Monday, August 17, 2020

On the Validity of Mask Mandates, Obedience to the State, & Christian Liberty

 by Michael R. Burgos

By means of several executive orders, my state (Connecticut) has required its citizens to wear masks whenever they are closer than six feet from someone who is not in their family. The latest order (7NNN) requires those who have medical conditions that preclude mask-wearing to produce documentation of such from a medical professional. The state justified this order upon the basis of “the effectiveness of using masks or face coverings in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.”

Several phenomena have arisen simultaneously: Most retailers claim that all who enter must wear a mask due to the government’s requirement and most have posted employees at entryways in order to ensure compliance. Such a claim is, in fact, completely erroneous since the government’s order does not require masks at all times in retailers but instead only when one is within six feet of a non-family member. Admittedly, if a private business requires masks from its customers, that is their prerogative. Any that desire to do business there ought to abide by the owner’s stipulation or find another business to patronize. However, to pin the blame for masks-at-all-times on the state is a deceitful—as that is simply not what the state has required.

Additionally, many Christians have argued at length upon the basis of a variety of biblical passages, that compliance with this requirement is our Christian duty. The typical trope argues that 1.) the Bible states that we are to obey the governing authorities upon the basis of Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17 and 2.) in keeping with the apostle Paul’s teaching on Christian liberty in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, we ought to wear masks since we might offend a weaker brother. Both of these claims suffer from an invalid application of the relevant biblical texts. However, prior to addressing these, let us consider the state’s justification for it's order.

Masks & Facts

Do masks prevent the transmission of COVID-19? One might assume as much given the constant barrage of mask exhortations from virtually every media outlet, politician, and even many churchmen. The evidence tells another story. A 2009 study that evaluated mask use with regard to H1N1 influenza concluded, “There is little evidence to support the effectiveness of face masks to reduce the risk of infection.”[1] Another 2009 study concluded, “Face mask use in health care workers has not been demonstrated to provide benefit in terms of cold symptoms or getting colds.”[2] A 2015 study concluded that the “penetration of cloth masks by particles was almost 97% and medical masks 44%.”[3] Further, researchers found that the use of cloth masks may increase one’s risk of infection: “Moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks and poor filtration may result in increased risk of infection.”[4] A 2016 study determined that there is “insufficient data” to show that even N95 respirators prevent respiratory infections.[5] A 2019 study showed that “N95 respirators vs medical masks…resulted in no significant difference in the incidence of laboratory-confirmed influenza.”[6] A study completed in February of 2020 concluded “The use of N95 respirators compared with surgical masks is not associated with a lower risk of laboratory-confirmed influenza.”[7]

But wait! Wasn’t there a study just published in July that claimed the opposite, namely, that universal masking leads to a lower infection rate?[8] The Wall Street Journal and other news sources pounced on this study in order to demonstrate the legitimacy of mask mandates. The study, which focused upon front line health care workers, attributes masks to a lower infection rate but then notes that this “could be confounded by other interventions inside and outside of the health care system.” That is, the lower infection rate may be due to other factors (e.g., interventions such as hand washing, social distancing, etc.). The point here is that there is no evidence that masks preclude the transmission of COVID-19. Rather, the best the state and others can point to is research that observes correlation and not causation. Add to this sordid state of affairs the statistical probability of healthy people suffering from a debilitating case of COVID-19: People under 65 years of age make up only 2.6 % of COVID-19 fatalities.[9] As one immunologist put it, “Those young and healthy people who currently walk around with a mask on their faces would be better off wearing a helmet instead, because the risk of something falling on their head is greater than that of getting a serious case of Covid-19.”[10]

Masks & Obedience to Authority

Does Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2 require Christians to obey the government at all times? Clearly, that isn’t the case since Peter and John demonstrate that there are times when obedience to the state is immoral (Acts 4:19-20). Imagine for a moment that the state mandated that the entire citizenry wear masks in their homes at all times. Would we object to such a requirement? Rather, ought we object to such a requirement? Of course. On what grounds? The state does not have the authority to mandate what we do in our homes.

