In the Beginning was the Word (Exposition of John 1:1-5)

Author

Name: John “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, “son of thunder”
Father: Zebedee, Matt.4:21
Mother: Salome (guess cf. Matt.27:56; Mk.15:40; Jn.19:25, perhaps a sister of Mary, mother of Jesus)[1]
Brother: James
House: Jerusalem, Jn.19:27[2]
Profession: Fishing business in Capernaum, but after the call, disciple of Christ, apostle of love; had been a disciple of John the Baptist (Jn.1:35,40)


Note: Rejection of John as the author of the book and attributing the work to a certain John of Ephesus undermines the book as a testimony to the Deity of Jesus. The rejection is based on inadequate evidences.[3]

Date

About 90 AD,

Purpose

An eye-witness’ testimony of the things which took place; a testimony to the Truth, so that the readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing they may have life in His Name. (Jn.21:24; 20:31)

The Text

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn.1:1-8, RSV)

Important Vocabularies in the Text

Beginning            Word                     God                      Made


Life                         Men                      Light                      Darkness


Beginning. “Aρχη,” according to H. Bietenhard, “is an important term in Greek philosophy, which means, among other things, starting point, original beginning.” (Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 1:64).[4]

Word. λογος. “Ordinarily it refers to a spoken word, with emphasis on the meaning conveyed, not just the sound. Logos, therefore, is an expression of personality in communication…. To the Hebrew “the word of God” was the self-assertion of the divine personality; to the Greek the formula denoted the rational mind that ruled the universe.”[5]

Heraclitus (c.535-c.475 BC), a Greek noble man from Ephesus believed that the world is ceaselessly changing. “There is only one thing that is permanent, and that is change,” he said. But the process of change, he believed, was not random and haphazard. Instead, he saw all change as determined by a cosmic order that he called the Logos.[6] Logos is the source of all order, lawfulness, and justice. It is “almost entirely unknown by earthly mortals – in part, because nature loves to hide… the deeper reality is the Logos, the unity of opposites in which all is one.”[7]
The Stoics (members of a philosophical school founded by Zeno (308 BC)) used logos to explain the cosmic reason; the reason, the natural law that permeated the whole universe. “The Stoics were pantheists, who embraced ‘modern’ New Age beliefs. Stoics viewed the world as imbued with intelligence: man is part of a cosmic animal (Boardman, Griffin, & Murray, The Oxford History of the Classical World, pp.355-386).[8] The Aramaic word is memra.

John seems to try to give the Greek world a true understanding of logos. What logos really is, transcendent or immanent? How do we know it? Can we know it?

God. Θεος is in reference to the Almighty God of Israel: the Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of the universe, in contrast to the gods of the heathens. In the Greek world θεος was a general term for any deity (Common Noun). But Xenophanes, Plato, and Aristotle used θεος as a personal name for the one Supreme God in their writings. The Septuagint writers/translators found this word as more suitable to the Biblical concept than any other word and used it for Elohim.[9]

Made. εγενετο. Translated as “came into being” by Berry (Interlinear Lit. Trs.); γεγονεν as “come into being” or existence (also NASV).

Life. ζωη, from which our English word zoo and zoology are derived. It is used to mean “life as a principle, life in the absolute sense, life as God has it, that which the Father has in Himself.” Also used of that which is the common possession of all animals and men by nature, and of the present sojourn of man upon the earth with reference to its duration.

In the present text the former meaning is implied.

Man. ἄνθρωπος; men, ανθρωπων in the present text.

The Jewish Concept. Man was created in God’s image from dust.

          The Sadducees. Denied the immortality of human soul, the resurrection of the body, and judgment in future. Man is the determiner of his destiny. God doesn’t determine his future. As a matter of fact, they didn’t believe in the existence of life after death. What happens, happens here. Present. Obedience to God should not be utilitarianistic, but absolutely disinterested.

The Pharisees. Believed in life after death and the resurrection of the body. Obedience to God’s law is emphasized.

Note: The word “Sadducees” is not mentioned in John’s Gospel. As to why John doesn’t mention them is not clearly known. The Jewish concept of man is that man is created in God’s image and likeness, is superior to all beasts, must walk according to the Torah, and rely on God. The “sinful nature” of man is not explicit. Wisdom helps the wise for good.

The Grecian Concept. There was a wide variety of philosophical units, but one thing stands almost in common: Man is similar in emotions to gods. Reason is his guide to a good life.

Platonism. The universe is changing, becoming. The ultimate Reality is the ideal world, which is unchanging. The human soul is eternal. He believed in transmigration of souls. “Reason”, “wisdom”, “discretion” are words that Plato uses to describe that by which a man can understand the truth and know it. There is no mention of sinfulness, fallen nature, or future judgment.

Stoicism. Pantheists, believing in a world-soul, Reason. Reason orders and controls the universe. Man is “a tiny portion or fragment of this divine Reason, and could find true fulfillment only by living in harmony with Reason.”[10]

Epicureanism. They were materialists; everything is matter; and so pleasure is the ultimate good for man. There is no deliberate design behind the universe. Man is the product of chance.[11] And so, eat, drink, and make merry; for tomorrow we die.

The true concept of man; the truth about man is important so that the Gospel be effective. Is man a product of chance or a product of design; was he created by God or is a god? Does man possess eternal life or is doomed for annihilation? Is there a judgment? Is man sinful, or just “what he is, rational” or “unthinking?” “Can man live up to the standard of God?”

Light. φως. The OT concept is that of divine enlightenment, revelation, salvation, and God’s presence. “God is my light and may salvation” (Ps.27:1). Apart from God there is no light, and so no life (animate).[12] Darkness is judgment, secrecy, distress.

          Greek Thought. “Light symbolized life itself, as well as happiness. Plato compared the good with sunlight, and light developed a distinct relationship to the ethically good, as well as to healing and the illumination of one’s thoughts and life. Strikingly, the Greeks did not relate light and darkness to the activities or realm of the gods. Later Gnostic thought transformed light and darkness into opposing and hostile powers.”[13]

Darkness. σκοτια. The OT relates it to judgment, distress, mystery, and divine intervention (where men cannot act, God intervenes).[14]

The Greek Concept. “Darkness” (skotos in Greek) had no specific philosophical importance in itself except in contrast with light (phos). It was associated with ignorance, with sinful doings, and particularly with man’s fear of death, for death was often characterized as a realm of darkness.[15]

EXEGESIS

Verse 1. “In the beginning was the word”. ᾿Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος. “It is the presence of the verb ἦν (en, “was”) that brings out the importance of this phrase. Literally, it could and should be rendered “When the beginning began, the Word was already there.” This is the sense of en, which is in the imperfect tense and implies continuing existence in the past. So before the beginning began, the Word was already in existence. This is tantamount to saying that the Word predates time or Creation.”[16]

“and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

“God” is emphatic, so “God Himself” (Amplified, F.N.)

