Women in the Earliest Churches. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.


[1] Conforming to Jesus Ministry, Paul’s Second Missionary Journey Map. https://www.conformingtojesus.com/chartsmaps/en/paul%27s

[2] Conforming to Jesus Ministry, Paul’s Second Missionary Journey Map.

[3] Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, Publishing Company, 1998), 471.

[4] Robert L. Gallagher and Paul L. Hertig, eds., Mission in Acts: Ancient Narratives in Contemporary Context: 34 (American Society of Missiology) (Mary Knoll: Orbis Books, 2004) 197.

[5] Gallagher and Hertig, eds., Mission in Acts: Ancient Narratives in Contemporary Context, 17.

[6] Ray Vander Laan, Cultures in Conflict Discovery Guide, 132.

[7] “Paul in Berea,” Bible Journey, https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney1/10-pauls-journey-to-phrygia-macedonia/paul-in-berea/

[8] “Paul in Berea,” Bible Journey.

[9] Ibid.

[10] William Mitchell Ramsey, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, 232.

[11] James Jeffers, The Graeco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1999), 217.

[12] Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Acts (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 122. 

[13] Malina and Pilch. Social-science Commentary on the Book of Acts, 122.

[14] Ibid.

[15] William Mitchell Ramsey, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001), 226.

[16] “Paul in Berea,” Bible Journey, 

[17] Johnson, Acts of the Apostles, 307.

[18] In describing the Beroeans fair mindedness Acts 17:11 notes,  “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that theyreceived the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (NKJV).

[19] Malina and Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Acts, 124.

[20] Simon J. Kistemaker, The New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 620. 

[21] Edith Ashley, Women in Luke’s Gospel (Sydney: University of Sydney, 2000), iii, https://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstream/handle/2123/804/adt-NU20020222.16120002whole.pdf;jsessionid=0977E91315C10579841B05602247798F?sequence=1

[22] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies, and Methods (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008, 98.

[23] Jeffers, The Graeco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity, 243.

[24] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts: A New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 311-312.

[25] K. G. Kuhn and H. Stegemann, “Proselyten,” RE, suppl. ix (1962), 1260.

[26] Kraabel in Marjorie J. Cooper, “Theological Perspectives on the God-Fearers, with Application to Acts 13:48.” Presbyterion 46, no. 1 (April 1, 2020): 90–99. 

[27] Jeffers, The Graeco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity, 218. 

[28] Philip Francis Esler, Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lucan Theology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 31.

[29]J. S. Gandeto. “Differences Between Ancient Macedonians and Ancient Greeks.” History of Macedonia.org. http://www.historyofmacedonia.org/AncientMacedonia/gandeto.html

[30]Risto Stefov, “History of the Macedonian People – The Rise of Christianity a New Beginning,” History of the Macedonian People from Ancient Times to the Present, https://mk.wikibooks.org/wiki/History_of_the_Macedonian_People_-_The_Rise_of_Christianity_a_New_Beginning

[31] Malina and Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Acts, 124.

[32] Thomas A. Kraabel, “The Disappearance of the ‘God-Fearers,” Numen 28, no. 2 (1981): 113–26. Kraabel felt that Gentile witness primarily originated in the synagogue. The conversion of God-fearers to Christianity among the Jews demonstrated the straight-line expansion of Christianity in the early church: Jew — God-fearer — Gentile.

Post Exilic Theology of Hope: Ezra 10:2-11

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Jan Paron, PhD | October 22, 2021

With the intermarriage dilemma in focus, this essay aims to show how regathered Israel interpreted and responded to “yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this” from Ezr 10:2-11 in relation to Dt 6:4 during the rebuilding of the temple period as exhibited by the returnees’ actions in the book of Ezra. The intermarriages of the exiled golah from Babylon with those outside their community occurred during their post-exilic reformation upon resettling in the Yehud Persian province of Jerusalem and Judah. The exiled returned there without their cultural identity markers customarily associated with their independent statehood, land, temple, and king. Moffat noted this necessitated the golah reconstruct their identity.[1] Thus, they formed new social ones as assimilation influenced their cultural practices. 

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The returnees did carry over the ancestral lineage of their father’s house, as noted in the genealogical listings in chapters two and eight to the new community. The lineages highlighted their maintenance of Jewish heritage in keeping to the exclusion of foreign nations. Those relocating back to Israel from the first wave of exiled returnees had to prove their descendancy from Israel (Ezr 2:59). The names listed in chapters 1-6 provided genealogical tracings reminiscent of pre-exilic history. Like the genealogical descendent tracings from the early return, Ezra listed those who returned with him from Babylonia by their father’s house (8:1). Perhaps, in their identity reformation over the subsequent generations, they lost their original sense and purpose as God’s chosen during the resettlement process by not separating themselves from the people of the land through marriage. Though, the text does not specify the reason for intermarriage, we only can ascertain from a distant reader location that economics, politics, marriage partners, or assimilation influences resulted in them compromising the holy seed through outside marriages. While modern readers may view intermarriage as a discriminatory practice of exclusion,[2] the post-exiled perspective understood breaking covenant through intermarrying as separating the golah community from the Lord God would incur His wrath. Nonetheless, Christ followers can learn from Israel’s pagan joining about being “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (1 Cor 6:14) and its effects upon spiritual growth and relationship with God.[3]

To comprehend the holy seed defilement in Ezr 10 and development of their theology of hope in this context requires a look at the golah departure from exile. Chronicling the history that led to the foreign marriage crisis among the returnees from exile in 10:2-11, events begin with their initial release. King Cyrus Persia issued a proclamation allowing the remnant of Israel, the golah captives from Babylon, to return to the Yehud to rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem (1:1-3). Cyrus’ action initiated a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy for the completion of a seventy-year exile, and the remnant’s hoped for mercy from the Lord God for their restoration to the land (Jer 25:11-12).[4]

Several rulers and generations of the resettled golah later, King Artaxerxes of Persia in the seventh year of his reign, decreed Ezra should conduct an inquiry into the situation in Judah and Jerusalem based on God’s law (Ezr 7:14). Ezra also had directions to continue support for the temple as well as teach and implement the law of the God of heaven (7:21). The king described Ezra as a priest and teacher of the law (v. 14). In this capacity and under the king’s authority, Ezra left for Jerusalem with the second wave of exiled returnees (v. 13).

 With his authority in hand and God’s favor upon him, Ezra traveled to Jerusalem to teach the golah community the statutes and rules under the law of Moses (7:10). What did Ezra learn about the state of the resettled remnant in the period subsequent to their earlier return to the Yehud? [5] Leaders brought to his attention the people of Israel, including the priests and Levites, had not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands (9:2).[6] [7] Redditt referred to the peoples of the land as all residents of post-exilic Yehud who had not been in exile, including those who had “separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the Lord, the God of Israel” (6:21).[8]Consequently, the parameters of the new community exclusively limited itself to those who had returned from exile.[9] A widespread problem occurred that more than likely involved generations of golah men marrying outside the holy seed community with inhabitants of the Yehud and surrounding nations (3:3; 4:4). Whether a singular or multiple abominations, it resulted in men from the first wave of returnees intermarrying with pagan women, thus mixing the holy seed with the peoples of the lands (v. 3). To compound their trespasses, the leaders and rulers led the way in their unfaithfulness to the God of Israel and the breaking of the law of Moses.[10] Further, it added to the remnants’ prior iniquities from the days of their ancestral fathers (9:7).

The Lord God left Israel with commandments to guide them to successful possession of the land He would give them (Dt 4:1; 5:1; 6:4). The completion of His preparation of the golah community as a new creation led the way for the new creation of believers in Christ. It also served an eschatological purpose for the final, new creation’s habitation in the millennial kingdom. In this reshaping of His people to holiness, He left guideposts with the law. As such, the Deuteronomic Code prohibits marriage with the peoples of the land, reasoning that the foreign wives would lead the sons away from following Yahweh to serve other gods away from the premise of faithfulness to the Shema, “the Lord our God is one!” (Dt 6:4b; e.g., Exo 34:11-12, 16).[11] To intermarry would arouse the Lord’s anger suddenly to destroy them (Dt 7:3-4).[12]

Ezra’s prayer in 9:8 on behalf of Israel prepared the way for the returnees’ conviction to rise, with Ezr 10:2-11 providing the framework for the golah theology of hope with their self-initiated actions of change towards it. The theology develops espoused through their deeds and works. Nevertheless, unless the returnees embraced Ezra’s prayers, hope would go no farther. Upon realizing their trespasses, the people of Israel expressed repentant emotions towards their guilt, providing an initial step toward living out their hope. Faced with possible judgment, the gathering of people included men, women, and children who also wept bitterly with Ezra as he confessed, wept, and bowed down prostrate (10:1).

The marriage crisis came to a head in 10:2, opening with the golah community reaction to Ezra’s public intercession. Shechaniah responded to the foreign marriages that threatened assimilation with those other than the holy seed. He addressed Ezra from among all those who wept very bitterly around Ezra as he prayed (10:1).[13] The large assembly felt the gravity, immensity, and widespread conviction over their actions with the hope that the Lord God would extend mercy upon them and bring them once again into covenant with Him through the upholding of the Shema (Dt. 4:1; 5:1; 6:4; v. 2). As a resolution, Shechaniah proposed covenant renewal with the Lord by putting away the foreign wives and children born to them according to the law (10:3). The law of the Lord transliterates to tôrâ in Hebrew, denoting instruction about life.[14] Thus, the law goes beyond statutes and rules, binding Israel in a faithful covenant to the Lord their God.[15] Further, the Shema of Dt 6:5 commands Israel to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength as an obedient people with the right moral condition to possess the good land of which the LORD swore to their fathers (Dt 6:18; Ezr 9:12). We who belong to Christ also comprise Abraham’s seed as heirs to the promise (Gal 3:29). Thus, faithfulness to one Lord, our God in covenant by loving Him with all our heart, soul, and mind applies to us as well for righteous living (Mt 32:37; Mk 12:29-30).

Shechaniah’s compelling plea set in motion the reformation of the community back into covenant and aligned to the Shema (Dt 6:4). In his address, he confessed to their trespasses against God in marrying foreign women (Ezr 10:2). Perhaps, the righteous Lord God of Israel of whom Ezra petitioned would hear their cries of repentance and forgive their iniquities of abominations with the peoples of the land. The hope for Israel subsequently would emanate from the community’s own corrective actions of putting away the wives from the peoples of the land in fulfilling the law of Moses (10:3). He urged them to get up and take ownership and responsibility for the matter to make things right (v. 4). Confession, reversal of the abomination, and adherence to law would lead to forgiveness from their iniquity from a righteous God who would bestow His grace upon the returned exiles.

Once again, Ezra entered the picture, affirming Shechaniah’s covenant plea. Ezra demanded that the leaders, Levites, and all Israel swear an oath to put away their foreign wives and children from their marriage (v.5). All the people had to right the wrong to form a holy community. Afterwards, Ezra withdrew from the house of God and fasted mourning the guilt of the golah (v. 6). To put or send away indicates divorce. Marrying foreign women stood contrary to God’s law as illegal (Dt 7:3) by violating the endogamy of marrying within Israel and joining in exogamous marriage. The putting away of foreign wives and their children guarded the holy seed. Klingbeil called the exogamous marriages in Ezra “when not to tie the knot.” Though lighthearted, his reference helps the reader from a Western social location understand the issues from the fifth century BC Yehud through a 21st-century lens.[16]

In viewing initiation of the oath through a gender-oriented, female lens, it would affect many foreign women and children. It leaves the modern reader wondering about the rights and compensation for divorced, pagan women as recipients of such a drastic measure. Who took care of the women once they divorced? Did their ancestral family care for them, or did shame leave them to fend for themselves? Why did the children have to suffer from Israel’s actions? Johnson asserts we discount race and gender involved in the socially-constructed intermarriage issue, rather understand it in the context of the Achaemenid Empire emblematic of an identity issue resulting from exile.[17] To balance emotions involved in divorce, the interpreter has to separate loss of family and identity traumatized by exile against maintaining purity of the holy seed to allow God’s redemptive purpose for Israel to occur. As a minority population, the community had to guard their identity established by the Lord God of Israel against a land governed by polytheistic gods to avoid decimating the seed and land. Fensham supported their action bringing to the forefront the influence mothers brought to their children along with traditions of the foreign society. Thus, they presented a stumbling block to Israel.[18] While we may view it as harsh by modern standards, the measure had to occur to restore hope to Israel.

