The character of the Puritans

The Puritan, [Lloyd-Jones] argued, is not ‘the strong man’. He is ‘a very weak man who has been given strength to realise that he is weak. I would say of all men and women that we are all weak, very weak, e difference being that sinners do not appreciate the fact that they are weak, whereas Christians do.’ it was this knowledge of their own frailty, he believed, which made the Puritans careful how they lived and led them to avoid all that is doubtful. ‘sober mess and restraint are the key-notes of the character of the Puritans. Have you any objection to them? If you have, you cannot regard yourself as a Christian because these are two essentially Christian virtues.’”
Iain Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 98.

Large Numbers in Numbers

The large numbers in the census’s in the book of Numbers have troubled critics and evangelicals alike for some time. The numbers, for various reasons, seem too large to be realistic. These are the issues raised:

1. Israel’s army seems much too large in comparison to other armies of the time. Egypt and Assyria were the great military powers, but their armies consisted of only tens of thousands of men. The censuses in Numbers places Israel’s military at around 600,000 (ZEPB, 4:465; cf. Allen, EBC, 709; Harrison, WEC, 45-48).

2. Joshua seems to present an Israelite army with numbers more comparable to other militaries of the day. Joshua 8:3, 11, 12 places the size of Joshua’s army at 30-40,000, depending on how the numbers are understood (ZPEB, 4:465).

3. Most commentators estimate that if an army of males over the age of 20 numbers 600,000, then the total population would be between two to three million people. They note that providing sanitation, food, and even room for setting up camp would provide major difficulties. In such a situation morale would be a problem (Gray, ICC, 12; ZPEB, 4:465; ISBE2, 3:565; cf. Harrison, WEC, 45-48).

4. Archaeologists estimate that the population of the entire area of Canaan did not reach 3 million people at this time. Yet Numbers 13:27-29 presents Israel as afraid to attempt to conquer the land, a strange fear if it possessed such numerical superiority. Also the large numbers in Numbers make it difficult to explain how, after the conquest, less numerous Canaanites were able to keep the Israelites pent up in the hill country (ZPEB, 4:465; ISBE2, 3:565). Related to this, Exodus 23:29-30 says that the Canaanites would not be driven out by Israel all at once due to the smallness of Israel.

5. Some numbers seem internally inconsistent. Numbers 3 includes legislation on the redemption of the first born, and 3:43 provides the number of firstborn. The comparison of numbers between chapters 1 and 3 leads to the conclusion that "the ratio of firstborn males to adult males is 1:27." Thus "each family would need to have on average 27 males and possibly as many daughters" (ISBE2, 3:565; cf. Gray, ICC, 13).

These issues have generated a number of proposed solutions. One popular solution is to understand אלף as a military group rather than as a thousand. There is clear evidence elsewhere in Scripture that אלף can indicate a captain over troops (אלוף; Gen. 36:15; Ex. 15:15) or a troop of men (Judg. 6:15; 1 Sam. 10:19). In this view, Numbers 1:21, "six and forty ‘elep and five hundreds" is interpreted as "forty-six clans/troops and (comprising) five hundred men." (DTOP, 408). This interpretation runs into some serious problems, however. Numbers 1:46; 2:32 clearly take אלף as thousand (Harrison, WEC, 46).

Another common solution is to propose that the numbers are symbolic. Some say they are purposely inflated to underscore the theological truth that God has multiplied Abraham’s seed (Allen, EBC, 688; ZPEB, 4:465; ISBE2, 3:565). But this raises the question of the value of a theological point based on invented numbers. Furthermore, the large numbers of the Numbers’ censuses are consistent with Exodus 12:37-38, which indicates that the Israelites who left Egypt numbered around 600,000 men besides women and children, and with Judges 20:2, which indicates that shortly after the conquest a voluntary army of 400,000 was quickly gathered (Gane, Leviticus/Numbers, NIVAC, 497; DOTP, 408). Unless the symbolism proposed in Numbers is extended to these other passages, a contextually unlikely proposition since both are separate historical reports, it is best not to treat the numbers in the Numbers’ censuses as inflated or symbolic.

Some have suggested that the numbers were corrupted in transmission (ISBE2, 3:565). But this would require the same corruptions to have occurred at Exodus 12:37-38 and at Judges 20:2 as well. Others say there is not enough information for a solution (ISBE2, 3:565-66).

Since the alternative proposals are not satisfactory, the objections to taking the numbers of Numbers at face value must be examined in greater detail.

