Man Must Be Born from Above; The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up (John 3:12–21)

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

John 3:9–15

In the first part of the conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus speaks of what must be done to Nicodemus. In the second part of the conversation, Jesus speaks of what must be done for Nicodemus. Man must be born from above. The Son of Man must be lifted up. The Spirit must cause regeneration. The Son must accomplish redemption.

The transition from the work of the Spirit in Nicodemus to the work of the Son for Nicodemus happens with Nicodemus’ clumsy question, “How can these things be?” Jesus both rebukes and then answers Nicodemus’ question. 

“You must be born again.”

“How can these things be?”

“The Son of Man must be lifted up.”

The lifting up of the Son of Man is the how behind man’s being born from above. Regeneration is the Spirit’s application of the redemption accomplished by the Son. Because of the dying of the Son of Man, the Spirit makes men alive.

For man’s salvation, man needs the work of Christ for Him, and the work of the Spirit in Him. The Spirit must renew. For the Spirit to renew, the Son must be lifted up. The Son of Man was lifted up. Thus, the Spirit causes men to be born from above. And behind both the sending of the Son to redeem and the sending of the Spirit to renew is the love of the Father.

Here is how Paul spoke of these things in Titus 3:4–7. 

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior [referring to the Father] appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

It Takes More than An Apple (John 3:1–12)

“This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

—John 3:12

What are we to make of Nicodemus’ statement? He says nothing disagreeable. He says much that is true. He seems to be on the right trail. He is different from the other leaders. Yet, at this point, it is not enough.

He addresses Jesus as “Rabbi,” an honorable term for a teacher that means “master.” But compare his use of “Rabbi” to that of Andrew and the disciple who was likely John,  “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (1:38). Andrew and John address Jesus as Rabbi, wishing to be His disciples. Nicodemus does so, as one who believes he is His peer. This can be seen in his next statement.

“We know you are a teacher,” Nicodemus continues. Who is this “we”? The rulers, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The fisherman’s approach to the Savior, having received John’s testimony, expressed humility. Nicodemus however, lets Jesus know that they know. How nice it must have been to have their recognition, as though the brambles said to the tree, “Cousin Oak, we recognize you as a woody plant.”

Further, they know He is “come from God.” He is God-sent. And the reason they know this is, Nicodemus says, is because no one can do the signs that Jesus does unless God is with him. Instead of demanding a sign, as his infuriated colleagues did earlier, this Pharisee say that the signs Jesus is doing, they see them, and they testify that Jesus is “a teacher come from God.”

But when you begin to listen to Jesus’ reply, you sense something is wrong, but what exactly is it? I believe there are basically two things. First, Nicodemus is a man. Pause. Back up. Read this passage again, but beginning with 2:24 and then ignoring helpful, yet intrusive man-manufactured address markers.

“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”

Jesus doesn’t entrust Himself to Nicodemus. Yes, he speak to Him differently than He does the other rulers, Still, He also speaks to Nicodemus differently than He does Andrew or Peter or Philip or Nathanael. Something is wrong. Nicodemus is a man. Jesus knows what is in man. John has given us subtle clues that something is wrong inside Nicodemus. Light may be shining without, but there is still darkness within.

Second, Jesus is more than a man. Nicodemus confesses true things about Jesus, but he doesn’t confess Jesus. John wrote this book so that you might believe, not just select true things about Jesus as you might perceive them, but so that you might perceive the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done and thus believe in Him. John wrote for this purpose and thus the events that He records were for this purpose: so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.

Nicodemus’ statement is really a question. The very question that was put to John the Baptist in 1:19–23. The same question that was essentially put to Jesus when they demanded a sign. “Who are you?” Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as “a teacher come from God.” He fails to recognize Him as the Christ, the Son of God.

Know this, it is not enough to sincerely compliment Jesus with truth. Nicodemus is notably different, but he isn’t different enough. He must be born again. There is a way of complimenting and praising Jesus with truth, that falls flat. Nicodemus’ compliment falls flat, like that of another ruler. “And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone’” (Luke 18:18–19). It does no good for a man to compliment Jesus as a man. You must worship Him as God.

