Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Sacramental Life

Thursday, February 25, 2010

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The format of this post is evidence that I don't know how all this stuff works. This last Thursday's Issues, Etc. had a great pastors' roundtable segment (about 55 minutes) on the nature and number of sacraments. This is one of those critical concepts that started me moving down this theological pathway. Does God actually work through physical means? In what ways? It does strike me that the biblical view is of a sacramental faith, one in which God uses humble physical means in very real and concrete ways to implement his promises.

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Obadiah

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Obadiah."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 385-390.

Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament.  The identification of Obadiah is very difficult, as the author provides only a name, and that name is even a matter of debate.  Internal evidence seems to indicate that Obadiah would be dated to the sixth century B.C.  This is consistent with language suggesting Edom is responsible for a sack of Jerusalem.  In style, this very short book is quite like a single oracle against a neighboring nation which we might find in one of the longer prophets.  

Obadiah asserts the universal rule of God.  He talks about how God's covenant is being worked out in Israel through blessing and cursing.  God's prophets serve as messengers of the Divine Warrior - God who wages battle.  Throughout, we see that Obadiah points to God as the one who sovereignly chooses and cares for his own people.

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Amos

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Amos."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 373-384.

The relatively short book of Amos has tended to attract a great deal of attention, being the subject of a great deal of scholarly writing, especially in recent years.  Amos was active sometime during the first half of the eighth century B.C., so he is among the earliest of the writing prophets.  Amos' preaching is set in the northern kingdom though Amos himself is from Tekoa, in Judah.  Though on the surface Amos may appear to be a humble manual laborer, the term he uses of himself actually belongs to a more influential man, such as a breeder or broker of herds.  Amos refers to himself as not being particularly a prophet.  His brief book may well bear this out.  We don't know if these oracles were gathered over a long period of time or if they were possibly written in a very brief time period.  Either is entirely possible.  Regardless, it does not appear that Amos saw himself primarily as a prophet, but rather as someone engaged in his stated business.

We see that Amos has been subject to the higher critical methodology during the twentieth century, trying to pull the text apart and assign it to various authors, indicating various stages of growth.  This is, as usual, fairly unsatisfactory.

Amos is easily divided into three sections.  In chapters 1-2 he issues oracles against the surrounding nations, using a numerical formula to identify their sins.  Many readers are familiar with phrases like, "for three sins, even for four."    In chapters 3-6 Amos speaks judgment against Israel, typically using the pattern of a lawsuit, though also using a variety of other literary devices.  In chapters 7-9 Amos recounts five visions he received.  In the first four visions God brings judgment on sin, while in the fifth vision God brings salvation from sin.  

Amos' theology seems to be centered around five different themes.  He speaks of divine sovereignty and judgment, idolatry and social injustices, the covenant of God and the remnant people, the day of the Lord's judgment, and the power and efficacy of God's word.

As we approach the New Testament we see that Amos has blazed a trail for us in dealing with social injustice and God's covenantal gathering of all nations together in Christ.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Saturday, February 27, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament- Joel

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Joel."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 363-371.

Joel is a fairly common name in the Old Testament, referring to approximately a dozen people.  This Joel does not seem to be mentioned anywhere else in the Old Testament, though.  He apparently lived somewhere around Jerusalem and was very familiar with the temple and worship in Jerusalem.

Because of Joel's apparent assumption that the temple is in regular operation, it would not seem to date from the period between 586 and 516 B.C.  Enemies mentioned in Joel are common enemies for Judea, so their presence does not help significantly in the dating.  Because there are no mentions of the northern kingdom or of the rule of kings we may wish to think the book is from the time period after the exile.

Dillard and Longman suggest that possibly Joel was intended as a liturgical text for use in a time of lament.  This would explain its apparently not speaking specifically to any precise occasion.

Almost all interpreters outside of the early portion of the twentieth century have considered Joel to be the work of one person.  The book shows considerable unity and coherence.

Joel emphasizes the sovereignty, holiness, and compassion of God.  He also observes that God's sovereignty extends to all the other nations, not merely Israel.  There will be a day of judgment when God will show compassion on his people who are calling on his name.

As we consider the New Testament we see frequent references to Joel chapter 2, where God promises to pour out His Spirit on all people.  We can see strong themes of God's coming judgment which will bring compassion and deliverance as well.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Friday, February 26, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Hosea

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Hosea."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 353-362.

Hosea seems to be among the earlier of the prophets, roughly contemporaneous to Amos, Micah, and Isaiah, in the later portion of the eighth century B.C.  Some scholars suggest that Hosea has some composite authorship based on some irregularities in the lists of kings of the northern and southern kingdoms.  In recent years scholarship has generally affirmed the idea of a single author for the book, and that single author seemingly at the time period of Hosea himself.

Hosea makes his prophecies at a time when there was increasing prosperity in the land.  Unfortunately the increased prosperity seems to have led to rejection of God and his promises.  Hosea's prophecies indicate that the nation of Israel will undergo judgment due to their sin, a situation which subsequently came about.  One of the most troubling issues in Hosea is that the prophet seems to be commanded by God to enter into sin by taking a promiscuous woman as a wife.  Dillard and Longman do not suggest a good way of dealing with this conflict, but they do suggest several alternatives.

