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August 2013  •  Volume XIV, Issue 16


The Punishment of Rebellious Children (1)

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 states, "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear."

In connection with these verses, a reader asks, "Did these things actually happen in the OT days or are the verses merely written to show us an example of something else?"

This is an interesting and very important question, one which is not so easy to answer. The difficulty is that the text requires that we interpret it in the light of several underlying assumptions. So I am going to tackle these assumptions first.

The first assumption is that this text is part of the law of God to Israel. Israel was typical of the church of God. But it was a theocracy, that is, a kingdom-church in which God was king. There is no way the kingdoms here in the world can be identified with the church: not even Scotland, England or the Netherlands. The church, though still in the world, consists of citizens of the kingdom of heaven. But, because the kingdom is heavenly, the full theocracy awaits heaven. The church and state are separate but we are members of both as elect believers and citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 is part of the law of God to govern Israel as a theocracy!

The second assumption is that Israel is not only a theocracy, but is also embraced in God’s covenant with the nation. God had said, when He established the covenant with Abraham, that He would establish His covenant in the line of generations (Gen. 17:7). Yet, while our children are born in the covenant, not all of them are true covenant heirs, for not all that is of Israel is Israel, as Paul makes clear in Romans 9:6. The text is dealing then with a covenant home and children.

While the principle of this text is universally relevant, the wicked world will not pay attention to it, no matter what. God is talking about the problem of how believing parents must deal with children who are born in the covenant but who prove to be rebellious and stubborn.

First, if these things are forgotten then we (as some do) view the United States of America or the country of S. Africa as the NT Israel. They are not! Second, if we do not put this text in its context, then we will have an uncovenantal view of the covenant that our children are unconverted at birth and that the best we can hope for is that someday, in their later years, perhaps, they will be converted. That idea is not only badly mistaken, but pretty much negates the teaching of the text.

Because God saves children of believers in the line of the covenant, parents are to train their children in the ways of God’s covenant and insist that their children walk in these ways (Prov. 22:6). Israel had to do this; we must do the same.

Hence, to answer part of the question: This actually happened in the Old Testament. It is literal. We must (and again, I say must) take Scripture at its word.

The first action parents must take (after their own faithful instruction and discipline) is to bring a rebellious and stubborn child to the elders. While the text does not literally state this, it is obvious, in the light of the broader teaching of the Word of God, that, when parents bring a stubborn child to the elders, they want the elders to talk with the child and point him to the sin of his conduct. That happened in the OT; it must happen now. My wife and I have had to make use of this command, and God has graciously used it for good.

In this text, stoning is required for such a son. But this requirement is part of the nation of Israel as a theocracy. The state has the power of the sword (Rom 13:4), that is, capital punishment—not the church! So when church and state are separate, the church has nothing to do with defining crime, judging crime and punishing crime by taking the life of the criminal. The church has no role in physical punishments of any kind—as Rome so erroneously and blatantly has insisted and still insists.

But the NT church has been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and they are in the room where the elders hold their meetings (so to speak). And so the church does have the right and calling to discipline such a child. But that discipline is shutting the door of the kingdom to one who fails to repent. That is worse than capital punishment, for it says that such a person who is disciplined cannot and will not enter Christ’s kingdom, since, unless he repents, he will be in hell, the place of everlasting punishment (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 31).

There is more to this question than I have room to expound. I shall have to beg your patience in writing another article on the same subject.  Prof. Hanko

The Greatness of John the Baptist

Consider the greatness of John the Baptist! First, John the Baptist is the only prophet specifically predicted in older Scriptures. He was prophesied by two prophets: Isaiah (some 700 years before) and Malachi (some 400 years before). He was predicted in three passages. In Isaiah 40:3-5, he is the one whom God calls "him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord." In Malachi 3:1, he is the one whom Christ calls "my messenger," who "shall prepare the way before me." In Malachi 4:5-6, he is called "Elijah the prophet."

Second, John the Baptist is a clasp between the OT and NT Scriptures. What are the last inspired words of the last OT book, as arranged in our Bibles? A prophecy of John the Baptist! "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Mal. 4:5-6). How do the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, begin? With John the Baptist! Three of them have John in their first chapter (Mark, Luke and John) and one of them has John in its third chapter (Matthew). Thus John the Baptist is at the very end of the Old Testament and at the start of the New Testament as a sort of clasp between them.

