Beard Wars: 2 Samuel 10

 beard

BEARD WARS: 2 SAMUEL 10

On May 1, 2013, relations between Bolivia and the United States took a sour turn. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Bolivian president Evo Morales was expelling from the country the U.S. Agency for International Development whom he accused of conspiring against his government. “’Surely to think that you can still manipulate us economically, politically — those times are past,” Morales said at May Day celebrations in La Paz, according to the Bolivian national news agency.”1 Those within the United States responded that the Bolivian people will be the ones hurt by removing this aid organization. Whatever the outcome, the lack of trust between the two governments will have to be overcome to return to better diplomatic relations. This news story is reminiscent of other recent events involving soured relations between countries. In 2009, North Korea ordered weapons inspectors to leave the country.2 This had the effect of ratcheting up war rhetoric and putting the Korean peninsula on high alert ever since. War was the result of Iraq’s expulsion of weapon’s inspectors in 2003.3

In each of the above cases, mistrust led to the expulsion of diplomatic teams, the erosion of diplomatic ties, and in the case of Iraq led to war. The Bible tells a similar story in 2 Samuel 10. In this chapter, the Ammonite King, Hunan listened to lies that caused him to spurn the good efforts of David which led to a war that would prove God’s provision over his people, Israel and be the beginning of King David’s fall into sin.

Chapter 10 of 2 Samuel is a transitional text. It ties the highs of God’s promise into the setting of the low’s of David’s fall. Bill T. Arnold says of chapters 9 and 10, “We have seen that Yahweh’s covenant with David in chapter 7 is the ideological mountain-top of 2 Samuel. Now with these chapters we come to the point at which the book begins its gradual descent into the valley.”4 Kenneth Chafin writes that,“the account of the Ammonites was incorporated into the story of the succession to David’s throne because it provides the setting for the story of David and Bathsheba.”5 While the story does provide the setting to David’s fall, it also provides the antithesis to the previous chapter in which David shows kindness to Saul’s descendent. “The present story serves as a significant foil to the previous episode. In both narratives, David is shown expressing compassion and generosity toward individuals from the region of Gilead whose royal forebears had recently died.”6 The chapter works then as a transition from the heights of David’s reign to the depth of his sin while showcasing the sovereign provision of God to protect his people and keep his covenant.

The chapter begins with the death of the Ammonite king Nahash. The Ammonites were the descendants of Lot by his incest with his younger daughter. The Israelites were commanded in Deuteronomy 2:19 to avoid conflict with them when the Israelites took the promised land. They lived east of the Dead Sea and Jordan. “From Jerusalem to Amman was a journey of about fifty miles.”7 They had been enemies of Israel’s king Saul and several commentators have speculated that Nahash may have shown David kindness when David was a fugitive wanted by Saul.8 Robert Bergen concludes that “Israel had previously defeated Nahash in battle and David had apparently maintained a peace treaty with the Ammonites that recognized Israel as the superior party.”9 After the death of Nahash, David sought to show kindness to the new Ammonite king and son of Nahash, Hanun. “The present chapter stands out in sharp contrast to the account in the preceding one of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth. They are parallel in that each records David’s seeking to return a kindness to a son for the sake of the Father.”10

When the head of state dies, often those countries with close diplomatic ties will send delegates to give condolences and show concern. David did just that. There is no hint of malice or evil intentions in his sending of delegates. The response that the delegation receives is not what David would have expected. Hanun makes several mistakes in this passage but the first mistake is to listen to the lying advice of those around him. The Ammonite commanders or princes begin to put doubt in Hanun’s mind with carefully crafted questions. “The purpose of the two questions asked by the Ammonite leaders is to cause hostility and destroy confidence between David and Hanun.”11

George Buttrick points out the similarity between these questions in 2 Samuel 10:3 and the account of the serpent in Genesis. “Almost word for word with the bad counsel noted above was the lying witness of the serpent in the Garden of Eden concerning God’s attitude toward the covenant agreement with Adam and Eve regarding the forbidden fruit. . . How tragic the consequence of misapprehending God’s commitments!”12 It seems to be the ploy of Satan to convince people that what is good is actually evil. In the garden, Eve believes the lie that God really is trying to keep her from something good. She believes the lie that causes her to mistrust God’s command. This is the lie that Satan still uses today to convince people that what is right is wrong and that what is wrong is right. Hanun in this passage believes the lie and attributes evil to God’s servant, David. Chafin says that “it shows how war can be started over nothing more than an unfounded misunderstanding. What is true of nations applies equally to families and to churches.”13 This is more than a simple misunderstanding however because Hanun chose to believe a lie. This unfounded belief started the Ammonite war just as in Genesis when an unfounded belief started the conflict between man and God.

David had chosen to show kindness to Hanun just as David had chosen to show kindness to Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan in 2 Samuel 9. The response of Hanun could not be more different than Mephibosheth. Gordon Keddie points out that “this contrast is instructive in that it illustrates graphically both the way that God deals with men (i.e., he is slow to anger and rich in mercy) and the differing ways in which men respond to the Lord’s dealings (i.e., acceptance versus rejection).”14 God has chosen to show kindness to man but man often responds like Hanun to David’s kindness.