John means to say: “At the beginning (of the Cosmos) of time, the Word existed. It was before time and was with God (the Almighty God, God of gods) eternally as He was. The Word was God.”

Note: In the Greek Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος. Literally, “God was the Word.” Perhaps the absence of the article to Θεὸς might have reversed the position; the endings are in the nominative. The Amplified Bible’s footnote ascribes “God” as emphatic.

There is one problem in understanding this verse. Does John refer to the Word as the same God or as another God?

If an article were present before God, the answer would have been easier. But, the absence of the article causes problem of understanding. Note: John was writing to the Gentile world (who believed in many gods and didn’t know the concept of Trinity).

Article “a” before God would state it indefinitely “Jesus was a God and was in the beginning”, but this syntax raises another question. “Why then mention that God which was also a God?” If it be assumed that “the God” is the Almighty and “God” is an inferior or lesser, probably the problem is solved. But the article “a” is not mentioned.

The definite article “the” would give the meaning “the Word was the same God.” Still the problem is, “If is the same God, why mention “with God”? The article “the” however is also not mentioned. Perhaps, John, aware of the problem of understanding, willfully put the sentence in that way so that no confusion may arise concerning the deity of Christ.

He doesn’t put an article; therefore, Jesus is not the same person with the “God”; but His divinity must be stated and not as inferior; therefore, John puts “God” at the beginning of the third phrase, and thus emphasizes the divinity of Jesus without adding any article. The absence of the indefinite article rules out the possibility of absolutely stating that there were two Gods.

“The Word” must be understood in John’s terms as “the Truth”, “the Revelation” of God. It is not what the Stoics think about as immanent in cosmos – the Cosmic-soul. But this “Word”, “the Truth”, “the Revelation of the Truth,”, “the Source of our understanding of truth” is distinct from the cosmos. He was with God; near and in the presence of God, to be understood with v.18 “in the bosom of the Father.” Thus, verses 1 and 18 are to be understood together. “He hath declared (made known) Him.”

Note: “Word” as expression of thought. Our language is limited, our thoughts, (as reality) not always clearly expressed. The Logos of God is His perfect expression, “The perfect expression of the perfect Idea.” We can know the Father only and only through Jesus His Word. May it not be understood in the sense that what God speaks, His speech is Jesus; for that would mean to say that God has a language made of vocabularies and His usage of them is Jesus. It must be understood that the language of John is wholly metaphorical and symbolical. The Truth of God cannot be comprehensively explained in human terms; therefore, the use of metaphors, similes, and symbolic language. Jesus is the Word who was with God and is God. Beyond the concept of mere word is the concept of “reason”, “intelligence” which Jesus reveals.

“With God,” together with “in the bosom of the Father” and “I proceed forth and have come from God” (Jn.8:42), thus can be understood as the eternal close relationship and nearness, togetherness of the Father and the Son. They are distinct in person and still One. “He proceeds from the Father, and is at His bosom.” Our minds are limited enough and our speech limited enough to express it so clearly that it be comprehensively understood. Absolute Truth can only be understood in relative terms.

John knew that and so his syntax. Thus, verse 1 is the introduction of Jesus Christ as the eternal God, one with the Father; in relationship, closer than any other; in deity, equal; in person, distinct; the expression and revelation of God. The image of God, the true image and not just a shadow, the form of God, is revealed through Jesus and in Jesus alone, who is the revelation of God to man. Jesus is the Word, “exact expression” of the Intelligence of God; to know God’s mind and heart, we need to know Jesus.

Verse 2. “The same was in the beginning with God.” (KJV)
“He was present originally with God.” (Amplified)
It seems to be, along with v.4, an explanation of v.1; so that,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God” is equal to
“He was in the beginning with God” to mean:
“God was there in the beginning”
“The Word was there in the beginning”
“The Word was with God in the beginning”

Therefore,
God and the Word existed together eternally in close relationship and were there in the beginning when;

Verse 3. “All things came into being through Him, and without Him came not even one thing which has come into being.”

There can be a possibility that this verse could be read together with Proverbs 3:19; but this is not to be just. For it would mean that Jesu sis the wisdom (In 1 Corinthians 1:24, the context is different) and understanding of God and so God utilized Him as distinct from Him (If Jesus is a distinct person from the Father, then wisdom is a distinct entity from God; if Jesus is the same person, then God is wisdom – play of words. How then can God found cosmos with Himself? It must, therefore, be accepted that such a construe is not adequate). Metaphors and similes must not be played with or else confusion will be the end.

Verse 3 must be understood with verse 10.

Verse 10. “… the world was made through Him.”

The word for “through” in Greek is dia and can mean also “on account of,” “because of”[17]. Putting together “And without Him came not even one thing which has come into being.” We arrive at a conclusion that God created the cosmos together with Jesus (cp. Gen.1:26: “Let us”: Perhaps a point to this) and created it for Him.

Verses 1-3 can, therefore, be thus summarized as:

“In the beginning the Word (Jesus) was with God. He co-existed with Him eternally being God and the expression of God ((“word” – relative term) to men). God did not make the universe, brought it into existence apart from Jesus, His Son; for whom He created and through whom, and because of whom He created the universe.”

Verse 4. “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.”

There is no life apart from the Son. The principle of life was in Him. He was, is, the life. (metaphor)

The Grecian concept of light was as that which was “good”, that which helps us to understand and see things clearly; the Hebrew concept, also similar. Light helps us to see; “the light of men” then would mean “that by which and with which man sees and understands the truth clearly.” But how does the life in Christ become our light? We need to retrace to verse 1.

“The Word” the exact expression of God’s intelligence, reason, and idea (not to be understood in the way the Stoics understood – as impersonal) , this Word apart from whom nothing came into existence that has come into existence, in this exact expression and image of the Idea and intelligence of God was the Life in its absolute sense. And man, being created by God in His likeness and image (John was a Jew and knew the Scriptures), came into existence through this Word. And the principle of life in that expression of God’s Intelligence and Reason, being also in man whereby he lives, gives him understanding, knowledge, and power to reason into the nature of truth. The life and power to understand and reason flows from the Divine Word (express intelligence of God’s intelligence) because man is created through Him, for Him and in His image. (Ref. Job 32:8. Makes it reasonable that John was putting the Jewish idea in Greek terms)

Job 32:8. “But there is [a vital force] a spirit [of intelligence] in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives men understanding.” (also cp. Prov.2:6).

Verse 5. “And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (cp. Gen.1:3,4,5).

The meaning seems clear: Knowledge and understanding of Truth repels ignorance and deception. Whenever the light shines in us darkness must retreat, it cannot stay along side of light; understanding of Truth implies denunciation of the lie. Light delivers from darkness, and darkness doesn’t overcome it.

