Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Judah

Introduction to the Old Testament, continued

The following twelve are often referred to as the Minor Prophets. Though their messages are shorter, there is nothing insignificant about them.

Hoseah was a prophet in Israel, contemporary with Isaiah. His 40 year ministry was a last call to Israel to return to the Lord before judgment fell upon them, much as Jeremiah’s ministry to Judah 140 years later. Hoseah’s wife became a prostitute and he redeemed her from those who had enslaved her. He uses this a parallel to Israel’s spiritual prostitution and how God wanted to redeem them. He refers to Israel as Ephraim 37 times: “I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled” (chapter 6:10).

Joel – the time of his prophecy would most likely be in the early years of King Joash. Wiked Queen Athalia had been slain and Joash was guided by the faithful priest Jehoiada. Joel’s prophecy is first a call to repentance and restoration, followed by a prophecy of the coming Day of the Lord.

Amos did not claim to be a prophet, rather a farmer from Judah whom God sent to Israel with a one-time message. He dates his message as being durin the reign of Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel, and two years before the earthquake. Did he perhaps predict the earthquake? Chapter 9 verse 5 could give that impression. His message to Israel was of the impending judgment of God.

Obadiah was a contemporary of Elijah and Elisha in Israel, during the time of Jehoram, one of the wicked kings of Judah. Elijah wrote a warning letter to Jehoram around this time. Obadiah appears to have written after Jerusalem had been pillaged by Edom, and announces the final destruction of Edom.

Jonah was from Israel, which was oppressed by Assyria, thus he had no desire to see Assyria spared. The book was probably written by Jonah himself, though he does not depict himself in a favourable light. God’s mercy to Nineveh is a message that He has compassion on all mankind.

Micah – a contemporary of Isaiah. Micah warns of the coming wrath of God on those who were outwardly religious, but do not live justly. He names Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah will be born.

Nahum may have been born in Israel and fled to Jerusalem when Assyria overthrew the northern kingdom and led the people into captivity. This would place his prophecy in the latter part of the reign of Hezekiah when Judah was threatened by Assyria. He foretold the end of the Assyrian empire and the destruction of Nineveh. The repentance that was occasioned by Jonah’s prophecy evidently did not carry on to succeeding generations.

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah. God was about to use Babylon to judge Judah and Jerusalem for their idolatry. “The just shall live by his faith” chapter 2 verse 4.

Zephaniah was the great-great grandson of Hezekiah and prophesied during the reign of King Josiah who would have been a distant cousin, He calls the nation to abandon idolatry and return to the Lord. He warns of coming judgment, but promises “ I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD” chapter 3 verse 12.

Haggai – Prophesied after the return from the Babyloniam captivity and urged the rebuilding of the temple. Tradition says he was born in Babylon and studied under Ezekiel.

Zehariah – a priest who was a contemporary of Haggai, with a similar message, urging the rebuilding of the temple a restoration of holiness. Many messianic prophecies in the latter part:“for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH” (ch 3, v 8); “behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (ch. 9, v. 9); “and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced” (ch. 12, v. 10); etc.

Malachi – the final prophet before 400 years of silence. One last call to faithfulness and a prophecy of the coming Messiah, who would be preceded by “Elijah.”

The affliction of Joseph

Judah and Ephraim were the two largest tribes of Israel. Joshua was of the tribe of Ephraim; perhaps the Ephraimites carried from that some sense of entitlement that they should play more of a leadership role. When Jeroboam of the tribe of Ephraim rebelled against King Rehoboam, Mannasseh and all the other northern tribes followed his lead.

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From that point on the prophets referred to the whole rebellious northern kingdom and Joseph, or Ephraim, just as all the tribes united in the southern kingdom were called Judah. And Joseph was now once more separated from his brethren. That is the affliction of Joseph the prophet Amos was referring to in Amos 6:1-6.

Elijah and Elisha were both natives of the northern kingdom, used of God to warn the people and call them to return unto the true worship of the Lord. Hosea and Amos were from Judah and called of God to call the people of the northern kingdom to repentance.

Jonah was also of the northern kingdom. The only mention of him, beside the book which carries his name, is found in 2 Kings 14:25. This is the account of Jeroboam II retaking the northern part of Israel from the Syrians, as prophesied by Jonah.

2 Chronicles 21:12-15 records the letter sent to King Jehoram of Judah by Elijah: “Thus saith the LORD God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father’s house, which were better than thyself: behold, with a great plague will the LORD smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods: and thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day.”

The only other connection of Elijah to Judah is that when he felt his life threatened by Jezebel he crossed into Judah, left his servant there and continued on to Mount Horeb.

There is a revealing incident in the life of Elisha when King Jehoram of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were preparing for battle and called on Elsha to enquire of the Lord on their behalf. Elisha replied to the king of Israel: “As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee” (2 Kings 3:14).