The book of Hosea is mostly poetic, with only a bit of prose at the beginning.  As a collection of oracles Hosea is a bit unclear.  He does not make very tidy delineations between the different oracles, particularly in chapters 4-14.  Similarly, the overall structure is a bit muddled.

Hosea tends to use a great deal of metaphor and simile in his poetry.  

Hosea's theological message seems to be centered around the ideas of the strength of God's covenant, the theme of marriage as an allegory for the spiritual life, and the idea that people face judgment for sin and salvation out of that sin.

As we look to the New Testament we see allusions to or quotations from Hosea as Romans and 1 Peter use the names of Hosea's children, Paul cites Hosea in 1 Corinthians 15.55, and throughout the New Testament Jesus is presented as the Son of God who is obedient to the Father.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Daniel

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Daniel."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 329-352.

Daniel is one of the easiest books of the Old Testament to read and one of the hardest to understand and analyze.  The narratives, which are not terribly artful, are engaging stories.  Yet people have a great deal of difficulty deciding how to interpret the writing adequately.

One of the biggest issues in dealing with Daniel is the authorship and date.  Until the 20th century the general opinion was that the book was written by the prophet Daniel, probably sometime in the sixth century B.C.  There are some portions of the book which are in the third person which have long been debated, but there was no convincing reason to assign the composition wholesale to anyone else, and there were no other strong candidates.  In the 20th century scholars, primarily disputing the chronology, the names, and the accuracy of the prophecies, have assigned the book a relatively late date of composition, placing it in the second century B.C., so required to explain the actions of Antiochus IV.  The identification of Darius is also difficult.  Dillard and Longman engage in a fairly lengthy discussion of the possibly identification of different characters and dates, eventually concluding that the book was probably written by Daniel, sometime in the sixth century B.C.  They would suggest the burden of proof for another author would rest on those who claim Daniel is not the author, which is necessary only if one wishes to deny the possibility of accurate predictive prophecy.

Daniel contains narratives which are highly symbolic and apocalyptic in nature.  Sometimes he explains the significance of his symbolism, sometimes he does not.  Particularly in the latter portion of Daniel we see apocalyptic visions, including those which have led some scholars to millennial points of view and even numerological predictions of Christ's coming.

Daniel's theology is summed up well on p. 3448, "God is sovereign.  He overrules and eventually will overcome human evil."  Where does this lead us in the New Testament?  We see Jesus as the culmination of all the struggles of the world.  He is the warrior who becomes the king, defeating the powers of evil fully and finally.

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Ezekiel

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Ezekiel."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 313-327.

Ezekiel, the son of a priest so a priest himself, lived and served in the late seventh century and early sixth century B.C.  He was not able to work as a priest becasue he was exiled far from Jerusalem, among upper-class Judean exiles in southern Mesopotamia.  Ezekiel is outstanding in the prophetic books because of its many dated oracles, with dates given in terms of Jehoiachin's exile.

The book of Ezekiel has an apparent strong personality throughout, though during the middle of the 20th century scholars have started disputing the authorship and the individual oracles.  The disputes are mostly based on the specificity of Ezekiel's prophecies and his apparent knowledge of intimate details of temple worship in Jerusalem.  Other questions that frequently come up in dealing with Ezekiel is the prophet's mental health.  Ezekiel seems to have extremely vivid visions and engages in rather a lot of very striking object lessons, often doing things which would make him appear insane, or at least a social outcast.  Then again, we see that the prophecies of Ezekiel serve to tell people why they are outcasts.

In common with Isaiah, Zephaniah, and the LXX of Jeremiah, Ezekiel starts with oracles of judgment pertaining to his historical movement, turns to oracles against foreign nations, then concludes with prophecies of blessing.  There is an extended narrative about a temple which does not coincide with any temple ever known to be constructed, presumably a heavenly temple.

Ezekiel's theological concerns are God's holiness, God's transcendence, his grace, mercy and sovereignty, and the responsibilities of individuals to repent and obey God.

As we consider the New Testament, we see that both Ezekiel and the Gospels speak to a people who are in distress, whose sins have separated them from God.  The vision Ezekiel records of the water coming from the altar of God is easily related to Jesus' statements about himself providing living water.  The water is seen as that which transforms and heals the world.

Sermons I've heard in the past week have shown me...

over and over again how critical it is that we cling to the living Word of God - Jesus Christ, revealed in Scripture and imparted to us in the Sacraments.  It is so easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking we can, will, or must understand God's revelation fully or that we can or would be able or motivated to come to God on our own terms.  Rather, we want to rest on God's promises, look to His revealed will, and accept His Word at face value.  What does the Scripture say?  Let us hear and receive it.  Let us not look to our own understanding, our own ability to illustrate God's presence, our own attitude about what might be productive.  Let us look to Christ and him alone, as we open and close our worship in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Saturday, February 20, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Lamentations

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Lamentations."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 303-312.

