Thursday, December 4, 2008

The "Man" with whom Jacob Wrestled (Genesis 32:24)

In consideration of this passage of Scripture, Beza, with no particular explanation, simply states that the identity of the man with whom Jacob wrestled was God, “That is, God in the form of a man.” Gill, on the other hand, notes various interpretations of this man’s identity, listing them as follows: “not a phantasm or spectre, as Josephus calls him; nor was this a mere visionary representation of a man, to the imagination of Jacob; or done in the vision of prophecy, as Maimonides; but it was something real, corporeal, and visible: the Targum of Jonathan says, it was an angel in the likeness of a man, and calls him Michael, which is not amiss, since he is expressly called an angel, (Hosea 12:4); and if Michael the uncreated angel is meant, it is most true; for not a created angel is designed, but a divine Person, as appears from Jacob's desiring to be blessed by him; and besides, being expressly called God, (Genesis 32:28,30); and was, no doubt, the Son of God in an human form.” While Gill demonstrates that some have commented that this was either a vision or interaction with simply an angelic being, he comes to the same conclusion as Beza in that this “man” is God, yet more specifically identifies Him as the Son of God.
Henry, as Gill, observes more than one possible answer to the question of the identity of this “man,” however, he does not indicate which of these possibilities he believes. He states, “Some think this was a created angel, the angel of his presence (Isa. 63:9), one of those that always behold the face of our Father and attend on the shechinah, or the divine Majesty, which probably Jacob had also in view. Others think it was Michael our prince, the eternal Word, the angel of the covenant, who is indeed the Lord of the angels, who often appeared in a human shape before he assumed the human nature for a perpetuity; whichsoever it was, we are sure God’s name was in him, Ex. 23:21.” While Henry seems to make a distinction between these two possibilities, being either an angel in the order of cherubim, a protector of the Glory of God (e.g. consider the cover of the Ark of the Covenant), or the Son of God (as Henry calls Him, the eternal Word and the Lord of the Angels), MacArthur points out that these are likely one in the same individual. He comments that, “The angel, who delivered the Israelites from Egypt, was none other than the Lord Himself (Ex 14:19; 23:20-23; 33:12,14,15; Nu 20:16). He is sometimes identified as the Angel of the Lord.” As stated earlier, Gill indicates that this was not merely a vision. Henry elaborates on this point by commenting that, “It was not only a corporal [sic], but a spiritual, wrestling, by the vigorous actings of faith and holy desire; and thus all the spiritual seed of Jacob, that pray in praying, still wrestle with God.”[3]
As a final commentator, MacArthur, like Beza, has short and direct comments to the identity of the “man” with whom Jacob wrestled. Unlike Beza, MacArthur uses two specific evidences to support his conclusion, one from the text and one from a later reference to the event: “The site name, Peniel, or ‘face of God’ given by Jacob (v. 30) and the commentary given by Hosea (Hos 12:4) identifies this man with whom Jacob wrestled as the Angel of the Lord who is also identified as God, a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ.” With this statement, MacArthur leaves no ambiguity to his conclusion of the man’s identity.
Considering the various points of these commentators, it is my conclusion that this is a theophany, or more specifically a Christophany, that is, that the “man” with whom Jacob wrestled was the preincarnate Christ. Several evidences point me to this conclusion (some of which have already been raised). First, the context of Hosea 12:4 shows that God is sometimes referred to as an angel, not that it was merely an angel that wrestled with Jacob. Second, the “man” had the supernatural power to alter Jacob’s anatomy so as to cause a permanent limp with a simple touch. Third, the “man” exercised divine authority in renaming Jacob as God had done earlier with Abram and Sarai. Fourth, the meaning of this new name given Jacob (“Israel”: he who strives with God; or God strives) shows that his wrestling and striving was with God Himself. Fifth, the name of the place given by Jacob where these events occurred (“Peniel”: the face of God) affirms this “man” was God Whom Jacob saw face to face. Sixth, the sons of Israel no longer eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh as a sort of holy reverence for this event, further supporting that God is the reason this touch merited such reverence, not that it was merely the touch of a man. Finally, the characteristics given in this passage are descriptive of only one other individual in Scripture: The Angel of the Lord, or the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, an identification confirmed by the evident deity, character, deeds, and power of this “man.”

Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Genesis 32". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible".>. 1599-1645.
Gill, John. "Commentary on Genesis 32:24". "The New John Gill Exposition of the
Entire Bible". apter=032&verse=024>. 1999.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Genesis 32". "Matthew Henry Complete
Commentary on the Whole Bible". . 1706.
MacArthur, John F. The MacArthur Study Bible. Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Crusaders and the Church

An often debated topic in Church History is the legitimacy of the Crusades. As with other events that occurred under the leadership of the papacy, the Crusades have been ardently debated from both sides of the argument. The most important question regarding their accomplishment, and that of any activity within the history of the Church, is whether or not they advanced the cause of Christ. Were the Crusades ordained by God as some sort of Holy War, or were they merely the acts of wicked men attempting to advance their own agenda?
The First Crusade, unlike later crusades, was considered a great success for the Church. Following the conquest of Jerusalem by the Seljuk Turks in 1070, as well as years of cruelties toward Christians, the threat toward Constantinople and Eastern Christendom motivated a response from Pope Urban II in 1095. Urban responded with a sermon to a convocation at Clermont in southern France, where church dignitaries as well as the common people heard his declarations explained. He told of the plundering, desecration of Churches, rape of Christian women, and torture and murder of Christian men. With the enthusiastic response of the people, the First Crusade soon set out from Constantinople following recruitment of crusaders. “By 1098 both Edessa and Antioch had fallen to the crusaders, and the following year Jerusalem itself followed and was put under the Christian rule of Godfrey of Bouillon.” While it took over two decades to solicit a response from the Western Empire to the needs of Byzantium, it can be said that the success of the First Crusade appealed to the unified religious zeal of medieval Europe. Of course, some of the incentives offered by the papacy by participation were “immunity from taxes and debt payment, protection of crusaders’ property and families, and especially the indulgence, which guaranteed the crusader’s entry into heaven and reduced or abolished his time in purgatory.” It is no wonder that this combination of offenses and benefits motivated a united Christian empire to march for the Holy Land and establish their short-lived, yet Christian, states (the Outremer).
With the new Outremer and successful capture of the Holy Land by the crusaders, two new religious orders were created for defense. These were the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar. In spite of their efforts, Edessa again fell to the Muslims in 1144. Following this, the Second Crusade was formed in 1147 by the order of Pope Eugene III and popularized by Bernard of Clairvaux. Led by King Louis VII of France and Conrad III, Holy Roman Emperor, this crusade was marked by several disappointments which climaxed at Damascus, where the crusaders were ambushed and unable to take the city. Led by two kings and preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the Second Crusade failed dramatically, which may be why it has never received much attention.
Following the Second Crusade, the rise of an important Kurdish general named Saladin would cause further failure for the future of crusaders. It was the skillful leadership of Saladin which first repelled the forces of Jerusalem from Egypt, overthrew the Fatimids to establish the new Ayyubid dynasty, and travelled to the Outremer and conquered Jerusalem in 1187. In addition to his military prowess, Saladin is considered “one of the few historical Muslims who enjoys a favorable image in the West, [but] that does not mean he is understood. He may have been a noble soul in comparison with his contemporaries, but he was also a man of his era.” Saladin’s reputation was based upon his merciful dealings with conquered enemies, endorsing peace and rights which his Muslim predecessors had not. While this may be true, Saladin was not always forgiving and lenient toward his enemies (e.g. Reynald of Chatillon).
In spite of the rise of this “good infidel,” the Third Crusade was launched by Pope Gregory VIII in 1189. This time Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman emperor, came along, as well as King Philip II of France and King Richard I of England. With such personalities, the Third Crusade “has always attracted interest, for it pitted Richard the Lionheart against Saladin in a fight to the finish for Jerusalem itself.”5 These Kings, however, were no more successful than their predecessors from the Second Crusade and their efforts were a dismal failure as well. Oddly enough, Barbarossa drowned along the way.