Returning to the actions reflective in the golah theology of hope, the elders and leaders began fixing the wrong of their actions. They issued a proclamation to all descendants of captivity in the Yehud to gather in Jerusalem in three days (v. 7-8). They backed it up with harsh penalties for non-compliance with property confiscation and separation from the exilic community (v. 8). The imposition of a stringent penalty suggests opposition among the congregation of the exiles and the need to break a hardened will contrary to the one true God (Dt 6:4). We may look at the measures for anyone objecting to divorcing their foreign wives as too much to ask but reframing the scenario to recreate authentic covenant for a new creation with the God of Israel provides a different vantage point. Part of their theology of hope must show full obedience, not partial.

Thus, within the fixed period, all the people gathered in the house of God’s open square in the heavy rain. They forged ahead trembling and distress despite rain and discomfort over the seriousness of the matter (Ezr 10:9). Once again, Ezra addressed the assemblage to confess their sin of intermarriage to foreign women adding to the guilt of Israel. In a stronger term, perhaps driving the point home more, the NIV states committed treason (10:10), implying a betrayal of God and all of Israel past and present. In this verse, it means having committed a terrible sin (NLT). Nevertheless, even this sin leaves room for God’s grace and forgiveness. The passage closes with those from captivity confessing to their sins in mass and agreeing to separate themselves from their pagan wives (v. 11). In addition to full obedience to God, this action suggests that the exiled must show a united confession enveloped in genuine submission and humility. Separation from the pagan wives, in their eyes, would separate them back to God. As Christians, our iniquities also separate us from God, requiring us to confess and turn from sin.  

Upon reading the passage we see a people whom God had risen from dry bones in the valley and returned them once again to the land. As Covenant Maker and Keeper, the Lord God upholds His promises from Ez 37:6,13-14 as He begins the restoration process upon their return to the land. While the golah began united in the rebuilding process of the Temple in Jerusalem and initiating worship practices, the returnees fell short in observing the marriage requirements of not separating themselves from the peoples of the land. Intermarriage led to the syncretic practices of idolatry, drawing them away from faithfulness to the Lord our God as one (Dt 6:4). Once again, they break covenant, and their abominations add to those of their fathers. We can see ourselves in this same position. Through new birth, Jesus makes us a new creation purified in Him. However, the redeemed often fall back to sin pulled by the influences of the world. The flesh takes over, opening the door to the return of old habits. Christ desires we live as a restored community intimately in covenant with Him. Nevertheless, the same theology of hope that the exiled realized finds itself in the New Covenant as well–one of continued grace, mercy, and forgiveness of sin to lead a reformed life. We can learn from their mistakes and apply them to our lives. Jesus as Yahweh, desires to bring us in covenant from creation to new creation in the eschaton perfected in His image.  

The passage closed (Ezr 10:11) with the exiled community’s theology of hope based on decisive actions of putting their faith to work in word and deed premised upon forgiveness of sins from the God of grace. In brief, they communally confessed to iniquities admitting their trespasses and taking ownership of their abomination (10: 2). This led to the initiation of covenant renewal with the Lord taking steps to put away the foreign wives and children born to them according to the law (vv. 3-4). Then all Israel swore an oath to uphold the intermarriage divorces (v. 5). All would return in three days, backed up by strong measures for noncompliance. Right standing in covenant required full obedience (vv. 7-8). Finally, they confessed their transgressions once again in trembling and humility to the Lord God of their fathers to do His will and put away their pagan wives from the peoples of the land (vv. 9-11). Repentance must have the intent to follow through and turn from sin. In turn, from confession and ownership to right attitudes and actions in obedience, they established the hope for Israel for favor from the God of grace. They also took steps to bind themselves to observe the Lord’s command from the Shema of Dt 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” While we may look at the remedy for their abominations as harsh to the affected, the remnant had to take these measures to preserve the purity of the holy seed incurred by their rebellious syncretic practice of intermarriage. Their polluting the seed endangered the remnant and land, thus, placing themselves out of alignment to God’s redemptive purposes continuing into the millennial kingdom. We, too, must live our faith out in words and deeds. Our Christian walk individually and collectively must include the earnest and daily crucifying the flesh of that same sinful nature from the first Adam. However, we look to the second Adam who bore our sin on the cross, forgiving our sins. Jesus is that same God of mercy.  

Bibliography

Ackroyd, Peter R. Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B. C. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986.

Allen, Leslie C. Ezekiel, Vol. 29. Word Bible Commentary. Edited by John D. W. Watts and James W. Watts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Ezra-Nehemiah: A Commentary. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 2015.

__________. Judaism, the First Phase: The Place of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Origins of Judaism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009.

Boadt, Lawrence. “Book of Ezra.” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol D-G. Edited by David N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

__________. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press, 2012.

Bickerman, Elias Joseph. “The Edict of Cyrus in Ezra 1.” Journal of Biblical Literature 65, no. 3 (1946): 249-275. 

Bimson, John J. “Book of Ezra.” In Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, 223-225. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Brett, Mark G. ed. Ethnicity and the Bible. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002.

Bryan, S. M. “The End of Exile: The Reception of Jeremiah’s Prediction of a Seventy-Year Exile.” Journal of Biblical Literature 137, no. 1 (January 2018): 107–126. 

Cezula, Ntozakhe Simon. “The concept of “the holy seed” as a coping strategy in Ezra-Nehemiah and its implications for South Africa.” Acta Theologica 38 no.1 (2018)

__________. “Waiting for the Lord: The Fulfilment of the Promise of Land in the Old Testament as a Source of Hope.” Scriptura 116, no. 1 (2017), 1-15. 

Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. 17th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Childs, Brevard. Introduction to the Old Testament Scripture. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2011.

Duggan, Michael W. “Ezra.” In The Old Testament and Ethics, edited by Joel B. Green and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, 82-83 Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.

Edin, Gary. Ezra/Nehemiah: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. Kansas City, Beacon Hill Press, 2017. 

Eichrodt, Walther Theology of the Old Testament. Translated by J. A. Baker. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

Estelle, Bryan D. Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Fensham, F. Charles. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982.

Fried, Lisbeth. Ezra and the Law in History and Tradition. Studies on Personalities of the Old Testament. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014. 

Glissman, Volker. Out of Exile, Not out of Babylon: The Diaspora Theology of the Golah. Mzuzu: Muzuni Press, 2019.

Goldingay, John A. “Ezekiel.” Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Edited by James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Goswell, Gregory. “The Absence of a Davidic Hope in Ezra-Nehemiah.” Trinity Journal 33, no. 1 (April, 2002): 19–31. 

Grabbe, Lester, L. An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, the Maccabees, Hillel, and Jesus. London: T&T Clark, 2002. 

Graham, M. Patrick. Richard R. Marrs, and Steven L. McKenzie. Worship and the Hebrew Bible: Essays in Honor of John T. Willis. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement Series. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. 

Harmon, Matthew S. Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Hawk, L. Daniel. “Ezra-Nehemiah: An Introduction and Study Guide. Israel’s Quest for Identity.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 81, no. 4 (2019): 722–25. 

Houten, Christians van. The Alien in Israelite Law. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991.

Johnson, Willa Mathis. The Holy Seed Has Been Defiled: The Interethnic Marriage Dilemma in Ezra 9-10. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, Ltd., 2011.

Kamsen, Joel and Tihitshak Biwul. “The Restoration of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis.” Scriptura 118 (2019:1), pp. 1-10.

Klein, Ralph W.. “Book of Ezra.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol D-G, edited by David N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Klingbeil, Gerald A. “When Not to “Tie the Knot”: A Study of Exogamous Marriage in Ezra-Nehemiah Against the Backdrop of Biblical Legal Tradition.” Faculty Publications (2016): 378.

Knoppers, Gary N. Exile and Restoration Revisited: Essays on the Babylonian and Persian Periods in Memory of Peter R. Ackroyd  Bob Becking On the Identity of Foregn Women New York T & T Clarke, 2009.

Korada, Manoja Kumar. 2018. “Seeing Discontinuity in Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah through Reforms.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 61 (2018): 287–305. 

LaSor, William Sandord, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, and Leslie C. Allen. Old Testament Survey: The Message Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, Co. 1996. 

Lee, Lydia. Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles Against the Nations. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016. 

Leuchter, Mark. “The Exegesis of Jeremiah in and beyond Ezra 9-10.” Vetus Testamentum 65, no. 1 (2015): 62–80. 

Longman III, Tremper. The Message of the Prophets: A Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

Mein, Andrew. Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile. Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2006.

Mendenhall, George. “Covenant.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol A-C. Edited by David Freeman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Miller, Maxwell J. and John H. Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. 2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Myers, Jacob. Ezra-Nehemiah. Anchor Yale Bible. New York: Yale University Press, 1983.

__________. The Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration.” Interpretation 58, no. 4 (2007): 585-625.

Pakkala, Juna. The Concept of Exile in Ancient Israel and Its Historical Contexts, edited by Ehud Ben Zvi and Christopher Levin. New York: DeGruyter, 2010, 91-101.

Pearce, Laurie E. “Identifying Judeans and Judean Identity in the Babylonian Evidence.” in Exile and Return: The Babylonian Context, edited by Jonathan Stökl, Caroline Waerzeggers, and Jonathan Stökl. Berlin: CPI Books, 2015. 

Phaipi, Chingboi Guite. “The First Encounter of the Golah and Their “Adversaries” (Ezra 4:1–5): Who Are the Adversaries, and on What Is the Adversity Based?” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 20, no. 20 (2020). DOI: https://doi.org/10.5508/jhs29563.

__________. Rebuilding a Post-exilic Community: The Golah Community and the “Other” in the Book of Ezra. Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2019.

Redditt, Paul L. Ezra-Nehemiah: Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2014. 

Sabo, Peter J. Moabite women, “Transjordanian women, and incest and exogamy: The gendered dimensions of boundaries in the Hebrew Bible.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 45, no. 1 (August 2023): 93-110.

Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: A Complete Survey of Old Testament History and Literature. New York: HarperOne, 2000.

Scott, James E. A Conversation with N. T. Wright. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

Smith-Christopher, Daniel L.”Exclusion, Transformation, and Inclusion of the ‘Foreigner’ in Post-exilic Biblical Theology” In Ethnicity in the Bible, edited by Mark G. Brett, 117-142. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, Inc., 1996. 

__________. A Biblical Theology of Exile. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Staples, Jason A. The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Stökl, Jonathan and Caroline Waerzeggers. Exile and Return: The Babylonian Context. Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 478 (2015). 

Tiemeyer, L. D. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. Edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.

Van Seters, John. Dating the Yahwists History: Principles and Perspectives.” Biblica 96, no. 1 (2015, 1-25. 

Venter, Pieter M. 2018. “The Dissolving of Marriages in Ezra 9–10 and Nehemiah 13 Revisited.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 74 (2018): 1–13. 

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Washington, Harold C. 2003. “Israel’s Holy Seed and the Foreign Women of Ezra-Nehemiah: A Kristevan Reading.” Biblical Interpretation 11, no. 3-4  (January 2003): 427–37. 

Williamson, H. G. Ezra, Nehemiah. Waco: World Book, Publishers, 1985.

Yamauchi, E. M. Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. in The Dictionary of Old Testament Historical Books, edited by David N. Freedman, Bill T. Arnold, and H. G. M. Williamson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2005.


[1] Donald P. Moffat, Ezra’s Social Drama, Identity Formation, Marriage and Social Conflict in Ezra 9 and 10 (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 26-27.

[2]Charles F. Fensham, F. Charles. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), 124. Fensham explained the term holy seed does not pertain to any racial prejudice, rather, God’s elect people of Israel (Ex 19:6) to carry his revelation and be a light to the nations (Is 42:6). It pertained to living in relationship with the Lord and His people. Once broken, they lose their status as the people of God (Hos 1:9). Intermarriage with foreign nations and being contaminated with their idol worship, endangered the true religion from losing its pure character.

[3] “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (1 Cor 6:14).

[4] S. M. Bryan, “The End of Exile: The Reception of Jeremiah’s Prediction of a Seventy-Year Exile,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 137 (2018): 107. Bryan added that while set in the past, the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy reflected the captives’ belief that their exile had ended (See Jer 25:11-12; 29:10). Further, the return of the exiled relates to a hoped-for experience of God’s mercy at the end of seventy weeks of years.Conceivably, his same hope parallels God’s restoration of Israel as noted in Ez 37:6. In 37:1-14, the prophet’s oracles provided renewal and restoration that included a future, united Israel of Judah and Israel (vv. 15-21) as part of the book’s primary purpose of judgment and salvation for Israel and the nations. 

[5]The first returnees arrived in 539 BC, while the second in 458 BC with an 81-year difference if accurately dated.  

