More Things 26


A Beneficial Death

By the time of the events in the regions known in the Old Testament as Bashan — Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi and the transfiguration on Mount Hermon — Jesus knew that the hour of his death was fast approaching. He had provoked a confrontation with intelligent evil in many ways over the years of his ministry, but what he did and said in those two places was especially defiant. The move was calculated.

The Bulls of Bashan

All four gospels describe the crucifixion of Jesus in varying degrees of detail. One of the more thorough descriptions is that of Matthew:
Matthew 27:35–46 ESV
And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Many will know that Matthew tracks on Psalm 22 in this description. The parallels are impossible to miss:
Matthew 27:35 ESV
And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.
Psalm 22:18 ESV
they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
Matthew 27:39 ESV
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads
Matthew 27:41 ESV
So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying,
Psalm 22:7 ESV
All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
Psalm 22:17 ESV
I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me;
Matthew 27:46 ESV
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Psalm 22:1 ESV
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
In addition to the clear textual links between the two, it has long been known that elements of Psalm 22 appear to describe injuries and conditions congruent with crucifixion:
Psalm 22:14 ESV
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
Psalm 22:15 ESV
my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
Less apparent are some under-the-surface connections to the divine council worldview and its cosmic holy war context. If you were to read all of Psalm 22 at this point, verse 12 would jump off the page (or screen)
Psalm 22:12 ESV
Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

Strong Bulls of Bashan?

We know by now that Bashan carries a lot of theological baggage. It was the Old Testament version of the gates of hell, the gateway to the underworld realm of the dead. It was known as “the place of the serpent” outside the Bible. It’s associated with Mount Hermon, the place where Jews believed the rebellious sons of God from Gen 6: 1-4 descended.
Simply put, it you wanted to conjure up images of the demonic and death, you’d refer to Bashan, If it’s true that elements of Psalm 22 prefigure the crucifixion, it makes sense that a reference to Bashan would be a part of that. But we still need a bit more context for understanding it.
In earlier discussion of Bashan, we briefly noted the presence of a cult site at Dan located within its northern region. The site was infamous with respect to the idolatrous worship of Samaria, the renegade northern tribes of Israel who forsook David’s line after Solomon died. This confederacy and rival kingdom was set up by Jeroboam. So the worship of other gods — gods besides Yahweh Yahweh who were called demons (shedim) - was part of the identity of Bashan. Look at another place this occurs
Amos 4:1–2 ESV
“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’ The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks.
Since the cows of Bashan are said to speak to thier husbands, it is generally thought that Amos is talking to upper-class women of northern Israel who were idolaters of the golden calves of Bashan. I think there is a little more to it.
Amos could be targeting temple priestesses who served gods along with male priests. It is also quite possible that the cows of Bashan are the deities themselves in the form of idols. This possibility is strengthened by noticing their crimes: oppressing the poor and crushing the needy. These same two words are used (Hebrew) in Psalm 82, where the corrupt elohim are accused of exactly these same crimes.
For our purposes, what we know for sure about Bashan is that it has secure associations with demonic powers. Although Psalm 22 wasn’t originally messianic in focus, Matthew’s use of it fixes that association. The implication is that Jesus, at the moment of death and agony, was surrounded by the”bulls of Bashan” - demonic elohim who had been foes of Yahweh and his children for millennia.

The Fall of Bashan

Bashan was ground zero for Old Testament demonic geography. But for all the darkness conjured up by the term, references to “Bashan” in the Old Testament aren’t all sinister. There will be a time when God takes ownership of Bashan
Psalm 68:15–18 ESV
O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan! Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired for his abode, yes, where the Lord will dwell forever? The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary. You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.
The first thing that sticks out in this passage is that infamous Mount Bashan is called the mountain of God. The phrase “mountain of God” is actually “mountain of elohim (har elohim) in Hebrew. That means it can be translated as either “mountain of God” or “mountain of the gods.”
The latter makes more sense than the former in context for a very observable reason that the two mountains in the passage — Bashan and Sinai - are rivals at the beginning of the Psalm. The mountain of the gods (Bashan) “looks with hatred” at Mount Sinai (God’s mountain). God desired Sinai for his abode, and the psalmist asks Bashan, “why the envy?” This would make little sense if Bashan was already under Yahweh’s authority.
The psalmist intends a contrast of association. In the OT, Sinai is firmly associated with Yahweh and Israel. Bashan is the polar opposite of Sinai. It symbolizes unholy ground.
The rest of the psalm describes an assault of Bashan by God and his holy army. We know the description refers to spiritual warfare since there is no such engagement of the Israelites in the Old Testament and also because verse 17 speaks clearly of a divine army. God, the divine warrior, will one day tear down the strongholds of Bashan. He will lead a train of captives down from the mountain.

