“From Dust You Shall Arise”: Resurrection Hope in the Old Testament

I had the honor of contributing an article to the latest edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT 18.4 [2014]). The journal focused this issue on “resurrection,” and just in time for Passion Week drawing nigh.

I wrote on resurrection hope in the Old Testament: “From Dust You Shall Arise” (pp. 9-29 of the journal).

 

Are the Psalms Randomly Ordered?

“There is almost a sense among some Christians—and among some scholars—that someone took 150 scraps of paper, numbered them 1 through 150, put them in a bowl, threw them in the air, and, however they landed, this is how the current order and arrangement of the book of Psalms was determined. It’s an absurd notion, of course, but it is not that far from the de facto manner in which many people approach the book, simply as a collection of unrelated psalms that happened to arrive for us in a rather haphazard arrangement. . . . There are signs that the Psalter is more than simply a random collection of unrelated psalms, that there is an intentional order and arrangement of the Psalter.”

–David M. Howard Jr., “Divine and Human Kingship,” in The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul, ed. Andrew J. Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2013), 198.

“Depart from Me, You Workers of Lawlessness”: The Use of Psalm 6:8 in Matthew 7:23

The Sermon on the Mount constantly uses the Old Testament, either by allusion or quotation, so the use of a psalm in Matthew 7:23 is no surprise: “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”

The scene is judgment day (Matt 7:22), and Jesus is refusing kingdom entrance to those who had a mere confession (7:21) without a heart-life commitment to him. In reply to their protest (7:22), he dons the words of David. The genealogy and birth account in Matthew 1 show that Jesus is the true and greater David who will lead his people from exile and rule in righteousness. In Matthew 2, the wise men seek him in Bethlehem, the very town where David had been born (2:2-6). We might expect that Jesus would give David’s words (particularly in the Psalms) their greatest, fullest significance and application.

As Jesus nears the end of the Sermon on the Mount, he quotes a Davidic psalm and evokes its context. In Psalm 6:8, David wrote, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil.” Psalm 6 was a prayer that God would be gracious to David, and near the end it shows confidence that God’s enemies will be ashamed. The prayer is for vindication. “How long” until deliverance? (6:3-4)? Then the good news is welcomed: David’s prayer is heard (6:9)! David is vindicated! His enemies must flee!

Jesus, the long-awaited Davidic king who will reign forever, has an eschatological role in Matthew 7:23. He is exiling unbelievers from the kingdom’s gate, saying, “Depart from me.” He calls them “workers of lawlessness,” using the same phrase as the LXX of Psalm 6:9 (6:8 Eng.). God’s enemies on judgment day will face the shame of eternal exile and divine rejection. To reject the Son is to align yourself against his Father.

Jesus is the Davidic King, and on the day of final judgment he will not be speechless. He will speak with sovereign and final authority, and any who contend shall do so in vain.

N. T. Wright on the Ancient Modern Secular Worldview

How “modern” is our modern and prevalent secular worldview? In The Case for the Psalms, N. T. Wright says it’s not very modern at all:

The main difference between the worldview of the first Christians and the worldview of most modern Western persons has nothing to do with “ancient” and “modern.” It has almost nothing to do, except at a tangent, with the development of modern science. The main difference is that the first Christians, being first-century Jews who believed that Israel’s God had fulfilled his ancient promises in Jesus of Nazareth, were what I and others call “creational monotheists”….The ancient Jews who shaped this belief in creational monotheism, and the early Christians who developed it in this startling new way, were doing so in a world of many philosophies and worldviews (17).

What kinds of ancient worldviews is Wright referring to? Ones like Epicureanism. The philosophy…proposed that the world was not created by a god or the gods and that if such beings existed, they were remote from the world of humans. Our world and our own lives were simply part of an ongoing self-developing cosmos in which change, development, decay, and death itself operated entirely under their own steam. At a stroke, this philosophy offered liberation from any fear of the gods or of what terrors might be in store for people after their deaths. But by the same stroke, it cut off any long-term or ultimate hope. At a popular level, the message was this: shrug your shoulders and enjoy life as best you can. Sounds familiar? This is the philosophy that our modern Western world has largely adopted as the norm (17-18).

The problem with twenty-first century secularists, then, is not their rejection of the Bible’s ancient worldview for an embrace of a new and fresh and enlightened way of seeing reality. Epicureanism is an ancient worldview as well, but it has been retrieved in Western modernity as though it were a new thing (19).

There’s nothing new under the sun.

The important news in all this? Creational and covenantal monotheism is likewise both ancient and modern, rooted in God’s covenant with Abraham as described in the book of Genesis, elaborated in the great covenantal writings of the first five books of the Bible, developed in the traditions we find throughout the Old Testament, and still thriving where the followers of Jesus learn to pray and live his Psalm-soaked gospel….The biblical worldview, I will suggest, is both far more ancient than Epicureanism and also far more up-to-date (19-20).