The anonymous book of Lamentations is traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah.  It does seem to be of a piece with Jeremiah's writing, though some have suggested it has multiple different authors.  The five chapters can be read as separate poems and do show some distinctive characteristics.  However asserting different authors for the different chapters is unnecessary.

Lamentations seems quite clearly to be a reaction to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., presumably written not long afterward.  We recall that Josiah, the reformer, had died in 609.  After Josiah's reign the kingdom progressively weakened.  As Jerusalem rebelled against Babylon, the desire of Babylon to overthrow Jerusalem intensified until Jerusalem fell in 587.

Lamentations is a series of poems of lament, typical of contemporary works.  While the book divides easily into five poems, corresponding with the five chapters, they have more complexity in their internal structure than that.  The first four chapters are acrostics.  In the third chapter the lines of a stanza all start with the same letter, while in chapters one and two only the first line of the stanza starts with the acrostic letter.  Chapters one through three are three line stanzas while chapter four is two line stanzas.  Chapter five is not acrostic but alludes to an acrostic, having twenty-two lines. The style throughout is similar to a dirge.

Lamentations struggles with the same issues as Job.  How can God allow suffering?  Yet at the same time, how can we who are suffering not see that our sin has brought  this suffering upon us?  While there is hope that God does not abandon his people, this hope is veiled by the painful situation of the present.

The New Testament points to Jesus as the one who will wage war with the forces of evil.  Jesus will suffer.  We see Jesus rising victorious, bringing deliverance to his people.  While we weep and mourn for the presence, we can look forward to a time of rejoicing as our Lord delivers us from evil.


An Introduction to the Old Testament - Jeremiah

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Jeremiah."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 285-301.

Jeremiah lived and worked in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, at which time he went to Egypt.  We can date his work to the time when Assyrian power was waning and Babylonian power was growing.  Jeremiah began his ministry in the thirteenth year of  Josiah (627/626) and was active at least until the reign of Evil-Merodach (562-560).  Some scholars have suggested that Jeremiah was very young and that he was born in the thirteenth year of Josiah, while others have said he simply did not write much about what happened during Josiah's reforms.

Jeremiah does not do well in historical-critical scholarship because his book seems to be a collection of disparate oracles rather than anything that follows a set chronology.  This fragmentary style has led some to assume there were elements of multiple different authors included in one book, while others have assumed Jeremiah simply ordered the text according to topic, drawing from his records developed over many years of work.


Jeremiah's text is very intriguing because it exists in two significantly different traditions.  The Septuagint is earlier than the earliest existing Masoretic Text.  It is ordered differently and is substantially shorter than the Masorectic Text.  This difficulty was not resolved in the discoveries in Qumran, as both the text in the Masoretic Text and the Hebrew text which was translated in the Seputagint appear to have existed side by side.  We seem to be left with a situation where there are two different versions of the book, both accepted by the Jewish community.


Due to the concerns cited in the text, it's difficult to come up with a coherent literary analysis of the text.  We do see an emphasis on Jeremiah's faithful prophecy as distinguished from the rejection of the political elite.  We see that Jeremiah uses a large number of object lessons, including objects such as a pot, a scroll, or a linen belt as items which are destroyed. 


Since Jeremiah tended to avoid categories that would be typical in systematic theology, we have to hunt a little for topics.  Jeremiah presents God as the living God who is absolutely sovereign.  Yet at the same time, Jeremiah presents God as able to remove his hand of protection and allow his world to suffer judgment.  Jeremiah emphasizes the sinfulness of Israel, thus also emphasizing the holiness of God.  All the time, though, Jeremiah reminds his readers that Israel is God's elect, his chosen nation, the people he has called to himself.  God's word is powerful.  It is good for those who believe but destructive for those who do not believe.  Jeremiah presents himself as the one who receives and delivers the word of God, like Moses.  Like Moses, he also points his reader to future hope.


Jeremiah is quoted directly in the New Testament about forty times.  His lament over the destruction of Jerusalem reminds us of Christ's lament over the coming destruction of Jerusalem, the city that rejects the prophets.  Throughout the book of Jeremiah we can see the coming hope in Christ, rescuing his world from destruction.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Isaiah

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Isaiah."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 267-283.

Isaiah, one of the prophets most frequently quoted in the New Testament, also has one of the most contentious histories of interpretation.  Scholarship regarding the authorship of Isaiah is deeply divided.  Traditionally, Jewish and Christian interpreters assigned authorship to Isaiah.  Around the end of the eighteenth century, scholars began to separate Isaiah into two segments, the first ending at the end of chapter 39 and the second continuing for chapters 40-66.  They claimed differences in the historical situation, the theology, and the language and style.  In the twentieth century a traditionalist response has arisen, making cogent arguments that the themes in the beginning of the book are also reflected in the end of the book.  Differences in vocabulary are inconclusive.  Other prophets, living before the time assigned to the second portion of Isaiah, seem to make references to that portion of Isaiah.  The New Testament cites Isaiah by name as the author of both portions of the book.  


