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Biblical Righteousness--Part 3

Jul 17, 2009

Saul/Paul was educated in the rabbinical schools of the day after arriving in Jerusalem from Tarsus. In Tarsus earlier, evidence shows in his writings, he had been schooled in Greek philosophy, for his letters (Romans above all) shows his familiarity with the various arguments of the schools of philosophy. But Paul did not derive his gospel from Greek philosophy, as many modern theologians have suggested. In fact, in his letters Paul gives expression to their objections and then answers them firmly from a Hebrew biblical perspective.

In Judea, the overriding question of the day was how to overcome the Romans and regain independence. Their captivity was of great concern to virtually all of them. In observing the school of Hillel, it appears that they must have known the Scriptures better than the school of Shammai. To some degree, these schools of thought represented the good and evil figs on Jeremiah 24.

Jeremiah had been the main prophet called to deliver the final verdict of the divine court (ch. 7) to Jerusalem and the house of Judah. He lists the charges against them in 7:9-11, ending with "Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den [safe haven] of robbers in your sight?" What follows is the divine judgment that God would treat Jerusalem as He had done to Shiloh three centuries earlier. The presence of God had left Shiloh for the corruption of Eli's sons, and on that day Ichabod was born (1 Sam. 4:21). Ichabod means "the glory has departed."

The ark never returned to Shiloh, and Psalm 78 tells us,

(60) So that He abandoned the dwelling place at Shiloh . . . (67) He also rejected the tent of Joseph, and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, (68) but chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved."

Jeremiah thus tells the people of Jerusalem in Jer. 7:12,

"But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel."

So we see that God not only "chose" Shiloh at first, but also placed His name there, yet He ultimately abandoned that place, moved to Jerusalem, and never returned. So also, Jeremiah says, will God do to Jerusalem and to Solomon's temple--"this house, which is called by My name" (7:10).

That was the verdict of the divine court. And by the laws of tribulation in Lev. 26 and Deut. 28, God cast Israel out of the land under an iron yoke (Deut. 28:48) to serve out their sentence in captivity outside the old land. With Judah, however, the prophet gave them opportunity to serve out their sentence within their own borders, much like they had done during the earlier captivities recorded in the book of Judges. The prophet called this a wooden yoke (Jer. 27). However, Jeremiah's nemesis, the prophet Hananiah, took that yoke and broke it, prophesying the soon-coming end of Babylon's threat (28:10, 11).

God then told Jeremiah that the people had rejected the wooden yoke, so the heavier sentence of the iron yoke was decreed (28:13).

(13) Go and speak to Hananiah, saying, "Thus says the Lord, You have broken the yokes of wood, but you have made instead of them yokes of iron."

These two prophets, Jeremiah and Hananiah, represent the two antithetical viewpoints in Judah and Jerusalem, not only in their day but into the first century and even into modern history. To submit to the divine judgment is to admit that God is righteous in His judgments. To reject the verdict of God is to blaspheme His name by declaring that God is unrighteous in His judgments.

This is the issue that defines the good figs and the evil figs in Jeremiah 24. The prophet saw two baskets of figs that had been brought as firstfruits to God in the temple. As a priest, he ate one, and it was delicious. But when he tried to eat from the other basket, he discovered that it was full of rotten figs that could not be eaten. This became an occasion for prophecy, for these figs represented the hearts of two very different types of Judahites.

Jeremiah, along with Daniel and his three friends, were good figs, because they recognized God's verdict that gave the king of Babylon authority to rule the nations as God's servant. But the majority of the people tried to fight the divine verdict, and so they were hauled to Babylon by force against their will.

After 70 years Babylon was overthrown by Persia, and the people of Judah were allowed to return to the old land and to rebuild. This is commonly thought of as the end of the captivity, but technically, it was merely the end of the iron yoke. The people remained under Persian rule in their own land, and this, we can see, was defined by the prophet as the wooden yoke.

After Persia's time was concluded, Alexander the Great conquered Persia and took over as the yokemaster in 332 B.C. After Alexander died, the empire was divided between his four generals, who continued Greek domination. Two of them fought for control of Palestine for the next century. Finally, the Greek-Syrian Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple and attempted to force Epicureanism upon the people (167 B.C.)

God then empowered the people to throw off the wooden yoke of Syria (163 B.C.), and Judea once again became independent.

It is hard for us today to imagine the elation of the people in obtaining independence. It looked as if the succession of beast-empires was concluded. The Kingdom of God would now advance, and surely the Messiah would come. No doubt many thought that the rule of the Judean Maccabees represented the Messianic Kingdom.

But if they had studied the book of Daniel more carefully, they would have realized that the Grecian empire was only the third in a series of beast empires. The great beast with iron teeth in Daniel 7:7 had not yet arrived. Yet since Antiochus Epiphanes appeared to be the "little horn" following the iron beast, it seemed logical that the four generals must have fulfilled this iron beast.

And so, by that faulty view of prophecy, most believed that their independence signaled the end of the age and the rise of the Kingdom. God had vindicated Judah and established it by national resurrection and placed the nation under the rule of the seed of David.

These hopes were dashed precisely one century later (63 B.C.) when the Roman general Pompey took Jerusalem. In 40 B.C. Antigonus took Judea, and Herod fled to Rome. The Senate appointed Herod to be king of Judea, and he returned with an army. In 36 B.C. overthrew Antigonus, the last of the kingly line of David. Antigonus was sent to Rome, where he was beheaded.

This put Judea and Jerusalem firmly under the rule of Rome, via Herod, the vassal king. This, then, was the political climate into which Jesus was born. The taste of independence was yet fresh in their mouths, and it was difficult for them to believe that God's verdict had gone against them in the divine court. And so many "messiahs" came with promises to deliver them. Rome crushed them all and most were crucified. None were divinely vindicated by resurrection.

Then a Messiah came from the ranks of the good figs. When He was crucified in meekness as a lamb to the slaughter, God raised Him from the dead. The righteousness of God vindicated Him and His peaceful method of establishing the Kingdom. Even as Herod was rejected but went to Rome to receive for himself a kingdom, so also Jesus was rejected but went to a far country (heaven) to receive for Himself a Kingdom (Luke 19:12).

The Gospel of the Kingdom is that Jesus is King. Herein is the righteousness (verdict) of God revealed (Rom. 1:17).

This is the final part of a series titled "Biblical Righteousness." To view all parts, click the link below.

Biblical Righteousness

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Category: God's Law
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones