Sunday, May 04, 2008

Moses, Micah and the Cross

I'm preparing to preach on the end of Micah in a month.
So much of the language echoes Moses' song in Exodus 15.

Micah 7v15 - What Micah looks to will like when they came out of Egypt.
Ex 15v14 & Micah 7v17 - The nations tremble.
Ex 15v1 - the horse and his rider thrown into the sea.
Micah 7v19 - sins thrown into the depths of the sea.
Exodus 15v11 & Micah 7v18 - Who is like you God?
Moses looked back and celebrated the victory of God.
Micah however looks forward rather than backwards.
He looks forward in faith to God's salvation.
God says "I will show them marvelous things" (ESV, Micah 7v15).
The world will be shown God's salvation.
They will see his love, righteousness and wrath.
Where? Surely we're to say - Micah's faith is in the direction of the cross, though he doesn't yet know it. He looks ahead to a salvation like, but greater than, the Exodus.

Reading Micah we look ahead with him,. We see at the Cross God's salvation, seeing clearly what he could only believe for. We see the accomplishment of Jesus. The event that will sends out shockwaves to silence the nations and bring them to their knees, just as Micah said. The cross that reveals and secures the grace of God. Grace that does more than throw God's enemies into the depths of the sea (7v19), it can throw our sins there also! Micah sees beyond the unanswered question of how sin can be forgiven, the persistent tension of the Old Testament, and sees the God who will pardon sin (7v17), delight in mercy (7v17), turn aside his anger (7v18) and keep his promises to his people (7v20).

Micah, full of prophetic faith, sees the gobsmacking gospel of the grace of God.

-John Calvert , Matthew Henry, John Calvin


  1. Dave,
    I think it would be more accurate to talk about Micah looking less directly at the cross and more directly at God's rescue and fulfillment of the Davidic covanent. You are rather obliterating some basic hermeneutic rules, by reading into Micah like this.

  2. This is as far as Wood and Marshall are willing to go in the New Bible Dictionary, "Under divine judgment swords would be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks (4:3), and the people of God would honour his name only (4:5). Prominent in the thought of Micah was the expectation of a Messiah to be born in Bethlehem (5:2). This personage would come forth from the common people, delivering them from oppression and injustice and restoring the remainder of the Israelite family to fellowship with the remnant in Zion. Micah was at pains to point out that the saving grace of God could not be earned (6:6–8), either by pretentious sacrificial offerings or by indulgence in elaborate ritual forms of worship. Humility, mercy and justice must be an everyday experience in the life of the person who was to be well-pleasing to God."

    I'm not sure that your passion for the cross, hasn't rather skewed your interpretive responsibility in this case.

  3. Agreed, Micah is looking forward in faith to God's salvation.

    That said, when preaching it I think it's worth me taking the next step to say what that is, rather than leaving it hanging with a generic 'rescue'. The rescue that Micah looks forward to is the cross, though he doesn't know it. To the church this side of the cross we have to ask (don't we): what rescue is that? Is it the cross? Is it something else?

    Granted I would trace out the steps a little more slowly than in this post (i.e. over the course of a 20 minute talk).

    Do we worry about reading Isaiah 53 as the cross -isn't that the same?

  4. We've got to stick to the rules that we expect others to follow.

  5. "Surely we're to say - Micah's faith is in the direction of the cross, though he doesn't yet know it."

    Dave, I reckon that in this statement you protect yourself from claiming Micah saw more than he did, and show that you have taken the issue of authorial intent seriously, without being strangled by it.

    Tom, surely you agree that a Rabbi shouldn't be happy with our preaching from the OT, while affirming that he shouldn't be able to fault our raw exegesis (as isolated from our Christ-centred hermeneutics) of the text?

  6. In Tom's defence, I did edit the post after his comment - though I think I had just about enough room before.

    It's a tough tension to be both true to the original understanding of the text and to bring it through the cross. Not sure any of us consistently doing it well. Where I take this one seems valid, but I'm open to correction.

    I'd rather be too cross-centred than not enough, if I'm going to err anywhere.

  7. I'd be interested to hear Tom's (or anyone else's) answer to Dave's question re Isaiah 53. Might be a good test case to examine what the "rules" of interpretation actually are! ;-)

  8. Hebrews 1 is quite a good little illustration of how you should start trying to develop a biblical approach to using the OT. There are 7 OT quotes in Hebrews 1. 6 are taken to signpost Christ, 1 taken to point towards angels.

    Look them up and it isn't immediately obvious how the 6 point to Jesus.

    I've tried to put them into 3 groups to make it clearer for you to see.