How Believing Can Be Like Questioning (John 2:13–25)

22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

—John 2:22–23 (emphasis mine)

The two scenes of the temple cleansing end with the disciples “remembering” (vv. 17, 22). Their remembering sets up a contrast, not only with what has preceded, but with what is next introduced.

In the first instance, the disciples remembering is set against the sellers and money changers on one side, and the authorities’ questioning on the other. While the sellers are violating Scripture, the disciples come to remember it.

Second, their remembering is set again in contrast again with the authorities questioning and then with the crowds “believing.” The disciples’ remembering was a believing. The crowd’s believing was the kind that would forget. Not all believing is believing. The authorities demand a sign for belief. The crowds believe for a sign. Saving faith is the result of the work of God within a man. It matters not what wonders are done without. Remember Pharaoh?

Some of you question. You don’t believe in Jesus. You are outright opposed to Him. You might be religious. You might believe in God. You believe some good things about Christ. But as to the Scriptures’ central claims, you demand a sign. In some ways, yours is a healthier state, for you know how you stand in relation to the Christ of the Bible. But as creation testifies that there is a God and that you stand under His wrath, so too Scriptures testify that Jesus is the Christ and that there is grace for sinners if you would receive Him.

Do not demand a sign as though you were the authority. Bow before the one with all authority. He has spoken. He has spoken with all authority. He has spoken with a self-authenticating authority by His holy word. Your problem isn’t in your head. It is in your heart. The problem isn’t the absence of information in your mind, but the presence of arrogance in you heart.

Others though, your religion has all the right external markers. You come to the right place—the temple of the living God, the church of God with Christ as her head. You don’t question. You look to Bible and its signs and its wonders. You believe, but alas, you don’t believe. You believe only in the Jesus you want to believe in. Do you not see the same arrogance then lies in your heart? Instead of denying Christ outright, you shape Him how you will. 

For both, I pray you look to the Scriptures now, that you bow under them, that you sit under the Spirit’s teaching, and that you not only learn who Christ is, but that you believe in Christ, that you entrust your soul to Him. 

Who is this Jesus?

He is the zealous Son of the Father. Yes, there is grace in Christ, but know there is also anger, wrath, and judgment. Jesus will not compromise His love of His Father for His love of sinners. You cannot assume His love and redemption. Salvation was purchased by judgment. If you don’t trust in the one who bore judgment, you will bear it yourself. Jesus not only is the bearer of the judgment of God, He is the bringer of the judgment of God.

He is the temple that was destroyed by man, but raised for our salvation. Man in sin slew Him. God in grace raised Him. By His resurrection, the Father declared Jesus to be His Son. The verdict of man didn’t stick. The verdict of God lives eternal. Christ alone is the meeting place of God and man. He is the High Priest. He is the Lamb of God. He is the Temple. Only in Christ may sinners draw near to the Holy God of heaven, and in Christ, they draw near as sons.

He is the Passover Lamb slain for the people of God that judgment might pass over them. He is spotless, precious, perfect sacrifice. He is the substitute. Having no sin of His own, He bore the sin of others.

He is the Life. They destroyed the temple, but He raised it up. The darkness cannot conquer the light. The grave cannot keep Life in its belly. He is the resurrection.

He is the knower of men. He knows you as he knows these men. He knows you as he knew Nathanael. He knows not only who you are, but He knows who you will be, as He knew of Peter. He knows the sin and depravity and wickedness that are in your heart.

If you now know something of the truth of who Christ is, and thus something of the truth of who you are—flee to Him! Follow Him. Do not question. Do not believe in Him as you wish Him to be. Believe in Him as He is, and you will have eternal life.

Don’t Miss the Signs (John 2:1–12)

“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

John 2:11

This is the first of Jesus’ signs. Six more will follow in the “book of signs” (the label scholars affix to chapters 1–12) for a total of seven. Some of those scholars put the tally at only six. They say Jesus’ walking on the waters disqualified since it wasn’t done “publicly.” But as the servants and disciples are the only ones in the know with this first sign, I think this disqualifies their disqualification.

