Four Branches – January 2021

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Exegetical Theology: The Valley of Dry Bones – Part 2

Spiritual life comes through faith in the promises and grace of God. Commentators point out that spiritual life is one aspect of the life God promises in Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones.[1] In this article, we will see that the promises and grace of God run throughout this vision.

In this vision we see that the Word of God is a means of grace. In verse 4, Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy (הִנָּבֵא). He is told to prophesy a second time in verse 9. Both times, Ezekiel says that he prophesied as he was commanded (37:7, 10). He tells the dry bones to “hear the word (דְּבַר) of the LORD” (37:4). The power of the Word is shown in the fact that while Ezekiel is prophesying, the bones start coming together.[2] The Hebrew phrase for “as I was prophesying” (v. 7, NIV) is כְּהִנָּבְאִי. The phrase contains an infinitive construct of נבא with a 1st person singular suffix.[3] The כְּ attached to the front of the phrase can indicate time (“when I was prophesying”).[4]

The content of Ezekiel’s prophecy contains promises of God. The promises are expressed in verses 5 and 6 by a participle (מֵבִיא) followed by vav-consecutive perfects.[5] This construction (participle followed by vav-consecutive perfects) occurs again in the interpretation of the vision. In verse 12, God says, “I am going to open (פֹתֵַח) your graves and bring you up (וְהַעֳלֵיתִי) from them; I will bring you back (וְהֵבֵאתִי) to the land of Israel” (NIV). In Ezekiel 37:1-14, God’s promises give life to a despairing people (v. 11).[6]

In this vision we also see God’s grace. The bones were dry, but in grace, God promised to give them life again. Verse 11 contains the people’s lament. Verse 12 starts with the word לָכֵן (“Therefore,” NIV). God responded to the despair of his people by promising to bring them up from their graves (37:12).[7] We also see God’s grace in the fact that he calls them “my people” (עַמִּי, v. 12, 13).[8] In verse 14, God promises to give them his Spirit (37:14). The Holy Spirit gives spiritual life through the promises and grace of God. The vision of the Valley of Dry Bones is filled with his promises and grace. May God continue to give us spiritual life through faith in his promises and grace!

[1] Iain Duguid, Ezekiel, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 430-433; Daniel Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 382; Keith Bernard Kuschel, Ezekiel, People’s Bible, 2nd Edition (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1999), 219-220; Horace Hummel, Ezekiel 21-48, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2007), 1082; John Jeske, “The March of Prophecy,” (WLS Online Essay File), 15.

[2] Cf. Block, Ezekiel Chapters 25-48, 376.

[3] Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, 13th Printing (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010), 612.

[4] BDB כְּ 3b, p. 454.

[5] Gesenius-Kautzsch-Cowley, Gesenius‘ Hebrew Grammar (Oxford: Clarendon, 1910), paragraph 112t; Paul Joüon – T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2006), paragraph 119. I owe my recognition of this construction to the recent Summer Hebrew Institute through Martin Luther College.

[6] Kuschel, Ezekiel, 217; Duguid, Ezekiel, 382-383.

[7] C. F. Keil, in Keil-Delitzsch (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, reprint), 119.

[8] Cf. Block, Ezekiel Chapters 25-48, 382.

For Further Reading:

Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Duguid, Iain. Ezekiel. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.

Hummel, Horace. Ezekiel 21 – 48. Concordia Commentary. St. Louis: Concordia, 2007.

Kuschel, Keith Bernard. Ezekiel. The People’s Bible. 2nd Edition. Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1999.

Daniel Waldschmidt serves as pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Burlington, WI.

Systematic Theology: PROPHETIC PRINCIPLES Part 2: Direct Prophecies

In connection with NIV’s 2011 update, there was a considerable amount of discussion on the hermeneutical principles of translation. Professor John Brug wrote and presented on a number of topics in this arena, including, “Principles of Bible Translation – Applied to Prophecy.” In the article he reviews how a translation should handle prophecies, especially those that are directly pointing to Christ.

Brug notes that confessional Lutheranism has not always been consistent with its approach to different types of prophecies and notes some concerns with how both the Concordia Self-Study Bible and the Lutheran Study Bible identified direct prophecies. To help identify direct prophecies, he offered the following principles.

Principle #1: A prophecy is direct if the New Testament says it is direct.

Principle #2: A prophecy is direct if divine attributes and actions are attributed to the subject of the prophecy. Such idioms cannot be dismissed as hyperbole.

Principle #3: A prophecy is probably direct if there are no corresponding types visible in the experience of the prophet.

Principle #4: If he is going to classify a prophecy as typical, the interpreter should be able to identify a type to which the prophecy is pointing.

Principle #5: Prophecies which contain elements that cannot apply to Christ, for example, the presumptuous prophet in Deuteronomy 18:20 or the disobedient son in 2 Samuel 7:14 include imperfect types as well as the perfect fulfillment.

Professor Brug’s article covers a wide range of other factors when dealing with the translation of prophecies, all of which applies directly to the way you handle your sermon preparation in the Old Testament and the way you instruct your people about these incredible predictions of Christ. Take a look at it yourself HERE. Doctor Brug notes this about the importance of direct Messianic prophecy for your life right now:

“Messianic prophecies are a great treasure for the church. They have great value as a testimony to Christ. Only the four Gospels surpass Psalms and Isaiah as sources of information about the feelings, words, and deeds of Christ while he was on earth, carrying out his work as our Savior. The Messianic prophecies were a source of strength and encouragement for Old Testament believers, and they remain the same for us today.”