I hear many voices cry out, “Wait, aren’t we supposed to abide by Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2?” Certainly, as the highest authority in our land is the constitution and it is that document that precludes the state from infringing on our personal liberty. Mandating that we wear masks in our homes or in our churches is an infringement upon liberty as the state does not have the authority to do so. For that reason, our Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 duty is to uphold the authority of our land (i.e., the constitution) and to reject the tyranny of the state. Furthermore, Romans 13, despite the assumption of many to the contrary, is a prescription of what the state ought to do and not a description of what the state was in Paul’s day or our own.

Lest you think that I’ve gone off the rails and into some libertarian quagmire, consider an analogous situation in the church. Say your local board of elders begins to mandate that everyone believe that Jesus wasn’t really born of a virgin and that the celebration of Christmas is wrong. Meanwhile, the Bible explicitly states that Christians ought to obey their elders and submit to their authority. Ought we believe wrong things merely because the elders told us to? Certainly not. Rather, a higher authority prohibits our obedience to the elders in this specific area. Moreover, the elders derive their authority from the Scriptures. Similarly, when a governor is elected into office, he places his hand upon a Bible and swears to uphold and defend the constitution. Like elders, his authority is derivative and dependent upon a higher authority. Whereas we ought to disobey our elders when they go against the Bible, we also ought to disobey the governor when he acts like a tyrant and treats the constitution as if it doesn't exist. This ethos is what our nation is built upon.

Masks & Christian Liberty

In 1 Corinthians 8, the apostle taught that Christians may exercise their liberty to engage in non-sinful activity so as long as this exercise does not confound the conscience of a brother. The example provided in that passage is that of meat offered to idols. While new believers, having come out of paganism, may associate that meat with what they left behind for Christ, other Christians viewed idols and paganism as illegitimate and essentially fake (i.e., “An idol has no real existence” in v. 4) and thus looked at this meat as a mere meal. Paul concluded this scenario by asserting that we ought to curtail our liberty if it may lead to wounding the conscience of a weaker brother (v. 12).

Are masks a legitimate application of this principle? Note first that the meat in question was associated with idolatry. Masks are not associated with idolatry nor any sin in particular. Second, the weak conscience of the immature brother in 1 Corinthians 8 was due to his new faith and background in paganism. Those who might be offended at resistance to mask mandates don’t have a background that associates non-mask-wearing with sinful behavior and their offense is not due to a recent conversion. Rather, the likely reason for people to become offended at non-mask-wearers is fear. These folks fear that if everyone doesn’t wear a mask, they too will become sick and possibly die. Not only is that fear misguided, it is predicated upon a worldview that places life and death in the hands of men. Christian liberty isn’t the issue and thus the application of 1 Corinthians 8 to masks is unwise at best.

How then ought we deal with our brother who is offended at our lack of masks? We ought to inform him that there is no evidence that masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and that it is unreasonable to expect everyone around us to do something merely because we want them to. There is no law against a difference of opinion in the church. Further, we ought to point him to a sovereign God who holds life and death in his grasp. 

[1] B. J. Chowling, Y. Zhou et al, 12/16/2009, “Face masks to prevent transmission of influenza virus: a systematic review,” Epidemiology and Infection.

[2] Jacobs JL, Ohde S, Takahashi O, et al, 02/12/2009, “Use of surgical face masks to reduce the incidence of the common cold among health care workers in Japan: a randomized controlled trial,” Am J Infect Control.

[3] C Raina MacIntyre, Holly Seale et al, 04/22/2015, “A cluster randomised trial of cloth masks compared with medical masks in healthcare workers,” BMJ Open.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jeffrey D. Smith, Colin C. MacDougall et al, 05/17/2016, “Effectiveness of N95 respirators versus surgical masks in protecting health care workers from acute respiratory infection: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” CMAJ.