What then is a sign? Signs signify, and the significance of that can be seen in the language that is absent from John. “Signs” as a designation is often coupled with “wonders.” The only use of “wonders” in John is found on the lips of Jesus in 4:48 where He says, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” “Wonders” or “marvels” are that which leave one in awe. Perhaps the most common denominator in the gospels for what we commonly speak of as “miracles” is “mighty works.” While Jesus will refer to His “works” in John, a different word is in play. The single word translated “mighty works” throughout the synoptic gospels conveys power. The “works” Jesus does in John’s gospel, are simply His labor. So in John then, rather than the power or the marvel of His acts being in the forefront, it is their significance. Bruce Milne highlights the distinction well:

“The distinction can be put in this way: for the synoptic writers Jesus’ miracles are actual occasions of the incursion of the kingdom of God. …For John, the miracles, though no less real as historical acts of supernatural power, are more symbolic; they point beyond themselves to Jesus and his significance. Put more succinctly, the synoptic miracles are essentially eschatological, John’s essentially christological.”

But what then is the significance of this sign? Signs like the feeding of the five thousand are easy. Thereafter, Jesus shortly goes on to say, “I am the Bread of Life.” Here we are left hanging to pick up the clues ourselves. One grave danger in searching for significance is that of finding it everywhere, including where it is not. For example, some have made much of “the third day” relating it to the resurrection. I think that’s more than a bit thin. Even so, there are a number of subtle hints at significance as one goes along, and it is as they all pile on that they begin to take on added weight.

This was the first of Jesus’ signs, and I don’t believe it is without significance that it was done at a wedding, that it involved water jars used for Jewish rites of purification, that it involved water being turned to wine, and that it was done quietly so that only a few were in the know. And yet, I don’t think any of those things are especially the focal point. What is the significance of this first sign? It manifests Jesus’ glory (v. 11). Not as that “hour” mentioned in v. 4 will do. Not publicly. But it does manifest soemthing of His glory for the disciples. They see that glory and they believe. What “glory” is it that was manifested? John has already told you of the glory they saw.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. …For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:14, 16–18).

This first sign gets at the same point as every sign we will encounter in this gospel. They all signify this one thing. They all have one singular aim. Including that sign of signs, the hour of Jesus’ glorification when He is lifted up on the cross and raised from the grave. And it is after this eighth and climactic sign that John tells us, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,” (John 20:30–31).

“Come and See!” (John 1:35–51)

Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

—John 1:46

Nathanael seemingly found one word blatantly incongruent with everything else Philip confessed. Nazareth? Some are quick to write off Nathanael’s statement as prejudice, as though Nazareth was some backwater town. Galilee itself was looked down on by her southern brethren dwelling in and around Jerusalem. If Galilee was looked down on by them, was Nazareth was like the Galilee of Galilee? No. I don’t think Nathanael’s statement is one berating Nazareth as unmentionable, but accessing it as unmentioned. Micah 5:2 spoke of the Messiah coming out of Bethlehem, just like David. In John 7 we listen in as the people wrestle with this issue. “When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’” (John 7:40–42). The problem wasn’t that Nazareth was of ill repute, but that Bethlehem was marked.

When your witness meets such a reply, a quite reasonable one on the surface of things, you cannot improve on the answer of Philip, “Come and see.” As John’s testimony was simple, “I am not. He is.”, so too is Phillip’s apologetic: “Come and see.”

Philip doesn’t engage in any complex theological debate. He doesn’t reply with some sophisticated apologetic.  If you are crippled in your witness for thinking you need all the answers, you’re wrong. You only need this one.

Yes, we should, as Peter admonishes us, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15). But, if you have no other answers, you always have this one. “Come and see. Deal with Jesus yourself.” Spurgeon once preached,

“A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best ‘apology’ for the gospel is to let the gospel out. Never mind about defending Deuteronomy or the whole of the Pentateuch; preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Come and see. Step into the cage. It is easy to poke questions at the Lion while you believe He is on the other side of the bars. It is all together another thing to stare into His face. 

I’ve had my hundreds of questions, and I’ve graciously received dozens of answers., but the answers I have received have come not as I stood as some authoritative investigator. They’ve come as I’ve brought them before this same Rabbi. They’ve come not as I stood over the word, but as I bowed under it. And my Lord’s not answering me has assured me of His authority as much as His answering me. I am, we all are, on a need to know basis. I don’t need to know all the answers. I need to know the one with all Authority. And knowing Him, I can call out to others without shame, “Come and see.”

