Land in Genesis 18-21

Genesis 18

Yahweh is the “Judge of all the earth” (18:25). Given human wickedness this is a fearsome prospect. There is no one who will escape God’s judgment. But the promise of Genesis 12 is repeated here: “All the nations of the earth will be blessed” in Abraham (18:18). Provision is made through Abraham for all people to be blessed rather than judged. It is for this reason that Abraham is qualified for God to share with him the judgment he has planned for Sodom and Gomorrah.

In this passage, “all” and “earth” are brought together to indicate universal extent.

Genesis 19

Earth words are used in this passage several times without theological significance (19:1, 23, 31). But in verse 25 and 28 it is clear that once again human sin has an effect on the land. A land that once could be compared with the garden of the Lord (13:10) now has not only its wicked cities with their inhabitants burned up but the vegetation as well so that the land that Lot once saw as well-watered Abraham now sees smoking like a furnace.

Sodom throughout Scripture is the illustration of human wickedness (Deut. 32:32; Isa. 1:10; 3:9; Jer 23:14; Ezek. 16:46-56; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7; Rev. 11:8). It may well be that the consequences of Sodom’s sin are also paradigmatic. Peter says as much: “. . . if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:6). Peter does teach that there is a judgment of fire awaiting the earth (2 Peter 2:7), though the connection he makes directly is to the suffering of the ungodly in hellfire (see also Jude 7).

Genesis 20

This chapter touches on the promises of land, seed, and blessing. In this chapter Abraham is both a curse and a blessing to Abimelech, as Abimelech moves from an (unwitting) wrong relationship to Abraham to a right relationship with him. The subtext to the entire chapter is the danger that Abraham’s deception puts the seed promise in (which also demonstrates the promise is given not earned). Land also plays a role. The chapter begins with Abraham traveling to the land of the Negeb and then sojourning in Gerar. His traveling and sojourning in the land are indications that the land promise is yet to be fulfilled. But in verse 15, Abraham is given and open invitation to dwell in Abimelech’s land. The land is not yet Abraham’s, but this is a step toward the promise (Wenham, WBC, 2:75). This invitation will lead to Abraham’s first land-possession in Canaan (Gen. 21:15-16) (Mathews, NAC, 2:258).

Genesis 21

Whereas the first part of this chapter dealt with the initial fulfillment of the seed promise in the birth of Isaac, the last part of the chapter deals with the land and blessing aspects of the promise. Abimelech has recognized God’s blessing on Abraham, and he presumes that that blessing will cause Abraham’s descendants to become powerful. He thus requests a covenant guaranteeing kindness. He will bless Abraham in the hope of receiving blessing.

And yet during this time Abraham is still a sojourner in the land (21:34). Not only that, he is a sojourner who has his wells taken away (21:25). The seed promise has begun to be fulfilled, but the land promise is still a distant hope.

Reading for March 2015

Books

Bock, Darrell and Mitch Glaser, eds. The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2014.

This book is a collection of conference papers. Many of the contributors are scholars, but the scholars are speaking to a broad audience. The book divides into four parts: The Hebrew Scriptures; New Testament; Hermeneutics, and Church History; Practical Theology. While some of the essays were disappointing in their coverage, I appreciated the basic surveys of biblical material provided by Merrill, Kaiser, Wilkins, Bock, and Vanlaningham. Michael Vlach provided a helpful précis of historical material covered at greater length in his book Has the Church Replaced Israel? John Feinberg and Mark Saucy also wrote outstanding essays on Israel and Israel in the Land being theological necessities. Saucy looks at the storyline of Scripture and notes the significance of Israel throughout the storyline, with special attention given to the New Covenant. One salient point that Saucy made was that changes in temple and cult were predicted by the prophets. The prophets do not prophesy the obsolescence of Israel or the land, however. Much to the contrary. Feinberg looks at Daniel 9:24-27; Zechariah 12; and Isaiah 19:16-25, demonstrating that Israel must be in the land for these prophecies to be fulfilled.

But the essay that is worth the price of the book is Craig Blaising’s essay on hermeneutics. He recognizes that the hermeneutical discussion has moved well beyond spiritualizing vs. literal interpretations. Those who do not see a future for national Israel typically appeal to genre considerations or typology, and they seek to operate within grammatical-historical hermeneutics. In Blaising’s words, these interpreters “do not claim to have read into the text meaning that is alien to it.” Instead, they claim to be “recognizing a typology embedded in the text” (156). Blaising argues that the supercessionist system needs to be evaluated by four criteria: are its interpretations “comprehensive,” “congruent” with the passages being considered, internally “consistent,” and “coherent” as a system. He goes on to demonstrate that supercessionists do not meet these criteria. His most telling point falls under the congruent heading. He notes that a promise differs from types “A promise entails an obligation. When somebody makes a promise, they’re not just stating something; they’re doing something. They are forming a relationship and creating an expectation that carries moral obligation” (160). The book of Hebrews recognizes many types in the Old Testament, but it says that two things are unchangeable: the promise and the oath (Heb. 6:18). The land promise would fall into the category of that which is unchangeable, since it is promised with an oath, rather than into the category of type.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. Bampton Lectures in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

