KERUX: A JOURNAL
Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
Assistant Editors: Richard A. Riesen and David L. Roth
1. ISAIAH'S CHRISTMAS CHILDREN:
2. TO EVERY MAN'S CONSCIENCE IN THE SIGHT OF GOD.....................................................................................................................10
3. HAGAR'S WILDERNESS SOJOURN............................................................................................................................................................19
4. PREACHERS: TELL THE STORY OF REDEMPTION!................................................................................................................................26
5. BOOK REVIEW..............................................................................................................................................................................................31
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ISSN 0888-8513 December 2000 Vol. 15, No. 3
Isaiah's Christmas Children:
Isaiah 7:1-16; 8:5-8
Charles G. Dennison
My encouragement to you is that you should not allow the size of Isaiah's prophecy, its sixty-six chapters, to intimidate you. At least intimidate you in the sense of forcing you to lay it aside and not consider it. Much rather even the size of this prophecy should be an opportunity for you to develop spirituallyfor you to exercise spiritually. My own prayer is that you would, in looking at the magnitude of this prophecy, consider as well the enormity, even the immensity of God, as he sets himself before you in what Isaiah sets down. My prayer is that the magnitude of the entirety of this prophecy would communicate to you God's own immensity before which you in your own sinful finitude would then appear to be as nothing. The greatness of God and the smallness of manthinking of things in terms that Isaiah would wish to communicate to those to whom he writesthe greatness of God, the enormity of God, and the smallness of Judah.
Travelling through Isaiah's prophecy then at any time during the year should prove to be instructive. If for no other reason than the way in which this prophecy confronts us with God's grandeur and our own corrupt insignificance. But possibly moving through this prophecy at this time of year is especially beneficial to us, since such an exercise may prod us towards the
truly extraordinary and sublime dimensions of Isaiah's message. After all, no one quite like Isaiah among the Old Testament writers sets before us the great gulf between God in his sovereign glory and humanity in its full and fallen creatureliness. And at the same time among the Old Testament writers, no one quite like Isaiah sets before us the gracious divine enterprise whereby the exalted Lord of all eternity overcomes that great gulf between himself and his sinful creatures through a voluntary, even vicarious humiliation on his part. A voluntary, vicarious humiliation intended and designed to save somehis chosen peoplehis electthose we might even describe as his church.
In the earlier chapters of Isaiah, the portion that catches our eye along these lines is that section which has come to be known as the Book of Immanuel, specifically chapters 7 through 12. This section of Isaiah's prophecy, as I'm sure you realize, gains its title from the name which appears for the first time in it at v. 14 in chapter 7that famous 14th verse. The name also appears in the eighth verse of the eighth chapter. You might note in that eighth chapter that the word Immanuel appears once more; however, it appears in the Hebrew instead of the English of that tenth verse in that eighth chapter. But it is not simply the near expressed mention of this name that characterizes this portion of Isaiah's prophecy. For permeating the entirety of these chapters (chapters 7 through 12) is the meaning of this nameImmanuel. That meaning, as you know, is "God with us".
In communicating this central thought, and this dominant theme and motif, we find notable about these chapters something more than just the mention of the name Immanuel and all that that name communicates. For we realize that in the initial instance, this name is introduced to us in a child at birth. And that furthermore, throughout these chapters, there is set before us again and again, the message which the Lord has for us through Isaiahthat message communicated to us in the figure of a child. It is in the figure of a child then that both the great gulf between the Creator and the creature: think of it in the figure of a childthat both the great gulf between the Creator and the creature as well as the inexplicable humility which God demonstrates in his dealings with menare accentuated. It is there for us again and again. Not just one figure of a child, but repeated figures given to us throughout the course of this section in Isaiah's prophecy. There are no less than five children presented to us in the
course of these chapters; although not always different children to be sure, yet uniquely set forth, distinctly set forth, in what we find before us.
In chapter 7 verse 3, we have the introduction of the first child for the section. It is one of Isaiah's own children, a child by the name of Shear-jashub. We've already mentioned, somewhat at length, the mysterious child Immanuel, set before us in the fourteenth verse of the seventh chapter. In chapter 8 verse 3, we have another of Isaiah's children set in front of us, this one with the very long and strange name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. But these three children mentioned so far are then followed by the two blatant portraits of the messianic childthe coming messianic childthe glory child of chapter nine verses six and seven; and then finally, the shoot out of Jesse's stem in Isaiah 11:1.