[6] Lewis J. Radonovich Jr, Michael S. Simberkoff et al, 09/03/2019, “N95 Respirators vs Medical Masks for Preventing Influenza Among Health Care Personnel: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” JAMA.

[7] Youlin Long, Tengyue Hu et al, 02/03/2020, “Effectiveness of N95 respirators versus surgical masks againstinfluenza: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” Wiley.

[8] Xiaowen Wang, Enrico G. Ferro, Guohai Zhou et al, 07/14/2020, “Association Between Universal Masking in a Health Care System and SARS-CoV-2 Positivity Among Health Care Workers,” JAMA.

[9] 08/12/2020, Weekly Updates by Select Demographic and Geographic Characteristics, CDC.

[10] Beda M Stadler, 07/01/2020, “Coronavirus: Why everyone was wrong,” Medium.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A Concise Christian Appraisal of Psychology and Psychiatry

Fifty years ago Jay E. Adams, the father of the modern biblical counseling movement, concluded that psychology and its “illegitimate child” (i.e., psychiatry) are in serious trouble.[1] The basis for Adam’s assertion was that despite its grandiose claims to the contrary, the interventions offered by psychology and psychiatry didn’t work. Today, the conclusions Adam’s drew in the 1970s have been validated ad infinitum by the crises in psychology and psychiatry. This essay seeks to provide a concise articulation of a few of the problems within these disciplines, demonstrating that the evaluation issued by Adams in the 1970s has continued to find validation.

The Unscientific Science

In 2012, Ed Yong, a science journalist, published an article in Nature which outlined a few of the significant methodological problems inherent in research psychology. According to Yong, the vast majority of research results published in major psychology journals are actually incapable of being reproduced.[2] Yong cited Chris Chambers, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Cardiff University, who noted that “High impact journals often regard psychology as a sort of parlour-trick…When we review papers, we’re often making authors prove that their findings are novel or interesting.”[3] Chambers continued, “We’re not often making them prove that their findings are true.”[4] Similarly, Scott Lilienfeld and Irwin Waldman have recognized the scandalous nature of this crisis:
Indeed, in the pages of our field’s most prestigious journals…scholars across diverse subdisciplines have maintained that the standard approaches adopted in published psychological investigations tend to yield a disconcertingly large number of false positive findings.[5]
How significant is this problem? In 2015, the Open Science Collaboration (OSC) published an assessment of the replications of one hundred studies published in three of the most prestigious psychological journals. OSC found that “A large portion of replications produced weaker evidence for the original findings despite using materials provided by the original authors, review in advance for methodological fidelity, and high statistical power to detect the original effect size.”[6] Further, OSC found that only one-third of the replications attested to the findings of the original studies.

Trust Us, We’re the Experts…

Despite being repeatedly outed as about as scientific as alchemy, research psychology and its resultant therapies still find considerable support within both the church and the general public. This is partially due to psychology’s continual effort to market itself as a necessary and effective means unto human flourishing. Articles frequently emerge touting the effectiveness of psychotherapy, reinforcing psychology’s place as a bona fide science. One such article, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), claimed, “Psychotherapy is effective, helps reduce the overall need for health services and produces long-term health improvements.”  To substantiate its claim, the APA cited “more than 50 peer-reviewed studies.”[7] That is, the same psychological establishment whose studies have been shown to be legitimate only one-third of the time has also claimed upon the basis of “more than 50 peer-reviewed studies,” that its therapies work. Moreover, several bombshell studies have emerged that suggest psychology’s confidence is vastly misplaced. For instance, one study published in 2015 concluded that the efficacy of psychology’s interventions for depression have been significantly overstated.[8] Purveyors of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the current “gold standard”[9] in psychotherapy, have been shown to massively exaggerate the effectiveness of CBT. One meta-data study indicated that only seventeen percent of trials of CBT for depression and anxiety were shown to be effective.[10]