This is a good overview of the state of scholarship on the crusades at present. Riley-Smith undercuts a number of popular misconceptions that crusades scholars have abandoned. For instance, he notes that Muslim resentment for the crusades is a rather recent phenomenon, dating back to the 19th century. Christian embarrassment at the crusades is also relatively recent. He demonstrates that support for the crusades were not marginal in Roman Catholic thought. (An aberration from Riley-Smith’s careful argumentation is his attempt to tie Protestants to the crusades. Luther’s argument that Christians may defend themselves against the Turks falls short of advocating crusade. Riley-Smith says there is a parallel between Luther and Catholic crusaders because both emphasize repentance and prayer. But surely repentance and prayer in war do not a crusade make. What is more, the Reformation was a protest against the penitential system that lay at the heart of the crusades.) Riley-Smith does a good job giving attention to the religious aspects of the crusades. While not defending the crusades, he does note that they were supposed to adhere to just war theory. This meant that they had to be reactive wars, wars taking back territory that had been lost. They could not be wars that led to forced conversions (though he notes crusades in the Baltic regions came close to violating these principles). He also describes the way that the crusades were tied to the Catholic penitential system. Contrary to the popular idea that crusaders were primarily motivated by financial gain, Riley-Smith notes that the crusades were dangerous endeavors that were more likely to cost a man everything, including his life, than to lead for wealth. Because of this, going on a crusade could be considered an act of penance that would lead to forgiveness of sins. Also interesting was Riley-Smith’s description of crusading sermons. He notes that one guide for crusading preachers instructed that “an invitatio should be accompanied by a hymn. . . . So as a preacher bellowed out his passionate appeal a choir would strike up and would presumably continue singing as men came forward to commit themselves publically” (38). The attention to these kinds of religious details make Riley-Smith’s book an excellent brief introduction to the crusades.

Stander, Hendrick F. and Johannes P. Louw, Baptism in the Early Church. Leeds, UK: Evangelical Press, 2004.

In this book two South Africa paedobaptists survey the writings of the early church and conclude that credo baptism was the common practice of the early church until the fourth century. Though not as detailed as Everett Ferguson’s survey, Stander and Louw do give a good survey of the evidence. They also often provide lengthier quotations of the primary sources than Ferguson does.

Ferguson, Everett. Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

This is a comprehensive survey of written and artifactual evidence concerning baptism. Ferguson reaches three primary conclusions. First, baptism was primarily done by immersion throughout this time period. Other modes were used only in emergency situations. Second, paedobaptism emerged slowly over time. Not until the fourth century did it become widely accepted. Third, baptism was considered to be the point of regeneration, reception of the Spirit, and the reception of other salvific blessings. Ferguson is a member of the Churches of Christ. The conclusions he reaches are consistent with Churches of Christ doctrine. In general, however, I thought that Ferguson was giving a fair presentation of the data. I remain unconvinced, however, of his claim to find baptismal regeneration in the New Testament texts (though I grant that it is clearly found in the church fathers). He also seemed averse to finding the doctrine of original sin in fathers prior to Augustine. These caveats aside, this is the resource that has collected all the data on baptism in the early church.

Abrams, Douglas Carl. Selling the Old-Time Religion: American Fundamentalists and Mass Culture, 1920-1940. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001.

Abrams discusses Fundamentalist’s relationship to both consumer culture and popular culture. He documents that fundamentalists both embraced and rejected aspects of both kinds of culture. Abrams also the reactions of Fundamentalism to culture. For instance, he critiques the general embrace of consumer culture by Fundamentalists. Overall, an excellent resource.

Hoffmeier, James K. Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hoffmeier continues his case that indirect evidence lends credence to the Bible’s account of the Israel in Egypt and, in this book, in the Wilderness. For instance, in one chapter he looks at the names in the genealogies in Numbers and notes that a good number of them are of Egyptian derivation. This argues for the authenticity of the sojourn in Egypt. He also discusses issues such as the location of the Red Sea crossing and Mount Sinai, and the path taken in the Exodus. His point in these discussions is that the accounts in the Pentateuch are located in real places rather in than in a mystical realm in which such routes and locations cannot be evaluated. I think Hoffmeier’s point stands even if one wishes to argue for different locations. The very fact that he can make an argument for one location and that someone else can examine the evidence and make a case for another location proves Hoffmeier’s point that these accounts are of such a nature that such discussions are possible and profitable. This would not be the case with myth. Hoffmeier also takes on the inconsistency of critical approaches to Scripture. For instance, he notes that a historical treatise by a 3rd century BC historian that is preserved only in quotation in other sources (e.g., Josephus and Eusebius) is still used today as the basis for our sequencing of the early Egyptian dynasties. With the Bible we have a much better manuscript tradition that reaches back in time closer to the original documents and events. For instance, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls date back to the first and second centuries B.C. But the critics insist on dating the Pentateuch late and reject countervailing evidence. The Bible is rejected as a “historical partner.” Hoffmeier raises the question of why, despite claims that the Bible should be treated like any other book, it is treated like no other book. His supposition: “Either they want the material to be late so as to fit a particular theory or model they advocate, or they want sources to be late (operating under the assumption that later sources are poor sources) so as to discredit the historical reliability of the Bible. This in turn allows them to reconstruct the history, social framework, and moral or religious traditions in a manner that is more aligned with their own view of things” (18).

Caro, Robert. The Path to Power. The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Knopf, 1982.

This is part one of a five part biography of Lyndon Johnson. Though lengthy, Caro is an engaging writer. It is hard to put these biographies down. Some of the length is devoted to setting the background. For instance, the book begins with a fascinating history of the Texas Hill Country.

Caro does not pull his punches, but he’s not writing a hatchet job, either. HIs interest is in how power is gained and used. LBJ is his case study.