Now in taking stock of these children, you must be careful with your appreciation. I say this because invariably when we look at a child or at the birth of a child, we look at that child and the child's birth in the most positive way. While it is true that joy does surround these children in their successive presentations by Isaiah, with each one, we are face to face with a disturbing ambiguity. For accompanying the joy comes a certain dissonancethe terrifying and cacophonous sounds of chaos and disaster. In some ways that might not be inappropriate for a child after all the introduction of dissonance and cacophonous sounds of chaos and disaster.
But what we are observing here is certainly the case for the first childShear-jashub. The boy's name means "a remnant shall return." And it is very important as you consider that child's name, that you understand what is being assumed when that child's name is given, and when it is spoken. Isaiah is to take the boy with himhe is to take the boy with him when he goes out to meet Ahaz, the king of Judah. While Isaiah in his message offers hope to Ahaz and to Judah, in the midst of the current conflict in which he and that nation are involved (with Syria and the ten northern tribes of Israel), Shear-jashub, this child of Isaiah's, serves as a walking sermon concerning the distant reach that would inform and instruct Ahaz's faith, and no less the faith of Judah. You see, in the context, Isaiah preaches immediate deliverance in the present situation. But Shear-jashub, by his name (he is standing beside his father) proclaims to Ahaz a quality of faith that now must accept God's word concerning a future
distant debacle, a truly excruciating ordeal in which faith, if it be the type of faith which justifies, expresses the most serene confidence.
Such a faith as is in view, as it is proclaimed in this childsuch a faith is serene despite devastation yet to comelooming as yet on the horizon. Such a faith is serene, even as devastation comes and registers its most severe loss. Shear-jashub is a walking prophecy of the yet coming devastation of Judaha devastation that is not going to come at the hands of the Syrians, at the hands of the ten northern tribes, or even at the hands of the Assyrians, but far distant coming through the hands of the Babyloniansand that because of Jehovah's judgment. And in that context Shear-jashub becomes a walking prophecy of the gracious salvaging by God for himself of a remnanta remnant shall survive.
It is specifically this kind of faith that is now challenging Ahaz, and is challenging Judah through the prophet Isaiah and his son. It is the kind of faith that reaches out to the distant future and grabs hold of that future despite all of the horrors and terrors that that future may hold, and vindicates God in the midst of it. It is a faith that latches hold of the future even in terms of the future's extremities and then works backwards into the present circumstance. Do you see how most people have it all wrong? The faith that they are looking for is a faith that merely satisfies them in the immediate contexta faith that is helpful for them in the present situationthat enables them to cope right now, moment by moment. But the faith that is being held out before Ahaz here is a faith that grasps hold of the distant future of Judah's history; and cause him to believe in a God who will preserve for himself a people, even though the land is lost and the people themselves go through a horrifying judgment. Do you see how biblical faith works? Do you see how this faith that is being preached by Isaiah and in the child Shear-jashub works? It reaches out to the distant future and then sees all present circumstances in light of that future, because you see all the important and ultimate matters have been resolved and settled.
I'm terrified about losing my job because in the final analysis, I'm afraid of death. If you do not have a faith that reaches out to the conclusion of the mattereven dealing with the most severe loss, you do not have biblical faith. What I am suggesting to you is that nothing less than what is in view here in Isaiah 7 characterizes the faith that you yourself as Christians profess. By this
faith you are compelled to face the disillusion, not only of your body in death reaching out to the ultimate, but the destruction of this world and the melting of its elements according to Peter and his statements in his second letter. Has the gospel which you have embracedhas the gospel which you have believed inis that gospel granting to you such a faith that you know that not even your death, no, not even the disillusion or the end of this world can rob you of your inheritance which has been made secure for you in Jesus Christ? An inheritance that is laid up for you in heavenreserved for you there? Is the faith which you profess at this time of the yearthe faith that characterizes all of your days and will characterize your days till you diethat truly just as there was a Shear-jashub beside Isaiah, a remnant shall survive. In fact, it shall survive through death and the undoing of this creation. And if you have such a faith that justifies God in the face of such realities, then your faith is the justifying faith sealed even by Christ's blood and the Spirit's work.
