The John 3:16 of the Old Testament

I’ve talked to many Christians who were taught and believed that God’s people Israel in the Old Testament were saved by works, rather than grace.

Of course, looking at the prologue to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 will show that’s simply not true. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Ex. 20:2).

God acts. God does the work. God does the saving.

Then he gives them his law. The order goes like this: God rescues his people. Then he tells them what their lives should look like under his kingly rule.

Add to that Hebrews 11 where we see that those saints who have come before were saved, not by their commitment to the law, but for their faith. That’s the whole point of that chapter.

That should be enough.

But another passage stuck out to me this morning I hadn’t noticed before. Deuteronomy 4:37: “Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength.”

That sounds a lot like John 3:16, doesn’t it? That verse says, “God loved the world this way: he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” 

  • “Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them” → God loved the world
  • “He brought you out of Egypt” → will not perish but have eternal life 
  • “By his Presence and his great strength” → he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him

When you lay the two passage side-by-side, we see that God’s love is the initiating motivation for salvation. His very real presence and grace is the power of salvation. And finally, freedom and life with God–the rescue from bondage and death–is the result of God’s salvation.

Whether Old Testament or New, the salvation of God does not come because of the obedience or conformity to God’s law, in part or in whole.

It comes freely and only to his people by his grace, his power, and his very Presence.


The United States Is Mortal

I was struck this morning reading Psalm 9 at the way the psalmist wrote about the nations of the world.

In verses 19-20, he writes:

Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
    let the nations be judged in your presence.
Strike them with terror, Lord;
    let the nations know they are only mortal.

The psalmist is crying out to God for help and deliverance from his enemies. The surrounding nations are harassing God’s people. Yet the psalmist knows God is a refuge for the afflicted.

The plea for the nations to know their mortality is a plea for the nations to understand that Yahweh is God, not the nations. No king, sultan, pharaoh, emperor, prime minister, or president is mightier than the Mighty One.

The nations here, and throughout the Psalms, is used in contrast to Israel–God’s people. Israel was a geo-political nation defined by borders and a particular piece of real estate in the world. But it was also more than that. It was a nation ruled directly by Yahweh, their true king.

Israel’s central statement of faith (known as the Shema) was a simple declaration of allegiance to God: “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is the only one!” The nations are anyone and everyone whose allegiance is to something other than Yahweh.

As we come to the New Testament, we see that this extends to God’s people in the Church. The Church is God’s new thing–a new people, a new nation.

The Church’s central statement of faith was three simple words: “Jesus is Lord.” In the first century context, that emphatically meant “Caesar is not.” (A profoundly politically statement!)

The Church is not defined by political policies or geographic borders, but by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

No geo-political nation on earth today is ruled by the God of the Bible like Israel was. Not one. Not even the United States.

Yet it’s easy for Christians in the United States to read a prayer like Psalm 9 and pray as if the United States is God’s chosen nation. Many Christians believe the U.S. is exempt from being judged by the Lord. That we are, somehow, not a part of “the nations.”

When a Christian believes this and then comes to Psalm 9, they are likely to pray something like this: “Lord, bless the United States and strike all the other nations with terror. Make all the other nations know that they are mortal.”

But the United States is part of the nations. Like all other nations, it will be judged in God’s presence. The United States is mortal and, one day, it will know it. This is not something our country can escape.

“Wait!” you may say. “What about Psalm 33 and ‘blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’? Our nation can make the Lord our God!”

Well, the context of Psalm 33 reveals “the nation” is God’s people Israel–not just any nation. The rest of the verse goes like this: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”

Let me say it again. In the Old Testament, that heritage is Israel, and through the Gospel, we see that the Church is God’s new people, his heirs through the work of Jesus (see Romans 2-4, Ephesians 2, and the entire book of Galatians).

What’s the point here? Failing to understand all of this is one of the first steps toward Christian Nationalism. It leads to an unbiblical view of how the gospel and the kingdom of God intersect with and “converse with” the kingdoms of this world.

