KERUX: A JOURNAL
Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
Assistant Editors: Steven M. Baugh and Jack L. Smith
INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................. 2
KERUX is a publication of Kerux, Inc. and appears three times each year. Editorial offices are located at 1131 Whispering Highlands Dr., Escondido, CA 92027. Correspondence should be directed to the editor at this address. Subscription rates for one year are: $15.00 (U.S. and Canada); $20.00 (elsewhere). Costs per issue are: $5.00 (U.S. and Canada); $7.50 (elsewhere). All remittances should be made payable in U.S. funds.
ISSN 0888-8513 Vol. 3, No. 3
When KERUX was launched three years ago, the Board established as one of its goals the publication of the sermon notebook of Geerhardus Vos. This handwritten booklet was discovered by the editor in 1975 in the Heritage Hall Archive of Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the late 1970's the notebook was transcribed and then reduced to typescript through the kindness of a dear friend and skilled typist, Miss Mary Semach. Further minor refinements have been made over the ensuing years. With the gracious permission of the Heritage Hall Archive, we have been able to share the insights of Vos, the preacher, with a wider audience. The sermon which is presented in this issue is not particularly biblical-theological. It is however an excellent expository message and we commend it to you as a means of spiritual encouragement.
We are delighted to print a message by Rev. Bill Green, missionary to Costa Rica. Plain and heart-felt biblical-theological preaching is enriching the nations. We trust this example will encourage our other readers serving in mission posts throughout the world. Yes, brethren, it can be done!
A Sermon on Matthew 16:24, 25
As we are all aware these words were spoken by our Lord at a most critical juncture in his ministry, at Caesarea Philippi, where he elicited from Peter the confession: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" and for the first time explicitly announced the necessity of his approaching passion and death. Of course there was method in his putting these two things so closely together. Even at that late time and even in the case of his most faithful disciples, it would not have been safe for him to dwell on his Messiahship without straightway adding the qualification that this Messiahship was not to issue into immediate glory, but into suffering and ignominious death.
How little the most advanced of these disciples were prepared
to appreciate the true nature and aims of his Messianic work appears from the answer which Peter, who had just made that notable confession, gave to the startling announcement of Jesus: "Be it far from thee Lord, this shall never be unto thee!" At first thought these words of Peter might seem to be only the expression of affectionate concern, such as would fain ward off all suffering from the Savior; and perhaps to the consciousness of Peter himself, they bore at first no other meaning. Our Lord, however, had a deeper insight than Peter into the hidden motives by which this apparently innocent request had been inspired. He recognized in it in the first place a temptation of Satan addressed to him through Peter. Hence his answer: "Get thee behind me Satan!" It was a repetition of the effort made by the Tempter in the wilderness at the beginning of our Lord's ministry. At that time, when the life of self-denial and suffering was just opening up before Jesus, Satan had instantly discovered how his only hope lay in making Jesus fall out of this role of self-sacrifice and humiliation. Satan grasped better than some human theologians have done in what lay the inner principle–the true essence of our Lord's redeeming work. However evil his intentions, he was sound in his doctrinal views on the atonement. He did not need to be instructed about the necessity of Jesus passing through great trials and sufferings in connection with his Messianic task. In the world of superhuman spirits the issues of our Lord's ministry were understood at a time when they were still veiled in obscurity to most of his followers. As the demons were the first to recognize in him the Son of God and to address him as such, so here Satan, the Prince of the demons, shows himself fully alive to the consequences which would follow from the vicarious death of Jesus. And therefore he here, at this second critical point, renews the temptation using Peter as an instrument in order that even now he might make the Savior swerve from his determined purpose to bear the cross and so destroy his work.
Jesus recognizes the Satanic temptation in Peter's words: they were not merely adapted, they were intended to make him sin; he calls Peter in this capacity, a skandalon, an offense, a stumbling-block, thrown into his way by the Prince of Darkness. How sharp were the
contrasts in Peter's life. But a moment ago, he had been honored by the Savior as the recipient of a special revelation: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven." And here Satan lays his hand upon him and uses him as a tool for the fearful purpose of tempting Christ. It ought to be a warning to us; a reminder that we should never deem ourselves safe, not even in our best and most spiritual moments, from the assaults of the enemy of our souls. There is no state of privilege, no degree of sanctification, that can render us absolutely secure to the allurements of sin. It is only the continuous supply of the grace of God in answer to our prayer and our faith that can shield us.
Peter, however, was not a mere passive instrument in the hands of Satan. There was a point of contact in his own heart for the suggestion of the Evil One. Our Lord's rebuke, while clearly pointing to a superhuman Tempter standing back of Peter, certainly involves a degree of blame for Peter himself. This appears from the statement: "Thou mindest not the things of God but the things of men" in which the contrast between God and men would not be applicable to Satan. Peter's words were not inspired by a concern for the accomplishment of the saving purpose of God, to which Jesus had so clearly referred when he said, I must go to Jerusalem and suffer, but by a concern for human comfort and safety. This is what our Lord calls minding not the things of God but of men. Perhaps the general form of the statement (which speaks of men in the plural) may be taken to indicate that Peter's concern had not merely related to the Savior's human comfort and freedom from suffering, but that he had also been thinking of his own safety and ease when he spoke those impertinent words: "This shall never happen unto thee!" At any rate it will be observed that our Lord's answer is not in the main a reaffirmation of the necessity that he himself should suffer and die, but rather an emphatic assertion of the consequences which this will involve for the disciples and of the duty which it will impose upon them to follow him along the same pathway of suffering: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for
my sake shall find it."
Taking Up the Cross
Now let us look for a moment at the principle expressed in these words in the light of the connection described. If any man would come after me, would be my disciple, my follower, let him deny himself as resolutely as I deny myself; let him be ready, when the necessity arises and the call comes, to take up his cross, as I will take up my cross, to sacrifice his life, as I will surrender mine. Identification with me, the Lord means to say, will probably entail the loss of life. The primary reference is undoubtedly to the sharp conflict of persecution upon which the cause of Christ was to enter. To take up the cross is not to be understood in the first place in the figurative sense we are accustomed to attach to it as a metaphor for the endurance of trials in general. Our Lord literally meant to say: "If any man would be my disciple, let him be ready to go on the scaffold with me!" The immediately following words show this, for there Jesus speaks without metaphor of the losing of life and of the finding of life, i.e., of the losing of temporal life here for his sake and of the finding of eternal life in the day of judgment when he shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels. Our Lord could condition these two things upon one another, could represent the surrender of life as a guarantee of salvation and the opposite as entailing everlasting loss of the soul because in the situation to which he was looking forward, the sacrifice of life would mean a profession of him and the refusal to sacrifice it would mean a denial of him. By holding up before their eyes both this glorious and this awful prospect, he seeks to nerve his disciples for the career of martyrdom that was awaiting so many of them. And who can estimate the influence which sayings like this in their clear, pointed, antithetical form must have exerted upon the first generation of early, persecuted, cross-bearing Christianity. The echo of such words is heard in almost every martyr's confession. They may have well been in Peter's mind when his own cross loomed up before him together with those other words of the Savior: "When thou shalt be
old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee, wither thou wouldest not" (Jn. 21:18).