[6] The people of the land refer to their abominations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites (9:2).

[7] Joseph Blenkinsopp, Ezra/Nehemiah (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015). Blenkinsopp felt that based on the public reading of the law in Neh 8, a gap of five to nine months existed between Ezra’s arrival and before the marriage issue was brought to Ezra’s attention.

[8] Paul L. Redditt, Ezra-Nehemiah: Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2014), 193. 

[9] Walter C. Kaiser and Paul D. Wegner, A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age Through the Jewish Wars (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 600. Kaiser highlighted the fact that during the early post-exilic period that the Jews remained scattered all over the Persian Empire although allowed to return. Few left. Further, other Jewish centers developed around Babylon and flourished throughout the empire. Some Jews like Nehemiah prospered in the Persian government. Also, Egypt had a strong Jewish presence. 

[10] Segueing into Israel’s hope for restoration from exile upon their recognition of sin in 10:2, it suggests they desired God to bestow His grace upon them by forgiving their abominations.

[11] “for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exo 34:14).  

[12]Perhaps, with God’s judgment in mind, Ezra petitioned the Lord God of Israel that He would not incur His anger and utterly destroy them without remnant or escape (9:15).# His prayer leads to the community’s response to hope for Israel in 10:2-11.

[13]It appeared that he had some type of authority as a lay leader speaking for the golah. The assembled came from among those who trembled at the words of the God of Israel because of the exile’s unfaithfulness (v. 3; cf. 9:3). Either Ezra’s prayer of guilt and confession (9:6-15) convicted them and/or they represented those who remained faithful to the law of Moses. 

[14]Jim Edlin, Ezra/Nehemiah: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (Nazarene Publishing House). Elin noted that as God’s divine words, it “conveys insight about what God thinks about life and is, therefore, a revelation of God’s will. It includes not only statements of truth but also stories that illustrate that truth.” Further, tôrâ can refer to  their covenant relationship with the Lord as noted in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Edlin emphasized the significance of the law for ancient Israel since it shaped the covenant community into what the Lord deemed for them by reflecting His character as well as desire for covenant relationship. It also would provide them a better life.

[15] Edlin, Ezra/Nehemiah: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, ch. 7. He further stated, In Deut 4:5-8 Moses put it this way: See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees.”

[16] Gerald A. Klingbeil, “When Not to “Tie the Knot”: A Study of Exogamous Marriage in Ezra-Nehemiah Against the Backdrop of Biblical Legal Tradition,” Faculty Publications (2016): 378.

[17]Willa Mathis Johnson, The Holy Seed Has Been Defiled: The Interethnic Marriage Dilemma in Ezra 9-10 (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, Ltd., 2011), 15.

[18] Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah,135. 

Ezekiel 37: Then You Shall Know that I Am the Lord

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Jan Paron | October 4, 2021

“Then you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ez 37:6 NKJV). Perhaps, the central focus of the dry bones oracles of 37:1-14 and the book itself, rests with Israel’s knowledge of Yahweh. The identification formula occurs twice (vv. 6, 13) and ends with a similar clause in verse 14.[1] Through the three, self-naming clauses the Lord uncovers His relational identity to Israel. In turn, His self-revelation seeks to shape the very community of those whom He calls “my people” (v. 13b). In this manner, His self-identification reveals Him as omniscient Creator (v. 6); omnipotent, all-powerful God (v. 13); and Covenant Maker and Keeper.

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Examining the Lord’s self-revelation in verses one to fourteen, His nature progressively unfolds from Creator to Keeper to the one God who calls Israel to love Him with all their heart and soul (Dt 6:5). With this first, Ezekiel recognized Yahweh’s character as omniscient from Him knowing the very destiny of His people. In the prophet’s first oracle the Lord asked whether the dry bones representing the house of Israel could live to which Ezekiel replied, “O Lord God, You know” (v. 3). By His own word, God created man in His own image and likeness (Gn 1:26-27). The omniscient Yahweh in His unlimited understanding of the destiny for His chosen from His creation, once again spoke life by His word that He will breathe into them (Ez 37:5; cf. 36:27). The titles of Sovereign God contrasted against the son of man (v.3 NLT) displayed Yahweh’s sovereign divinity against humanity’s failed state. Only through His sovereign action would they live. His breath would transform them to His image of holiness purifying from their uncleanness (36:29; cf. Mt 1:21), thereby shaping His community to glorify the Name they profaned (36:21). The covenant Yahweh made with Israel in the Old Testament anticipated the better covenant in the New.[2] That same Yahweh incarnated in Jesus, the union of God and man, also manifests the same omniscient nature. As God, Jesus possesses all wisdom and knowledge hidden in Him (Col 2:3).[3] His all-knowing character (Jn 21:17) still shapes the community of those engrafted in the vine (Rom 11:31). 

His self-revelation as omniscient Creator (Ez 37:6) next uncovers Himself as the omnipotent, all-powerful God to Israel. In verse 12, Yahweh spoke to the exiled through Ezekiel saying, “O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel” (NKJV). To the captured who saw themselves as dried bones without hope in exile as a dead nation, Yahweh who calls Himself the Almighty throughout the Bible (i.e., Gn 17:1), has all power to restore them to their land. Further, He provided for them as their divine King by delivering them from bondage in Babylon. Second Chronicles 6:22-23 explains that the Lord stirred up King Cyrus to release the exiled back to Judah, also fulfilling Jeremiah’s 70-year timeline of their capture (Jer 29:10). 

Thus, the Lord God visibly showed Himself as their omnipotent, all-powerful God. The Shema in Dt 6:4 opens with “Hear, O Israel.” Nonetheless, hearing suggests obedience involving all the heart, soul, and strength for the whole of Israel to Yahweh. To carry out hearing, it requires doing as individuals and community in covenant with Yahweh. In time, Israel broke covenant with Him and repeated their sinful behavior. In the New Testament, Jesus repeated the greatest commandment of the law, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One (Mk 12:29), marrying it to the New Testament scriptures. The omnipotent Yahweh continues to manifest Himself in Jesus, whose Spirit tabernacles within the believer displaying His power in our lives. This requires those in Christ practice the Shema, hearing and living out our love for Him with all their heart, soul, and strength in covenant. 

In the last self-naming formula, Yahweh reveals Himself as a Covenant Maker and Covenant Keeper. People from the Ancient Near East (ANE) worshipped many gods. Israel followed suit and betrayed the marriage covenant with Yahweh practicing idolatry, abandoning Him prior to captivity. Impurity from idolatry may have been one of the most offensive to the Lord.[4] In Ez 6:9, He described their adulterous heart as crushing Him. Thus, Yahweh sent a divine judgment on Israel, but He kept His covenant with those He chose. As Covenant Maker and Keeper, He proves He is the Lord by His spoken word and accomplished deed to them. It also establishes an eschatological component to the fulfillment of Israel. Brueggemann called the regathered to Israel a generation of promise for that reason.[5] Further, Yahweh also demonstrated the knowledge of His identity to surrounding nations by returning Israel to their land. Had God not kept His promise, it would have left generations to come without hope for redemption. Through the re-establishment of the house of Judah would come the Son of David, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

In summarizing His self-revelation, one sees His multiple natures from omniscient, omnipotent, and Covenant Keeper. In a missional capacity, the totality of His character represents the inherent purpose of grace in returning the disobedient nation to their land extended to humanity across the ages.

Footnotes

[1]“‘Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,’ says the Lord’” (Ez 37:14).

[2]David S. Norris, I Am: A Oneness Pentecostal Theology (Hazelwood: MO, 2009), 75.

[3]David K. Bernard. Oneness of God (Hazelwood: (Kindle Locations 734-735). Word Aflame Press), 734-735. 

[4] Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 21-37 (New Haven: Anchor Yale Press, 1997), 7237. See Greenberg for further details on defilement. 

[5] Walter Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977). 187.

Bibliography

Ackroyd, Peter R. Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B. C. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986.

Allen, Leslie C. Ezekiel, Vol. 29. Word Bible Commentary. Edited by John D. W. Watts and James W. Watts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Bender, A. P. “Beliefs, Rites, and Customs of the Jews, Connected with Death, Burial, and Mourning.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 7, no. 2 January (Jan., 1995):  259-269:

Bimson, John J. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Block, Daniel. By the River Chebar: Historical, Literary, and Theological Studies in the Book of Ezekiel. City: James Clarke & Co 2014.

Boadt, Lawrence. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol D-G. Edited by David N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

__________. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press, 2012.

Brett, Mark G. ed. Ethnicity and the Bible. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002.

Brueggemann, Walter. The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977,

Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. 17th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Eichrodt, Walther Theology of the Old Testament. Translated by J. A. Baker. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

Fox, Michael, V. “The Rhetoric of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Valley of the Bones.” Hebrew Union College Annual 51, (1980): 1-15.

Greenberg, Moshe. Ezekiel 21-27. Anchor Yale Bible. New York: Yale University Press, 2010.

__________. The Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration.” Interpretation 58, no. 4 (2007): 585-625.

Goldingay, John A. “Ezekiel.” Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Edited by James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Joyce, Paul M. Ezekiel: A Commentary. New York: T & T Clark, 2007.

Kamsen, Joel and Tihitshak Biwul. “The Restoration of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis.” Scriptura 118 (2019:1), pp. 1-10.

LaSor, William Sandord, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, and Leslie C. Allen. Old Testament Survey: The Message Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, Co. 1996. 

Lee, Lydia. Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles Against the Nations. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016. https://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/pubs/9780884141808_OA.pdf.

Longman III, Tremper. The Message of the Prophets: A Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

Mein, Andrew. Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile. Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2006.

Miller, Maxwell J. and John H. Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. 2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Mendenhall, George. “Covenant.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol A-C. Edited by David Freeman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Margaret S. OdellEzekiel (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary). Macon: Smyth & Helwys, Inc., 2005.

Olyan, Saul M. 1996. “Honor, Shame, and Covenant Relations in Ancient Israel and Its Environment.” Journal of Biblical Literature 115, no. 2: 201. 

Pearce, Laurie E. “Identifying Judeans and Judean Identity in the Babylonian Evidence.” in Exile and Return: The Babylonian Context, edited by Jonathan Stökl, Caroline Waerzeggers, and Jonathan Stökl. Berlin: CPI Books, 2015. 

Qubt, Shadia. “Can These Bones Live? God, Only You Know.” Review and Expositor. 104, Summer, 2007.

Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: A Complete Survey of Old Testament History and Literature. New York: HarperOne, 2000.

Serfontein, Johan and Wilhelm J. Wessels. “Communicating Amidst Reality: Ezekiel’s Communication as a Response to His Reality.” Verbum Eccles 35, no. 1 (2014): 

Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. A Biblical Theology of Exile. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Staples, Jason A. The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Stökl, Jonathan, and Caroline Waerzeggers. Exile and Return : The Babylonian Context. (Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 2015): Volume 478. De Gruyter. 

Sweeney, Marvin. Reading Ezekiel: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Reading the Old Testament.) (p. 44). (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc.)

Tiemeyer, L. D. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. Edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Zimmerli, Walther. Ezekiel 2. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

__________. I Am Yehweh. Eugene:Wipf & Stock, 1982.

How God Speaks to His People Across the Ages

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Jan Paron, PhD | 2014

Hesselgrave defined communication related to culture as “the transfer of meaning through the use of symbols.”[1] Then, for a person to internalize communication, the received message must be processed from the listener’s understanding. Whether verbal or nonverbal symbols, Nida proposed that symbols come from culturally-prescribed artifacts, words, phrases, gestures, or behaviors.[2] If one culturally determines symbols from their location, then these symbols may influence interpreting God’s Word.

Scripture shows God communicated to His people in the Old Testament using multiple means of expression so people would understand Him and make meaning of His message. He used verbal, visual, tactile, aural, and experiential modes relevant to the cultural context of individuals across the two testaments. In doing so, God varied His message indigent to the listener’s (or receiver of the message) beliefs, values, norms, social practices, surrounding circumstances, geographic location, and historical events.

The listener must process a sent message through culturally determined symbols to understand and then internalize the given communication. Since a people group or individual determine symbols unique to their understanding, then these symbols may influence how a person or people interpret God’s Word in the communication modes.[3] Though believers in Christ cannot replicate God’s divine communication means, they can look to them for guidance when speaking to others.

The Adamic, Edenic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants each show examples of how God communicated His purpose and promise of salvation for humanity. God always has had a passion for communion and relationship with humanity desiring to transform them into His image as holy (Rom 8:29). The Creator does so through the covenantal language of redemption emanating from love for His creation. By examining each of the covenants, one sees instances of His expressional communication modes to individuals and collective bodies.    