Far removed from the culture and time of David, Hanun’s next actions almost seem comical. He seizes David’s men, whom he had sent in good faith, and shaves off half of their beard and cuts their garments at the waist leaving them exposed. “Even if they seem on the face of things to be more like practical jokes, the reality is that in terms of of international relations they are tantamount to acts of war, because they deliberately set out both to humiliate another nation before the world and to violate its integrity in some way.”15 In Jewish and Middle Eastern history the actions of Hanun are far from comical. “Hanun’s treatment of the men would have desecrated the men’s bodies, their clothes, and their national mission. . .Except for the performance of certain religious rituals (Lev 14:9; Num 6:18; Ezek 5:1) or to express profound emotional distress (ezra 9:3), Israelite men always wore beards. To remove an Israelite male’s beard forcibly was to force him to violate the Torah (Lev 19:27) and to show contempt for him personally.”1617

When David heard about the humiliation his men suffered at the hands of Hanun, he certainly was angry. He made sure though to take care of his men by having them stay at Jericho until their beards regrew. He saved them the dishonor of returning home humiliated. God shows the same tender care towards his servants. Many of God’s witnesses will be mistreated by the world but God will uphold the honor of his servants. God will respond accordingly to protect his people.

In what is a “duh” moment, Hanun suddenly realizes that what he did made David angry. “The metaphor that they used had to do with odor and means that they realized that what they did ‘smelled.’ Yet rather than attempt to rectify their mistake and make peace, they hire soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zoba to help them face David.”18 This is Hanun’s second mistake. When he realized that David was upset and that the two peoples were on the brink of war, Hanun could have reached out to David. David was known for being a merciful person and perhaps Hanun could have avoided war. Yet, Hanun decided to add injury to insult by heading out to war.

Hanun turns to his neighbors for help. He hires soldiers and mercenaries from the Syrians. “Especially powerful is the kingdom of Zobah (also known as Aram-Zobah), which is the dominant political power of southern Syria during this time. Located to the extreme north of the Promised Land, Zobah probably extended from the northern Beqa Valley in what is modern Lebanon east of the Anti-Lebanon range to the north of Damascus.”19

David in turn sends his great general Joab to defend his kingdom from the Ammonites and their hired help. David did not go out with his army. This one little fact will lead to a great problem for David in the next chapter.  It is not completely clear from the text that this particular occasion is the exact one that caused David to fall but it certainly will set the precedent for the next chapter in which David will stay home from battle and fall into adultery and murder. Sometimes by avoiding the hard battles in life, one can put themselves onto the path of temptation. Avoiding the hard responsibilities of Kingship is the one thing that set David on the way of sin.

Even while David is at home, his best general is leading the battle and more importantly God is with is people. Joab first leads his men out to face the Ammonites at the front of the Ammonite city but this put him into a predicament. One half of the Ammonite/Aramean army had come up from behind Joab. Joab faced forces on both sides. “He did not panic in the face of the formidable odds, but strategically deployed his forces so as to allow for flexibility as the battle progressed.”20

Joab deploys half his forces towards the front and places his best soldiers in behind to fight the hired Arameans. If one side of the battle where to go badly, forces from the other side would turn and join in to help. Not only did Joab show himself to be a great strategist but Joab also showed himself to be a man of faith as well. In verse 12, Joab gives three commands to his soldiers. They are to be strong, fight bravely for their people and for the cities of God.21 “Joab’s third statement to the troops suggests that for him this battle was ultimately a religious conflict; it was a tangible expression of Israel’s commitment to the Lord.”22 Joab then puts full trust in God as he says “The Lord will do what is good in his sight.” Bill Arnold says that “effective servants in God’s kingdom will exhaust their resources and energies doing whatever they can, while acknowledging that the fruit of their labors is ultimately in God’s hands. Or as someone has said, saints pray as though the outcome depends solely on God and work as though it depends on them.”23

God is with his people as he always is. Joab and his men rout the hired thugs from Syria and the Ammonites seeing their help flee also retreat into their city. For whatever reason, Joab and his men did not press the advantage and lay siege the Ammonite city but instead returned home. Hanun still did not learn his lesson however but regroups for another battle. Again they bring in hired men to fight. This time David when he hears of these rumors of war, leads his army out across the Jordan to Helam. And once again God is with his people. David and his army kill Shobak the commander of the Aramean army. This brought fear into those hired by the Ammonites and they sought peace with David.

The chapter ends with the Arameans unwilling to help the Ammonites continue their war. “This meant that the consolidated Israelite tribes had subjugated the powerful Aramean states to the east and north, and secured control over the main trade routes that connected Egypt and Arabia with Syria and further afield.”24 Bergen points out that though this small chapter was begun by the evil acts of men it had the effect of bringing about some completion to God’s promise. “David’s apparently unsought victories against the Aramean coalition had the desirable effect of greatly expanding Israel’s influence over the territories north of Damascus, thus helping them fulfill the Torah promise first given to Abraham.”25

This seemingly strange incident brought about by mistrust had the effect of securing territory that was first promised to Abraham. It is here that the passage becomes a part of the larger story of the Old Testament. The books of Samuel “present a theological history of Israel, evaluating Israel’s past in light of the covenant relationship established in Deuteronomy.”26 God had begun a covenant as far back as in Genesis by promising Eve that one of her seeds would crush the serpent (Gen 3:15). God then reestablished that covenant through Noah and then through Abraham. God promised Abraham that he would become a mighty nation that would bless the entire world. God promised Abraham that those who blessed him would be blessed and those who cursed him would be cursed (Gen 12:3). God’s promise to Abraham would be fulfilled first though the nation of Israel before finding their ultimate completion in Jesus. In 2 Samuel 10, God is true to his promise to curse those who curse Israel.