Isaiah was from Jerusalem.  He began as a prophet in 740 B.C. and continued until at least the year 681, reporting the death of Sennacherib in  37.38.  According to tradition he was sawn in two under Manasseh's reign.  He was married to a prophetess and had at least two sons.  During histime period the Assyrian Empire was rising in world importance, eventually managing to demand tribute from Jerusalem, though leaving Jerusalem uncaptured.


We see in Isaiah God as the Holy One of Israel, as the Savior and Redeemer of his people, as the preserver of a remnant.  We also see the striking passages of the suffering servant of the Lord.  Isaiah very clearly identifies the Spirit of the Lord, treating him more like an individual than the other prophets do.  He also emphasizes the fact that God is ruling over all of history, in contrast to the proponents of native gods who hold only partial power.


The first portion of Isaiah discusses the immediate present situation.  This exposition is followed by oracles of judgment against the surrounding nations.  Then we see a description of future blessing for God's people.  This structure is typical of the prophets, being found also in Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Joel, and the Septuagint tradition of Jeremiah.


Isaiah is very frequently cited in the New Testament.  We see quotes from Isaiah pertaining to John the Baptist, the virgin birth of Jesus, the stubbornness of unbelievers, the suffering of Christ, and countless other themes.  Most importantly, the descriptions of future blessings for God's people are used in the New Testament to describe the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Kingdom of God.

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Song of Songs

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Song of Songs."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.  257-265.

Song of Songs has a varied history of interpretation.  Is it primarily a reflection on the erotic love between a husband and wife?  Is it primarily an allegory about the relationship between Christ and the Church?  Clearly there are elements of both.  The love poetry shows up instantly on the surface, following the dramatic conventions which are reasonably common in antiquity.  Yet to consider the text as an allegory does not require any particular literary structure.  This is a matter of interpretation rather than of the actual literary construction.  From the earliest mentions of the text in the Christian period (Hippolytus, around A.D. 200) the text has been considered allegorically in some way.  This allegorical view has problems, however.  After all, many of the early Christian apologists were heavily influenced by Platonism, in which they would tend to distance any sort of physical pleasure from the Christian life.  In more recent years, by the mid-nineteenth century, the allegorical interpretation was tending to give way to an interpretation that said the text was exemplary of the kind of love a married couple should experience.


Authorship and dating are tied together quite firmly.  There is a hint in the superscription that the book may have been written by Solomon.  Yet the superscription is not terribly clear.  Also, the picture of the man in this book is a bit different from what we would expect of Solomon, who had many wives and did not seem to have a strong and special loyalty to any one of them.  On the other hand, many of the details in the book do point to someone very much like Solomon.  The historical information given seems consistent as well.


Humans have a long history of perverting sexuality from the way God gave it to be used.  This book points to the sexuality within marriage as a good and pleasurable thing.  Husbands and wives are to delight in one another, not to be ashamed before one another.  


Ephesians 5.22-33 pictures the intimacy of marriage as a picture of the intimacy of Christ and the Church.  It is certainly appropriate to consider the close intimacy husbands and wives have, then to revel in the fact that Christ's love for his Church is even greater than that of a husband for his wife.

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Proverbs

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Proverbs."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.  235-245

Next to Psalms, we very often seem Christians taking an intense interest in Proverbs.  Consider, for instance, the Gideon New Testament publications which include the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs.  We also see people speaking in proverbs from every different culture.  Yet the book of Proverbs in Scripture stands apart from all the other collections of proverbs.

Proverbs is an anthology of writings from numerous different authors in different time periods.  Some portions (1.8-9.18 and 31.10-31) are thoroughly anonymous.  The dating of the sections ascribed to Solomon and to Hezekiah's men can be fairly certain, being in the 10th century and 8th century B.C. respectively.  Other sections can't be dated so clearly.

Proverbs has a very clear-cut structure.  There's a clear distinction between chapters 1-9 and chapters 10-31.  Within those segments there are introductions to writings of different people.  Topics and contributors are clearly laid out, rather like we might see in a book (or in this blog post) with headings for different sections.

It's easy to overlook the deep theological message of Proverbs since there are relatively few specific references to God and his character.  However, when we read Proverbs we read it through the theological grid given to us in the first several chapters.  Observe the distinction between wisdom and folly, the exclusive claims to rulership made by wisdom, and the destruction that falls on those who choose folly rather than wisdom.  In the context of the ancient city, wisdom asserting her place at the high point of the town is tantamount to claiming to be the true God.  In the context of the Hebrew Scriptures we know that to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  All the rest of the proverbs are to be read in this context.

There are two traps we can fall into quite easily when interpreting Proverbs.  We can consider them as absolute statements and we can isolate them from their context.  Either one falls short of wise interpretation.  The proverbs are not divine promises.  They are observations of true principles.  They are not simply nuggets of good advice.  They point to the person and work of Jesus, the one who created the universe and sustains it, who governs its operation.  Like Jesus, we are to grow in wisdom and stature.  We look to the totality of God's revelation, not to little nuggets found in our daily promise box.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Psalms

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Psalms."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.  211-234.

