Dispensationalism: Literal Interpretation
God's Plan for the Ages – Dispensations Lesson #02
March 28, 2014
"How shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word," Psalm 119:9. "Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin again Thee," Psalm 119:11. "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path," Psalm 119:105. "Jesus prayed to the Father, sanctify them in truth, Thy Word is truth," John 17:17. "For the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever," Isaiah 40:8. Before we get started we will have a few moments of silent prayer. The Scripture teaches that if we regard iniquity in our heart the Lord will not hear us. So we are to make sure that we are in fellowship, which means simply to admit or acknowledge in silent prayer our sin to God the Father and instantly we are forgiven, cleansed of all unrighteousness and restored to fellowship. So we will begin with a few moments of silent prayer then I will open in prayer. Let's pray.
Father, we are so thankful we can come together this evening for the teaching of Your Word. That we can be encouraged by Your Word and also encourage one another by just our presence here, our desire to know Your Word and to know the truth. Father, we pray that as we continue this study related to Your plan for the ages that we might gain hope, encouragement, for the fact that You are moving history in a direction that resolves the problem of evil and will eventually deal completely in a just way with the problem of sin and evil. We pray too that as we come to understand this important teaching that it will help us to understand how important it is as it helps us to understand Your Word more clearly and precisely. We pray this in Christ Name, Amen.
Now last time, which was on a Sunday morning when we began this series. I began to focus on God's Plan for the Ages; and that was really introductory message to give us just a slight overview of major themes that are brought out in dispensationalism. Since then we have had our conference for the Chafer Seminary Conference and the focus on that of course was on Dispensationalism. I had several people comment that at no point during the conference did anybody really put up a chart other than maybe one or two in terms of talking about history and how different people periodize the dispensations. I think it is not uncommon for most people who hear the term dispensation or dispensationalism to immediately get into their mind a picture of a dispensational chart, God's Plan for the Ages; that is something that is familiar to many of us. But one thing that we should understand is that a dispensational chart, the periodization of history in terms of these ages or dispensations isn't the essence of dispensationalism.
In fact, we went through this whole conference and we didn't talk about that; that is really more technically God's plan for the ages or God's timetable or dispensational chart. But dispensationalism is a theological system that has a lot more to it than simply understanding the progression of the ages. I think that a lot of people realize that as we went through the lesson. Dispensationalism is a theological system that develops from a consistent literal interpretation of Scripture. Now, what I mean by that and the way I am emphasizing that is:
1. First of all we have to understand what a theological system is. A theological system is usually a logically organized internally coherent system of theological of theological beliefs related to God, man, sin, salvation, the future, the history of man, the spiritual life; all of these things included together in an organized manner.
A theological system is usually related to certain denominations or Christian groups. For example we have Roman Catholic theology; you have Lutheran theology; you have Baptist theology; you have Reformed theology. Now one of the things we will have to do as we go through this series is to define some of these terms. A lot of people aren't user friendly with the term "Reformed theology". You may be more user friendly with the word Calvinism. Calvinism is the theological beliefs, basically summarizes the theological beliefs that are inherent in most Reformed churches. When you look at the Protestant Reformation you had a reformation that occurred according to nations usually. You had the German Reformation, which produced Lutheranism. In France you had a reformation centered in France and in the French area of Switzerland that was influenced by John Calvin and this became known as Reformed theology. And so you had a number of state churches, such as the Dutch Reformed church; you had the Scottish Reformed church and other Reformed churches. Their belief system was Calvinistic at that particular time.
So when we talk about Reformed theology we are not talking about a particular denomination, but a belief system that characterized Congregational churches, Presbyterian churches, some Independent Baptist churches as well, but that hangs as together as a consistent system of theology. Then you have dispensationalism as a system of theology and dispensationalism is also transdenominational. Lutheran theology is pretty much focused on Lutherans, as well as Baptist or Mennonites are more related to certain denominational distinctives. But dispensationalism is like reformed theology is also transdenominational. What makes dispensationalism distinct from other systems is, as I pointed out in the previous lesson, derived deductively from Scripture.
Now a lot of the other systems will claim that they are derived inductively, but if they are analyzed in detail, they are usually slip in certain a priori deductions that then influence their conclusions. So that part of what they say is inductive, part is deductive because they have a certain commitment to a theological system. A lot of what they may have in their theological system may be biblically correct, but usually what we see in these kinds of systems, since the beginning of the church, is that they brought in or imported into their theology certain philosophical conclusions. For example, in the early church you had starting in the mid-2nd century you had a large influence on Christian theology from Neo-Platonism. And the result of blending conclusions from what was then the popular dominate philosophical system of the day, Neo-Platonism with the Scriptures, you ended up with an allegorical interpretation of Scripture.