This chapter is also set inside the covenant promises to David. “The significance of these events must be seen in the context of the flow of redemptive history and not merely in terms of the fleeting political situation in a corner of the Near East 3,000 years ago.”27 In 2 Samuel 7, God pledges to David to make one of his sons reign forever as king. This covenant with David is a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant. Greg Nichols in his book on covenant theology writes concerning the Davidic covenant that “the principle partaker is King David, Gods righteous servant. As with the Noahic servant covenant his royal posterity participates as beneficiaries of this pledge. As with the covenant with his righteous servant Abraham, Christ is its ultimate heir and partaker.”28 This covenant with David is a promise to kingship forever. “God pledged permanent rule to David. He swore to him that his dynasty and kingdom would abide in perpetuity. . . His pledge concludes with David’s ultimate heir, the Christ, who will reign on his throne forever.”29

William Schneidewind says that this covenant pledge to David becomes one of the ruling thoughts and documents for the Israeli people. “The Promise to David was a constitutional text. That is, it was an idea and also a text through which Israel would define itself as a nation, as a people, and as a religion. In this respect, it functioned something like the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence.”30 2 Samuel 10 and the Ammonite War sets itself within the context of the covenant. God had declared that he would be true to his people and even though enemies would rise against God’s people, God protected them.

Yet 2 Samuel 10 leads into 2 Samuel 11 and David’s fall. David who had been the recipient of the great promise would fall into sin. This in turn points to the need for a greater fulfillment of the covenant to David. Someone greater than David would have to come. As time would progress, the nation of Israel would fall into sin and fracture in two. The Northern kingdom of Israel would be defeated and eventually the Southern Kingdom of Judah would too fall into sin and be taken into exile. The temple would be destroyed and the earthly reign of David’s sons would end. “The destruction of these institutions precipitated something of a constitutional crisis during the Babylonian exile.”31 God however was faithful through this time. “He kept his promise in spite of sin. . . He kept the dynasty intact in spite of the sins and plots of evil men and women. Eventually the dynasty came an end when God judged Judah for their sin. This created a tension that he psalmist laments. . . This created expectation and hope. God’s people waited for the day when God would keep his pledge to David.”32 This waiting and hoping would reach its zenith at the beginning of the New Testament when God himself would break into human history and fulfill his covenant. “The New Testament identifies the Messiah as Jesus of Nazareth. It certifies his identity as the son and heir to David. It confirms God’s faithfulness to this pledge. It affirms its fulfillment in the coronation of Christ on the throne of David by his resurrection and session at God’s right hand.”33

Back in 2 Samuel 10, God is shown protecting his people, keeping his promises, and ultimately in spite of the attacks by Hanun and the eventual sin of David preparing the way for the ultimate fulfillment of his covenant promises in Jesus. “Israel’s defeat of Ammon and the Arameans indicates the Lord’s intention to preserve the honour of his name and the integrity of his people. He notes when his disciples are abused. And the same unjust persecution and affliction which achieves in the believer an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”34

2 Samuel is not a passage that receives much attention in sermons. The almost comedic strangeness of Hanun’s actions in humiliating David’s men will seem foreign to most. Yet the passage calls to the reader to respond. God extends his offer of kindness through Jesus who fulfills the covenant promises. Some will respond like Hanun by believing the lies about God. Also like Hanun, “outside of Christ, the godless will sit besieged in their own [city] of the Ammonites, fearful of the pending judgement but unwilling to change their ways.”35 The passage ultimately calls for a response to God’s goodness through the gospel. The gospel demands an answer. George Keddie concludes correctly that “the fall of the Ammonites presages the ultimate victory of the Lord and calls for a response to the gospel now. Now is the day of salvation, the day of the Lord’s kindness, the day in which Jesus Christ calls to you to come to him, that you might have eternal life.”36

1 Emily Alpert, “Bolivia, Angered by Kerry, Says It Is Ejecting U.s. Aid Agency,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2013. http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-bolivia-kerry-ejecting-usaid-20130501,0,2165962.story (accessed May 2, 2013).

2 Malcum Moore, “North Korea Expels Un Nuclear Inspectors,” Telegraph (UK), April 14,

2009. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/5155821/North-Korea-expels-UN-nuclear-inspectors.html (accessed May 2, 2013).

3 Hamza Hendawi, “Weapons Inspectors Leave Iraq,” Associated Press, February 11, 2003.

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500257_162-544280.html (accessed May 2, 2013).

4 Bill T. Arnold, 1 and 2 Samuel: the Niv Application Commentary from Biblical Text– to Contemporary Life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2003), 518.

5 Kenneth L. Chafin, Preacher’s Commentary – Vol. 8- 1,2 Samuel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 295.

6 Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel (USA: Holman Reference, 1996), 357.

7 Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008), 245.

8 Arnold, 520 and Chafin, 295

9 Bergen, 357.

10 Gordon J. Keddie, Triumph of the King (2 Samuel) (Welwyn Commentary Series) (Welwyn Commentaries) (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1993), 82.

11 Roger L. Omanson and John E. Ellington, A Handbook On the First and Second Books of Samuel (New York: United Bible Societies, 2001), 2: 804.

12 George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible (Volume 2) the Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard Versions with General Articles and Introduction, Exegesis, Exposition for Each Book of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1957), 1095.

13 Chafin, 295.

14 Keddie, 81.

15 Keddie, 81.

16 Bergen, 358.

17 Buttrick, 1095 “Herodotus has an interesting parallel to this incident in the story of King Rhampsinitus’ treasure house. A thief who is trying to recover for burial the exposed body of his dead brother makes the guards drunk, and while they are torpid with wine, he shaves the right side of their faces as an additional insult.”

18Chafin, 296.

19 Arnold, 520.

20 Baldwin, 246.

21 Keddie, 87. “The cities of our God is probably a reference to the trans-Jordanic territories of Israel, through which the Arameans must have passed on their way to Ammon, and which might well be lost to Israel should they lose the battle.”