Conclusion

The meaning of John 1:1-5 will become clear and easily understandable by the time the reader (Greek-minded) completes reading the book. Jesus is the Word from eternity, co-existed with God, He is God. He is the Revelation of God, we know God only in and through Him. “The Word” is an expression of “thought”, revelation of “idea”, “intelligence,” “reason”. John uses these as a metaphor, a way to describe Him, along with words like “Light”, “Way”, “Bread” etc. Jesus must not be, therefore, be limited to an impersonal (when the metaphors are read). He is a Person from eternity. He is God, Creator, the Source of reason and understanding. We are, however, free and have the freedom of will to reject the Truth even after understanding it, and live a life of darkness (lovers of darkness).

We may never understand, in this earthly life, the complete truth of Jesus, for our mind is limited and our understanding limited (As a matter of fact, it is impossible even to totally comprehend the mind of our fellow-men). Jesus is God, and we mortal, finite beings. And though we may never comprehend, here, the absolute and exhaustive truth of Jesus, we can relatively know Him. We can know Him, His love, His heart by walking with Him in Truth, in the Light, in a right fellowship with Him by Whom and through Whom we exist; by Whom and through Whom we can know Life, Truth, and the Father.

 

© Domenic Marbaniang, October 18, 1998.







[1] Halley’s Bible Handbook, Special Abridged Edition (Zondervan) p. 428
[2] Ibid, pp.428-429
[3] Op.cit.
[4] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary¸Vol.9. John by Merrill C. Tenney (Zondervan, 1984), p.29
[5] Ibid, p.28
[6] Brooke Noel Moore & Kenneth Bruder, Philosophy, the Power of Ideas, 2nd edn. (Mayfield Publishing Company, 1993), p.29
[7] Ibid, p.559
[8] Michael Garton, “Believing in the Evolution of Life – A Christian Option or Anathema?”, Tishrei, Vol.1, No.2. Clifford Denton (Ed.), Winter 1992-93.
[9] Don Richardson, Eternity in their Hearts, rev.edn. (Regal Books, 1984), pp.19,20
[10] N.R. Needham, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part 1 (London: Grace Publications Trust, 1997), p.32
[11] Gorton, Evolution, p.71
[12] Lawrence O. Richards, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1991), pp.413-414
[13] Ibid, p.414
[14] Ibid, p.413
[15] Ibid, p.414
[16] Gaebelein, Commentary, p.29
[17] Thomas Robert l. NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Holman, 1977).


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True Lovers (Song of Solomon 2:1-6)

THE BOOK

The book often goes under the title “The Song of Solomon”, but is also called “The Song of Songs” or “Canticles”. It is the first of the five Megilloth, the fivescrolls read by the Jews at various feasts: Canticles (Passover), Ruth (Pentecost), Ecclesiastes (Tabernacles), Esther (Purim), and Lamentations (anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem). The title in Hebrew as well as in the LXX is “The Song of Songs”. The Vulgate entitled it Canticum Canticorum, hence the alternative English title Canticles.[1]

THE DATE

The greatest objections to the dating of the book to the Solomonic era are concerned first with the use of Greek, Persian, and even Sanskrit loan words; and then with the reference to Tirzah (6:4) which indicates that the book was completed in the Persian Period or at a period prior to the time of Omri (885/84-874/73 BC) who built Samaria as his capital city to replace Tirzah, which was the chief city of the northern kingdom in the early night century BC.[2]

AUTHORSHIP

Traditionally, it was attributed to Solomon, due in part to the title, the six other explicit references to Solomon (1:5; 3:7,9,11; 8:11,12), and the three references to an unnamed king (1:4,12;7:5 [6 Masoretic Text])…. The case for Solomon’s authorship is not definitive, but the case against it is equally far from being sure… Even some liberal scholarship is now insisting that the book could have originated in the Solomonic era.[3]

The Song of Songs is unique in its genre in the Old Testament. It is one of the most beautiful books of the Bible. The Song is the amalgam of love-poems; an album of love. To limit its meaning to just allegorical, typological, or spiritual is not what the book was really intended for; to do that would be injustice to the meaning the author intended. If the spiritual or allegorical was the meaning intended, the author wouldn’t have had a need to use such an expanded work of literary genre to do that. He could have simply and directly stated that. It should be noted that the book was read at the Passover. This practice may have developed later when the allegorical way of interpretation arose showing God’s love for His beloved Israel in delivering her from Egypt. It is sometimes also said, though I am not that sure of that, that the book was specially read at marriage ceremonies, and that those under the age of thirty were not permitted to read it; that would be perhaps because of the erotic nature of the Song; yet, in its purest sense, the Song is a song of pure love of two lovers [Rabi Aqiba called it “the Holy of Holies”], and not of lust and licentiousness. It is a picture of unselfish and deep love between the two lovers; the longing, the admiration, the dreams, and the imaginations of them.

Owing to the nature of the Song compilation, or composition; the anomalistic arrangement; and the seeming variety of personal backgrounds, it seems appropriate for the Song to be likened unto an album of love songs by various artists; so that the authorship would not be accredited to only one person, though the work of compilation may be, but to various artists.[4] The meaning must be literal, though an allegorical may be made in the application.

SONG 2:1-6: AN EXEGESIS

NASV

(1) “I am the rose of Sharon,
The lily of the valleys.”
(2)  “Like a lily among the thorns,
So is my darling among the maidens.”
(3)  “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest,
So is my beloved among the young men.
In his shade I took great delight and sat down,
And his fruit was sweet to my taste.
(4)  “He has brought me to his banquet hall,
And his banner over me is love.
(5)  “Sustain me with raisin cakes,
Refresh me with apples,
Because I am lovesick.
(6)  “Let his left hand be under my head
And his right hand embrace me.”

Note: The word “beloved” will denote the girl; “lover”, the boy by adaptation from the NIV.

Verse 1. “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley.”

Suggestions as to who the addresser here is differ. Some accredit it to the lover, but most to the beloved—the nature of the metaphors, “rose”, “lily” is much more apt for the beloved.

“rose of Sharon”. The Amplified’s version is “a little rose or autumn crocus of the plain of Sharon.” The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary by Merrill C. Tenney describes it as Tulipa Sharonensis Dinros (Heb. Havatstseleth). A literal translation of the Hebrew word havatstseleth indicates a bulbous plant instead of a woody vine or shrub belonging to the genus Rosa. Botanists have concluded that the Sharon tulip found on sandy soil on the Sharon coastal plain is the “Rose of Sharon” of our Song of Solomon.[5]

“the lily of the valleys”. “Lilium Chalcedonicum L.(Heb. Shoshan), a true lily, its flowers a glowing red.”[6] “a tall flower, with one or two clusters of six-petalled trumpet-like flowers at the top of a single thin stem. These flowers would be commonplace in the countryside.”[7]

In a quick imagination, the reader or listener would be taken to the Plain of Sharon which lies “between the extensive marshes of the lower Crocodile river (Nahr es Zerka) and the valley of Aijalon and Joppa in the south”.[8] The beloved metaphorically calls herself a rose of Sharon and a lily of the valleys – common flowers of that place. The meaning can be inferred as: “Hey, what is so attractive in me, a girl of the marshes! What is so beautiful in me, a common flower among the common flowers?” In other words, “What does Romeo find in Juliet, a girl at whom no one would cast a second look, when there are other beautiful and even more beautiful girls in his own home town!” The Romeo of Song 2 answers:

Verse 2. “Like a lily among the thorns, so is my darling among the maidens.” The lover points his beloved to the briars and brambles around and says that her beauty surpasses the beauty of all the other maidens as the beauty of lily surpasses that of the thorns. “All others are as briars and brambles compared to her beauty.” “There may also be the additional element of the unlikelihood of such a beautiful flower growing in such hostile surroundings. This is a common theme in the folk literature of love.”[9] (The Fairytale Cinderella will best illustrate the theme).