Now it might seem as if with the altogether changed circumstances of the present world, now that Christianity is no longer a forlorn hope, a persecuted cause, but a great historic power, the words of this passage have no further message for us. We are not called upon (at least it is not likely that the majority of us will be called upon) to take up the cross, to lay down our lives in this realistic sense. And yet I think it would be a mistake to dismiss these words as possessed of a purely historical interest and having no bearing on our own life as followers of Christ. It is easy to show that these uncompromising sayings of our Lord about the denial of self, the renunciation of life are but the sharpest expression with reference to concrete cases of something which everywhere underlies his teaching as an element of universal significance. No, it is not in exceptional cases; it is not in periods of persecution alone that the duty thus described devolves upon the Christian. Christianity as such in its very essence is a religion of self-denial and cross-bearing and life-surrender.
The same thoughts found here appear in other contexts which do not impose upon them any historical limitation. This very saying in regard to the taking up of the cross is found in Luke where there is no direct reference to our Lord's own crucifixion and moreover with a very significant variation bringing out the universal scope of the idea: "If any man would come after me, let him take up his cross daily" (Lk. 9:23). Every day we are called upon to obey this injunction and not merely in times of extraordinary trial. Our Lord throughout gives to understand that the life of discipleship to which his followers bind themselves is a life of serious import, of tremendous cost, to which no one should rashly commit himself without calculating the consequences. In the same context of Luke already quoted, he says: "Which of you desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete" (Lk. 14:28)? "Or what king as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten
thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand" (Lk. 14:31)?
Nor can we dismiss the utterances of this kind with the easy remark that these are paradoxical, hyperbolical sayings which do not admit of literal interpretation and enforcement; for, granting that they are figurative and intentionally paradoxical, this does not absolve us from the duty, but rather ought to stimulate us in searching for the principles involved. Our Lord has given an extreme, pointed form to his words, certainly not for the purpose that we should brush them aside, but that our interest should be aroused and our minds react upon them and study them. Now in endeavoring to do this, it will, I think, be conducive to clearness to proceed both negatively and positively: to state first the false views of self-renunciation which are not only not implied but distinctly excluded by our Lord's teaching on the subject; and then in the second place to unfold the true conception of this duty which his utterances do present to us.
Cross-Bearing and Asceticism
Beginning then with the negative side of the matter, it is clear that our Lord did not uphold this principle in any pessimistic, ascetic spirit because he considered the natural life of man as such an undesirable thing. Life with all its legitimate pleasures he considered a gift of God and spoke of it as an invaluable possession. This is best seen from the fact that he used the ordinary enjoyments of it as figures to describe the blessedness of the higher eternal life. His own mode of life corresponded to this for in the popular estimate he was distinguished from John the Baptist (who neither ate nor drank, who practiced a certain degree of abstention) as a gluttonous man and a winebibber. The general tone of his life, notwithstanding its deep serious character, was not one of gloom but of joy, even unto the very last when the shadows of death were gathering around him. In regard to his disciples, he expressly vindicates their right to be joyful. They were children of the bride-chamber who could not fast, could not
mourn as long as the bridegroom was with them. All this distinctly excludes both every kind of philosophical and every kind of religious asceticism which rests on a depreciating view of the natural life of man. Of the former you find an example in Buddhism which teaches that man should kill the desire to live, that extinction of this fundamental desire is salvation. Monasticism in many of its forms gives an example of the other. The Church of Rome has taught men to look down upon the ordinary life as something comparatively worthless, inferior in dignity to an artificially produced and artificially maintained state of renunciation. Both these theories are irreconcilable with the teaching of Jesus.
In the second place our Lord nowhere countenances the idea that foregoing the natural enjoyments of life is in any sense meritorious conduct in the sight of God; that by denying ourselves one set of pleasures, we can earn a title to others, bartering present pain for future happiness. On this point also his teaching is perfectly plain for he came into frequent collision with a class of people who held precisely this opinion. The Pharisees interpreted and observed the law from a meritoriously-ascetic principle. They prided themselves on the profitableness of their fasting, of their punctilious abstention from all pleasure on the Sabbath, of their wearisome observance of all the rites of purification. Jesus squarely took issue with this standpoint, not merely because it is impossible to earn anything with God, but also because, if anything were to be earned, even then the self-mortification, the suffering of man as such could have no value in the sight of God. What God desires in the law is not to afflict man, but to benefit him–a principle most strikingly affirmed in the statement that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.
Cross-Bearing and Self-Denial
Now coming to the positive side, we can here also distinguish more than one line of thought in our Lord's teaching. Most prominent and most easily understood is the demand for self-denial which
results from the supreme law of love for our neighbor. This law is so absolute and so comprehensive that it is impossible to do our full duty to our fellow man without in many points denying ourselves–denying ourselves even in the matter of legitimate, sinless desires. The disciple must not merely give and so sacrifice his personal use of earthly goods, he must also serve and so sacrifice his enjoyment of natural pleasures. He must humble himself for his brother's sake. Even an infringement of our personal rights by another cannot for a moment exempt us from the duty of meeting him and dealing with him in a loving, self-sacrificing spirit. Even if he should smite us on one cheek, we must turn the other; if he should take our coat, we must give our cloak also; if he should compel us to go one mile, we must go two. Of course if must be remembered in applying this that our Lord seeks the value of such conduct not in the exercise of the self-repression and self-denial as such, as a negative thing, but in the positive good which through it we seek to confer upon our neighbor. Therefore it is not the blind impulse of self-surrender that is required, but the intelligent appreciation of what the welfare of others requires and how it can best be served. In this spirit, our Lord practiced the great self-denial of his entire earthly life; he brought this sacrifice because he understood its necessity and the beneficial results that would accrue from it for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind. In all minor matters as well the same principle should be applied. We may sacrifice ourselves for the physical, temporal comfort and welfare of our fellowman. But it would be wrong to do this, if by doing so, by indulging his natural desires, we were to endanger his higher moral and spiritual life. It would be a useless procedure if the natural life in one were to be curtailed in order that the natural life in another might be fostered. Both in the one who practices the self-denial and in the one for whose sake it is incurred, the supreme end sought for should always be the true moral and spiritual welfare of the soul; and this thought ought to control and in certain cases to limit the Christian in his altruistic conduct. It may render it necessary for us to deny ourselves the exercise of self-denial in order that the higher good of our brother may be promoted.
Next to this stands a self-denial which the disciple is required to practice for the sake of God and the kingdom of God. God claims our supreme affection. He asks that we shall love him with all the mind, all the soul, all the heart, all the strength; that there shall be no division of allegiance; that nothing else shall be interposed between ourselves and him as the great end for whom we exist; that we shall worship no other gods beside him. Now in a perfectly normal state of things, in a world free from sin, there would be nothing in such an absolute claim which would have to interfere in the least with the unrestricted exercise of all the legitimate functions of our natural life. For in man's normal condition, everything–whether he eats or drinks or does anything else–is made subservient to the divine glory, so that the natural instead of encroaching upon the spiritual becomes itself spiritualized and receives a religious consecration, thus rendering all self-denial superfluous. But in such a state the Christian does not exist for the present. He lives in a world of disharmony and conflicting forces in which the true balance and proportion of things has been lost. And therefore, the natural constantly tends to engross him in such a sense and to such an extent as to draw him away from God. Hence it is necessary that he should force it back within its proper limits wherever it interferes with his undivided devotion to the service of God. Our Lord frequently speaks of self-denial for the sake of God in this sense. The kingdom of God and God's righteousness are to be sought first. The Christian ought to wean himself from that pagan seeking after the things of this life which treats them as if they were the ultimate realities, which virtually puts them in the place of God. Martha was cumbered with much serving while only one thing was supremely needful; and by attending to this one thing Mary had chosen the good part. How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God. Circumstances arose in which Jesus demanded the giving away of all earthly goods; nay, where he warned against the yielding to the claims of natural affection, where he refused permission to go and bury one's father and advised the abstention from marriage because the interests of the kingdom of God could not be properly served without these renunciations. But here again he kept clearly in view the positive end to which all self-denial must be
directed. The negative self-repression must be accompanied by a positive self-surrender to God and the concerns of his kingdom. Without the cultivation of the latter, the former would not only be useless but harmful. Our Lord himself is the great example in this respect. He not only perfectly glorified God in his use of the natural world, but also kept his detachment from the world free from every taint of unnaturalness and austerity by the positive joy and satisfaction he found in always serving the Father.
