Old Testament


In a previous post I looked at 1 Sam. 2:25b and noted the difficulty it raises in regards to divine sovereignty and human free will. In this post I want to look at the second difficulty that that verse raises, the troubling assertion that God is good, though he apparently desires the death of Hophni and Pinchas. The idea that God would desire someone’s death seems very problematic to our usual theological categories for God.

 

1 Sam. 2:25b

ולא‭ ‬ישׁמעו‭ ‬לקול‭ ‬אביהם‭ ‬כי־חפץ‭ ‬יהוה‭ ‬להמיתם

 

Trans.: But they did not heed the voice of their father for YHWH desired to kill them (my translation).

 

 

It is possible to read this phrase with the NRSV as “it was the will of the Lord to kill them.” But as far as I can tell, the word חפץ‭ ‬most regularly carries the connotation of “to desire” or “to take delight in” or “to take pleasure in” (cf. BDB, I do not have HALOT with me so I am curious what it says). It is probably possible (more…)

I have been reading through Samuel lately and I came across a verse that struck me as both interesting and troubling. This post is the first of two posts that will deal with two difficulties of this text. The first difficulty is the issue of divine sovereignty and human free will or responsibility. The second issue is the difficult phrase “God desired to kill them” and the goodness of God. This post will deal with the first issue. 

 

The context of this passage (see 1 Sam. 2:12-25) is that Eli’s sons have been abusing their power as Priests to extort the people. Eli informs them that he has heard bad things about them and he warns them  (by implication) that they are sinning against God. The response to this warning is found in 1 Sam. 2:25b and is as follows:

 

ולא‭ ‬ישׁמעו‭ ‬לקול‭ ‬אביהם‭ ‬כי־חפץ‭ ‬יהוה‭ ‬להמיתם

 

My Translation:  But they did not heed the voice of their father for YHWH desired to kill them. (more…)

The next question that I must answer in my academic pursuits is why would a Christian get their PhD in the Old Testament? Wouldn’t you rather learn about Jesus? Isn’t Paul more edifying and instructive? Well the answers to those questions may be yes, for some. But I have always found the Old Testament (I do not say Hebrew Bible because I am thinking of both the MT and LXX, as I will be studying both) to be fascinating, edifying and immensely instructive. I have also found the OT incredibly difficult. Many of the most difficult issues in the Bible, especially those that repulse non-Christians, come from the OT. For this reason I feel the need to truly understand this greater half of the Christian Bible. 

 

The OT also has the uncanny ability to be inexhaustible (I do not mean that the NT does not, but the OT does in a different way, as we will see presently). As a boy, my Mom tried all the tricks to get me to read my Bible. The most successful ‘trick’ was to point me to all the warfare and violent passages of the OT. I remember vividly reading about Ehud the left-handed judge  and David’s mighty men. Nothing sounded more un-Biblical to me than these passages of testosterone filled heroism and unmitigated gore. They were fascinating to me as adventure stories on a very basic level and they got me asking questions about God and his dealings with people. I am now, however, going to study one of those stories (David and Goliath) on the most detailed level, a PhD dissertation, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that that text will not disappoint me on any level. My point is this, the OT narratives have the incredible ability of distilling their main messages to the most basic level where they are understandable to simple readers (not that there are not some significantly R-rated parts of the Bible that children should not read, there are), but on the other hand the OT was written with such literary sophistication and depth of meaning that a short passage can sustain a great deal of study and illumine a whole array of meaning. This is part of what draws me to the OT.

 

I am, however, a Christian and the NT is immensely important to me. I will always read the NT and I will always be a student of it. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us Christians read our Bibles in the wrong direction…back to front. I have heard it said numerous times that it is only in light of the NT that the OT can be understood. This seems fundamentally backwards to me. I am more of the opinion that only in light of the OT can the NT be understood! Try reading the Return of the King without having previously read the Fellowship of the Ring and the Two Towers. You have no idea what this great climax is about. I feel the same way about the NT. Now, that does not mean that knowing where the story ends (NT) does not illuminate more precisely what has gone before. Any good novel reveals new information on a multiple readings because you know where the story is going. But that doesn’t mean that you should read the end first. So in my desire to understand the NT I find it necessary to start with the OT. 

 

Furthermore, I have a suspicion that the OT is significantly under-appreciated within Christian circles. Aside from Psalms and Proverbs I don’t think the OT is widely read. I think this is incredibly unfortunate. Let me give you one anecdotal example of why this is so. When my dad told his friend Tony Campolo, that his son would be pursuing a PhD in the Old Testament, he said this: “That’s great. We need people to read the OT. You can know Jesus from the NT but YOU DON’T KNOW GOD, unless you read the OT!” I think he may have been intentionally overstating the issue, but I think he’s got a point. Thus, I will be studying the OT, as the greater half of the Christian Bible.