Verse 3. “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men.”

“an apple tree”.  There are disagreements as to what this apple tree refers to. Most believe that owing to the hot and dry climate of Palestine, an apple tree was a complete impossibility in the land; it may refer to a sweet citrus tree such as the apricot,[10] or the citron, or the quince.[11] These suggestions are equally refuted by the objection to the establishment of the tree at that time and the taste of the fruit—which is either sour or bitter. “The apple is a favorite fruit with the natives of the land, and although they do not now possess any very fine varieties, they are particularly fond of the smell of an apple (Cant 7:8)… The allusions to the size of the apple tree in 2:8, 8:5, are borne out by the facts of the case. There is no occasion, then, to seek for any other tree, as some have done, to meet the Scripture requirements.”[12] It is not difficult to understand that apple trees, which can grow in mild and colder climates, were grown in Palestine, the land of varying climates from Mt. Hermon’s “snowy 9,100 feet to the Dead Sea’s tropical 1,290 feet below sea level.”[13]

“the forest”. (Heb. ha ya’ar)[14] “outspread place”. According to W.F. Albright,[15] much of the hill country of Canaan was during the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1500 BC) covered with forests.”[16] Whether in the present text “forest” refers to the “fruitful land” and “densely vegetated and little-inhabited region”[17] of the Carmel hill range cannot be said for certain. It should be noted that the Carmel hill range is just to the North of the Sharon plain, and the allusion to spring in verses 11,12 makes it possible that it being the favorable time for the apple fruition, the apple trees were found in the forest of Carmel where the lovers had been and had enjoyed or were enjoying the smell and taste of the fruit and the shade of the trees. Yet, it must be said that this is a purely imaginative construction. Whatsoever, the beloved likens her lover to an apple tree, the most beautiful and attractive, [“Poets and story tellers throughout the world have praised the beauty of apple blossoms and the goodness of the fruit. Apples delight the eye with colors ranging from green and gold to pink and dark red. They tempt the taste with delicate flavors from tart to sweet,”[18] “the most valuable of all the fruits that grow on trees”], the most handsome and precious among the young men. This dialogue then is one of the most beautiful and exquisite expressions of a lover’s admiration for his beloved, and the beloved’s admiration of the lover.

“The most distinct, and highly beautiful, attractive, among the maidens: the most handsome, attractive and valuable among the young men.”

“In his shade I took great delight and sat down,

And his fruit was sweet to my taste.”

“I delight” (Heb. chamad “to desire strongly”)[19] may denote an intense longing and desire and mean (as in the text) that the appearance and the beauty of the tree, its furit, its shade, and its attractiveness stimulated in her a desire (intense desire) to sit under its shade and taste its fruit.

The strikingly handsome figure of her lover (unique among the world of young men), the appeal of his beauty, his words song (a desire to watch him close, listen to him, enjoy his cooling presence) drew her to him. And so, when she looks to herself she counts herself as a simple common rose or crocus of Sharon, a lily of the valleys and wonders how she could have been so loving to her lover. He replies that she is unique and beautiful, her beauty surpassing excellently beyond that of the other maidens, her gentleness, obvious and incomparable to the thorny maidens around, she is distinctly beautiful and tender. The beloved then looks to her lover and says what she sees him as; the most attractive and precious among the forest trees, the most valuable and handsome among the young men.

The dialogue is a strikingly exquisite description of what goes on in the mind of each lover when they both look at each other. This is the true character of pure love (no pride, only appreciation, love, and delight). His beauty striked her and she says that she “took great delight and sat down” in his shade. It would be well to note that the shade of the apple tree with the tree’s branches almost near the ground, so close to each other, with the appealing beauty of the fruit and the sweetness of its taste is a well-suited simile for describing the delight she has in his nearness, being close to him, his arms, his shade—his cooling influence, and the enjoyment that he gives. That is above all to a beloved in whose sight her lover is the best. She would not, could not delight (wouldn’t even think to) in any other shadow. Only her lover is beautiful and delightful to her. Only he appeals to her, only he is where and with whom she is happy and delighted. In his presence, by his side she is confident, happy, and delighted.

Note: The word for taste is chek which means the palate; the organ of taste.[20]

 

Verse 4. “He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love” (NIV)

“the banquet hall” “banqueting house (KJV)”. Literally, Beth ha yayin means “house of wine”.[21] A first approach to ascertaining the meaning or purpose of Beth-hayayin would be by relating it to a marriage ceremony, where there is a lot of feasting and wine-drinking. To think in this way and assume it as a lover’s marriage and that what follows is the first night of their marriage may seem appropriate. The RSV puts the latter part of verse 3 and verse 4 in the past tense “his banner over me was love.” Then that would be a reference to their marriage; “his banner (Heb. degel, flag, banner, standard[22]; this was carried by army and was large enough to be seen from distance) over me was love,” would mean that “he declares and makes it visible that he has won my hand with love” [A proper understanding of the marriage customs (if available or known) may help in understanding the true meaning. What used to take place after marriage, etc].

To suggest that “the house of wine” referred to a “tavern”[23] is almost inappropriate due to the sequence of the events.

Another approach would be by linking the passages 4,5, and 6 to the preceding verse 3, where the desire of the beloved is stimulated by the attractiveness of her lover (it must be noted and assumed, if we were to interpret it in this manner, that the two have already been married to each other by now) and she delights to sit near him and enjoy his presence and giving (fruit), love. The banquet hall and the banner also then would be figurative, kind of metaphors, or phrases; the banquet hall meaning the height of intoxicated love and the “banner of love” would mean that the girl understands that her lover delights and earnestly desires her,[24] is ardently and vehemently in tenderness and full of affection, inclined towards her. Realizing that, she proceeds on to say:

Verse 5. “Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.” (NIV)

The girl is aroused, and she is weak, sick, and faint with love and desire… She is swooning with desire. She has that ache in the pit of her stomach, she has that loss of appetite which can only be cured by her being ‘spread out’ with her lover, and by eating and drinking of the delights of love-making.[25]

“raisins” “flagons (KJV)”. (Heb. Ashiyshah “the LXX have translated the word pemmata, according to Jerome, plancentae, a cake or hardened syrup made of grapes”[26]). It can mean a cake made of dry grapes or grapes; cakes of raisins.