So Reform theology is guilty of this; from our opinion they are not consistent in terms of deriving all of their principles from an inductive study of the Scriptures. So this is one thing that makes dispensationalism distinct is that it is a theology that is totally derived from the Scriptures rather than imposing a theological system upon the Scriptures. So just to remind you, in terms of a brief working definition that we have at the beginning, is that dispensationalism is a theological system. Now there are some writers who have identified it more as a philosophy of history, but by saying that it is a theological system, we are emphasizing the fact that it is derived first and foremost from the Scripture and then it impacts or develops for us a view of history. So it is a theological system. I could maybe clarify that by saying to inductively derive from the Scriptures, which understands that God sovereignly governs the history of the human race through a sequence of divinely directed administrations.
See, dispensationalism really focuses the ideas on administration of history rather than the periods of history. These divinely directed administrations are marked by distinctive periods of time as God works out His plan to destroy sin and evil. Now since dispensationalism first became popular in the middle 19th century numerous critics have leveled a variety of unjustified and false charges against dispensationalists. It is almost as if we are everybody's whipping boy. If there is a problem it is because of dispensationalism. If you read certain books that came out during the time of second Gulf War, then there was one in particular by an author named Kevin Phillips, I believe, and he basically accuses Bush II, George W., of being influenced by dispensational theology, which is why he was invading Iraq. Ultimately what he is saying is that we are in the mess we are in because of dispensationalism. I doubt George W. Bush ever heard the word. I am not sure he could pronounce it if he had heard the word.
But that is the problem we have today. People continue to put up these ideas. The same thing was said about Ronald Reagan. They were afraid Ronald Reagan would take us to the brink of World War III because he had read the Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. So the non-conservative left of this country both theologically and politically, especially when they come together, often accuse politicians who are biblically conservative of being influenced by a certain view of eschatology or future things causing them to do the things they do. I do not think that is particularly true. It may have had some minor influence with Reagan, but he is probably the only one.
Dispensationalists have also been called liberals; they have been called modernists; they have been called heretics; and they have been called antinomians. In some cases critics of dispensationalism have used guilt by association tactics and included us in a list of sects or cults including Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and in one particular work we were even associated with Adolph Hitler and Nazism. Dispensationalists have been charged with teaching two different ways of salvation: salvation by the law in the Old Testament (OT); salvation by grace in the New Testament (NT). But anyone who is an objective student of the Bible and an objective student of history will understand that none of these charges are true. No one in the dispensational camp has ever held to any of those positions.
But what is important as we begin this study is to ask the question what is the essence of dispensationalism? And I don't know how true this is; I think Dr. Johnson mentioned this this last week, but I am not sure if it actually was him, but it probably was. He was the only one in a position to know this. The story is that in the early 60s, in 1965, Dr. Charles Ryrie, who was at the time the head of the theology department at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) published a critical book called Dispensationalism Today. During the time that he was writing this, this was a topic of discussion in a faculty meeting at DTS and as he was going into one of these meetings someone asked him the question, 'If you boil it all down what are the essential aspects of dispensationalism; what are the necessary items that must be there?' Dr. Ryrie included those in a section of his book, which he identified as the sine qua non of Dispensationalism, which is a Latin phrase meaning "without which nothing." In other words, he is identifying the key essential elements that make dispensationalism dispensationalism.
So he (Dr. Ryrie) wrote that (the book) in 1965 and his purpose at the time was to present classic dispensational teaching in a positive way in order to correct misunderstanding and allay suspicions about it. This is something that is pretty much characterized any writing on dispensationalism for the last 60 or 75 years. He updated the book in 1995 in order to deal with development since the first edition. I was asked by a couple of different people since the conference if I would put together a list of suggested reading or bibliography on dispensationalism. I did that today so that should be posted up on the Dean Bible Ministries website. In his initial book (Dr. Ryrie) identified three things that were the essential elements of dispensationalism. Now he put these in a slightly different order. I am not quite sure why he did it this way. He put the distinction between God's plan for Israel and God's plan for the church first. But the way he worded the second point was to say that this distinction was the result of literal interpretation. So I have reorganized these according to their logical connection; and that is that we begin with the first view, which is a consistent grammatical historical interpretation of the Bible.
Again and again, if you were at the conference, you heard reference to the fact that dispensationalism is a theological system. It is not a separate system of hermeneutics, a separate system of interpretation. It is just taking the historic plain grammatical historical view of interpretation and applying it consistently in the study of Scripture. Now that is important because some of these other theological systems may affirm literal grammatical interpretation to a point, but especially when they get to prophecy they begin to fudge. And they begin to interpret certain things prophetically in a non literal manner. For example they might say that the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was literal land, but because Israel rejected the Messiah that now refers to heaven.