The Psalms attract a great deal of attention from Christians.  On the surface, we love the Psalms.  "When examined closely, however, the Psalter surprises us and we have difficulty understanding its message" (p. 211).  Consider the claims of psalmists to holiness.  Consider Psalm 137.8-9 where we seem to rejoice in the destruction of Babylonian infants.  Certainly the content is harder to understand than we might think.

We see that the Psalter is a collection of individual psalms.  It thus has very little historical or literary cohesiveness.  There are many different authors spread over a very long period of time.  There are psalms we cannot date.  Some psalms have ascriptions which may or may not be part of the original composition.  Ultimately we have to consider the Psalms as a collection of individual works, mostly nonspecific in their historical or cultural setting, all testifying to something about our Lord.

Scholars tend to divide the Psalms into seven different genres.  The Psalter does not seem to be arranged by genre, but we can identify different types of psalms throughout the collection.  The most common three genres are hymns of joy, laments, and thanksgivings.  Of the three genres, laments tend to have a specific form, while the others do not.  The less common four genres are psalms of confidence, psalms of remembrance, wisdom psalms, and kingship psalms.

(p. 225) "The evidence supports a picture of the Psalter as an open, dynamic book during the canonical period.  Individual psalms were composed and added over a thousand-year period."

The Psalter has approximately as little theological cohesiveness as it does historical or literary cohesiveness.  Throughout the Psalter we see prayers which cry out to God and depend on his mercy.  But we do not see any sort of systematic teaching.  We see God's special presence in his appointed places.  We see God working in history.  We see God imposing his Law on people.  We see the exaltation of a kingdom - temporally of David's kingdom, eternally of God's kingdom and the Davidic heir.  We see God as the one who fights on behalf of his people.  

As we consider the New Testament we see a vital relationship between the Psalter and the authors of the New Testament.  Jesus and the apostles quote the Psalms to document just about every concept they talk about.  No other book except Isaiah even comes close to the same frequency of quotation in the New Testament.  

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Job

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Job."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.  199-210.

Historically people have turned to Job when suffering.  They are asking a question which begs for a theodicy.  Is God just?  In Job's intricate structure and series of arguments we eventually see that God is in fact the one who kindly and sovereignly governs all of life, in ease and hardship.

The book claims no author and is difficult to date.  The person of Job is clearly more akin to the time of the patriarchs.  Yet the structure suggests relatively late authorship.  In absence of evidence it is probably best to leave it undated.

One of the compelling and interesting aspects of Job is the way it is set in poetry.  Obviously people in real life don't speak to one another in poetic constructions.  So we see it is more of an elaborate and intricate piece of artwork than a report of historical events.  This reader is reminded of the type of give and take that happens in the Homerica.  This is not a mere retelling of a struggle in someone's life.  It is a reflection on the way people struggle and the kind of answers people suggest.

In the final analysis, all the interpretations of the suffering proposed by people, including Job and his total of five comforters (his wife, Eliphaz, Zophar, Elihu, and Bildad) are wrong.  We don't see life from God's perspective.  We don't understand the nature of relationships with God or the influence that Satan has in this world.  Only God does.  We also see that God works all things for good to those who love him.  As we look to the New Testament we see that the book of Job shows that God indeed understands our suffering.  He even takes it on himself in the person of his Son.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beth Moore

So what can my readers  tell me about Beth Moore?  I have heard of her books and seminars being very popular.  Is anyone there who is familiar with her theological presuppositions, training, philosophy, and commitments?


The past week was a difficult one on the long voyage.  Some hurdles need to be cleared before I can move along with any plans to attend seminary.  One of the prime difficulties is the requirement of a vicarage year.  During a vicarage year I would serve essentially as an intern in a church congregation somewhere - anywhere they send me.  Unfortunately this vicarage year is typically the third of four seminary years.  That means I would have to leave my teaching post to attend a vicarage and then would have a year back in the classroom without the teaching job I'm used to.  The seminary catalog does talk about exceptions being made occasionally, but only for those who have been in the LCMS for at least four years prior to registering for the seminary.  This may push plans back by a couple of years.  I think I have a relatively compelling case for an adjustment to the vicarage year.  But I need to make sure I've qualified in every way so they will consider my case.

This could be a blessing in disguise.  It would force me to exercise patience.  It would mean we would be significantly closer to doing away with our mortgage prior to spending a whole lot of money on seminary courses.

I was personally feeling kind of discouraged until I heard Pastor Bentrup's sermon on Sunday - see the post a couple of posts down.  Odd, how the timing of things we see and hear seems to work out as if it is orchestrated in a way we don't understand.  It's almost like the readings in the lectionary from Job.  Job doesn't understand what's going on.  Yet he waits and eventually finds out.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Monday, February 8, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Esther

Esther is a very odd book of the Old Testament.  God is not mentioned.  There is no mention of worshiping God through prayer or sacrifice.  It appears to be a secular story.  Yet we see God's presence and hand in every part of the narrative.  The Jews are threatened and survive by God's providence.