God’s Kingdom is distinct from this world. It’s altogether it’s own thing and it will never end. The United States, however? It will fade and in the end, its mortality will be plain for all to see.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28)


Yahweh the King

Part 4 in a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

If there was one thing the king of Israel was to be, it was a reflection of Yahweh’s kingship. The king was Yahweh’s “vice regent.” In Book IV (chs. 90-106) there is a decidedly noticeable shift toward the focus on Yahweh as king.[1] If Ps. 89 indeed depicts the supposed failure of the covenant and disabling of the monarchy (see previous post), it makes sense for Book IV to embrace the shift back to Yahweh. Psalms 93-99, often called “enthronement psalms,” are the showcase songs for Yahweh’s kingship. This small collection of praise Psalms gives hope to those in exile, for they sing a new song of Yahweh as king, deliverance, judgment on those who worship idols, judgment on the nations, and the continuation of Yahweh’s steadfast love.[2] What a message of hope!

The message of this collection is simple: “Yahweh is king! He has been Israel’s refuge in the past, long before monarchy existed; he will continue to be Israel’s refuge now that monarchy is gone; and blessed are they that trust in him. His kingdom comes.”[3] Yahweh is declared to be the one who reigns over the world (93:1), for it is his “throne [that] is established from of old” (93:2). He is “a great God and a great King above all gods” (95:3). Though Yahweh will not forsake his people and his kingdom (94:14-15), his kingship is not solely for Israel. His majesty is to be proclaimed among the nations: “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!” (96:10). Therefore, all the earth should rejoice (97:1).

Psalm 98 celebrates Yahweh’s sovereign activity,[4] as Yahweh is depicted as a divine Warrior-King who is savior, king, and judge.[5] Yahweh’s identity is significant for Israel, but not less so for the nations.[6] The theme of Yahweh’s universal kingship thus arises again. Yahweh has worked salvation for his people, remembering his steadfast love (vv. 1-2), and the nations have witnessed to this salvation (v. 3). Because of this, Yahweh reigns as king over the whole world (vv. 4-6). Yahweh therefore has the right to judge the earth, which he will do with righteousness and equity (vv. 7-9). Finally, Ps. 99 exalts Yahweh as the cosmic ruler, and calls all peoples to joyfully acknowledge this (vv. 1-3). Yahweh is the true, holy king and the only one worthy of exaltation (vv.4-9).

Other psalms, outside of Book IV, are also considered enthronement psalms. Psalms 24 and 47 are most prominent.[7] Yahweh owns the world and everything in it (24:1), thus he is king over all the earth (47:2). He is the king of glory, strong and mighty in battle who subdues Israel’s enemies (24:7-8; 47:3-4). Yahweh reigns not only over the ethnic Israelites, but it is promised that “the princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham” (47:9a). This is a fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to Abraham, and as the psalm ends, it is evident that there is no one left who competes with the divine authority of Yahweh.[8]

N.T. Wright explains that the enthronement psalms, including others not so formally titled (e.g. Pss. 10; 22; 44; 74; 145) have a “constant triple theme.”[9] First, Yahweh’s kingship celebrated in Jerusalem in his home in the temple. Second, when Yahweh is enthroned as king, the nations are brought under his rule. Third, when Yahweh is king, the result is proper justice, equity, and the removal of all oppression. Wright then concludes, “One can see all too easily how these songs would give rise, among a people weary of corrupt and self-serving rulers, to the longing for Yahweh himself to come and take charge. He and he alone would give the people what they needed and wanted. He would take control and sort everything out.”[10]

As wonderful as Yahweh’s reign from heaven is to the psalmist, it is incomplete. Because Yahweh is committed to his creation, to his people Israel, and to David, his sovereign rule over the entire world must come through a Davidic descendant on the earth. This precious promise moves Israel’s theology of kingship in Psalms one step further toward a future son of David who would be a messiah-King. The messianic king will be our focus in the next post.