Austen, Jane. Persuasion.

Garretson, James M. A Scribe Well-Trained: Archibald Alexander and the Life of Piety. Profiles in Reformed Spirituality. Edited by Joel R. Beeke and Michael A. G. Haykin. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2011.

Like the other books in this series, A Scribe Well-Trained provides readers with a brief biography of its subject, bite-sized devotional readings by the subject, and a guide for additional reading. I find these books warm my heart toward God.

Block, Daniel I. For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014.

This is, as the title indicates, a biblical theology of worship. Each chapter covers a topic, moving from the First Testament, as Block prefers to call it, through to the New Testament and on to present-day application. The topics covered range from worship in daily life and in the family to the elements of corporate worship such as ordinances, preaching, prayer, and music. Block mounts a defense of the relevance of the Old Testament in guiding present worship practices (while appropriately noting discontinuities). While differing with Block on a few points, overall I found his exegesis and applications sound. Highly recommended.

Articles

Guy, Laurie. “‘Naked’ Baptism in the Early Church: The Rhetoric and the Reality,” The Journal of Religious History 27, no. 2 (June 2003): 133-42.

In researching baptism in the early church, I noticed that numerous sources indicated that those baptized were naked. This obviously raises a moral question for the baptism of women, since the priests who baptized were men. Guy addresses this issue. He notes that “there are three commonly held conclusions, one of which would seem to be wrong: 1. Baptismal candidates were baptized naked 2. Baptism was administered by male clergy 3. Judeo-Christian sense of modesty would not allow a religious practice where female nakedness was exposed to male gaze.” Guy begins with the third conclusion and is able to affirm from contemporary sources, especially those dealing with the baths, that it is true. Likewise, the second conclusion is true. Several of the church fathers explicitly address the issue of women administering baptism, and they forbid it. Guy argues that it is the first conclusion which must be modified. He makes the case that naked in biblical Greek does not necessarily meaning entirely unclothed. For instance, Peter in John 21.7 could have been still clothed in a tunic or smock. He finds evidence in Chrysostom that baptismal candidates could be considered naked while still wearing a chiton, which would enable them to be modest. In other words they were not fully clothed by normal standards but still clothed. Guy argues that the rhetoric of nakedness, however, is used for the purpose of emphasizing the new birth.

Sanford, John C. and Robert Carter. “In Light of Genetics… Adam, Eve, and the Creation/Fall.” Christian Apologetics Journal (2014).

An article by two creationary scientists with expertise in genetics challenging recent claims that genetics disproves a historical Adam. The outline of their article is as follows:

1. Humans are fundamentally different from all other life forms in terms of functionality.

2. Humans are profoundly different from all other life forms in terms of our genome.

3. The direction of genetic change is down, not up. Humanity is devolving due to mutation.

4. The information that specifies ‘man’ cannot arise via random mutations and natural selection.

5. The “junk DNA” paradigm has collapsed and is no longer a valid rescue mechanism for Darwinism.

6. All human beings are amazingly similar genetically—pointing toward a recent Adam and Eve.

  • Demise of the evolutionary bottleneck theory.
  • Demise of the evolutionary Out-of-Africa theory.

7. The limited amount of diversity within the human genome is best explained in terms of:

  • Primarily, designed diversity (heterozygosity) within the biblical Adam and Eve.
  • Secondarily, degenerative mutations that have accumulated since the Fall.

8. The number of “linkage blocks” and the limited degree of recombination seen within human chromosomes appears to be consistent with an original population of two individuals that gave rise to all humanity in the last 10,000 years.

9. The origin of people groups is best understood in the context of Adam/Flood/Babel, only requiring population fragmentation, rapid dispersal, founder effects, assortative mating, and limited selection.

10. There is clearly a singular female ancestor of all humans (“Mitochondrial Eve”), her basic DNA sequence is easily discernable in humans alive today, and it is not more similar to chimpanzee.

11. There is clearly a singular male ancestor of all humans (“Y Chromosome Adam”), his DNA sequence is largely known, and it is not at all similar to that of chimpanzee.

12. Molecular clocks and other dating methods most consistently point to a young genome.

Luther on Praying Thy Kingdom Come

“Thy kingdom come.” Say: “O dear Lord, God and Father, thou seest how worldly wisdom and reason not only profane thy name and ascribe the honor due to thee to lies and to the devil, but how they also take the power, might, wealth and glory which thou hast given them on earth for ruling the world and thus serving thee, and use it in their own ambition to oppose thy kingdom. They are many and mighty; they plague and hinder the tiny flock of thy kingdom who are weak, despised, and few. They will not tolerate thy flock on earth and think that by plaguing them they render a great and godly service to thee. Dear Lord, God and Father, convert them and defend us. Convert those who are still to become children and members of thy kingdom so that they with us and we with them may serve thee in thy kingdom in true faith and unfeigned love and that from thy kingdom which has begun, we may enter into thy eternal kingdom. Defend us against those who will not turn away their might and power from the destruction of thy kingdom so that when they are east down from their thrones and humbled, they will have to cease from their efforts. Amen.”

Luther, Works, 43:195-96.

Genesis 16-17

Genesis 16 deals primarily with the seed promise, but verse 3 does note that Abram had dwelt in the land for 10 years. Wenham notes, “This comment may be double-edged. It obviously explains Sarah’s concern to do something about their childlessness, but it may also hint that the promise of the land is proving valid. The passing years should strengthen faith as the fulfillment of the promises is seen, but they also test it because that fulfillment is only partial” (Wenham, Genesis, 2:8).