So now they have taken a literal description of geographical real estate and they have made that a symbolic value to where it relates to heaven. They have done this with a number of things. There are some writers for whom typology is a legitimate form of interpretation of Scripture because there are certain things in the OT that depict NT truth, that depict soteriological truths, such as the lamb, the sacrificial lamb in the OT is a picture of the Lamb of God, the Messiah who takes away the sin of the world. So typology is legitimate. But you will run into some authors at times, and the example that comes to my mind is A. W. Pink. Sometime back in the early 70s when I was in college somebody recommended A. W. Pink, Arthur Pink, to me. Arthur Pink was a hyper-Calvinist as well as someone who was excessively into typology. Everything mentioned in the OT represents something else. He has got this multi-tiered system of interpretation that really goes far beyond the literal meaning of the Text. You will run into that at times. So we emphasize a consistent literal historical grammatical interpretation of the Bible. I will come back and talk about that a little bit more in a minute.
2. Second, as a result of that, we understand that God has a distinct plan for Israel and a distinct plan for the church. That Israel means Israel all through the Scriptures; the church means the church all through the Scriptures. The church does not mean Israel. Israel is not the church in the OT; the church is not Israel in the NT. You don't have a physical Israel in the OT and a spiritual Israel in the NT. Israel is Israel; the church is the church and God has a distinct plan for both peoples throughout history and into the future.
3. The third distinctive is that the overall purpose of God's plan for His Creation is His Glory. Now, once you think about this for a minute, in relation to the study we have had in Romans on Thursday nights. Romans 3:23 we studied the key verse, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." When we studied that I pointed out that the term "the glory of God" was a figure of speech that in some cases is talking about literally His glory, but in many places it, "the glory of God," is put for His entire essence. Now if we think of Romans 3:23, that makes sense because what we are saying is that man cannot live up to the standards of the perfect character of God. It is not just His glory, for many of us it is the radiance of His Being; but it is talking about the essence of His Being.
But then when we look at a passage/statement like this where we are talking about God's glory being the unifying principle of Scripture, if we think of that in terms of His essence, His essential attributes, His character, and then we say that the unifying theme of Scripture is the vindication of His character. Now doesn't that make sense, especially if you think about that in light of the Satanic rebellion and the angelic conflict and Satan's claim that God has not dealt justly with His creatures; how could a loving God send His creatures to the Lake of Fire? How could God in His justice send creatures to an eternity in the Lake of Fire? Some sort of challenge like that. Now that is a theological deduction from Scripture. But some sort of charge like that on the part of Satan is very likely. It helps to explain a number of the issues of Scripture.
So if we understand that the glory of God has to do with the vindication of His essence; then that helps us to understand that. And secondarily, in terms of dispensationalism versus Covenant theology, the overriding principle of Covenant theology for understanding the Bible in history is God's redemptive plan. But redemption only applies to human beings; it does not apply to angelic beings. So within Reformed theology there is a lack of emphasis on doctrines related to the angels, the angelic conflict, and things of that nature. Now that is not as true in the 20th century, but from the early 1500s through the 19th century reformed theologies are virtually silent when it comes to the angelic conflict or when it comes to any kind of discussion of spiritual warfare.
Some years ago a friend of mine who is a pastor from the Houston area asked me a question. He was studying through these areas and he knew that Tommy and I had written a book on spiritual warfare. He commented (the pastor), he said, Robby, why is it that you find so little discussion about spiritual warfare in reformed theologies? And the answer is, after I thought about it for a while, they have limited the purpose of God in history to redemption and redemption doesn't apply to the angelic creation. The angelic creation isn't as significant within their theological framework as it is in ours because it doesn't fit their overall purpose. So they have truncated that.
These are the three essential elements in dispensationalism and what I want to do in this lesson is focus more on the first one, that we believe in a literal historical grammatical interpretation of the Bible. Now I want to ask you a question: If you were going to prove that the Bible should be interpreted literally, how would you go about that? What tactic would you use, let's say in a debate or discussion with someone to show that the Bible should be interpreted according to a consistent literal historical interpretation? I think that there are a number of whys that you could go about that. One of which would be the nature of language and the nature of meaning. But I am thinking, that would be a philosophical argument. But I am thinking just with a purely biblical argument, how would you go about defending a literal consistent interpretation of Scripture? Just think about that.
What do we mean when we say a consistent literal historical grammatical interpretation?
First of all, the concept of literal as defined by Webster's New International Dictionary states, "literal means the natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression…" Expression would cover verbal statements as well. "…following the ordinary and apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical."
