Intertexuality and the Glory of God

Seminar — 2014 National Conference

Look at the Book: Reading the Bible for Yourself

So what is intertextuality? I didn’t actually make that word up. What it means is that texts are connected together. They’re interconnected. And my burden today is that if you don’t see texts being interconnected, you’re going to miss something massive. In the cases that I’m showing, you would miss the glory of Christ. Nothing is more massive than that.

An Interconnected Bible

Now, sometimes when one text is borrowing from an earlier text it’s easy to spot, like Matthew 21. He gives you an introductory formula to let you know, look, I’m quoting. Matthew 21:4–5 says:

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying . . .

You can’t miss that. He’s obviously quoting, and then it says:

Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.

He’s saying that’s fulfilling what the Old Testament was anticipating now in Jesus.

Examples of Allusion

At other times, the borrowing is harder to catch, like in the case of an allusion. An illusion isn’t a quotation. It’s often a brief phrase or some kind of pattern of thinking that you see in earlier texts, and you could miss it. So the question is, how do you know that an author wants you to catch the connection, the interconnectedness? Well, here’s the clue. The clue is you won’t be able to make sense of some part of the passage. It won’t make any sense. It’ll seem irrelevant. It will seem strange. You’ll see people going all over the place trying to figure out what it means because that reference back to the other text contains the key that unlocks the meaning of the New Testament text.

Walking on the Waves

Let me show you three examples of this. Number one, think about Mark Chapter 6. When Jesus walks on the water, it is declaring in fact his glory. This is Mark 6:48. You remember the story perhaps. The disciples are making headway painfully because the wind was against them. It says:

And about the fourth watch of the night (sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m) he came to them, walking on the sea.

Now when you look at something like that, it’s not supposed to be just a cool miracle where you say, “I’ve never seen anybody do that before.” It is, in fact, a quotation from the Old Testament. There’s only one place where that occurs with this phrase from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In Job 9:8, it is the Lord God himself who tramples on the waves of the sea, who “walks on the waves of the sea.” So Jesus is demonstrating his deity. He is showing them that he’s God. He’s doing something that only God can do.

But what in the world does the next phrase mean in Mark 6:48? It says, “He meant to pass by them.” What’s he doing? People go all over the place. Some of my favorite commentaries are where people will actually say he’s playing a game, like, “I’m going to come to you. Nope, psych! I’m passing by you, I guess.” I don’t think he said “psych” back then, but what’s going on?

This is the key. If you miss the Old Testament passage, you miss the whole point. When has God, demonstrating his deity, ever passed by someone? You see it of course with Moses. You see it with Elijah. And this is the same phrase from Exodus. He passed by them. So here he is. He’s doing something that only God can do, demonstrating his deity, and he wants to display it for the disciples to see. He is walking on the sea. He is passing by with his glory in front of them. So you have the demonstration of his deity and then the display of it. And if you catch that biblical reference, then you might catch the next one as well.

The Great I Am

You may remember what God did when he passed by Moses. When he showed him his glory, he declared his name, saying:

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6).

That was the fuller description of his name. But what was the name in Exodus 3:14 that he revealed to Moses, that he declared? It was, “Tell them, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’”

Now here’s where I do not like the translation. Look at what Jesus says in the ESV:

Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid (Mark 6:50).

They’re taking this just as self-reference, as if he’s saying, “Don’t be afraid. You know me. I’m not a ghost like you think I am.” It changes the whole thing. You catch that he’s passing by in his glory, demonstrating it by walking on the water, displaying it by passing by, and then he declares, “Don’t be afraid, I am.” That’s who is here in front of you. He is displaying his glory. He is saying, “Don’t miss it. Don’t miss who I am.” This text is a theophany. It’s an appearance of God. The veil is taken away and here he’s showing his glory.

Stilling the Storm

Number two, think about the earlier boat miracle in the Gospel of Mark, the stilling of the storm. This is Mark 4:37–41:

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.

You read that and you say, “What does that have to do with anything?” Mark is the only one that tells us he’s sleeping. Why tell us he’s sleeping? Is this just an interesting color commentary? It actually makes a huge difference in this passage because the whole theme is faith. The question is, are the disciples exercising faith? And you know that because at the end, he says to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).

So here’s the question, has Jesus been modeling faith to them what that would look like? Now you might say, “I don’t see faith in the passage. I just see sleep.” And that’s the point. If you catch the themes from the Old Testament, you’ll see that there is a huge connection, an interconnectedness between sleep and faith. In fact, sleep is the result of faith.