The meaning of text is almost depended on what “sick or faint with love” would mean. To some it meant that the both lovers had engaged in love-making and were now exhausted and needed to be strengthened again with raisins and apples [In the south part of India, on the first night after marriage, a glass of milk, sweets, apples or fruits etc are kept by the bed side of the newly married couple]. This could be construed either with reference to the first approach, namely, the first night after marriage, or with reference to the after event of lovemaking. The cakes of raisins and apples would be literal then.

But if “faint with love” were to mean “swooning and fainting with love and desire,” the meaning of “strengthen or sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples” would be a figurative way of asking her lover to fulfill her desire and longing. It should be noted that the language is poetical and the nature of poetic language is to include hyperboles, synecdoches, similes, metaphors, irony, etc. The meaning would be to say that the beloved is now at the apex of her desire; she is enthralled by the beauty of her lover; she sees in him a desire to delight in her; this captivates her; her emotions are triggered high, and she, looking at him, asks him to take his full of love, give her his love, and thus fulfill her desire.

Verse 6. “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me” (NIV). This seems to be, then, the response of her lover to her plea. It is worth to be noted that the lover is not self-imposing but respecting the will of his bride; waits till she gives her consent. The scene purely of that on the couch where the bride is to the left of the bridegroom, his left arm serves as a pillow to her head, and with his right arm he embraces her. This can be taken literally or figuratively and still would man one thing. They have begun. Love between a lover and his beloved, between a husband and his wife, finds its height and reaches its pinnacle in sex.

CONCLUSION

Song of songs 2:1-6 is an excellent description of the lovers’ hearts and desires. The beloved is enthralled by the striking handsomeness of her lover; the lover is enthralled by the distinct beauty and tenderness of his beloved. The beloved desires and delights in her lover, the lover desires and delights in his beloved. Their mutual admiration and love find fulfillment in love, love-making; sex must be the height of pure love.

This has great significance for Christians.

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ…. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her….” (Eph.5:21,24,25, RSV)

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. (1Cor. 7:3-5)

Marriage is instituted and ordained by God. The text we have exegeted shows how love grows and is intensified by mutual admiration and respect, how it is fulfilled in mutual subjection. Each is made for each other. “It is not good for man to be alone.” “Your desire shall be for your husband” (Gen. 2:18; 3:16). Marriage is the territory; there can be no real and true delight beyond it. The beloved delights in her husband’s shade and enjoys his love and fondle. The lover delights in and loves his bride.

The love between a husband and wife is the best reflection of Christ’s love for the Church and the Church’s love for Christ. A Christian who cannot love his wife cannot know the love of Christ for His Church. A Christian who cannot love her husband cannot know the love of the true and flawless Church for Christ.

© Domenic Marbaniang, October 1998





[1] R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (WBEP, 1983), p.1049
[2] Ibid, pp.1050-51
[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, V.5 (Zondervan, 1991), p. 1210
[4] It can also be accepted that one author had composed it all with variety of description.
[5] Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, ed. By Merrill C. Tenney (Zondervan, 1963), p.667
[6] Ibid, p.664
[7] Tom Gledhill, The Message of the Song of Songs (Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), p.122
[8] The New Bible Dictionary, Douglas. P.1170
[9] Gledhill, The Message…, p.122.
[10] Ibid, p.122
[11] The New Bible Dictionary, p.50
[12] Merrill Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Vegetable Kingdom, Apple)
[13] Ibid (Palestine, Climate).
[14] John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, Vol.3
[15] Archaeology of Palestine and the Bible, 1960, pp.130-133
[16] The New Bible Dictionary, p.435
[17] Ibid, p.200
[18] The World Book Encyclopedia, A.
[19] William Wilson, New Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies (Kregel Publications, 1987), p.114
[20] Ibid, p.439
[21] Wilson, Word Studies, p.28
[22] Ibid, p.417
[23] Gledhill, Songs, p.125
[24] Wilson, Word Studies, Love, p.260
[25] Gledhill, Songs, p.126
[26] Wilson, Word Studies, p.167

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The God Who Guides (Psalm 32:8-10)

TEXT

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the LORD's unfailing love
surrounds the man who trusts in him.
(Psa 32:8-10)

INTRODUCTION

The Book of Psalms is the first book of the Writings in the Hebrew Bible and one of the poetical books in the English Bible. The English designation “psalm” comes from the Latin Psalmi and the Greek Psalmoi (“songs sung with musical accompaniment”), a translation of the Hebrew mizmor (“a song accompanied by musical instruments”). The Hebrew title (tehillim) signifies the contents of the book: “songs of praise.”[1]

“…the Psalms of the Hebrews must be considered sui generis, since they constituted the supreme example of religious devotion and served as effective vehicles for the propagation of truths unfolded in the processes of divine revelation.”[2]

Almost every psalm of the Psalter (except thirty-four psalms) carries a title or superscription. The title of the Psalm 32 is “A Psalm of David, Maschil.”

A Psalm of David. There are seventy three psalms “belonging to David” (Ledawid). The Bible clearly teaches that David was a poet of extraordinary abilities (2Sam 23:1) and a musician (Amos 6:5; cf. 1Sam.16:15-23; 18-20; 2Sam.1:17-27; 3:33-34; 23:1-7) and that he created the temple guilds of singers and musicians (1Chr.6:31-32; 15:16,27; 25:1-31; 2Chr.29:25-26; cf. Neh.12:45-47). The NT writers likewise assumed that David was the author of many psalms (cf. Mt.22:43-45; Acts 2:25-28; 4:25-26; Heb.4:7) and even spoke of the Book of Psalms as being David’s (Lk.20:42). The preposition Le in Ledawid may be understood as “for”, “belonging to”, or “concerning”. The meaning of it can be stated as “belonging to David” for clarity’s sake.[3]

Maschil. F. Delitzsch in the Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol.5, states that the word means just pia meditation, a devout meditation, and nothing more. They do not accept the meaning “a didactic poem” as proper owing to the fact that of all the thirteen psalms that are inscribed maschil, there are only two (32 & 78) which can be regarded as didactic poems. In most of the cases, maschil “is only found as an attribute of persons, because it is not that which makes prudent, but that which is in itself intelligent, that is so named… so that (maschil) signifies that which meditates, then meditation.”[4]

Yet, it must be acquiesced that the meaning of the word “maskil” is obscure. What are suggestions to the meaning of the word: “be wise,” “instruct,” “a skillful psalm,” “a meditation,” and “harmony.”[5] Any of the titles above will fit the structure of Psalm 32.

BACKGROUND TO PSALM 32:8-10

The psalm’s format is exquisite. Themes of penitence, forgiveness, blessing, guidance and protection, instruction in wisdom, warnings, and thanksgiving and rejoicing are splendidly blended, organized and given expression.