22 Bergen, 360.

23Arnold, 522.

24 Baldwin, 246.

25 Bergen, 361.

26 Arnold, 26.

27 Keddie, 87.

28 Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology—a Reformed and Baptistic Perspective On God’s Covenants (Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2011).

29 Ibid.

30 William M. Schniedewind, Society and the Promise to David: the Reception History of 2 Samuel 7:1-17 (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1999), 3. This is a good insight by Schniedewind who mainly uses historical-social critical methods.

31 Schniedewind, 4.

32 Nichols

33 Ibid.

34 Keddie, 87.

35 Keddie, 87. The word cities has been inserted by the author of this paper for the word Rabbahs. Rabbah was the city of the Ammonites that the Ammonite army retreated to after being defeated by Joab.

36 Ibid, 87.

No One Left Behind: The Coming of Jesus

NO ONE LEFT BEHIND:THE COMING OF JESUS

 

In 1990, actor Macaulay Culkin made America fall in love with him as he played a little boy forced to grow up quickly when he was left behind accidentally by his family who had gone on a European vacation for Christmas. This movie called Home Alone became a blockbuster hit earning $533,800,000 worldwide and several awards for best comedy.1 What made this movie such a hit was that it gave a comedic twist to the fear of being left behind. The fear of being left behind or abandoned is a common theme in many movies and books. A popular book series with the title Left Behind has sold over 63 million copies according to the publisher’s website.2

 

The fear of being left behind is not just a modern conception. The church at Thessalonica was going through a similar fear. They had been looking forward to the promised return of Jesus to rescue them from the evil of the world and to resurrect their loved ones who had passed away. Some how the Thessalonians had received a message that Jesus had already come. The Thessalonians had been expecting a real physical return of Jesus and now they were faced with the message that Jesus’ return was spiritual and had already happened. The people there must have felt abandoned and hopeless. They were still undergoing suffering and their dead loved ones were not resurrected. If Jesus had returned then the Thessalonians were were either sorely mistaken about the nature of his return or they had been left behind. Either way, the outlook was not good.

It is into this hopeless situation that Paul wrote his second letter to the church at Thessalonica. The apostle Paul had heard about the confusion in the church there and wrote a letter to correct their misunderstanding of Christ’s return and to assure them that Jesus had not returned and that when Jesus returned the wicked would be judged and the elect would not be left behind. The first twelve verses of the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians which is the text of interest in this study explains the confusion at Thessalonica and then gives Paul’s correction to the timing of the second coming.

 

Historical Context

Thessalonica named after the wife of Casander, the King of Macedonia, and half-sister of Alexander the great was founded around 315 BC. Located at the head of the Gulf of Therme on the best natural harbor of the Aegean Sea, Thessalonica, modern day Salonica, was the chief port city for the whole of Macedonia. Because of its strategic position, it was the largest most important city of Macedonia in Roman times.3 The city because of its size was some what autonomous and had a Greek character. Acts 17 implies that there was a sizable Jewish community located there.

Paul in a vision of a man from Macedonia left Asia Minor and became the first known Christian missionary to preach in Europe. While this may have not seem like a major step at the time because it was just another province of the Roman Empire, this helped set the course for the

 

westward turn to Christianity.4 Paul was not alone and was accompanied by Silas, Timothy and Luke. They first preached with success in Philippi before being forced to leave by the rulers there. Then according to Acts 17 they made their way to Thessalonica where they preached in the Jewish synagogue on the sabbath. “The account suggests that Paul’s primary success was among the God-fears, Gentiles who attached themselves to the synagogue, participated in Jewish worship, and observe to varying degrees Jewish purity and ritual practices.”5 Eventually this success led to persecution and Paul and Silas were smuggled out of the town quickly. This may have caused Paul to leave town before he had completed discipling the new converts. At any rate, Paul was concerned for the new Christians he had left behind and sent them a letter, 1 Thessalonians.6 He sent Timothy along with this letter to check on them. Perhaps it was Timothy who discovered that the Thessalonians had started to accept a false idea about the return of Jesus. When Paul7 heard that these Christians were losing heart he sent a second letter to correct their confusion. Paul was very concerned that the Thessalonians would lose hope in their salvation and so he set out to correct their confusion about the completion of Jesus’ coming.

 

 

The Text

(1)Now we beseech you, Brothers concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (2) so that you not be quickly shaken in your mind and not be troubled either by a spirit nor by a a word nor by a letter as from us that the day of the Lord has come. (3) Let no one deceive you in any way because. . . unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction (4)who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called God or object of worship so that he sits in the temple of God declaring himself that he is God.(5) Do you not remember that while I was still with you I was teaching you these things (6)And you know what restrains him now, so that he will be revealed in his time.(7) For the mystery of lawlessness now is at work, only he that now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the midst (8) and then the lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord (Jesus) will slay with the breath of his mouth and will bring to the end by the appearance of his coming (9) [the man of lawlessness] who is the one coming with the working of Satan with all power and signs and false miracles (10) and with all the deception of unrighteousnous for those who perish because they did not receive the love of truth unto their salvation (11) and for this God will send upon them a deceiving influence so that they will believe what is false (12) In order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousnous. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, author’s translation.)

 

The Interpretation

 

This passage has several difficulties for interpretation including the use of an ellipsis. Jon Weatherly points out that the main theological problems center around four specific questions. “(1)What is the rebellion? (2)Who is the man of lawlessness? (3)What [or who] is it that is holding him back? (4)How does all this answer the question which Paul addresses, namely whether the ‘day of the Lord’ had already come?”8 This paper will seek to answer those questions according to careful exegesis of the passage.