Edenic Covenant (Genesis 1:26–31)

God made the Edenic Covenant with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before sin’s entrance. God revealed His purpose in Creation with this covenant (Gn 1:1; 2:25 ). Greene explained the Genesis author wrote the Creation account in the context of the ancient Israelites’ language, using cultural symbols the original audience would understand.[4] During the Edenic Covenant, communication shows God’s verbal, visual, and aural communication with Adam and Eve.

Set to the backdrop of the mist that went up from the earth, Genesis provides metaphorical language describing the perfection of God’s work (2:6–7). One reads in 1:26–31 how God created man in His image and likeness as the centerpiece of all He created. He formed Adam from the dust of the ground (2:7a), and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (v. 7b). Then, the first Adam became a living soul (v. 7c). 

As the Creation account continues in the Edenic Covenant, the author recorded God’s first words to humankind between the Lord and Adam. God stated His command to Adam in simple and direct terms: Freely eat of any tree in the Garden, but not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or Adam would die (vv. 16–17). The statements, in fact, reflect the terms of the Edenic Covenant. The tree of life itself standing in the middle of the Garden represents a visual symbol of the covenantal seal. 

Through the unfolding covenant, one reads of close and intimate dialogue between God and Adam. God told Adam he needed a suitable “help meet” (2:18b) and then brought him all the animals and birds to search for his companion, only to find none suitable. Therefore, God created woman and fashioned a wife called Eve from Adam’s rib (v. 22). The serpent (symbolic of Satan) then comes on the scene (3:4) and successfully tempted her with fruit from the forbidden tree. She ate the fruit, and gave one to her husband (v. 6). Now disobedient, God’s next communication to His Creation was aural. The Amplified Version tells Adam and Eve heard the “sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (v. 8). Then God calls out to Adam, “Where are you?” (v. 9) and followed it with a series of reprimands. One might imagine God as the disappointed parent standing face-to-face with His unruly children. God’s communication ended as it began—simple and direct to make Himself clear.  

Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:14–19)

While God made the Edenic Covenant with Adam and Eve before sin’s entrance, He established the Adamic after it. God revealed His purpose in redemption. Here, God communicated verbally and visually. When God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the two moved eastward from it (3:24). Eastward represented prosperity that Adam and Eve lost from the Fall.[5] When Cain fled after murdering Abel, the nomadic son traveled further east to Nod and built the city of Enoch (4:16-17) signaling a greater loss of prosperity. If a picture portrays a thousand words, then God verbally painted a grim image of the land outside the Garden of Eden. He promised receiving judgments of cursed ground (3:17b), working land that would produce thistles and weeds (v. 18a); eating herbs of the field (v. 18b); sweating and toiling of the cursed earth until death; and returning to dust  (v. 19a). To add to this visual imagery, after God expelled Adam from the Garden He placed “Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way” to keep and guard the tree of life (v. 24). Though Adam and Eve lost close fellowship with the Lord, God gave humankind the promise of redemption to restore them to a covenantal relationship. Along with the curse, God gave the seed promise (3:15a), bruising the serpent’s head—a messianic prophecy God would reveal progressively through the Old Covenants and fulfill with the New (cf. Mt 1:20; Lk 1:30–31; Gal 4:4; Heb 4:14–17; 1 Jn 3:8). God communicated a vivid picture of life to come for Adam and Eve because of their disobedience.

Noahic Covenant (Genesis 8:20–9:6)

God’s covenant with Noah after the flood involved all future generations of humankind and every creature on earth. Through it, He confirmed His purpose in redemption with a new beginning by replenishing all flesh by a covenant of grace. He spoke to Noah with instructions to follow in preparation for the Flood (Gn 6:13; 7:1; 8:15-17) and again to elaborate His covenant afterward (9:8-17). The Lord also displayed a rainbow to communicate the seal between Him and humankind in remembrance of His everlasting covenant (9:15; cf. v. 17).           

The Lord communicated to Noah in different forms such as visuals with the water and dove. Could one have been experiential, too? How did Noah know to build an ark that would save future generations from the Flood? Lee proposed God communicated non-audibly since the Garden of Eden, meaning not all conversations between God and His people in biblical accounts were in out loud vocal mode.He based this on the meaning of ‘amar (Hebrew: אָמַר) translated to English as the word said. Lee felt ‘amar can take on a range of meanings including “say in the heart.”[6] Further, he theorized Noah sensed or heard God’s voice in his heart and followed through by the condition of faith. His theory could be true since God chose Noah because he found grace in the Lord’s eyes (6:8). Further, the Scripture described him as perfect in his generations and one who walked with God (v. 9). Noah stood on faith when he carried out God’s command to build an ark to save him and his family along with specified species from a flood that would destroy every living thing of all flesh (7:4). 

God’s command to build an ark further showed social and geographical factors connected to His directives and Noah’s obedience. Within a social structure, Noah ranked as a patriarch.[7] The early patriarchs headed single-family units, having a special relationship with God.As a patriarch, Noah retained the responsibility of heeding the voice of God for direction. Geographically, the waterways from the Near East and Mesopotamian region where the early patriarchs resided more than likely could not have held a boat the proportion of the ark.[8] The ark size measured well beyond the size of a normal shipping transport. Taking into consideration the scope of the command, God’s possible inaudible voice, and social and geographical circumstances, this communication mode shows that faith plays a role in how God speaks to His beloved. Despite adaptations that give meaning to the promises of God, humankind must stand on God’s Word by faith. “For we live by believing and not by seeing” (2 Cor 5:7 NLT). 

Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-4)

The Abrahamic Covenant concerned the nation of Israel, the seed Messiah, and believers of all nations. The people having been scattered across the earth and experiencing their language confounded as a result of disobedience at Babel (Gn 11:7-8), had developed families into nations at the time of Abraham (11:10–28). Abraham, much like Noah, had to walk in faith because of the words God spoke to him (Heb 11:8). How did God communicate with Abraham? God gave him direct verbal commands, such as departing from Haran to an unknown land with the promise of a great nation (11:31; 12:1), promise of the entire land of Canaan (13), promise of an heir (15:2; 18:10), and sacrifice of his son (22:2). Also, God appeared to Abraham in some type of divine manifestation when He said, “I will give this land to your posterity” (12:7 AMP), and a vision regarding the Lord as Abraham’s shield and great reward (15:1). He also spoke to Abraham through other people. A pharaoh asked Abraham, then Abram, to leave the country when God brought down plagues on the Egyptian and his household after he took in Sarai to his harem misled she was Abram’s sister (12:15). God additionally used imagery to make His message meaningful, comparing Abraham’s seed to the dust of the earth (13:16). In one last form of communication, God spoke to Abraham experientially through tests by living through famine (12:10), being asked to sacrifice his son (22:2) and surviving war (14:16). God did not limit the use of communication symbols to convey a message that Abraham would understand, all revolving around the Promised Land.  

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Burning Bush: ShareFaith

Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19–31)

The Lord made the Mosaic covenant with the children of Israel after God delivered them from Egypt. This schoolmaster covenant was a shadow of better things to come for Israel in Jesus Christ. God spoke to Moses as well as Israelites in this covenant. People in this covenant experienced all forms of communication including verbal, visual, tactile, aural, and experiential. To bring back the wayward Israelites into relationship with Him from sin, God caught their attention. He came down in a cloud, which He announced with lightning, trumpet’s noise and a smoking mountain (Ex 19:16-19). This covenant records multiple conversations between God and Moses. It also shows God revealing Himself in the burning bush in a theophany (3:2). The Lord spoke to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (33:11; Dt 5:4 NIV). 

In contrast to God’s arresting communication with lightning, trumpet’s noise, and a smoking mountain (Ex 19:16-19) that made the Israelites fearful of the Lord, Moses’ conversation with the Lord demonstrated the intimacy that comes with friendship. Moses’ encounter with God differed from everyone else’s. Only Moses had this direct access to God. The Lord’s communication during this covenant characterized wide-ranging symbols from the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night that signified His presence to the children of Israel in the departure from Egypt (13:21–22)  to the intricacies of the Tabernacle of Moses. Even the ten plagues on the Egyptians and the starkness of the desert reflected God’s communication. Perhaps, God communicated in a demonstrative fashion to Moses and these first-generation children of Israel who provoked Him ten times and wandered in the desert to their death because of their disobedience (Nm 13–14:22).  

Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 28–30)

Whereas the Mosaic Covenant was between first-generation children of Israel, the Palestinian dealt with the second generation. It amplified the Mosaic Covenant with moral and civil codes as conditions for living in the Promised Land. This covenant pertains to the land. Much of the language relates to the land, mentioned about 180 times in the book of Deuteronomy.[9] The land showed a much different future. Rather than stark desert conditions, it promised milk and honey. These were visual symbols to the children of Israel of forthcoming prosperity. During this covenant, Moses spoke for God to the children of Israel. Moses himself conveyed the covenant (Dt 29:1; 29). God continued to dialogue with Moses. While He showed Moses the whole land, He would not allow him to cross over into it (34:1-4). 

Moreover, as the children of Israel went into Canaan to conquer the land under Joshua’s leadership, the Ark of the Covenant went before them (Jo 1-3). It symbolized new beginnings. However, the Israelites did not keep their conditions, and God expelled them from the land. During the period of the judges, Scripture communicated what awaited them as sickness, plagues, and cast out status (Dt 29:16-29; Lv 18:24-28).

Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:11–15)

In the last Old Testament covenant, which extends the Mosaic and Palestinian Covenants. God promised kingship from the lineage of David and the House of Judah with a messianic nature. This covenant shows some different patterns of communication. First, David enquired of the Lord and the Lord, in turn, answered Him (1 Sm 23:2–4). The response did not have the same tone as the intimacy shown with face-to-face dialogue between Moses and God (Ex 33:11; Dt 5:4), but David did communicate directly with Him. The Davidic Covenant also foretold the language of redemption with a number of seed promises (e.g., Is 7:13–14; 9:6–9; Jer 25:5–6; 33:15). Additionally, the sacrificial animals and blood typed greater spiritual sacrifices and atonement to come in the New Testament (e.g., burnt offerings to the Ark of the Covenant; 2 Sm 6:17, Chr 16:1–3). The seal was another symbol of the seed with the sun, moon, and stars as signs for the seasons, days, and years. While the heavens remained, the sun ruled the day, and moon and stars the night David’s throne would exist (Jer 32:35–37; 33:19–26). Jesus fulfills the seal.  

New Covenant (Isa 11:1; Matt 1:1; John 1:17; Acts 2)

With the New Testament, Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone—God manifested in flesh walked and talked among the people freely teaching, healing, and preaching among the marginalized. He reached the multitudes with stories, parables, and symbolic illustrations. When the Fulfilled Law outpoured His promised Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, there came a sound from heaven like “a mighty rushing wind” (Acts 2:2a KJV). Then, “cloven tongues like as of fire” (2:3) settled on each disciple, and the Holy Ghost filled them. Each spoke as He gave them utterance (v. 4). Those dwelling in Jerusalem heard these utterances. The scattered with their confounded language (Gn 11:7-8) now understood what the disciples said each in their own dialect (Acts 2:6 AMP). These expressions exemplify multisensory modes of communication by Jesus and through His Spirit. They serve to witness who Jesus is. The Holy Spirit continues today to manifest His presence through the speaking of tongues in believers. 

Biblical Implications

The children of Israel despite their promise to obey God repeatedly turned from Him in the Old Testament, while the crowd rejected Jesus as the Messiah in the New. Scripture contains the hidden things God’s indwelt Spirit reveals in the fullness of Godhead through His special revelation that intent to reach a diverse population for spiritual transformation utilizing intentional signs and symbols that promote sense-making meaning between the source and receiver anchored in a Christian perspective in both theological function and principles. Five axioms drive transformational communication during discipleship: (1) supports God’s purpose and plan; (2) revolves around unconditional love; (3) generates from the Holy Spirit; (4) brings meaning; (5) and unifies the Body in diversity. These can serve as a starting place for reaching the nations through witness. spiritual man discerns (1 Cor 2:6-13; Col 2:9). Conner compared these symbols to Jesus’ parables. While the crowd who listened to Jesus heard them as the language of Creation, the disciples understood it as the language of redemption.Thus, people in their natural cannot perceive the spiritual things of God.[10] Also, learned behaviors such as beliefs, values, norms, and social practices behaviors people acquire from a host of associated cultural groups, from family members to workplace colleagues affect how they make meaning. These behaviors influence how they perceive and interpret events, situations, and communications including the Gospel. How do leaders address the cultural perceptions of the listener, yet communicate in a way that spiritually transforms them? God contextually communicated with humankind in the Old and New Testaments using multidimensional methods to transmit messages appropriate to the peoples’ context to transform them to holiness in redemption from salvation through Jesus Christ. Ministerial leaders should exemplify this same. 