The author is anonymous.  The events are set during the reign of Xerxes, 486-465 B.C.  The author seems to be very familiar with Persian court life.  The absence of any Greek vocabulary suggests a time before Alexander's conquest.  The book seems to be read most simply as a historical narrative, though in recent history scholars have often considered the book a bit of prose historical fiction.  The identity of Esther and Vashti is only possible by supposition, though Xerxes seems to have had many different wives who may not have been listed in detail.  Yet it is unlikely that Xerxes would have married a Jew unless he did not know she was a Jew.

The author uses sophisticated literary device to refer back to former Jewish heroes, to make allusions to important events in Jewish history, and to use "irony, satire, and recurring motifs" (p. 194) in his narrative.

Clearly the author wishes to account for the origin of the feast of Purim.  He does it against a backdrop of divine sovereignty in all things.  He also points to the importance of resolving unfinished business.  No doubt this points both to the importance of the resumption of Jewish life and culture in a faithful community after the Exile.  It also points to the New Testament concept of Jesus as the one who has come to fulfill the Law and complete the redemptive will of God the Father.

Luke 5.1-11

In yesterday's divine service we enjoyed a sermon on Luke 5.1-11 by Pastor Bentrup.  Since I'm trying to use my handy-dandy notebook and take notes about things I thought I should report on a few important reflections.

As we see from Luke chapter 4, Jesus had previously met Simon.  He had healed Simon's mother-in-law.  Simon and possibly his co-workers had been witnesses to Jesus' healing and preaching.  They had seen Jesus' authority.  This would give them some reason to believe now, when Jesus tells them to drop their nets.

Jesus' actions were out of character for a powerful man.  He raised up a groveling lower-class person.  By the way, there's no mention of them being out of the boat when Simon prostrates himself before Jesus, so he was lying down in a pile of fish, more than likely.  Jesus lifts Peter up.  He respects him.  He takes a hard working man from one noble occupation to another.

God's work is to take our eyes off ourselves and our sin.  He points us to what he desires to do through us.  He raises us out of ourselves.  All we do is whatever our Lord has placed in front of us to do.

Have I not heard people tell me this innumerable times?  Of course I have.  We all have.  But I needed to hear it yesterday.

For what it's worth, Pastor Bentrup is one of the characters who makes me think I'm not too old of a dog to learn new tricks and work in pastoral ministry.  I forget how old he is.  He told me once.  I'm thinking it's somewhere in the early eighties.  Quite an elderly man.  We appreciate him coming out of retirement a little way to fill our pulpit some of the time while our regular pastor is recovering from a hip replacement operation.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Ezra-Nehemiah

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Ezra-Nehemiah."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.  179-187.

In antiquity Ezra and Nehemiah were always considered together.  They cover the period from approximately 539 B.C. through the end of the 5th century B.C., leading us to the end of the chronological period of the Old Testament.  There is some tradition that Ezra is the author, though the actual picture seems to be a little more complex.  The books of Ezra and Nehemiah clearly have been considered together, not being separated in Hebrew Bibles until the Middle Ages.  The books are also closely related to the text of Chronicles.  Yet it appears in recent years that Ezra-Nehemiah is not actually part of Chronicles.  There are also clear shifts between first and third person speech which may indicate either use of different sources or multiple authorship.  Dating of the text is also difficult, as there is some lack of agreement about the date of Ezra's mission.  Nehemiah appears clearly to have gone on his mission in 445 B.C.  However, Ezra's date is difficult.  Scholars place him alternatively at 428 or 398 B.C.  The decree of Cyrus seems clearly dated at about 539 B.C. 

Initially there is an attempt to rebuild the temple and establish worship.  This construction halted in the reign of Artaxerxes and was resumed in the time of Darius, around 515 B.C.  Other revitalization of Jerusalem seems to happen during the period 458-433 B.C.  After the revitalization, the temple restoration is resumed.

This literary works seems to gather material from numerous different sources, such as letters, royal proclamations, supply lists, and some first person narratives of Ezra and Nehemiah.  It is probably most profitable to consider the text as a collation of various types of literature.  While the style differs, the overall point of view and plot is very cohesive.  God is interested in gathering his people and enabling their worship, despite detractors.  Over the course of the book we see a shift from leaders guiding restoration to the community taking it on.  Holiness is also progressively less restricted to particular places and expanded to the entire city.  We also see a move from oral to written authority, culminating with the reading of the Scripture at the end of the book.

As we consider the New Testament we see that perfection has not been reached even in the reconstructed Jerusalem.  We wait for the coming of Christ who is the culmination of our worship, purifying a people for himself.

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes is one of the portions of Scripture that has been hotly debated.  Who is the author?  What is it about?  Does it tell us that we are to depend on our own ability and throw off all wisdom and restraint?

