Study Notes for John 19:1-16a: ‘Behold the Man’

Here are my (rough) notes for John 19:1-16a. As a side note, there aren’t as many written out parallels with Is. 53 as I will likely reference tomorrow while teaching this. I will not be back to teach for another two weeks. In the meantime, I hope these notes are edifying to you, and that you see the sovereign hand of God in every step of Jesus’ final hours before death.

ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri
ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri

John Chapter 19

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. [2] And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. [3] They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.

As we read these words, those of Jesus come to mind: “For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” (Luke 18:32-33)

I just note this passage again, as I did previously, and as I will do in the future, because as these things happen to Jesus I want to keep in the forefront of our minds that Jesus knew exactly what would happen to him. The “flogging”, the “mockery” and the “shameful” treatment is already taking place. The rest is soon to come.

With that in mind, a few notes on what was going on here. The flogging of someone who wasn’t proven guilty was pretty common. In America in the 21st century, we have this concept of being presumed innocent until proven otherwise. What is so despicable about so much of the media attention that surrounds modern trials is that in the minds of the public innocence and guilt is obscured, and justice is whatever people’s emotions dictate. This is what is means to make a “mockery” of justice.

What we are seeing here is mockery at its zenith.

Of course the purple robe is intended to signify royalty or importance. Purple was expensive, and was held in high regard. In Acts 16 we read of a lady named Lydia who was a clothier of some kind, and Luke goes out of this way to mention that she dealt with “purple” cloth:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:11)

By looking at this fact, and the other clues in the passage, Pastor Matt Chandler says its safe to assume Lydia was a wealthy, successful lady who catered to the upper class (that final part is my own assumption).

The crown of thorns, and what kind of bush these came from, is a subject of debate. Easton’s Bible Dictionary takes the view that the thorns were not very long or painful, but could be easily made into the crown described by John and the other gospel writers:

…our Lord was crowned with a, in mockery by the Romans (Matt. 27:29). The object of Pilate’s guard in doing this was probably to insult, and not specially to inflict pain. There is nothing to show that the shrub thus used was, as has been supposed, the spina Christi, which could have been easily woven into a wreath. It was probably the thorny nabk, which grew abundantly round about Jerusalem, and whose flexible, pliant, and round branches could easily be platted into the form of a crown.

Fausset seems to agree upon the pliable nature, though not the type of plant:

Christ’s “crown of thorns” has been supposed to have been made of the Ramnus nabeca (Hasselquist) or the Lycium spinosum, probably the latter (Sieber). To mock rather than to pain Him was the soldiers’ object, and they took whatever came to their hand first. The dark green was a parody of the triumphal ivy wreath.

Whatever the nature of the crown, it made a mockery of the kingship of Jesus. And I am personally reminded that those who suffer mockery for the sake of Jesus will eventually win the “crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Lastly, and I was struck by this, the Romans struck Jesus with their hands. I really think that at this point they weren’t working to inflict pain as much as make a mockery of Him. I began to think about the thoughts and emotions that go through a person’s mind before inflicting any kind of blow upon another person. Usually human beings react in anger to being hurt, or are defending their honor or another’s before taking a swing at someone. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. These men have not been wronged by Jesus, nor have they likely even heard of Him before. To them, He’s just another Jew.

What do I bring this up? Because it displays the nature of mankind. Man is in a depraved and evil state from birth. His nature is twisted, and his motives are selfish and turned against his Maker. Environment (so-called “nurture”) can lessen or increase the outward effects of sin, but it’s effects are there on the heart – branded, as it were, from birth.

Ironically, these are the types of men Jesus came to save. He came to save us from ourselves.

NOTE: There is a lot of debate among the scholars as to the nature of the beating administered here. There were three grades of beating (cf. Carson) that the Romans administered, and this one was likely the least severe, with the intent to simply appease the Jews – this of course didn’t work. The most severe beating is the one which involved the famed ‘cat of nine tails’, each “tail” having bits of metal or bone embedded into the ends. The bones and metal chips would land in the flesh, and then rip the flesh off, thus exposing the body’s internal organs and bones after a time. This third degree of beating was likely what Jesus received after being formally and finally condemned by Pilate (we aren’t quite there yet in the narrative, and its hard to see how Pilate would have moved to this degree of beating without a final verdict being given).

19:4-5 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” [5] So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

I am reminded of the fakery of this ceremony when I read these words simply because it was typical to adorn a king with certain trappings of the office and then hail him as king before the people. For instance, in 2 Chronicles 23 we read of the crowning of Joash, a very young man at the time:

Then they brought out the king’s son and put the crown on him and gave him the testimony. And they proclaimed him king, and Jehoiada and his sons anointed him, and they said, “Long live the king.” (2 Chronicles 23:11)

When Pilate declares, “behold the man”, he is of course mocking Jesus. But in his words there is a great deal of irony. Jesus is the man. He is the God-man. He is certainly human, and yet the passage is inescapably tinged with His divinity.

All of this occurs despite the fact that Pilate found no guilt in Jesus. I don’t suppose we have a full account of all that was said, but John has included what was necessary to give us a picture of the proceedings.

19:6-7 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” [7] The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”

Now Pilate once again seeks to release Jesus. The Jews didn’t want Him released, and it is typical that when people are riled up about something they cool down after a while and after seeing their enemy sufficiently humiliated. But for these Jews, Pilate’s humiliation of Jesus wasn’t enough.

Their desires now fully match their father the Devil’s. They want to see Jesus dead, and they begin to cry out for His death with shouts of “crucify him!”

I spoke of this before, and so won’t spend a lot of time on it, but Pilate doesn’t really find anything wrong with Jesus, and he doesn’t feel the need to be involved in killing Him either. But we shouldn’t mistake this for altruism on Pilate’s part. It may be true that his heart was being softened at this moment, but that doesn’t seem likely. What seems likely given the context is that he is simply mocking the Jews.

When Pilate says, “take him yourselves and crucify him” he’s just rubbing in the lack of ability for the Jews to do this because they were under the governance of the Romans. It’s as if Pilate was saying, “go kill him yourself…oh, wait, that’s right you’re under the boot of Roman rule…ya sorry about that!”

Now the response of the Jews shows how laser focused they were in accomplishing their objective. They didn’t blink an eye at the insult of Pilate, for they knew very well that they weren’t allowed to kill anyone. Instead they continue to make the case that Jesus has to die, and therefore the Romans need to be the ones to do it.