See and Say (John 1:19–34)

“He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23)

John’s witness is easily imitable. It basically consists of two parts, conveniently divided up for us by two days in 1:19–34. The first day of John’s witness (vv. 19–28) is largely negative as John speaks to the official delegation and tells them, “I am not.” The second day of John’s witness (vv. 29–34) is largely positive as John speaks to the crowds and tells them, “He is!” 

“I am not. He is.” That’s it.

John is not the Light. He came to bear witness to the Light. John is not the Christ. He came to bear witness to the Christ. On this first day, John’s answers are short because this delegation is asking John about John when it is Christ he came to expound on. “You keep asking who I am, demonstrating that you’re missing the point of who I am.” Oh saints, that we would learn this lesson. Not the lesson of a holy rudeness when appropriate (that is one we will need to utilize far less often), but the more foundational lesson of being short on self and long on Jesus. We love the question “Who are you?” “Well, let me tell you about me.” No. “Who am I? I am not Jesus. Let me tell you about Him.”

Who is Jesus? He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the word (v. 29). He is the one who was before all, ranks above all, and yet came (v. 30). He is both the Anointed and the Anointer (v. 32–33). He is the Son of God (v. 34).

From one angle, our biggest problem isn’t the lack of knowledge to tell people, “He is!” It is the lack of humility to tell them “We’re not.” It’s not that we think we’re the Christ, but we do like to think we’re something and we’re scared others won’t think we’re something if we tell them we’re not, but Jesus is. Saints, you don’t have to be a great something to testify of Christ. You just need to realize you’re not a great something and that Jesus is.

But, from another angle, because we are big on self, we’re small on Jesus. We know but we don’t know. We need to behold afresh the Lamb of God. We need to see ourselves into saying. If your saying has grown stale, your seeing has grown soft. Look to the Light. Be a light. See Christ as He is, and you will see yourself as you are. You are a sinner. He is the Savior. See this, and you will say.

Wonder of Wonders, Marvel of Marvels (John 1:6–18)

 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

—John 1:14, 16

The incarnation of our Lord is the wonder of all wonders. It is, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “the central miracle” or “the grand miracle” of our faith. “The incarnation is God’s greatest wonder,” writes Mark Jones, “one that no creature could ever have imagined. God himself could not perform a more difficult and glorious work. It has justly been called the miracle of all miracles.” The crucifixion of our Lord is the marvel of grace, but the incarnation of our Lord is the wonder of nature. It is no wonder that our Lord, who has life in Himself, having been crucified and buried, would rise from the grave. The wonder is that He could ever have taken on flesh so that He could be crucified.

If you are not stunned by the enfleshment of the Son, perhaps you have forgotten that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Herman Bavinck doesn’t miss the glorious juxtaposition of verse one with verse fourteen.

“It is completely incomprehensible to us how God can reveal himself and to some extent make himself known in created beings: eternity in time, immensity in space, infinity in the finite, immutability in change, being in becoming, the all, as it were, in that which is nothing. This mystery cannot be comprehended; it can only be gratefully acknowledged. But mystery and self-contradiction are not synonymous.”

Neither does John Murray.

“He came by becoming man, by taking human nature into union with his divine person. The result was that he was both God and man, God in uncurtailed Godhood, in the fulness of divine being and attributes, and man in the integrity of human nature with all its sinless infirmities and limitations, uniting in one person infinitude and finitude, the uncreated and the created. This is the great mystery of history. And since Christianity is the central and commanding fact of history, it is the mystery of Christianity.”

Remaining what He was, He became what He was not. The incarnation is a wonder of addition; not subtraction. His divinity was not humanized. Neither is His humanity divinized. He is truly God and truly man in one person. And thus it is that when He tabernacled among us, we behold in His person, the very glory of the only begotten of the Father. In one sense, the incarnation veils His glory, in another, it reveals it. The incarnation of our Lord doesn’t compromise the divine glory of His person; it communicates it. The two natures remain distinct, yet the human nature serves to manifest to us the divine person.