Finally in the third place our Lord preaches the duty of self-denial because self has become identified with sin. So far we have only dwelt upon the renunciation of the natural instincts under special circumstances where they come in conflict with the higher, the paramount interests of the love of God and our neighbor. But in the heart of every man there are cravings and lusts evil in themselves which must under all circumstances and at any cost be suppressed if the higher life of the soul is to prosper. Even in the disciple, even in the Christian who has already entered the kingdom, there are two natures, two principles, two selves wrestling for the supremacy. It is in reference to the duty of denying this lower sinful self that our Lord has spoken the sharpest, most uncompromising words: "If thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body be cast into hell. And if thy right hand causeth thee to stumble, cut if off and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee, that one of thy members should perish and not thy whole body go in to hell" (Mt. 5:29-30). That is to say where the natural self has been so taken into the service of sin as to bring the very soul into peril, there the disciple must by the severest discipline, in a painful process cut himself loose, tear himself away from it. Here self-denial becomes so imperative because it amounts to the direct denial of the right of sin to rule over us.
Now our Lord does not mean this in the merely outward sense that the refusal to indulge the act of sin is sufficient. He nowhere lends his authority to the view that sin can be effectually conquered
by attacking its external manifestations. He had too profound a conception of the internal source and the inveterate nature of sin than that he should have relied on such a remedy. No mortification of the flesh can uproot a single evil desire from the heart. The penances may kill the body, but they cannot kill the sin. No–what our Lord refers to is something internal; something that only the true child of God can practice–it is a penance of the soul. From the overt act of sin even an unbeliever, a man of the world may perchance by force of will restrain himself. But this deeper, spiritual self-denial whereby the regenerate consciousness asserts itself against the stirrings of the lower nature and reduces the desire itself to silence and subjection, this is something which the unbeliever cannot know because only the grace of God renders it possible. There can be no renunciation of the sinful self unless there be first set up in us a purer, higher self which will plead in us the cause of God.
Self-Denial and Sanctification
Looked at from this point of view the whole Christian life, the whole process of sanctification is one continuous exercise of self-denial. It is especially the apostle Paul who has grasped most profoundly this element in our Lord's teaching and most consistently developed it. It begins in conversion, which is crucifixion of the old man, and it extends from there through the entire life in the flesh. Daily there is something to deny; daily there is something to subdue. I buffet my flesh and keep it under, lest I myself should become a castaway. And what we call cross-bearing in the wider sense–the enduring of hardship and adversity–what else is it but one of the principal forms in which the grace of God leads us to exercise this denial, this suppression of our sinful selves? When God lays upon us a trial, a cross, he always adjusts it to our individual state that it may be helpful to us in purifying ourselves of remaining sin. But here also it is not the external bearing of the cross, it is the inward taking up of it which can alone yield the gracious result God designs it to have for us. Just as our Lord Jesus not merely bore his cross, but entered into its spirit
and approved of it and made it by his obedience and submission effective for atonement, so we must take upon ourselves, receive, as another passage says, the chastisement of the Lord. We must search ourselves to discover the purpose God has in sending it to us and then deliberately set ourselves to give effect to it.
The old divines like Calvin used to devote a separate chapter to this subject in their discussion of sanctification. In their days of trial and persecution there was special occasion for this. But I am sure that even in our day of peace and security there is still ample need for exercising this grace. Especially the minister of the gospel has as a rule enough trials and crosses laid upon him to discipline his soul. Let us then endeavor to obey the Lord in this. And let us not think that this is too hard a view to take of the Christian life. To be sure denial of self, a course of action as if self did not exist, does not seem a pleasant procedure. But remember that it is not the true, it is only the sinful self that we are called upon to abrogate. The law laid down by our Lord, "Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it" applies not merely to martyrdom with its reward in the day of judgment. It applies to every cross that we daily bear. Even now, if we are his true followers, the Son of Man comes to us in the glory of his Father and with his holy angels to impart unto us and strengthen in us that higher, heavenly life which needs no repression, no denial and with which trials of the present are not worthy to be compared.
Preached November 22, 1903
at Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton, New Jersey
The Redeemer of Ruth
Sometime, probably during the reign of Solomon, the story of Ruth's marriage to Boaz was written. We remember the reign of Solomon in its negative aspect, for the marriages he contracted with foreign wives that led him into false worship. In our usual way of approaching Solomon, we see the foreign marriage as the culprit. In the story of Ruth and Boaz, there is a foreign marriage, but the blessing of Bethlehem's elders rests on this marriage. A quick reading of the book of Ruth will disclose that Ruth was not just any foreigner. Negatively, she was a product of the line of Moab which could not
enter into the congregation of the Lord unto the tenth generation. Positively, she was a foreigner who embraced the God of Israel when she decided to follow her mother-in-law. We can try to explain the tension by saying her loyalty to the God of Israel cancels out her being from Moab. No doubt there is truth in such a view. Still, the curse on Moab is meaningless if all it means is that ungodly Moabites are disqualified. Better to say, all the ungodly are cut off. This is the perspective of the end of history when the sheep and goats are separated out of all nations. But the book of Ruth is not written at the end of the age. The visible church excludes Moabites. When Ruth is included in the congregation of the righteous and blessed with the blessing of verses 11 and 12 it is evidence that the end of the age is beginning to break, however slightly, into history. In Ruth and Boaz, Christ is beginning to enter the world. The genealogy at the end of this book points us in this direction. There we find David. And Jesus is the son of David.
But we anticipate our conclusion. The story of Ruth in its immediate context is a story about redemption. For the earthly minded it might seem to be merely an earthly redemption. Here is a poor woman with no life insurance and no children to care for her once she gets old. She and her mother-in-law are on welfare. The young widow must do the dangerous and tedious work of gathering small remnants of grain left in a field. Such a woman is vulnerable to attack. If only she had a man and some children as an immediate help and security in her old age.
Ruth does have a kinsman that might help. He could buy the land of Ruth which is her right by her relationship to Naomi's son. But this kinsman is not a real kinsman-redeemer. He knows that Naomi and Ruth are in no position to have children of legal standing. Naomi is too old and Ruth is unmarried and without prospects. If he buys the land, it will not revert back in the year of jubilee because the
family to whom it originally belonged will be extinct. Here is a unique opportunity in Israel. A real opportunity to add to one's estate indefinitely. Boaz knows there are two laws in Israel. One law concerns the redemption of land. But there is another law–the law of the levirate marriage. This law enjoins a brother of a childless widow to raise up children by the widow. The laws of Israel are not exclusively given over to real estate. There are laws for the preservation of one's name in the community of God. Boaz is a real kinsman-redeemer. He sees the connection between the laws of Israel and knows how to relate them to a real redemption. It makes no sense to redeem somebody's land and to let their name perish from the church of the Old Testament. The land is for the sake of the church. The church is not in the land for the land's sake. When the year of jubilee came and land reverted, real people were affected. They saw from a distance the cosmic peace that the God of Israel intended for his children by letting each sit under his own vine and fig tree. The land would support the coming generations who would worship God.