In Genesis 17 God confirms the covenant that he cut with Abram in chapter 15. Whereas land was a major focus in chapter 15, here seed is the major focus. Nonetheless, land is not entirely absent. Part of the seed promise includes the promise that Abraham will be the father of kings and nations (17:6). The land promise is implicit in these promises. Indeed, directly after these promises God reaffirms the land promise (17:8). The land is designated in two ways. First, it is “the land of your sojournings. Second, it is “all the land of Canaan.” This recalls of the promises given in 13:15-17 in which Abram is told that God will give him all the land that he can see (here labeled as Canaan) and told to walk through the length and breadth of it (Abraham now seems to have sojourned in the length and breadth of it). As in chapter 13 the possession of the land is promised not only to Abraham’s seed but to Abraham himself. Further, as in chapter 13, the duration of the possession is עוֹלָם —forever.

Land: Genesis 14-15

Genesis 14

Place names are abundant in this chapter, and the land word שָׂדֶה (country) appears in 14:7, but the only theologically significant occurrence of the land theme in this chapter are in 14:19, 22. In those verses God is identified as “Creator of heaven and earth” (HCSB; The Hebrew word קנה could refer to either “Possessor” or “Creator.” Hamilton, NICOT, 1:411-12. In the context of Genesis, “Creator” seems the better choice. Of course, as Creator, God is the owner of heaven and earth). Abram reaffirms his trust that God as Creator of heaven and earth will fulfill his promises apart from the help of the king of Sodom.

Genesis 15

Genesis 15 is about the seed promise and the land promise. The chapter divides into two somewhat parallel sections. Verses 1-6 concern the seed promise and verses 7-21 concern the land promise (Wenham, WBC, 1:325; Mathews, NAC, 2:157; Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 248-49). In verse 7 God reaffirms his promise to give the land to Abraham. It was for this reason that God called Abram from Ur of the Chaldeans. The promises of seed and blessing could theoretically been fulfilled in Ur. But the gift of this land required Abram’s departure from Ur.

As in verse 2, Abram asks for confirmation of the promise. Given verse 6, this should not be taken as a sign of faithlessness (Wenham, WBC, 1:331). God responds to this request by cutting a covenant with Abram. This begins with God’s instructions to take certain animals, cut them in half (except for the birds) and lay them opposite. All of the animals, save for the last bird (גּוֹזָל) were used in Israel’s sacrificial system. Most were used for a number of different kinds of sacrifices. The heifer was used in sacrifices to purify the land from unsolved murders (Deut. 21:1-7). Abram is then forced to defend the carcasses from birds of prey.

It is the next section (vv. 12-16) that gives us clues as to the significance of these actions. The animals that would later be used in Israel’s sacrificial system may represent Israel (Wenham, WBC, 1:332-; Mathews, NAC, 2:172-73). Given the prediction that Israel would be afflicted in Egypt, the birds of prey may represent Egypt (Mathews, NAC, 2:172-73. Other commentators identify the birds more generally as representing the “surrounding nations.” McKeown, 92; cp. Wenham, 1:132-33). McKeown notes, “Without Abram’s presence, these carcasses would have disappeared rapidly” (THOTC, 92.). This may indicate the importance of God’s covenant with Abram in preserving the people of Israel.

In 15:12-16 we have the prediction that Israel will sojourn in another land, Egypt, before receiving the promised land. Also Abram is told that he will die prior to the return of the people in the fourth generation (15:15-16). The promise of the land was made to Abram personally in 15:7 but the confirmation speaks only of possession by his seed. In fact, it implies that he will die before the land is possessed. Perhaps this awareness of death prior to possession of the land stands behind his expectations according to Hebrews 11:18-16.

The smoking fire pot and flaming torch that pass between the pieces likely represent God. They call to mind God’s revelation of himself in fire in Exodus at the burning bush and at Sinai (See McKeown, THOTC, 93). The significance of passing through the pieces is indicated by Jeremiah 34:18: “And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts” (Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, NSBT, 80; Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 250-56. I agree with Gentry, against Wenham and Mathews, that the elements of the covenant in this passage and Jeremiah are not bound to a particular time but persisted in their significance from the time of Abraham to Jeremiah). Notably, God has placed Abram in a deep sleep; God passes through the pieces himself. This is an unconditional or a royal grant covenant.

In this covenant, the Lord specifies the borders of the land. No longer is it simply “this land” (12:7) or “all the land that you see” (13:15). Now specific boundaries are set. The promised land will stretch from the river of Egypt, probably the Wadi el-Arish (In other places the term נַ֫חַל [translated brook by the ESV] is used instead of נָהָר. Some commentators therefore think that the eastern part of the Nile Delta is meant [cf. Waltke, 245]. However, since these borders are repeated elsewhere [Num. 34:5; Josh 15:4-47; 1 Kings 8:65; Isa. 27:12], it is most likely simply a variation in terminology [cf. Hamilton, NICOT, 1:438]), to the Euphrates River. The land is also designated by the peoples who lived there. Waltke holds that a purposeful discrepancy exists between the stated borders and the nations that Israel is said to conquer. “Since the geographic description is much larger than the ethnographic and the ethnographic matches Israel’s history but the geographic does not, the geographic is best regarded as an idealization” (Waltke, 245). First, the land of the Amorites stretched up to the Euphrates River (ABD, 1:199-200; P.E. Satterthwaite and D. W. Baker, “Nations of Canaan,” DOTP, 601-2. Milgrom says, “In the eighteenth-century Mari texts, Amurru is a territory and kingdom in central Syria. As such it continues in Egyptian and Mesopotamian sources of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries when its boundaries are most clearly defined: from the Mediterranean to the Orontes and to Canaan on the south.” Milgrom, Numbers, JPSTC, 105. Though Milgrom thinks that Genesis 15 uses the term merely as an ethnic label for those living in Canaan, the evidence he cites indicates it could have a broader referent). The discrepancy Waltke posits does not exist. Second, the argument for idealization by analogy does not hold up. Waltke says the point is to highlight the land’s “spiritual significance,” which is greater than its physical significance just as the Jordan river is physically insignificant but spiritually significant to Christians. These are not parallel examples. The spiritual significance of the Jordan is never outlined in a covenant. One would think that a covenant document promising land would be the least likely place for borders to be merely ideal. Such an argument would certainly be rejected by interpreters of human covenants. Why take God’s covenant words any less seriously and straightforwardly?