Fortunately for these men, Saladin remained true to the good side of his character and made peace with those involved in the Third Crusade. Unlike Chatillon, who attacked Muslims making their annual hajj to Mecca and Medina, Saladin guaranteed that Christians who made similar pilgrimages to Jerusalem would be safe.7
The last crusade worth mention is the Fourth Crusade. Just as the first and third crusades, the purpose of this crusade was to again attempt to recapture Jerusalem, which had been in Muslim hands for 11 years. Likely the oddest of all, the Fourth Crusade was ordered by Pope Innocent III in 1198. As relations with the Byzantine Empire were strained during this time because of the masses of crusaders moving across their land, the decision was made to sail to the Holy Land. The crusade had formed around a few powerful barons, but the problem with the idea proposed was that these barons had no boats. In 1201, six men were sent to Venice to purchase boats, and ended up with the Venetians joining the Crusade themselves with a fleet of war galleys. Additionally, the Venetians “agreed to provide transportation and provisions for the French Crusaders and their horses for one year.”5 Because many of the crusaders represented various military groups, and they were not under the oath of the barons who had made arrangement with the Venetians, nearly 2/3 less than the contracted amount of individuals showed up, as they rather took advantage of cheaper or more convenient transportation from various ports. The Venetians agreed to loan the money to the crusaders if they should help subdue Zara. As Zara was not only a Catholic city, but also under the rule of the king of Hungary who had taken the crusader’s vow, this land was under the protection of the church. However, the crusader’s had agreed to assist the Venetians and therefore, the whole Fourth Crusade was excommunicated!5
By 1203, the crusaders were ready to sail, although there were only a few months left on lease for the fleet and their provisions had been eaten. Alexius Angelus, the son of Emperor Isaac II Angelus, convinced the crusaders to help him overthrow his uncle,
Alexius III Angelus. He promised many riches and thousands of troops in return for this liberation. The crusaders attacked Constantinople and restored Alexius to the throne. Alexius paid half what he promised and died in a coup that winter. The crusaders attacked the city again, captured and sacked it. In 1204, “Baldwin of Flanders was elected the first emperor of the Latin Empire of Constantinople. Thus ended the Fourth Crusade, having never reached Jerusalem.”5
Considering the events of the crusades and their motivating factors, we return to the question of whether they advanced the cause of Christ. One commentator believes that, “the crusades were rooted in the competitive culture of Western aristocracy. Noble adventurism and the greed for land were driving dynamics, not only of the expansion into the fringes of the Catholic core, but also of the crusades to the Holy Land…the crusades were essentially an outlet for the buccaneering attitudes of the nobility. Their war-like spirit was applied by the pope, to establish papal leadership in Christendom. In the end, these papal attempts failed, because in the later Middle Ages, the aristocracy was drawn into the service of the crown, leaving the pope as one power among many.” On the other hand, it has been said that, “[T]he internal personal decision to follow the cross, to inflict harm on others at great personal risk, at the cost of enormous privations, at the service of a consuming cause, cannot be explained, excused or dismissed either as virtue or sin. Rather, its very contradictions spelt its humanity."
So then, with varying commentaries on the events of the crusades, what are we to believe about them? It is my opinion that the First Crusade with its successes had the most admirable motivations. While it is true that brutality and even cannibalism occurred during this crusade,2 it seems that the unity of Eastern and Western Christianity as well as a religious zeal to remove the Muslims from lands not promised them by God was done with good intentions. However, with the ensuing power struggle and continued abuses, whether condemned by the Church or not, of the following crusades, it seems as though personal rather than Spiritual interests were at heart.
We see this culminate in the Fourth Crusade with the sack of Constantinople. While all the crusades may be argued to represent a Christian worldview, at least in the context of their mission, I do not believe that even the first can be argued to advance the cause of Christ. As with the Apostles, believers are not promised blessing in this life so much as suffering. Additionally, the proclamation of the Gospel is the most important aspect of the Christian faith, and it does not seem evident that this was a major concern of the crusades. Therefore, while the purpose of the crusades, particularly the first, may have been noble, they overall appear to be a dismal failure to the cause of Christ.

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