Why They Want Him Dead

If you notice here, it’s the chief priests who are demanding the execution of Jesus. Why? Because “he has made himself the Son of God.” Their case is based on theological grounds.

Here’s why I think that its worth taking a minute to pause and reflect on this statement: There have been many liberal scholars, and secular academics, who claim that Jesus never claimed to be God, or divine, or anything more than a good teacher, but this assertion simply doesn’t hold up.

This text is “exhibit A” as to why the “good teacher” argument doesn’t hold up: Even His enemies knew what He was claiming. Though they had many other accusations to hurl (i.e. that he intended to destroy the temple), this is the one they come to Pilate with when everything is on the line. Their main accusation is one of blasphemy. Jesus, this man from Nazareth, has claimed to be equal with God.

There are several passages to show this, but one need only look at chapter eight to see an excellent example of the clash between Jesus’ claims and the teaching/leadership of the Pharisees:

Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” [54] Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ [55] But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” [57] So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:53-59)

So here we have just one example of His clear claim to divinity. And we’ve spoken about this passage in the past, but its important to realize the profundity of these words and how they must have antagonized the Pharisees.

Carson summarizes with great circumspection:

In man contexts that was demonstrably untrue. The anointed king of Israel was sometimes referred to as God’s Son in the Old Testament (Ps. 2:7; 89:26-27), and in some intertestamental sources ‘Son of God’ is parallel to ‘Messiah’ (4Q Florilegium). But Jesus’ opponents rightly recognize that as he uses the title there are overtones not only of messiahship but of sharing the rights and authority of God himself (vs. 1:34; 5:19-30).

19:8-11 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. [9] He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. [10] So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” [11] Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

It’s interesting to read Carson and Ridderbos and others discuss what John must mean by Pilate being “more afraid.” They seem to think that Pilate, like many Romans, was likely a very superstitious man, and that it wasn’t so much that he was convinced or had a strong feeling of Jesus’ deity that this statement confirms.

No, the man Pilate had no clue that Jesus was the God-man, and indeed very God of very God. Rather, he was either concerned that there might be something super-human about him (as in Greco-Roman mythology – so Carson) or he was afraid/nervous about his tenuous position as maintainer of order during the proceedings (so Ridderbos), which were tending toward absurdity and chaos, rather than justice and order.

Jesus then doesn’t answer Pilate – He’s really already answered this question before (see vs. 36) and, as is remarked upon by some, He likely doesn’t see Pilate as a rightful judge in these matters. The silence, of course, is not indefinite. But it partly fulfills what we read in the prophets “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Is. 53:7).

Next, Pilate severely aggravated by the silent treatment, flaunts his authority before the One who created him from nothing in the first place.

What is interesting about Jesus’ response is that in our English translations, the word “therefore” seems to act as a connector word to the previous sentence about the nature of how Pilate derived his authority. However, that is deceiving. Jesus is not connecting the authority of Pilate with his lack of culpability/responsibility for the sin of this ridiculous trial. Rather He is making two separate statements.

The first statement leaves us in great awe of the majestic sovereignty of the Lord, and reminds us of the compatibilist viewpoint of the New Testament writers (cf. Carson). God is behind every thing going on in this situation. God is the ultimate source of all authority, and therefore Pilate could not be operating – or living and breathing for that matter – without the express consent and decree of God. Yet this does not rob men of their responsibility to obey God. He is mysteriously ordaining every act of men, yet we are still responsible for our actions.

Secondly, playing off the first statement, Pilate is still responsible for his sinfully unjust trial. Yet the degree of this sinfulness is eclipsed by those men (or man – it is in the singular in the Gk) who delivered Jesus over to him.

I can’t personally decide with certainty who it is that is at issue here – whether it is Caiaphas (as Morris and Carson have deducted), or whether it is the Jewish leaders as a whole (as Ridderbos says – he says that the Evangelist is speaking in a redemptive-historical sense, and thereby the singular use of the pronoun “he” is figurative in a sense). If I were pressed, I would say that it represents Caiaphas directly, and the Jewish leaders and the people as a whole indirectly. Caiaphas was the leader of the Council, and the head of the governing body of the Jews. He represented the nation in a federal sense, one might say (just as Jesus represented a nation so to speak, on the cross – see also John 11:49-52)

The key to this passage is this: God is in control of the large and small aspects of history. He ordains all that comes to pass. Not one evil deed is done without His oversight and permission. Yet this does not excuse wickedness, nor does it deny the culpability of man. Rather it shows God’s mercy and the depth of His mysterious ways that He allows evil to work in its fashion for good. These things will not long be the case, as when He comes back in glory the Lord Jesus will put all evil to death, and will usher in an eternity of joy, peace, and abundant life – that which was inaugurated will be consummated.

19:12-16a From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” [13] So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. [14] Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” [15] They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” [16a] So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

Now Pilate has asked once again if the Jews will allow Jesus to be released. Pilate is troubled by this Jesus, and he is annoyed at the petulance of the Jews. Yet he is walking a fine line here, and he’s a smart politician. He won’t allow the Jews to get their way on a whim, as if they rule the province, yet he won’t allow the situation to devolve into anarchy which would cause an even bigger headache for him.

Ridderbos rightly says, “Though he (Pilate) knew from long experience with the Jews the hypocrisy of this sudden loyalty to the emperor, he understood from this renewed mention of the emperor that all further delay was futile and could even get him into trouble.”

Therefore it is at this moment that the Jews play a final card – and an effective one at that. In a statement simply drenched in irony and hypocrisy, they claim that if Pilate releases Jesus he will show himself to be a disloyal subject of the Caesar! In other words, they’re claiming that they are more loyal to Caesar than Pilate is! The Jews – specifically “the chief priests” – solidify their (fraudulent) claim to loyalty by shouting “we have no king by Caesar!”

Indeed they had surrendered all kingship to secular authorities, and by this statement revealed for all to see that they were under the kingship of Satan and his ruling authorities rather than the God they claimed to serve.

What immediately came to mind was the rejection of Samuel in the OT. The people claimed to want a king like all the other nations. But what was God’s interpretation of those events? Here is what He said to Samuel:

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. [7] And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8:6-7)

All of this serves to remind us of all that Jesus had to suffer before being crucified. Wrongly accused, Jesus has to go through the injustice of a trial which is nothing but a sham. Then He observes as the people He created in His own image deny His kingship and swear a false loyalty to a pagan worshiping man thousands of miles away, all in an effort to crucify the One sent to save them from their sins.