1. The greater size of Israel’s army relative to those of Egypt and Assyria is not as great a problem as may first be supposed. The censuses in Numbers mark the number of men in the entire nation who are aged 20 and above and who are able to fight. The number of fighting men in an entire nation is bound to be higher than the armies of nations, even nations such as Egypt and Assyria.

2. Joshua 8 may not be as great an obstacle as it first appears. What the ESV translates as "all the fighting men" and the NIV as "the whole army" (cf. HCSB), is better translated "all the people of war" (KJV, NKJV, NASB) (8:1, 3, 11). Howard notes, "This phrase ‘all the people of war’ is found in the Old Testament only in the Book of Joshua (8:1,3,11; 10:7; 11:7). These uses seem to emphasize the unity of the entire nation in doing battle (cf. the concern for unity in 1:12-15), even though it was most likely only the men who actually engaged in battles" (Howard, NAC, 203; Woudstra, NICOT, 134, n. 4). The 30,000 of Joshua 8 thus need not have been all the men of Israel but rather were a selected force (Calvin, Joshua, 123). Also, the numbers in Numbers are consistent with the numbers elsewhere in Israel’s early history (Exodus 12:37-38; Judges 20:2). This makes the numbers in Joshua 8, rather than those of Numbers, the outlier.

3. The wilderness narratives in Exodus and Numbers note repeatedly the difficulty of providing food and drink to the people along with the miraculous provision of food and water. Sanitation was regulated in the Torah. The issue of room to camp is not as easy to address since there is disagreement on the route of the Israelites. Nonetheless, E. J. Young notes that "if the people were encamped in the plain of Er-Rahah before Jebel es Safsaf, they were in a plain about four miles in length and quite wide, with which several wide, lateral valleys join (Young, Introduction, 89). The wilderness narratives are also frank in their description of the people’s low morale at various points. These objections are therefore either addressed in the text or are not accurate in their statement of the problem.

4. The disparity in population between Israelites and Canaanites may not be a major problem. The Israelites were afraid of the Canaanites for their physical (not numerical) size and for their fortified cities. The Canaanites had home field advantage, fortified cities, and experienced fighting forces. Exodus 23 may not be so much about the relative population sizes as about the transition period needed to establish a civilizing presence in the land after the current one is removed, though it must be admitted that this is a stronger challenge than the others.

5. The ratio between firstborn males and other males also seems to be a greater problem than some of the others. It seems to be an issue of internal consistency. One plausible solution is that the redemption of the firstborn applies only to those born between the exodus from Egypt and the events of chapter 3 (Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 268).

In the end, the objections against taking the numbers of Numbers have responses that are more convincing than the alternative explanations. In fact, some of the solutions to the large numbers of Numbers result in a population so small that one wonders what Pharaoh was worried about (Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 266; a similar argument could be mounted with regard to the Canaanites in Joshua, though the emphasis there is admittedly on the power of Yahweh rather than on the size of Israel; Josh. 2:9, 24; 9:24). The numbers in Numbers 1 should therefore stand as a historical fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to multiply his seed and make him into a great nation (Theodoret of Cyrus, The Questions on the Octateuch, 87).

In his treatment of these verses Calvin reminds his readers of the need to keep the supernatural working of God in view while interpreting such passages as Numbers 1. His comments are worth pondering:

Such is the perverseness of men, that they always seek for opportunities of despising or disallowing the works of God; such, too, is their audacity and insolence that they shamelessly apply all the acuteness they possess to detract from his glory. If their reason assures them that what is related as a miracle is possible, they attribute it to natural causes,—so is God robbed and defrauded of the praise his power deserves; if it is incomprehensible, they reject it as a prodigy. But if they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the interference of God except in matter by the magnitude of which they are struck with astonishment, why do they not persuade themselves of the truth of whatever common sense repudiates? They ask how this can be as if it were reasonable that the hand of God should be so restrained as to be unable to do anything which exceeds the bounds of human comprehension. Whereas, because we are naturally so slow to profit by his ordinary operations, it is rather necessary that we should be awakened into admiration by extraordinary dealings (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses arranged in the Form of a Harmony, 1:22).

Youth and Wisdom

While young men become geometricians and mathematicians and wise in matters like these, it is thought that a young man of practical wisdom cannot be found. The cause is that such wisdom is concerned not only with universals but with particulars, which become familiar from experience, but a young man has no experience, for it is length of time that gives experience.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 1142a11-15.

Israelites as Outsiders in Numbers 1:52

In Numbers 1:52 the Levites are instructed to guard the tabernacle from outsiders, from non-Levites. God designed the tabernacle system both as a symbol of God’s nearness and as a symbol of the distance still required between God and man. In Numbers the distance of God is emphasized. As foreigners, were separated from the people of God in this era, so non-Levites were separated from tabernacle service. God did permit people to approach him, and the tabernacle symbolized his presence, but strict limitations were placed on the approach at the pain of death. A sinful people in the presence of God were always in danger of being consumed (Ex. 33:5).

