- Written by: Thom Bull
In Psalm 148 we hear a great cosmic role call in which the entire creation is addressed and summoned to its place in the circle of God’s praise. The cry, “Praise the LORD!”, pours down over the universe from top to bottom like a flood, as the different spheres of God’s creative work are each invited to lend their voices to the song. The exhortation is first given to the heights of heaven, the angelic armies, and the sun, moon and stars (vv.1-4); from there it descends to the creatures of earth and the depths of the sea, as weather and geography and flora and fauna are all addressed (vv. 7-10); and finally the whole human creation, of every age and position, is commanded to lift its voice and exult in the Maker of all things (vv.11-12). There is no planet, no grain of soil, no tadpole, no oxygen molecule, no man, woman or child, to whom this joyful summons isn’t issued, and who is not to yield to it in raptured obedience.
This command isn’t, however, one that is bare and irrational; there are three crucial reasons given as to why we and all things are to praise the LORD.
First of all, it is because he is the creator and preserver of the universe. The LORD is the one who with total freedom and ease, and therefore with sheer delight, has called absolutely everything that is into being from nothing by his word of command, and in every given moment he is the one who holds it back from chaos – it is established (vv.5-6). The irreducible dependence of all created things upon the LORD that follows from this, and the divine power, wisdom and goodness that are displayed by the very fact of creation’s existence, are the logic of this liturgy: it is the grateful chorus that must erupt from those who recognise they are, only inasmuch as the LORD in his ungrudging generosity is pleased that they are. This is the wholly spontaneous and necessary joy of the creature that is summoned in mercy before the presence of its Maker – necessary in that such praise constitutes the creature’s conformity to its nature, spontaneous in that such conformity constitutes the creature’s freedom as the creature of this God. What is more, that the cosmos in its entirety is called to share in this praise removes the possibility of such conformity and freedom being found in some end other than the LORD. As long as all things are called to worship, not one of them can be ultimate; as all things are made by the LORD, so all things are made for him, and for him only; and so the final end of each of creation’s members cannot ultimately be found within creation’s bounds. A key guard, then, against the idolatry that would posit just such an immanent end, is this universal doxology.
The second reason for the LORD’s praise is the uniquely exalted glory of his name (v.13). There is none other like him, none that can match the perfection and bright beauty of his transcendent holiness, none that sits upon a higher throne. Hence it is fitting that kings, princes and rulers are specifically included within the summons to praise him (v.11). Before this God, there is no earthly power that can legitimately claim an absolute position, and so the proper posture of even the highest political ruler is not that of a god, but of a servant – one standing not over the people, be they man or woman, young or old, but rather prostrate alongside them, acknowledging the high glory of the one in whose hands the government truly rests.
And thirdly, the people of the LORD praise him because he has “raised up a Horn for them” (v.14) – that is, a strong Saviour, who has delivered them (cp. Lk. 1:69). The one who is so highly exalted is the very same one who has also come near in order to bring his people close to him, to redeem them, and to make them his own – the LORD of creation is also the LORD of the covenant. And in fact, when that LORD acts to execute this deliverance definitively, it will be revealed that the Horn who is raised up to rescue God’s covenant people, and the Word of command through which everything has been created, are one and the same – Jesus the Word, who is the firstborn over all creation, and the firstborn from the dead (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-20).
And that is not all. In this psalm, worship rings out from what seems to be every conceivable corner, and yet when the deliverer finally comes the theatre of praise is opened even more widely. Here in Psalm 148, three spheres of the cosmos are summoned to the song: the heavens, the sea, and the earth. There is one that is missing: Sheol, the place of the dead, under the earth. Of course, from the perspective of the Psalter, this isn’t all that surprising – part of what makes Sheol Sheol is the fact that it is specifically the place where the LORD is not praised (Pss. 6:5; 30:9; 115:17; cf. Isa. 38:18). And yet, as Peter Leithart has recently noticed, when in the fullness of time and in fulfilment of his word the LORD raises the Horn up, not just figuratively by really – from the dead, from Sheol, and to his right hand – then at last this fourth sphere is also burst open, and the tongues within it are unloosed, as it too is swept into the praise of the One seated on the throne and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13; cp. Phil. 2:9-11). The Psalmist asks, ‘Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?’ (Pss. 88:10-11). When the Horn is raised up, the answer is finally given, in fulfilment of the deepest longing of Psalter itself (Pss. 16:10; 49:15), and what is in fact an almost universal call to praise begun in Psalm 148 is at last made complete.
