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Jesus – God With Us

Matthew opens his gospel by connecting Jesus Christ to Abraham, David, and the return from exile in Babylon. Then he describes the virgin birth, the angel of the Lord saying to Joseph...
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We are refreshing our section on First Principles, focusing on four overlapping types of material:

(a) “This is a faithful saying” articles that support true doctrines, the “true principles” of the gospel that we share in common.

(b) “Another gospel” articles that refute false doctrines that we have not received, that need to be rejected.

(c) “Let everyone be persuaded in their own mind” articles that identify and discuss interpretations that should not be treated as tests of fellowship. These “uncertain details” are not in our statement of faith; rather, they are personal opinions that we must be allowed to differ on without threat of separation. Those who insist that others agree with them on these matters have gone too far.

(d) “Be merciful to those who doubt” articles that provide a forum for those who might be wavering to safely raise the issues that concern them, that cause them to hesitate in their faith. We must discuss these issues in a non-threatening way. We must listen. We must hear where people are coming from. We must understand their uncertainties. We must avoid assuming bad motives. We must have empathy. We must be willing to be vulnerable with one another.

In all cases, articles will be based on solid scholarship. Straw man arguments are not allowed. Sources must be properly cited. For example, the first articles are on “Jesus – God with us”. They are primarily of type (a), because they determine the scriptural meaning of this phrase and then explain how it is applied in Matthew’s gospel. Of course, by doing so, they lay a solid foundation for refuting misunderstandings; whenever possible, this is a preferred pattern for dealing with wrested scriptures of type (b). We will see that this helps to explain why Matthew chose to describe the ministry of Jesus in the way he did: he was demonstrating that Jesus was indeed God with us.

Matthew1These articles expand on a talk I gave at the 30th Northern Gathering Family Day in Leeds, UK, on Monday, May 5, 2008. Overall theme: God is closer than you think! Topic assigned to me: “Jesus – God with us”. opens his gospel by connecting Jesus Christ to Abraham, David, and the return from exile in Babylon. Then he describes the virgin birth, the angel of the Lord saying to Joseph:

“…fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying [Isa 7:14], Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matt 1:20-22).

What does it mean to say His name is “God with us”? How does Jesus “save His people from their sins”? As we will see, these phrases are loaded with meaning and they are the fundamental theme for Matthew’s gospel.

God with His people

The idea of Yahweh being with His covenant people, and in particular, with His chosen leaders and those associated with them, is prevalent throughout the Old Testament. It is often linked to the blessings of God’s covenant promises, as illustrated by the following passages.2I have quoted a lot of passages for three reasons; first, because they are not easy to find using a concordance (essentially the only word they have in common is the preposition “with”); second, they form an important aspect of the gospel which is often overlooked; and third, many of them are especially relevant to our immediate topic of Jesus being God with us. I encourage you to highlight them in your Bible and to look for others as you do the readings (e.g., John 3:1-2; 8:29; 16:31-32; Acts 10:38; Rev 21:3-4).

Yahweh was with Abraham

“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed…Abimelech and Phichol… spake unto Abraham, saying, ‘God is with thee in all that thou doest.” (Gen 12:2-3; 21:22; see also, Gen 14:19; 22:17-18; 24:1, 35).

Yahweh was with Ishmael

“And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold I have blessed him… And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.” (Gen 17:20; 21:20).

Yahweh was with Isaac

“And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac… And the Lord appeared unto him, and said…Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father… And the Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake… And they [Abimelech, et al.] said, We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee.” (Gen 25:11; 26:2, 3, 24, 28).

Yahweh was with Jacob

“And, behold, the Lord stood above it [the ladder between earth and heaven, v12], and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” (Gen 28:13-15; see also, Gen 31:3; 32:9, 12; 46:2-4).

The sons of Korah sang

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.” (Psa 46:7, 11).

Yahweh was with Joseph

“And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.…But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.” (Gen 39:2-3, 21, 23).

Yahweh was with Moses

“And [God] said [unto Moses], Certainly I will be with thee.” (Exod 3:12).

Yahweh was with Joshua as He was with Moses

“And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed….And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee.” (Deut 31:8, 23).
“There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.… Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest…. According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the Lord thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses….And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee.” (Josh 1:5, 9, 17; 3:7).

Yahweh was with the children of Israel

“For the Lord thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand: he knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.” (Deut 2:7).
“When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt….For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” (Deut 20:1, 4).
“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (Deut 31:6).

Yahweh was with the judges

“And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.” (Judg 2:18).

Yahweh was with Gideon

“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. And the Lord said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” (Jdgs 6:12-16).