Psalm 24, Part 6/10: “The Justified Generation of Seekers”

In this Davidic psalm, God’s ownership over all creation is established in the opening verses (24:1-2), and then the question of who can ascend to meet with God is asked (24:3).  Those who worship and fellowship with God are those who trust him with their hearts and obey him with their lives (24:4).  Such faith is counted as righteousness, which is the blessing of justification (24:5).

David then describes those who receive salvation from God:

24:6
“Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob”

David had previously written that God looked down from heaven to see if there were any who sought him (Psalm 14:2), but, tragically, everyone had turned aside to his own way (14:3).  Paul quotes this same psalm in Romans 3:11 to argue that no one seeks God on their own.  In our fallenness, apart from God’s Spirit, we go the way of destruction.

But now David describes seekers, people “who seek the face of the God of Jacob.”  These people have trusted in God rather than idols (Psalm 24:4), so God has saved them by counting their faith as righteousness.  These people (the saved) now become the seekers.  They are the justified generation.

The unsaved don’t seek the face of God.  The unsaved spit in his face, mock his name, exchange his glory for idolatry, and embrace lies rather than truth.

Those with the status of righteousness have been freed from their blindness.  Those in the right now seek what is right, namely, God.

Psalm 24, Part 5/10: “The Blessing of Righteousness”

After declaring that God is the owner and maker of creation (Psalm 24:1-2), David addressed the question of who can meet with God for worship (Psalm 24:3).  Only the person who entrusts himself to God can be assured of fellowship with him.

Of the person who trusts Yahweh, David says:

24:5
“He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation”

The parallelism identifies the “blessing” as “righteousness.”  David is describing justification!  In Psalm 24:4, the sinner believes in God instead of idols, so God counts his faith as righteousness.

God is called the God “of his salvation,” and he alone rightly fits such a phrase.  As the God who saves, he gives what only he can give–righteousness.  In fact, to receive righteousness from the God of salvation is to receive salvation.

Because our sin separates us from the holy Creator God whom we should worship, righteousness is what we need.  And since sinful man could never earn such righteousness through futile moral striving, the declaration of righteousness is a gift we receive.  Grace!

Those who trust in God don’t wait until the last day to be declared right with him.   “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  Now.

Psalm 24, Part 4/10: “Trust and Obey”

In this fourth installment of our walk through Psalm 24, we arrive at v. 4.  David has just posed the question of who can abide in the presence of God and offer true worship (v. 3).  Now David gives the answer to this burning question.

24:4
“He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully”

Let’s observe that David gives two positive phrases followed by two negative phrases.  The worshiper of Yahweh, then, has things that are true about him, as well as things that can’t be attributed to him.

Furthermore, let’s note an interesting outer/inner arrangement of these requirements.  Hands come first, then the heart, then the soul, and finally the mouth (which is used to “swear deceitfully”).  The pattern is like this:

                                    OUTER:      Hands
                                         INNER:             Heart
                                         INNER:             Soul
                                    OUTER:      Mouth 

The center of this arrangement indicates David’s emphasis: the inward disposition of the person matters most.  Yahweh rejects vain worship, which is worship offered when the heart is far from him (Matthew 15:8-9).

Outward acts of obedience honor God when they overflow from a heart that trusts him.  To “not lift up” one’s soul to “what is false” means to reject idolatry and entrust one’s soul to the only true God.  Belief in Yahweh results in obedience to him.

The requirements of clean hands and truthful mouths refer to relations with one’s neighbor.  Clean hands are innocent of wrongdoing toward others, and a truthful mouth refers to someone who has not deceived his neighbor or broken an oath.

Now consider the fact that both trusting God rather than idols and maintaining honest relations with others refer to the Law of Moses represented by the Ten Commandments.  Right relations with God and neighbor are, in fact, how Jesus summarized the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:36-40).

What, in essence, are the requirements cited by David for the one who goes before God?  God receives those who keep his law, those who trust him with their heart and then demonstrate their faith with obedience.

But here’s the reality: we have all broken God’s law.  We have often given our hearts to created things and thus are guilty of idolatry.  And we have treated others with dishonesty and disdain.  In the mirror of God’s law, our hearts aren’t pure and our hands aren’t clean.  We are guilty, corrupt, condemnable.

If we come to God on any merit of our own, we fall short of his glory and cannot stand in his presence.  He is holy, but we are not.  Our faith frequently falters, and our flesh is weak.

The meaning of Psalm 24:4 is not ultimately fulfilled in us.  Only one Person in history could go before God with clean hands and a pure heart, Someone who never committed idolatry and who always acted with purity and integrity toward others.  Only one Person has ever ascended the hill of Yahweh and boldly entered the holy place on the basis of his own merits.

But more on Him later.