From: All Nations Leadership Institute

Footnotes

[1] Hesselgrave, D. (1991). Communicating Christ cross-culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1991), 55.

[2] Eugene Nida, Message and Meaning: The Communication of the Christian Faith (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), 65.

[3]  Nida, Message and Meaning: The Communication of the Christian Faith, 65.

[4] T. S. Greene, The metaphorical language of Creation. Greene’s creationism truth filter. 2000, Retrieved from http://www.reocities.com/Athens/Thebes/7755/genesismetaphor.html

[5] James Martin, John Beck, and David G. Hansen, A Visual Guide to Bible Events: Fascinating Insights into Where They Happened and Why (New York: Baker Books, 2009), 15.

[6] D. Lee, God Did Not Speak Out Loud to the Old Testament Saints, (2012) Amazon eBook. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/God-Speak-Loud-Testament-Saints-ebook/dp/B00EKB6298/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402507873&sr=8-1&keywords=God+did+not+speak+out+loud+to+old+testament+saints

[7] Israel Finkelstein and Neil A. Silberman, The Bible unearthed: Archeology’s new vision of ancient Israel and the origin of its sacred texts. (New York: Touchstone, 2001), 27.

[8] Stephen. M. Miller, Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible (Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 2004), 287.

[9] Kevin Conner, Interpretation: The Symbols and Types. Portland: Bible Temple Publishing, 1980), 52.

[10] Conner, Interpretation: The Symbols and Types.

Ezekiel 37:1-14: Receptive Reading

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Jan Paron, PhD | September 14, 2021

The oracle of the dry bones represents the restoration of a future, united Israel (Ez 37:1-14). Set in the context of the Babylonian exile (1:1-3), Ezekiel prophesied the oracles to the captured Judahites between approximately 585 BC and 573 BC.[1] Through the word of the Lord, Ezekiel announced multiple prophecies for the exiled about their future (37:1-14) amid what appears as three main: “you shall live” (v. 6); “brought you up from your graves” (v. 13); and “place you in your own land” (v.14).[2] The Lord made promises to the exiled that would change their captured state to one delivered from the Persians and then restored as a nation in their land. The clauses denote purpose that results in Israel knowing that “I am the Lord” (vv. 6, 13, 14).

 You Shall Live (Ez 37:6)

Listening to Ezekiel’s initial recounting of the valley from Ez 37:6, the exiled may have envisioned a scene marked by death and impurity rather than one of restored life. The area contained a great many dried, scattered, and disjointed bones that had laid there awhile (v. 2). The Jews had specific purification customs for a corpse before its burial. Further, the corpse rendered anything touching it unclean.[3] Therefore, the exiled possibly viewed the bones and land as desecrated. The unclean, dry bones might further represent a larger defilement between the Judahites and their failed relationship with the Lord (Ez 43:7).[4]

Babylonia’s second deportation of Israel resulted in Jerusalem’s destruction and its temple’s razing (2 Kgs 24:10-16).[5] If Ezekiel spoke the dry bones prophecy between 585 BC and 573 BC, then the first-wave deportees lived in exile for twelve years and the latter second wave two years at the time of the oracle.[6] For the first-generation Judean exiles, no doubt bitterness and trauma existed. Indeed, they voiced the dried-out state that produced feelings of being cut off (Heb: gāzar) from their parts (Ez 37:11). The NLT indicates gāzar as a finished nation.[7] The feelings of despair and desperation from hopelessness in a desecrated and dead condition (37:11) could have left them questioning God’s promise of “you shall live” (v. 6e). 

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The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones Engraving: Gustave Doré

Brought You Up from Your Graves (Ez 37:13)

The latter part of Ezekiel 37:13 refers to the Lord’s action of “brought you up from your graves.” His promise may speak to a physical and/or eschatological restoration for the house of Israel. Ezekiel 37:1-14 portrays the exiles’ cultural state with the stripping of their identity reflected in a very (ESV) or great many (NIV) bones now scattered from their homeland in a severely deteriorated, dry state (37:2). The exiled experienced economic, political, and spiritual losses that left them feeling shame during capture. 

Since Israel broke covenant with God by continuing in sin, the Lord allowed two deportations to Babylon.[8] The second-wave capture exiled most of the Judahites 1000 miles away to Mesopotamia.[9] This dislocation deprived them economically. Loss of property left them without their possessions, and more importantly, the temple and land so closely connected to their social and religious identities. Consequently, political fallout ensued from a lesser standing among the surrounding nations,[10] which laughed (Ez 25:3) and mocked (25: 8) the exiled Israel. In tandem, they further experienced a broken relationship with Yahweh. The Judahites expressed covenant through obedience, worship, rites, and sacrifice to God. Covenant loss more than likely additionally contributed to a sense of shame.

Nonetheless, the Lord extended His assurance of hope to them. Despite Israel’s disobedience, the Lord addresses them as “O, my people” (v. 12). Quite possibly, their despair may have overridden the Lord’s promise to bring them up from their graves (37:14). However, Ez 37:13 could provide a clue suggesting cause and effect. When the Lord brings them out of their graves, then they will know He is the Lord.[11]

Place in Your Own Land (Ez 37:14)

In the last verse in the passage (v. 14), the Lord mentions “place in your own land” (v. 14). The last verse also culminates the process of restoration to Israel encompassing sinews→flesh→skin→breath→live→land. As in the previous verse (v. 13), the last verse of the dry bones segment utilizes a cause and effect again as if to highlight knowing that He is the Lord (v. 14). However, in this instance, it predicates Him having spoken and performed his promises

Well into captivity, the exiled more than likely saw the realities of their changed existence. Upon hearing Ezekiel’s oracles, they may have Dry even asked themselves, can these bones live? However, the Lord leaves them with reaffirmation as His people and promises of restoration and revival. From prior practices over concern for Israel’s own self-interests, it’s difficult from the dry bones narrative to ascertain whether they grasped the fullness of His promises. He desired to sanctify His name’s sake, which Israel profaned among the nations (cf. Ez 36:22-24).


Footnotes

[1] Lawrence Boadt in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2, D-G, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York, Doubleday, 1992).713.

[2] Unless otherwise specified, this writing will quote scripture from the New King James Version.

[3] A.P. Bender. “Beliefs, Rites, and Customs of the Jews, Connected with Death, Burial, and MourningConnected with Death, Burial, and Mourning.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 7, no. 2 (January 1995), 259-269. The Jews had specific customs for purification of a corpse prior to burial such as cleansing, dressing, and posturing it,  which left anything touching it unclean as well.

[4] Marvin Sweeney, Reading Ezekiel: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys, Publishing, Inc., 2012), 44. 

[5] L. D. Tiemeyer, L. D, “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012) 214. Ezekiel delivered the oracles in chronological order with Ez 37 following 35:1 to 36:15. While experiences from deportation remained more recent for the second-wave Judahites than the first, nevertheless, t. 

[6] Walther Zimmerli, A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 25-48 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 234.

[7] Cut off may suggest multiple levels of separation: God, the nation, Jerusalem, and their temple. Possibly, it builds upon another word for cut off (Heb: kāraṯ) associated with punishment by death (Nm 9:13)

[8] When King Jehoiakim continued in the footsteps of Manasseh, the Lord sent other nations to destroy Judah for the sins of Manasseh (2 Kgs 24:3). Then, the Lord chastised Israel in the 12th year in exile (Ez 33:21) after Jerusalem’s fall for their continued sins.

[9] Paul M. Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary (New York: T & T Clark, 2007), 7.

[10] Nebuchadnezzar reigned over Syria and Palestine from the Euphrates to the Egyptian frontier (2 Kgs 24:7), and Judah became a Babylonian province, weakening the standing of Israel in the eyes of surrounding nations.

[11] Saul M. Olyan, “Honor, Shame, and Covenant Relations in Ancient Israel and Its Environment.” Journal of Biblical Literature 115, no. 2 (1996): 201.

Bibliography

Ackroyd, Peter R. Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B. C. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986.

Allen, Leslie C. Ezekiel, Vol. 29. Word Bible Commentary. Edited by John D. W. Watts and James W. Watts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Bender, A. P. “Beliefs, Rites, and Customs of the Jews, Connected with Death, Burial, and Mourning.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 7, no. 2 January (Jan., 1995):  259-269:

Bimson, John J. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Boadt, Lawrence. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol D-G. Edited by David N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

__________. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press, 2012.

Brett, Mark G. ed. Ethnicity and the Bible. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002.

Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. 17th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Eichrodt, Walther Theology of the Old Testament. Translated by J. A. Baker. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

Fox, Michael, V. “The Rhetoric of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Valley of the Bones.” Hebrew Union College Annual 51, (1980): 1-15.

Greenberg, Moshe. Ezekiel 21-27. Anchor Yale Bible. New York: Yale University Press, 2010.

__________. The Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration.” Interpretation 58, no. 4 (2007): 585-625.

Goldingay, John A. “Ezekiel.” Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Edited by James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Joyce, Paul M. Ezekiel: A Commentary. New York: T & T Clark, 2007.

Kamsen, Joel and Tihitshak Biwul. “The Restoration of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis.” Scriptura 118 (2019:1), pp. 1-10.

LaSor, William Sandord, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, and Leslie C. Allen. Old Testament Survey: The Message Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, Co. 1996. 

Lee, Lydia. Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles Against the Nations. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016. https://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/pubs/9780884141808_OA.pdf.

Longman III, Tremper. The Message of the Prophets: A Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

Mein, Andrew. Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile. Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2006.

Miller, Maxwell J. and John H. Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. 2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Mendenhall, George. “Covenant.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol A-C. Edited by David Freeman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Margaret S. OdellEzekiel (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary).

Olyan, Saul M. 1996. “Honor, Shame, and Covenant Relations in Ancient Israel and Its Environment.” Journal of Biblical Literature 115, no. 2: 201. 

Pearce, Laurie E. “Identifying Judeans and Judean Identity in the Babylonian Evidence.” in Exile and Return: The Babylonian Context, edited by Jonathan Stökl, Caroline Waerzeggers, and Jonathan Stökl. Berlin: CPI Books, 2015. 

Qubt, Shadia. “Can These Bones Live? God, Only You Know.” Review and Expositor. 104, Summer, 2007.

Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: A Complete Survey of Old Testament History and Literature. New York: HarperOne, 2000.

Serfontein, Johan and Wilhelm J. Wessels. “Communicating Amidst Reality: Ezekiel’s Communication as a Response to His Reality.” Verbum Eccles 35, no. 1 (2014): 

Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. A Biblical Theology of Exile. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Staples, Jason A. The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Stökl, Jonathan, and Caroline Waerzeggers. Exile and Return : The Babylonian Context. (Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 2015): Volume 478. De Gruyter. 

Sweeney, Marvin. Reading Ezekiel: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Reading the Old Testament.) (p. 44). (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc.)

Tiemeyer, L. D. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. Edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Zimmerli, Walther. Ezekiel 2. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

Valley of the Dry Bones: Contextual Background

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Jan Paron, PhD | September 4, 2021

The vision of the valley of the dry bones (Ez 37:1-14) stands amid a collection of oracles from Ezekiel addressed to the exiled during the Babylonian captivity. Ezekiel transmitted the words of the Lord to the exiled as their watchman and prophet.[1] In 37:1-14, he oracled renewal and restoration that included a united Israel (vv. 15-21) as part of the book’s primary purpose of judgment and salvation for Israel and the nations. What occurred in the background that tells the behind-the-scenes story of the exiled in Babylonia? An overview of the historical, cultural, geographic, and economic contexts provide an initial glimpse into their captivity.