Taking Prisoners

check out this references… the idea of God leading a host of captives may sound familiar. Paul cites it:
Psalm 68:18 ESV
You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.
Ephesians 4:8 ESV
Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
If you think about these two verses there is a problem in the quotation. For Paul Psalm 68: 18 is about Jesus ascending on high and giving gifts to humanity. Jesus is somehow the fulfillment of Psalm 68, but the Old Testament has God ascending and receiving gifts. What?
Reconciling this conflict of ideas requires getting some context first.
Psalm 68 gives us a standard description of conquest, known from other ancient texts and even from ancient sculpture and iconography. The victorious captain of the army leads the enemy captives behind him; they are the human booty of war.
Paul’s words identify Jesus with Yahweh. In the Psalm it was Yahweh who is described as the conqueror of the demonic stronghold. For Paul it is Jesus, the incarnate God, surrounded by the demonic elohim, “the bulls of Bashan,” fulfilling the imagery of Psalm 68. Jesus puts the evil gods to an open shame by triumphing over them by the cross — Col. 2:15
Colossians 2:15 ESV
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Psalm 68:18 and Eph 4:8 are in agreement if one sees conquest not liberation.
But what about the receiving and giving problem? Paul’s wording does not deny there was conquest. What it does is point to the RESULT of the conquest.
In the ancient world the conqueror would parade the captives and demand tribute for himself. Jesus is the conqueror of Psalm 68, and the booty does rightfully belong to him. But booty was also distributed after a conquest. Paul knows that. He quotes Psalm 68:18 to make that point that after Jesus conquered his demonic enemies, he distributed the benefits of the conquest to his people, believers. Specifically those benefits are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
But how does Paul get to that idea? He explains himself in Eph 4: 9-10.
Psalm 68:18 ESV
You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.
Ephesians 4:8–10 ESV
Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
Paul’s logic is not at all clear, at least at first. What ascent and descent is he talking about? The text does not make clear the order of events, or even whether there was an intended order.
The key is understanding Paul’s thinking the descent. There are two possible explanations. The most common view, is that, upon his death, Jesus descended into the lower regions of the earth. This is the way Eph 4:9 is worded in many translations. In this case, the language speaks both of the grave and cosmic Sheol, the underworld. This is possible since elsewhere in the New Testament we read that Jesus descended into the underworld to confront the “spirits in prison” - the original transgressing sons of God in Gen 6 see 1 Peter 3:18-22
1 Peter 3:18–22 ESV
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
But this may not be what Paul is talking about here.
The second view is reflected in the ESV, which is the translation I used for Eph 4. Note that instead of “lower parts of the earth” the ESV inserts a comma: “the lower regions, the earth.” The effect of the comma is that Jesus descended to “the lower regions, in other words, the earth.” This option fits better (the gifts are given to people who are of course on the earth) and it has some other literary advantages. If this option is correct, then the descent of verses 9-10 does not refer to Jesus’ time in the grace, but rather to the Holy Spirit’s coming to earth after Jesus’ conquering ascension on the day of Pentecost.

Jesus and the Spirit

This view makes sense in that the ascent (victory) would refer to the resurrection, and the descent would speak of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. THEY ARE BOTH TRIUMPHS. But it raises an obvious question: Is Paul confusing Jesus with the Spirit?
Perhaps we should ask, is the Spirit Jesus in some way? The question sounds odd, but it akin to asking if the man Jesus is God in some way. The answer, as we have seen, is that Jesus is the second Yahweh, the embodied God of the Old Testament. But Jesus is not the Father Yahweh. He therefore is but isn’t Yahweh. It’s the same with the Spirit, The Spirit is Yahweh, and so is Jesus. But the Spirit isn’t Jesus just as Jesus isn’t the Father. The same sort of “two Yahweh’s” idea from the Old Testament is found in the New Testament with respect to Jesus and the Spirit. That is the source of Trinitarian theology.
Viewed against this backdrop, the idea that Jesus and the Spirit might be identified with each other isn’t so strange. In fact, it makes sense of some things certain NT writes said about the Spirit.
It is clear that Jesus and the Spirit are different persons. See Jesus’s baptism, his temptation, and other passages. Jesus also said he and the Father would send the Spirit. The Spirit was to come and indwell and empower believers. The events of Pentecost in Acts 2 mark the coming of Spirit.
But the New Testament also identifies the Spirit with Jesus.
Acts 16:6–7 ESV
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
Romans 8:9–10 ESV
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Philippians 1:19 ESV
for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,
Galatians 4:4–6 ESV
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
1 Peter 1:10–11 ESV
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
Paul’s quotation directs our attention in two important ways. First, not only did the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross mean the fall of Bashan, emblematic of the cosmic powers of evil, but also triggered the empowerment of the Church by the gifts of the Spirit. Second, that victory and empowerment also had something to do with Pentecost.
Paul’s thought about Pentecost in Eph 4 is quite the understatement. As it turns out, what happened at Pentecost cannot be understood without the cosmic geography — the Deut 32 worldview. Like the gospel accounts, there is much more behind Acts 2 than we might have presumed.
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