Boaz steps before the court. He pleads this interpretation before the elders. They agree. The redeemer who redeems people as well as land has the prior claim. Boaz is not a brother-in-law of Ruth, but he can still redeem her. He can raise up children that will preserve her. Indeed, one of the eventual offspring will preserve and save the entire human community of God.
We see the story of Ruth from the standpoint of those who live after the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. But in the book of Ruth itself, there are allusions to another plan of redemption that is still with us. Even the blessing of Bethlehem's elders reminds us that there are those who have been redeemed in spite of their efforts to redeem themselves. Look at the women who are named in the blessing. There
are Rachel, Leah and Tamar. In contrast to the punctilious manner of Boaz in fulfilling the law in its deepest significance, Rachel, Leah and Tamar are engrafted into the church by a human ingenuity that does not disdain deceit. At Laban's urging, Leah enters the tent of Jacob in the guise of Rachel. Rachel resorts to a handmaid to get children, initially. Tamar sees her hopes of personal redemption waning and so she takes matters into her own hands. She exploits the lust of her father-in-law. Both Leah and Tamar had rights that were potentially violated by the men in their lives. This is certainly true for Tamar. And yet securing those rights entailed a faith in the flesh. And this is the history of redemption!
Let us compare the history of redemption to the history of judgment. Ruth, we have already noted is from Moab. Moab is the seed-line that resulted from efforts very similar to Tamar's. Lot's daughters got him drunk so they could have children by him lest their place in history come to an abrupt end. The curse on Moab did not come directly because of this act. It is related to Balaam and Moab's hostility to the people of God. But the effort to preserve a seed resulted in a cursed seed-line. Lot's daughters were interested in an earthly redemption of their own doing and this time it did not have the same results as did Tamar's. Or did it?
That God can work redemption out of our foolishness is no excuse for sin, but when Ruth is redeemed by Boaz, we find that descendants of Lot and his daughters are not universally lost. This descendant will even play a central role in bringing the True Redeemer into the world. The blessing of Bethlehem's elders will be fulfilled in Ruth. Like Leah and Tamar, the outcasts of society, she shall bring Christ's coming to pass.
A shift takes place, however, with Ruth. It starts out with a plan hatched by Naomi that appears to exploit Boaz in a moment of
weakness. Wait till he is well filled with wine and food and asleep. A Boaz in this condition might be more vulnerable to the overtures of Ruth. Wine was the tool of Lot's daughters to reduce their father's consciousness of the fleshly attempt at a fleshly redemption. It was the same tool David used to induce Uriah the Hittite to be a temporal redeemer to cover his sin with Bathsheba. In Uriah's case it did not work. That God eventually used a child of Bathsheba and David in his plan is another case of "in spite of" instead of a "because of". The diminished capacity approach to redemption does not appear to work for Naomi or Ruth either. Our account does not inform us that Ruth was told or sought to actually seduce Boaz. But the appearances created by her sleeping at his feet at the threshing floor would create a presumption in the minds of the people that require a secretive departure. This is one irregularity that contextualization cannot explain away. It also furnishes no moral principles for Christian courtship and dating. Whether for good or for ill, Naomi's plan threatens to force the hand of Boaz rather than make him a voluntary redeemer.
The Beginning and the End
Boaz is not the final redeemer for many obvious reasons. Most obvious, Boaz needs a redeemer himself. Matthew tells us he was the son of Rahab the harlot. Small wonder he appreciates the internal qualities of Ruth rather than looking at external factors. That does not change the fact that part of his seed-line is outside the covenant. The Canaanite city of Jericho was built by the sons of the cursed line of Ham. Ham who exploited Noah's inebriation to gaze on the shame of his nakedness! Some use wine to forget the miseries of sin. Some use wine to gain power over others in their quest for self-redemption. But the prophet, priest, and king of God must have a clear eye, a strong consciousness of God and his will, and use the obedience of faith to accomplish real redemption. Jesus hangs naked before a gazing multitude of Jews and Gentiles. He despises the shame. Still, he refuses to lose any degree of consciousness of that shame by accepting a cup that will weaken his consciousness of pain or shame. That
cup was offered by the devil.
A redeemer who enjoys shame is twisted and no redeemer. A redeemer who is unaware of shame offers nothing of himself and is no redeemer. A redeemer who has his own shame that needs removal is no redeemer. But Jesus the Redeemer joins himself in union with the children of Ham and Moab and Jacob. He takes their shame on himself. He even atones for the dirty tricks they played in seeking self-redemption. He does this for those prepared to forsake self-redemption. He does this for those who will share his shame outside the gates of the city and bear his cross. Not as deeds of self-justification, but as acts of faith that the resurrection will and has already produced–a better covering for our shame than fig leaves or animal hides. Ham gazed at his father and was cursed. We may only gaze at the cross and escape cursing if we see our own nakedness and shame there. For those with eyes of faith, even sons of Ham can find blessing. Uriah the Hittite is no more humiliated as a servant of servants for the real servant has taken his shame away. The perfection of our Redeemer has given us garments of white. Christ and not our excuses, lies, and cover ups is the covering for our shame. By him, our estrangement from the only community that matters, the community of God, has been removed. We sing his praises with the Ruths and Rahabs and Uriahs who like us, have been redeemed by Christ.
First Orthodox Presbyterian
Made in the Image of God
Genesis 1:1-3; 2 Corinthians 3:18
(Creation) Imagine nothing. Of course you can't. You can't "imagine nothing" because it is a contradiction in terms! And besides, our minds are always occupied with something. But one time in the past–no, before time existed–there was nothing. Only God! And God decided to create and something appeared. But that something was disordered, was empty, and darkness was over this creation. The first act of creation left only a fearful void to be filled.
The Bible says that the Spirit of God moved over this void. The
presence of God (his ruach in Hebrew) his Spirit-presence hovered over the waters contemplating his creation. What would come out of those disordered waters? What would be formed? With what end in mind would God call forth this new work?
A voice sounded like thunder; and LIGHT! After that a series of words and a whole creation was formed: sea, mountains, trees and birds, animals and insects. Everything–almost everything. For God had not yet finished. He paused. Cherubim and angels draw near, heavenly beings crowd to see.
"Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). Imagine! A creature after the image of its Creator! After the image of that Spirit-presence, that Spirit of Glory, that Creator-Spirit! A creature was going to exercise the authority of God himself in ruling and governing the earth! The Creator-Spirit was conceding to man virtually the place of God on this earth!
What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?
And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?
Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God,
And dost crown him with glory and majesty!
Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands;
Thou hast put all things under his feet (Ps. 8:4-6).
(Priest) This man that God created didn't just rule over the earth. God gave him a very special quality–the capacity to have intimate communion with this Creator. In fact, God created a special place, a garden, where they could be together in communion. Of course, all the earth belonged to the man, but God sanctified a special place just for them (cf. Gen. 2:7,8,15). In this garden, the man (and later the woman also) could talk with their Creator. They told him that they loved him. There they offered the fruit of their labors in pleasing consecration to God. That garden was like a temple, you know. The majestic trees formed the pillars; the blue sky above formed the roof. The birds intoned choruses and mankind rendered his entire
being, all his activities to his Creator. Paradise. It was paradise! And God had communion with his image, the man and his wife.