After Moses plead to see the glory of Yahweh, God explained that no man could see him and live. Even so, God would allow Moses to see a passing by of His glory as He pronounced His name. “The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Exodus 34:6–7a). And the Word is that very Word, that Name, become flesh. “Jesus” is the Father’s clearest annunciation of who our Triune God is to us. He is Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious. His name Jesus, Yeshua, means “Yahweh saves.”

The glory that we may now see in the face of the Word incarnate, is the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. So while the incarnation is indeed the grand miracle of nature, surely J.I. Packer is right to insist, “Here is stated not the fact of the Incarnation only, but also its meaning; the taking of manhood by the Son is set before us in a way which shows us how we should ever view it—not simply as a marvel of nature, but rather as a wonder of grace.” It is the marvel of marvels that the Word became flesh. It is the wonder of wonders why the Word became flesh. Why? So that heavenly waves of grace might crash on our earthly shores. Why? So that heavenly Light might pierce our dark world. Why? To modify a line from Lewis, “The Son of God became a man to [make] men to become sons of God.”

But to do so, the Son would not only need to be born like a man. He must die like one. He must be born to live for their righteousness. He must die to pay for their sins. The brilliant French mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “The Incarnation shows man the greatness of his wretchedness through the greatness of the remedy required.” For our healing, not only must the Word take on flesh, that flesh must be rent. He is the tabernacle. For us to behold the glory, the curtain must be torn. Because His flesh was torn, we may now boldly approach the throne of the Father, knowing that from the rent flesh of Christ flows grace upon grace upon grace.

Your Carry-Through Luggage (John 1:1–5)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

—John 1:1–5 (ESV)

As you prepare to board the gospel of John the pilot hands you a special piece of carry-on luggage necessary for a proper flight. Don’t stow it in the overhead bin. Do not put it under the seat. This carry-on luggage is carry-through luggage. Hold on to it tightly throughout the flight. John’s prologue (1:1–18), especially the first five verses, and supremely the first verse, are your carry-through luggage. The Methodist theologian C.K. Barrett has this travel advice, “John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true, the book is blasphemous.”

When John hails Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” don’t forget that the Lamb is the Word who was in the beginning. When Jesus cleanses the temple, don’t forget that He is the Word who was with God in the beginning. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again, don’t forget that He is the Word who was and is God. When Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well, don’t forget that He is the Word who became flesh.

Carry the beginning with you through to the end. But also, go to the end to carry it with you from the beginning. This gospel, like all the gospels, must be read backwards. You really must read any one of them twice to really have read them once, for they must be read in light of the ending. Martin Kähler, a critical theologian, is famous for his statement concerning Mark’s gospel, which has sense been applied to all of them. They are all of them, in his words, “passion narratives with extended introductions.” The last days of Jesus’ life are roughly the subject of between a quarter and a third of the synoptics. This is amplified in John. The second section of this gospel, beginning in chapter 13, is known as the “book of glory” or the “book of the Passion.” Near half of John’s gospel concerns His last days from the Passover forward.

But it is also at the end of this gospel that John makes explicit his purpose in writing. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31). Do you see all the parallels there with John’s prologue? This book is written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and from the beginning, John wants you to know this critical aspect of that confession:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

The Slaying of Rahab the Sea Dragon (Psalm 89)

O LORD God of hosts, 
     who is mighty as you are, O LORD, 
     with your faithfulness all around you? 
You rule the raging of the sea; 
     when its waves rise, you still them. 
You crushed Rahab like a carcass; 
     you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. 
The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; 
     the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.

—Psalm 89:8–11

The steadfast love and faithfulness of God’s covenant is sure to endure forever because the might of God lies behind it. That might is spoken of here using the most striking of metaphors. In order to grasp it, it may be helpful to take an inventory of all the elements laid before us. We have sea, heaven, and earth, that is, we have creation as a noun. We also have creation as a verb, as an act. And then there is the might of God and the defeat of his enemies. But most uniquely, we have Rahab. The might of God that lies behind his forever steadfast love is that which crushes Rahab. Surely this doesn’t mean crushing a Canaanite woman. What is Rahab here?

Awake, awake, put on strength, 
     O arm of the LORD; 
awake, as in days of old,
     the generations of long ago. 
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, 
     who pierced the dragon? 
Was it not you who dried up the sea, 
     the waters of the great deep, 
who made the depths of the sea a way 
     for the redeemed to pass over?” 