A historical overview of exile for the divided kingdoms reveals deportation for both but at different points. In 721 BC, before the Babylonian captivity, the Assyrians took the Northern Kingdom captive (2 Kgs 14-20). Babylonian captivity followed about 100 years later in two waves. The first wave in 597 BC resulted in the capture of King Jehoiachin and leading citizens of Judah including Ezekiel.[2] The second occurred in 587 BC when Babylon razed Jerusalem and its temple after Jerusalem’s second rebellion. It forced Jerusalem’s surrender and deported its king and Judean notables to Babylon (2 Kgs 24:10-16).[3]

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Image: pastorjesusfigueroa.wordpress.com

To grasp the fullness of the dry bones prophecy, a glimpse at the circumstances before exile places the word of the Lord in perspective. Several events led up to the Babylonian exile. While King Josiah pleased the Lord during his 30-year reign by walking in the ways of David,[4] Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim marked a return to acts of evil in the Lord’s sight (23:37). After Jehoiakim rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Lord sent bands of Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and children of Ammonites to destroy Judah for the sins of Manasseh (24:3). Nebuchadnezzar then reigned over Syria and Palestine from the Euphrates to the Egyptian frontier (2 Kgs 24:7), and Judah became a Babylonian province. Finally, the Lord chastised the people in the twelfth year of Babylonian exile (Ez 33:21) after Jerusalem’s fall for their continued sins.[5]

The Lord did not leave the exiled without His guidance. While in captivity, God called Ezekiel to the office of prophet. Among the deportees, Ezekiel recorded a series of visions from the Lord while exiled in Babylon during King Jehoiachin’s captivity in the diaspora community by the River Chebar (Ez 1:2). His oracles conveyed God’s redemptive plan for Israel and the nations about judgment and restoration.[6] He specifically spoke to the Judeans and first-generation exiles after the fall of Jerusalem as a voice from the exiled.[7]

He prophesied his first vision about the throne room in chapter one (1:4). The writer did not say whether it took place during its actual delivery versus writing at a later date.[8] If he prophesied the first vision at the start of his captivity, then, as Boadt noted, it occurred in 623-622 BC when 30 years old (1:1).[9] Tiemeyer concurred with a sixth-century BC dating since it supports Neo-Babylonian sources.[10]Allen dated his prophetic call to 593 BC.[11]

In terms of dating the Ez 37 prophecy, the preceding may give a clue as to the timeline. Zimmerli dated passages 35:1-36:15 to after 587 BC since it recalls the dispute between the Judahites who remained in Jerusalem with neighboring peoples over Jewish claims to the land.[12] As Ezekiel ordered the oracles chronologically, this may imply that chapter 37 occurs later in the 70-year exilic period. Further, if Ezekiel delivered the dry bones prophecy around 585 BC, then the lesser first wave lived in exile for twelve years and the greater second wave two years.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 portrays the cultural state of the exiled through symbolism reflected in the very many or very great many dry bones in the valley or open valley (37:2). In essence, Babylonian captivity stripped them of their identity and left a collective society now scattered from their homeland in a severely deteriorated, dry state. Psalm 137:1 expresses the sorrow and mourning the exiled Judeans had felt in oppression: “By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion” (NKJV). Written in retrospect of exile, this psalm reflects the wounds of separation from Zion, the holy dwelling place of God, at the hands of the uncircumcised heathens who had plundered it.

Since the Babylonians captured Ezekiel during the first wave, the prophet did not directly experience Jerusalem’s fall.[13] Nevertheless, God chose him as His spokesperson to the exilic community living among the refugees in their trauma culture. The book of Lamentations records the very depth of their sorrow, suffering, and abandonment. They also experienced shame from exile. Ezekiel 25 records the surrounding nations laughing (25:3) and mocking (v. 8) the exiled house of Israel. In the wake of their feeling of grief, the Lord’s message sought to give them hope in captivity.           

Exile geographically impacted the Judahites as well. The Babylonians transported most of the captured 1000 miles to Mesopotamia during the second wave of capture.[14] The exiled came from an urban environment in Jerusalem and relocated to what Joyce described as “ghetto-like settlements” such as Tel-abib described in Ez 3:15. The elders could gather with each other, though (8:1; 14:1; 20:1).[15] Ezekiel himself lived among the exiled in a community by the river Chebar in Tel-abib 100 miles south of Babylon (Ez 1:1; 3:15).  

Pearce noted that the term exile suggested movement away from a native land.[16] Economically, that movement away from the homeland took a toll on the diaspora. Taking a closer look at the exile reveals the extent of the destruction by the captors on the captives. The Babylonians physically dislocated Judeans from their homeland, deprived them economically of their possessions, and left them spiritually depleted without their temple. To the Jews, the losses affected their identity closely tied to the promised land, the Davidic throne, Jerusalem, and Lord’s temple. Second Kings 25:1-21 describes in vivid detail the fall, capture, and destruction of Jerusalem: forced famine; murdered military officials, king’s associates, townspeople, and priests; burnt structures, and pillaged house of the Lord. The captors left only a small remnant of the very poor behind. The resettlement in Babylonia resulted in a starting over so to speak of the exiled. 

In all, perhaps at the very heart of God’s mission to His people lies the events that preceded exile and the losses they experienced. He would allow them to experience death in the valley, only to bring them life out of the valley. “Then you shall know that I am the LORD,” (Ez 37:6, 13, 14).

Bibliography

Ackroyd, Peter R. Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B. C. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986.

Allen, Leslie C. Ezekiel, Vol. 29. Word Bible Commentary. Edited by John D. W. Watts and James W. Watts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Bimson, John J. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Boadt, Lawrence. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol D-G. Edited by David N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

__________. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press, 2012.

Brett, Mark G. ed. Ethnicity and the Bible. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002.

Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. 17th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Eichrodt, Walther Theology of the Old Testament. Translated by J. A. Baker. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

Fox, Michael, V. “The Rhetoric of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Valley of the Bones.” Hebrew Union College Annual 51, (1980): 1-15.

Greenberg, Moshe. Ezekiel 21-27. Anchor Yale Bible. New York: Yale University Press, 2010.

__________. The Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration.” Interpretation 58, no. 4 (2007): 585-625.

Kamsen, Joel and Tihitshak Biwul. “The Restoration of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis.” Scriptura 118 (2019:1), pp. 1-10.

LaSor, William Sandord, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, and Leslie C. Allen. Old Testament Survey: The Message Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, Co. 1996. 

Lee, Lydia. Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles Against the Nations. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016. https://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/pubs/9780884141808_OA.pdf.

Mein, Andrew. Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile. Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2006.

Miller, Maxwell J. and John H. Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. 2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Pearce, Laurie E. “Identifying Judeans and Judean Identity in the Babylonian Evidence.” in Exile and Return: The Babylonian Context, edited by Jonathan Stökl, Caroline Waerzeggers, and Jonathan Stökl. Berlin: CPI Books, 2015. 

Qubt, Shadia. “Can These Bones Live? God, Only You Know.” Review and Expositor. 104, Summer, 2007.

Serfontein, Johan and Wilhelm J. Wessels. “Communicating Amidst Reality: Ezekiel’s Communication as a Response to His Reality.” Verbum Eccles 35, no. 1 (2014): http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2074-77052014000100033.

Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. A Biblical Theology of Exile. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Staples, Jason A. The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Stökl, Jonathan, and Caroline Waerzeggers. Exile and Return : The Babylonian Context. (Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 2015): Volume 478. De Gruyter. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=cat06729a&AN=ebc.EBC2189973&site=eds-live.

Tiemeyer, L. D. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. Edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Zimmerli, Walther. Ezekiel 2. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.


[1] Michael V. Fox, 1980. “The Rhetoric of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Valley of the Bones,” Hebrew Union College Annual 51(1980):1. Fox described the prophet’s audience in 37:1-14 as first-wave deportees from his immediate location and generation.

[2] Daniel L Smith-Christopher, A Biblical Theology of Exile (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002). Historians differ in the Babylonian captivity dates. Daniel Smith-Christopher supports 597 BC for the first capture and 587 BC for the second. Paul M. Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary, 3 (New York: T & T Clark, 2007), 5. .Joyce recorded Ez 1:2 as 593 BC and then onwards. 

[3] L. D. Tiemeyer, L. D, “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012) 214.

[4] King Josiah died in battle at Megiddo at the hand of the Egyptian Pharoahnechoh (2 Kgs 23:29). Jehoahaz then took his father’s place as king. His tenure marked a return to evil in the sight of the Lord. After a short reign, Pharoahnechoh put Jehoahaz in bonds at Riblah and replaced him with Jehoiakim (Josiah’s son Eliakim). 

[5] “The Sovereign Lord commanded the prophet to tell the people “You eat meat with blood in it, you worship idols, and your murder the innocent. Do you really think the land should be yours? 26 Murderers! Idolaters! Should the land belong to you!” (33:25-26 NLT). Further, 28 “I will completely destroy the land and demolish her pride.  Her arrogant power will come to an end. The mountains of Israel will be so desolate that no one will even travel through them. 29 When I have completely destroyed the land because of their detestable sins, then they will know that I am the Lord” (vv.28-29). 

[6] Lawrence Boadt in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2, D-G, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York, Doubleday, 1992).713.

[7] Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, vol. 29 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic), xx.

[8] The New International Version (NIV) prefaces the dating with “my” indicating the prophet’s age (v. 1a). Reading on, the next verse adds clarification as to the time in captivity as the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile (v.2). If that the thirtieth year holds true, then it places the timeline at about 598 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon (2 Kgs 24:15). 

[9] Boadt, Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2, D-G, 713.

[10] L. D. Tiemeyer, “Book of Ezekiel,” 214-215.

[11] Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, xx.

[12] Walther Zimmerli, A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 25-48 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 234.

[13] Smith-Cristopher, Biblical Theology of Exile, 75. 

[14] Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary, 3.

[15] Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, 184.

[16] Laurie E. Pearce, “Identifying Judeans and Judean Identity in the Babylonian Evidence,” in Exile and Return: The Babylonian Context,ed. Jonathan Stökl, Caroline Waerzeggers, and Jonathan Stökl (Berlin: CPI Books, 2015), 7. 

Shema

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Daryl O. Cox | August 3, 2021

“Hear O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD” (Dt 6:4 KJV). Taken from the Torah, Jews called this verse the Shema.[1] A prayer and Judaism’s confession of faith, it proclaims belief in the one true God of Israel. Historically, Jewish rabbis based the Shema exclusively on verse four, but later rabbis came to include several other verses in this prayer which observant Jews cite twice daily, early morning and late evening (Dt 6:4-6; 11:13-21; Nm 15:37-41). In Jesus’ day, Israel called the Shema the first commandment (v. 4). A young scribe asked Jesus to identify the first commandment. Jesus responded by quoting Dt 6:4. However, Jesus recognized a second commandment, a verse not found in the Shema, saying to love thy neighbor as thyself (Lv 19:18; Mk 12:31). The commands to love God and our neighbor reflect the whole of the inspired Law, for they define humanity’s relationship to God and one another. In a corporate setting, observant Jews cite them as prayer during liturgical services. All four passages encompassing the Shema address three areas of life: God, His Word, and human relationships. By daily recitation, this act fulfills Moses’ command to teach and integrate its central truth into Jewish society (Dt 6:6-9). Jesus acknowledged in His day the Pharisees adorned themselves with phylacteries (small cases enclosing Scripture) on their arm. These cases contained scripts of Dt 6:4 as a reminder of Israel’s commitment to God (Mt 23:5). 

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The word shema means to hear or listen with the intent to embrace and do. Observant Jews pray the Shema’s words daily as a reminder of their commitment to God and His truth. This prayer embodies the officially inspired statement of truth about God. When embraced, it leads one from false worship to recognition of the true God and obedience to His required truths. According to Jewish Targum, verse four recognizes the kingship of God. He alone reigns as absolute sovereign over Israel and creation. If one embraces the Shema, they submit to God’s kingship over their life. Deuteronomy 6 presents a covenant confession: it declares one God exists whom individuals embrace as their God, the God of Abraham. This statement gives rise to another truth, the messianic kingship promised in Scripture, for this verse also looks forward to God’s coming kingdom on earth. Deuteronomy lists other shemas throughout, but this paper will focus on the one central to Judaism’s confession of faith.

The Shema uses the Lord in place of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) just as all passages of the Old Testament do. The Tetragrammaton comprises four consonants, YHWH, which forms the Old Testament name of God but without an exact pronunciation. Israel lost the exact pronunciation centuries ago believing the name too sacred to speak except by the high priest during Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). To regain its pronunciation, scholars combined vowels from the Hebrew Adonai (lord) with the four consonants. By combining the vowels of Adonai with the consonants of YHWH, the closest pronunciation becomes Yahweh. The Jewish world continues to reserve speaking the name of God out of reverence.

Finally, in preparation for the Messiah’s coming, Dt 6:4-6 places emphasis on a monotheistic devotion to Yahweh, which excludes worship to all other gods laying the foundation for a life filled with spiritual growth and moral development. The Shema teaches the importance of love to God and man making these points the first two great commandments in Scripture (Mk 12:28-31). Moses commanded the Israelites to teach these words to their succeeding generations safeguarding them from idolatry and immorality. 