[1] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 886.
[2] Walton, “A Cantata,” 28-29.
[3] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 886.
[4] Richard D. Patterson, “Singing the New Song: An Examination of Psalms 33, 96, 98, and 149.” Bibliotheca Sacra 164, no. 656 (October 2007): 418.
[5] Trempor Longman III, “Psalm 98: A Divine Warrior Victory Song.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 27, no. 3 (Sept. 1984): 271.
[6] John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 3: Psalms 90-150 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 123-124.
[7] Walton, “A Cantata,” 25-26, notes that these chapters may seem out of order in the Psalter, but they may actually reflect David’s military successes. It is clear that the glory goes to Yahweh, not David, thus reinforcing the fact that the Davidic king is not the ultimate authority in Israel. Yahweh is.
[8] Goldingay, Psalms: Vol. 2, 80; Wilson, Psalms—Vol. 1, 729.
[9] N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 45.
[10] Ibid., 46.


David the King

Part 3 in a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

As we continue to consider Israel’s theology of kingship in the Psalms, I’ll encourage you to get out your Bible and follow along for this post. We are going to do some moderate-to-heavy lifting in this post!

Israel’s theology of kingship in the Psalms is demonstrated through its content and structure. Certain royal psalms are strategically placed at the “seams” of three out of the first four books (Ps. 2, beginning of Book I; Ps. 72, end of Book II/beginning of Book III; and Ps. 89, end of Book III/beginning of Book IV).[1] The absence of a royal psalm at the end of Book I/beginning of Book II probably means that Books I and II were commonly recognized as a single Davidic collection prior to the final editing. How do we know? One piece of evidence is found in the postscript at the end of Book II (Ps. 72:20). Thus Pss. 2-72 and 73-89 probably make up two, not three, blocks of material.[2]

Again, let’s remember we are thinking about kingship in Hebrew theology. We must remember two things here: 1) the Israelite king is the reflection of the kingship of Yahweh, and 2) the Israelite king rules because Yahweh established him as a ruler.[3] One scholar put it this way: “Israel’s kingdom was a symbol of Yahweh’s reign on earth; [Israel’s] king was Yahweh’s vice regent.”[4] Furthermore, the concept and hope of an ideal king who would rule Israel in the eschaton (the new age) finds its foundation in the Davidic covenant.[5] Throughout the book of Psalms, this Davidic ruler is portrayed as a type of “superhuman” king, yet one who is not exactly equated to Yahweh.[6] These expectations are both celebrated and longed for in the Psalms in what are called “royal psalms.”Now, let’s check out these “seam psalms” and the “royal psalms” that surround them.

Psalm 1 is often thought of as an introduction to the whole book of Psalms, with Ps. 2 beginning Book I.[7] As mentioned above, Books I and II may have been considered as one collection in the Hebrew mind, and an obvious characteristic of Books I-II is its distinct Davidic flavor.[8] As a seam psalm, Ps. 2 is vital to understanding the rest of the Psalter, for it is the first royal psalm and it introduces the principal subject of the whole book: the king in prayer.[9] Psalm 2 depicts the coronation of the Davidic king and presents a poetic recitation of the Davidic covenant (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14): “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (v. 8). “This commitment represents a form of fulfillment of [Yahweh’s] promise to Abraham…The nation is destined to rule the world on [Yahweh’s] behalf.”[10] Therefore, Ps. 2 introduces the king as the centerpiece of Yahweh’s rule over the nations who foolishly plot, rage, and set themselves against Yahweh’s anointed (vv. 1-3).

In Ps. 18, David reflects on Yahweh’s rescuing him from the hands of Saul. In short, the psalm meditates on Yahweh’s faithfulness “to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever” (v. 50). Not only is personal deliverance in mind, but also deliverance for David’s future offspring. Furthermore, the fact that David will rule the nations is also significant: “You made me the head of nations; people whom I had not known served me” (v. 43). The important element to note is this: Yahweh is committed to continuing David’s line; Yahweh has not forgotten his covenant to Abraham or David.