The psalm begins by stating the blessedness of those whose sins are forgiven. When the psalmist had refrained from acknowledging his sin before God, the burden of guilt and the severity of God’s displeasure, and thus, broken relationship, became intolerable to him until he confessed his sin to God; and He, forgiving him, removed the guilt from his soul. The psalmist is assured of the sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, and faithfulness of God. God knows His people, hears their prayer, and is faithful and able to deliver them (v. 6-7). He is the sole support and help of a godly man.

PSALM 32:8-10

An understanding of who the addresser is is important to the understanding of the meaning of the text. What does David mean by “I”?

  1. The first approach would be by assuming that David himself is the addresser in the text. Taking Psalm 51:13-15 into consideration, and assuming that what David does in Psalm 32:8-10 is the fulfillment of his decision to “instruct sinners, transgressors” in His ways, it can be supposed that David is the addresser in v8.[6]


Verse 8. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go.” David, having understood the pain of remaining in sins and having received assurance and forgiveness after confession, now decides to instruct and teach the transgressor in the way he should go—i.e., the way of the Lord, the way of salvation, the way of truth, happiness and blessedness found in God’s mercy and faithfulness. The way of sinners leads to guilt, sorrow, and wasting away. It is not the way of happiness and therefore not the way God intends for His people. David had gone through it and knew that it leads to sorrow; he, therefore, desires to help others out of the way and into the way of penitence, forgiveness, and righteousness in the Lord.

“I will guide thee with mine eye,” is hard to interpret exactly. Literally, it is “on you my eye.”[7] The NIV translates it as “I will counsel you and watch over you.” Assuming that to be proper, we can interpret it as David’s desire not only to teach and instruct the sinner but like a good teacher guide him, as he would a child, counsel him, and watch the development, progress, and change in the sinner; the purpose to be achieved being his walk into and in the way of the Lord.

Verse 9. “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled yb bit and bridle or they will not come to you.” (NIV)

“The sense is on the whole clear: not constrained, but willing obedience is becoming to man, in distinction from an irrational animal which must be led by a bridle drawn through its mouth.”[8]

Delitzsch also believes that the clause “whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee,” describes the taming of the animal to keep it under control and near (he favors the translation “by no means an approaching to thee, ie. There is, if thou dost not bridle them, no approaching or coming near to thee”).[9]

Then the meaning of verse 9 can be:

  1. “Do not be like beasts in learning, which cannot learn unless they are sent through hardships and disciplinary actions, which must be forced and compelled for an action; use your mind and your will; use your understanding and don’t just be passive, become active; unless you are willing to be actively involved with me in learning, your state is the same like that of the beasts: remove the bit and the bridle (the areas of compulsion; the control), and they are no more in the way. If you are to walk in the way of the Lord you must be willing to do that and understanding enough; so that even though I or any control is absent you still will be able to walk in it.”

  2. “Do not be like the beasts which will remain in the place and state they are in unless tamed and forced out. If you remain in the state of unconfessed sin, you will never be able to enjoy the blessedness of a forgiven life. Use your understanding, be humble, penitent, and come to God willingly by yourself and He will forgive you. Do not wait until you are forced out of your condition. Understand your situation and submit to the way of God.”


Verse 10. “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about.” (KJV)

“Many sorrows” can mean

  1. The constant pricking of guilty conscience (vv.2-3)

  2. The severed relationship with God (v4)

  3. The unassurance of protection and the help of God (vv.6-7)


The wicked, in not keeping in the way of the Lord, remains in his sins, broken relationship with God, and is thus uncertain of the future. Difficulties, troubles, and sorrows storm his life. He has no one to depend on; if not God. The “many sorrows” can also refer to the “agonizing life of the guilty conscience which the ungodly man leads,” “the inward torture,” before he comes to a right state of mind,[10] apropos of verse 9.

In contrast to the wicked man, the one who trusts in God and walks in His ways believing and being confident in Him is encompassed with mercy.  The Amplified version gives it: “but he who trusts, relies on and confidently leans on the Lord shall be compassed about with mercy and loving-kindness.” The NIV gives it: “the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.” Trust implies willingness and understanding. The godly man trusts in God and so clings to His way; he is not deterred by any other suggestions or desires; he walks in the Lord’s way and so is so surrounded by mercy and loving-kindness. God’s love and protection is around him and he is assured and confident in the Lord. When he looks around he doesn’t see dangers and loneliness, but mercy and loving-kindness.

  1. The Second approach would be by assuming the addresser to be the LORD God. The sudden shift is not that peculiar. Psalm 91;14, for instance, denotes such a shift, where the addresser is no longer the Psalmist but God. Owing to the poetic format of the Psalms it is not difficult to accept the unindicated change or shift of addressers.


If God is assumed as the addresser in verse 8, the text gets a special meaning.

  1. The promise of God is well related to the preceding verse, where His protection is sought, and becomes an affirmation by God Himself to the godly.

  2. The infallibility and inerrancy of the instruction is assured by the very nature of the Guide, the Teacher.

  3. The assurance of God’s follow up, His constant watch over us when we put our trust in Him is promised.

  4. The owner and designator of the way Himself promises to keep and instruct in the way.

  5. We are no longer to remain stubborn, passive, or un-understanding like the beasts, but willingly draw near and cleave to him, follow Him, and obediently trust Him.

  6. His love and mercy, thus, surrounds us if we keep on trusting Him, if we keep on walking according to His instruction.


Note: The Lord promises to (1) “instruct” (from the root s-k-l, “to give insight,” “give understanding”; (2) “teach” (from the root y-r-h, “instruct,” “teach” derived noun: torah; and (3) “counsel” (from the root y-‘-s, “give advice.”[11]

The instruction is derived by an understanding and insight, given by God, of the Torah (the Law of Moses). It is when God speaks specifically through His word and gives us an understanding of and insight into it.

CONCLUSION

Psalm 32 is one of the greatest texts that help a Christian in His way of trust in God. The blessing of forgiveness and righteousness, our hope (Blessed Hope) for the future, and our walk in the Lord’s way (cf. Acts 24:14) is all because of God’s love and mercy towards us; in that He sent His only son Jesus Christ to die for our sins so that we might live with Him, as so He lives today being risen from the dead.

The Christian is, moreover, strengthened in his walk of faith by the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ gives to us so that He may guide us, instruct us, and help us walk in the way (John 16:12-15). The Christian should be humble and submissive to the Holy Spirit and learn from Him by faith; he must not continue in his sins and grieve Him (Ep.5:30). For sin brings sorrow; but righteousness by faith, joy and peace in the Spirit.