The terrible irony of of this back and forth between Pilate and the Jews is finally put to rest as Pilate acquiesces to their Satanically inspired desires.

 

The Earth Remade and Christian Mission

Sunday I took a departure from the Gospel of John and prepared a devotional for both Sunday AM and Sunday PM that looks at Isaiah 66.  This isn’t a sermon, so its not as lengthy as one might expect my notes to be on this kind of passage, but I hope its an encouragement to you.  If you’re a Christian you can take comfort in a passage like this where your place in the larger scope in God’s redemptive tapestry is evident.  From front to back, the Bible proclaims the centrality of God’s glory and our mission to bring Him glory and worship.  Here is just one more passage that points to these truths.

A New Heavens and a New Earth

Isaiah 66:17-24

Our text comes from the final verses of the book of Isaiah.  This is not meant to be a sermon, but rather a short lesson to stir up your minds to worship God as you leave this place.  The goal of this lesson is to show that from first to last, from Pentateuch to Prophets to Gospels and General Epistles, God’s purposes and plans have not changed.  They are being fulfilled even now in the church, and will be consummated upon Christ’s second coming.  

The context for our passage is that in the final chapters of Isaiah’s writing (particularly 65-66, though the entire section from 40 onward is markedly different than 1-39) we are learning about what will occur during the interim of the Anointed One’s two advents, as well as some things which will occur upon His final return and kingdom consummation…The notion of “kingdom” and “mission” looms heavy here, but the overarching thrust of the passage is that the end and goal of all things is the glory of God.

As we walk through the passage, I want you to notice FIVE points of importance to our discussion this evening:

  1. The centrality of worship and the glory of God
  2. The mission of God’s people
  3. The scope of God’s kingdom and our mission
  4. The justice of God
  5. The renewal of all creation, and revelation of God’s glory

Alec Motyer sums up the passage this way, “…this final section spans the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ: his purpose for the world (18), his means of carrying it out (19-21), the sign set among the nations, the remnant sent to evangelize them (19) and the gathering of his people to ‘Jerusalem’ (20) with Gentiles in full membership (21). Jerusalem is not the literal city but the city of Galatians 4:25-26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelations 21. Exactly so but for Isaiah, not privileged as we with hindsight, it was a vision of staggering proportions.”

First of all, this is a passage that tells us of the purposes of God for His people and all of creation.  Central to those purposes is that God’s glory is His primary concern.  His glory and fame and our worship of Him make up the main theme not only of this passage, but also of all redemptive history.  God desires worship from every tribe tongue and nation (vs. 18-20).  Furthermore, the central end (teleos) of all history is that God will receive glory. In fact, we were created for this end, as was all of creation.  Therefore it makes sense that the mission of His people, and the end goal of all things is, “they shall come and shall see my glory” (vs. 18) and that “all flesh shall come to worship before me” (vs. 23).  This is not an isolated bullet point, but the truth that permeates this entire passage.

The second thing we notice here is the mission of God’s people.  In verse 19 we read that God will “send survivors to the nations” who will “declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations, as an offering to the Lord…” As Peter Gentry says, “This text in Isaiah comes close to the Great Commission in Matthew 28.”  Motyer says this “is the clearest Old Testament statement of the theme of missionary outreach.”  Hundreds of years before the Great Commission, God had already expressed to Isaiah a plan to send us out to the nations as His Ambassadors (2 Corinthians) who would bring back converts to the Lord – literally turning people toward the Lord in repentance in order to bring Him glory.

He does this by setting “a sign among them.”  This sign is likely either meant to be the cross of Christ (Motyer, Gentry), the gospel of Christ, or the Spirit of Christ (Calvin), which indwells all believers. This work, this mission of bringing people back to the Lord will be our “grain offering” to the Lord (vs. 20).  What is likely in mind is the grain offering or the offering of “first fruits” (Motyer), which is appropriate because as James says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18 ESV – see also Rom. 8:23).

In fact Paul says in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).  So we see why we were created, and now we see the purpose of our mission as well – to spread the good news of the Gospel to people all over the world in order to bring glory to God.  This is our spiritual act of worship, to obey the Lord in the spreading of His glorious message.

The third thing we see is that the scope of the mission is worldwide.  Remember the context of when God is speaking to Isaiah – this is 700+ years prior to the birth of Christ. Going to reach the nations with the message of God’s kingdom wasn’t exactly on the minds of the Jews right now.  If I had to guess, I’d say they were most concerned about fending off the Assyrians from invasion.

This isn’t because the Jews were unaware of the scope of God’s redemptive plan, but rather they simply had forgotten it, or refused to believe it. As Motyer says, “they (the Jews) knew that the promise that was first their unique privilege was destined to be the privilege of all the earth.”Here are two places in the Pentetech where God’s plans for the nations were mentioned:

  • First in Numbers 14:21 God is speaking through Moses and talking about judgement the Jews will receive for disobedience, and almost as a “throw away” line He mentions that one day the entire earth will be “filled with (His) glory!”  That “glory” comes first in the person of Christ, second in the spreading of His gospel, and finally in the consummation of His kingdom.
  • Secondly, God had promised Abraham in Genesis 22:17-18 that He would bless the nations through His seed. “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  There is a clear tie-in with vs. 20 “your brothers from all the nations” and vs. 22 “your offspring.”  This is a clear reference to the spiritual seed of Abraham – that’s you and me!

Now as we continue to see the worldwide scope of this glory-spreading that we do, we read in verse 19 of a list of cities.  The list is indicative of the worldwide nature of the mission, and the fact that nothing will block the message from achieving its end.  As Alec Motyer says, “The place-names are intended to be impressionistic rather than literal, creating a sense of world outreach.” All the nations will receive this message (vs. 19) and it will cross all bounds of communication, technology, travel method, or means (vs. 20).  As Motyer says, “No distance or difficulty will stand in the way of bringing the brother’s home; every transport will be put under contribution.”

So this plan is expansive in scope, and its blessing will initially be carried to the nations by us, the church, His chosen people who are spreading the message of the gospel of peace.  As John Calvin rightly says of this passage, “The time when he (Abraham) became ‘the father of many nations’ was when God adopted the Gentiles, and joined them to himself by a covenant, that they might follow the faith of Abraham. And thus we see the reason why the Prophet (Isaiah) gives the name of ‘brethren’ of the Jews to us, who formerly were aliens from the Church of God.”

This is clearly articulated by John in his gospel when explaining the prediction of Caiaphas regarding Jesus, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52).