(2:1) Ἐρωτῶμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, ὑπὲρ τῆς παρουσίας τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ ἡμῶν ἐπισυναγωγῆς ἐπ’ αὐτόν, Paul begins this passage with the verb to highlight the importance of the warning he is about to give. It is not a heavy handed imperative but a pleading with “brothers” to take heed with what Paul will say next. The word Ἐρωτῶμεν denotes a respectful request, coupled with the word “brothers”, it shows a concern for the welfare of the Christians in Thessalonica. This concern is about two things9, the coming of our Lord and the gathering together of believers. These two events seem to be linked together in Paul’s mind, and thus Paul seems to be saying that they are simultaneous events. The reason Paul writes is out of a loving care for the Christians over the confusion that they were experiencing about the second coming of Jesus. It is to this confusion that Paul turns next.

(2:2)εἰς τὸ μὴ ταχέως σαλευθῆναι ὑμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ νοὸς μηδὲ θροεῖσθαι μήτε διὰ πνεύματος μήτε διὰ λόγου μήτε δι’ ἐπιστολῆς ὡς δι’ ἡμῶν, ὡς ὅτι ἐνέστηκεν ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου. Paul does not want the Christians to let their minds be shaken from the truth. The verb he uses is in the aorist and describes a complete action. This shows that Paul was concerned they would be moved from the truth. Leon Morris says, “It is a verb that is often used of a liberal shaking; motion produced by wind and wave, and especially violent motion. Its use of a ship driven from its mooring shows us the kind of thing Paul had in mind.”10 James uses similar language in his epistle to talk about those who ask without faith, “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”11

Paul uses the word νοὸς ,which means “mind”, to say that he does not want the Thessalonians to be shaken in their reasoning and mind. Since the days of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schleiermacher, some have sought to make Christianity about feelings only. Because of perceived difficulties with science, liberal Christians have abandoned the idea that Christianity is a rationally defensible belief. It is interesting then that Paul warns the Thessalonians not to be shaken in their minds. For Paul, Christianity is not just a feeling but a real defensible fact. It is important then to have a clear understanding of what will happen in the time before Jesus’ return so that one will not be shaken and tossed along the waves of false philosophy. More on this will be said later but first Paul now turns to the occasion of the confusion.

It seems that someone has told the people at Thessalonica that Jesus had already returned. Victor Furnish points out that Paul “himself may be uncertain the way this claim has been propagated, for he seems to take account of several possibilities.”12 Paul mentions three distinct possibilities for the spreading of this false teaching.

First, the false teaching may have came by prophesy. Paul uses the word spirit here to denote that someone may have prophesied in spirit to the effect that Jesus had returned. This mention of a false spirit here is reminiscent of Paul’s warning to the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Gal 1:8).” Paul also warned the church in Corinth that they were accepting a false spirit. “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough (2 Corinthians 11:4)”

The second way that the Thessalonians may have heard this false message is through a false report. This may have been some kind of oral report supposing to be from the apostles. The final way that Paul was concerned was that someone was spreading a false document proposing that it was from him. Because Paul was concerned that this was the case, even though he dictated his letters to a writer, he made sure to end them with his own handwriting.

ὡς δι’ ἡμῶν strictly means “as through us.” The spirit, report, or letter was supposedly from Paul but he was denying that it was. “Some scholars feel that it is only the letter that purports to come from Paul (BDF presupposes an ellipsis), but there seems to be no good reason for restricting the application of the phrase in this way.”13 Either way the idea that Jesus had returned was false.

It may be hard to believe why the Thessalonians accepted the false idea that Jesus had returned. Paul indicates in a letter to Timothy that some were simply spiritualizing the teaching of the second coming. James Grant says, “some seemed to be saying that the second coming of Jesus Christ was not going to be a literal event but a spiritual event in one’s own life, perhaps when one becomes a Christian.”14 This would very disheartening for those under persecution who expected Jesus to rescue them and to bring the dead back to life. If this was only to be a spiritual or metaphorical coming then what good or hope was there in Jesus. Some modern Christians have taught that when one gets saved they are to receive wealth and healing of all sickness. While these teachers are not saying technically that Jesus has returned, they are, however, missing the point that salvation is an event that happens the moment when someone is born again but that it will not be completed until when Jesus returns. They are in effect spiritualizing Jesus’ second coming and applying the promises made to Christian’s for that time to now.

(2:3-4)μή τις ὑμᾶς ἐξαπατήσῃ κατὰ μηδένα τρόπον: ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ ἔλθῃ ἡ ἀποστασία πρῶτον καὶ ἀποκαλυφθῇ ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας,ὁ ἀντικείμενος καὶ ὑπεραιρόμενος ἐπὶ πάντα λεγόμενον θεὸν ἢ σέβασμα, ὥστε αὐτὸν εἰς τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καθίσαι, ἀποδεικνύντα ἑαυτὸν ὅτι ἔστιν θεός. Paul says let no one deceive you about the second coming of Jesus. Paul is emphatic here that the Thessalonians are not to let anyone in any way deceive them. He wants to reassure them that they have not been abandoned and the coming of Jesus is real and powerful. There have been many people through out history who have pointed to a certain date and claimed that Jesus will return on that day. However, Jesus himself taught that no one except God the father knows that day but that it will come quickly. Paul has said before in his first letter to the Thessalonians that it would come like a thief in the night.