Psalm 20 is linked to chapters 18 and 21, and all three Psalms deal with one main theme: military activity of Israel’s king.[11] Psalm 20 is a cry for Yahweh to save “his anointed” (v. 6) in battle while the people “trust in the name of the LORD our God” (v. 7). Psalm 21 glories in Yahweh’s salvation which he has worked for the king. In Yahweh “the king rejoices,” in his salvation the king “greatly…exults” (v. 1). The psalm continues to revel in Yahweh’s protection of the Davidic king. As in Ps. 20, so Ps. 21 illustrates the importance of corporate solidarity, for the people’s prosperity lies hand-in-hand with the king’s.[12] In Ps. 20, the people plead, “O LORD, save the king!” (v. 9). In Ps. 21, the people cried, “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength.” It’s vital for us to remember: as David goes, so goes Israel!

Psalm 45 is a royal wedding song.[13] It is intriguing because the psalm principally focuses on humans (the king and his bride) then interjects and addresses God (v. 6).  Some theologians understand this to be addressing the ruler as a divine figure.[14] While there certainly may be grounds for this, it seems best to understand this reference to the king’s status as a divinely authorized king who rules Israel on Yahweh’s behalf.[15] The messianic overtones of this chapter, particularly vv. 16-17, point to Israel’s continuing hopes of a Davidic descendant who would usher in the kingdom of Yahweh.[16]

Now let’s tackle the last two royal psalms in Book II and Book III, Pss. 72 and 89, both of which are seam psalms. Psalm 72 is looking ahead in the future toward David’s descendants. The psalmist pleads for Yahweh to “give the king your justice…and righteousness” (v. 1) so he might judge accordingly (v. 2). The psalmist asks Yahweh that the Davidic son be a refreshing ruler, not a burdensome one (v. 6). Even more, he asks that his son’s reign would be from “sea to sea” (v. 8) so that “all the nations [may] serve him” (v. 11). Ultimately, the blessing of the nations is the end goal: “May his name endure forever…may people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!” (v. 17). A significant progression in the first two Books comes to a head at the end of Ps. 72. “The covenant which [Yahweh] made with David (Ps. 2) and which serves as the source of David’s assurance (Ps. 41) is now passed on to his descendants in this series of petitions in behalf of ‘the king’s son’ (Ps. 72).”[17]

Psalm 89 ends Book III and its royal segment (vv. 47-52) provide a dim outlook for the Davidic covenant. Indeed, it not only views the covenant as fractured, but one that has come to nothing![18] If we examine vv. 38-52, we’ll see an almost certain response to vv. 29-37, a passage clearly dependent on 2 Sam. 7:14f.[19] The psalmist laments the fact that Yahweh’s promise to David seems to have been in vain. “You have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust…Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (vv. 38-39, 49). If we are honest, it seems as if Yahweh has abandoned the king and his people. Still, later psalms affirm Yahweh reigns despite the demise of the monarchy and others affirm his commitment to David.[20]

Books I-II focus on David’s kingship and the preservation of his line so that Yahweh’s promises might come to fruition. Book III ends with a lament, for Yahweh seems to have rejected his anointed and the hope of a Davidic kings seems all but forgotten. Yet these elements foreshadow Yahweh’s kingship which dominates Books IV-V! We’ll focus on Yahweh’s kingship in the next post.