Matthew Frey serves Living Word Lutheran Church in Montrose, CO, and as chairman of the Colorado District Mission Board.

Historical Theology: Church Visitations

In our minds, we may associate church visitations with the days of the Reformation, but the practice goes back much further in history. Already in the fifth century, both bishops and secular authorities began sending official visitors to the local parishes under their jurisdiction for the purpose of inspecting, encouraging, and admonishing if necessary.[1]

So when Luther encouraged the practice in his 1520 treatise To the Christian Nobility and exhorted Elector John the Steadfast to authorize a visitation of the parishes in Saxony, he was not making a novel suggestion. He was recommending a practice that the church had already been using for centuries.

When those visitations took place from 1528 to 1531, they revealed some troubling situations. Because visitors often left detailed records of their work, historians can still examine what they had to say. Many parishioners had little connection to the means of grace. Church buildings and property were often in disrepair. Pastors were often not educated, paid, or carrying out anything that resembled the work of the ministry. Some had opened taverns to support themselves.

Visitors exercised the authority to work at correcting these issues. On the one hand, the Lord no doubt used these visitations to effect positive change. On the other hand, the work, as in every age, was never complete.

Visitations continued during the Reformation and the Age of Orthodoxy. Martin Chemnitz, who served as Superintendent of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, was responsible for such visitations. In his Church Order, he offers a comprehensive guide for visitors to use, complete with questions to ask of pastors, teachers at parish schools, and the laypeople whom they would interview during their time with them.[2]

A brief perusal of those questions reveals something rather interesting: the visitation guide that we can safely presume was suitable for the sixteenth century is in many cases just as suitable for the twenty-first. It asks pastors to consider things like their sermon preparation and study habits, their visitations and calls, their faithfulness in keeping accurate congregational records. It asks congregations to consider the education of their youth, the allocation of congregational finances, and the state of their sanctuary.

The polity and structure of our church body today means we don’t have such formal visitations to the scale or scope of sixteenth-century Germany.  At the same time, however, especially as we enter a new year and many are thinking of planning and goal setting, the ancient practice of church visitations can still speak to us.

For some, it may be a good time to consider a formal process of ministry review, such as that offered by our CMSG. For others, it may be something simpler, perhaps just perusing Chemnitz’s visitation questions. Wherever you and your congregation find yourselves on that spectrum, God bless your ministry in the new year!

Jacob Behnken serves as pastor of Good Shepherd in Midland, MI.

[1] For a more in-depth discussion, see Carlos M.N. Eire, Reformations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 600-603.

[2] Martin Chemnitz, Church Order, Chemnitz’s Works Volume 9 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015), 170-174.

Practical Theology: Ministering to the Suffering  – Trauma

It began as a friendly conversation between neighbors. It ended with a somber reminder of trauma’s impact on my neighbor. My neighbor commented on how it brought him joy to watch our children playing happily in the yard. I asked, “Do you have any children or grandchildren?” His smile faded into a frown. “No, I served as a medic in Vietnam. Seeing what I saw and experiencing what I experienced, there’s no way I would ever bring a child into this world.”

Trauma and the results of traumatic experiences are a powerful weapon in Satan’s arsenal. Scarred souls fill VA hospitals, everyday neighborhoods, and even our own churches reminding us of trauma’s impact. Individuals who survived or witnessed the “nightmares” of war, violence, accident, or near-death, often struggle long afterward. They relive the pain in nightmares or flashbacks. Their hearts flood and often drown in seas of anxiety, fear, helplessness, shame, disgust, guilt, anger, or all of the above. They might isolate. They might turn to anything to cope or to nothing because they see no hope.

To put it another way, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is like taking a nearby hit from a mortar shell. It leaves a person in shock. It causes the mental ground he stands upon to cave in—never to return. On the basis of our experiences, we have come to believe that life will go a certain way. If we see that belief crumble, we begin to wonder what other of our beliefs are an illusion. Close friends should not die in our arms. Our wife should not lie in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. Our little girl should not be raped and butchered—not in a sane world, not with a just God!” [1]

When one body part suffers, the whole body suffers. Remember, the aim of this series of articles is to call attention to examples of suffering we might find among fellow members in the body of Christ and then offer one encouragement and resource for ministering to these suffering souls.

An Encouragement – PTG! The stress of trauma is well documented and requires loving burden-bearing on our part. Be there and actively listen to the wounded soul. But post traumatic growth (PTG) can come in the aftermath of hardship too. When you bring Christ and his Word into the darkest situations, blessings abound. Carefully and confidently encourage wounded souls in the hope Christ brings and encourage them with the growth Christ brings.

A Resource – This article spoke about trauma broadly and highlighted PTSD specifically. To learn more about PTSD and how to minister to those with PTSD, read this excellent resource by Rev. Paul C. Ziemer, WELS National Chaplain to the Military. You can access “A Pastor Looks at PTSD” here.

Joel Russow serves Faith Lutheran Church in Tallahassee, FL

[1] Source: Paul C. Ziemer, A Pastor Looks at PTSD: IEDS on the Road of Faith, 28 (2015).