(Eschatological telos ["purpose," "goal"]) But even this was not all. There were precious times with God. But the man had a very great task to perform. First of all he had to guard the garden because it appears that a malignant force had made its appearance. But also he was to fill the earth with children; he was to be fruitful and multiply, subduing the earth by means of populating it. Why? Because God wasn't content with just two people. He wanted more. He wanted many with whom to share himself. He wanted happiness for thousands, for millions! And when the earth would have been filled with this grand multitude, all united, God would take his creation together with his people and glorify them. A new earth, new bodies; and the Lord would descend to dwell in their midst forever and ever. Creation and mankind had a very definite purpose; God doesn't begin his projects without preparing a glorious consummation. And man's end would have been glorious.
And what happened? The man and the woman, made in God's image, exercising dominion over the earth for God, judging righteously–what did they do? They didn't even pass the very first test of faithfulness to their Creator. God put them in the garden to guard it, to guard the holy temple–and they let Satan walk right in. God gave the man the responsibility for the spiritual direction of the family and we find Eve tempting Adam and Adam listens to her! God told them not to eat of the fruit of that one certain tree and both of them lust after that fruit, take and eat it. And God's creatures–at the beginning clothed with the glorious image of God–found themselves naked and ashamed. They brought upon themselves the just condemnation: "in the day you eat thereof you shall surely die!"
This would have been the end of the story–the end of history, if it weren't for a merciful God. God took those wretched, ungrateful sinners and clothed them with skins–the first sacrifice, pointing toward a future hope. And in fact, after many things took place, that Creator-Spirit descended again, this time over a virgin, and there was born what Paul calls "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15): JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, THE SECOND ADAM, THE PERFECT IMAGE OF GOD. Jesus received the Spirit of his Father at his baptism and went directly into the desert where he passed the most direct temptations of Satan. Jesus, the image of God, judged rightly between right and wrong. Jesus, image of God, received the downpayment of his glorification on the Mount of Transfiguration when he was clothed with glory. And when he had completed all righteousness, had made the full sacrifice, had conquered death and arose, he ascended. And what was it that received him? A cloud. Not a little white cloud either. Not just any regular old cloud. It was the cloud of the Spirit that moved over the waters at creation. It was the glory-cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the desert. It was the cloud of fire that descended over the tabernacle and filled the holy of holies with glory. And 50 days later, after Jesus ascended, the cloud of fire came back–on the day of Pentecost! And do you know what it did? It clothed the followers of Jesus with fire too–with a little bit of that glory which mankind had lost so long ago. The image of God was restored! No longer was mankind left naked before God! No longer was mankind left "destitute of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).
Brothers and sisters, a fundamental element of our salvation is that Jesus Christ restores to us that part of the image of God that we had lost because of sin–the image of God which permitted communion with God; that image which permitted us to draw near unto God in worship, rendering adoration and praise, presenting unto him our labors. As Paul says, "Put off the old man . . . and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man which has been created
in the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Eph. 4:22-24).
When Jesus enters our heart, he brings the renewing image of God. We are reclothed with what Adam and Eve lost. We are reclothed in righteousness and now we understand and love the truth. We can once again judge rightly between the good and the bad when before we were slaves of sin. Again Paul says, "Because all who have been baptized in Christ are clothed with Christ" (Gal. 3:27). And we are clothed also with "glory" as Paul says in that mysterious passage: "But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). We are being transformed now into glory and our restored image gathers more and more strength each day as the Spirit of the Lord transforms us.
But we also await a greater fulfillment than that which we have already received. As the first creation awaited a consummation we too await a final and full consummation of our salvation, when we will be clothed forevermore with robes of glory. And so Paul says, "For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting'" (1 Cor. 15:53-55)?
Brethren, I believe that for us today, here is the response which the Lord would have us make. If we realize that apart from Jesus Christ we are naked before God, that only by the grace of God has he clothed us in Jesus and made us acceptable once again in his presence–let us humble ourselves before him. We are sinners restored to God's favor by his mercy. Let there be no attitude of superiority among us. No one here is "better" than another. Before God and before his people let us show humility and gratitude. The proof of having the renewed image of Christ is to live as Christ lived, in service to his Father and
his neighbor. Let us humble ourselves before God rendering to him honor and glory for his salvation.
Let us also live with this vision of the church. I have a vision of a church clothed with the image of her Lord, clothed with glory, jealous of good works. A church which works faithfully to proclaim the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, a church which with joy reaches out in love and tenderness to a world so twisted and distorted from its original destiny.
Have you been clothed with Jesus Christ? Humble yourself before him in adoration and praise. In gratitude to God share your Savior with those who do not know him yet.
Iglesia Cristiana Reformada
San Jose, Costa Rica
(Translated from the Spanish)
A Babe and the Babes of Bethlehem
JAMES T. DENNISON, JR.
Angels came that night. "Gloria in excelsis!" they sang. And frightened rustics huddled close to shield their faces from the awesome glory of the Lord. Yet with trepidation and expectation, they did the bidding of the heavenly choir and discovered a newborn babe. A life bundled in swaddling cloths–slumbering in a feed trough. "A Savior," they declared; "Messiah!" they proclaimed. So that on their return to the fields, they sang, "Gloria in excelsis!"
O Bethlehem Ephratah . . . .
There was another night in Bethlehem. No angel chorus was heard that evening. No Gloria in excelsis. The air that night was rent with shrieks–shrieks and cries; sobs and tears. A hellish horde had done the bidding–the bidding of a paranoid devil. These thugs search–not for life–but to deal out death. And newborn babes lie bundled in grave cloths–laid to rest–cradled in fresh-turned earth. None to save them; so that the streets of Bethlehem echo–Miserere, miserere!
Poets, painters, commentators have described this incident as "the slaughter of the innocents." Innocents? Yes–innocent of any crime against the person of Herod. Still they die. Death falls upon them; the curse consumes these little ones. Children–infant children–touched by the blighted malediction. This is one of the hard sayings is it not! Newborns–exposed to death. Why, oh why?
You know why, don't you! "The wages of sin is–death." "For as in Adam all die; death spread to all because all sinned" (RSV). Yes, even little infants. How did the New England Primer put it? "In Adam's fall we sinned all." Even our children–even Bethlehem's children. They sinned in Adam and in Adam all die–all in Adam are exposed to death; all in Adam are susceptible to death. Tragically, sadly–truly the children in Bethlehem died because they were sinners. God is not unjust! The soul that sinneth not shall live!
Slaughter of the innocents? Innocent of Adam's fall–No! Innocent of original sin? No! Innocent of offending their Creator in the transgression of their first parent? No! Innocents before God do not die. God does not execute the penalty of the curse against the truly innocent.
But death at the point of a sword? It is brutal. But is death by meningitis, by pneumonia, by spinal bifida–is infant death by these means any easier to explain? Death for any infant–regardless of the means–raises the whys, doesn't it? And any pastor seated by an infant
crib–gaze fixed on the anxious eyes of mother and father–will know that when that tiny breast stops heaving–the whys will pour out with tears and sobs.
Matthew's account brings us face to face with these whys–for we must be prepared to face the question of infant death. Do we believe in the sovereignty of God? The funeral of an infant will put our Calvinism to the test. Notice Matthew's narrative: the bold indications of God's design, God's plan, God's direction of the events in chapter 2. In verses 13, 19, 22, the angel of the Lord directs Joseph to act and each of those acts is anchored to an Old Testament prophetic passage. Did God foreordain the flight to Egypt–the exodus from Egypt–the settlement in Nazareth? All these things happened that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. Is the death of Bethlehem's babes any less a part of the divine plan? Verses 17, 18–"then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah . . . Rachel weeping for her children because they were no more."