Now, when it comes to literal interpretation, dispensationalist believe that the normal everyday use of language includes numerous idioms and figures of speech that are not taken at just surface dictionary meaning of the terms. And we run into those kinds of things all the time in language. Trust me; just go to a foreign country where you have to teach through an interpreter to discover how idiomatic and figurative our language is. We all use a lot of slang terms. We may not even identify them as slang terms, but they are not literal, and just try to communicate through an interpreter who is not adapt to translating American idioms. You are going to run into problems very quickly.
So, the literal doesn't mean wooden. This is what our critics say; that we just want to hold to a wooden, rigid, meaning of language. That is not what we are saying, we are saying that we hold to the use of language in its normal everyday sense and that what we must understand, therefore, is how the original languages of Scripture, the Hebrew and Aramaic in the OT; Greek in the NT, was understood by the man on the street. Now this is important because the man on the street in the NT wasn't speaking Attic Greek or Boasian Greek or any other kind of Classical Greek; he was speaking Koine Greek. Koine means "common Greek." He was speaking the street language. The NT was written in street language, the language of the everyday person. Even though there may have been idioms or expressions that had their roots ultimately in Classical Greek. The man on the street did not know that from anything else; he just used those expressions as they had meaning in the time in which he lived. He didn't need to know anything beyond that.
So the way in which we understand the meaning of these terms and phrases is to examine literature that is written during the same timeframe as the NT. We can gain some insight, usually they are a lot less than what some people might think, from exploring the etymology of a language, the history of the development of words and expressions; and we do that even in English. We can go back and look at word and its derivation and its history, but the key to meaning for a word is how that word is used at the time at the time in which it is written. So when we talk about literal interpretation that meaning historical has to do with interpreting the Scripture in light of the time in which it was written, understanding the language at that time.
For example, in English today we may have an expression when we look at something and we like it we say it is "cool." But what would that mean to somebody that lived in the late 19th century? What would they hear if they heard that expression? What would that mean to them? It would not mean that it was something that was really nice or something that was exceptional, something that was popular or something that we wanted to emulate. It was just something that was not hot. So that would be the literal meaning of the word versus the figurative meaning. But the only way to discover these things is to study how the word is used in its historical environment.
So we are emphasizing that it is literal. It follows the ordinary and normal use of language. Now one of the best overall statements on literal interpretation is one that was formulated by David L. Cooper, which reads as follows: "When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense;" in other words when you read it and God says to Abraham that he is to walk the breadth of the land from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean and down to the River of Egypt, that He is not talking about walking from the Brazos River to the Sabine River and then up to the Red River. That the meaning is exactly what it should be understood; that the Euphrates is the Euphrates, the Mediterranean is the Mediterranean, the Great Sea is the Mediterranean, and the River of Egypt is the Wadi El Arish. So this is what it means by when it makes common sense; it is understood in the way it is written, then we should seek no other sense. We have to look at those literal meanings of those words.
In conclusion then he (David L. Cooper) writes, "…therefore take every word at its primary ordinary usual literal meaning." Notice how many words we have to pile up to make sure we get our point across. An "ordinary usual literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context cause you to change your mind;" in other word, there is something in the Text. Jesus says, 'I am going to speak to you in parables.' Ah, okay, a parable is symbolic language; that this is a story that represents a universal truth. So we are not going to interpret a parable like we would interpret a piece of legal literature. For example, the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, we are going to interpret it (the parable) differently because we know that there is sort of a symbolic representation there. So there has got to be a reason from the Text itself as to why we interpret it in a different fashion.
So, "unless the facts of the immediate context studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths;" so "related passages" means comparing Scripture with Scripture. This is a principle called the 'analogy of Scripture' where we compare Scripture with Scripture; some passages are clear, some passages are a little ambiguous, and we always interpret the ambiguous passages in light of the clear passages. So you compare Scripture with Scripture and also, "in light of axiomatic and fundamental truths;" that is doctrinal truths that are derived exegetically from other passages of Scripture. As these are put together it helps us to interpret other passages. So this is the principle of literal interpretation of the Scripture.
Now in the history of interpretation two dominate ways of interpreting the Scripture have emerged, a consistent literal interpretation, which I have been describing; and an allegorical interpretation. I would see these at the two extreme opposites on a spectrum. Now over the course of the history of the church, not everyone has been consistent in their view. Some are purely allegorical; some are more consistent with a literal interpretation. But many systems of theology are partially literal and partially allegorical. Even in the early church, and by this I am referring to the post apostolic period, the period in the 2nd century from roughly AD 100 to 200, even during that period you see that the dominate view of interpretation was literal, but they weren't very consistent at it. They still had a certain amount of allegory or symbolic interpretation because they weren't thinking in terms of rigorous theology yet. They were more concerned with not being persecuted and not being martyred than they were with developing and in depth systematic theology.