But Isaiah takes it a step further!  Not only will the Gentiles be adopted into the family of God as “brothers”, but in vs. 21 we read that God will take some of them for priests and Levites!  How sacrilegious would this have been to Isaiah’s audience!  And this group of Levites and priests are those saved by the blood of the lamb.  Listen to what Peter says

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

That is your mission to “proclaim the excellencies” of God. Truly “Now Israel as a royal priesthood includes Gentiles; the context puts an emphasis on honor, privilege, absorbing the riches of the nations, and nearness to Yahweh” (Gentry).

The fourth thing we note here is justice and righteousness of God.  God’s reign is like God’s plan for blessing – they both extend to more than simply Jews.  God is the sovereign ruler of all nations and people, and at the consummation of our Lord’s kingdom He will judge every nation and every person ever born on this planet.  He has the right to judge every man and every woman because He is the Creator, but more than that, He judges in perfect righteousness because of His omniscience. 

This is what is assumed by verse 18 when He states, “I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues.”  This verse follows a statement in verse 17, which describes what Jesus would later call “the tares” in the church – the pretenders. Jesus promised that all things that are hidden would eventually be brought into the light (Luke 8:17), and that includes those who “sanctify and purify themselves” (vs. 17) and spend their days in the church, while their hearts are far from God. Here He declares, they “shall come to an end together.”

John Oswalt rightly says, “Those who are depending on mechanical rituals and physical membership in the elect people are not the servants of God about whom Isaiah spoke so eloquently in chapters 41-46. They are nothing more than the rebels who were described with equal eloquence in chapter 1. It is those who gladly keep God’s covenant, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, who are God’s true servants.”

We do not do the judging – we do the worship (vs. 18, vs. 23).  God is the One who does the judging. God is able to judge all men (vs. 24) because He can rightly and righteously judge based on His omniscience.  Calvin says, “The Lord here testifies that he sees and observes their works, and that one day he will actually manifest that none can be concealed from his eyes.” Not only is He omniscient, but because He is perfectly holy, he will rightly judge according to his own character.  The warning is that “there is a cemetery beside the city (of Jerusalem)” (Moyter).  The hope of the gospel message (vs. 19-20) resides alongside the absolute reality of eternal punishment for those who reject this message (vs. 24).

Finally, God will finish the work He began.  Upon this great consummation He will reveal to us His glory (vs. 18) – a glory mediated now through the person of Jesus and His gospel of peace (John 1:14) will one day be manifested for all to see.

We read here that upon His return He will renew the heavens and the earth (vs. 22) – a completely new creation which He began inside you and will consummate physically throughout the entire earth when He comes back.

How do we know He will do this?  Well, as Peter Gentry says, “His name and his offspring are preserved because now God has joined Jews and non-Jews into one family. The new world involves two things: a new place and a new people. Verse 22 shows that both of these are certain because they are in God’s mind; he can actually see them before him.”  His promises are sealed by the trueness of His own character – He sees it, He knows it, therefore it’s a done deal.

Oswalt brilliantly sums up:

God has re-created his world, and sin can never stain it again. The tragedies of the old world, which called into question the very faithfulness of God, are gone. God had promised to Abraham a name and seed, children, but the sin of Israel and the rapacity of the world rulers made it seem as if even God could not keep his promises. Nonetheless, God is greater that human sin and human pride and is able to keep his promises. The old heavens and earth had been called to witness the justice of God in punishing his people (1:2); they had also been called to burst into song over the redemption of those people made possible by the work of the Servant (44:23; 49:13). Now the eternity of the new heavens and earth stands as a testimony to the eternity of God’s promises.

So Jesus is the light to which men are drawn or repulsed in blindness (John 3:19-21), and His gospel message is a glorious message that either blinds or softens.  As Matt Chandler says, “The gospel is such power that it necessitates reaction…The heart of the hearer of the gospel must move, either toward Christ or away from him” (The Explicit Gospel).

Paul tells us, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).  This is the message that is going out to all the nations. But this message, this glory, which is going out to all the nations right now, will be most fully revealed upon the consummation of the kingdom when Christ returns, for as John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

In conclusion, we ought to be encouraged and awed by God’s plan for us and by the scope of His plan for human history, for it far outstrips our own perspective.  Yet the role we as Christians play is enormously important. We are chosen people, priests to God, and are sent on a mission to proclaim the “excellencies” of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light – a light that will one day cover all creation (Num. 14) and transform us into the likeness of His beloved Son (2 Cor. 3:18).  Until that time, we have a “missionary obligation” as a church: “to create a magnetic community” (Motyer) that reflects that glory of Christ and turns people toward the glory of God, and shares a saving message of the hope of the gospel (Motyer), without which those who reject it will perish in eternal fire and torment (vs. 24).

This passage makes clear the linear nature of history to which all things are driving; the urgency of our mission could not be more apparent.

 

John 17:1-3 How the Son Brings Glory to the Father

Introduction to John 17

Perhaps chapter 17 of this gospel could be said to be the apex of the theology that John has been narrating for us.  That theology, that doctrine which has been so beautifully and in some instances ineffably expounded for us by our Lord in the last few chapters has now come to a point in which we find the Lord breaking from his addresses to the disciples and beginning to address His Father.

There is a sense in which this chapter is so holy, so high, and so magnificent that we must take a step back in wonder that the Lord God would allow us the privilege of listening in on a conversation between the members of the Trinity.

Sinclair Ferguson rightly states that “John 17 is holy ground, and, at least metaphorically, we need to take off our shoes if we are to walk on it.”

I readily admit that in the weeks leading up to my studies on this chapter I had a wariness about it simply because of the depth of the mysteries here.  Not necessarily because the concepts are too difficult to understand, but because of the shear weight of the glory and excellency of it.  There is an excitement in reading it and wanting to study it, but there is also a holy fear in approaching it in anyway less than Jesus would have us to.  I have no adequate words to articulate what I mean to say here, and perhaps my own inadequacy upon the commencement of the study is the only safe place to be.

Therefore I encourage you to look on with me as we examine the chapter together and ask that God would mercifully grant us discernment and right thinking; that we might “think His thoughts after Him” as so many have wisely expressed.

17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, [2] since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

When John says, “When Jesus had spoken these words” he’s meaning the entirety of the discourses that we’ve just been studying.  Jesus is in the garden, in Gethsemane, and He is praying presumably aloud so that His disciples may benefit from what He has to say.  Again, we recall that all of what Jesus has been saying to them is with the aim of comforting them and leading them into truth.  He is setting them on a course of understanding, and His love for them and their guidance seems to overwhelm any specific care for His own end. Not that He is capricious about His death, far from it, rather He is focused on serving and loving His disciples until the very end (see John 13:1), and this same purpose is born out in His prayer.