One might imagine, given this sordid state of affairs, that psychology would dampen its enthusiasm for itself. Hardly. Brian Hughes, Professor of Psychology at the National University (Ireland), has observed that even though psychology “considers itself agile at producing authentic insights about the human psyche,”[11] it actually suffers from “excessive self-esteem:”[12]

As attempts to replicate their research produce a mounting series of damp squibs, you might expect that by now psychologists will have become quite cautious. Psychologists should be nervous about the way their popular paradigms contradict each other: they should surely realize that one theoretical explanation is difficult to defend alongside another that is its exact opposite. Psychologists should be equally apprehensive about their vague and imprecise approaches to measurement. They should be obsessed with equivocation: after all, those margins of error must mean something. Their statistical struggles…should breed additional trepidation. Psychologists should surely react by limiting the ambition of their inferences. And each time they remember that their research captures just a thin snippet of the world’s population, psychologists must feel the torrents of collective embarrassment running down their spines.[13] 
Psychiatry similarly suffers from a self-esteem problem. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or what is more popularly known as “Shock Therapy,” is a well-hyped intervention designed to aid people with either severe or persistent emotional disorders.[14] In ECT, epileptic seizures are introduced to the brain while a person is under general anesthesia through the use of a device.[15] Eighty-five percent of those who undergo ECT are seeking relief from depression.[16] This, in itself, is curious since there is no known pathology that causes depression.[17] Thus, introducing seizures into someone’s brain in order to “cure” depression is obviously misguided.

Like biogenic theory, ECT also relies upon a reductionistic view of the human person that rejects the existence of the immaterial soul. What the anxious or depressed person needs is the wisdom of God’s Word, sound teaching, compassion for their suffering, and prayer—and not a brain seizure.[18] Moreover, the terrible side effects of ECT are numerous and well documented.[19] Scientifically, ECT and its supporting studies have been shown to have grave problems. In 2010, Drs. John Read and Richard Bentall conducted a meta-data study that analyzed all scholarly literature published on ECT with particular emphasis on depression. In this study, Read and Bentall noted that the vast majority of ECT studies neglected to include a placebo.[20] Further, Read and Bentall found several other methodological problems with almost all of the other ECT studies. After their comprehensive review of the literature, Read and Bentall concluded with another scientist who wrote, “There is no evidence at all that the treatment has any benefit for anyone lasting beyond a few days…The short-term benefit that is gained by some simply does not warrant the risks involved.”[21]

Marketing Illnesses

We might ask, “Hasn’t the world benefited from psychology’s identification of mental illnesses?” The innumerable disorders present in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Ed. (DSM-V), have been well observed to be, shall we say, over the top.[22] Do you really need that cup of coffee in the morning? You likely have “Caffeine Use Disorder.”[23] Obsessed with that new video game? You’ve got “Internet Gaming Disorder.”[24] Or, are you nervous in situations where you might be embarrassed? According to the DSM-V, you may have “Social Anxiety Disorder." Given the DSM-V’s range of “disorders,” it is no wonder why one in four to five adults in the U.S. are said to have a mental illness.[25]  

Psychology and psychiatry have effectively marketed the existence and even causality of certain major DSM-V disorders to the general public and this without basis or warrant. Bipolar disorder, in its various iterations, is a case in point. Bipolar is something of a catchall diagnosis that is dependent upon a perceived set of symptoms.[26] There is currently no known pathological cause for bipolar, and subsequently, there is no treatment known to the medical community “that provide[s] sustained, symptomatic, and functional recovery.”[27] Indeed, the scholarly assessment of bipolar has concluded, “From a neurobiological perspective there is no such thing as bipolar disorder.”[28] Yet, bipolar is routinely characterized as a “brain disease” by the psychiatric and psychological communities. While the symptoms experienced by those who are said to have either bipolar I or II are entirely genuine, misidentifying these symptoms as a “brain disease” is antithetical to providing genuine help.