This warning in chapter 1 about who may approach the tabernacle prepares the reader for Korah’s rebellion. The non-Levitical tribes should have led Israel in battle against the Canaanites, but when they failed to obey God in this manner and then pressed in upon the Levitical duties, God consumed them as he had warned Moses he would do.

This warning also highlights the benefits of the new covenant. Not only is the barrier between foreigner and Israelite broken down (Eph. 2:14), but the restrictions on non-Levites are removed. In fact, God’s people are now “a holy temple in the Lord” and “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). Even the bodies of individual believers have become the temple of God’s Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). The typical Israelite could not draw near to the symbolized presence of God in the midst of the people, but the Christian cannot escape the indwelling presence of God.

This marvelous access into the presence of God is possible because of the propitiatory death of Jesus. His death tore the barrier between God and man (Matt. 27:51). The wrath of God that threatened to break out, and did break out, against the Israelites, was satisfied by the sinless Christ. Christians can now enter boldly into the presence of God (Heb. 4:14-5:10).

This does not mean that all warnings cease or that personal holiness is of no issue since imputed righteousness has been procured. No, the very fact that the believer was purchased by the blood of Christ to be the temple of the Spirit means that his body needs to be holy (1 Cor. 6:18-20). Those who destroy God’s temple (the church) will be destroyed by God, and those who build it with shoddy material are saved only with great loss (1 Cor. 3:10-17).

Christians today should rejoice in the blessing of intimate access to God, while at the same time allowing the Old Testament restrictions remind them of high privilege they enjoy and the sacred responsibility that it bestows.

Genesis 1:26-28 as the Statement of the Bible’s Theological Center

The resurgence of the biblical theology movement of the past thirty years or so has given rise to a host of issues attendant to that discipline, including the search for a center, or organizing principle, around which the biblical data might be ordered. . . . It is the thesis of this article that such a center does exist and that it lies in the concept of the kingdom of God, the only concept broad enough to encompass the diversity of biblical faith without becoming tautological. . . . Theology must make a statement about God (the subject) who acts (the verb) to achieve a comprehensive purpose (the object).

If this is the case, not only would one expect that statement to be the interlocking and integrating principle observable throughout the fabric of biblical revelation, but he would also expect it to be enunciated early on in the canonical witness in unmistakable terms. Hence, Genesis should most likely provide the seed-bed in which the anticipated proposition is to be found. And a careful reading of that book of beginnings reveals a statement of purpose that is so striking in its clarity and authority that there can be little question it is the very formula we seek to establish the Bible’s own theological center: ‘Then God [the subject] said, “Let Us make [the verb] man [object] in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule [purpose] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky. . . .” God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’ (Gen. 1:26-28).

The theme that emerges here is that of the sovereignty of God over all His creation, mediated through man, His vice-regent and image. Thus Genesis, the book of beginnings, introduces the purposes of God, which remain intact throughout the Old and New Testaments despite the sin of man and the impairment of his ability to be and do all that God had intended. The failings of His creation—a major theme of human history and of the Bible itself—are unable to frustrate the ultimate purposes of God, for the language of eschatology is replete with the overtones of redemption and salvation that bring about a renewal of all that God desired to do in creation. There will be a new heaven and new earth wherein dwells righteousness (Rev. 21:1; cf. Isa. 65:17; 66:22).

Eugene H. Merrill, “Daniel as a Contribution to Kingdom Theology,” in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, ed. Stanley D. Toussaint and Charles H. Dyer (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 211-12.

Numbers 1 and the 144,000 of Revelation

Several commentators point out that in the OT a census was typically conducted to muster an army or to assess its strength. Thus they see the census of Revelation 7 as a parallel to Numbers 1. Revelation 7, according to these commentators, is about mustering an eschatological army of witnesses.[1] This view is bolstered by some verbal parallels between the two chapters: εκ φυλης in Revelation 7:5-8 corresponds with εκ της φυλης in Numbers 1:21-4; "of the sons of Israel" is repeated in both chapters; and both lists mention Joseph as a tribe.[2] The fact that Revelation 14 indicates that all of them are men strengthens the military view of this census.