His first sentence contains three amazing truths:

1. His Hour Has Come

It’s been mentioned before, but it’s worth repeating, that Jesus was driving toward a goal in His ministry.  He has His face set on the cross and was determined to see His mission to its end (Luke 9:51).  So when He states “the hour has come” we must understand that Jesus, the man, was not only conscious that He had a mission here to obey, but Jesus as God in the flesh understood that this plan was one of His own devising from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:1-4).

2. Glory is mutually Shared Within the Trinity

Jesus says here “glorify your son, so that your son may glorify you.”  It is a distinct characteristic of the Trinity that they all have a passion for one another’s glory.  The Spirit exalts the Son and the Son exalts the Father, and the Father takes pleasure in shining a spotlight on the Son, and here for the last few chapters the Son has been lauding the divine work of the Spirit.

The Son’s greatest desires are to magnify the work of the Father, the plan of the Father, the purposes of the Father, the character and attributes of the Father and the love of the Father and so on.  Likewise He appeals to His Father’s plan here in that He desires for the Father to glorify Him in order that He will bring glory to His Father. As Bruce Ware notes, “…more than anything else, Jesus cared about doing what the Father wanted him to do.”  The intensity of desire to magnify one another cannot be missed.

Specifically, when Jesus in this context is saying, “glorify your son” He’s referencing the cross.  How will the cross then glorify the Father?  John Piper says that there are at least two ways God will get glory and specifically take pleasure in the cross:

  1. God’s pleasure is in what the Son accomplishes in dying.
  2. The depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory.

Piper says this, “It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for sin necessary. So when the Son willingly took the suffering of that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe this message: The glory of God is of infinite value! The Glory of God is on infinite value!

Piper ends by saying, “When Jesus died, he glorified the Father’s name and saved his Father’s people. And since the Father has overflowing pleasure in the honor of his name, and since he delights with unbounded joy in the election of a sinful people for himself, how then shall he not delight in the bruising of his Son by which these two magnificent divine joys are reconciled and made one!”

3. Jesus Has All Authority

It is simply an amazing truth that Jesus had all authority vested in Himself, yet did not abuse that authority. His authority extended not only to those around Him (as teacher of a small group of men), not only to his role as an influential public figure (whose popularity with the masses was ever increasing), but to the very expanses of the heavens and the entire universe itself.

The old saying goes that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Yet Jesus who had absolute power could never be corrupted. When referring to His inevitable triumph over Satan and the world we have recently read the following:

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, (John 14:30)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And so for Jesus, power was used at His discretion and it only took one thought, one snap of the figures, one spoken word of “be still” (Mark 4:39) and all of creation would obey. We’re going to see later that the mere mention of His name brings heathens to their knees (John 18:6).

The point is that all authority was vested in Jesus and this authority He used to bring gory to the Father.

Now, how is it that He does this?  If we’re not careful we’ll miss it.  Jesus says that “since” the Father has given Him all authority “over all flesh” He is able to “give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”

Two points about this: First, Jesus glorifies the Father by giving eternal life to sinful, fallen, spiritually dead human beings and, secondly, Jesus glorifies the Father by giving eternal life to a specific group of human beings and thus fulfilling the plan of election that the Father and the Son have drawn up from before the foundation of the World (again, Eph. 1).

Jesus Glorified In the Salvation of Sinners

There are so many times – many, many times – when the question has come up in seminary or in Sunday School or in a discipleship class that tends to the “why” of God’s method of redemption. The question usually sounds something like this: Why in the world did God create all of us when He knew that sin was going to happen?  Why didn’t He just prevent sin in the first place?

From “the ground” (to use Matt Chandler’s vernacular) this seems just as mysterious as it does from God’s perspective (if we were putting ourselves in His seat, that is).  From the ground, we see our sin-ravaged world and our fallen miserable state and wonder “why God?”

There are mysteries that go beyond the ability for us to know the heart of “why.”  Job asked the same things.  He protested that God was not being merciful to him.  God didn’t address Job with answers but instead rebuked him over the course of three chapters that basically said in a nutshell “I am God and you are not – who are you to ask why?”

Human theologians have done everything they possibly can to create excuses or ways out for God (theodicies) so that He is not the author of sin and evil and yet somehow still has control over all things.  And while I also affirm these two truths, I think the aim is wrong.  We don’t need to let God off the hook.  The truth is that He ordained the world to be as it is and He ordained that His Son would die for our sins before He ever said “let there be light.”

That still leaves us with the question: why? And though we cannot answer or understand the deepest counsels of God’s will, we do get a very clear purpose statement here as to the broader reason for this, and its couched in the context of salvation.

Jesus tells us plainly here that the reason why He has been granted authority to give salvation is to glorify God.  Therefore, all of the purposes of God for this world, which are so intrinsically and beautifully tied up in the mission of Christ, are foundationally to be understood in terms of God’s glory.  God sent His son for the same reason He breathed life into Adam and Eve: for His glory.  Jesus’ life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension are all basically founded in this principle – God’s glory.  At the heart of every breath, every word, ever action of our Lord during His time here on earth was this goal: for His glory.

As John Piper nicely sums up, “When we are dealing with the glory of God, we are dealing with a reality that is not only ultimate in the aim of history, but central to the gospel.”

God Glorified in Jesus’ Salvation of the Elect

The second part of this is that Jesus says this, “to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”  He is now speaking in the third person, referring to “him” as himself, Jesus.

At the very heart of this mission of salvation is the salvation of a specific group of people – the elect of God.  Jesus’ aim in bringing God glory is founded in the purpose for which He came, namely to die for those whom He had foreordained unto salvation.

This atonement, this sacrifice was not for a faceless, nameless mass of unknown people, but for an elect group of saints chosen from before the foundation of the world.  Piper states, “The atonement does not make possible the spiritual quickening of all people; it makes certain and effective the spiritual quickening of the elect.”

Interestingly, when you get into discussions with people in church about the nature of election one of the things that dissenters inevitably bring up is the supposed “unfairness” of election. And, of course, the idea that God would have a specific group of elect people in mind is offensive to many people.  Even evangelicals in our own sphere of influence would rather not pause over this verse too long for fear that it might lead them to believe the Jesus actually knew those for whom He was about to die!