God himself is with us…

Yahweh was with Samuel

“And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.” (1 Sam 3:19).

Yahweh was with Saul

“Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon [Saul’s] head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?… And let it be, when these signs are come unto thee, that thou do as occasion serve thee; for God is with thee.” (1 Sam 10:1, 7).

Yahweh was with David and was departed from Saul

“Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the Lord is with him.”
“And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul… And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him.”
“And David went on, and grew great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him.”
“So David waxed greater and greater: for the Lord of hosts was with him.” (1 Sam 16:18; 18:12, 14; 2 Sam 5:10; 1 Chron 11:9; see also, Psa 23; 89:20-24).

Yahweh was with Solomon and the congregation of Israel

“And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king [David], and said, Amen: the Lord God of my lord the king say so too. As the Lord hath been with my lord the king, even so be he with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord king David.” (1 Kgs 1:36-37).
“And Solomon the son of David was strengthened in his kingdom, and the Lord his God was with him, and magnified him exceedingly.” (2 Chr 1:1).

At the dedication of the temple, Solomon

“stood, and blessed the congregation of Israel with a loud voice, saying, Blessed be the Lord, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant. The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us.” (1 Kgs 8:55-57).

Yahweh was with Jeroboam

“And I [the Lord, the God of Israel, v31] will take thee [Jeroboam], and thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel. And it shall be, if thou wilt hearken unto all that I command thee, and wilt walk in my ways, and do that is right in my sight, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with thee, and build thee a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel unto thee.” (1 Kgs 11:37-38).

God was with Abijah and Judah

Abijah King of Judah said to King Jeroboam and all Israel [v 4], “And, behold, God himself is with us for our captain, and his priests with sounding trumpets to cry alarm against you. O children of Israel, fight ye not against the Lord God of your fathers; for ye shall not prosper.” (2 Chr 13:12).

Yahweh was with King Asa

“And [Azariah] went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin; The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you….And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and the strangers with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon: for they fell to him out of Israel in abundance, when they saw that the Lord his God was with him.” (2 Chron 15:2, 9).

Yahweh was with Hezekiah and the kingdom of Judah

And the Lord was with him [Hezekiah]; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.” (2 Kgs 18:7).
In the face of Sennacherib’s attack, Hezekiah encouraged the people, “With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.” (2 Chron 32:8).

Isaiah prophesied

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness…For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” (Isa 41:10, 13-14).
“But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee… Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west.” (Isa 43:1-2, 5).

Yahweh was with Jeremiah

“Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee [Jeremiah] and deliver thee, saith the Lord… And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.” (Jer 1:8, 19).

Jeremiah prophesied

“And I will make thee unto this people a fenced brasen wall: and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the Lord.” (Jer 15:20).
“For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.” (Jer 30:11).
“Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the Lord: for I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly unpunished.” (Jer 46:28).

Zechariah prophesied

“Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zech 8:23).

Summary

One writer explains that God being with someone is synonymous with God blessing them:

“When a man is blessed, it may also be expressed in the way that God is with him…This expression that Yahweh or God is with one is only another term for the blessing. There are sufficient statements to show that the two appellations are used interchangeably. In this there is nothing strange. The blessing is concentrated in Yahweh, therefore one can only have blessing in harmony with him.”3Johannes Pederson, Israel: Its Life and Culture, I-II; London, 1926, pp. 182-212; see p. 194.

Another writer summarizes that Yahweh being with His people is akin to Yahweh being their God and they being His people, so that He might bless them in all things:

“The basic idea in Israel’s traditional Covenant ideology is that Yahweh is to be Israel’s God and Israel Yahweh’s people. Yahweh — God — binds himself to ‘be with’ his people and bestow upon it his ‘blessing’; Israel will lack nothing (see, e.g., Deut 2:6-7; see also Deut 8:9 and Psa 23:1). He promises to provide food and drink for them and all other personal necessities of life, to protect them and save them from diseases, dangers and threats; they will obtain wealth and glory, power and might, happiness and victory—in short, the divine ‘blessing’ in all its aspects (e.g., Deut 28; see also, e.g., Deut 7:12-24; 11:26-28; and Lev 26).”4Birger Gerhardsson, “Mighty Acts and Rule of Heaven: ‘God is with us’”, To Tell the Mystery: Essays on New Testament Eschatology in Honor of Robert H. Gundry, eds. Thomas E. Schmidt and Moises Silva, Library of New Testament Studies, vol. 100, 1994, pp. 34-48; see p. 36.

With these things in mind, we are now ready to return to Matthew’s gospel in our next article.

Joe Hill
(Austin Leander, TX)

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