These views, often this spectrum, are what we usually find in Roman Catholicism, which is more heavily allegorical. Lutheran theology has a certain degree of allegory, especially when it comes to prophecy; so does Wesleyan theology, but when you get to some forms of Baptist theology, some forms of Holiness Pentecostal theology, they have a more consistent look; in fact, there are many groups within the Holiness Pentecostal stream that are dispensational and have been heavily influenced by the Scofield Reference Bible and dispensationalism. But the question we should as is, how should we interpret the Bible? How can we prove or how can we demonstrate from the Text that the Bible should be interpreted literally. I suggest that the best way to do that is to see how the Bible interprets itself. Because there are numerous places in the Scripture where there are prophesies given; now the reason I am focusing on prophecy is because that is the issue in the debate between dispensationalism and other systematic theologies. They will be literal to a point, but usually and maybe a little more, but it is in prophecy where they become completely allegorical.
So what we are going to do is look at some prophesies in the OT that were fulfilled. And to see were they fulfilled literally or were they fulfilled in a nonliteral fashion. So turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Kings 13. This is one of my favorite passages to go to. We have studied this before in different series including the Kings series. In 1 Kings 13 we are in the period of OT history known as the Divided Kingdom. The kingdom has just divided in the previous chapter with one of the early tax revolts where the ten tribes of the north revolted against Rehoboam the son of Solomon in the south. So there is a division, God was allowing this as discipline on Israel because of the paganism that was brought in under Solomon. And now he is going to divide the kingdom.
So Jeroboam, the leader of the tax revolt in the north, becomes the first king in the north and he decides to lead the people into apostasy. He recognized that if you are going to have a nation and that nation seeks its foundation in another nation, then you are going to have problems. And by that I mean that he recognized that if they were going to live under the Mosaic Law that his people in the north were constantly going to have to go to Jerusalem to worship. This would not strengthen their independence. They would be dependent upon Jerusalem and so he said, well we are going to change our focal point of worship. He established two alternate sites of worship, one in Bethel and the other in Dan, which is far in the north of Israel.
As a result of this God sent a prophet to challenge Jeroboam and to announce judgment on him. This is where the story begins in 1 Kings 13:1. "Behold a man of God;" this is a prophet sent by God who went from Judah in the south, so his origin is in the kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom is always viewed as apostate because none of their kings were ever viewed as being obedient to God and this started with Jeroboam because every king in the north that followed him followed in his sin. And so they continued in their idolatry. So this is a man of God, a prophet in the south, who goes to Bethel, which is just about 15-18 miles north of Jerusalem. "…went to Bethel by the Word of the LORD, and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense." So we also see that Jeroboam, as a king in the north, is assuming to himself the rights and privileges of the priesthood. So this is just indicating more and more of his apostasy.
And then the prophet is going to announce judgment against Jeroboam, 1 Kings 13:2 "He cried out against the alter by the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus says Yahweh, … behold a child, Josiah by name…; so he is predicting that there will be a future individual named Josiah. This not the kind of general statements you get from reading your horoscope in the newspaper or reading Nostradamus, things that can just be shaped to mean whatever you want them to be. Specific details are given. "Behold a child, Josiah by name, shall be born to the house of David." That is in the other country (kingdom); the other line of kingship. And on you he shall sacrifice the priest of the high places who burn incense on you." So there is going to be a military defeat, at least a partial conquest of the north by a Davidic king in the south, and as a result of that he is going to take the apostate priests that worship in the north, and he will sacrifice them on this altar. "…and bones shall be burned on you." More detail.
1 Kings 13:3 "And he gave…" that is the prophet gave a sign the same day, saying, this is a sign which the LORD has spoken, surely the altar shall split apart and the ashes on it shall be poured out. So this event would indicate that this was what was going to happen. 1 Kings 13:4, now it came to pass that when Jeroboam heard this he cried out against the prophet that he would be arrested and when he reached out with his hand to grab the prophet his hand withered and he couldn't even pull it back. And at the same time that he is reaching out to grab this prophet, and his hand withers, the altar next to him split in two. That is the immediate sign that validates this prophecy.