Yet we cannot skip over this detail because evidently this is the way Jesus seems to want to bring the most glory to the Father.  Remember, Jesus’ aim here is to bring maximum glory to the Father.  And in His prayer to the Father in this chapter it will become evident again and again.

So when He says He has come to give eternal life to “all whom you (the Father) have given him (the Son)” He is saying that in His mission to bring the Father the most possible glory, the Father has endued the Son with all of the authority necessary to dispense eternal life. And that eternal life is to be dispersed according to a plan that has been made between the Members of the Trinity from before the foundation of the world.  I’ve cited this before but it seems good just to read this passage from Paul here:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

And so when Paul says here that God predestined those who were chosen “in him before the foundation of the world” the purpose of this was “to the praise of His glorious grace”!

Why does God only save some and not others.  We can’t know the hidden councils of the Lord (Romans 11:33-36) for they are past finding out, but we can know that God does things the way He does them in order to achieve maximum fame and glory for Himself.  Therefore I conclude that Jesus’ goal in achieving the atonement for his chosen people is grounded in the fact that this will bring the Father maximum glory.

So, as you can see, the end of all things is glory of God.  Christ sought us, bought us, and here intercedes for us in order to bring the Father glory.

Edwards puts it this way, “All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, ‘the glory of God’; which is the name by which the last end of God’s works is most commonly called in Scripture.”

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

There are a few places in the New Testament that the gospel of salvation is laid out with such succinctness and this is one of them. Jesus has already said that His mission here is to give eternal life to those whom God gave to Him.  And we’ve talked about how obedience to this plan brings God glory. But what struck me about verse three here is that Jesus is so gracious in His awareness that we would have this verse for centuries to come.  He clarifies even more what He was saying.

Therefore this verse is the equivalent of John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

He proclaims that the Father is the only true God – adoration and acknowledgement of the truth of who God is – and ties this to what eternal life means: to “know” God the Father and to “know” Jesus Christ (note that he equates himself to being on par with God, and thus equal with God).

This word “know” is the familiar word for NT scholars ginōskō and carries with it the same close knowledge or understanding that you would have with anyone that you came to know over a period of time.

What Jesus is saying is that eternal life is rooted in having a relationship with God – and this relationship is life-giving.  That life, which is not in us for we have fallen, flows from the Holy Spirit who keeps us sealed until the day of Christ’s return.

These are supernatural concepts; they have eternal consequences.  So to those who say that Jesus taught merely moral teachings for us to follow as examples, I say that you have missed the entire point of Jesus’ ministry.  And its verses like this that make this all the more evident.

An Odd Story

Last night at our weekly Bible study I taught on Judges 17 and 18.  This has to have been the oddest series of chapters I’ve ever taught on! Yet, there are also profound lessons to be learned.  Below are my notes – they are pretty rough-draft, not polished etc. But they point to a few of the major lessons I learned from my study of these chapters.  I think its fair to say that this story (of Micah and the Danites) is very odd – but also rather funny.  There are satirical nuances laced throughout each chapter, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

PJW

Chapter 17 (Introduction) 

As we enter our study on chapter 17, we’re beginning to examine the final section of this book of the Bible (there are three major sections).  Chapters 17-21 are sometimes called “appendices” of the book because they add further context to the situation in Israel in the form of two additional stories.

Each of these stories is low on commentary by the narrator, but the writing style is extremely subtle, and sophistication marks the compilation of each composition.

Both of these stories are divided up into two chapters each, and they share many things in common with each other.  In fact, Daniel Block mentions 9 such commonalities, but one that I find most significant is his final one:

Both accounts are punctuated by variations of the refrain “in those days Israel had no king” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). In the first the formula is inserted at critical junctures in the narrative and functions as an episode marker, in the second the formula frames the entire narrative, appearing at the beginning and the end. Twice, once in each section, the formula is augmented with, “everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6; 21:25).

Up until this point God has raised up Judges who saved Israel from her slavery to other nations.  The cycle of sin and judgment and delivery has been a downward spiral with each Judge being less and less moral/upright in their behavior and leadership.

By the time we reach chapter 17 (which is not necessarily after Samson, but probably meant to coincide with the times of his judging Israel) the nation has hit rock bottom.  They are pretty much fully “Canaanized” and have become more like the people of the land than the men and women God wanted them to be.  This is almost surely a result of their failure to expel the native Canaanites from their home turf.

Commenting on this, Tom Schreiner explains the reason for needing to cleanse the land of the Canaanites:

The call to utterly destroy the peoples in Canaan is a shock to modern sensibilities, but despite the attempt of some scholars to say otherwise, it is quite clear that Israel believed that these were instructions from Yahweh Himself. The failure to carry out such instructions would imperil the fundamental tenet of Israel’s faith: Yahweh’s Lordship. Israel must cleanse the land from evil, for Canaan is to be a new Eden, a new garden of the Lord, free from evil.

By not expelling God’s enemies from the land, the Israelites have fallen under their influence and are no longer following the laws of Moses.

So here we are, so far from where Moses and Joshua had come both spiritually and physically.  The people are finally in the land, but far from being a light to the nations, they are hardly discernable from the people who originally inhabited the land.

Lastly, one of the things we ought to notice (that a few commentators brought up) is that there are two tribes in the spotlight here from 17-21: Dan and Benjamin.  Dan would one day lead the northern kingdom and Benjamin the southern.  Both were tribes with settlements that were in the heart of Canaan.  The significance of these things is that we’re seeing here in chapter 17 an example of the private/personal apostasy of one man’s home, and then later in 18 we see it with Dan. But its tempting to think “well I wonder if these are isolated instances…”  The author, I think, purposefully uses these examples (sic Dan/Benjamin) to show us the depth and thoroughness of the apostasy of the nation as a whole.  These are kitchen table issues (as we say in politics).  They range in scope and scale from the least to the greatest and the reach of this kind of lifestyle is vast.  We cannot leave these final chapters without understanding how far men will flee from God given their own devices:

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18) 

 

17:1-6 There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2 And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.” 3 And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.” 4 So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah. 5 And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Verse 6 helps us explain the bizarre story that precedes it, and the equally bizarre story that continues after it.  This man, who appears to have been a thief and one who disrespected his parents (there goes two of the 10 commandments right there), has the gall to make household idols and then appoint one of his sons to be a priest with an ephod and all the trappings (almost) of a feaux levitical ministry (there goes another one of the commandments).