Psychotherapy’s Moral Vacuum

Steming from Freud’s insistence that psychotherapy lands within the realm of the scientific[29] (i.e., as a clinical expression of psychological science), psychotherapy has sought to portray its practice as an objective and “value-free” discipline. However, it is undeniable that there exists a set of moral presuppositions that underly psychotherapy. One cannot give a word of counsel without presupposing what is right and wrong. One cannot quantify therapeutic effectiveness or even “mental health” without first rooting these concepts in a system of moral truths. The question is, therefore, from whence do these morals come? What is the moral grounding for the psychotherapist’s counsel? Are the relevant moral commitments of therapists divulged to their counselees prior to the giving of counsel? More likely, psychotherapists merely impose their personal moral commitments upon their clients under the pretense of “science.”

CBT, for example, operates upon the basis of a great variety of undefined moral concepts (e.g., “meaning,” “dysfunction,” “good/bad thoughts,” “improved behavior”):
In a nutshell, the cognitive model proposes that dysfunctional thinking (which influences the patient’s mood and behavior) is common to all psychological disturbances. When people learn to evaluate their thinking in a more realistic and adaptive way, they experience improvement in their emotional state and in their behavior.[30]
Never are these moral concepts fleshed out in the literature and are instead merely assumed in practice by the therapist or counselee. Tellingly, some researchers in the field have proposed ethical training for therapists in order to fill the moral vacuum.[31] Others have proposed the equivalent of a married bachelor: moral neutrality.[32]


In many ways, psychology and psychiatry are akin to those chained within the confines of Plato’s cave: Both are disciplines which confidently assert their ability to understand and aid the public while failing to apprehend basic truths. The findings of these disciplines are often both contradictory and dubious, and many of the therapies purported to help hurting people are, in reality, ineffective and detrimental.

Jay E. Adams, Competent to Counsel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 1.

