Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Significance of Jesus Walking on Water in John 6:16–21

The incident involving Jesus walking on water is the fifth of the seven signs recorded in detail by John in John 2–12. It is set in the evening after the feeding of the 5,000 recorded in John 6:1–15. Like the fourth sign, its timing is significant. Jesus’ encounter with the Jews in Jerusalem recorded in John 5 had raised the following questions: Is Jesus the prophet like Moses (something implied in the argument of John 5:45–47); and is he equal with God (John 5:18)? It is very significant, therefore, that Jesus is shown to have the power to walk on water, since walking on water is considered in the Old Testament to be uniquely an activity of God. By walking on water, Jesus thus showed himself to be divine and also greater than Moses. Moses after all had to wait until God made dry land appear before he could lead Israel across the sea at the time of the exodus, whereas Jesus had no such need. Jesus’ divinity can not only be seen in the fact of his walking on water, but also via his I am statement, and through the detail of the immediate arrival of the boat at its destination.

Summarizing the immediate events leading up to Jesus’walking on water, Jesus’ disciples had gotten into a boat to travel from the south-eastern area of the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, a journey of some 10–15 km (John 6:17). A strong wind had been blowing, and when the disciples had reached to about halfway across the lake, they observed Jesus walking on the sea and approaching the boat (John 6:18–19). Jesus walking on the water is a theologically significant activity. It is a clear sign of Jesus’ deity. According to Old Testament teaching, only God has power over the sea (e.g., Gen 1:6–7, 9; Exod 14:21; 15:8; Job 26:12; 41:31; Ps 33:7; 74:13; 95:5; 104:6–7; 107:25, 29; Isa 51:15). God is exalted above the sea (Ps 93:3–4; 104:3). Job 9:8 teaches that God “treads upon the waves of the sea” (see also Isa 43:16; Ps 77:19). The sea is also a symbol of the forces of chaos (Gen 1:2; Ps 88:9–10; Isa 51:9–10; Dan 7:2–3; Rev 13:1; 21:1). Sinking into water is also an Old Testament metaphor for death (Ps 69:14–15). By walking on water, Jesus proved that he is divine, and that he has power over the forces of chaos and death. This sign, therefore, gives clear evidence to prove that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, with power and authority equal with the Father (contra the attitude of the Jews in 5:18).

Jesus walking on the water and approaching the boat initially only provoked fear in the disciples; but responding to this fear, Jesus said, “It is I. Do not be afraid” (John 6:20). Both clauses in Jesus’ response are significant. The clause translated as it is I literally reads as I am (ἐγώ εἰμι) in the original Greek. The expression ἐγώ εἰμι often functions in Greek as the equivalent of the English it is I or it is me. Nevertheless, in a context which stresses Jesus’ deity, we are most likely meant to understand Jesus’ I am statement as echoing the divine name Yahweh, which is linked in Exod 3:14 with the Hebrew verb אהיה I am. The implication is, therefore, that Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh (see also Isa 41:4; 43:10). Jesus’ I am statements occur elsewhere in John’s Gospel (see John 4:26; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5–6, 8). There are also many I am X statements made by Jesus in John’s Gospel (e.g., 6:35, 51; 8:12; 10:7, 11). Jesus’ command do not be afraid also echoes similar statements made by God elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Gen 26:24; Exod 14:13; Deut 31:6, 8; and especially Isa 43:1–2, 5). Because none other than Yahweh was with them, they need not have been afraid.

Jesus boarded the boat presumably shortly after his disciples had rowed “about twenty-five or thirty stadia” (John 6:19). One stadium is about 185 m in length. This means that the disciples had rowed about 5 km, which indicates that their location at that point was about halfway across the lake. Yet in John 6:21 we read that when Jesus got into the boat, “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” Jesus delivered his disciples safely and almost instantaneously through the stormy sea to their destination. This detail is theologically significant, because guiding people through a stormy sea safely to the shore is a divine act according to the Old Testament (see Ps 107:23–30; see also Jonah 1:11–17; 2:10).

All in all, the sign of Jesus’ walking on water functions in John’s Gospel to prove Jesus’ divinity.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Theme of Repentance in the Book of Hosea

The theme of repentance or Israel’s turning back to Yahweh is a rather prominent theme in the book of Hosea. One of Israel’s particular sins leading up to the time of the exile was a lack of repentance. The Israelites’ wickedness had kept them from repentance (Hos 5:4). Judgment had come down against Israel because of her arrogance; but despite this, Israel had refused to turn back to Yahweh (Hos 7:10, 16). The deportation at the hands of the Assyrian army took place because of Israel’s refusal to repent (Hos 11:5). Because they had turned away from God, God would not listen to their cries, or exalt them (during the period of the exile), despite their crying out to him in prayer (Hos 11:7).

Despite the inevitability of judgment, repentance was still necessary for the people of Israel. Hosea called upon the people to return to God, to show kindness, do justice, and to put their hope in God (Hos 12:6). In the light of God’s commitment to restore Israel in the future, Israel was called upon to return to God (Hos 6:1). Israel was to return to Yahweh, and ask for forgiveness (Hos 14:1–2).

Hosea prophesies that after the period of the exile (during which she would not have any king or functioning priesthood), Israel would return to Yahweh and to the Davidic king (i.e., the Messiah), and experience God’s blessing as a result (Hos 3:4–5). Recoiling at the judgment that he had brought against Israel, God promised that he would not turn back to destroy Ephraim (a synecdoche for Israel) ever again.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Theme of Kingship in the Book of Hosea

Kingship is a rather prominent theme in the book of Hosea. Israel’s kings and princes rejoiced in evil (Hos 7:3). The princes were drunkards and full of treachery and political intrigue (Hos 7:4–7). None of the kings of the northern kingdom had been set up with God’s approval (Hos 8:4).

Hosea preached that judgment was coming against the king of Israel (Hos 5:1). The king of Israel was going to be destroyed (Hos 10:7, 15). Like a twig floating on the surface of a body of water, Israel’s king was going to perish (Hos 10:7). The king of Israel would “be utterly cut off” (Hos 10:15). Following this, Israel would be devoid of a king for a long period of time (Hos 3:4), i.e., during the time of the exile and beyond.

Surprisingly, the king who is acknowledged in the book of Hosea as being “great” and “mighty” is the king of Assyria (Hos 5:13; 10:6)! Israel had sought to overcome her internal weaknesses by turning to Assyria as an ally, but in the end Assyria would not provide any genuine help to Israel (Hos 5:13). Indeed, the tribute paid to foreign nations (particularly to Assyria) would end up making the situation far worse for Israel’s king and princes (Hos 8:10). The idolatrous calf of Bethel would end up being carried off as tribute for the king of Assyria (Hos 10:6). Because of the Israelites' refusal to turn to God, Assyria would be their king (Hos 11:5).

The execution of divine judgment against Israel, however, would cause her to lose faith in kingship (whether divine or human) as an institution (Hos 10:3). This stands in contrast to the false expectations that many Israelites had harbored previously with respect to the ability of human kings and princes to provide salvation (Hos 13:10; see also 1 Sam 8:19–20). The kings of Israel had been permitted by God to reign out of divine anger, and their end also came about as a consequence of God’s wrath (Hos 13:11).

The restoration of Israel, however, would see Israel turning back to Yahweh, which would involve at the same time Israel’s turning back to the Davidic king (Hos 3:5). This is significant because the northern kingdom had been in rebellion against the Davidic king (i.e., the king of Judah) since the days of Rehoboam. At this time, Israel would rightly lose faith in the false saving abilities of Assyria and human military might (Hos 14:3).