© Domenic Marbaniang, October 1998







[1] Frank E. Gaebelin, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, V. 5 (Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), p.20
[2] R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (William B. Eerdman’s Publsihing Company, 1983), p.976
[3] Gaebelin, Expositor’s…, p.33,34
[4] Cf. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol.5 (Trs from German by James Martin; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), pp. 393-394.
[5] Gaeblin, Expositor’s…, p.38
[6] Delitzsch, Commentary…, pp.397, 398
[7] Gaebelin, p. 274
[8] Delitzsch, p.398
[9] Ibid, p.399
[10] Ibid, p.399
[11] Gaeblin, p. 274


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The Speeches of Acts

© October 1998

Many scholars think that Luke is most untrustworthy in the speeches of Acts. They point out that the speeches are all in the same general styple, a style that is found in the narrative portions of Acts. And they claim that the theology of the speeches is distinctively Lukan, rather than Petrine, Pauline, or whatever. It is therefore concluded that Luke has followed the Thucydidean model1 and put on the lips of his speakers the sentiments that he felt were appropriate for the occasion.

Several responses to this accusation are necessary. First, as we noted above, Thucydides claims that only when he did not have information available did he not report what was actually said. Some other ancient historians were far more free in inventing speeches, but there is no a priori reason to compare Luke with them instead of with those who did seek accuracy in recording speeches (e.g., Polybius; see 12:25b.1,4). Second, uniformity of style in the speeches means only that Luke has not given us verbatim reports but has paraphrased in his own words. This is likely in any case, since any of the speeches were probably translated by Luke from Aramaic. It is also likely that lmost al the speeches Luke reports were much longer than the summaries he has given us. But paraphrases and summaries of speeches can still accurately convey their contents. Third, it is alleged there are differences in the theology of the speeches. Peter's speeches in Acts 2 and 3, for instance, contain formulations of Christology (e.g. Acts 2:36) and eschatology (e.g., Acts 3:19,20) that fit very well the early days of the church and that differ from the formulations found in the speeches of Paul in Acts 13 and 17. In no case can it be shown that the theology or sentiments expressed in the speeches are inappropriate for the occasion or impossible for the speaker. On the positive side, the fidelity of Luke to his sources in the Gospel (Mark, Q) suggest that he has been equally faithful to his sources in Acts. This argument is often contested. It is argued that Luke would have much greater respect for the words of Jesus than for the words of the apostles. But there is little to suggest that Luke would have made such a distinction. He claims to have the intention of instilling in his readers the certainty of the things you have been taught (Lk.1:4) and there is every reason to think that he has sought for accuracy in recording what people actually said, in Acts as much as in the Gospel.2

NOTES:

1 Describing his procedure in writing his history of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides says: As to the speeches that were made by different men, either when they were about to begin the war or when... engaged therein, it has been difficult to recall with strict accuracy the words actually spoken, both for me as regards that which I myself heard, and for those who from various sources have brought me reports. Therefore the speeches are given in the language which, as it seemed to me, the several speakers would express, on the subjects under considerations the sentiments most befitting the occasion, though at the same time I have adhered as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said.
2Carson, Moo, Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Zondervan, 1992), p.209B.

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The Law Against Deliberate Murder (Exodus 21:12-14)

THE BOOK

The passage is taken from the book of Exodus which forms the second book in the Pentateuch. The name “Exodus” comes from the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and means “exit” or “departure”. This name was also retained by the Vulgate, the Latin version, by the Jewish author Philo, and by the Syriac version. The name of the book in Hebrew is taken from the first words of the text: “And these are the names of” (We’elleh Shemoth) or simply Shemoth. The Pentateuch (i.e., “the five books) is in the Hebrew known as Torah, which means “Law”, “instruction”, “teaching”.[1]

AUTHOR
The traditional belief is that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (i.e., the Pentateuch). The NT writers believed that to be true (Lk.2:22-23; Jn.7:19; Acts 3:22).[2]

DATE AND PLACE OF WRITING
The date of writing can be inferred to between Moses’ eightieth birthday and his one hundred and twentieth birthday, when he died, just as the wilderness wandering was drawing to a close (Deut. 34:7).[3] It was, then written in the wilderness, about 1406 B.C.

RECEPIENTS
Without any doubt, the Israelites in the wilderness on their way to Canaan.

THE CONTEXT
The passage is from the section called as the Book of the Covenant (Ex.20:22-23:33). The people of Israel are on the way to Canaan after a miraculous deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. They have seen the hand of God in all these and have seen it as more powerful than the gods of Egypt. God went before them and continued to provide them with bread, meat, and water. They had also fought a battle with the Amalekites and won it (17:8-13). About seven weeks after the Exodus (Ex.19:1) they arrived at the desert of Sinai, “the desert in front of the mountain”. This desert is called er-Raha (meaning “the palm [of a hand]”) in that it is a flat plain about five thousand feet above sea level and stretches over four hundred acres almost like an amphitheater with additional areas in adjoining valleys. It is a matter of controversy as to which mountain Moses refers to when he speaks of the Mount Sinai. Most scholars prefer to identify Sinai with Gebel Musa because of its relation to the plain (20:18 “they stayed at a distance”) and because of its imposing granite formations.[4] There in that mountain God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments and commanded him to speak to the Israelites what came to be known as the Book of the Covenant. The whole mountain was enveloped with smoke and quaked greatly; there were thundering and lightning and an increasing sound as of a trumpet. Here God gave His people a law, so that they may not become lawless and depraved, a law that distinguished them from the rest of the people of the world, in that this law proceeded and was given by God Himself by revelation. And the foremost commandment was to worship YHWH God alone and bow down before no other gods. This Book of Covenant and adherence to it would determine a lot the standing of the Israelites in relation to their God. It should be noted that the Law is for the people of Israel, as a community, nation, and people.

THE TEXT
"12Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. 13However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. 14But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.” (Exo 21:12-14, NIV)

EXEGESIS

The Crime           :               Homicide
Penalty                 :               Death

The law demands that the murderer be “surely” put to death. The KJV, Amplified, NASV, and the NIV include the word “surely”; whereas, the RSV omits the word.

The presence of the word “surely” is significant; it means “without any question or doubt,” “certainly”. The meaning the author intended may all be in this one word.

  1. “The murderer must without doubt be put to death” would reflect the law of retaliation embedded in every man. It may even be called knowledge a priori (before any experience) though it seems and finds its expression after the experience. The evidence may be traced to the account of Abel’s murder and Cain’s fear of seeming retaliation (Gen.4:14); though there may be variance in interpretations. But the law is made evident in Gen.9:4-6; the reason is given, “man man made in God’s won image” – the crime of homicide is against even the desire of God: that men be fruitful and increase in number. If verse 12 were understood in this line [with an understanding of God’s covenant with Abraham and as such the importance of the law in the community of Israel] the meaning may be inferred as: “12That life must be paid with life is axiomatic and without doubt certain, the murderer must surely be put to death.  13But…” and what would follow would be an answer to the ethical question: “How much is a man guilty and responsible for an offence?” “Who would actually deserve capital punishment?” It should be noted that this Law endorses capital punishment.


