Big Promises Stuffed into Little Boxes (Jeremiah 49)

Concerning the Ammonites. 
Thus says the LORD:
“Has Israel no sons? 
     Has he no heir? 
Why then has Milcom dispossessed Gad, 
     and his people settled in its cities? 
Therefore, behold, the days are coming, 
     declares the LORD, 
when I will cause the battle cry to be heard 
     against Rabbah of the Ammonites; 
it shall become a desolate mound, 
     and its villages shall be burned with fire; 
then Israel shall dispossess those who dispossessed him, 
     says the LORD.

—Jeremiah 49:1–2

When unpacking the oracles against the nations (Jeremiah 46–51) it is critical to realize that they come vacuum sealed. Though judgment has been delivered to these nations, it hasn’t been fully unpacked. Jesus adds water to all the Old Testament and in Him, it swells substantially. He fulfills them. In Him, they reach their full. In Him, that fullness is filled to the brim. On the day of His return and forever thereafter I’m certain we will be in awe of how much God packed into so small a space. The oracles against the nations are compressed files. Jesus unzips them. In Jesus we will find that each these bytes communicate terabytes of information.

These oracles do come with fences but the fences are temporary. They are not simply meant to contain a judgment, but communicate the judgment. Note how dissolvable these fences are in Jeremiah 25:15–32, which in the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) serve as the conclusion to the oracles against the nations.

“Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.’ So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the LORD sent me drink it: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his officials, all his people, and all the mixed tribes among them; all the kings of the land of Uz and all the kings of the land of the Philistines (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the sons of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastland across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who cut the corners of their hair; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed tribes who dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, far and near, one after another, and all the kingdoms of the world that are on the face of the earth. And after them the king of Babylon shall drink. ‘Then you shall say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.” And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the LORD of hosts.’ You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them: “The LORD will roar from on high, and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh, and the wicked he will put to the sword, declares the LORD.” Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, disaster is going forth from nation to nation, and a great tempest is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth !” (emphases mine).

While the fences are up, this “all the earth” language is an understandable use of hyperbole, not to exaggerate but to communicate. Still, can’t you also see that these fences will one day come down such that the hyperbole will then be an understatement? When Jesus baptizes the world in the fire of judgment these fences will dissolve. Even so, we look to the past fences to get some idea of the shape of the future. By this, the future doesn’t become hazy, but clear.

For instance, Ammon is indicted for possessing the land Yahweh allotted to Israel. Despite appearances, His people are not without an heir. Though the northern tribes, including Gad, were largely assimilated and absorbed but he alien cultures to which they were driven by Assyria long before this prophecy, this land is not up for grabs. This same indictment is brought against all these nations (cf. Jeremiah 10:25; 12:10–14). So in the judgment of the nations a promise of salvation is being made to God’s people. They will dispossess those who dispossessed them. But who are these heirs? I’m simply going to leave you with some New Testament unpacking and I think you can begin to see all that was tied up in these Old Testament prophecies.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16–17).

“For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:34–35).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5).

See? Big promises. Little boxes.

The Exegetical Systematician: The New Validated the Old

The events of New Testament realization, as noted, afford validity and meaning to the Old Testament. They not only validate and explain; they are the ground and warrant for the revelatory and redemptive events of the Old Testament period. This can be seen in the first redemptive promise (Gen. 3:15). We have a particularly striking illus(ration in Matt. 2:15: ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’. In Hosea 11:1 (cf. Numb. 24:8) this refers to the emancipation of Israel from Egypt. But in Matthew 2:15 it is applied to Christ and it is easy to allege that this is an exaniple of unwarranted application of Old Testament passages to New Testament events particularly characteristic of Matthew. But it is Matthew, as other New Testament writers, who has the perspective of organic relationship and dependence. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt found its validation, basis, and reason in what was fulfilled in Christ. So the calling of Christ out of Egypt has the primacy as archetype, though not historical priority. In other words, the type is derived from the archetype or antitype. Hence not only the propriety but necessity of finding in Hosea 11:1 the archetype that gave warrant to the redemption of Israel from Egypt.

