Den of Robbers

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.
– Mark 11:15-18

Jesus quotes Isaiah directly, and then he borrows a phrase, unattributed, from Jeremiah. It comes from this passage:

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.”
-Jeremiah 7

 

Without the context from Jeremiah, I think it is easy to read the first passage as Jesus rebuking them for just one wrong thing: they shouldn’t have been selling in the temple or something of the sort. But when Jeremiah tells the Jews of his day that they have made God’s house into a den of robbers, the indictment is far deeper than that. It goes right to the bottom of their character: they have been treating God’s house as a sanctuary from the consequences of their misdeeds. Moreover, it is the kind of accusation that is grounds for God cutting off his people.

So when Jesus uses that phrase to rebuke the Jews, it is a loaded phrase. The last time it was used, what followed was the destruction of the temple, the razing of Jerusalem, and the slaughter of the people. If they once again merited the accusation, then they would also once again merit its accompanying punishment. Jesus is warning them that it is coming.

Unsurprisingly, just as the Jews of Jeremiah’s day turned on Jeremiah in anger for prophesying their doom, the Jews of Jesus day did the same. They understood what he was saying and they did not like it.

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Gold and Frankincense and Gentiles

A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.
-Isaiah 60 (ESV)

I don’t know how I have never noticed this before, but gifts of gold and frankincense are prophesied. When the wise men present those things to Jesus, it is a fulfillment, or the beginning of the fulfillment, of this prophecy of Isaiah about the gentiles coming to worship.

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Fishers of Men

Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.
-Jeremiah 16:14-16

When Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to follow him, telling them that he will make them “fishers of men”, he isn’t inventing the idea. The implication is that the time has come for the kingdom to be restored and this prophecy of Jeremiah to be fulfilled, and that Simon and Andrew will have a part in it.

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Paul on Davidic Imprecation

One of the ways that people try to deal with the imprecatory psalms is to posit that they are a record of what David said and thought, but that David was wrong in wanting that. Under this view they are descriptive, not prescriptive; they may shed light, but they are not an example to be followed. To put it another way, David’s imprecation was not inspired by the Holy Spirit, though the recording of it may have been.

Psalm 69 is one of the most aggressive imprecatory psalms. David goes so far as to ask that the names of his enemies be blotted out of the book of life. I have written two other posts on Psalm 69, arguing from new testament quotations that the psalm was inspired in its content. I have since come across another new testament reference to it.

Paul quotes Psalm 69 in Romans 11. He is making the case that God’s promise to Israel did not fail, but only those chosen to receive it did so.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”

And David says,

“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.”
-Romans 11:7-10 (ESV)

Not all Israel is Israel. Some of them did not receive the promises. Some of them were blinded. And as evidence of this, Paul quotes David’s imprecation in psalm 69. Two things follow from this:

1) David’s request is not against God’s will. Paul is quoting it as evidence of God’s will. And hence, David was not wrong to want it.
2) Paul is also using it as evidence of fact, that some in Israel were blinded and cut off from the promises. This only makes sense if Paul believes that God did what David asked.

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Justice is a Blessing

We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us….
-Isaiah 59

There is a striking thing in this passage. Starting at the beginning of chapter 58, God has been chewing out Israel for her sins. He really opens up and lets them have it. And he does so in explanation for why he is not hearing their pleas or answering their prayers; Israel is moaning for justice, and God is not giving it to them. Why? Because they are too wicked to deserve justice, too unrighteous to be saved.

This is not the way we normally conceive of justice or salvation.

In American evangelicalism, justice and salvation are normally thought of as antithetical concepts. Do you want justice (which would mean your certain death) or salvation (which would mean life)? But not here. Justice and salvation are on the same page. And the Israelites can have neither because of their sins. For — in Isaiah at any rate — Justice is a blessing that is denied to sinners.

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The Unjust Steward

Luke 16 starts with the parable of the unjust steward (or dishonest manager, depending on your translation). The man is guilty of mismanagement; his master catches on and calls him to account. Knowing that he is being fired, he calls in his master’s debtors and gives them large breaks on their bills. In other words, he goes from mismanagement to straight up cheating. And Jesus commends him.

“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

It seems strange, Jesus praising the behavior of a crook. What is this about?

The trick is to understand who the master in the parable is. The master is whomever the disciples had been serving before. Now that they are following Jesus, their old master is being cheated. Maybe that old master is Money. Master Money cannot have them wasting his resources; he will fire them. And they ought to sell him out completely before he does, trading their last shred of credibility with Money for friends who will support them after Money has given up on them.

But probably Master Money is too abstract a concept. Jesus disciples will be persecuted. He has stated this as fact. He will be persecuted and so they will be persecuted. That means losing jobs. It means losing your house. It means being driven from your city. It means losing your livelihood. Do you think Joseph of Arimathea was able to keep his post on the Sanhedrin? Or what about the rich young ruler? Will he keep his spot in his synagogue and his lucrative connections when he throws his lot in with the man who drives out demons by Beelzebub? Or Zacchaeus? When the Pharisees have succeeded in crucifying Jesus on the accusation that he was rebelling against Caesar, do you think they let Zacchaeus, known associate of Jesus of Nazareth, hold onto his post with the Roman Empire as a tax collector?

For Zacchaeus, giving half his money to the poor was a really sensible retirement plan. For the rich young ruler, selling everything he had and giving it to the poor before he lost it all anyway to former friends turned enemies was good practical sense. For Joseph of Arimathea, using his own tomb on the body of Jesus was a shrewd move. It was unlikely he would ever get a decent burial anyway, not in that city.

For all those men, the only sensible thing to do was to leverage every advantage they had while they still had it to gain credit in the kingdom, so that when they were rejected and cast out by the powers that were at the time, they had something to show for it.

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Sin that Leads to Death

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
-1 John 5:14-17 (ESV)

This is a bit perplexing. Is he talking about sins which cannot be forgiven? Jesus says that the only sin that cannot be forgiven is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Is he talking just about that one sin?

Possibly, but I have another idea.

Earlier in the letter, John said that sin is lawlessness. And he said that loving God is keeping his commandments. God gave a law. It assigns penalties to various things. Some sins require restitution, some require sacrifices, some require death. If we assume that John had the Mosaic law as the backdrop of his thinking about God’s commandments — and that seems very likely, for what else is the summation of the law but the love of neighbor upon which he has been harping? — then it seems likely that sins unto death would be those sins that are prescribed the death penalty under Mosaic law. Adultery, sexual perversion, murder, blasphemy, cursing of parents, false prophecy, etc.

The idea then would be that when you see a brother sin in a way that is not high-handed rebellion, intercede for him and God will forgve the sin, because you ask according to his will. Perhaps we could say he wants to forgive that stuff and move on. But when a brother denies Christ or sleep’s with his friend’s wife or otherwise engages in high-handed rebellion, it doesn’t mean it is a sin that cannot be forgiven, but it does mean it is a sin for which the perpetrator himself must give an account. For such sins, the sinner needs to own up to it himself, repent explicitly, and deal with God directly.

I can think of an argument against this hypothesis. Theft is a sin that is not unto death, under this scheme, but it is a sin which requires restitution, which is not something that can just be ignored. …Oh. But the bystander could step in and pay restitution himself. I have heard stories of such things being done. And in that case, even though the man who sinned might never have repented, there is no reason for the aggrieved to hold his sin against him. And since his claim is dropped, the sin is forgiven.

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