    Use type number 1: - Jewish authors intent (not necessarily universal Jewish assent)
    In some cases Jewish perspectives already regarded them (the OT bits) as Messianic.
    (Psalms 2:7 in Hebrews 1:5a; 2 Samuel 7:14 in Hebrews 1:5b; Psalms 45:6-7 in Hebrews 1:8-9)

    Use type number 2: - General
    God's distinctive action in creation and redemption is linked to Jesus
    (Deuteronomy 32:43 in Hebrews 1:6)

    Use type number 3: - Jesus' precedent.
    Jesus supplies the precedent
    (Psalms 110:1 in Hebrews 1:13 comes from Mark 12:35-37; And perhaps a similar logic is working itself out with Psalms 102:25-27 in Hebrews 1:10-12)

    Simply put:
    We must interpret the OT in the light of the NT.

  9. Hi Tom,

    Yes indeed Heb 1 is very revealing. 6 OT Scriptures and never does the writer say "They *first* referred to David/God/Israel but now we know they refer to Christ." If we are to follow NT exegesis we should not give a first-level non-christocentric meaning to these texts because they *never* do.

    If it isn't "immediately obvious" how those OT Scriptures refer to Christ what should we do?

    a) assign to them a first-level "obvious" non-christocentric meaning and then add a further christocentric one. (The NT never does this)...


    b) reconsider how you read the OT in the first place.

    I take it Isaiah 53 *is* obvious to you as plainly referring to Christ and His cross?

  10. "We must interpret the OT in the light of the NT"

    Which, informed by some OT context, is what I was attempting on two counts:

    1. The forward looking to a salvation like the Exodus which the shape of Mark's gospel, the Out of Egypt language Matthew picks up from Hosea warrant, everything about the passover etc tell me that "the Cross" is where the real Exodus happens. So much so that a Christian can barely (or even can't) read the book of Exodus without the cross in mind. Thus, Moses testifying about Jesus.

    2. That look ahead including Micah's absolute confidence in God doing away with sin, which the NT tells me is only possible through the cross. Any such OT statement is held in the tension of God's forebearance and how it can be that He who takes sin so seriously can throw our sins into the depths of the sea.

    Tom, Glen - please let's keep this going because these are vital questions and I feel like I need some more assistance.

  11. I'm not sure we should entirely go along with:

    "We must interpret the OT in the light of the NT."

    I don't think that the NT argues for this. I think what the NT teaches (and what the faithful always knew) is: "We must interpret the OT in the light of *Christ*"

    The two are not the same.

    Again with Heb 1, the argument is not "I'm using apostolic authority to reinterpret these passages christocentrically." His argument is about something else - the superiority of Christ to angels. It's telling that he simply assumes that his interlocutors will accept that Christ is indeed the Subject of these verses. What he doesn't do is say that those passages require an apostolic gloss. See also Paul with the Bereans - the OT interprets Paul not the other way around. Or Paul with Agrippa "I'm saying nothing beyond what Moses and the Prophets said would happen." (Acts 26:22)

    Jesus and the apostles don't claim to *re*-read the OT they just claim to be giving its obvious meaning. And the meaning they give is christocentric.

    So we must interpret the OT with regards to Christ - but we don't need the NT in order to give us a Christian second meaning. Anyone who simply takes Micah 5 on its own terms is faced with the Ruler-Shepherd whose origins are of old (a divine attribute - Ps 74:12; Hab 1:12) who nonetheless will be born in the town of David, who will do all in the strength, majesty and name of One who He calls God, Who will have universal reign and Who Himself will be our peace. Aint no need for an apostle to tell me what that's about!

  12. Glen, that is helpful. We're going for what was actually originally meant, but which we only see once we see Jesus - without that getting anywhere near being gnostic, but rather Christ gives us the real plain meaning...?

  13. yeah - I think it's a false dichotomy to say "We are interested in authorial intent but *also* christocentricity." And I don't think we solve it by preaching for 20 mins on some alleged sub-Christian original meaning and then tacking on 5 mins at the end on the cross. I think the way to honour authorial intent and the christocentricity which the NT assures us is inherent in the text is to preach Micah as a Christian. A Christian waiting for the Shepherd-Ruler but one who nonetheless focusses his hopes on Him who be his peace.

    I'm curious about the gnostic dangers. What do you think they are?

  14. I guess in terms of people thinking that the 'Christian' meaning of the text is some spooky thing that only super-spiritual people can find... opposed to being what Christians can see plainly - though that would be somewhat hidden from non-Christians reading it.

    I can't really see how to preach the end of Micah without considering him a Christian looking ahead to the cross, and we stand with him - seeing more and so more awed and thankful and humbled by the marvellous things of the gospel.