In Solomon’s day Israel’s exercised brief control within these borders, but it was never complete nor long lasting. This points toward a future fulfillment of this promise. It may have been to avoid this conclusion that Waltke resorted to the expedient of claiming the boundaries were idealized (Kidner, TOTC, 125; Hamilton, NICOT, 1:438).

Books Read in February 2015

Dallimore, Arnold. A Heart Set Free: The Life of Charles Wesley. Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1988.

This is another of Dallimore’s well-written biographies. Wesley is best known as a prolific hymn writer. Dallimore’s biography certainly enhances the reader’s appreciation for Wesley’s poetical gift. But Dallimore also demonstrates his role in the formation of Methodism and his relations with both his brother John and the evangelist George Whitefield. Dallimore’s writings are devotional, but they are not uncritical. Wesley’s weaknesses (interference with his brother’s marriage and overly-close attachment to the Anglican Church, to name but two) are also discussed in such a way as to benefit Christians who seek not only inspiration but cautionary lessons from the lives of Christians who have preceded them.

Gates, Robert M. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. New York: Knopf, 2014.

This is a memoir by the Secretary of Defense for President George W. Bush’s last two years and President Barack Obama’s first two years. Its insights not only on the wars and military actions of those years but also on the way the White House and Department of Defense function was fascinating. Gates has decided opinions, and they do not always align with those of the presidents under whom he served. But he is careful to always speak respectfully even when in disagreement (this was not so much the case when he vented his frustrations with Congress).

Two quotations give a feel for the tone of the book—respectful but critical:

I had been lucky financially when I reentered government in late 2006. Under the ethics rules, I had to sell all the stocks I owned in early 2007, at the very top of the market. However, those joining the Obama administration in early 2009 who owned stocks, and there were quite a few, had to sell at the bottom of the market. A number of those people took huge losses in their personal finances, and I admired them for their patriotism and willingness to serve at great sacrifice. I would disagree with more than a few of these appointees in the years ahead, but I never doubted their love of country (although, as in every administration, there was also ample love of self). 302-3.

I expressed my great concern [to Thomas Donilon, the National Security Advisor] that we were entering uncharted waters and that the president couldn’t erase the Egyptians’ memory of our decades-long alliance with Mubarak with a few public statements. Our course, I said, should be to call for an orderly transition. We had to prevent any void in power because it likely would be filled by radical groups. I said we should be realistically modest ‘about what we know and about what we can do.’ Donilon reassured me that Biden, Hillary, he, and I were on the same page. All of us were very concerned that the president and White House and NSS staffs were leaning hard on the need for regime change in Egypt. White House staffers worried about Obama being ‘on the wrong side of history.’ But how can anyone know which is the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side of history when nearly all revolutions, begun with hope and idealism, culminate in repression and bloodshed. After Mubarak, what? 304-5

Kapilow, Rob. All You Have to Do is Listen: Music from the Inside Out. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008.

Kapilow’s thesis is that attentive listeners to music really can understand what a composer is seeking to accomplish simply by listening. He writes to non-musicians, providing them with basic music theory that will help them better appreciate classical music. A companion website provides scores and recordings of the examples in the book.

Oren, Michael B. Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

This is the definitive history of the Six Days War. It is not designed to be a battlefield thriller. Instead it provides historical context for the war and details how the war unfolded both on the battlefield and diplomatically. Well worth reading.

Peter Lombard. The Sentences, Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs. Translated by Giulio Silano. Toronto, Canada: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2010.

Peter Lombard’s Sentences is the most significant theological text published. It was the theology textbook of the Middle Ages. Even Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae did not displace it until after the Reformation. The Sentences were finally translated into English between 2007 and 2010. This is the primary primary source for understanding medieval theology. Book 4 deals with the sacraments, so it is going to highlight that areas of medieval theology most at odds with orthodox Protestant theology.

Currid, John D. Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.

Currid’s book is set against the backdrop of an increasing willingness, even among professed evangelicals, to see the Old Testament as dependent on ancient Near Eastern mythology and folklore. This is often done in such a way that the historicity of the biblical accounts are questioned. Currid’s book highlights, by way of contrast, that one way the biblical accounts are related to ANE writings is through polemic. I found some of his proposed polemics convincing. For instance, the use of the rod turned serpent by Moses, the parting of the Red Sea, and the drought in Baal-worshipping Israel during Elijah’s time, and Yahweh as the true thundering deity all seem to have true polemic elements to them. I wondered if some of the accounts, for instance those alleged to parallel Joseph and Moses, were truly parallel. With the creation and flood stories my inclination is to see shared memory as a more likely cause for parallelism. I think before links between Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts to the biblical text can be firmly established there needs to be a control group study on creation and flood stories from around the world.

