Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Interpretation of Isaiah 7:14

                  The book of Isaiah is a very tricky book to understand at times, and chapter seven in particular, offers us some very challenging verses to explore. The country is on the brink of war. Isaiah has prophesied to the king on more than one occasion, and there is this talk about Immanuel (God with us). Who is he and what does it all-mean?  It is the hope of this author to shed some light on these topics, and possibly touch on some other things that arise from the text as well. We will also be taking a look at how the author of the Gospel according to Matthew, chose to use verses from Isaiah and several other prominent prophets of old.
Historical Context
            So this story begins with Judah and its king being under the threat of war from the neighboring countries of Syria and Israel. Before they came under attack for both countries, “The Lord sent Pekah and the Israelites against him. The Israelites killed 120,000 Judean soldiers and took 200,000 Judeans into captivity to Samaria, together with a large amount of spoil.”[1] This took place before Isaiah had given his speech to the king. When this took place it is thought to be right around the time of Ahaz assuming command of the throne. Shortly following this, Assyria had began its domination of countries that were near by, and the kings of Israel and Syria were growing ever more scared of the impending doom. According to Webb, “The kings of Israel an Syria have formed an anti-Assyrian pact and are determined to force Judah to join them by deposing Ahaz and in stalling a puppet king in his place (6). It is the year 734 BC.”[2]
            This has king Ahaz scared to death because if he did not submit to what these two men wanted, they were going to kill him and place another man on the throne. That also would be bad because no matter how horrible of a king Ahaz was, he was still part of the Davidic line. However, “the problem of Ahaz and Judah, was fear of Rezin and Pekah. Isaiah’s purpose was to convince Ahaz that there was nothing to fear from these two kings and their armies.”[3]
The Sign
            Now that we have laid a foundation for verses 10-25, let us start by taking a look at the sign of the Lord given to Ahaz. At this point, God sends Isaiah back to king Ahaz with the chance to tell the Lord what kind of sign he would like to see as proof that what the Lord has been telling him all along is true. Most commentators agree Ahaz could have chosen anything in the universe, and the Lord had offered to do it; because of his saying he would go as deep as Sheol and as high as heaven. What exactly is a sign in ancient times?  “Paul Kruger notes that the essence of a “sign” is that it is “a means of transmitting information. The content of this information is determined by the context in which it is used.”’[4] So a sign could be most anything and at times it was used as a form of judgment, but the sign is not always the judgment itself.[5] Wegner goes on to tell us that “the word can also be used merely to signify a banner or standard (Num2:2). Most of the eighty occurrences of the word “sign” signify some type of miraculous event…. But it can also refer to a common, everyday occurrence that has significance because of what it means, foretells or predicts….”[6]
            Instead of taking the Lord’s offer, Ahaz feigns that he does not want to test the Lord, because in actuality he is full of disbelief. Wegner backs this up by saying, “Ahaz feigns trust by stating that he does not need a sign to believe Yahweh and that accepting God’s sign would be testing him; God through Isaiah quickly rebuffs this.”[7] What then is the sign that the Lord chooses for him since he refuses to choose? It will be the birth of a baby boy named Immanuel. The birth would be a sign for the king in the immediate circumstances.[8] From research that has been conducted, there are several views on what exactly this sign is; Walton believes that “all the evidence points to the naming of the child as the sign.”[9]Willis on the other hand states, “not only Immanuel (7:14), but also Shear-jashub and Maher-shalalhash-bazz are specifically said to be “signs” which the Lord gave Isaiah to convey the divine message to Ahaz. (8:18).[10] The sign then is going to be a young male child born of a young woman or is it a virgin? We will take a closer look at that in the next section.  According to most commentators, the sign will be a young boy meant to give hope to Ahaz that God will bring him deliverance from these two countries, and not to get into bed with Assyria for protection.
The Woman (alma)
            There has been a huge debate over the use of the word alma. Does it mean virgin or something else? From what has been gathered it seems that the word generally describes a young woman of marry able age. According to Willis, “the meaning of this Hebrew word has been widely discussed. It now seems absolutely certain that both almah and bethulah both mean “a young woman of marriageable age, irrespective of her marital status. “[11] Another challenge that is presented to us is who is this woman, and does Ahaz know her? It would seem that Ahaz had three different types of women in his order. He had wives, concubines and almah’s.  From the commentators that this author has read, all seem to be in agreement that the young woman would be someone that Ahaz knows personally, it may in fact be one of his children that is going to be born.
            This topic is not easily covered in a manner of a few paragraphs. I recommend you take a look at the bibliography and review for yourselves the articles listed there.
Matthew’s Usage
            There has been some controversy over Matthew’s usage of OT text. Some will argue that the original writers never had in mind the coming of Christ, or anything to do with Christ, when their text was written. It all boils down to inerrancy and infallibility. Wegener believes, “there is little doubt that NT believers read the OT Scriptures in light of Christ coming.”[12] He goes on to say, “I believe that the key to how Matthew reuses OT passages can be found within the text itself. Matthew employs the Greek word … meaning to make full, fill, fill up, complete, to indicate that he believes the OT passage to be filled up by Jesus.”[13]Matthew saw greater meaning in Isaiah’s vocabulary item and in Isaiah’s prophecy as a whole than was seen in the original setting.”[14]
            This essay has covered much ground in a short period of time. It would now seem apparent from studying this portion of text that Ahaz was a coward unwilling to trust God even when God gave him a sign. The sign of a young male named Immanuel that came from a young woman out of his harem. While she was not a virgin, Matthew in his Gospel, saw the implications of this text and translated how he felt appropriate because he had a clearer view of what had come than Isaiah had.