All of this is pretty conclusive evidence that the prophets regarded Judah as the people of God and Israel, led by Ephraim, to be apostate. Yet God had called them to minister to the people of apostate Israel to draw them back into full fellowship with His people.

Hosea spoke of a time when the two houses of Israel would be reunited. During the Babylonian captivity the prophet Ezekiel bemoans the unfaithfulness of the shepherds in chapter 34. Verse 11says: “For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.”

The sending of the 70 by Jesus to seek out the lost sheep of the house of Israel should be seen as part of the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Note that he is referring to sheep, that is children of God. The lost condition referred to means that they had no shepherd, not that they were spiritually lost. When the Bible speaks of the saved and the lost it refers to them as sheep and goats. The sheep will enter heaven, the goats will be turned away.

There are multitudes of people in the world today who are unsaved and need to hear the gospel and see it being lived out in the lives of true children of God. But there are also the lost sheep, the children of God who wander through the wilderness of the world because they do not have a shepherd. They are also a mission field. Jesus said: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).

Self-surrender

The story of Joseph is one of the most thrilling in the Bible. A misunderstood boy is rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery. Then he is falsely accused, put into prison and forgotten. Someone promises to help him, but he too forgets as soon as he is out of prison. Yet in the end this unfortunate lad is crowned with glory and power and becomes the benefactor and protector of his brothers.

It’s a wonderful story. But most of us are so dazzled by the pomp and glory achieved by Joseph that we completely miss another story happening in the shadows. Yet this other story is more important in the history of God’s people and in the story of redemption.

I am talking about the story of Judah. Judah was the fourth son of his father, the fourth son of Leah, the wife that Jacob hadn’t really wanted. Rachel, the mother of Joseph, was the great love of Jacob’s life.

But when the chips were down, when the ruler of Egypt had told them they needn’t bother coming to buy food again if their youngest brother wasn’t with them, it was Judah who laid his life on the line to save his family from starvation. He told his father he would do everything in his power to bring Benjamin home again, and if he failed he would bear the reproach forever. Jacob’s heart was touched, he trusted Judah and gave permission for Benjamin to go.

Then the ruler of Egypt declared that Benjamin was his hostage, he would not allow him to return to his father. Once again Judah stepped forward and put his life on the line. He told the ruler of Egypt to take him as hostage in place of his younger brother. He told of the promise he had made to his father and how it would be more than his father could bear if Benjamin did not return home. This melted the heart of the ruler of Egypt and he revealed himself as their brother Joseph.

And this is where Judah became the leader of the family. Just before he died, Jacob blessed his sons and said of Judah:

Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. Genesis 49:8-12.

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King David was of the tribe of Judah. Like his ancestor, he cared more for the well-being of his people than he did for personal honour and glory. Jesus was of the lineage of David and of the tribe of Judah. He went beyond the examples left by both in surrendering his life so that all mankind might be saved. The cross, the supreme sacrifice, was foreshadowed in the life of Judah. How can we overlook it?

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

There are two ways of reading the Bible. One way is to see it as a repository of morally edifying stories. One can label that the pietistic approach or the moralistic, therapeutic deism approach.

The other approach is to see the Bible as a history of how God revealed, step by step, the redemption story. This was the approach taken by the Anabaptists of years ago. We, who claim to be their spiritual descendants, have been heavily influenced by Bible story books and other influences coming from modern evangelical Christianity and have come close to swallowing the pietistic interpretation. We have lost something important in the process.

Take for example the story of Joseph as it unfolds from Genesis chapter 37 on. Joseph is a perfect fit for the modern idea of a hero — poor mistreated boy makes good beyond his dreams and then is gracious to those who mistreated him. Most people see nothing more than that in these chapters.

There is, however, another story woven into those chapters in such a way that we almost miss it. In fact, most often we do miss it. That is the story of Judah.

Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son, the one who should have been the head of all the tribes of Israel. Well, he tried — sort of. When his brothers wanted to kill Joseph, he suggested they put him in a pit instead. It seems that he intended to rescue him later, but didn’t really have a plan. Later when Joseph demanded that Benjamin be brought to him in Egypt, Reuben offered his two sons to his father as surety for Benjamin. Jacob did not appear to be impressed.

Judah was the fourth son of Jacob, certainly not predestined to have the preeminence, and there is not much in his earlier life to suggest that he might one day become the leader. It was Judah’s suggestion to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites. Perhaps he was trying to save Joseph’s life, but he certainly never expected to see him again.

It isn’t until chapter 43 that we see a different Judah. Obtaining grain from Egypt was now a matter of life and death, and Jacob had rejected Reuben’s offer of his sons as surety for Benjamin. Then Judah steps up before his father and says: “ Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever.”

Evidently Jacob saw in Judah a depth of sincerity and commitment that convinced him that he could trust him to keep his word. In the following chapter, Judah stands before the man who was the lord of Egypt and recounts the commitment he made to his father: “ For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.”