Some have used those passages that deal with a quick return to come up with a theory called the Rapture. They teach Jesus will return silently to gather up his Church and then leave the wicked behind to fall prey to the antichrist. This is the subject of the Left Behind books mentioned in the introduction. This passage though does not teach that Christian’s will be called up at a separate time from Jesus’ triumphal return. Instead it teaches that two events must happen before that return.

Some have wondered how this teaching that two events must occur before Jesus returns harmonizes with the passages that teach a quick sudden return for Jesus. This passage does not discount however the suddenness of Christ’s return. Instead it points to signs that Christ’s return is imminent.

Paul points to two events that must happen before Christ’s return. The first event is a rebellion or apostasy. James Grant explains:

Though the word apostasia can refer to a political or a religious crisis, the latter in the only use in the Greek Old Testament and the New Testament and that is its meaning here. Such a meaning is apparent because of the immediate context of false teaching and the clear allusions to Daniels’ prediction of an end-time opponent who will bring about a large-scale compromise of faith. . . .15

 

The apostasy is a rebellion against God. Some commentators have explained it only within the community of faith, while others have seen it as a worldwide apostasy. Either way Paul does not explain here because he has already told the Thessalonians much of this when he was with them.

The second event and closely related to the first is the revelation of the man of lawlessness. Some translations have called him the man of sin but this seems to be a copiest error in writing the word anomias. This genitive describes the man. He is defined by lawlessness. This is not just a lack of law but rebellion against the law and ultimately the law giver, God. There have been many attempts through out the ages to point to a historical figure for this lawless man. The early church often pointed to the emperors of Rome, while the reformers saw him in the Pope. Paul does not give into speculation here but instead makes it clear that the lawless man will be revealed and Christians will have no problem identifying him when that happens.

In describing the man of lawlessness, Paul uses a Hebraic mode of expression, “the son of perdition or destruction.” A.T. Robertson calls this a genitive of quality used to describe the quality of the person.16 The man is a destructive man causing destruction and eventually being destroyed. Moulton, Howard and Turner call it a Hebraic genitive, which is when a genitive is used with uios or teknon in a metaphorical sense.17 Judas is the only other person called the ‘son of perdition’ in the Bible. It is fitting then that this title for the antichrist would be used for someone who betrayed Christ and whom the Bible says was possessed by Satan.

Grammatically interesting in this verse is that Paul uses a future conditional clause without giving the apodosis or independent clause. Wanamaker says “the construction is first interrupted by the description of the person of rebellion, which begins in the last phrase of v. 3 and continues through verse 4, and is finally lost sight of because of the parenthetical remark in v. 5.”18 It is like Paul is so concerned and excited to stomp out the false ideas in Thessalonians that he keeps interrupting himself to provide asides or parenthetical remarks. This passage in particular goes against the idea that the letter is a painstaking work of a later writer trying to emulate Paul. Paul does not include a independent clause here because he does not need to, it is understood that he is talking about the coming of Christ and that it has not occurred yet because the man of lawlessness has not been revealed yet. It is not until that coming of the man of lawlessness that Jesus will return.

This man of lawlessness or the antichrist as described in the Apostle John’s letters will set himself up against everything that is called God and every object of worship. John Calvin here differs from many other commentators. He sees here a scribal error. “Where I have rendered–everything that is called God, the reading more generally received among the Greeks is, every one that is called. It may, however, be conjectured, both from the old translation and from some Greek commentaries, that Paul’s words have been corrupted. The mistake, too, of a single letter was readily fallen into, especially when the shape of the letter was much similar; for, where there was written panto, (everything,) some transcriber, or too daring reader, turned it into panta (every one.)”19 This causes him to render the passage to say that the man of lawlessness sets himself up against everything of God instead of every so called god. While this is an interesting theory by Calvin it is not held by many other theologians and even Calvin himself sees that it is not necessary. The point of the passage is that the man of lawlessness will set himself up to be the object of worship. The man of lawlessness will claim all of the glory due God. He will set himself up in the temple of God as God. There is much debate over the meaning of sitting in the temple. Some have claimed that a rebuilt temple in Israel will be the site of this act. Others claim this to be a mere metaphorical act. Either way the antichrist will declare himself over God and demand the worship of everyone.

(2:5) Οὐ μνημονεύετε ὅτι ἔτι ὢν πρὸς ὑμᾶς ταῦτα ἔλεγον ὑμῖν; Paul asks the Thessalonians to remember what he had taught them. It is important to work to learn and remember the things that one learns from God. In the Old Testament, God set up many festivals to help the Israelites remember the victories of God, yet time and again they forgot and turned to idols. Meditating and memorizing scripture will help defend off false doctrines and beliefs.

(2:6-7) καὶ νῦν τὸ κατέχον οἴδατε, εἰς τὸ ἀποκαλυφθῆναι αὐτὸν ἐν τῷ ἑαυτοῦ καιρῷ. τὸ γὰρ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας: μόνον ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι ἕως ἐκ μέσου γένηται. This passage also introduces another difficulty. Paul says that the Thessalonians knew what was restraining the antichrist from being revealed. He then later changes it from what to whom is restraining him. The commentaries are all over the place in trying to describe this restraining element. Early commentators attributed this to the Roman Empire while others like Wanamaker interpret To Katechon as not something that restrains but as something that possesses. In this case Wanamaker attempts to show that “the two participles as referring to a power or principle and an an individual hostile to God, offers the best solution.”20 This option which can make since grammatically seems to place the timing then of Jesus’ return until what ever hostile force is ready to reveal the antichrist.