But beyond the pathos of infant death, Matthew focuses on the life of an infant–an infant spared (at least for a time) from the point of sword or spear. The life of one babe predominates and that life finds itself inseparably meshed with the story of Israel.
You will notice that Matthew's gospel begins with a genealogy which summarizes the major eras in Old Testament Israel's redemptive history: from Abraham to David (14 generations); from David to the Exile (14 generations); from the Exile to Christ (14 generations). Matthew's gospel elaborates this development by way of Messianic fulfillment. Messiah Jesus–is seed of Abraham, seed of David, seed of remnant Israel.
Abraham's seed is conceived in a virgin womb–the angel declaring what God will do in the woman's life. The incredulous husband-to-be is instructed in naming the new born. This son of Abraham–Jesus–becomes a blessing–a Savior. A covenant pledge to father Abraham is sealed–the seed who is benediction is this Emmanuel!
David's seed is visited by eastern seers; guided by a bright and morning star, leading–resting–over Judah's land. A king in Judah hears of a new king. While suppressing his fury, he asks the 'magi' of his court about his competitor. A shepherd-king–David-like–from Bethlehem, city of David. Shepherd-king? Herod was no pastor. Sheep were for driving, or worse–slaughtering. A king to lead his flock? a king to shield his flock? A king to carry his flock? What drivel! Herod was a master of the practical–lie through your teeth, snooker your enemy and eliminate the opposition.
But Matthew presents more to his reader. Great David's greater son is qualified by birthplace–Bethlehem; qualified by role–shepherd-king; qualified by homage–regal gifts bestowed upon the infant God. Jesus is son of David.
Yet in addition to Abrahamic and Davidic themes, Matthew has presented Mosaic themes in his gospel. This is particularly true of chapters 2-4 where the Exodus pattern is explicit.
Notice the drama of the Herod narrative as a parallel to the pharaoh of the Exodus. A hostile king intent upon destroying the Lord's agent of deliverance. A child become the object of a tyrant's wrath and blood-thirsty oppression, yet a child saved from death by God's wonderful intervention. Is Jesus a new Moses? Perhaps. But perhaps the meaning goes deeper–the theological content more fundamental. The exodus motifs in Matthew 2-4 are not strictly chronological; that is, we do not move directly from Egypt to Midian to Egypt to the Red Sea to the Wilderness to the Jordan. But each movement is present in Matthew. The descent into Egypt is there–the ascent from Egypt is there–the passing through the waters is there–the entrance into the wilderness–the 40 day sojourn–the crossing of the Jordan. Matthew's Jesus experiences the drama of the exodus. In fact, Jesus virtually relives the exodus pattern in his own experience. Why? Why has the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to portray Jesus as undergoing the Exodus experience of Old Testament Israel? What is more fundamental than Jesus as a second Moses?
It is sonship. Jesus is the Son of God. But Son of God incarnate. He takes flesh and flesh puts him in the arena of history. And the historical arena in which the incarnate Son lives out the drama of his own history is the arena of Israel. Israel's history and Jesus' history are intertwined–woven together; for you see the history of Israel and the history of Jesus is the history of God's Son. Matthew 2:15–"out of Egypt have I called my Son." Exodus 4:22–"Israel is my first-born son, Let my son go!"
Matthew presents Jesus' Sonship in terms of Exodus era sonship because he wants his Jewish readers to see that sonship for Israel was not a thing in itself. Sonship for Israel was modeled on the relationship between the eternal Father and his eternally begotten Son. The historical declaration of Israel as God's son was based on the already existing relationship between the Father and the Son and all who were in the Son as his elect people. Thus, when the Son of God–Jesus Christ–comes into the world, he makes plain and clear what Sonship in history means. True divine Sonship means: leaving the land of bondage, passing thru the waters of separation–the waters dividing two eras–old and new; true divine Sonship means sojourning–living as a pilgrim in the wilderness–the land in-between; true divine Sonship means crossing over Jordan–entering into the everlasting rest.
Jesus comes as the true Israel–the true Son of God. As such, he embodies the sonship of Israel–embodies and incarnates that sonship even to the point of reliving it. Israel–God's son–went down to Egypt. Jesus–God's son–went down to Egypt "in the fullness of the times." Israel–God's son–comes up out of Egypt. Jesus–God's true Son–comes up out of Egypt "in the fullness of the times." Israel–God's son–passes thru the waters. Why? "to fulfill all righteousness" (Mt. 3:15). Israel–God's son–sojourns in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus–God's true Son–goes to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.
Here is the point! The sonship of Old Testament Israel was not an end in itself. How could it have been when it was such a miserable
failure! The exodus was a failure–the passage of the Red Sea was a failure–the sojourn in the wilderness was a failure–the entrance into the land was a failure. Why? Because Israel hardened his heart and showed his nature to be not that of a son, but a bastard. And Israel rejected his Father at the Red Sea–in the desert–and in the land of milk and honey. A Son of righteousness was needed; a Son who would fulfill–fulfill in righteousness the pitiable record of the Israel of old.
The birth of Jesus–God's true Son–is nothing less than a new beginning–a new Exodus–a new crossing of the Sea–a new sojourn in the desert. The birth and life of Jesus–God's true Son–is a testimony to Israel. Here is what sonship means. Sonship means to be sons of God in Christ Jesus the Son. To be free of bondage to sin–because the Son has made us free indeed. To be baptized in the waters which divide–separating old from new–Egypt from Sinai; the life of slavery behind us–drowned; the life of obedient sonship under the law of God before us. Sonship means to be ushered into a land flowing with milk and honey; as Van Til said, "to be blessed possessors."
Matthew tells us Jesus fulfills–fulfills Israel's history by embodying it in his own history. He is the seed of Abraham–fulfilling the promise of the covenant because he is the Savior of the world. He is the son of David fulfilling the promises that a descendant of the house of David would sit on the throne of Israel forever and ever.
But where does the slaughter of the innocents fit into this redemptive-historical pattern? Davidic theme; Exodus theme; patriarchal theme–where does Mt. 2:16-18 fit? I think the answer to that question lies in the genealogy of chapter 1 and the quotation from Jeremiah 31 in Matthew 2:18.
Note first the citation of Jeremiah 31:15. Rachel's weeping in Ramah occurs in Jeremiah in the face of the Exile. Rachel weeps over the destruction and captivity associated with the Babylonian Exile
of 586 B.C. Ramah, according to Jeremiah 40:1, was the gathering place for the Judean exiles as they were marched off to Babylon. The poignant representation of the tragic mother in Israel–sobbing at the tragedy of her children–what consolation could quiet her? Jerusalem in flames–captives herded to the point of departure–long lines of Jewish sons and daughters marching to the East. And for the children put to sword in Judah and Jerusalem–what/who would deliver them? As the curtain falls on the nation of Judah, Rachel weeps–for all seems lost and destroyed. When Israel wept for Rachel, she died giving life. Now Rachel weeps for Israel, for the living are dead and the rest are marched off to a grave in a far away land. Indeed, the children to whom she gave life are no more.
But death does not have the final word. Exile is not the end of the story. God has other plans. A remnant will return–an elect and chosen remnant will be preserved and will come back to the land. The kingdom of darkness conspires to destroy the son of God–to chain him and bind him and carry him captive to Babylon–to Babel, citadel of the prince of darkness. But God says–Babylon the great will not crush my son. For God has destined–yes, God has predestined–the return of his son from exile. Israel shall return to Canaan.