Hoffmeier, James K. Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

There is no direct evidence for Israel’s sojourn in Egypt or the Exodus. However, this should not be used to discount this historicity of Scripture accounts. Hoffmeier looks briefly at what can be legitimately expected from archaeology regarding Israel in Egypt given what is and can be known about Egypt at that time and in the place where the Israelites lived. He concludes that the lack of direct evidence for Israel is actually more to be expected than otherwise when this comparative study is undertaken. However, most of the book seeks to provide indirect evidence for Israel in Egypt and the Exodus. Hoffmeier is able to demonstrate that “Semetic-speaking people” would come to Egypt during droughts. Such people did live in Egypt during the time Bible places Israel there. There is also evidence of non-Egyptians, like Joseph, serving in government. Hoffmeier also documents Egyptian influence and an understanding of Egyptian practices in the Pentateuch. This argues for an author familiar with ancient Egypt (rather than one more familiar with later Mesopotamian cultures). Though there are some points at which I would disagree with Hoffmeier (e.g., aspects of his discussion of the plagues) or at which I am not yet entirely convinced (e.g., route of the exodus), the book is an excellent defense of the historicity of the latter part of Genesis and Exodus. I was also pleased to see Hoffmeier cast doubt about the reality of some of the parallels that I found least convincing in Currid’s book (see above).

Best Commentaries on Genesis

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 1-11:26. New American Commentary. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 1996. Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. New American Commentary. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 2005.

If you buy only one commentary on Genesis, this should be that commentary. I’ve repeatedly been impressed by Mathews’s exegetical judgment. He also has a sensitivity to the literary features of the text. In addition, the commentary is lengthy enough for him to survey and evaluate multiple views on contested passages. He is conservative on matters such as authorship.  Finally, though Mathews is thorough, the commentary is still readable for the interested layman.

Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary. Edited by David A. Hubbard. Dallas: Word, 1987. Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 16-50. Word Biblical Commentary. Edited by David A. Hubbard. Dallas: Word, 1994.

Wenham provides a more technical commentary than Mathews. He provides more comment on Hebrew grammar. His exegetical judgment and literary sensitivity is also good.  He critiques source criticism in the introduction to the first volume, though he consistently reports the views of source critics in the Form/Structure/Setting sections of the commentary. He is weak on the historicity of the opening chapters of Genesis. Nonetheless, the commentary is full of valuable insights and is worth owning.

Kidner, Derek. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Edited by D. J. Wiseman. London: Tyndale, 1967.

Kidner’s commentary is brief, but Kidner knows how to pack a great deal of insight into a small space.

Leupold, H. C. Exposition of Genesis. 2 voils. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950.

Leuipold was a stoutly conservative Lutheran scholar. Though the liberal positions he spars with are now dated, his arguments against them are still worth reading. Leupold’s comments are more atomistic than literary. Nonetheless, there is great value in many of them.

McKeown, James. Genesis. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Edited by J. Gordon McConville and Craig Bartholomew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

In the Two Horizons series, the first half of the commentary provides brief passage by passage commentary through the book. The second half of the commentary looks at the theological themes of the book, the relation of the book to biblical theology in the rest of the canon, and the significance of the book for relevant systematic theology topics. I think this is a good approach that more commentaries should follow. I picked this commentary up in connection with my study of land because it seemed more sensitive to that theme in Genesis than other commentaries.

Currid, John D. Genesis. 2 vols. Evangelical Press Study Commentary. Webster, NY: Evangelical Press, 2003.

Currid also refreshingly adopts a straightforward, historical reading of the creation account. Despite being two volumes, Currid’s commentary is not as full as others. He is nonetheless careful, conservative, and insightful. I’m not as impressed with his application sections.

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Edited by R. K. Harrison. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990. Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Edited by Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

Hamilton’s commentary, like Mathews and Wenham, is a major two volume work. I don’t find it as helpful for the following reasons: (1) too often Hamilton simply notes the available interpretive options without mounting arguments for or against them. I find it most helpful to read different commentators who argue for their positions; (2) sometimes Hamilton spends his space on ANE parallels rather than opening up the text; (3) related to this, Hamilton’s comments are sometimes disjointed. He doesn’t examine the literary unfolding of the text as Mathews and Wenham do. Nonetheless, his comments still have value. He also has helpful “New Testament Appropriations” sections.

Waltke, Bruce K. and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Genesis is a narrative, and it should be read with the skills necessary for interpreting narratives. Reading Waltke’s commentary on Genesis is a good way to develop those skills. His emphasis is on the literary features of the text.

Books & Articles Read January 2015

Books

Carpenter, Humphrey. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography. London: Allen & Unwin, 1977.

Carson, D. A. Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

In this brief book Carson surveys the meaning of the title “Son of God” in the Scripture. He notes that “son” language in the Bible can be used non-metaphorically of actual biological sons, generically in proverbial passages, and of more distant descendants. Son language can also be used metaphorically. Sometimes the metaphor indicates that the “son” was “begotten” by the Father. In other cases it indicates a similarity of type or class between “father” and “son.”