I’ll give you one example. In Psalm 3, what you have is you have David on the run from his enemies, from Absalom and those who are now trying to kill him, and David looks at everything that he’s facing in Psalm 3:1–2. They’re pursuing him to death and they’re even, in Psalm 3:2, taunting him and saying of his soul that there’s no deliverance for him in God. See the taunt. They are saying, “Not even God could deliver you from us.” And then David goes from looking at them to looking at God, and then he says:

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
     my glory, and the lifter of my head (Psalm 3:3).

Therefore, he says:

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
     who have set themselves against me all around (Psalm 3:6).

God is not just a shield like Captain America from the front; he’s a shield around me, so I don’t need to fear everybody that’s gathered around me. So what does he do? If he sees that God is greater, that the one that is for him is greater than all those against him, what does he do? Psalm 3:5 says:

I lay down and slept;
     I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.

Who Then Is This?

In the ancient world, people went to war at daybreak. So here’s David, probably sleeping somewhere, trying to hide. He’s already been spotted. The enemies are surrounding him. He knows that in the morning 10,000 professionally trained killers are coming with just one mission, to take him out. How would you sleep? Counting sheep isn’t going to help here. So what David does is he says, “Yes, those who are against me are great, but they’re no match for the one who’s for me. I can sleep.” So in the same way, Jesus is modeling faith. He starts off as the model of faith for these disciples, showing them what restful contentment in God means, even in the midst of a storm.

And so now he asks, “Why are you so afraid?” (Mark 4:40). Here’s the point now. Jesus moves from being the model of faith to being the object of faith. Mark 4:39–41 says:

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Do you see the beauty of this passage? Jesus, as the model of faith, is fully human. He sleeps. He does something that only a human can do. Psalm 121:4 says that God doesn’t slumber or sleep. He’s doing something that only a human can do. He’s fully human. He’s not faking it. He doesn’t have one eye half open. He’s sleeping, and then he does something that only God can do. He doesn’t call out to God the Father to still the storm. He does it himself. He awoke. He rebuked the wind. He said to the sea, “Peace, be still.”

So let me urge you, when you’re reading the Bible, don’t use it always to just speak directly to you as if you’re the point of every passage. You can get to that point, but this passage is not about what God does with the storms in your life. It’s about who God is in Christ. We see his glory. That’s the point. And then we can surely apply that to Jesus and his presence in our storm, but we don’t jump there too soon.

I’m convinced here that there is a pattern that if you catch it, you’ll understand a really confusing part of this passage, because what you see in Mark 4:41 is that they were filled with great fear. Try to explain that to me. They thought they were going to die. They woke Jesus up and said, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?” And now the storm is over. They’re not going to die. Why are they more afraid than when they thought they were going to die?

He Made the Storm Be Still

I think you see the very same thing in Psalm 107. There are similarities here that shout at you like this one from Psalm 107:23–27:

Some went down to the sea in ships,
     doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the Lord,
     his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
     which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
     their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
     and were at their wits’ end.

The similarities shout at you. These sailors were scared to death and the disciples are literally in the same boat. They’re scared to death of this storm. But now here’s where the differences really start to scream at you. Psalm 107:28–29 says:

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
​​     and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
     and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Does that sound familiar to our story? Jesus says, “Be still. Hush.” But notice that God was doing it in Psalm 107. Here in Mark 4, Jesus does it. He awoke. He rebuked the wind. He said to the sea, “Peace, be still.”

A Reality-Shaping Experience

Now, we know they didn’t expect him to do this because of the next verse. It says they were more afraid (Mark 4:41). What happened in Psalm 107? You could just have this echo back to Psalm 107 and think, “Oh, I know the way this goes.” And yet, the story ends with them saying, after they’ve realized they’re not going to die:

Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
     and he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
     for his wondrous works to the children of man! (Psalm 107:30–32).

It doesn’t say that about the disciples. It doesn’t say, “Then they were glad. Let them give thanks to the Lord.” They had greater fear. Why? Try to think of these disciples at this point. They don’t know that Jesus is God. The reader knows that because of Mark 1:1. It says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The disciples haven’t figured that out yet, so here they are. Let’s do a syllogism. Here’s their core belief: only God can still storms.

Now they’ve got a little new piece of experience, don’t they? Jesus stilled the storm. They are thinking, “Am I meeting my maker in this boat?” How would you respond? This is a different type of fear. This is a fear where you say, “I have no category for this. I feel like my brain has been blown by something that’s happened. Something that’s out-of-this-world big just happened.” That’s why they’re afraid. It’s because they see that he is God.

