Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Use of Psalm 102 in Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1 is one of the best chapters in the Bible for an articulation and defense of the deity of Christ. The author's motives in writing the book of Hebrews is to challenge the reader (listener?--if it was orally read to the congregation) to stand firm in their confession of Christ. 

In 2:1, we are to hold fast and not drift away. In 4:14, we are to hold fast to the confession of faith. It is important than that we recognize Christ's person and work--and Hebrews is a great book to defend this in its various aspects. You and I need to hold fast to our confession that Jesus is Lord.

One thing I would like to draw attention to is Hebrews 1 quotation of Psalm 102. As we see who Jesus is by these three verses alone, let us hold fast to what it truly means to confess Jesus is Lord.
Hebrews 1:10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”  
Psalm 102:25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, 27 but you are the same, and your years have no end. 
There are a three things worth noting about this passage and the use of the Psalm:

(1) Notice that it is the LORD who is addressed in the original Psalm. Whenever the OT is quoted in the NT we should go back and pay close attention to the context. It is a basic principle in the Bible that whenever a later writer is using an earlier writer (OT using older OT; or NT writer using OT verse)--they are using in light of or with disregard for the original context. This is not necessarily to say that their hermeneutical methods are like ours in all respects but rather as, C.H. Dodd pointed on in his classic work According to the Scriptures, we are not to think the context and background are unimportant. New Testament writers in particularly are often well aware of what they are quoting and why they are quoting it.

So look at the Psalm:
v.12 "But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations."
v.16-- The LORD builds Zion.
v.18,19, 21 and 22 all focus on the LORD's work, activity and plan.
v.24 "“O my God,” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days—" 

The person being addressed in this passage is the LORD. The English translation of all caps is an indicator that the Hebrew is YHWH, the divine name, sometimes translated as Jehovah in older translation. It is the tetragrammaton--God's special covenant name revealed in Exodus 3.

The purpose of addressing the LORD in this way is an appeal to the LORD to spare his life. The reason he can make such an appeal is that the LORD does not pass way like the rest of us. In fact, He has created all things and will not wear out like his creation. The creation passes away, God does not pass away.

(2) In Hebrews Psalm 102 is quoted as the Father's address to the Son. Psalm 102 is about a person crying out to God. Hebrews is not denying this but focusing on a more subtle detail. Hebrews, believing Scripture is God's Word, applies the object of address in Psalm 102 as the Son--and thus God the Father in His God-breathed Word speaks the verses of His Son.

Verse 8 introduces a quotation of Psalm 45 with "But of the Son he says, "--'he' clearly references God the Father speaking to the Son (see the context with verse 5-8). Of course, Psalm 45's usage in this passage is a defense of the deity of Jesus in and of itself.

But note how Hebrews 1:10 starts out with 'And' as an introduction to the quotation. We are to see that the same introduction of verse 8 applies to verse 10. God the Father is saying to God the Son.

A second indicator is tracking the use of 'you' in the passage. 
God the Father says to the Son:
"your throne, O God..."
"you have love righteousness..."
"therefore God, your God, has anointed you..."
"beyond your companions..."
"You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning," 

Being anointed beyond 'your companions' is probably a reference to the Messianic anointing of the Son in his humanity as Psalm 8 is quoted in Hebrews 2 as Christ becomes like the children in all respects so that he might bring many 'sons to glory'.

But notice that we are given insight in to a divine conversation. God the Father addresses God the Son and calls the Son both 'God' and 'Lord.' The Father says that the Son has done things that only God can do. And when God wrote his Word in Psalm 102, Hebrews is telling us it was talking about the Son.

(3) The Son is described as doing what only YHWH could do. According to the Old Testament only the LORD could create:
Isaiah 44:24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself
Job 9:8 who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; 
It is no small detail then when the NT speaks of Christ as acting in creating (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).

Either the New Testament is blaspheming by describing to Jesus something that only God can do or the New Testament is showing us the divine identity of Jesus [to use Richard Bauckham's term]. Of course it is clearly the later. The New Testament is God's Word.

Notice also in verse 12 the reference to "earth" and "heaven". Frequently in the Bible the two together "heaven and earth" designate the scope of creation. It is that frequent comprehensive description of everything that is created--all of it. It describes 'all things,' a tag which is also descriptive of the scope of create. There are ultimately only two categories: God and creation. We are told that the latter, as creation, "will perish,...will all wear out like a garment,". 

Anything and everything created will ultimate wear out and be destroyed (at least before its recreation in the New Heavens and New Earth). Only that which is not creation (and hence is God) will not wear out and grow old.

In the Old Testament, especially in Isaiah 40-66, only the LORD does not end. He is the first and the last. Not that he has a beginning or an end but that he is before and after His creation. And so Jesus is described as "But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” Unlike all things created, the Son does not wear out. Plainly, Jesus is an eternal person not a created being. If he was the latter he would fail into the category of that which perishes and wears out. 

YHWH doesn't change. He doesn't wear out. There is no decay, shifting or degradation to God as there is to His creation. In short, Jesus is describe as something that only God is. Yet, the Father and the Son are distinguished in this passage as distinct persons. The fact that the Father address the Son rules out an sort of modalism. 

Conclusion
When you and I confess Jesus is Lord, we are ascribing to Him the divine name. Not only is he lord in the kingly and ruling sense, we are confessing that He is God and Savior. 

Hebrews 1 is a defense of the deity of Christ and clearly distinguish Jesus the Son from being an angel or any kind of created being. It is important that we pay attention to the detail of Hebrews 1. We have sought to briefly show here the riches of Psalm 102 and its use in Hebrews 1. 

It provides to us powerful testimony to the deity of the Son. It is a piece of the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus is truly God the Son--sharing in full deity, addressed as YHWH. Jesus is also distinct as a person from God the Father.

We believe God's Word in inspired and therefore to hear any portion of it is to heart what God himself has breathed out. But I would suggest in sticking closely to this chapter we pay special attention: the Father designates these things of His Son.

You and I are being told by God the Father what God the Son is like. The Father himself is demonstrating to us that there is a second eternal person in the Godhead--that of the Son. This is not merely man describing something of the Son, but like at Jesus' baptism, you and I are hearing to voice of Jesus' Father and our Father describing something about the Son. 

If the Father can designate his Son as such as testimony to us, how much more are we accountable to listen? Even more, as creatures, how much more should be bend the knee and worship both the Father and the Son?

2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him [the Son]be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 


Cross posted at Christians in Context

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