Forming Words

“Truly, truly, I say to you, (Transcendence)
the Son can do nothing of his own accord, (Hierarchy)
but only what he sees the Father doing. (Ethics)
For whatever the Father does, (Oath/Sanctions)
that the Son does likewise.” (Succession)
(John 5:19)

The premise that the entire text of the Bible has a common structure, one which operates at multiple levels, has many implications. Besides the fact that this is clearly a miracle, there is the question of why such a limitation would be placed upon the Words of God.

Perhaps the key lies in the Covenant concept of Forming and Filling, the “there and back again” shape of every Bible story. Both Forming and Filling are found in every part of Scripture (and even in the fact that Hebrew is written right to left, and Greek is written left to right: there and back again). But what if we must also consider that the Bible as a single unit is one great “Forming”? This relates to something I mentioned in Bible Matrix II:

Everything the Lord does is like building a house. He forms it and then fills it. Man’s domain has boundaries, or external walls, and every delegated sub-domain is formed with internal walls. These are all spaces to fill. Reality, like the Bible, is a house of many Covenant rooms. And reality, like the Bible, has corners. It can be quite angular and sharp, because it is formative. It is not always pleasant, because it is a tool for the construction of something beyond our own experience and, indeed, our own ability. Yet, like the Bible, each room is sacred. (28)

Numerically, Israel is Formed in Genesis and Filled in Exodus. The Abrahamic promises are Formed in the books of Moses and full-Filled after his death. The end of the Tabernacle and each Temple brought an end to a process of Forming (as did the cutting of Adam), and Israel entered into a greater Filling (as did the construction of Eve, the multiplier). Just as the books of Moses finished before the Conquest of the Land, so the entire Bible testimony was finished before the beginning of the Conquest of the World (AD70 – which supports a preterist view of the Revelation).

This meticulously executed “Covenant constraint” upon the arrangement of every inspired Word might relate to the sacrificial process of binding and loosing. Every mediator between heaven and earth is bound that an abundant blessing might be poured out, or “loosed.” (See the chapter “Binding and Loosing” in God’s Kitchen.) Even the Day of Atonement prescribed the binding of one goat and the loosing of another, and at a greater level, both goats were bound for service that the priesthood might be loosed from death, and the priesthood was bound (consecrated) that Israel might be loosed, and so on.

Lot’s wife was “bound” (in sterility) that Sarah’s womb might be loosed. Isaac was bound that future offspring might be loosed. Joseph was bound that his brothers might be loosed (in a bad way). The Egyptian firstborn were bound that Israel might be loosed. Then Israel was bound by Covenant that the nations might be loosed. A husband is bound in marriage that his wife might be loosed. He is her freedom. Note that when Moses finds Israel in idolatry with the golden calf, the Lord says they have “broken loose.” We bind ourselves in prayer that others might be loosed. Paul was bound with a chain that the saints might be free. The apostles were bound for death that the Church might be loosed. Finally, satan was bound that the nations might be loosed.

So, all the Words of the Bible are bound by Covenant, and are thus “Covenant-shaped.” Jesus spoke the Words the Father gave Him, like all the prophets before and the apostles after Him. This might explain a strange turn of phrase in the commission of Ezekiel, “the son of man.”

And He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.”  Then the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me. And He said to me: “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day.  (Ezekiel 2:1-3)

Apparently, the phrase translated “I will speak to you” in Ezekiel 2:1 is actually a gloss. Literally, it says, I will speak you. The Lord gives Ezekiel a scroll to eat and sends him as son of man against Jerusalem. So, as son of man, Ezekiel is the living, walking WORD of God. He is the Law written on tablets of flesh, so his tongue cannot be “loosed” to speak his own words until chapter 24. He becomes the tongue and lips and teeth of God Himself, his every action an articulation of judgment.

What does this mean for us today? The preaching, chanting and singing of the Words of God might feel like a constraint, but it is the Forming of the house, which we are then free to Fill, not only in the composition of spiritual literature and worship music and sacred architecture, but also in secular music and our own stories in novel and films, in fact, in every sphere. As James Jordan observes, the Church is the nursery of all good culture. The binding of Israel under Moses resulted in the flourishing culture established in David and Solomon.

The arrogant notion that we could move away from God’s Forming Words and remain culturally productive is proving to be mistaken. In an age when technology brings channels of communication crying out for quality content, our culture has nothing more to say. Our words are void. Originality is rare. Pop culture has become almost entirely self-referential. We are tinkling cymbals. Only a return to a saturation in Scripture will bring a new age of culture which remains a blessing for future generations.

In Jordan’s lectures on Ezekiel, he speculates about the sound that the “wheels within wheels” of the Lord’s chariot would have made, being angled at 90 degrees to each other. Perhaps their sound was like the “spirit-filled” blades of many helicopters, a terrifying “Filling” of the sound of the Lord going “to and fro in the Spirit of the [judgment] day” in Genesis 3:8. But our Western chariots have lost their Spirit. Our world conquest, despite its faults, was carried on the wings of the Gospel. Like Israel, we have turned to the chariots of Egypt instead of to the Lord and His armies. Likewise, declining education standards are not remedied by more borrowed money but by a return to the Bible. Ichabod is written over every public school. Our culture is like a ceiling fan after the power blacks out. The blades are still spinning, giving the impression that their animus remains, but the life is ebbing away with every slowing revolution. In medical terms, this is the death rattles. To be loosed from the Bible is to be bound by barbarism.

The literacy and education enjoyed but taken for granted by many of Christianity’s harshest critics was a direct result of Christianity. They assume such blessings will continue. Or do they?

“You are not educated if you don’t know the Bible.” – Christopher Hitchens

“A native speaker of English who has not read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian.” – Richard Dawkins

ART: William Blake

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5 Responses to “Forming Words”

  • Chris Oswald Says:

    Excellent Mike!

    John 11-12 has a bunch of these. A couple times with Lazarus. Then in John 12, the nard is bound in the flower then loosed through crushing, then bound in the alabaster box, then loosed through breaking on Jesus’ feet, which are themselves bound only to be loosed and set on his bound enemies as a footstool… for the redemptive loosing of creation’s futile bondage.

    The life bound in the seed is loosed through its death… and fills the nations with the glory of God.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Nice one. Smells good, too. Like Lazarus did.

  • Chris Oswald Says:

    Hah! I don’t know if the modern day spikenard really is the same stuff. But I’ve smelled that stuff and it is really strong.

    I wanted to riff on potency a bit… but couldn’t think of how to say it. Basically, the more potent the thing bound, the more powerful the liberation.

  • David Says:

    Thanks Mike, this is a classic post. I appreciate your comments as well Chris.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Good on you guys.
    Chris’ comment about the nard and seed got me thinking. The “Forming” stage is also two-part. It involves the de-forming and de-filling of the Head, the bread and wine.