So, when Herod vents his fury against the Son of God, God preserves his remnant by sending him into exile in Egypt. Rachel weeps over her children who have perished in Bethlehem–she refuses to be consoled because the sons of Jacob are no more. And from her perspective, the embodiment of anti-Christ–Herod the Great–has destroyed the chosen seed. But God has saved his elect one–the true Son of God is delivered thru exile so that on his return to the land, the true Son of God may fulfill his destiny.
At the death of many in Jerusalem, some are spared thru exile. At the death of many in Bethlehem, one is spared thru flight to Egypt. God's true Son–the definitive elect remnant–God's Son relives the exile experience of the history of Israel. Sent away–recalled!
Now you see why Matthew structures his genealogies around the three great eras: age of Abraham, age of David, age of the Exile. Jesus–God's true Son–fulfills each.
Wonderfully conceived in the womb of his mother (even as Isaac was)–he is the benediction to the covenant with Abraham: he saves his people from their sins.
Lion out of the tribe of Judah–he is the shepherd-king envisioned by Isaiah. The gentle king who feeds his flocks like a shepherd and gathers the lambs in his bosom. The protector of his people–even to the point of laying down his life for his sheep.
Remnant child of Bethlehem–he is the exile who leaves the land only to return. The remnant preserved by exile and return–the returning exile who rebuilds the house of God (even as Zerubbabel).
Jesus sums up the history of Israel from the time of Abraham–from the time of David–from the time of the Exile. He is the final (last) Jew–he is the final (last) David–he is the final (eschatological) remnant.
Yes in the fullness of time, God's Son comes–the seed of Abraham, the seed of David, the seed of remnant Israel.
In him–in this true Son of God–we become the children of Abraham–we become a nation of kings–we become the remnant according to the election of grace.
On another day, the daughters of Jerusalem–the daughters of Rachel–wept; wept and mourned as a lone figure–whipped and scourged–with bloodied head–trudged wearily before a wooden cross–up a hill to Golgotha. Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for this remnant Son! What he does this day shall enable you to sing–Gloria in excelsis!
From the Librarian's Shelf...
Alex Preminger and Edward L. Greenstein, compilers and editors. The Hebrew Bible in Literary Criticism. New York: Ungar, 1986, 619pp., $65.00 cloth, ISBN: 0-8044-3266-X.
This is an important book for several reasons. First, it is a compilation of generally excellent literary treatments of Biblical persons and themes. The renewed interest in the Bible as a literary phenomena is well represented in this volume. Second, the editors have included many selections from the Hebrew school of literary and narrative criticism which have not previously appeared in English translation. A new world of generally constructive criticism of the Old Testament is uncovered in this Jewish material. Third, the volume is nicely proportioned between "theory" and "practice". More than 255 pages are devoted to the theory of literary criticism. Here we find succinct treatments of character, humor, imagery, motif, parallelism, plot,
rhetoric, theme and much more. More than 340 pages are then devoted to persons, books and themes of the Old Testament: Abraham, Eden, Exodus, David, Hannah, Isaiah, Job, Joseph, Nahum, Prophets, Psalms, Saul, Tamar. Finally, the book is significant for what it does not do. The chief weakness of this volume (and of the new literary and narrative approaches generally) is the absence of theological reflection on the text. We are regaled with structural nuance upon structural nuance. All this is salient in its own right. But (from our point of view) the Bible is revelation; it is the communication of words and deeds (acts) of God. Literary structure and narrative art in the Bible are theological–indeed eschatological (because revelation is eschatological). Hence the volume under review helps us understand Scripture, but only in part. More theological–yea, biblical-theological–work remains to be done. That is the challenge of this volume.
The book has been divided into four sections: (1) the Hebrew Bible in general (pp. 1-44); (2) literary features (pp. 45-256); (3) texts (pp. 257-586); (4) Apocrypha (pp. 587-99). Each section is composed of selections from previously published material. Selections have been gathered from books and articles throughout the world. The familiar names are here: Gunkel, von Herder, Lowth, Driver, George Adam Smith, Robert Alter. Most are critical authors although for the most part the selections avoid the higher critical nonsense and concentrate on the literary heart of the text. Yet there are some friends of orthodoxy here–especially Leland Ryken; but note also Martin Luther, Isaac Watts, Timothy Dwight and O.T. Allis.
The first section positions the Bible as a unique work in world literature. Its language is sublime, intense, visceral, universal. Precisely these attributes have made it a best-seller for centuries. Sections two and three will be considered below. The final section on the Apocrypha is little more than perfunctory. Four books are treated (Ecclesiasticus, Judith, Tobit and the Wisdom of Solomon), but only so briefly that one may fairly score the editors for treating the Apocrypha as a mere afterthought. Perhaps the Apocrypha are so unlike the canonical Hebrew Scriptures that they clearly have little to offer the literary
critic. The 12-page section would have been better omitted and the space devoted to an index of the Biblical texts found in the preceding pages. The latter would certainly have made the volume even more useful. While the editors have done a splendid job with subject or topical arrangement (alphabetical through each of the four divisions of the book), a Scripture index would have assisted students, pastors and scholars alike.
My primary interest rests in the third division of the book–texts. As indicated above, numerous Old Testament persons, books and themes are considered. Each excerpt is printed according to its date of publication–from earliest to latest. For instance, on Abraham we are presented with material from 1959 to 1982. On the Akedah ("binding of Isaac"), from 1843 to 1983.
The excerpt from Eric Auerbach's famous Mimesis on the Akedah is superb. How dull, morose and introspective by comparison is the selection from Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling. Auerbach allows the text to draw us into the event-character of the Abraham story. Kierkegaard is ultimately an introspective moralist–Abraham is the foil for a sullen Dane! Auerbach even allows that one of the chief characters of the tale is God himself. We are on the brink of theological analysis. But the excerpt from Zvi Adar dashes our hopes. Abraham becomes a semi-Pelagian moralist whose strength of character is put to the test on Moriah. The works of Abraham are the center of the narrative–not the work of God. Moriah is the moment of Israel as father-son face to face with death. It is the climax of every human hope, divine promise, ritual covenant act. Men and nation are confronted with the sentence of death and extinction. Semi-Pelagian doctrine is unable to rise from such a grave. But Abraham does–a point lost on the authors represented in our book; yet a point not lost on the author of Hebrews 11. Israel goes to Moriah because Israel believes–believes that the God of Ur, the God of Hebron, the God of the sojourning Hebrew is a God of life, not death. Abraham goes to Moriah in full confidence that resurrection is the key to the future. Hence he received it "in a figure." The father gives up his son to
death; the beloved son is raised up to "new" life. It is the pattern of Israel because it is the pattern of God himself. And what Abraham experiences at Moriah is the revelation of the divine Father-Son relationship. The true Israel is the heavenly Father who surrenders his "beloved Son" to death and redeems him by resurrection.
The selections which discuss the Tower of Babel (misspelled 'Bable' incidentally, as a header on pp. 275-79) contain an excerpt from Martin Buber in which he sets forth the concept of the 'leading word' (leitworter). Subsequent advocates of narrative studies (i.e., Alter, Fokkelman, Sternberg, Kugel, Berlin, etc.) have continued to feature discussion of literary technique and structure in relation to leitworter in Biblical texts. Quite simply, these scholars are searching for development and structure as it relates to a central verbal root or stem; ergo a word study. Buber's excerpt in our volume will provide an orientation to this somewhat obvious approach to literary analysis of Biblical texts. With respect to the Tower of Babel, the leitworter is the Hebrew root lbn (cf. Fokkelman, Narrative Art in Genesis, pp. 14-15). The structure of Gen. 11:1-9 is very much a ziggurat–concentric ascending and descending spirals of arrogance and confusion (cf. the structural outline from Michael Fishbane on p. 278 of the title under review).