The major mistake that most commentators take is that they attempt take the neuter article of the word to make it to mean an object. MHT however says that the neuter gender may refer to a person provided the emphasis is not on the individual but on some outstanding general quality about the person.21 This means that the thing that restrains or holds back is also the one who restrains and holds back. It becomes fairly obvious from context and other biblical passages that the one who holds back the revealing of the antichrist and who holds the timing of Jesus’ coming is God. Some have said that if this is referring to God or the Holy Spirit then how could Paul talk about the restrainer be taken out of the midst. This however does not mean that Holy Spirit leaves the Christians or that God leaves the world but instead that He removes his restraining power holding back the lawless one from rushing forward into full rebellion.

Jonathan Edwards talks of God’s restraining power in another way in Edward’s famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God ; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon , nor anything to take hold of, there is nothing between you and Hell but the air; tis only the power and pleasure of God that holds you up. . . There are the black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm , and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God for the pleasant, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor. (emphasis added)22

 

The power restraining sinners from being immediately thrown into hell will not keep restraining forever. This is the same restraining power that holds back the lawless one from his coming. It is God’s mercy that holds the end from coming because when the lawless one is revealed and Jesus comes there will be many who will not be happy on that day. This is ultimately the message that Paul is saying. While Christ’s return means joy for those who love him, it means destruction and judgment for those who do not have the love of truth.

While God is holding back the end from happening and holding back the lawless one, what Paul calls the mystery of lawlessness is at work. Evil is at work in the world and will continue to work all the way up the coming of Jesus. This was the reason for the suffering that the Thessalonian Christians were going through and is the reason that suffering still continues. The mystery of lawlessness began in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned and goes on till this day. Jesus predicted that as the time would near for his return this evil would continue to a high pitched fever until the antichrist has finally come and been revealed.

(2:8) καὶ τότε ἀποκαλυφθήσεται ὁ ἄνομος, ὃν ὁ κύριος [Ἰησοῦς] ἀνελεῖ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ καὶ καταργήσει τῇ ἐπιφανείᾳ τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ, Now that Paul has corrected the misunderstanding that Jesus had come, he sets forth the picture of the completion of that coming. Jesus had not come yet because the man of lawlessness had not been revealed but will be coming. That time comes with good news for Christians and bad for news for the lawless. The bad news begins with the coming of the antichrist but in this verse Paul can barely contain himself. Just as the lawless one is revealed, Jesus will come back and slay the antichrist with the pneumati of his mouth. This word means spirit or breath. The same breath that brought life into Adam also will bring destruction to Satan and his evil. God created with just his word and will destroy with his word. Satan is no match for Christ’s power. This is amazingly good news for Christians who look forward to that day when Christ returns and when they are called to assemble with Him. For those though who do not love Christ is a grim picture.

(2:9-10) οὗ ἐστιν ἡ παρουσία κατ’ ἐνέργειαν τοῦ Σατανᾶ ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει καὶ σημείοις καὶ τέρασιν ψεύδους καὶ ἐν πάσῃ ἀπάτῃ ἀδικίας τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις, ἀνθ’ ὧν τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας οὐκ ἐδέξαντο εἰς τὸ σωθῆναι αὐτούς. Paul returns to describe the Anti-Christ. Paul uses the same word παρουσίαto describe the coming of the son of destruction. Plummer notes that this is to emphasize the parallel with Christ’s coming.23 The Antichrist will come not in his own power but will be with the activity of Satan. The word for activity here is the root word Energeia where English gets its word “energy”. It usually refers to God’s power but here refers to Satan’s power which he will use to perform false miracles and wonders. This will be to deceive people into believing the lie that the Antichrist is to be worshiped. The Apostle John wrote that there will be many people who will worship the Antichrist saying “Who is like the beast, and is able to wage war with him?” (Rev 13:4) He will mislead, deceive, and lie to the everyone with all deception and wickedness.24

Those that will be deceived are those who will perish. The ones who will perish and be deceived are those who did not have the love of truth and thus did not receive salvation. Paul uses an objective genitive here to talk about those who love the truth. In John 8:31&32, Jesus says that those who abide in his word, know the truth. Jesus also said that he is the truth. It is only those who love Jesus then who will not be deceived and will not perish.

(2:11-12) καὶ διὰ τοῦτο πέμπει αὐτοῖς ὁ θεὸς ἐνέργειαν πλάνης εἰς τὸ πιστεῦσαι αὐτοὺς τῷ ψεύδει, ἵνα κριθῶσιν πάντες οἱ μὴ πιστεύσαντες τῇ ἀληθείᾳ ἀλλὰ εὐδοκήσαντες τῇ ἀδικίᾳ.These final two verses here in this passage show again that ultimately in control and in all power is God. While it is the anti-Christ and Satan who come to deceive it is only by the divine decree of God that they are able to do that. Echoing his letter to Romans, Paul here explains that God will punish those who hate the truth by sending them what they want a deceiving spirit to deceive them and lead them into judgment. In Romans 1, Paul says that people have exchanged the truth for a lie and have chosen to worship the creation instead of the creator. God then gives them over to what they really want. His punishment is to let people have the evil that they desire. In this passage, since those who love unrighteousnous hate the truth, God will give them what they want, a lie. The coming of the lawlessness one in deception is part of the judgment upon sinners. God will cause those who don’t love the truth to believe a lie and to rush head long into destruction.

The coming of Jesus is for Christians a thing to be looked forward to with anticipation of deliverance and salvation. Christians have no need to worry that they will be decieved by the antichrist because Christians love the truth. The message that Paul had for the Thessalonians was that Jesus is coming in a real and tangible way and that he will not leave any believer behind.