So that’s the question. They ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). Without the OT reference, you would miss the out-of-this-world glory and the disciples wrestling with it, like putting a cherry bomb into a watermelon. Their minds just explode with the glory of Christ, and it’s something they have to keep trying to figure out. So you see, the story is not all about us. It’s all about him. It reveals his glory.

The Fall of David

Let me use one last example. I’ve been using the interconnectedness of an Old Testament text with a New Testament text in the hope that you’ll see that the distance isn’t quite as far between Exodus and Mark. You’ll see Psalms and Mark revealing the glory of Christ. They aren’t quite as far away. What about when the Old Testament quotes the Old Testament? What about when the Old Testament itself is connected to a previous Old Testament text, like the fall of David in 2 Samuel 11:2–4?

You have to remember here, David is on this rise to power. He is showing us the exact opposite of what we saw with Saul. Saul had a precocious beginning, then quickly crashed and burned, and then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him when he led Israel against the Ammonites. The Ammonites were looming large in this story, and there’s some resonance here because the king of the Ammonites was named Nahash, which in Hebrew is the word for snake. So he’s the serpent king and Saul has just defeated him.

But then, after that happened, Saul rejected the word of the Lord and the Lord rejected him as king (1 Samuel 15:26). David is anointed as king in 1 Samuel 16. The very next chapter has David defeating a Philistine giant, crushing his head. It sounds a little bit like Genesis 3:15.

Then, just so you can’t miss it, his rise to power culminates in the defeat of the king of the Ammonites. This time it’s the seed of Nahash, the son of Nahash, the seed of the serpent. He has defeated him. But then David’s rise to power stops in 2 Samuel 11. The narrator has been telling us this story, and the whole Old Testament rings with this anticipation. Is this finally the one we’ve been waiting for? Is this the one who will lead us into victory? Is this the one who will defeat God’s enemies? And then we find the answer is no. Any hopes that David is the Messiah are going to be decisively dashed.

The Note of Final Resolution

The author now actually wants to take us back to Genesis 3, but not Genesis 3:15. He’s taking us to Genesis 3:6. There are three words that are important here. It says that David saw that Bathsheba was beautiful, so he took her (2 Samuel 11:2). You’ve seen those three terms together before twice. Once was in Genesis 3:6. This was the fall of Adam and Eve. It says, “When the woman saw that the tree was good (or beautiful, same word) for food, she took its fruit.” What followed next was judgment.

You see it again once more in Genesis 6. It says, “The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful (good) and they took them as their wives.” What happens after that? You get judgment through the flood. Anybody that’s listening to this is going to catch the resonance. And if you doubt that they could, keep in mind that they were an oral culture that really just learned the Bible. That was their text, that was what they knew. We’re more of a TV culture, so if I just say a phrase like, “Go ahead, make my day,” almost everyone knows where I’m getting at.

I’ll go further. I could not just say a phrase; I could just say a syllable and you’d know what I’m saying — “D’oh!” Many of you are going to be thinking of Homer Simpson. That’s the way they knew the Bible. They heard the words “saw, beautiful, took,” and thought, “Oh no.” This isn’t the one we were waiting for. You see, all the people in the Old Testament that you could get this hope up for, they have a fall narrative. You think about Joshua. Someone might say, “Where’s his fall narrative?” In Joshua 9, it says the Gibeonites were more crafty than other people. They are crafty like the serpent, and the Israelites fell. Joshua fell.

Now, why do I even bring this up? What does this have to do with the glory of Christ? Well, much in every way. Benjamin Zander once gave a lecture on classical music and he argued that no one is really tone deaf. In his argument, he used a piece from Chopin to illustrate his point. He played a series of notes — B, A, G, F, E. Everybody knows it. You know that’s the next note. That’s the right note. That’s the one that brings closure. But in this piece, he goes through this cycle again and again — B, A, G, F, and then hits the wrong note. And you know that’s not the right note. That’s not the one we’re waiting for. All of those fall narratives bring you to the coming of Christ and the temptation of Christ with Satan.

And you hear the note: B, A, G, F, E. And you know this is the one. This is the one who has no fall narrative. This is the one who will defeat the serpent. This is the one who will not only preach the gospel but purchase the good news of the gospel. He is the one that when you hear that note, your soul is satisfied by the sound.