Ed Yong, 5/16/2012, “Replication Studies: Bad Copy,” Nature, 485.7398, 299.
Scott O. Lilienfeld, Irwin D. Waldman eds., Psychological Science Under Scrutiny: Recent Challenges and Proposed Solutions (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), xxi.
Open Science Collaboration, 08/28/2015, “Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science,” Science, 349.6251.
2012, “Research Shows Psychotherapy Is Effective But Underutilized,” American Psychological Association,
Ellen Driessen, Steven D. Hollon, Claudi L. H. Bockting, Pim Cuijpers, Erick H. Turner, 09/30/2015, “Does Publication Bias Inflate the Apparent Efficacy of Psychological Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of US National Institutes of Health-Funded Trials,” PLoS One, 10.9,
Daniel David, Ioana Cristea, Stefan G. Hofmann, 01/29/2018, “Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is the Current Gold Standard of Psychotherapy,” Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9.4,
Falk Leichsenring, Christiane Steinert, 2017, “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy? The Need for Plurality in Treatment and Research,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 318.14, 1323-4.
Brian M. Hughes, Psychology in Crisis (London, UK: Palgrave, 2018), 119.
ibid., 120.
ibid., 119.
Max Fink, Electroshock: Healing Mental Illness, (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), 1.[15] ibid.[16] A. Rajendran, V. S. Grewal, Jyoti Prakash, 04/2015, “Does Criticism of Electroconvulsive Therapy undermines its benefits: A Critical Review of its Cognitive Adverse Effects,” Delphi Psychiatry Journal, 18.1, 160.
Gregor Hasler, 10/09/2010, “Pathophysiology of Depression: Do We Have Any Solid Evidence of Interest to Clinicians?,” World Psychiatry, 9.3, 155-61.
Psa. 23:4; Prov. 12:25; Matt. 11:28; 1 Pet. 5:7.
ibid., 160-3, John Read, Richard Bentall, 2010, “The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy: A literature review,” Epidemiologia e Psichiatria Sociale, 19.4, 342-4.
ibid., 334.
ibid., 344.
Allen Frances, Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt Against Out-Of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis DSM-5 Big Pharma and the Medicalization of Ordinary (New York: William Morrow & Company, 2014).
Diagnostic Statistical Manual, 5th Ed. [DSM-V] (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013), 792-3.
ibid., 795.
Kathleen Ries Merikangas, Marcy Burstein et al.,  2010, “Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication--Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A),” Journal of the American Academy Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 49.10, 980‐9.
DSM-V, 121-39.
Vladimir Maletic, Charles Raison, 08/25/2014, “Integrated Neurobiology of Bipolar Disorder,” Frontiers in Psychology, 5.98, 1.
Jeremy Holmes, 1996, “Values in Psychotherapy,” American Journal of Psychotherapy, 50.3, 259-60.
Judith S. Beck, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Basics and Beyond, 2nd Ed. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2011), 3.
E.g., in her study, Popescu has noted that, “Ethical questions and moral dilemmas are an important part of the therapeutic or philosophical counseling process that cannot be neglected…Existential issues are of utmost importance in both types of practices, since issues like meaning, scope, death, freedom and isolation are intrinsic to the human conditions…” Beatrice A. Popescu, 2015, “Moral Dilemmas and Existential Issues Encountered Both in Psychotherapy and Philosophical Counseling Practices,” Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 11.3, 520. Cf. Michelle J. Pearce, Harold G. Koenig et al., 03/2015, “Religiously Integrated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A New Method of Treatment for Major Depression in Patients With Chronic Medical Illness,” Psychotherapy, 52.1, 56-66.
Richard C. Springer, 1994, “Morality and the Practice of Psychotherapy,” Pastoral Psychology, 43, 81-91.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Yehoshu'a and Yeshu'a: Christ in the Book of Numbers

I. Introduction: Joshua and the New Generation of Israelites

In the book of Numbers, there are numerous types of Christ that shadow forth his person and work. As with all types of Christ, some are more elaborate than others. Under the heading of more elaborate types of Christ, we find the interrelated events recorded in Numbers 27:12-23. There we read –
The Lord said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”  So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey. And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.” And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the Lord directed through Moses.
Broadly speaking, what we see in this passage are the following –
I. Moses fails to uphold the Lord as holy in the eyes of the first generation of Israelites. 
II. The first generation of Israelites, due to their lack of faith, are rejected from entering the promised land. 
III. Moses is succeded by Joshua/Yehoshu’a whose leadership, it is implied, is like that of a Shepherd. 
IV. Joshua is equipped with the Spirit for the task of bringing the second generation of Israelites into the promised land.
To summarize, we see that the first generation of God’s people were under the leadership of Moses, the one through whom came the Law of God, but neither could enter the promised land. Instead of Moses, it would be the Spirit-empowered successor of Moses named Joshua/Yehoshu'a who would lead God’s people into the promised land by means of his Spirit-empowered words/directions, not by means of the Law. Moreover, it is the new Israel, i.e. the second generation of Israelites, who would enter the promised land with Joshua, and not the first generation of Israelites. By separating the unbelieving first generation from the second generation, God was beginning again with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses guided the second generation of Israelites, i.e. the children of the first generation, only up until it was time for him to be succeeded by Joshua/Yehoshu'a.

With these things in mind, let us look a little more closely at how these things point forward to the person and work of Christ.

II. The Elder Rejected, and the Younger Accepted

As early as the book of Genesis, we see that God often chooses the younger over and against the elder. God rejected Cain, but accepted Abel. God did not make his covenant with Ishmael, but he did with Isaac. God loved Jacob, but he hated Esau. Indeed, he chose the nation of Israel over and against the rest of the nations who were more numerous than them (see Deut 7:6-8). And we see this pattern in the New Testament as well. There, Christ teaches us that the last will be first and the first will be last (see Luke 13:22-30). The kingdom of God, he later teaches, will be taken from the natural descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and “given to a people producing its fruits” (see Matt 21:33-46), i.e. the Gentiles.

