"Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly." (1Corinthians 11:27-29)
If you truly know the Lord Jesus as Savior, you likely have felt too sinful to safely take communion at some point in your Christian life. The irony is that the better we do in regard to sanctification, the more concerned we are about sin in our lives. That being the case, the idea that partaking of the Lord's Supper might put us under judgment can be rather troubling.
The concept of being judged at a banquet found in 1Corinthians 11 is not at all unique but fits a pattern that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. The Bible is full of banquets that result in simultaneous blessing or judgment. In this article I will provide a survey of many of these passages to identify the pattern. Having shown a consistent pattern, we will then return to 1Corinthians 11 and see if we can be specific about what Paul was warning against and make application of it.
Mishteh in the Old Testament
The Hebrew word mishteh means a feast or banquet associated with a special occasion, often associated with wine. This is from the Dictionary of Biblical Languages under "mishteh": "meal, feast, banquet i.e., an eating event either as a common meal or usually a special festive dinner, often including much drinking of wine."1 But what has been overlooked by Biblical scholars is the fact that accompanying these events in Scripture are always divisions between people where some are blessed and others are cursed. These incidents are found throughout the Scriptures and are frequent in the Gospels. This concept of simultaneous blessing and judgment at a banquet or feast is a main Biblical theme and we will see how central it is to the message of the gospel. The pattern of mishteh is amazingly consistent throughout the Old Testament.
For example, consider the first use of mishteh in the Bible:
Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. And he said, "Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant's house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way." They said however, "No, but we shall spend the night in the square." Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast [mishteh] for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. (Genesis 19:1-3)
Here Lot entertained the angels by throwing a mishteh. We know exactly what happened on the occasion of this mishteh: Lot and his family were saved and Sodom was destroyed. These were starkly different outcomes.
The term mishteh is used 46 times in the Old Testament, with 19 of those occurring in the book of Esther. In every case we find the same pattern of salvation and judgment dramatically revealed. The entire book of Esther is about the judgment of wicked Haman and the salvation of Mordecai, Esther, and the Jews. Haman's pride and hatred of Mordecai led to his demise on the occasion of a mishteh. Conversely, Mordecai received the honor that Haman desired for himself. Much more can be said about Esther, but the book contains stark examples of judgment and salvation happening at its various banquets.
Going back to early Genesis we see the second use of the term mishteh in the Bible:
And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast [mishteh] on the day that Isaac was weaned. Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, "Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac." (Genesis 21:8)
In that incident Isaac was named the heir of the promise, and Ishmael and Hagar were sent away. There is a division, with the blessing going to one and not the other.
In Genesis 40:16-22 Joseph had interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker while all were in prison. Then Pharaoh threw a dinner party. At Pharaoh's mishteh the cupbearer was restored to his job as Joseph predicted, and the baker was hanged.
1Samuel 25:2-42 contains the narrative of wicked Nabal and his virtuous wife Abigail. Nabal refused to show hospitality to David's men, and David vowed to destroy Nabal and his men. Abigail heard about this and bearing much food came out to greet David and intercede with him on behalf of her wicked husband. David accepted her request and spared her husband. Then in 1Samuel 25:36, Nabal held a mishteh. The next day Abigail told Nabal about David's threat and her intercession. Ten days later the Lord struck Nabal dead, and Abigail became David's wife soon afterward (1Samuel 25:42). Again, on the occasion of a mishteh one person was judged and another blessed.
A similar incident in 2Samuel 3:20-30 describes David's mishteh with Abner, with Abner being killed soon after it (2Samuel 3:30). This event was the culmination of a process by which David's house was established, and Saul's (represented by Abner) was subjugated.
This theme is consistent throughout the Old Testament. Besides non-literal uses of the term in the wisdom literature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, whenever there is a mishteh, someone (or more) is blessed, saved or exalted, and someone (or more) is cursed, judged, or killed. Sometimes this is more or less obvious, but there are no exceptions. These banquets are occasions where people are separated based on their status entering the banquet—either by their moral character or by their status vis-à-vis God's purposes (such as Ishmael). To be invited to a mishteh always sounds like a good thing because it is a festive feast with lots of food and wine. But it is only good for some.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
1Corinthians 11:27-29: Judgment at the Lord's Supper: How Banquets in the Bible reveal Salvation or Judgment by Bob DeWaay and K. Jentoft
Bob DeWaay and K. Jentoft have an article about the Lord's Supper as related to judgment and reward in Biblical accounts of feasts. Following is an excerpt of the beginning of the article. Please follow the link to read the entire article.