—Isaiah 51:9–10; emphasis mine
“The pillars of heaven tremble 
     and are astounded at his rebuke. 
By his power he stilled the sea; 
     by his understanding he shattered Rahab. 
By his wind the heavens were made fair; 
     his hand pierced the fleeing serpent” 

—Job 26:11–13; emphasis mine

This is very similar to the language used of Leviathan in Psalm 74.

“You divided the sea by your might; 
     you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. 
You crushed the heads of Leviathan; 
     you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. 
You split open springs and brooks; 
     you dried up ever-flowing streams. 
Yours is the day, yours also the night; 
     you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. 
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; 
     you have made summer and winter”

—Psalm 74:13–17

Piecing our clues together, it appears as though Rahab is a sea dragon, as in the Mesopotamian myths; a creature associated with chaos. For example, Marduk is said to have defeated the primordial sea goddess Tiamat and to have made heaven and earth from the rent carcass. Thus it is that some accuse the Bible of appropriating pagan mythology at this point.

But earlier in Isaiah we read this, “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty; therefore I have called her ‘Rahab who sits still’” (Isaiah 30:7; emphasis mine). Rahab is also clearly a nation in Psalm 87:4.

What are we to make of this? Back up. Take in the big story. When God delivered His people from Egypt in covenant faithfulness he did so with signs and wonders, with a mighty arm judging not only Egypt, but her gods (Exodus 12:12). Egypt is likened to a sea monster of chaos and by defeating her, by crushing the serpent’s head, a people are formed and brought into a land of milk and honey.

Listen to Isaiah 59 again: “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?” (emphasis mine). At the Red Sea, Rahab was slain. The serpent crushed. The people of God delivered. The chaos stilled.

And here, all this is being reflected on in reference not to God’s covenant faithfulness to Moses, but to David. And of the King the psalmist will soon say, “I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers” (89:25). Here is anticipated the serpent-crushing Seed of the woman who calms the chaos of the seas cursed with the serpent. One cannot but think of the Anointed One, the Christ, who after rebuking the tempest on the sea of Galilee then rebuked the Gaderene demoniacs so that the demons went into the pigs who then rushed down a steep bank and into the sea and drowned (Matthew 8).

Behold the Christ, the Son of David whose hand is on the seas and whose foot is on the serpent’s head. At the cross, when it seemed the King was forsaken, it was then that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness were most manifest as it was there, that the pierced foot crushed the dragon’s head.

When a Red Light Gets You Further Down the Road (2 Samuel 7:1–29)

“And Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.’”

—2 Samuel 7:3

Why does Nathan so quickly green light David’s implicit proposal? Some might fault Nathan for not telling David that he will seek the word of the Lord on this and get back to him. Perhaps with a proposal as significant as this David should of at least have asked the priest to give Urim or Thummim on this.

Some might say that Nathan approved the project because it was all the rage among the pagan kings to so do. As an expression of their gratitude to the gods who gave them victory, they built them houses of worship. But I don’t think this was what prompted Nathan. I believe two factors led to his thumbs up.

First, there was no wickedness involved. It was a righteous and good request. Too many of us are fearful of failure. We want revelation. We look for it in a feeling. But it isn’t really that we want to please God; it is that we want to be a god. We want to be successful. We don’t want to look foolish. But attempting such daring and good endeavors should be our default posture. Do good things. Trust providence. If your desire is righteous, Yahweh is with you. Do all that is in your heart. And if it fails, well, it really didn’t, for the goal was to work hardily, as to the Lord and not to men. The goal isn’t success. It is glory—God’s glory, not our own.

Second, I’ve little doubt Nathan heard this request and thought of something promised and outlined in the Mosaic Covenant; something very likely long hoped for and now, at this precise moment, earnestly anticipated by those who studied the law.

“But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 12:10–13).

Frequently the Mosaic Covenant speaks of “the place Yahweh your God will chose, to make his name dwell there.” After rest, there was to be an established place of rest for the house of God. Again, this is to happen after Yahweh gives them rest from their enemies. It is this very rest which God will go on to promise to David. David’s proposal is rejected because God has a bigger promise. David is not to build God a house because God will build David a house. David will not build a dwelling for God, God will build a dynasty for David.