In Numbers 27:12-23, we see that the first generation of Israelites is rejected by God for their unbelief, whereas the younger generation is not. The initial body of those who received the Law of God, the Word of God, would not inherit the land promised to Abraham’s seed. Rather, the land was taken from them by God and given to the younger generation of Israelites. The first became the last; and the last became the first.

III. Moses’ Inability, and Joshua’s Ability to Bring Israel to Canaan

The first generation and Moses are rejected by God, and in their place we see the second generation and Joshua. Moses played a limited role in the leading of God’s people, giving them the Law, guiding them to the very edge of the promised land, and proclaiming the one who would come to bring God’s people into Canaan. Moses literally pointed to Joshua/Yehoshu'a, the servant of the Lord who was born under the Law, lived empowered by the Holy Spirit, lived a life of faith, saw the land of Canaan as good, and did not doubt that God’s promises would materialize.

Because of Moses’ sin, he was unable to lead the people into Canaan. The only one who was capable of doing this was Joshua/Yehoshu'a.

IV. Joshua the Shepherd

Joshua is represented as one who will shepherd God’s second generation of Israelites into the promised land. God provides Joshua in response to Moses’ prayer, in which he says –
“Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.[Num 27:16-17 (emphasis added)]
The language here points forward to Israel’s plight under king Ahab. In 1 Kings 22:17, the prophet Micaiah, speaking for the Lord, declares – 
“I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd.” (emphasis added)
Whereas the Lord provided the second generation of Israelites with Joshua/Yehoshu'a, he did not do so with the southern kingdom. The people were scattered like sheep without a shepherd, a situation that would remain constant over time, as we learn from the prophet Ezekiel, writing during the Babylonian exile. Ezekiel later declares –
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. 
“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”
[Ezek 34:1-11 (emphasis added)] 
Whereas the Lord had provided Israel with Joshua after Moses prayed for them, and raised up other leaders who shepherded Israel according to God’s commandments, in Ezekiel we are told by the Lord that he will come and shepherd his people, those Israelites who were like sheep without a shepherd.

V. Jesus the Greater Shepherd

Thus, we clearly see the significance of Mark’s description of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, Mark declares,
...saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.[Mark 6:34 (emphasis added)]
Seeing that the people were “harassed and helpless” (Mat 9:36), Christ exercised compassion on them. Like Joshua, Jesus is a Shepherd. However, he is the Greater Shepherd, as he explains in John 10:14-18 & 10:27-30 –
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. 
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.  I and the Father are one.” 
(emphasis added)
Whereas Joshua (Yehoshu’a) could only lead the people externally, Jesus (Yeshu’a) shepherds his people internally as well. Whereas Joshua could not ensure that the people would follow him, Christ clearly declares that his people will hear him and follow him. Whereas Joshua could not say that he and God are one, Christ openly declares himself to be one with the Father.

In Christ, Moses’ prayer for a man to lead Israel finds its ultimate answer. In Christ, Yahweh’s promise to personally come gather his sheep and lead them becomes flesh and blood.