                  [1] John T. Willis, "The meaning of Isaiah 7:14 and its application in Matthew 1:23." Restoration Quarterly 21, no. 1 (January 1, 1978): 1-18. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed January 19, 2014)2.
                  [2] Barry G.Webb, The Message of Isaiah. (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996)61. 
                [3] Willis, Meaning of Isaiah, 3
                  [4] Paul D.Wegner, "How many virgin births are in the Bible? (Isaiah 7:14): a prophetic pattern approach." Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 54, no. 3 (September 1, 2011): 467-484. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed January 19, 2014)469.

            [5] John H.Walton, "Isa 7:14 : what's in a name?." Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 30, no. 3 (September 1, 1987): 289-306. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed January 20, 2014)295.
            [6] Wegner, How many virgin, 470.
                  [7] Ibid., 470.
                  [8] Trent C.Butler, Isaiah: Holman Old Testament Commentary. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002)61.
                  [9] Walton, Isa 7:14,295.
                  [10] Willis, Meaning of Isa, 6.
                  [11] Ibid., 11.
                  [12] Wegner, How many virgiins., 481.
                  [13] Ibid., 481
            [14] Butler., Isaiah., 72.

Crtique of Hearing God by Dallas Willard

                                    There is not one person this author knows who would not like to hear from God.  Well, author Dallas Willard has written a book in an effort to help people recognize when God is speaking. Willard is a famous author known for his work Spiritual Disciplines, while also being a professor at the University of Southern California’s school of philosophy.  So how well are you hearing from God? There is much in this book to take to heart while there are also things to be taken with a grain of salt. Throughout this work there will be a concise summary of the work, while looking at it with a critical eye, then this author will attempt to apply how this work can affect his life.
                        This work is not one that is very large from beginning to end; it is 223 pages long consisting of nine chapters, preface, and epilogue.  Chapter one is called a paradox about hearing God; in this chapter Willard summarizes the dilemma that some believers feel that they cannot hear from God.  He states that, “I was sure that he spoke individually and specifically about what he wanted each believer to do and that he also taught and made real on an individual basis the general truths all must believe in order to enter into life with him.”[1] Willard understands that for the average Christian, hearing from God is a rather awe inspiring and yet confusing thing. He solidifies that point when he says, “Even those who firmly believe that they have been addressed or directly spoken to by God may be at a loss to know what is happening or what to do about it.”[2]
            In chapter two, he establishes the guidelines for hearing from God. He makes sure to emphasize that there is no magic formula or incantation a person can use to have God speak to them and to grow them to the place God actually speaks and we are able to comprehend. Willard believes emphatically that, “We must therefore make it our primary goal not just to hear the voice of God but to mature people in a loving relationship with him.”[3]
            Chapter three lays a foundation about how we are never alone because we have an omnipresent God. In this chapter, he gives a list of three ways or aspects of sensing God’s presence with us.  We may not always know God is near, but we rely on blind faith or abstract reasoning to move closer to him; another aspect is knowing or sensing a strong impression of God’s presence. Last but not least, we know when he is near because he acts in conjunction with our actions or changes things we are powerless to change.     [4]
            Now in chapter four, he gives us an understanding of how most things have some form of communication and that God speaks to us as his creation. Chapter five is by far one of the best chapters in this work; it is titled the small still voice and its rivals. There are some who would say God has quit speaking individually to people apart from his revelation made through the Bible. “But those who seek to live a life within God’s will can be confused about the significance of the various ways God speaks with us.”[5] In this chapter he refers to the story of young Samuel and Eli in 1 Samuel 3, and how God will speak to us and we have to be quiet and submit ourselves to hearing him speak to us. Along with the still small voice, he lists examples of when angels are used to speak to numerous people in the Bible along with using dreams and visions.
            Chapters six through nine round out the book in giving more detail in how we are to be listening out for the voice of God; how we will recognize it and how redemption comes through the word of God. In the chapter on redemption through the word of God he does not merely limit it to the Bible, but also Jesus Christ revelation, and what the Spirit speaks to us.
            While this is a well-written book, it left me longing for something more. The whole time I was reading this book, I continued to have the nagging feeling that something was missing.  In this work, chapters five and eight seemed to be the most beneficial to this author. Something so easily over looked and yet profound “is when we seek God earnestly, prepared to go out of our way to examine anything that might be his overture toward us—including the most obvious things like the Bible verses or our own thoughts—that he promises to be found (Jer 29:13).”[6] Willard makes the statement  “that God’s speaking in union with the human voice and human language is the primary objective way in which God addresses us.”[7] While I am in some agreement with him, I believe that God does speak with us in languages we can understand I am not sure that it is the primary way.  For a fact, this author’s pastors would argue this point and say that the primary way God speaks to his people is through the Bible.