Those taking this view typically understand the 144,000 of Revelation to be symbolic of the church, but this is doubtful. Revelation 7 divides its attention between Israel on the earth of a specific number and a numberless multitude from all nations in heaven. Israel is clearly the focus in the first part of chapter 7 because of the detailed listing of the tribes. One could argue that the census and listing of tribes is just a device to cause the reader to think of God mustering an army, but this expedient is not necessary for those who believe Israel still has a role to play in the future. Given the OT prophecies of Israel fulfilling its role as a witness to the nations (Ex. 19:3-6; Deut. 4:5-8), and given the partial fulfillment already in the NT (Matt. 15:24; Acts 1:6-8; 2:5, 41; 9:15; 10:44-48; 13:1-3), it is more natural to see this army as an army of witnesses sent to the nations. The numbering of 12,000 from every tribe could well signify completeness, though this need not rule out numerical prediction. Because of God’s sovereignty, symbol and reality can often coincide. If the passage is meant to parallel Numbers 1, the smallness of the numbers in Revelation may point up the fact that it is a remnant of Israel which God is restoring.

Revelation 14 returns to the 144,000. It seems that this chapter looks forward to the end when Christ is enthroned on Mount Zion.[3] This army of Israelite men accomplished what the army of Numbers 1 failed to achieve: they are in the land, indeed on Mount Zion. They have remained faithful, as symbolized by their virginity[4] and as evidenced by their honesty. This latter point especially contrasts with Numbers because the complaints that arise against God in this book and give rise to rebellion are, in fact, lies against God. Note also the difference in the task of these armies. In the OT the armies of Israel were to conquer Gentile nations both in judgment on them and to give Israel space to live out its witness to them; in the NT the army of Israel is purely a force of witnesses (the judgment is being carried out immediately by God himself). As Numbers progresses, it will begin to record the failures of Israel, but in the end, the text of Revelation assures us, God’s people will fulfill their role as witnesses to God, and they will live in the promised land forever.

[1] Beale and McDonough, "Revelation," in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 1107; cf. Osborne, BECNT, 313.

[2] Beale and McDonough, 1107.

[3] There is debate about whether Mount Zion in this passage is in heaven or on earth. The fact that a voice is heard from heaven favors an earthly scene. Osborne, BECNT, 525; cf. Thomas, 2:190.

[4] Again, symbol and reality do not need to be set at odds. There is no reason to think that the 144,000 were not actually virgins. The virginity of the 144,000 may strengthen the thesis that these men were mustered for service in the Lord’s army, for the OT indicates that soldiers refrained from sexual activity while in the field (Deut. 23:9-10; 1 Sam. 21:5; 2 Sam. 11:8-11). Osborne, BECNT, 529. Thomas notes this interpretation but dismisses it because he finds the military imagery inconsistent with martyrs who do not resist. Thomas, 2:196. But in reality this need not be inconsistent. The army mustered in Revelation need not fight in the same way as the army mustered in Numbers. They can be an army of martyred witnesses.

Books and Articles Finished in October


Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man. HarperSanFrancisco, 1947.

A natural law argument against reducing all value judgments to mere personal sensations. Lewis argues for the necessity of a natural law by showing the impossibility of functioning without one.

VanDrunen, David. A Biblical Case for Natural Law. Studies in Christian Social Ethics and Economics. Edited by Anthony B. Bradley. Grand Rapids: Acton Institute, n. d.

VanDrunen argues successfully for the existence of natural law. His deployment of the concept with in a Klineian two-kingdoms model is on shakier ground. For instance the Noahic covenant is about making space for the other redemptive covenants to be worked out (see esp. Jer. 33:20-21); it is a covenant also instituted in connection with a sacrifice of atonement. It is thus not a covenant about making space for a common kingdom. VanDrunen also seems to equivocate between biblical kingdom language and the way kingdom language is used in the history of theology. This is especially problematic because VanDrunen ends up connecting theological kingdom language to the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants whereas in the Bible the kingdom of God is most closely connected with the Davidic covenant, a covenant that gets very little attention from VanDrunen.

Van Drunen’s hope that natural law can provide the basis for common morality is also on shakier ground that his argument for the existence of natural law. Attempts to reason from natural law apart from explicit Scripture are often unconvincing. This is even further exacerbated by the prevailing religious pluralism in which there are real competing value systems at work in a society. Though the Fall has not eradicated mankind’s sense of the law, it has so distorted it that competing systems are now in place. Finally, secularists and/or pluralists are no more inclined to concede to natural law than they are to concede to Scripture.

Watson, Thomas. The Godly Man’s Picture. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.

Watson begins by challenging his readers to self-examination about their conversion, helpfully sketches out in concrete terms what a godly life is, and concludes with comfort for believers who recognize their failure to measure up. Excellent.

Lewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength. New York: Collier, 1946.