Third, to John alone, the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, was given the honourable appellation "the Baptist." We do not read of "Abraham the circumciser" or "Moses the passover-introducer," but the Bible does speak of "John the Baptist." There is a clear connection between John’s baptism and Christian baptism. He is forever connected to the first of the two NT sacraments, for he is John the Baptist.

Fourth, John’s greatness is also indicated by what Christ Himself spoke of him. The Lord called John "a burning and a shining light" (John 5:35) and "more than a prophet" (Matt. 11:9). Indeed, Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist" (Matt. 11:11). This is high praise from the incarnate Son of God!

Fifth, John the Baptist is the first martyr recorded in the NT Scriptures. John was beheaded for his testimony to the truth before Stephen was stoned (Acts 7:58-60) or James, the apostle and brother of John, was killed by the sword (Acts 12:2). Later, others were martyred, such as Peter, Paul and John, although the manner of their martyrdoms is not specifically recorded in the Word of God. But of them all, John was the first to seal his testimony with his blood, the blood issuing from his neck. Only then was the (physical) voice of him who cried in the wilderness silenced.

Sixth, John’s greatness lies in his testimony to the Messiah, in John’s position in the history of redemption. John declared that he was not worthy to stoop to loose the latchet of Christ’s sandals (Mark 1:7). John proclaimed, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). John’s role was that of a witness to point people to "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, 36).  Rev. Stewart

John the Baptist’s Godly Parents

Luke 1 tells us that Zacharias and Elisabeth, who would become John the Baptist’s parents, lived "in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea" (5). This Herod was called Herod the Great. From the palace that he had built for himself in Jerusalem, he ruled over Judaea in the south and, indeed, over all of Israel. He also enlarged and enriched the temple in Jerusalem. But King Herod was ungodly and promoted wickedness in state and Sanhedrin. He was an Edomite, not a Jew. He was the one who ordered the slaughter of the infants in and around Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16).

Though Zacharias and Elisabeth lived in a time of religious declension and externalism, they were godly. They were justified by faith alone for "they were both righteous before God" (Luke 1:6), being righteous with the imputed righteousness of the coming Messiah. Zacharias and Elisabeth were faithful and holy, "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (6). They obeyed the Word of God out of gratitude to Jehovah their Saviour. They were not unique in this, for there were other godly saints in those dark days, like Simeon and Anna, whom Mary and Joseph met when they went with the baby Jesus to the temple (Luke 2:25-38). But Zacharias and Elisabeth were in a distinct minority.

It was clearly the will of God that John the Baptist be brought up in a model covenant home, for he would be the forerunner of Jesus Christ. What a blessing his faithful parents were to John! How thankful he must have been for them!

John’s godly parents were both of the priestly line, as descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother, with Zacharias being a priest of the course of Abijah (1:5). This priestly background of Zacharias and Elisabeth means that "the commandments and ordinances" (6) they observed include those additional laws and precepts laid down for the priests in the Pentateuch. According to Luke 1:39-40, John’s parents lived not in Jerusalem or Jericho, the cities with most priests, but in the hill country of Judah. Zacharias and Elisabeth were not of the highest ranking priestly establishment. Zacharias did not have a place in the Sanhedrin and was not in the line of the high priest.

The biggest personal burden of this godly, priestly couple was that they were childless. They had prayed often and fervently for covenant children, both in their private and family devotions. No doubt, they prayed for a holy seed when they went up to the temple, as Hannah did when she went to the tabernacle (I Sam. 1). But no child came; the years went by; the decades passed. Eventually, no doubt, they stopped praying, not out of despair or anger with God but because Elisabeth was now too old to have children. Elisabeth especially had to bear "reproach among men" for her childlessness (25). That was cruel of the people since Jehovah embraced Zacharias and Elisabeth in His covenant mercy and He was not judging them for some sin. As time passed, the godly, priestly couple concluded—and slowly got used to the idea—that they would never have children as an heritage from the Lord (Ps. 127:3). But then God wrought a wonder, answering their petitions offered decades before by giving them John!  Rev. Stewart

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