Historically Ecclesiastes has been associated with Solomon.  The author refers to himself only as the "teacher."  Yet many of the attributes of the author seem to parallel attributes of Solomon.  There are various views that have tried to identify the author with someone else, but none has been able to suggest a very good alternative.  It is probably best to leave the author more or less anonymous but to suggest it was someone of wealth and power such as Solomon.

Ecclesiastes divides into three parts.  There's a brief prologue, a long monologue, then a brief epilogue.  The prologue and epilogue contain third person references to the "teacher" while the monologue is in the first person.  The genre seems to fit into general wisdom literature, musings about the nature of the world.

Counter to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes seems to indicate that we are to throw off wisdom, or at least throw off the striving after wisdom.  We are to avoid trying too hard at spirituality.  On one level we are clearly told that all our attempts are good for nothing so we may as well not try.  This kind of skeptical view has led people to debate whether we should take Ecclesiastes as spiritual instruction or possibly as a negative example.  Like the book of Job, we see some dubious teaching.  It's got a grain of truth and it is surrounded by possible bad interpretation.  Then at the end we see a positive interpretation.  What is a good final outcome?  Trust God, not your own wisdom.

We see that life without God is futile.  On p. 255 we read, "Quohelet sounds modern because he so vividly captures the despair of a world without God.  The difference, though is that the modern world believes God does not exist; Qohelet believed that God existed but questioned his love and concern.  As a result, nothing had meaning for Qohelet - not wealth or wisdom or charity.  After all, death brought everything to an end.  Qohelet is preoccupied with death throughout the book because he sees nothing beyond that point."

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Chronicles

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Chronicles."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.  169-177.

The Hebrew Bible puts Chronicles as one book, the last one in the canon, at the end of the Writings.  The Septuagint divided the book into two segments and classified them at the end of the historic segment.  As with many of the Old Testament books, Chronicles is anonymous.  The author clearly lives in the postexilic period, having reported the decree of Cyrus.  The text mentions a "daric" which was not minted before 515 B.C.  It appears he book was written by a single author, but he does refer to a number of different sources.  It appears that Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah probably were originally a single work.  Yet there are significant differences in the foci of hte books, so the information is not conclusive.

The chronicler takes on many tasks, including explaining the exile, showing it as a confirmation of God's power, and encouraging the reader that God has not forsaken his people.  The first nine chapters, consisting of genealogies, serve to remind people of the ongoing care of God for his people and resolve questions of legitimacy and legality to the post-exilic community.  The material from 1 Chronicles 10 through 2 Chronicles 9 point to the kings of the united monarchy as people with strong and consistent leadership abilities, downplaying divisiveness within the Davidic line.  This is consistent with the author encouraging readers that God's promised Davidic line will not be broken.  After the schism the author points to the wrongdoing that leads to the Exile, though not to God's forsaking his people.

As we look toward the New Testament we see that the Davidic line is continued to its culmination in the person of Jesus, the Son of David.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Head-shaking moment

Shaking my head at this one.  Really, what is the biblical content of some of the songs that pass for Christian songs?

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Kings

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Kings."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.  135-147.

Kings is located in a different place in the Hebrew canon than in the Septuagint and Christian tradition.  The Hebrew canon classifies Kings among the "former prophets" along with Joshua, Judges and Samuel.  Though the historical narrative doesn't seem to fit with what we may think of as the prophets, we realize that Kings details the life and work of many different prophets, though many are not what we would consider "writing prophets."  The writing prophets also seem to make a good deal of use of the history Kings gives us.  Jewish tradition identifies Jeremiah as the author of Kings, though Jeremiah is unlikely as the author.  Jeremiah went into exile in Egypt, while the author of Kings appears to be in exile in Babylon.

(p. 152) "The book of Kings is marked by the same theological themes and vocabulary that characterized Joshua-Samuel, and these books together with Kings should be thought of as a single literary work."

Since the book covers a great deal of time we expect to find much of the material gathered from contemporary sources or from some sort of tradition.  Some redactionist scholars try to draw threads of content which would have been gathered and edited by a number of different people.  For instance, there seems to be a thread of information which may begin and end with the mentions of Josiah in 1 Kings 13.2 and 2 Kings 23.15-20. There's another stream of redaction which seems to follow Jehoiachin's release and bring us into the Exile.  Other scholars assume a single historian gathering source material from various archives, thus accounting for some of the apparent clusters of information.  Still others think there may have been a group of individuals who would have produced a historical document, then a later generation who added prophet stories, and a third group who added material about keeping the law.  None of the ideas are thoroughly conclusive.

Manuscript variants indicate there may have been some textual fluidity prior to the Masoretic Text emerging as the received text.  Once the Masoretic Text emerged, the ordering of items in the text seems to have been solidified.

Chronology causes some difficulty in Kings.  A partial explanation for the chronological difficulties may be that years of reigns were sometimes numbered differently in different regions and even at different times within a region.  For instance, one realm may have counted any part of a calendar year as a year, while another might only have counted a complete year as a year, and that only once it had ended.  