            He believes that our thoughts are God’s speaking to us. He backs this up when he says, “Although reoccurring thought are not always and indication that God is speaking, they are not to be lightly disregarded.”[8] There are often times that I believe the Lord has spoken to me through recurring thoughts, so there is no argument in the fact that God will speak through our reoccurring thoughts.
            As a member of a PCA church, my pastors hold a very high view of Scripture so much so that they are cessationist; and they would disagree with Willard when he says, “But there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that the Biblical modes of God’s communication with humans have been superseded or abolished by either the presence of the church or the close of the scriptural canon.”[9] But from this author’s perspective God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). Do you assume that if God speaks to you that you would automatically know it? Willard tells us, “We may mistakenly think that if God spoke to us we would automatically know who is speaking without having to learn, but that is simply a mistake and one of the most harmful mistakes for those trying to hear God’s voice.”[10]
                        There is something that can be taken away from this material that helps to deepen the relationship one has with God. One of the major take-a-ways from this material is that God can speak to us through any means in which he chooses.  The one mean that stands out is the small still voice that spoke to Samuel and Elijah. It is this authors hope to reach a place where he will readily recognize when God is speaking to him.  As of right now I am at a place where I sometimes think I am hearing from God, but I am still unsure. I have heard from God before when I was a called into ministry, through a dream.  Currently there has not been any communication with God, me to him or vice-versa.  I have since started speaking with him more and am taking the time to listen. Not only listen for the still calm voice, but other people and situations.
            In conclusion, this work is worth your time if you have read other books on prayer and have developed a certain prayer style. This book does not offer any solid instructions on how to definitively guarantee you’ll hear from God in your prayer life. It does offer help in ways that you can become more open to hear God and the things that will hinder what is heard.  There are two books that could be of great help, Charles Spurgeon’s The Power of Prayer in the Believers Life, and Prayer the Timeless Secret of High Impact Leaders by Dave Earley.

            [1]Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999)16.

                  [2] Ibid., 25
            [3] I bid., 31.
                  [4] Ibid., 51
                  [5] Ibid., 87
                  [6] Ibid., 91
                  [7] Ibid., 96
            [8] Ibid., 102
            [9] Ibid.,, 103
                  [10] Ibid., 169.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Brief look at Spiritual Disciplines and thier importance

Donald Whitney has a list of eleven disciplines listed in his classic work Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  There are some here that may be surprising to some and not others. The list consists of Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning. This is a great list for Christians to have at work in their private lives and even greater for the church as whole.  As to the importance of the disciplines Whitney says, “Think of the Spiritual Disciplines as ways we can place ourselves in the path of God’s grace and seek Him much as Bartimaeus and Zacchaues placed themselves in Jesus’ path and sought Him.”[1]

            I believe that if members of the local church started to practice any number of these disciplines on a regular schedule we would start seeing communities changed and lives transformed. Each of these disciplines has its on sense of power and how it can be effective. For instance fasting can make a difference in the lives of someone else or the person being fasted for. I say this because a year or so ago I was suffering from severe migraines for days on end without any relief, and the men of my outdoorsmen’s Bible study decided that they were going to take turns over the period of a week and fast for me. Some of the brother fasted for one day others for three to four days, and one brother who had never fasted before skipped several meals daily for several days. And at the end of that week I had chosen to fast not knowing their decision and after my fast my headaches ceased.  I was humbled and amazed by the sacrifice these men made and the way God showed up in all of our lives.

            Now imagine if we could get an entire body to realize the power that lies behind any of these disciplines. I think part of the trouble we have is that most Christians feel that they are not well enough equipped in how to do certain things.  I have heard the excuse that the reason some people do not pray is because they do not know how. I have explained that prayer is a conversation between you and God. Once we can get everyone on the same page it is awe inspiring the things that can happen. So find examples that can be used and start in your own life and try to incorporate it into the local body, either a Bible study or your church itself.