Carson notes that the phrase son of God is sometimes used non-Christologically of angels, Adam, God’s people, those who imitate God, and the Davidic king. It is used Christologically of Jesus as the Davidic king, of Jesus as true Israel, and of Jesus as the divine Son. After this initial survey Carson examines Hebrews 1 and John 5:16-30 as case studies.

The final chapter examines the issue of how to translate “son of God” in Bible translations targeted toward Muslims. Carson concludes that “son of God” should not be replaced with attempted alternatives.

Carr, Simonetta. John Calvin. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2008.

This is a beautifully illustrated children’s biography of John Calvin. The biography is accurate, understandable, and engaging.

Beeke, Joel R. and James A. La Belle. Living Zealously. Reformation Heritage, 2012.

This is one of a series of volumes that survey Puritan teaching on a particular topic and present it to the modern reader. Zeal is a currently neglected topic that occupied the Puritans, which means this book fills a gap. It is a warmly written book that is clearly written in the hope that its contents will draw its readers closer to God.

Currid, John D. Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.

Currid wrote this brief book so that novices could gain a good idea of the history and current practices of biblical archaeology. Currid’s writing is clear and understandable. A helpful book.

Witmer, Timothy Z. The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010.

Witmer looks at the shepherd theme in the Old and New Testaments as a guide for the responsibilities of elders. He begins with a biblical and theological foundation, but he moves to the practical. He argues that shepherds are to know, feed, lead, and protect their sheep. He notes that there are macro ways to carry out these responsibilities with then whole flock in view. But Witmer’s challenge is for elders to carry out these responsibilities with the individuals in their flocks. He supplies concrete recommendations for how churches may do this.

Articles

Van Houwelingen, P. H. R. “Fleeing Forward: The Departure of Christians from Jerusalem to Pella,” WTJ 65, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 181-200.

Eusebius and Epiphanius both relate a tradition in which the Jewish Christians fled from Jerusalem before the events of AD 70 to Pella and later returned to Jerusalem. The historical accuracy of this tradition has been recently challenged. Van Houwelingen defends the accuracy of the tradition.\

Dumbrell, W. J. “The Role of Bethel in the Biblical Narratives from Jacob to Jeroboam I,” Australian Journal of Biblical Archaeology, 2, no. 3 (1974): 65-76.

Dumbrell surveys the passages in which Bethel is significant. He is largely interacting with critical scholars who want to reinterpret these texts according to speculative pre-histories.

Metzger, Paul Louis. “Luther and the Finnish School: Mystical Union with Christ: An Alternative to Blood Transfusions and Legal Fictions,” WTJ 65, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 201-13.

Seifrid, Mark A. “Luther and the Finnish School: Paul, Luther, and Justification in Gal 2:15-21,” WTJ 65, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 215-30.

Trueman, Carl R. “Is the Finnish Line a New Beginning? A Critical Assessment of the Reading of Luther Offered by the Helsinki Circle,” WTJ 65, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 231-44.

Jenson, Robert W. “Response to Mark Seifrid, Paul Metzger, and Carl Trueman on Finnish Luther Research,” WTJ 65, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 245-50.

I read these articles for the purpose of getting a better understanding of the arguments for and against the Finnish interpretation of Luther. For that purpose I could have saved time and read the articles by Trueman and Jenson alone. Those were the most helpful in understanding the Finnish school and the arguments for and against. Metzger and Seifrid are trying to do their own thing, and seem to draw on the Finnish school at certain points while rejecting other points, but they aren’t good introductions to the debate. I wish the format had been Trueman’s critique, Jenson’s response, followed by an additional rejoinder from Trueman.

J.R. Mantey, “The Causal Use of Eis in the New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 70, no. 1 (Mar. 1951): 45-48.

J.R. Mantey, “On Causal Eis Again,” Journal of Biblical Literature 70, no. 4 (Dec 1951): 309-11.

Ralph Marcus, “The Elusive Causal EIS,” Journal of Biblical Literature 71, no. 1 (Mar. 1952): 43-44.

Mantey argued that are rare use of εἰς is causal. He looks at both extabiblical and biblical materials. Marcus disputes Mantey’s exatrabiblical examples of a causal ἐἰς, while noting his interpretation of the baptism passages in the NT may be correct.

Vessey, Mark. “Jerome.” In Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia. 460-62.

Madec, Goulven. “Christian Influences on Augustine.” In Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia. 151-56.

Harmless, William. Augustine in His Own Words. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010. pp. 156-200 [Augustine the Exegete]

Once again Harmless does an excellent job of selecting from Augustine’s a representative sample of Augustine’s writings so as to give a well-rounded introduction to his thought in his own words.

Land: Genesis 13

Genesis 13 begins with a geographical reversal as Abram retraces his steps from Egypt back into the Promised Land. Verses 5-7 set the stage: Abram and Lot are dwelling in the land, and they have been blessed. But there is not room for both of them to dwell together. Verse 7 reminds the reader that the continued presence of the Canaanites and Perizzites contributed to this problem.

In verses 8-9 Abram demonstrates faith in God’s promise by offering Lot the choice of settling anywhere in the land. The land is still possessed by the Canaanites, but Abram speaks as if God’s promise is true and the land is his to give. Abram also shows faith that his generosity toward Lot won’t result in his loosing part of the land to him.

Verses 10-14 present Lot as a foil to Abram. Lot makes his choice based on sight, rather than based on faith. His choice places him on the very edge of the Promised Land, if not beyond it.

In verses 14-17 God expands on the land promise. The promise is now no longer simply to Abram’s seed―it is a promise to him personally. He is promised all the land that he can see. He is promised that this land will be his and his seed’s possession forever.