By this willingness of Judah to sacrifice himself for the welfare, not only of Benjamin but of the whole family, the heart of Joseph was broken and he revealed himself to his brothers. And by this act of self-sacrifice Judah became the leader of the children of Israel.

Years later, when Jacob blessed his sons, his blessing of Judah foretold his role in the whole future history of the children of Israel. “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.”

Note that in Egypt the brothers bowed down to Joseph, but Jacob foretold that in the future they would bow down to Judah. The kings of Israel, after Saul, were of the tribe of Judah. Our Saviour came from the lineage of Judah as reckoned according to the flesh.

There are important lessons in the life of Joseph. But the truest image of the story of redemption is not found in the man who lived in palaces, dressed in costly array and whose authority was felt in every corner of Egypt. It is found in the man who, when it became a matter of life and death for his brethren, offered himself as a ransom.

The fulness of times

Solomon’s reign was the golden era of Israel.  All the promises of God were fulfilled in the natural sense.  The son of David built the glorious temple and God showed His acceptance by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices.  Solomon’s reign was a reign of peace over all the territory promised by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  News of the wisdom and wealth of Solomon spread everywhere.

Israel never again regained the glory it had known in Solomon’s time.  The kingdom was divided, there followed good kings and bad kings, the people often tended to idolatry.  Through it all there remained a belief that this land had been given them by God and the temple remained the spiritual focal point of the people of God.

Finally the accumulation of disobedience and sin was too much and God permitted the people to be taken into captivity and the temple to be destroyed.  The prophets had foretold this devastation, but they also told of a time of restoration.  Often these promises included the Gentiles in God’s plan.

The people returned from Babylon, rebuilt Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple.  According to the Babylonian Talmud, the new temple lacked five things found in Solomon’s temple: the Ark of the Covenant; the sacred fire sent from God to consume the sacrifices; the Shekinah or pillar of smoke and fire showing God’s presence; the spirit of holiness (or prophecy); the Urim and Thummin by which God had made known His will.  Yet the temptation to worship the gods of the heathen was gone and the true worship of God was restored.

Zerubbabel was the first governor after the return from Babylon.  He was of the lineage of David, but could not be king because Judah was now a vassal state of Persia.  The lineage of David’s descendants was faithfully recorded in expectation of the day when a son of David would again sit on the throne.  Shortly after the return, the canon of Old Testament Scripture was completed with the inclusion of the histories recorded by Ezra and the prophecies of the last prophets.

The destruction of the temple had left a void in the worship system of the Jewish people.  Synagogues appeared during or shortly after the Babylonian exile and have continued ever since.  There is no command in the OT for weekly worship, nor instruction on how to organize or conduct such meetings.  Synagogue is a Greek word that does not appear in the Old Testament, except in Psalm 74:8 of the AV where it is used to translate a Hebrew word.  The synagogue was a place for weekly meetings on the Sabbath day when the Scriptures were read and expounded.

Other events happened on the world stage that caused great distress to the Jewish people.  Alexander the Great conquered a territory extending from Greece and Macedonia south to Egypt and eastward to northern India and Afghanistan.  He established many new cities in the conquered territories, all named Alexandria.  Kandahar, Afghanistan was one of those cities and appears to retain some trace of his name.  Trade throughout the empire was stimulated and Greek became the common language of trade.  Upon Alexander’s death, his empire was divided in three and ongoing wars between the competing empires often involved battles for control of Judah.

During this time, Jewish leaders saw the need for a Bible in the Greek language and 70 scholars gathered in Alexandria, Egypt to make this translation.  This is called the translation of the seventy, or Septuagint, and is the Bible quoted by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.

The next great empire to rise was Rome.  Julius Caesar conquered southern Europe, including Greece, and extended the empire as far south as Egypt.  The Greek language remained the international language of commerce throughout the Roman Empire.  Rome added something new that enhanced trade and travel — a well-developed road system connecting all parts of the empire and rigorous law enforcement that made trade and travel much safer than ever before.

Now the “fulness of times” had come.  The stage was set for the appearance of the Messiah, the true Son of David who would establish an eternal spiritual kingdom that would never end.  This was not the Messiah the Jewish leadership was looking for, yet the evidence was all there in the OT prophecies for those who could see.  Now was the time for the fulfilment of the salvation of which the OT sacrifices had only been a symbol and for the blood of the spotless Lamb of God to sprinkle the heavenly mercy seat.

When this was done and the earthly temple and kingdom had again been taken out of the way, the good news of salvation could be carried to people throughout the Roman Empire.  A common language existed, there was a translation of the  Old Testament Scriptures  in that language and a protected road system to facilitate travel.  A system of weekly meetings for reading and expounding the Scriptures in the synagogues became the familiar model for worship services of the early church.

So many events, which had seemed to be meaningless tragedies at the time, are now seen as the hand of God preparing the way for the coming of His Son into the world, the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the church.

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