First I want to offer a note of explanation about the curse and the blessing of Micah’s mother. There’s a good chance that the curse itself was enough to motivate Micah to return the silver, and the reason for this is that at the time a “curse” was seen as something that was alive and active – like a hidden warrior who could strike at any moment without you knowing it.  The blessing was thought of as the only way to undue the curse.  So we ought not to think of Micah’s mother as so elated at her son that she sought to bless him (though perhaps she was), but rather that this is the sort of stock response to undue the cursing she had uttered previously.

Now, secondly, note how syncretistic the situation is here.  This man Micah has made idols out of silver, which is clearly a pagan practice in violation of the law of God, yet he has also made an ephod and appointed one of his sons to be a sort of priest for the idols.  He’s doing all this in his own home, which is clearly a violation of how God wanted to be worshiped.  Much of the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy focus on the fact that God will be worshiped as He wants and where He wants.  But Micah is either showing significant ignorance, or rash arrogance.

So when we read in verse six that everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes, it begins to make sense – especially in light of the fact that “there was no king” at the time.  Not only was there no physical ruler that united all the tribes under one lawful banner, but the people who occupied the land of Canaan no longer regarded the Lord as their King.

To this end, I thought it right to quote Baptist Scholar Peter Gentry who said the following while remarking on the nature of the Davidic Covenant and the order of God’s bringing the Ark into Jerusalem prior to making the everlasting covenant with David:

The return of the ark in 2 Samuel 6 indicates that Yahweh is returning to live in the midst of his people as king. The fact that 2 Samuel 6 precedes 7 shows that only when the kingship of Yahweh among his people is firmly established can the issue of kingship in Israel be discussed. A sanctuary for the Lord comes before the monarchy

At this point in Israel, everyone is doing what they think is right.  They are following what they believe to be the right way to live their lives.  However, those guidelines are all subjective to however each man feels or thinks (as Dale R. Davis said, the entire law code seems subject to each man’s “glands”!).

17:7-13 Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. 8 And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. 9 And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” 10 And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. 11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

We don’t know what the name of the “young man” was in verses 8-13, but he was a Levite, and he seems to have been on a journey when he came to Micah’s house.  We don’t know why or where he was going, but once he comes up on the house of Micah his entire life changes.

Block hilariously describes this young Levite as he’s dealing with the fact that we really don’t know a lot about him:

He is a “laid back” professional minister following the path of least resistance and waiting for an opportunity to open up. And he just happens to arrive at the house of Micah in the hill country of Ephraim. But what a stroke of luck this turns out to be, for both him and Micah!

Micah, who we’ve seen is a syncretistic idolatrous sinner, sees this man, this Levite, as from God. Why? Because to date he has been making due with one of his sons as priest, but no longer.  Now he can have the real deal – a Levite!

We know that there’s a lot more to being a Levitical priest than simply being a descendent of Levi – there are ceremonial cleansing, and learning and all manner of rules that one must go through.  But not so here, Micah doesn’t care about all that.  And why should he?  In his lifetime, and in the generations that have come before him, I’m betting he never saw the priesthood properly modeled, not only that, but a true encounter with God hadn’t happened in quite some time.

When verse six says that everyone did what was right in their own eyes, it reminds us that there was no fear nor any love for God in the eyes of Israelites.

What this means is that men like Micah would have been more superstitious than religious.  Micah thinks that simply having a Levite as his own personal idol-priest will make him to “prosper” (as Block says, “the Levite is nothing more than a good luck charm”)!

We get a chuckle at this because is sounds absurd, but we see the same thing in our churches today.  In fact, I was just reading Matt Chandler’s book ‘The Explicit Gospel’ and he talks about how in Texas where he is a pastor, there are record church attendees.  It’s a way of life to go to church on Sunday morning.  Having spiritual transformation, obedience and love for God are not necessarily part of the equation.  It’s motivated partly by a way of life, partly based on some superstition (enabled by the prosperity gospel preachers), and partly on feel-good self-help centered gathering that give attendees a helpful trinket of useful to-dos for the week ahead.

So as ridiculous as Micah’s situation looks to us, let’s not forget that many of us have grown up in churches, or know those who still go to churches, that don’t preach the full gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ignorance of the Word breeds superstition, prosperity gospel, and all manner of evil.

Chapter 18

18:1 In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the people of Dan was seeking for itself an inheritance to dwell in, for until then no inheritance among the tribes of Israel had fallen to them. 

The more clear way of putting this is that there was no inheritance “taken”, perhaps.  They were given an inheritance (as we read of in Joshua 19:40-48) but they were beaten back by the Amorites and could not repel them – see chapter 1.

So instead of going before God and asking for help, they have basically been stuck in these two cities of Zorah and Eshtaol (likely their basecamps from which they launch their initial Canaanite expedition) for several generations, having failed to take the land the Lord gave them.

We might note that this entire chapter is somewhat of a parody of the earlier conquest accounts.  As Block says, “this chapter is deliberately composed as a parody on the earlier spy mission traditions. Nothing in this chapter is normal; people’s values and behavior are all topsy-turvy.”

18:2-6 So the people of Dan sent five able men from the whole number of their tribe, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it. And they said to them, “Go and explore the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. 3 When they were by the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. And they turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” 4 And he said to them, “This is how Micah dealt with me: he has hired me, and I have become his priest.” 5 And they said to him, “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether the journey on which we are setting out will succeed.” 6 And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”

So like in former generations, the Danites send out “spies” to scout out the land.  The “able men” as the ESV translates it, could also be “noble men” or “noble/mighty warrior” to which Bock comically states, “the present designation would have suited Joshua and Caleb, the two trustworthy members of the original team of twelve Israelite scouts (Num. 14:5-10), but here it is ironic. The Danites may be heroic figures physically and militarily, but they are spiritual pygmies.”  Ha!

It is interesting that these Danites recognize the voice of the Levite, and though we don’t know how (the author doesn’t explain it) they recognize his voice, they begin to immediately interrogate him.  Interestingly, his responses are reflective of his totally self-serving agenda.  He talks about how good Micah has been to him (vs.4) and how Micah has paid him good money to be there (vs.4).

The next thing that happens here is that the Danites seem thrilled to have run across someone who can tell them their fortune – what luck!  As Block says, “Just as Micah’s cult has lacked credibility and authority  until the Levite arrived, so the mission of these scouts lacks authority without an oracular authentication from the deity.”  But now they have a genuine Levite before them – heck, he’s even got an Ephod!