In verse 18 Abram is said to have settled by the oaks of Mamre. This location is near the only plot of the promised land that Abram will own in his lifetime (Gen. 23:17-18).

Land: Genesis 12

The Abraham narrative begins with movement from one land, Ur of the Chaldeans (11:28) to another land, the land of Canaan (11:31). The first words we hear from God to Abraham are for him to leave his land and his family to go to another land (12:1).[1] Already the themes of land and seed are present. The fact that Abram travels with his father, Terah to Haran and remained there until Terah died (Acts 7:4)[2] may indicate a lack of obedience on Abram’s part.[3] Verse 4, however, indicates Abram’s obedience.

Preceding the obedience of verse 4 is a recitation of the promises of God to Abram. These promises are often summarized under the headings of land, seed, and blessing. These themes have their genesis in chapter 1 at the climax of the creation narrative. Genesis 1:28 identifies God’s words in 1:28-30 as a blessing. The blessing centers on seed (“be fruitful, and multiply”) and land (“fill the earth and subdue it”). When Adam and Eve sin the blessing is replaced with a curse (Gen. 3:17). The content of the judgment focuses on seed (3:16) and land (3:17). Therefore it should come as little surprise that God’s plan of redemption includes promises to Abraham regarding land, seed, and blessing.

The promises hang on a command regarding land and seed. Abraham is to leave his land and his family in order to receive God’s blessing. The land promise is not given in these opening verses, but it is hinted at by God’s promise to show Abram a land (12:1). It is also implied in the promise to make Abram a great nation (12:2). The term גוי may imply both people and land.[4]

The climax of God’s promise to Abraham is that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). Interestingly, all the land words in this chapter are אֶ֫רֶץ except in this verse where אֲדָמָה is used. The energies of the commentators is spent on determining whether נִבְרְכ֣וּ should be understood as passive or reflexive.[5] Little reflection is given to why the word אֲדָמָה is chosen over אֶ֫רֶץ. It could be free variation. Wenham notes that אֲדָמָה is used here and in 28:14 but that אֶ֫רֶץ is used when this promise is repeated in 26:4l 22:18; 18:18.[6] However, there may be an allusion back to Adam. All are cursed in Adam, but in Abraham all the families of אֲדָמָה shall be blessed.

Verse 4 testifies to Abram’s obedience to the Lord’s command. In verses 5-7 אֶ֫רֶץ occurs five times and in verses 8-9 the recurrence of geographical locations indicates that land is a major theme of 5-7. These verses reveal Abram’s entrance into the land and his travels through it from top to bottom in a survey of the land.[7]

And yet the land is clearly not yet Abram’s. In the first two mentions of land in verses 5-9, the land is identified as “the land of Canaan.” After noting that “Abram passed through the land to the place at Schechem,” Moses says, “At that time the Canaanites were in the land” (12:6). The reference to the oak of Moreh may be a reference to a place of Canaanite worship,[8] and its mention may be another means of driving the point home: Abram is a sojourner in this land.[9] It is in this context that God appears to Abram and for the first time explicitly promises the land to Abram’s seed. Abram responds by building an altar to the Lord. This may serve as a counterpoint to the oak of Moreh, and it reveals that Israelite possession of the land should displace pagan worship with the worship of Yahweh.

Verses 10-20 reveal that the path to fulfillment is not going to be straight. Already facing a barren wife (11:30), Abram now faces a barren land (12:10).[10] Abram does not respond to the challenge of the barren land by faith.[11] He leaves the land for Egypt, he places the seed promise in jeopardy (from a human perspective) by lying about Sarah, and as a result Abram is a curse to Pharaoh rather than a blessing.


[1] Abram’s obedience to God’s command does not merit the promises. His obedience is a testimony to his faith in God’s promises. Abraham’s later behavior in this chapter and God’s blessing of Abram despite his failures is a testimony that Abram is blessed because of God’s grace and not because of his goodness.

[2] On ways to harmonize Genesis 11:32 with Acts 7:4, see Hamilton, 1:367-68; Waltke, 201.

[3] Waltke, 201; Kidner, 111.

[4] Wenham, 1:275; Hamilton, 1:371-72; Mathews, 2:112; Currid, 252; Gentry & Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 235.

[5] Conservative commentators favor the passive. Kidner, TOTC, 114; Wenham,  1:277-78; Hamilton,  1:375; Mathews, 2:117.

[6] Wenham, 1:278.

[7] Wenham, 1:283; Hamilton, 1:379; cf. Sailhamer, EBC, 112.

[8] See Wenham, 1:279. This oak is identified by name in Deuteronomy 11:30 and seems to be mentioned in Genesis 35:4; Joshua 24:26; and Judges 9:6, 37.

[9] Mathew Henry emphasized the sojourning nature of Abram in these verses. Commentary on the Whole Bible, 35.

[10] Currid, 1:58.

[11] It is difficult to determine whether Abram’s departure because of the famine was acceptable or indicated a lack of faith. On the one hand there are many parallels between this passage and the divinely ordained sojourn of the people of Israel from Jacob to Moses: famine results in the emigration to Egypt, plagues are visited on Pharaoh by God, Abraham/the people leave with great wealth from Egypt. On the other hand, Abraham is not recorded here as leaving the land with a word from the Lord. In a context in which Abram is told by God to go to the land and in which his faith is tested, and in which he in other matters is showing a lack of faith, a negative reading seems most likely.