This, the last of Lewis’ Space Trilogy, is the hardest to get into on first read. The characters seem to be entirely different, the setting is earth, and the action is minimal. In fact the first hundred pages seem to be about the debates of college professors about trivial college matters. But rereading shows this book to be the one of the three with the greatest depth. Lewis is working on many different levels (pay attention to weather and lighting). Also reading Lewis’ essay “The Inner Ring” and his book The Abolition of Man will prepare readers for many of the themes of That Hideous Strength. Brushing up on Arthurian legends won’t hurt either, though the book works fine standing on its own.


Wenkel, David. “The Logic and Exegesis behind Calvin’s Doctrine of the Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit to the Authority of Scripture.” Puritan Reformed Journal 3, no. 2 (July 2011): 98-108.

Overly, Paul. “Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Music from a Christian World View.” In Barrett, Michael P. V. The Beauty of Holiness: A Guide to Biblical Worship. Greenville, SC: Ambassador, 2006.

Argues that Christians need to evaluate music according to its culturally assigned meaning as well as according to its formal elements, which contribute to its meaning.

Beall, Todd S. “Contemporary Hermeneutical Approaches to Genesis 1-11.” In Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth. Edited by Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008.

A good evaluation of non-literal approaches to Genesis 1-11.

Averbeck, Richard E. “The Sumerian Historiographic Tradition and Its Implications for Genesis 1-11.” In Faith, Tradition, and History: Old Testament Historiography in Its Near Eastern Context. Edited by A. R. Millard, J. K. Hoffmeier, D. W. Baker. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994.

Helm, Paul. “Review of God Without Parts: Simplicity and the Metaphysics of Divine Absoluteness by James E. Dolezal.”

Favorable review of a 2011 WTS dissertation that defends divine simplicity against modern philosophical detractors.

Hall, Gregory V. “Applying a New Perspective Understanding to Romans 2:12-16,” Ashland Theological Journal (2010): 31-39.

Summarized New Perspective approaches to this passage but did not advance beyond what anyone would gather simply by reading Dunn or Wright’s commentaries on this passage.

Barnes, Peter. “Prayer: Some Suggestions,” Banner of Truth (Aug-Sep 2011): 1-3.

Eagleman, David. “The Brain on Trial.” The Atlantic, August 2011.

An argument that reduces (almost?) all human behavior to brain functioning beyond the scope of any individual will and the suggested legal ramifications to such a view.

Gruenke, Jennifer, and Justin D. Barnard. “Don’t Put the Brain on Trial.” Public Discourse, October 4, 2011.

An argument that the scientific claims in Eagleman’s article were overstated and that the current legal system is already prepared to handle the extreme kinds of cases discussed by Eagelman.

Frame, John. “Review of David Van Drunen, A Biblical Case for Natural Law (Grand Rapids: Acton Institute, no date).”

Affirms the concept of natural law but takes issue with the exegetical arguments VanDrunen uses to establish his two kingdom’s approach.

Helm, Paul. “Natural Law and Common Grace.” Helm’s Deep, November 1, 2008.

Helm argues that natural law and common grace are aimed at affirming the same thing. Only by the confusing of Counter-Reformation teaching with medieval teaching do they end up opposed.

Saucy, Mark R. “Canon as Tradition: The New Covenant and the Hermeneutical Question.” Themelios 36, no. 2 (2011).

An argument against D. H. Williams and others who seem to give patristic tradition some level of authority in doctrinal formation. Saucy argues that the fathers are not sufficient guides for right interpretation because they fail to appreciate the canon’s emphasis on the new covenant as a necessary hermeneutical guide.

Ward, Wayne E. “The Worship of the Church.” In The People of God: Essays on the Believers’ Church. Edited by Paul Basden and David S. Dockery. Nashville: Broadman, 1991.

Hiestand, Gerald. “Augustine and the Justification Debates: Appropriating Augustine’s Doctrine of Culpability.” Trinity Journal 28, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 115-139.

An argument in favor of Augustine’s doctrine of justification over against that of Calvin, Hodge, and others in the Reformation tradition. He favors Augustine’s view that justification is equivalent to regeneration (there is a real, essential change rather than only a forensic change in justification). He ties this to the fact that Augustine more consistently held to a realist view of why people are culpable before God rather than a view that moves toward placing greater stress on the imputation of Adam’s sin forensically. Michael Horton’s Covenant and Salvation provides a more traditional Reformation view of justification that does not neglect its connection to transformation.

Walters, Stanley D. “Reading Samuel to Hear God,” Calvin Theological Journal 37 (2002): 62-81.

A helpful article that deals with Samuel’s canonical location and with its structure.