The Thessalonians had allowed themselves to begin to accept a lie about Jesus’ coming. Their hope was faltering and God did not allow it to fade. God through Paul made it clear to the Thessalonians that Jesus had not come back yet and that the hope of their salvation will come. Paul wrote to clear up the confusion and to show that God will complete his promises. Paul’s message still rings loud today. Jesus’ return is a sure thing. As evil seems to gain ground in the world, Christians need to look to the heavens and be prepared. Christians need to cling to the truth with their mind and spirit. For those who are not Christians, they need to accept the truth of Jesus Christ. They need to confess their sins to him and make him Lord of their life. The day of the Lord is coming and it will be terrible for those who do not love the truth.

1 “Home Alone (1990) Imdb,” IMDb.com, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099785/ (accessed November 29, 2012).

2 “Left Behind,” Left Behind.com, http://www.leftbehind.com/ (accessed November 29, 2012).

 

3 Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: a Commentary On the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 3.

4 Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, Revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub Co, 2009), 1.

5 Wanamaker, 6

6 Wannamaker and some scholars have postulated that the second epistle of Thessalonians

was written first and that it was this letter that was sent with Timothy. While it is an interesting

theory, the external evidence seems to be against it.

7 There is some debate that Paul was the author of 2 Thessalonians. Alfred Plummer says, “One of the objections brought against the Epistle is that it is too Pauline and looks like the laboured production of an imitator.” Alfred Plummer, A Commentary On St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (London: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2001), viii-ix Plummer also points out that this is a recent attack and that the external evidence for Paul’s authorship begins early and is cited often. As will be revealed in the exegesis portion of the paper, the idea that the letter is a laboured production will fall apart.

8 Jon A. Weatherly, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, Inc., 1996), 233.

9 Wallace points out that some theologians have been a little too quick to point to the sharp rule to make the passage refer to one event instead of two. “Since the TSKS construction involves impersonal substantives, the highest degree of doubt is cast upon the probability of the terms referring to the same event. This is especially the case since the terms look to concrete temporal referents (the parousia and the gathering of the saints), for the identical category is unattested for concrete impersonals in the NT.” This does not mean that the text is not pointing to two simultaneous events but that the words do not have an identical referent Daniel B. Wallace,. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996),290

10 Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, Revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub Co, 2009), 214.

11 James 1:6

12 Victor Paul Furnish, Abingdon New Testament Commentary – 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries) (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 154.

13 Morris, 215

14 James H. Grant Jr., 1 & 2 Thessalonians: the Hope of Salvation (preaching the Word) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 173.

15 Grant, 174

16 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), 497

17 James Hope Moulton, Wilbert Francis Howard, and Nigel Turner. A Grammar of New Testament Greek, 4 vol. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1906-76), 23 Paul uses these Hebraic Genitives also in 1 Thess 5:5

18 Wanamaker, 243

19 John Calvin, “2 Thessalonians 2: 1-4,” ccel.org, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/comment3/comm_vol42/htm/vii.iv.htm (accessed November 29, 2012).

 

20 Wanamaker, 252

21 MHT, 21 & 151

22 Jonathan Edwards and others, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and Other Puritan Sermons, Dover ed. (New York: Dover Publications, 2005), 176-177.

 

23 Plummer, 65

24 John MacArthur, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2002), 27.

Warning: One Way Ahead

Hebrews 6

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3And this we will do if God permits. 4For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Hebrews 6 has always been a tough passage for me to get my head around. I have always kind of ignored it or hurried past it in my reading. After doing some research, I found that I am not alone in my difficulties with the passage. The father of the reformation, Martin Luther took a rather low view on Hebrews. Many other theologians have done all kinds of theological gymnastics with this passage to either affirm that one can lose their salvation or that one can not. After meditating on this passage and praying, I think that God has given me a bit more clarity then I had before.

First of all I noticed that the book of Hebrews is written to the Jewish-Christian community. It’s intent was to provide to the Jews a deeper understanding of their own faith and how Christianity is the necessary ends to that faith. For the first 6 chapters, the writer of Hebrews has been showing to the Jews that Jesus is better than angels, the prophets, Moses, the priests, and the law. Jesus is the completion of all of God’s work. It is in Jesus alone that we can find salvation. Jesus is our high priest who washes away our sin with His blood.

Chapter six then begins with a call to move on from the basic teachings. The writer of Hebrews is encouraging the reader to move deeper in understanding. But before we can move into a deeper understanding we are given a very strong warning. That warning is to not forsake or leave the truth of the gospel, which is salvation through faith alone not of works. A Jew who has heard the gospel and experienced the community of believers but then decides that they must return to the sacrificial system of the old testament can not be saved because there is no other way to salvation other than Jesus. Someone who hears the good news and yet looks for salvation in some other way will not find it. It is impossible for anyone to be saved apart from Jesus. The Jews who were going back to the sacrificial system could not be saved by that system because that system can not save. It is as if those people are saying that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was not good enough. By going back to the sacrificial system of the old testament, they are putting Jesus to shame.

This passage is a warning to the Jews who are reading this book before moving ahead. It is like a giant sign post saying, “Warning: Don’t turn back.” So the question is, can someone who once had salvation lose it? I don’t think that the point of this passage is to even ask that question. Instead it is a warning that there is no way to salvation apart from Jesus. There is no way for someone to be saved from their sins other than Jesus. So don’t turn back on that teaching and expect something else to save because it is impossible for you to be saved by anything other than Jesus. The warning is this, Jesus is the only way. Another way to put it is this way, don’t hear the gospel and then think you can be saved any other way because you cannot. Jesus is the only way.