The selections featuring the David cycle are particularly rich. Again, the piece by Auerbach is superb (p. 300). Other items by David Gunn and Zvi Adar are suggestive. I miss an excerpt from the provocative study by Charles Conroy, Absalom, Absalom (1978). But the Fokkelman selections remind us that this Dutch scholar has recently released Volume 2 of his massive 4 Volume commentary on First and Second Samuel (Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel). Volume 1 (excerpted in our volume) was subtitled: King David (1981). Volume 2 bears the subtitle: The Crossing Fates (1986). Fokkelman provides meticulous analysis of the Hebrew text drawing fresh insights at every turn. He is quite weak theologically, but we really can't expect one man to do all our work for us.
The tension present in older treatments of various Biblical books is illustrated in the selections on Ecclesiastes (Qohelet). Attempts to philosophize the Preacher as a Hebrew Sceptic or Cynic are found to be increasingly at odds with an approach that detects careful literary structure in the work (cf. the remarks of Ryken, pp. 339-40). We await a full treatment of the book from this perspective and eagerly anticipate the study of Meredith M. Kline to that end.
The Garden of Eden receives adequate treatment although Walsh's suggestion of the imagery of reversal is far more important than his excerpt develops. Rather than the rigid etiological chiastic (palistrophic) pattern suggested by Rosenberg (p. 346) for Genesis 2 and 3, I would plead for consideration of two overlapping dialogic chiasms centering in the protagonists in the narrative–God and the Serpent.
A. Serpent (3:1)
B. Woman (3:1-3)
C. Man (3:6)
D. God (3:8)
C'. Man (3:9)
B'. Woman (3:13)
A'. Serpent (3:14-15)
B''. Woman (3:16)
C''. Man (3:17-19)
D''. God (3:21-14)
We begin with the serpent, but focus on God. Then we begin with God and focus on the serpent. The progress of the narrative centers in the interrogation of the characters by the Creator. Concomitant divine judgment accompanies the interrogation. However notice that at the center of each scene is the divine initiative: God comes to the garden (v. 8); God imposes the curse on the serpent while graciously assuring the woman's seed of victory (v. 15). Even God's expulsion of man from the garden (vv. 21-24) is graciously intended to protect him from a life permanently dominated by the curse. Man is 'saved' from "stretching out his hand" to the tree of life and eating and "living
forever" in the state of wrath. East of Eden lies the hope for a history of redemption.
I indicated above that the excerpts do not fully analyze Biblical narratives. They are weakest at the theological level as if our new literary and narrative scholars are content with structure for structure's sake. If Wellhausenism has been consigned to the dustbin of history, such a sterile structural approach will fare no better (cf. the cautious evaluations of narrative criticism by Carl F.H. Henry, "Narrative Theology: An Evangelical Appraisal" and Kevin J. Vanhoozer, "A Lamp in the Labyrinth: The Hermeneutics of 'Aesthetic' Theology" in the Trinity Journal 8:1 [Spring 1987], pp. 25-56). The Bible is more than literary structure(s). It is divine self-communication in word and deed. Hence literary art, narrative device and structure are part of revelation. Structure is to inform our theologizing upon the text. Narrative art is unto knowing God and his Son, Jesus Christ. The inadequacy of the mere literary approach is no more evident than in the selections on Elijah, Elisha and the Exodus. Here is literary drama breathing the power and passion of the Judge of heaven and earth, the One who is also the great Emancipator and Liberator of his elect. And yet our excerpts never arrive at the eschatological character of Elijah ( a vision grasped by the prophets and even the masses in the days of Jesus). Nor do they integrate the new exodus of the age to come into the pattern of the past (again as the prophets do). Perhaps because our book is restricted to the Old Testament era, it is impossible to finish the story. But those upon whom the "end of the ages" has come know the end from the beginning. The synoptic writers understand the eschatological significance of the Exodus. The narrative of the Exodus does not end with Moses or Malachi. It reaches into the narrative events of the Son of God.
Briefly, the temptation to psychologize the Psalmists is represented by the selection from Erich Fromm. If the Psalter is a foil for modern theories of psychological process, we are no longer listening to the voice of God when we sing the songs of Zion; rather we have demythologized these songs to reveal the Jung, Freud, Fromm, etc.
in David, Moses, Asaph, etc. I suspect that the Psalter is really not about that at all.
On the book of Ruth, we are given an excerpt from Don Rauber's stimulating article on the background and narrative in chapter one. Ruth continues to delight audiences as a gentle love story. I recall how the power of this small book was demonstrated in a chapel service during my college days. The speaker simply read the book in its entirety without comment and then sat down. The drama and power of the story left an indelible impression on me from that moment. There are many new treatments of Ruth, but one wishes Rauber had finished what he began with a full narrative analysis of the entire book.
Samson is variously treated as a buffoon (p. 549-50), superman (p. 550) and Biblical Paul Bunyan (folk hero, cf. p. 552). Avraham Kariv (p. 552) has noted that the Bible's final word about Samson is not one of wrath, but favor. The truth of that observation was long ago remarked by John Milton in Samson Agonistes. But Milton gives us a Samson "made perfect in weakness" and in the spirit of the writer to the Hebrews (11:32). Milton invites us to regard Samson in the light of the eschatological deliverer.
Much contemporary work on the Song of Songs has reduced the book to a veiled piece of pornography (cf. the Anchor Bible commentary of Marvin Pope). In this way, we learn more about the private interests of modern commentators than the Biblical account. Fortunately our editors have provided a brilliant excerpt by Jacob Fichman (pp. 572-74). Here is a truly sensitive reading of this Biblical love poem. Not lurid detail, but the restraint that intimacy demands is featured by the Canticler. Not pagan fertility rituals and allusions, but genuine love.
I must move on to outline the section which describes literary features (pp. 45-256). Here are excerpts on literary conventions: metaphor, meter, personification, poetry, prosody, wordplay, repetition and style. Each section is illustrative of the particular literary
device as it is found in the Old Testament. We are reminded that the human authors of the Scriptures were gifted in prose and poetry. All the elements which make up a good story are present in their literary products. We marvel at the rich and diverse genius of each one. Yet we are overwhelmed at the realization that these profound literary matters are the product of the mind of our Creator. God himself delights in imagery, parallelism, word play, plot, character, repetition and style. All the more incentive to use these approaches in thinking the thoughts of God after him.
As a tool for enriching our study and preaching of the word of God, this volume is admirably suited. It will stretch us, stimulate us, challenge us and frustrate us. But if we turn to it when treating passages and personalities corresponding to the content of its pages, we will find our language enlivened by vivid imagery; we will discover the profound richness of Hebrew narrative and poetry; we will marvel at the divinely-inspired story-character of the Bible; and our congregations will be delivered from humdrum sermons which tediously extract a "lesson" from Old Testament passages (usually amounting to a trite commonplace without Christological focus). This book will help us draw our listeners into the word of God–to help them sense that they are part of the story because in Christ Jesus the story belongs to them. While this is not a perfect book, it will assist us in the biblical-theological task and for that reason it is a book worthy of a place on our shelves.
I close with a final caveat. The publishers have priced this volume for the rich and for institutional libraries. I beg them to seriously weigh the benefit of a paperback edition, affordable by ministers and laymen alike. And when that paperback version is released, increase its usefulness by adding a Scripture index at the back. In so doing, we will turn to this volume even more frequently as we study and preach the treasures of the Old Testament.