In this perspective, therefore, we must view both Testaments. The unity is one of organic interdependence and derivation. The Old Testament has no meaning except as it is related to the realities that give character to and create the New Testament era as the fulness of time, the consummation of the ages. —John Murray, The Unity of the Old and New Testaments

Graceful Grace (Exodus 17:8–16)

Exodus gracefully testifies to grace—the grace of the gospel. Jesus is seen in the manna, in the Rock, and in the water. Then, you come to a text like this. Exodus remains graceful, but we might get clumsy. Ardent to see grace, we’re ham-fisted in handling God’s Sword.

Some fail to see grace where it is (the Old Testament). Others see it, but in a way that it isn’t there. Certainly of the two errors the latter is the more permissible. It’s going wrong in the right direction, but we’d rather not go wrong at all. We want to see the grace that is gracefully there—the grace as God speaks of it.

Allegory, unless justified, is a cheap and clumsy method. Moses’ upraised hands on the hill anticipate Christ crucified. Aaron and Hur foreshadow the thieves. Joshua speaks of Jesus’ conquest and his chosen men, the disciples. See what I mean? That’s butterfingering the Word. Grace indeed, but most ungraceful in method.

What then to do with the text? Biblical theology. What is Biblical theology? It’s a technical term meaning more than theology that is Biblical. It is an unfortunate term. Perhaps it’s best to contrast it with systematic theology. Systematic theology reads the Bible logically. Now, that is a poor way of putting it as well, for Biblical theology is not illogical. And here I am trying to be graceful. Systematic theology asks, “What does the Bible say about “x”? About God’s sovereignty? About angels? About Jesus’ atonement? And on an on. It looks at the answers and organizes them logically. Biblical theology reads the Bible historically. It reads the Bible as a single unfolding and unified story. These two ways of reading the Bible are not to be pitted against one another, but rather to serve as complements.

What then is the story of the Bible? In a word Graeme Goldsworthy might say, “kingdom.” What is the kingdom of God? His answer: “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” That is a good description of what the kingdom is, but we still need the plot. This is what the kingdom is, but what does it do? At a Saturday meal with his family one might hear Douglas Wilson ask his grandchildren, “What is the point of the whole Bible?” The enthusiastic response, “Kill the dragon, get the girl.” That is what the kingdom does. The serpent sought to kill, steal, and destroy. Having rebelled against God’s rule, man was exiled out of God’s place, estranged, no longer His people. God then promised a serpent-crushing seed of the woman.

From Genesis 3 on we see two seeds. Certainly, Jesus is the seed of the woman, but all united to Him by faith are the seed as well. As decreed by God, these two seeds are at enmity. Cain kills Abel. Genesis goes on to show us a series of genealogies, two seeds placed side by side: Cain and Seth, Ham and Shem, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob.

Who is Amalek? Perhaps a nation already in existence at the time of Abraham (Genesis 14:7). But at that point only the country of the Amalekites is spoken of. Perhaps this is anachronistic, just as we speak of the Incas and America. Further, in Exodus 17 it is peculiar that the Amalekites are spoken of as Amalek. Who is Amalek? The grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:11–16). What glorious things the genealogies are! What a story they tell. Do you remember Isaac’s blessing of Esau?

Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck. —Genesis 27:39–40

Here comes Amalek, raiding the tail (see Deuteronomy 25:17–19) of Israel, seemingly living by his sword. We’re given no motive as to why Amalek attacked, except the ancient one of Genesis 3. The seed of the woman opposed the seed of the serpent.

The kingdom is opposed. The war goes on, and as this text makes clear, this is Yahweh’s war. Israel isn’t wielding God, God is wielding Israel. Amalek will be blotted out. God has formed and redeemed a people. He is leading them to a mountain to receive His rule. He will bring them to His place, but when they arrive, there’ll be enemies, His enemies, which He will conqueror by them. This is the story of the Scriptures, and the climax of this battle, the final victory, the blessing of His people are all ultimately, and gracefully, found in Christ.