1 Kings 13:5 "The altar also was split apart…." Now what do you think happened? Does the altar refer to something spiritual that is happening in heaven? Does the altar refer to some sort of spiritual symbol in some future age? No, he is talking about a physical event. His withered hand does not refer to the fact that his spiritual life withered. It is talking about the fact that his literal hand or his literal arm withered; everything about this should be taken literally. The announcement in the prophecy was that the altar would be split apart. That does not have any symbolism. What actually happened? The physical altar split apart. So you see the interpretation, the meaning of the prophecy was literal. It was not symbolic or allegorical.
Now when we go to the fulfillment of the passage we have to turn to 2 Kings 23. The heart of the passage or the prophecy was that a child would be born, a descendent of David, named Josiah, who would sacrifice priests on the high places. Now does that mean that instead of a literal sacrifice that he, well, you know, that might border on human sacrifice and that pagan, so he would not have done that. He's really going to put them off into some sort of cloistered priesthood and they are not going to be able to live outside of that.
The reason I used that example is because in the story of Jephthah in Judges 11:29-40, Jephthah made a rash vow that if God would give him victory over the Ammonites, then when he returned he would sacrifice to God whatever came out of the door of his house to meet him when he came back. When he came back his daughter came running out to greet him and the Scripture says, "He did as he vowed." A lot of evangelicals are squeamish with that and they say he did not really sacrifice her literally. He did not offer her as a burnt offering, which is the phrase he used for a sacrifice, he just dedicated her to God and she lived her life in celibacy, something like a cloistered nunnery or something of that nature.
None of which has anything to do with the literal value of the words in the Text. So we have the same kind of thing here. There is no symbolism or allegory behind the Text here. We have to see what will actually take place. So we turn to 2 Kings 23:15.
In 2 Kings 23:15 we read that Josiah, the king, so we have a literal fulfillment of a young man who is young when he became king and he is going to have a conquest of the north. He is going to seek to extend the worship of the south in to the north. So we read in 2 Kings 23:15 that as he did this he was destroying the high places all around Jerusalem. 2 Kings 23:13 identifies this, that he defiled the high places that were used in Jerusalem, which were on the south by the mount of corruption, which Solomon, king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians…; and it goes on and it says, moreover, the alter that was at Bethel, 2 Kings 23:15. So this is the altar that Jeroboam had established. Where is it located? Literally at Bethel and it is a literal fulfillment of the passage. It is not applying it in some sort of symbolic or allegorical fashion. "The altar that was at Bethel and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, both the altar and the high place he broke down."
2 Kings 23:16, so he (Josiah) goes up to Bethel and he destroyed the altar there and he burned the high place, crushed it to powder and burned the wooden image. As Josiah turned he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. So they had created a graveyard, a cemetery near that altar. And he took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it according to Word of the LORD, which the man of God proclaimed. By associating with that which was dead it defiled or rendered the altar unclean. And so what we see here is that the fulfillment is literal, exactly what was predicted. The fulfillment is not some sort of symbolic or allegorical fulfillment.
Let's look at another example. This is in Ezekiel 26 and it is the prophecy related to the destruction of the city of Tyre. Tyre was located in Phoenicia up near Sidon and controls much of the maritime trade, much of the maritime commerce, and there was a lot of competition between Jerusalem, between Judah and Tyre in the north. Now God is going to pronounce a judgment against Tyre because of her opposition to Israel and because of her idolatry. So we read beginning in Ezekiel 26:2 because Tyre has set against Jerusalem. This is a form of anti-Semitism even though Jerusalem may be under judgment, those who are hostile to Israel, even when she is apostate, are still subject to the judgment of God according to the Abrahamic Covenant.
One of the reasons I wanted to point that out is this it came up during the conference. I want to point that out because there is a certain segment of political belief here; usually it is found within the libertarian strain, where they don't think that Israel is that important today. I have heard this from some people, even in dispensational crowds that, well, the return of Israel to the land isn't that important. They have returned in apostasy; we don't need to bless them. The United States shouldn't have anything to do with Israel because they are an apostate nation and until they return spiritually we don't need to bless them. This is a part of our responsibility. The reality is the Abrahamic Covenant doesn't have a conditional clause in it that if you bless Israel God will bless you; if you bless Israel while they are obedient, then God will bless you; and if you curse Israel when they are disobedient God won't curse you.
Well the principle is that no matter what Israel's condition is, those who bless Israel will be blessed; those who curse her will be cursed. So God is protecting them. So this is an example of a pagan culture (Tyre) that is antagonistic to Israel. So Tyre says, Aha, she is broken, who was the gateway to the peoples, now she is turned over to me, I shall be filled and she is laid waste. And then it (Ezekiel 26:2-4) goes on to say therefore, thus says the LORD GOD, this is the pronouncement against Tyre, behold I am against you, O Tyre and will cause many nations to come against you as the sea causes its waves to come up. This is the general part of the prophecy down to Ezekiel 26:6 and it gets more specific after it. So there are going to be many nations, not just one, but many nations that are responsible for the destruction of Tyre. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre, so the fortifications around Tyre will be taken down. They will break down her towers. I will also scrape her dust from her and make her like the top of a rock.