[1] Gerald H. Wilson, “The Use of Royal Psalms at the ‘Seams’ of the Hebrew Psalter,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 35 (1986): 87. Walton, “Psalms,” 27, also underscores the importance of the “seam” psalms, particularly Ps. 72.
[2] Ibid. Ps. 72:20 says, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.”
[3] Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 234.
[4] David M. Howard, Jr., “A Case for Kingship in the Old Testament Narratives and the Psalms,” Trinity Journal 9, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 34.
[5] Bruce K. Waltke, with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 888.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 88; Gerald H. Wilson, “The Shape of the Book of Psalms,” Interpretation 46 (1992): 132. John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), states that Pss. 1-2 were treated as one psalm in at least one Jewish tradition. He notes that the first two psalms have several points of connection. Whatever the case, the idea that Ps. 2 functions as a “seam” psalm is not nullified if Ps. 2 is not the actual beginning of Book I. Moreover, it would be a moot point if Pss. 1-2 were originally one psalm.
[8] Gerald H. Wilson, The NIV Application Commentary: Psalms—Volume I (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 89. Walton, “A Cantata,” 25, notes that some psalms seem out of place at times (e.g. Pss. 23-24). This will be dealt with in the next section.
[9] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 885.
[10] Goldingay, Psalms: Vol. 1, 95.
[11] Ibid., 303; Wilson, Psalms—Vol. 1, 381.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Walter C. Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 127; John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 2: Psalms 42-89 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 54.
[14] Kaiser, The Messiah, 128.
[15] Wilson, Psalms—Vol. 1, 704; Goldingay, Psalms: Vol. 2, 58.
[16] Wilson, Psalms—Vol. 1, 700.
[17] Wilson, “The Use of Royal Psalms,” 89.
[18] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 886.
[19] Wilson, “The Use of Royal Psalms,” 91.
[20] Goldingay, Psalms: Vol. 2, 691.


The Future of Israel

I believe there is a future for Israel. Early in my departure from dispensationalism, I didn’t want to believe that, however. In my exodus from Left Behind theology, I didn’t want to believe in a rapture, a distinctively “Jewish” millennial kingdom, or a literal end-time temple where Jews and the nations would come to sacrifice and worship. I still don’t believe those things, but I do believe there is a future for Israel. What do I mean? Before Christ’s return, there will be an end-time conversion of a large number of Jews through their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s it.

The Old Testament is clear that God will bring redemption to Israel, the people he chose out of all the other peoples on the earth (Deut. 7:6). Here’s just three examples from the prophets that prove this:

  • “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel” (Amos 9:14).
  • Israel will once again be the object of God’s affection (Zeph. 3:14-20).
  • Israel will be called “The Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD” (Isa. 62:12).

These OT references cannot solely refer to ethnic and national Israel, however, for Gentile Christians have obtained these promises and are included among God’s people with all believing Jews (Rom. 2:28-29; 4:1-25; Gal. 3:7-9). There is one flock, one church (John 10:16; Eph. 2:11-22)! How do we reconcile this? Did the church replace Israel? Is Israel left out of the proverbial salvation loop?

My view has been shaped mostly by Romans 9-11—the only non-prophetic passage that speaks in-depth on Israel’s future. Though this section is difficult to interpret, it is much clearer than the prophets! There, Paul teaches that God has made promises to Israel (e.g. some of them mentioned above), but it seems that the Gentiles are now the sole recipients of those promises. For Paul, the gospel is at stake in Romans 9-11. In Doug Moo’s words, “Paul must…demonstrate that the God who chose and made promises to Israel is the same God who has opened the doors of salvation to ‘all who believe.’ To do so, Paul must prove that God has done nothing in the gospel that is inconsistent with his word of promise to Israel” (Epistle to the Romans, 550).

Thus the question surfaces: Are God’s promises to Israel broken? The answer in 11:29 is a resounding No! Paul states that “all Israel” (a representative term meaning a large number) will receive those promises when they are grafted back into God’s people along with the Gentiles (Paul uses the analogy of a “tree” and “branches” in this case, see 11:17-18). Earlier in Romans, Paul was clear how this would happen: only by faith in Christ (3:23-31; 4:1-12; 10:5-17). He is also clear when this will happen: when fullness of the Gentiles are saved (11:25).

Believing Gentiles and believing Jews make up God’s one new covenant people. For the Jews, just like the Gentiles, salvation is by grace through faith (see Acts 15:11). This is why the most anti-Semitic thing anyone can do to a Jew is refuse to preach the gospel to them! Just like me, a European mutt, the Jews need Jesus.

So is there a future for Israel? Yes! But it is in accordance with the gospel of grace by faith in Jesus: Jews will be incorporated into God’s new covenant people. According to the prophets (e.g. Jer. 31; Ezek. 36), this was God’s glorious plan all along.