A Fresh Perspective on Deut 6:4-6

The Shema declares a monotheistic faith in the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and gives prophetic enlightenment concerning God’s incarnation in Christ, the son of King David. This provides the basis for the New Testament confession of Jesus as Lord. The Shema’s unique wording identifies the New Testament doctrine of the Incarnation of God in Christ, looking forward to His plan to come, redeem His creation from sin and death, and later establish His Kingdom on earth. Detailed considerations about the Shema led to a monotheistic incarnational view of Jesus Christ. First, Jesus’ own interpretation of Old Testament Scripture sets forth this perspective. Second, the meaning and use of the Hebrew echad identifies the incarnation in the Shema. Finally, the prophets, represented in Zechariah, reveal a prophetic kingship fulfillment of the Shema prior to the coming kingdom of God on Earth. These considerations establish conclusively that in addition to proclaiming Judaism’s historic monotheism, the Shema reveals the incarnational union of Yahweh the God of Israel in Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ Interpretation of Old Testament Scripture

Jesus’ own words present an inspired perspective on how to view the Old Testament writings, which include the Shema. He gave an understanding concerning the Old Testament saying its Scriptures testify of Himself (Jn 5:39). Concerning Moses, who authored Deuteronomy, Jesus said He Himself is the chief subject of his writings (vv. 46-47). On the morning of His resurrection, Jesus expounded on the Law (the Shema), the Prophets, and the Psalms to His disciples saying they concerned Himself, (Lk 24:27,44). The whole of Old Testament theology defines Jesus and the Gospel.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus gave evidence of a greater truth in the Shema by His response to a young scribe leading to a greater understanding of God’s Oneness. After the young scribe summarizes the verses, Jesus responded saying, “thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk 12:28-34). The scribe correctly stated his response, but Jesus’ implication says these verses give a greater understanding that leads to entrance into God’s kingdom: Yahweh stood before this young scribe as Jesus of Nazareth without recognition! Believing in Jesus as Lord and Christ enables a person to repent, experience remission of sins through baptism in Jesus’ name and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Jn 3:5; Acts 2:38). In essence, the Shema laid the foundation for the Israelites to recognize and receive Jesus as Messiah.

More than just inspired stories and teachings, the Old Testament Scriptures give witness to Jesus Christ.[2] They testify of His identity and mission meaning the reader must view scriptural testimony from an incarnational perspective, which identifies both His deity and human life. This perspective states the incarnation as the union of God the Father and man in the person of Jesus Christ (Jn 10:30). The apostle John calls this union the Son of God (v. 36). Scripture also presents this union as both revelatory and redemptive in God’s purpose providing a complete picture of the Messiah (Col 1:12-16). In providing a foundational witness, Scripture gives students a principle to guide their study when reading both testaments. Readers will receive a clear understanding of the incarnation and its related teachings recorded by the apostles. This perspective comes from a spirit of wisdom and revelation revealing God and His purpose in the Messiah.[3] The testimony of Jesus becomes the guiding principle for understanding the Shema.

Peter said believers are currently established in the present truth of the New Covenant implying the themes of the Old Covenant stood prophetic as truth awaiting fulfillment (2 Pt 1:12). Without the Messiah, the Law remained an incomplete truth having an inferior confession and experience with God and not the fullness of grace Jesus provided for the New Covenant. Jesus also said He came to complete its revelation and establish a new relationship and experience between God and man (Mt 5:17). Although the Shema gives a great confession of the oneness of God, Jesus’ coming established the incarnation of God in Christ as its fulfilled truth (Jn 1:1,14; 14:6). 

Echad

The Shema uses echad translated as one to declare faith in the one personal God revealed from a composed unity. Jesus’ teaching on the Old Testament gives further understanding on echad to reveal the incarnational unity of God in Christ. Echad translates as one in the following expressions one Yahweh or Yahweh is OneThese expressions read from the Torah and King James Versions of Scripture. Echad means one in the numeral sense as well as to unite properly as one. The Shema’s official pronouncement declares God as one being. Echad’s former use exclusively rejects recognition of all other gods in favor of Yahweh while recognizing His distinct names stated in Scripture (Ex 6:3). He has a singular identity composing the sum of His revelation. Deuteronomy’s use of echad shows one God who gave a progressive revelation of Himself culminating in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.

Moreover, the word recognizes a divine-human union in Yahweh pointing to the incarnation. Although Christ’s birth occurred centuries later, God foreordained His revelation and redemptive work in Him before creation (1 Pt 1:18-20). This union composes the image of God consisting of the Creator and the Seed of the woman who suffered death but bruises the serpent’s head by resurrection (Gn 1:26; 3:15). Paul, in the New Testament, calls the image of God Christ recognizing and establishing the unity of God defined by echad (2 Cor 4:4-6). The Shema calls the union of God and man Yahweh, an identity to be fulfilled in the coming Messiah-King (Ps 118:26-28; Jn 1:14). The Lord Jesus Christ stands as the fulfillment of the Shema for all New Testament believers.

In making a monotheistic confession, the Shema combines God’s diverse revelation under one name. Moses recorded distinct names and titles for God throughout the Torah (first five books of Scripture) to reveal progressively God’s character in relationship to His people and creation (Ex 6:3). David also recognized this truth when he wrote that he will praise God for His truth and kindness “for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name (singular; Ps 132:2b). God’s singular identity unifies His distinct names recorded in Scripture. Genesis 1:26 unifies the subject-plural pronouns us and our with the image of God (Christ). Similarly, echad unifies God’s complete revelation as one. To insist echad defines God as a unity of distinct persons misleads the understanding. The term three distinct conscious persons gives room for a perspective suggesting God is a council of divine beings, a diversion from echad’s actual meaning and use in the Shema. Moses used echad to unify the Lord’s distinctive revelation as one, leading to His ultimate revelation in His Son Jesus who died for all.

The Shema identifies the fullness of God’s revelation in the Messiah who was yet to come. Jesus identified Himself with echad using the Greek word heis for one saying “I and my Father are one” (Jn 10:30). Heis translates into the number one. The incarnational union of the Father and Son compose the one person of Jesus. Echad presents both an exclusive and composed meaning while heis focuses on the singular exclusive. Jesus draws priority focus to Himself as a man revealing an unprecedented unity with His Father, an Incarnational union. His use of I declares a singular identity of the Father and Son leading to recognition of God in Christ. For this reason, the Jews wanted to kill Him for in their minds, Jesus being a man made Himself God (v. 33). The Apostle John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the Jews shows the Shema identifies the incarnational union of the Father and Son in the person of Jesus Christ. 

A study of the Shema and the incarnation requires an explanation of the biblical expressions Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in relation to echad. In addition to an exclusive one being, Echad’s meaning reveals a unified one. The use of these terms originates from Mt 28:19. However, other New Testament passages use them to show God’s activity towards humanity. The Apostle Paul described the Godhead as belonging to a singular being when he used the pronoun His in relation to God. He describes the Godhead as God the Father, eternal and powerful in His fullness, fully expressed in the person of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:20; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 2:9). It goes against Scripture to say the Godhead consists of three eternally distinct persons, for its fullness describes the Father as the Word and Holy Spirit. The expression Son of God involves a God-human union for divine visitation and redemption purposes. The terms do not speak of distinct persons in God’s nature, but they reveal three designations of the one God in relationship to humanity; furthermore, these expressions reveal the means by which God established salvation in the Earth (1 Pt 1:2). 

Matthew 28:19 reveals a singular name for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In verse 18, Jesus declares Himself Sovereign of heaven and Earth saying, “all power is given unto me in heaven and Earth.” This statement led to a Christo-centric understanding of the name in verse 19, for the apostles, beginning on the Day of Pentecost, baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:6). These designations describe Jesus as the singular name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, viewed scripturally from this perspective in light of the Incarnation. Scripture calls God the Father of the human nature of Christ (not His divine nature), the Father of creation, and the Father of New Covenant believers. Furthermore, it also calls God the Word who was made flesh as the Son of God, and finally, God actively exists as the Holy Ghost who continues to work throughout human history and now dwells and continues to work in His people (Eph 1:3; Jn 1:1, 14; 14:16). 

Interestingly, 1 Pt 1:2 presents the whole act of salvation, election and sanctification, as the exclusive work of God, the Father. God chose His elect before creation in Christ, then sanctified them through the outpouring of His Holy Spirit and the sprinkled blood of Jesus, God–the Father incarnate. God used the Incarnation and the subsequent shedding of Jesus’ blood followed by the outpouring of His Spirit to sanctify His elect. Three separate divine persons did not act on distinct occasions to establish deliverance for everyone. However, in each step of redemption, the same God Peter calls the Father acted to bring salvation to humanity. God has more designations than these three titles in Scripture, but they describe Him in relationship to humanity and their redemption. This passage and its interpretation stand consistent with the Shema’s confession concerning one God.

When the Shema says one Lord, it sets a monotheistic incarnational focus upon Christ by calling Him Yahweh. God’s fullness of being has an ultimate expression, the person of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:14; Gal 3:20). On the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed to his Jewish audience Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Immediately afterwards, he defined Christ’s lordship in terms of the Shema saying “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (v. 39). The lordship of Jesus, raised from the dead, identifies Him as the God of Israel the Lord our God in flesh. Peter’s anointed statement, which should have incited a violent response for seemingly violating Israel’s confession of faith, instead brought conviction and a radical conversion of about three thousand souls to Jesus Christ. This account shows the Acts 2 experience, the baptism of the Holy Ghost speaking in tongues, confirms the lordship confession of Jesus Christ. It gives a divinely personal and public witness to a new confession. The new confession gives a renewed understanding of the Deuteronomy passage without denying its inspired truth. Using Scripture from Psalms, Peter called Jesus of Nazareth Lord and Christ. His identification of the incarnation shows how essential its acceptance is to reconciling echad’s use in the Shema.

Peter gave further witness to Jesus’ lordship confession fulfilling the Shema by calling Him “our God and Savior” (2 Pt 1:1-4 NKJV). He declared it to persecuted Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire. He exhorted they have in possession a precious faith that makes them partakers Christ’s divine nature through “exceedingly great and precious promises” (v. 4). In declaring their faith in the deity of Christ, Peter acknowledges a wisdom and “knowledge of God, and Jesus our Lord” leading to this profound confession (v. 2). Originating from the Holy Spirit, this knowledge reconciles the uniting of God and Jesus from an incarnational perspective without denying the inspired confession of the Mosaic Law. More than identifying Jesus as the God of Israel, Peter calls Him Lord, God, and Savior for believers of all nations. This confession moves biblical Christianity beyond the boundary of a Jewish faith to a universal monotheistic faith for all races. These statements further show New Testament Christianity continued to embrace the Shema’s core belief but in light of Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. Echad’s compound unity declares the God of the Old Covenant revealed in flesh as Jesus Christ and not as three distinct persons. 

The four gospels present the narrative of Jesus’ life from His birth throughout His ascension into heaven. They also identify His messiahship and deity. The last gospel, written by John, not only presents a strong showing of Jesus as Son of God but the establishment of a new confession that includes the incarnation and recognizes the oneness of God declared by the Shema. Eight days following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples with Thomas being present. The unbelieving apostle sees and experiences the resurrected Messiah and makes a profound confession that stands as the bedrock of Jesus being the Son of God. Thomas calls Jesus “My Lord and My God” (Jn 20:28 KJV). His confession, recorded by John concludes the presentation of Jesus in the gospels, leaving humanity with a decision to make. 

Thomas’ recognition of Jesus becomes the definitive hallmark of the New Covenant confession, Jesus is Lord. Jesus’ response to Thomas’ shows the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old. First, Thomas makes His confession in light of Christ’s resurrection and conquest over death. Second, Jesus’ resurrection reveals He is not only human but the one Lord and God spoken of in the Shema. Third, in light of Thomas’ confession, Jesus pronounces a blessing to those who believe and embrace who He is without having seen Him. The promised blessing comes as the baptism of the Holy Ghost speaking in tongues, a transforming encounter with Christ that confirms His resurrection reality to all believers who do not physically see Him as Thomas and the disciples did. This experience and confession sets the New Covenant on a higher spiritual level than the Old Covenant. 

Thomas’ confession not only concludes the fourfold presentation of Jesus Christ in the gospels but it flows from David’s prophetic words: 

“Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD. God is the LORD (Messiah), which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Ps 118:26-29). 