Now there are two cities of Tyre, one is on the mainland and then there was a small island just off the coast about 1200 feet. Just a little over a kilometer off the coast and both are known as Tyre. So what he is predicting is that everything will be destroyed, everything that is a remnant of Tyre will be scraped off down to the bedrock. Ezekiel 26:5-6, it shall be a place for spreading nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken, says the LORD GOD, it shall become plunder for the nations. Also her daughter villages, that are the various villages that circle like suburbs around Tyre; her daughter villages, which are in the fields, shall be slain by the sword then they shall know that I am the LORD.
Okay, in this slide I have a map of Israel. Here is Jerusalem down here in the south. This area up here is the north of Israel and Galilee. This is the Sea of Galilee. And then north, in what is now modern Lebanon we have the city of Tyre. Sidon is north of Tyre, then Zarephath. This is the area that we are talking about here in Tyre. And after Nebuchadnezzar had defeated Jerusalem, then Nebuchadnezzar headed back north and Nebuchadnezzar attacked Tyre. This is what is covered in the next section of verses in Ezekiel 26:7. Remember, this is prophecy before the events happen. For thus says the LORD GOD, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, with chariots with horseman, and an army with many people. Now how is that fulfilled? Is that fulfilled literally or is that fulfilled figuratively?
Well literally, Nebuchadnezzar with his armies came from the north and they attacked Israel and Judah, Jerusalem, and they attacked Tyre. He will slay with the sword your daughters, villages in the field; that is a repeat of Ezekiel 26:6. So Ezekiel 26:3-6 gives a summary of the destruction of Tyre. It happened over several invasions. The first being Nebuchadnezzar, the final being Alexander the Great. (Ezekiel 26:6-10) Nebuchadnezzar is going to attack, lay up a siege mound, and build a wall against you. He will direct battering rams against your walls with his axes. He will break down your towers. Because of the abundance of his horses the dust will cover you, your walls will shake and the noise of the horseman and the wagons…. This is all describing the siege. So under Nebuchadnezzar there was a siege. So what we see here in these verses is that Nebuchadnezzar will destroy the city of Tyre. That is fulfilled literally.
Many nations would also come against Tyre over the subsequent years from about 605 BC when this initial siege of Tyre took place until the time of Alexander the Great there would be numerous nations that would attack Tyre. He predicts that Tyre would become like the top of a flat rock, totally barren. Fishermen would spread their nets over the site and Tyre would be thrown into the water and never rebuilt. Well what actually took place was that in the 4th century under Alexander the Great, when Alexander came down and came along the coast from the north, he tried to assault of what was left of Tyre on the mainland and everybody on the mainland, knowing he was coming had fled.
This was open water here, about 1200 feet from the mainland to the island, and everybody fled across to the island. And then when Alexander came along he ordered his army to begin to just dig up all the ground, stones, everything that they could find, the rubble from the destruction of the city in earlier times. And everything would be thrown into the sea to build a causeway out to the island. And this is what he did. So they used everything they could, all the topsoil, down to the bedrock, so that original city of Tyre was completely and totally destroyed with all evidence of its prior existence removed and thrown into the water. And today there has been some resettlement there, but for many centuries it was barren and the fishermen would lay out their nets to dry on the bare rock of Tyre. So how is that prophecy fulfilled? Is it figurative or is it literal?
Another quick example is Nineveh. Nineveh we all know was warned by Jonah that if they did not repent God would destroy the city. Well Nineveh repented and turned back to God and God gave them another 200 years before He finally destroyed Nineveh. We are told a few things about Nineveh. We know that it was one of the most significant and popular cities in the ancient world. It was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. It was located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River across from the modern city of Mosel, which is now Iraq. According to Genesis 10 it was originally founded by Nimrod. The ancient city was walled. The wall around the city was three miles long and about a half a mile wide. The overall length of the wall was eight miles. Nineveh responded to Jonah's prophecy warning of their destruction in about 790-780 BC. And then, about 100 years later they reached their Golden Age. The Golden Age of Nineveh was in 663 BC.