VI. Conclusion

Without denying the historicity of the narrative found in Numbers 27:12-23, we can make out the rough lineaments of the historical events of the New Testament, as well as the person and work of Christ. We see that the Law (Moses) would only function as a tutor up until the time when God would send his shepherd (Joshua) to lead his people into the promised land. We see that those who enter the promised land under the leadership of the shepherd do so by God’s mercy and grace, not by obedience to the Law. And when we take the entirety of the OT into consideration on this matter, we see that Yahweh himself is the Greater Shepherd, the Greater Joshua who would be born under the Law, made like his brethren, and become our salvation, the one who brings us all who have been shown mercy and grace, apart from works, into the greater promised land – the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Old Testament's Revelation of Christ [Pt.6]

by Rudolph P. Boshoff

[Continued from Pts. 1234, & 5]

I. A Holistic Understanding of the Person of Jesus Christ Revealed in the Old Testament

There is a clear indication from the above-mentioned chapters that Jesus was the expected Messiah that was anticipated through prophetic types within the Old Testament text, active within the world through Theophanies, clearly mentioned in the Scriptures. In conclusion, we will show how the Old Testament flows into the New seamlessly.   

II. The Story of God as the Story of Jesus

N.T. Wright (2000:167) calls for the explicit recognition that when we start with the Old Testament Scriptures and ask ourselves what it might look like if God was to become a man, He would very much look like Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Thinking and speaking therefore of God and Jesus in the same breath are not a category mistake, but simply the realized expression of what the Old Testament predicts and foreshadows. Job (19:25-26) looks forward and says:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.” 
John (1:14) the Beloved writes: 
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.
The only truthful expression to this reality of Christ is found later in the same Gospel (John 20:28) when Thomas calls out to Jesus as “My Lord and my God.” [Gr. Ὁ Κύριός μου καὶ ὁ Θεός μου]. Larry Hurtado (2003:53) says the clear accommodation of Jesus as recipient of cultic worship with God is uncontested and was a major development in the practice and belief of the first Christians. 

When Jesus, therefore, affirms Himself to be “the Alpha and Omega” (Rev 22:13) we understand that He is calling on the Old Testament to affirm who He was and is (Isa 41:4, 44:6, & 48:12). The very identity of Christ hinges on the fact that He was the revealed Lord Yahweh from the Old Testament. We can therefore clearly see that the Worship of God is given to Christ (Isa 45:23, Phil 2:10-11) because He reveals the works of God (Joel 2:32, Rom.10:13) and the glory of God (Exod 33:19, John 12:41), being judge as God (Ecc 12:14, Acts 17:31). Jesus has the highest possible position on the throne of God (Dan 4:34-35, Rom 14:10, Ps 110:1, Matt 22:44, Heb 1:3,13) being equal with God (Exod 20:3, 7; Deut 5:7,11; cf. Ps 110:1; Dan 7:13-14; cf. Ezek 1:26-28, Matt 9:3; cf. Mark 2:7 & 14:61-64; John 5:17-18, 8:58-59, 10:27-33, & 19:7). Jesus Christ as Yahweh rules over everything (Isa 44:24; Jer 10:16, 51:19; Matt 11:25-27 & 28:18; Luke 10:21-22; John 3:35, 13:3, & 16:15; Acts 10:36; 1st Cor 15:27-28; Eph 1:22; Phil 2:10 & 3:21; Heb 1:2 & 2:8; Rev 5:13) forever and ever (Ps 9:7 & 45:6; Luke 1:33; Eph 1:19-21; Heb 1:8). 

The first Christian community who looked at the Old Testament and identified the fact that this Jesus Christ was both Lord and God gave this seamless reality. Michael J. Kruger (2017:144) mentions that the first Christian community could affirm on the authority of the Old Testament that there was One God that was the sole creator of heaven and earth and the same God predicted the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ. This Messiah was from the seed of David born from the Virgin Mary and was the creator of all things who came into the world as God in the flesh. To those who believe in Him He would grant salvation because of His suffering and vicarious death, burial, and resurrection. In addition, he will one day return visibly to judge both the living and the dead and reward those who faithfully followed Him.

To understand the central revelation of the Old Testament Scriptures was to identify the person and work of Jesus Christ within the Scripture. There was no other reality evident amongst the first Christian community and to them the coming of Jesus Christ was the ultimate eschatological reality fulfilled in the historical person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, John the Beloved writes:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.
[1st John 1:1-3.]

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