  15. I see. Yes, that's important. Jesus seems to think you need a certain orientation to Him to read the Scriptures (John 5:39) and to the Power of God (the Spirit? Matt 22:29). Now that did not seem "obvious" to the Pharisees. But neither did Jesus ever excuse their ignorance - "have you never read!!?" etc. Jesus always thought the Scriptures were plain and yet the Pharisees who diligently studied them did not think so. So no it's not spooky, it should be plainly understood. But outsiders still remain totally baffled by it... until they come by God's Power to the One of Whom the Scriptures speak.

  16. Ah, those heady days of Goldsworthy vs Blackham at staff conference. How I wish we could have them back. Not.

  17. Shame to have missed that. Not.

    Debates aside, am I allowed to talk about Jesus when I preach Micah 7?

  18. Sorry, I've gone quiet. I'm still pouring over every post, with books out all around me, trying to tie down more firmly what I think about all this. Also finishing off an MA in the next few days, so loads of work to finish / get in. But, this is really interesting.

    The phrase, "We must interpret the OT in the light of the NT" is actually from a very solid evangelical NT scholar - Craig Blomberg.

    Here is my Yoda answer to Mo's question.
    "Teach the passage Mo."

  19. "Debates aside, am I allowed to talk about Jesus when I preach Micah 7?"

    ;-) That *is* the debate, isn't it?

    Or at least it's "On what *basis* can I speak of Jesus? Can I be true to Micah and preach Christ at one and the same time? Or must Christ be added (on the basis of NT sensus plenior) to an otherwise sub-Christian revelation?

  20. And Tom's last point raises a related issue. Let me put it as a crude and hugely overstated opposition:

    Is it the preachers job to preach Micah or preach Christ from Micah?

    And of course that's not just an OT question. I could equally ask, "Is it the preachers job to preach Luke or to preach Christ from Luke?"

    Again - this isn't the same issue but I think it's circling around these discussions.

  21. Yep.

    If, all scripture is about Christ (say from Jesus' arguments in Luke 24 and John 5)... then

    Then, to preach Luke rightly is to preach Christ from Luke, just as much as preaching Micah is to preach Christ from Micah.

    The question then is how. I'm concluding, as I think my post says - that I can preach Christ, and that I do so by standing with Micah - looking as far as he could see, and then putting that in the context of the OT&NT...

    (reading the OT in light of the OT, OT in light of the NT, NT in light of the OT, NT in light of the NT)

    If I jump out of Micah initially, or even at the end then I'm not really preaching Micah - but equally if I stop my 'Canon' with Micah and don't include what is later revealed them I'm not really preaching Micah either...


  22. "looking as far as [Micah] could see"

    I'm writing some posts at the moment on why I think the sight of OT saints was fixed on Christ.

    I've collected them together here:

  23. See every time I try to walk the cautious path you remind me to be less cautious...

    I guess Moses considered reproach for Christ... Abraham looked to the land that really was Christ...

    The prophets missed something (Luke 10) in that they still longed to see... but maybe that's just the fulfillment of their faith that was lacking? Like Paul making up for what was lacking in Christ's sufferings (only their representation to the churches)....

  24. I think they (OT authors) knew a lot more than we might think.

    And that's not because I want to read back into their words things that just aren't, by any stretch of the imagination, there at all. That's because the bible is one story, and they're in it, and their story was always heading in the direction of Christ.

    But at the same time I think we can see a lot more than they saw. Though what we can see is organically related and integrally joined to what they saw (rather than by way of antithesis/ completely new thing).

    And that's not to do with a commitment to some wooden (modernistic? liberal? historically-skewed?) version of authorial intent. It's to do with recognising where you stand in the story.

    Same story, different stages.

  25. Yeah, Moses weighs it up: Egypt or Christ? Christ! And he gets Christ because Jesus is the One who delivered Israel from Egypt (Jude 5) and He was the spiritual Rock that accompanied them (1 Cor 10:4) and so we should not reject Christ as they did (1 Cor 10:9). And Abraham met Jesus (John 8:54-56) and Isaiah saw Jesus' glory and spoke about Him (John 12:40-41).

    No-one can retrospectively award to Isaiah a vision of Christ. If John says he saw Jesus and wrote about *Him* then that's who Isaiah saw and that's who Isaiah wrote about.

    If you must talk about progression etc then I'd say it's surely not progression *to* Christ. Faith in things other than Christ does not evolve into faith in Christ. I don't think our systematics nor the NT verses above should allow us to say that.

    I also think Luther, Calvin, Owen and Edwards agree - the Person of Christ is always the conscious object of saving faith:

    Whatever other development happens progresses *from* that Rock.