Posts Tagged ‘Michael Wilcock’

Michael Wilcock and Barry Webb on Samson’s atoning death

September 12, 2014

Webb’s recent commentary, along with Wilcock’s older Bible Speaks Today volume, help us navigate our way through a difficult but rewarding book of the Bible.

Insightful commentary and darn good writing, here’s Michael Wilcock, from his Bible Speaks Today commentary on Judges, commenting on Judges 16:1-3:

Samson was paying a visit to Gaza (whatever for? Even if Israelites generally now felt at home among their Philistine neighbours, how could Samson imagine that he would be welcome? Still, there he was), and he saw another girl he fancied; she was a prostitute, and ‘he went in to her’.

No doubt at the time it meant nothing in particular to him. Not that anything ever did, much. But then when he is not saving Israel, he is being Israel, and that is most of the time. Sometimes he represents God as Israel sees him; much more often it seems that he represents Israel as God sees her, and here is a cheerfully representative episode. It is no use being shocked. In this way we are all Samsons in some way or other, relishing the wrong thing in the wrong place, not least as we are persuaded that it doesn’t particularly matter.[1]

My sermon this Sunday on Samson will no doubt focus on the ways in which he represents Israel. He is her representative in a quasi-official capacity as judge. But more importantly, he’s her representative as sinner. His sins are her sins writ large. To be sure, when he dies, he dies for his own sins (foremost of which is forsaking the last vestige of his Nazirite vow: to keep his hair from being cut). Even more, he dies for Israel’s sins, a death by which God’s people will be saved—more or less. The Philistines will at least be less of an enemy, until a more decisive victory comes by way of David a couple of centuries later.

So we see in Samson’s suffering and cruciform death between two pillars a foreshadowing of Christ’s passion and atoning death on the cross. Jesus is without sin, but as Israel’s representative, he takes her sins upon himself and dies in order to save God’s people and defeat God’s enemies.

There plenty of other parallels to the gospel, as Barry Webb points out here:

Christian readers can hardly fail to notice a number of points of correspondence between the broad structure of Samson’s career and that of Christ: his annunciation by a divine messenger, his marvelous conception, his holiness as a Nazirite, his endowment with the Spirit, his rejection by his own people, his being handed over by their leaders, the mocking and scorn he suffered at their hands, and the way his calling was consummated in his death, by which he defeated the god Dagon and laid the foundation for a deliverance to be fully realized in a day to come. The correspondences are too numerous, and too germane to who Samson was, for what he achieved to be simply brushed aside as fanciful.[2]

1. Michael Wilcock, The Message of Judges (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1992), 146.

2. Barry G. Webb, The Book of Judges (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 418-9.

Seeing the Trinity in Luke 15

January 30, 2013

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In my two sermons on Luke 15:11-32, I didn’t have time to discuss the two similar-sounding short parables that preceded the parable of the prodigal son and his brother. If I did, I might have explored the intriguing question that Michael Wilcock explored in his Bible Speaks Today commentary on Luke.

He argues that it wasn’t Luke’s (or Jesus’) style to tell three parables that make the exact same point. From Wilcock’s perspective, therefore, the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son are not all saying essentially the same thing, with the prodigal son adding the twist of the older brother’s resentment. Luke (and Jesus) must be up to something else.

What is that something else? Wilcock argues that Jesus is saying (or Luke is arranging these parables to say) something about the Trinity. It certainly seems clear enough that the lost sheep is about the work of the Son and the prodigal son is about the work of the Father. Is it possible that the lost coin highlights the work of the Spirit?

He thinks so, based on what Jesus has already said about the Spirit in Luke’s gospel and the placement of Luke 15 in that context. He also offers this (I’ve put the author’s footnoted references in brackets):

The upshot is that the symbolic meanings often attached both to ‘woman’ and to ‘lamp’ elsewhere in Scripture may well be the meanings we are intended to see in this parable. The church in Old Testament and New is the Lord’s bride [Is. 54:5; Ezk. 16:8; Eph. 5:23ff.], and as a community through which the Spirit reveals God’s truth it is also a light [Mt. 5:14ff.; Phil 2:15]; in the picture-book of Revelation the symbols of woman and light are both used to depict the people of God [Rev. 1:20; 4:5; 12:1-17; 19:off.; 21:9ff.]. If Luke 15:8-10 is meant to have this added significance, we may see in it the Spirit of God lighting the church’s way as she sets about the divine work of seeking the lost.[1]

He goes on to cite a C. H. Spurgeon sermon that makes the same point. Spurgeon said,

We have sometimes heard it said—here is the prodigal received as soon as he comes back, no mention being made of a Saviour who seeks and saves him. Is it possible to teach all truths in one single parable? Does not the first one speak of the shepherd seeking the lost sheep? Why need repeat what had been said before? It has also been said that the prodigal returned of his own free will, for there is no hint of the operation of a superior power upon his heart, it seems as if he himself spontaneously says, “I will arise, and go unto my Father.” The answer is, that the Holy Spirit’s work had been clearly described in the second parable, and needed not to be introduced again.[2]

I’ll be honest: While I was skeptical at first, I buy into it now. I think we should read Luke 15 in Trinitarian terms. It’s certainly true, just in terms of Christian theology, that if the parable of the prodigal son as an allegory for salvation, the younger son doesn’t come to his senses apart from the active work of the Spirit, even if that work is invisible to him. God the Holy Spirit is working through the famine and hardship to get the young man’s attention and enable him to repent.

Wilcock goes on to talk about how the parables reveal different aspects of humanity’s lostness: our mindless wandering away from God, our lifelessness and helplessness (as represented by the silver coin) apart from God, and our active rebellion against God.

Anyway… Good stuff from a good commentary series. The New Testament series editor, by the way, is the late evangelical Anglican John Stott.

1. Michael Wilcock, The Message of Luke, ed. John R. W. Stott (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979), 152.

2. Ibid., 153.