Concerning the Coming One, David identified Him as Messiah who comes in the name of the LORD. David called Messiah the Blessed One, for He has Yahweh’s identity (name) and therefore God’s people worship Him in the house of Yahweh. Next in verse 27, David calls the coming one Yahweh; whose coming reveals New Covenant light. He says, “God is Yahweh.” Prophetically, God’s identity lies in the person of Messiah and not separate from Him. David says the Messiah presents the revelation of God in person revealing the one Yahweh described in the Shema. Further, in response, David calls the Messiah His God whom He worships and exalts in the Psalms (v. 28). The Messiah’s coming will require a new faith confession by fulfilling the old confession. The last verse (v. 29) ends with a well-known acclamation of praise mentioned for the first time in Scripture. David ascribes this praise to the Messiah’s identity only to develop it further in another psalm (Ps 136). David’s recognition and praise to Christ stands prophetic today of Jesus’ identity and Thomas’ words. They bring a conclusive reconciliation of the God of the Old Testament with Jesus the Lord and Messiah of the New by recognizing the incarnation reflected in Dt 6:4. The Shema prophetically teaches the incarnation and in light of the gospel narratives and outpouring of the Holy Ghost present a greater confession, Jesus the Lord God Almighty in flesh.

Understanding the use of echad to address the incarnation provides a solid basis for interpreting Scripture throughout both testaments. Jesus’ own interpretation of the Old Testament concerning the Shema set boundaries. First, it affirms God as one solitary being who revealed Himself in many ways throughout biblical history. Secondly, Jesus remains the central subject of all Scripture and the ultimate revelation of God. Next, the testimony of inspired writers from Scripture demonstrates how the Shema stands fulfilled in Christ. It begins as a personal confession of Yahweh as our God beside whom there exists no other and leads to a personal embracing of Yahweh in the Messiah.

Prophets Revealed a Future Prophetic Fulfillment of the Shema

“And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one” (Zec 14:9).

In addition to announcing a confession of faith for the Jewish race, the Shema requires a prophetic fulfillment by Christ. Its statement of faith awaited greater fulfillment by God’s coming in flesh to redeem not only Israel but also all races of people from sin and death. Zechariah the prophet revealed a future day when Yahweh, the messianic King of Israel, will reign as one. The formation of the incarnation, the conception and birth of Christ, will precede Christ’s reign on earth (Lk 1:31-33). Further, Jesus did not want people to think His coming and teachings sought to render the law of Moses void and incorrect. He came to fulfil it (Mt 5:17). Specifically, the Shema awaited the Messiah’s coming. Jesus Christ fulfills the Shema as the God of Israel in flesh. Zechariah’s inspired statement shows the promised king of the Davidic covenant will be the union of God and man, one.

Zechariah also uses echad to identify the incarnation with God’s one incarnational name, Jesus. The kingship of God identified in the Shema expands to include the son of David, the king of Israel. Zechariah’s use of the word reveals God will have a name reflecting His fullness and demonstrating His remarkable act in uniting himself to man. The name of Jesus reveals God in flesh (Jn 14:7). It means Yahweh has become my salvation; The God and king of Israel becomes humanity’s offering for sin and its gift of righteousness. Furthermore, Jesus’ name collectively fulfills the diverse revelation of God throughout the Old Testament, effectively establishing Jesus as the sovereign Lord and Christ of the New Testament (Ps 118:26). Paul says the fullness of the Godhead now dwells incarnate in Him giving full expression of the one true God (Col 2:9 AMP). 

Within this vein of thought, another version of truth emerges. Isaiah 12:2 says “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid: For the LORD Jehovah is my strength and song; He also is become my salvation” (KJV). Salvation comes from the Hebrew Yeshua. This name gives the Jewish pronunciation for Jesus (Yahweh has become my salvation). It shows Yahweh becoming our offering for sin, whose life the Holy Spirit imparts to believers. The name of Jesus (Yeshua) identifies Messiah as both Yahweh and His coming Davidic king shown in the Shema. It unites monotheism with messianic hope and redemption under one name. Without violating monotheism, the name of Jesus stands as the testimony and name of Yahweh giving a scripturally clear and balanced understanding that connects both testaments. This means the people of God now scripturally confess and worship Jesus as Lord to the glory (recognition) of God, the Father in Him (Phil 2:9-11).

Zechariah’s prophecy further reveals before God sets up His kingdom on Earth, He will return in judgement against all nations seeking to destroy Israel (Zech 14:2-4). “His feet shall stand in that day (Day of the LORD) on the mount of Olives” (11:4a). In coming to Earth against the nations gathered against Israel, Zechariah uses God’s human feet standing on mount Olivet to make a divine and human connection, the incarnation. Here, God returns as the rejected son of David in judgement of the nations and proceeds to reign over them afterwards (v. 9). This imagery and understanding stands confirmed by the prophet Isaiah (Is 7:14; 9:6). A virgin-born son becomes King, reestablishes the throne of David over Israel, and possesses a human name that fulfills Yahweh’s identity recognized by His people. Zechariah’s prophecy, in light of other prophetic writings, reveals a divine-human union that reconciles prophecies concerning the messianic son of David and king of Israel with the God of Israel. This picture shows the name of Jesus belongs to Yahweh completing His revelation to His people.

Although the Shema declared God as one, the incarnation remarkably fulfills it by identification, the union of the son of David and God of Israel in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s distinct purposes concerning the Shema awaited completion by the first and second comings of Jesus. His two comings will personally reveal the one true God and fulfill the seven major covenants of the Old Testament under a new and better covenant established by His death and resurrection. The confession of Jesus as Lord does not reject the command of the Shema found in Dt 6:4. It sustains its truth in Christ. Paul acknowledged he continued to worship the God of His fathers by His confessed faith in Christ (Acts 24:14). His worship of Jesus found its basis in the Scriptures of the Law (including the Shema) and prophets. The incarnational perspective makes such reconciliation possible. 

Conclusion

The Shema stands as the basis for the New Testament confession: Jesus is Lord. God intends for biblical Christianity to inherit Old Testament monotheism before a polytheistic world. New Testament belief in the lordship of Jesus requires a monotheistic resolution of the Old Testament to include the incarnation with a Christ-centered focus. The deity of Jesus Christ fulfills the Shema’s monotheistic confession. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob now has come and revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, humanity’s Redeemer. His death and resurrection brought the Old Covenant to its determined end to provide the life changing experience of salvation. God inspired the Shema text and gave it to the Jewish race. Centuries later, He proceeded to fulfill it by manifesting Himself in Flesh, and through human death on a cross established it as a universal confession of Jesus Christ’s lordship for all nations who believe. 

Once individuals accept God in Christ and understand the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, they begin viewing Old Covenant truths, which include the Shema, with an enlightened understanding from the indwelling Holy Spirit. They see these truths fulfilled with better realities and truths in Jesus Christ. Paron wrote “in this context, the Holy Spirit illuminates the eyes of a believer’s understanding.”[4] Moreover, “when spoken to others, their spiritual understanding shows a demonstration of the Spirit and power rather than persuasive words of human wisdom.” The Holy Spirit’s anointing enables human understanding to comprehend and speak the wisdom of God’s revelation in Christ, and when shared with others manifests the wisdom of His Spirit with life changing results. Jesus’ enlightenment of the Scriptures to His disciples and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost led to a new faith, which completes and upholds the old faith with a greater personal experience with God and revelation of Him.

The Shema teaching demonstrates a strong witness of the Spirit of God, which leads to a greater knowledge of God in Christ and the fulfillment of His covenants. Jesus’ own words concerning the Shema, Zechariah’s prophecy, and the Hebrew word echad, all lead to a monotheistic, Christ-centered perspective the Church embraces. If the Church holds to this truth, its witness will stand more distinguished from a polytheistic world. Just as the Shema unifies the nation of Israel in faith, the Church will stand united and freshly anointed ministering the gospel with a greater demonstration of spiritual wisdom and power. A Christ-centered perspective on the Shema leads to a greater understanding of Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost resulting in a more powerful experience with Christ through baptism in Jesus’ name and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost as the apostles and the first century church did. The resulting baptism of the Spirit provides the greatest experience one can have with God in this world. 

In sum, the Shema provides a powerful witness and fresh understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, God manifested in flesh to the church and the world erasing centuries of misconceptions. “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;” (1 Tm 2:5).


[1] Means to hear, which has a deeper, more inclusive meaning than listen. The Torah includes six shemas in Deuteronomy: 4:1; 5:1; 6:4; 9:1; 20:3; 27:9. Together they present a redemptive narrative about Israel’s covenant with Yahweh.

[2] Daniel L. Segraves, Reading Between the Lines (Hazelwood, Word Aflame Press, 2008).

[3] Jan Paron, “Spiritual Wisdom and Revelation Knowledge,” Perspectives 12 (blog), July 27, 2020, https://specs12.wordpress.com/2020/07/27/spiritual-wisdom-amp-revelation-knowledge/. 

[4] Paron, “Spiritual Wisdom and Revelation Knowledge.”

Bibliography

  • Bernard, David K. Oneness of God. Hazelwood, Word Aflame Press, 2006.
  • Campbell, David. The Eternal Sonship: A Refutation According to Adam Clarke. Hazelwood, Word Aflame Press, 1978.
  • Paron, Jan. “Spiritual Wisdom and Revelation Knowledge.” Perspectives 12 (blog). (July 27, 2020). https://specs12.wordpress.com/2020/07/27/spiritual-wisdom-amp-revelation-knowledge/
  • Reeves, Kenneth. God in 13 Dimensions. Inspirational Tapes & Books, 1986.
  • Segraves, Daniel L. Reading Between the Lines. Hazelwood, Word Aflame Press, 2008.
  • Urshan, Andrew Bar David. The Almighty God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Apostolic Book Publishers, 1983.

Exegeting the Salt Covenant

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Jan Paron, PhD | July 26, 2021

Though Scripture cites the word salt 31 times in the Old Testament, it mentions salt covenant three (Lv 2:13; Nm 18:19; 2 Chr 13:5). The Ancients considered salt a precious commodity because of its scarcity. (1) In terms of an agreement initiated by God, salt symbolized preservation of covenant with Him against corruption. The Bible links salt with the making of agreements or contracts. This essay exegetes the textual meaning of the salt covenant under the microscope of person, event, symbols, places, and prophecy looking at three occurrences in the Old Testament. It seeks to uncover its meaning and application 

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The notion of a salt covenant appears in Nm 18:19-32 as one of the three covenant methods for confirmation (cf. blood covenant, Gn 15:7-17; shoe covenant, Ru 4:7-9). This instance of the salt covenant contextually relates to the Aaronic call to the priesthood of the tabernacle (Nm 17). Aaron’s rod had budded, blossomed, and brought forth almonds signaling the Lord’s approval for him and his descendants’ rights to the tabernacle priesthood. In chapter 18, the Lord recounts to Aaron alone, the priesthood service rewards providing him and his descendant Aaronides a continual allotment from the Israelite offerings and sealing the provisions with “an everlasting covenant of salt”(18:19a KJV). Ancient Israelites always added salt to sacrificial offerings to the Lord as a preserving agent. 

“You shall season every grain offering with salt so that the salt (preservation) of the covenant of your God will not be missing from your grain offering. You shall offer salt with all your offerings (Lv 2:13 AMP). Salt in in Lv 2:13, stands for that which preserves against corruption, an essential ingredient in offerings made to God. It conveys the image of permanence and God’s eternal covenant with Israel. On the other hand, leaven symbolized the spread of sin and honey likewise fermentation of it. The mineral’s ability not only to ward off decay but also to preserve made it an excellent symbol to represent the perpetual agreement between God and his people.

In 2 Chr 13:5, Scripture shows a second instance of the salt covenant: “Ought ye not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David for ever, even to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?” Similar to Lv 2:13, a covenant of salt conveys a descriptive image of a permanency because salt preserves. Since the Bible links salt to the making of agreements or contracts, it showed itself an ancient symbol of unbreakable friendships and enduring alliances.

In like manner, the salt covenant in Nm 18:19 has characteristics of indissolubility indicating permanency and irreversibility. The allotment consisted of the holy gifts to the Lord, which He in turn gave to Aaron and His descendants as a God-commanded portion—His gift to them. Since the Aaronides had no property, they depended on God alone for their portion through His provisions. 

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Mt 5:13). Refrigeration as a means of preserving large quantities of food did not begin to grow until the latter part of the 19th century. One of the most common ways of preserving food before this time (including the period of the Old Testament) was to use salt. This property of physical preservation led to this mineral being used in terms to symbolically represent preservation in general. 

Taken together, a ‘covenant of salt’ means an agreement or contract between parties that endures regardless of the circumstances. Such agreements form a solid, unbreakable and everlasting bond.

Endnotes

(1) Bullinger, 1999, p 207.