But in 612 BC after a two-month siege there was an alliance of Meads, Babylonians, and Scythians that destroyed the city. And what enabled them to destroy the city was that they released part of the city's water supply and they broke the dam that protected the city and so the city was inundated by the Khosr River, which dissolved the sundried bricks of which much of the city was built and this led to the absolute destruction of the ancient city of Nineveh. Now this is how it is depicted in some of the passages of the prophecies. Nahum 1:8 gives the prophecy of the destruction of Nineveh. Nahum 1:8 "But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place." Total destruction. "And darkness will pursue His enemies." There predicts a literal flood; and how is it fulfilled? A literal flood. Nahum 1:9 "Whatever you conspire against the LORD, He will make an utter end of it. Affliction will not rise up a second time." This leads to the complete and final destruction of Nineveh. It was not recovered until the late 19th century.
Nahum 2:6 "The gates of the rivers are opened and the palace is dissolved." This is what happened; the mud bricks just dissolved. It destroyed the city. Nahum 3:10 "Yet she is carried away; she went into captivity; her young children were dashed to pieces at the head of every street and they cast lots for her honorable men." This describes the destruction which took place. Now that is just some of the OT passages, but there are many more that we can think of; how was prophecy fulfilled, literally or figuratively?
Think about passages like these related to the coming of Christ:
Isaiah 7:14 predicted a literal virgin conception and birth. It was fulfilled literally in Matthew 1:18; Matthew 1:24-25. It does not have a figurative allegorical fulfillment. (It had) a literal prophecy (and a) literal fulfillment. The literal prophecy, the literal fulfillment.
Genesis 49:10 predicted that the Messiah would descend in the tribe of Judah. This is clearly identified in Luke 3:23 and Luke 3:33. The Messiah was literally from the tribe of Judah.
Micah 5:2 predicts that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. This is fulfilled in Matthew 2:6; it is a literal prophecy. It is not fulfilled allegorically.
Isaiah 9:1 predicts that the ministry of the Messiah would be in the land of Galilee the tribal areas of Zebulun and Naphtali. This is fulfilled in Matthew 4:12-13 and Matthew 4:17. These names, identifications are not just some sort of spiritual symbol.
Zechariah 9:9 says that the Messiah would enter into Jerusalem on a donkey, a colt, a foal of a donkey. That is fulfilled in Luke 19:35-37.
Isaiah 53:7 describes the opposition to the Messiah and the fact that he would be executed, but that he would go to His execution like a sheep before shearers; He would be silent. This is fulfilled in Matthew 27:13-14.
Isaiah 53:9 He is buried with the rich. This is fulfilled in Matthew 27:57-60. Psalm 16:10 says that His body would not undergo corruption in the grave. That is cited as fulfilled in Acts 2:29-31.
He (Jesus) is betrayed by a familiar friend with whom He shares bread. This was fulfilled in Matthew 26:49 and John 13:18 when Jesus offers the bread to Judas at the Passover meal the night before He went to the cross.
Judas betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver. That was predicted literally 30 pieces of silver. He received the literal 30 pieces of silver in Matthew 26:15 and the prophecy of Zechariah 11:12 fulfilled in Matthew 26:15.
And then Jesus makes a prediction about the destruction of the temple that not one stone would be left upon another, talking about the temple itself, the temple buildings. This is not talking about the Western Wall or Wailing Wall today. That was a restraining wall; it had nothing to do with the temple itself. So this is not talking about that, which is the only thing that remains. That wasn't part of the temple. And this was fulfilled in AD 70.
The point is, how do we answer that question? How would you show somebody that the Bible should be interpreted literally? We go to many examples where within the Bible we have predictions and we can also see how those predictions were fulfilled. They were fulfilled literally. So if prophesies that have been fulfilled were fulfilled literally; then the prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled must also be fulfilled literally. And so that is the basis of how we are to understand the Scripture and we should not bleed over into some sort of allegorical or symbolic interpretation. So that helps us understand the significance of literal interpretation.
I wanted to start with this because as we get further into our study we are going to see the importance of literal interpretation and it is that word consistent that is important for us. That as we look at other aspects of what the Scripture teaches it is interpreting those things consistently on a literal basis that is what distinguishes dispensational theology. But not because it is dispensational; we are not using dispensational theology as the standard for interpretation. The standard for interpretation is a consistent literal interpretation. And the result of that is that it is dispensational. Because it is biblical it is dispensational. Okay, It is not because it is dispensational it is biblical. Okay, because it is biblical it is dispensational; the priority is on the Scripture, not on the theological system.
Father, we thank you for this opportunity to think through these things tonight and be reminded that You have communicated clearly to us through the standard normal use of language. And that by reading Scripture; by understanding it in the normal sense of language we can come to understand Your thinking, Your direction, Your guidance for us and we can come to great comfort in Scripture that no matter how uncertain or chaotic that things may be around us that we can have certainty because You have communicated clearly to us and we can trust that communication. We pray this in Christ's Name, Amen.