Did John's gospel come first?
- Written by: Michael Bennett
Michael Bennett tells us why he thinks John's gospel did come first.
Since first beginning to study at theological college (Moore 1965-68) I have been taught that the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke were composed before John’s Gospel.
The evidence for this seems to rest on a number of proofs:
- It is argued that the “Word” theology of John Ch.1 is too advanced to have been written at an early date. John may have also have been influenced by the Jewish philosopher Philo (d. 50A.D.) who also emphasised the central role of the “Word” in the Old Testament scriptures.
- John 21:18-19 refers to death of Peter. It is argued that this could not have been written until after the Neronian persecutions of 64 A.D.
- Most telling is the statement by the early church father, Irenaeus: “John, the disciple of the Lord, who leaned on his breast, published a Gospel while he was resident at Ephesus in Asia.”(Against Heresies iii.1.2) When John moved to Ephesus is unknown (and even disputed), but it was probably precipitated by the approaching fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This seems to point to a late date of composition.
But as D.A. Carson admits, “almost any date between AD 55 and AD 95 is possible.” (Commentary on John’s Gospel Eerdmans p82) and adds “More by way of default than anything else, I tentatively hold to a date about AD 80”.
Who was that Masked Man?
- Written by: Ben van der Klip
Ben van der Klip sheds light on an interesting aspect of the letter of James.
The aura of mystery surrounding the Lone Ranger left people asking, ‘Who was that masked man?’ An aura of mystery also surrounds the identity of the rich person in James 1:9–11; is the rich person a Christian or an unbeliever?1
A literal translation of the Greek of James 1:9–11 would look something like this:
9 And let the humble brother boast in his high position, 10 but the rich man in his humiliation, for like a flower of grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with the scorching wind and withers the grass and its flower falls away and the beauty of its face perishes; likewise also the rich man will disappear in the midst of his activities.
There are a number of exegetical issues tucked away in these verses, but I will focus here on the issue of the rich person’s identity. The question of the rich man’s identity arises because James doesn’t explicitly identify the rich man as a ‘brother’.2
God’s intention for sexual expression
- Written by: Peter Brain
Peter Brain reminds us of the biblical foundations.
That there is an endemic confusion about our sexuality is clear in our society. So many are hurt by this confusion. Some nurse broken hearts as trust has been betrayed in serial sexual relationships. Growing numbers experience ongoing harm from sexually transmitted infections (evidenced by the alarming increase in chlamydia). Our deep longing for intimacy fails to find consummation since it is increasingly sought outside of the God-ordained parameters of a committed and mutually considerate, sexual relationship between a man and a woman, who are married to each other. Sex without commitment or even friendship can never deliver God’s gracious purposes.
The fundamental texts for the proper expression of our sexuality are to be found in Genesis 1:26–27 and 2:24. Being found in Genesis, they are creational, applying to all people of all cultures for all time. The two passages are found in the complementary creation accounts and teach us fundamental truths about ourselves, marriage and the sexual relationship.
Genesis 1:26–27 reminds us that God created both men and women in his own image, thus establishing our equality in God’s eyes and our dependence on God. The truth established here is that we are real people as individuals, independent of our being married or in a sexual relationship. Intimacy is not found primarily in our human relationships, but in our relationship with God. Procreation is clearly seen to be a reason for the male–female relationship, which is so clearly evident from our anatomical makeup. That same-sex relationships are unable to procreate is evident to all.
Leviticus for Lent II
- Written by: John Wilson
John Wilson responds to Andrew Malone’s introduction to Leviticus.
Andrew Malone in the last issue of Essentials has provided us with a helpful introduction to the book on Leviticus with the aim of getting it, along with other neglected parts of the Old Testament, back on the agenda. He sees it as fertile soil for nurturing believers in biblical theology. He has listed five possible themes to be explored.
‘Lectures for Lent’ assumed that Leviticus could form a sermon series in Lent. How will the congregation know what Lent is? How will they be reminded that the weeks of Lent have traditionally been set aside for congregations to do some extra study? Will there be a clear linking between Jesus’ 40 days being tested in the wilderness and the period between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as the church has traditionally done, so that people see this period as an opportunity for reflection on their own progress and purpose as Christians and also the opportunity to do some extra Bible study?