Verse 12 then may mean a statement of veracity and endorsement, of non-contradiction, of the law embedded in the very nature of man. The law is presented in an unconditional way but its applications to specific situations and thus its relativity will be discussed in verses 13,14.

  1. The second approach to construe the verse can be with reference to the existing law codes of the then existing people groups and the significance of the law in the Israelite community.


One thing in common among the already existing law codes of the people around Israelites at that time, as distinct to the Mosaic Law Code, is their overstatement or understatement of penalty for crime. The Mosaic Law Code prescribes the principle of equal justice for all. That is, the penalty must match the crime. The penalty must not be more than the crime merits; thus, life is to be repaid with life. Secondly, and most importantly is the relationship of the Law and the people with God. God, in contrast to the heathenic tribes, is the source of this law for His people. The Law, therefore, is intended to fulfill His purpose and will, in contrast to the autonomous law systems of the pagans.[5] God’s word is authoritative and infallible: man’s reason, finite and fallible.

Then verse 12 would be the statement of God’s will and true justice. The people of Israel as a whole will be held accountable for the implementation of justice. There must be no trifling, exaggerating, and carelessness concerning the Law. The murderer, for the sake of justice (not merely consequences), ought to die and must surely be put to death. And thus keeping justice (as God’s approval and Will – He is the Ultimate Judge) in mind, the following verses 13,14 would be what God describes as the implementation of this true law of justice to people and situations: Where does it apply? To whom?

NOTE: The word “strikes” is relative to the dignity value of the person in view; so that if a man strikes his parents he is liable to death (v 15), which is the just penalty in correspondence to the act and the dignity value of the man to the parent.

Verse 13 and 14, in contrast to verse 12, can be referred to as casuistic law. That is, instead of making a generalization, a casuistic law addresses itself to a specific situation.[6] The condition is seen in the word “if”.

The two key phrases are: “did not lie in wait for him” (NASV), “does not do it intentionally” (NIV); and “God let him fall into his hand” (NASV), “God lets it happen” (NIV).

Unintentionality: “Additional expressions of unintentionality are found in Numbers 35:22-23: “unintentionally” (belosediyyah, lit., “without design”); “without seeing” (beloreo’th, “without knowledge”).[7] A murder that is caused unintentionally does not fall under the law of equal retaliation, as a matter of fact consideration; for murder to be murder fist must proceed “out of the heart” and be intentional (cp. Mark 7:21). The will of man as involved in a n action and, thus, his responsibility to the act is given importance here.

God lets it happen (weha ‘elohim innah leyado) is an event beyond human control (“an act of God”).[8] The meaning is that what is done unintentionally is not crime in fact (indeed); but is what God lets to happen (not what chances to happen—that’s human perspective); and therefore, God gives the solution to this situation. It should be noted that this law is much expanded in Numbers 36:10-33, where in v.27 we see that if the “avenger of blood” (it may be the victim’s relative or friend) slays the murderer (though the murder be unintentional) finding him without the city of refuge, the place God has designated for him, he will not be guilty of murder. For the avenger, as it can be construed, would be functioning according to the law of retaliation triggered by his own emotions and reasons; and thus from his own perspective the act would be justified: for the Law prescribes the solution, safety is only in the place God has designated, and outside the city of refuge the man is responsible for his life—he has not kept himself under the limits of security. The person must remain in that place for protection until duly tried and if found to be guilty, he will be handed over to death (v.14).

NOTE: Moses’ concept of the will of man and the sovereign will of God. What happens not by man’s intentions happens by the will of God; and yet man is responsible for the act (in the sense that if he is slain without the city of refuge, he who slays it for vengeance is not guilty of his blood). But where an act is intentionally done, the man becomes directly responsible and is accountable to the court of God.

Two key words are “schemes” and “deliberately”. This is an inference to cold-blooded murder; well-plotted act of crime. That that murderer is dangerous to society is self-evident, but even more is the kind of nature he inherits, the nature of the crime, and his total rebellion against the will of God. This kind of man has no reverence, neither for God nor for his fellowmen. He must be eliminated.

Secondly, this kind of murderer must not be let go without justice being done. The avenger will slay him so that the law of retaliation be fulfilled.

The phrase “take him away from My altar” can be interpreted as an expression of God’s hatred for such kind of crime, God’s intolerance of the presence of such criminal near His altar. The altar was a place of protection to which the accused would flee for protection (cp. 1Kgs.1:50). “No sanctuary—even at the altar itself (cf.1Kgs.1:51; 2:28)—was to be given to the deliberate murderer.”[9]

The application of this passage will become much easier to a Christian with an understanding that the Law was for the people of Israel as a nation and community, and so was inevitable for justice on earth, peace on earth. The New Testament perspective, however, is a greater one: the avenger is no longer man but God (Rom.12:19). The concept of forgiveness and repaying evil with good (Mat.6:12; Rom.12:17,21) is of greater order since its aim is heaven, its kingdom. The Christian looks up and therefore doesn’t demand his rights.

Secondly, the attitude and nature of forgiveness and good-willing is a reflection of God’s sovereign act of mercy and forgiveness through Christ. The Law given to the Jews was not wrong so that it should be replaced by a new order: the Law was good, good for peace in society, but its significance must be seen in relevance to their society, religion and faith—there must be an elimination of evil so that evil may not increase. In the Church this law is present but with an higher order of understanding based on the cross of Christ. The trespasser will be counseled if the act is in ignorance or because of immaturity, and if still he doesn’t repent, must be excommunicated from the Church. There should, however, be an attitude of forgiveness and acceptance in case the man repents and returns. But when it comes to acts of direct rebellion against the Law of God (e.g. deliberate murder of innocent persons or anyone without the approval of God), the person is to be excommunicated and handed over to Satan (note: not “put to death”). God will be the judge in this matter and not human reason. For justice is what God wills as the Judge. The Christian is accountable to the Court of God first, but also to the law of government, secondly. In the vocabulary of a Christian, the words “justice”, “vengeance”, “penalty”, “forgiveness”, “mercy”, etc  are, therefore, founded in the love of God through the Cross and aim at the kingdom of heaven, the salvation of souls, and the Judgment Day of God (Mat.7:1,12; Rom.13:1-14).

© Domenic Marbaniang, October 1998.

 



[1] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, V.2. (Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), p.287
[2] Ibid, p.288
[3] The Expositor’s…, p.288
[4] Ibid, p.415
[5] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch (Michigan, Baker Book House, 1995), pp.218-221
[6] Ibid, pp.211-212
[7] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 432
[8] Ibid, p. 432
[9] Ibid, p.432


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Comment by Instructor, Dr. Bill Pankey:

Does the N.T. teach the death penalty? Rom.13:1ff

Romans 13:1-5

(1)  Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
(2)  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
(3)  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
(4)  For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
(5)  Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake.


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