R.W.L. Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), xvi + 224 pps [repr. by Wipf & Stock, 2001, 240 pps.]. My pagination will refer to the original Fortress Press edition.

Readers of this blog will not need to be told of my bias for this book. Moberly is going to be my doctoral advisor at Durham, so obviously I think very highly of him and his scholarship. But don’t let my bias dissuade you, this really is a wonderful book.

Moberly’s stated purpose in this book is to explore the question of what it means to do biblical theology. The chosen topic for this exercise is the importance of the giving of the divine name in Ex. 3 and 6 and the relationship to the patriarchal narratives that went before, and the Mosaic Yahwism that followed. He begins in ch. 1, by establishing two things: 1) that in the texts of Ex. 3 and 6 “God was revealed to Moses, on behalf of Israel, as having the name YHWH,” 2) Moses and Israel did not previously know that name and 3) the one revealed as YHWH is the same God as the God of their ancestors (p. 35). This chapter is quite exegetical and a brief review cannot do it justice. Let us just say that Moberly is a very careful reader of Scripture and his exegesis is always worth reading.

Moberly follows the conclusion of the first chapter by asking the logical question: (more…)

V. Philips Long is Professor of Old Testament at Regent College. But back when he taught at Covenant Theological Seminary he offered this course on Biblical History.

Long is, in my opinion, one of the best scholars on Biblical History. A good supplement to this online course would be his work with Iain Provan and Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel. This work is, again in my opinion, probably the best work on Biblical History (specifically of Israel, but their methodology is equally applicable to the NT).

Long is in the camp of Maximalists, which basically means that his view of the history of Israel is roughly that of the biblical testimony. This is in contrast to the minimalist view of Israelite history which argues that there is little historical information in the biblical witness. However, he is not a biblical maximalist in the fundamentalist frame which merely repeats the refrain, “the Bible said it so its true.” He is merely not a methodological skeptic. So for him, the Bible is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, he assumes the historical reliability of the Bible unless there are compelling reasons to believe otherwise. He furthermore does not believe in the myth that archaeological finds are somehow more fact than texts. I find his approach very helpful and his book worth reading. But, thankfully, you get a large gist of it from listening to this series of lectures.

This is a full seminary course so it’s pretty detailed, but its taught in such a way as to be both engaging and informative. I recommend it to anyone who would like to learn a little more about biblical history and about the ‘historical books’ of the OT. It is a fantastic resource.

V. Philips Long – OT230: Old Testament History at Covenant Theological Seminary

This is a little bit of old news. I found this out a few weeks ago, but I just got the schedule for the NW Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society and was reminded that my paper on Judges 13 was accepted. Below is the title and abstract:

Paper Title: What do Jacob, Joseph, Jesus and Samson Have in Common? A Study of Judges 13 as a Biblical Type-Scene

Abstract:

Jacob, Joseph, Jesus and Samson, and also Isaac, Samuel, John the Baptist, and possibly an unnamed boy in Kings are very different characters, and are appraised very differently by the biblical authors. However, their births are very and perhaps troublingly similar. Is Luke trying to tell us that John the Baptist is the new Samson? I hope not. This paper seeks to show that if we understand the biblical convention of literary type-scenes then not only are we in a better place to understand why these similarities or repetitions occur but we are also in a better place to understand how the biblical authors are portraying each character. This paper will focus on Samson’s birth story in Judges 13 as an example of how this type-scene analysis can illumine the meaning of a text.

Several weeks ago I mentioned that my wife and I had the opportunity to hear Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. I really tried to pay attention to the music and take advantage of the opportunity. As I listened I noticed something, that I later learned is typical of symphonic or big orchestral pieces. That is, the development and allusion to continuing themes. For example, the theme notes that open the first movement and form the backbone of that part of the symphony also begin the second movement but then disappear. Another example is the ‘Ode to Joy’ theme, that is so recognizable to all of us, which is hinted at early in the fourth movement but doesn’t really fully flower until the choir kicks in later in that movement.

As I thought about this technique, it occurred to me that perhaps this is a good way to view the book of Isaiah, which is a research are of mine at the moment. I’m less interested in theories of authorship or redactorship than I am about understanding how the book works as a whole. I think the paradigm of a symphony with separate movements and recurring themes is a good way to talk about Isaiah.

Whether you hold to one author of Isaiah or many, it is clear that there are at least three major movements in the book (1-39, 40-55, 56-60). But within these movements are recurring themes that tie the piece together. So, for example, in Isa. 5:1-7 we have the Song of the Vineyard, which uses a story about an unproductive vineyard to talk about Israel’s relationship with God. (more…)

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