Interpreted by the Word
14 June 2017
Today is the commemoration of the Old Testament prophet, Elisha. We often consider the primitive Old Testament prophets like Elisha to be ecstatic seers and shamans much like the pagan priests of other religions. In such a scheme, men like Elisha would have dreamed deeply or considered their tea leaves or animal entrails to divine the will of God. Yet, the whole Old Testament is a protest against such ways of seeking God. God graciously conveyed His divine Word to the prophets through external means. The seeking of God apart from the speaking of God in the external Word ends in what Luther called "enthusiasm." The word referred to the unbridled desire to seek God outside of the divine self-revelation. Of course, this was the sin of our first parents who doubted God when the old dragon led them to doubt the Word of God, "Did God really say?" (Gn 3:1). Enthusiasm is lust for the knowledge of God undisciplined by the Word of God.
"Thus says the Lord..." announced the revelatory act of God granting His Word to the prophets of old (2Ki 7:1) over against all enthusiasm. While we could quibble about the various ways (Heb 1:1) in which the Word of God might have come to those who spoke for God, the crucial fact is that God spoke to His people. The Lord God freely tied His self-revelation to the external Word. This act to reveal Himself also ties us most securely to the speech of God. While God is free to act outside the Word and reveal Himself however He pleases, we are not free to believe outside the Word. There can be no standpoint "outside" from which we might examine the Word of God to judge it. To judge God's speech is to judge God Himself. Such judgment shatters the first commandment.
To know God and to receive His benefits is to hear His Word in faith. Where there is no Word there is no faith. We will never find God apart from His external Word. No, God finds us in His speaking. When we claim to be the free judges of the Word of God we are sharing the Enlightenment heresy of interpretation, in which the Word of God becomes subject to our human interpretation. This is simply self-will dressed up as faith. We do not interpret God's speech. The Word of God interprets us. We do not give it meaning. The Word of God gives us meaning by graciously telling us who we are in Christ Jesus. Anything other than belief in God's Word fails to see it for what it is. Elisha announced God's speaking and believed it, what makes us think that we are better than him?

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"Those who have come to faith before they were baptized and those who came to faith in baptism came to their faith through the external Word which preceded. Adults who have attained the age of reason must first have heard, 'He who believes and is baptized will be saved' (Mk 16:16), even if they did not at once believe and did not receive the Spirit and Baptism until ten years later. Cornelius (Acts 10:1) had long since heard from the Jews about the coming Messiah through whom he was justified before God, and his prayers and alms were acceptable to God in this faith (Luke calls him 'devout' and 'God-fearing' Acts 10:2, 22), but he could not have believed and been justified if the Word and his hearing of it had not preceded. However, St. Peter had to reveal to him that the Messiah, in whose coming he had previously believed, had already come, and his faith concerning the coming Messiah did not hold him captive with the hardened, unbelieving Jews, but he knew that he now had to be saved by the present Messiah and not deny or persecute him as the Jews did.
"In summary, enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammedanism. Accordingly, we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil. For even to Moses God wished to appear first through the burning bush and the spoken word (Ex 3:2, 4), and no prophet, whether Elijah or Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments. John the Baptist was not conceived without the preceding word of Gabriel, nor did he leap in his mother's womb until Mary spoke (Lk 1:13-42) St. Peter says that when the prophets spoke, they did not prophesy by the impulse of man but were moved by the Holy Spirit, yet as holy men of God (2Pt 1:21). But without the external Word they were not holy, and the Holy Spirit would not have moved them to speak while they were still unholy. They were holy, St. Peter says, because the Holy Spirit spoke through them."

Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles, 3.8.7-13
Isaiah 28:16-29

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: 'Whoever believes will not be in haste.' And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter." Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through, you will be beaten down by it. As often as it passes through it will take you; for morning by morning it will pass through, by day and by night; and it will be sheer terror to understand the message. For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on, and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in. For the LORD will rise up as on Mount Perazim; as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused; to do his deed- strange is his deed! and to work his work- alien is his work! Now therefore do not scoff, lest your bonds be made strong; for I have heard a decree of destruction from the Lord GOD of hosts against the whole land.
Give ear, and hear my voice; give attention, and hear my speech. Does he who plows for sowing plow continually? does he continually open and harrow his ground? When he has leveled its surface, does he not scatter dill, sow cumin, and put in wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and emmer as the border? For he is rightly instructed; his God teaches him. Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin, but dill is beaten out with a stick, and cumin with a rod. Does one crush grain for bread? No, he does not thresh it forever; when he drives his cart wheel over it with his horses, he does not crush it. This also comes from the LORD of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom. (ESV)
Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Elisha, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
For President Lawrence Rast and the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, that they would remain faithful to the external Word of God as they prepare proclaimers to carry the gospel into all the world
For all those suffering from despair, that they would not be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus
For Kyle and Laura Molitor, whom the Lord has joined in holy marriage, that they might steadfastly confess Christ and thank God for His created gifts
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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