It’s just such an odd situation – it’s as if you’re watching a Monty Python movie or something.  I can picture these guys getting made fun of so badly.  Everything is so whacko…

Then, to add to the oddities, the response of the Levite is pretty much instantaneous…its almost like he just glibly answered, “Ya, looks like you’re blessed…move along.”  Did he even bother to consult with God?  Who even knows!? In fact, its not as if he answers them clearly that God will bless the mission!  But it doesn’t seem to bother the Danites – they take it the way they want to take it and the Levite sends them on their way…and like the dolts that they are, they proceed in the utmost happiness and tranquility of mind. 

18:7-10 Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone. 8 And when they came to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, “What do you report?” 9 They said, “Arise, and let us go up against them, for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good. And will you do nothing? Do not be slow to go, to enter in and possess the land. 10 As soon as you go, you will come to an unsuspecting people. The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth.”

Here are more parallels between the original mission to spy out the land of Canaan, and this comical less-than-holy mission of the Danites.  They spy things out, they like what they see, they come back, they report on the situation, and the response seems favorable.  They have scouted a land that is safe, has natural defenses of mountains and naturally occurring ramparts to safeguard the city (see Block), and is far from the Amorites and the Sidonians who wouldn’t want to bother with anything inland anyway.  They have plentiful resources, and they live a sort of idyllic life – a life that the Danites see themselves enjoying soon!

The scouts are so excited, that they accuse their fellow brothers of stalling and even through in that the land has been given to them by Yahweh – no doubt encouraged by their encounter with the fake priest.

18:11-14 So 600 men of the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, 12 and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan to this day; behold, it is west of Kiriath-jearim. 13 And they passed on from there to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.

14 Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.”

One of the interesting things that we find in verse 11 is that there’s only 600 men that decide to go with the 5 who spied out the land.  It seems like a small amount given the fact that the whole tribe of Dan had commissioned them. This is reflected in the fact also that in verse 11 the author uses the word “clan” instead of tribe (even though the ESV uses the same word here, the Hebrew is more limited).  So I think that the sense of the text is that many people from the tribe didn’t decide to go – and as Block notes, the rest of them pretty much disappeared from the pages of history.

Once the group gets the Micah’s house, they are definitely going to stop and check in with their lucky Levite.  After all, he offered great advice the first time, so why not stop again – heck, why not stop and offer the man a better job?  After all, he would probably take it…

18:15 And they turned aside there and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and asked him about his welfare. 16 Now the 600 men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate. 17 And the five men who had gone to scout out the land went up and entered and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the 600 men armed with weapons of war. 18 And when these went into Micah’s house and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19 And they said to him, “Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?”

18:20 And the priest’s heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people.

I think its fairly obvious that “the priest’s heart was glad” signals the ambition of this Levite.  He thinks mostly about himself first, and doesn’t seem to give a whit about loyalty to Micah – much less about the blatant apostasy he’s been committing.

This reminds me of the simony that marked the church in the medieval ages.  Becoming a church minister became a normal career to consider like that of a farmer or dairyman, rather than a calling from the Lord.

Lastly, the whole situation here is just odd, as I’ve mentioned before.  The household shrine is now stolen from Micah, who ironically had stolen his mom’s silver which was then used to pay for this shrine by his mom in the first place…not only this, but they have the arrogance to think that wherever they setup shop the Lord will be with them.  “We can plop down a shrine anywhere and be all set!”

18:21 So they turned and departed, putting the little ones and the livestock and the goods in front of them. 22 When they had gone a distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out, and they overtook the people of Dan. 23 And they shouted to the people of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is the matter with you, that you come with such a company?” 24 And he said, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then do you ask me, ‘What is the matter with you?’” 25 And the people of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows fall upon you, and you lose your life with the lives of your household.” 26 Then the people of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.

If ever you wondered about whether the Danites might have been righteous men, this passage should stop your wondering.  They have stolen what was not theirs, and subsequently stolen into the night.

In his anger and frustration, Micah chases after the band of miscreants and upon catching up to them tries to stop them from stealing all that he has.  You would think, at this point in the story that the Levite might interject himself – that perhaps he would feel a sense of remorse for what he had done.  But that isn’t the case.  Instead, he keeps silent.  He has made his bed and will lie in it.

When Micah realizes that to argue further with the men would result in his termination (“you lose your life and the lives of your household”), he desists and returns home.

Is this the way righteous men act?  Is this the way the promised land was taken?  Is this the way those who fear God and serve Him behave?  With no consideration for others…this is yet another indication of the self-centered idolatry that permeated all of Israel from the least to the greatest, each man followed in his path according to his own ideas and counsel.

Today there are many who call themselves Christians – even claiming to be part of the evangelical church.  But they are nothing short of Danite robbers.  They have no honor, nor do they live according to the word of the Lord.  They are pretenders who are self-centered glory seekers.  They are, in the end, mercenaries.  They are mercenaries because they serve themselves and not God.

18:27 But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. 28 And there was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city and lived in it. 29 And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first. 30 And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. 31 So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.

Laish means “lion” but the Danites named it after Dan, their ancestor, one of the sons of Jacob (Israel).

It is not until verse 30 of this final chapter in the two-chapter story that we really understand the full weight and depth of the Canaanization of the land.  And this is because we finally learn in verse 30 that the Levite who has whored himself out to idols and to the highest bidder is a direct descendent of Moses himself.  His is the son of Gershom (“son” in this case likely means “descendent” but if it does not, then there is good reason to believe this story took place earlier in the Judges narrative than later).

The intent of the story is to leave you feeling nauseous.  You want to throw up because if you’ve been reading the accounts of Scripture up until this point and have any idea as the manifold destiny of this people you can’t help but feel like they have unwittingly charged forward to their lowest point since slavery in Egypt.  Instead of slavery to Pharaoh they are slaves to idols.  They have broken free from service to God and have whored after other gods who are not Gods at all.  They are foolish, arrogant and headed for ruin.

So might you and I be had it not been had it not been for the grace of God.  You and I are like these Danites.  We spy out land that isn’t given to us.  We are always looking for greener pastures – never content to conquer what has been given until our hands by the Lord.  We steal, pilfer, and snub our noses at God and rebel against all that He has intended us to be.  If Christ hadn’t rescued us from ourselves we would be lost.  Forgotten in the pages of history.  Missing in some dungeon in Hell’s dark cavernous landscape never to be heard from again except by those who share our fate.

Praise God that He rescued us.