As a literary work, Kings tends to provide notices of the times and reigns for different kings in both Israel and Judah.  There is a theological evaluation of each different king and generally some information given about the theological climate in the kingdom as a whole.  The writer demonstrates the continuity of the Davidic line as symbolic of God's faithfulness to his promises.

The theological message of the book is centered around God's choice of Jerusalem and his promises to David.  The writer explains the Exile in such a way as to encourage readers to faithfulness and to demonstrate that the Exile is likely part of God's providence for his people.  Rather than destroying them for their disobedience, he exiles them and even promises a return.  The text also shows examples of God keeping his promises, particularly those in Deuteronomy, pertaining to the kingly line, the curses for breaking the covenant, and the efficacious nature of genuine prophecy.

As we approach the New Testament we see that God is faithful in keeping his promises.  Elijah the prophet has been succeeded by Elisha, who performs greater miracles than Elijah did.  At the end of the Old Testament we have a promise that Elijah will come and usher in yet another prophet.  We see this fulfilled in John the baptizer who is the second Elijah, ushering in the Christ who does many more miracles, performs signs, and fulfills God's promises to his people.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Samuel

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Samuel."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.  135-147.

Samuel (1 & 2 Samuel in English versions) describes the time period from Samuel through David.  Due to its great length, the text was divided in the Septuagint.  Scholars tend to date the book in its current version to sometime in the Exile, however it may have been in existence at least in some form at an earlier time.  As with most of our historical books in the Bible, Samuel is quite anonymous.

Scholarship has attempted to account for the composition through source-critical approaches, though these have been fairly inconclusive, as have source-critical approaches in general.  Tradition-historical approaches see the text as an accumulation from numerous historical sources throughout the history.  There are clearly references to other documents.  Redaction-critical approaches try to identify the theological and scholarly setting for various editors.  Again, these approaches bear little fruit.  

A good quote from the chapter is on p. 140.  "It has often seemed in scholarly debate that the purposes and ideology of these conjectured sources and layers have taken precedence over the ideology of the book as a whole."    Samuel has, in fact, been the target of a great deal of literary analysis.  It is primarily prose, with a few poetic sections interspersed.  Themes  such as longing for faithful leadership, repentance, and the nature of kingship and power politics come into prominence in Samuel.

The Masoretic Text and Septuagint have significant divergences in their reading of Samuel.  The mystery of these readings was largely settled when the Qumran manuscripts were found to contain some manuscripts which are like the Masoretic Text and some like the Septuagint.  So apparently the text existed in two different editions for some time early in its history.

Samuel points out the difficulties of a kingship.  We particularly see David, who early in life protects the flock from harm, later exploiting the flock he has been entrusted with.  Power tends to corrupt and to take our eyes off our Lord and Savior.  This is the solemn warning of Samuel.
Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Ruth

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Ruth."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.  129-134.

Ruth fits chronologically at the close of Judges before 1 Samuel.  It has a simple, clear plot line.

The context of the story is clearly laid out chronologically.  Dating of the actual composition is more difficult.
  There are legal customs explained, such as the removal of a shoe.  This indicates some distance in time.
  A post-exilic date is unliekly due to a tone neither strongly defending nationalism or multi-culturalism.

Is it a novella?  A brief historical narrative?  Whatever it is, the style is simple and clear.  The primary themes are home, devotion, family, and a gathering of the various nations into the people of Israel.

For those who depend on God by faith it is clear that His hand guides all the affairs of their lives.

God works by his hidden hand to bring redemption.

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Judges

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Judges."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.  119-127.

(p. 119) "The 'judges' were not primarily judicial officials; rather, they were military leaders and clan chieftaines who appeared periodically in different areas among the tribes to effect deliverance from enemies threatening parts of Israel."

Time: Judges covers the period from the death of Joshua to the rise of the monarchy.

This narrative takes place at a time of migrations and change in the Near East.
The author appears to have lived after he start of the monarchy (17.6; 18.1; 19.1; 21.25).
References to a captivity of the land are unclear.  
Some political statements suggest a date as late as the early 6th century.
Attempts to pull the documentary hypothesis into Judges have largely proven fruitless.
The Chronology of Judges is difficult.
  Rules of judges add up to 410 years, close to the 480 needed to account for the documented time period.
  No length of the times of apostasy is noted.
  The times may well have overlapped.
  The judges may have been regional, indicating possible overlapping times.

  The book easily divides into a prologue (1.1-2.5), a center (2.6-16.31) and an epilogue (17.1-21.25).
  The prologue sets the stage for the cycle of apostasy/redemption.
  The center provides core stories about each judge.
  The quality of judges tends to decline throughout.

 (p. 127) "God's relationship with Israel is at once both conditional and unconditional."  Yep, this is kind of self-contradictory, but it does seem to describe the way God has revealed himself.

The judges are like the apostles in many ways.  They are deeply flawed people.  They serve to draw our attention to the true God in repentance, rather than to the judges or apostles themselves.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and