But we move along. As Isaiah 7:10 says, "The Lord spoke again to Ahaz." And in this further word, the second child, as you know, is introducedthis child Immanuel: "The Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and you shall call his name Immanuel (7:14)." Again, the name means "God with us". It should be clear to you from this context that this child is promised in the time of Ahaz and Judah's current distress. In other words, this child is a contemporary childone that was born in and lived in the late eighth century B. C. What is said here by the prophet is not, first of all, dealing with the distant birth of Jesus Christ. That is not its intention in the first order. The focus of the prophecy herethe statement has to do with a child that was going to be born, presumably in Jerusalem, contemporary to Ahaz and to Isaiah in the context of the late eighth century B. C. He is to be born during the time of the threat of that alliance between Syria and the ten northern tribes of Israel as they have joined themselves together against Judah.
This child by his birth and by his name comes as a confrontation (so says Isaiah on the authority of the Lord)comes as a confrontation to Ahaz's arrogant feigned piety. Although invited to ask a sign as deep as hell and as high as heaven, Ahaz begs off self-righteously and evasively by saying, "I will not ask nor will I test or tempt the Lord". He sounds quite pious, when he is anything but. For Ahaz knows what is in his own heart and mind. The Lord,
regardless of what signs he might provide this king, is not Ahaz's confidence. Instead, Assyria is Ahaz's confidence. As Syria and the ten northern tribes have set themselves against Judah, Ahaz has not turned to the Lord. Instead, he has turned to Assyria for his deliverance. This is his hope. Whatever joy then we might attach to the birth of Immanuel, that joy is surrounded then by the current threat. It also surrounded by Ahaz's wicked treaty with Assyria and the failure of his own faith. In the midst of all of this Immanuel does become a sign, functioning effectively in the distress that has overtaken Judahovertaken Judah's people. In fact, it is particularly this ambiguity that defines Immanuel's usefulness as a sign. He is a sign of God's presence in distress. You see, you have to add the distress to appreciate God's presence in the distress.
Now many of you are arguing with God because you believe that Christianity entitles you to a life without distress. There is no such thing. You see, Immanuel is a sign of God's presence in distress. God in the sign, in Immanuel, accommodating himself to the distress. That this is true specifically in what we find in this prophecy is borne out by the progress of the prophecy itself. Immanuel will be born while the Syrians and the Ephraimites, that is, the ten northern tribes, threaten. But he will live out his days even into the time of the assault of the Assyrians which is coming. The very Assyrians to whom Ahaz presently turns for help but who shall in turn turn upon Judah, making Judah their prey. This means then that this child Immanuel will be alive during the days of the Assyrian invasionthe days when the Assyrians overwhelm the promised land in its totality, led by the general and king Sennacherib. And neither Immanuel's presence nor his name's meaning will secure Judah or Jerusalem against this onslaught. Most amazingly Immanuel himselfthe child now growing up, will live through the onslaught. Immanuel, the one who's name means "God with us" will suffer because of the onslaught.
Just how much we are to graspthis is made evident as the prophecy continues into the eighth chapter especially the eighth verse. Then the tidal wave of Assyrian will sweep into Judahit will overflow and pass throughit will reach even the neck and the spread of its wings will fill the breadth of your lands, O Immanuel! Immanuel we thought was a name that bespoke that which was positive; but here, it is spoken of in the midst of that which is
negative. Immanuel himself bearing up under the judgment, bearing up under the onslaughthe himself experiencing the onslaught. The character of the faith generated by this child was the sort that remains adamant about God's presence in the face of the nation's destruction. But in Immanuel, we are equally instructed about God's identification with his own cause. So that like the child Immanuel himself, he, the great God, goes through the ordeal also. The name is ImmanuelGod with usin our distressin the destruction itself.
Do I need to draw out the significance of all of this for you? Is it not clear enough to you? The baby Immanuel from Isaiah's dayeven the boy as he growsthe man as he maturesthe one who carries that name will live through the coming ordealhe will live through the coming distresshe will live through the coming destruction. The name itself preaching the hidden presence of God among his people. But this child, little Immanuel, belonging to Isaiah's day, of course anticipates a child, who, as a sign in the latter day reaches fully the depths and the heights. This latter child is no mere human baby, symbolically bearing the name Immanuel, but a divine child really and truly fulfilling that name. The new Immanuel is born to no mere maid in Judah, but miraculously conceived to a literal virgin. This one will live through and suffer in the life of his people, in order that his people might live in him. He compels the faith of all of God's people in order that they might know that God has actually taken to himself his people's conditionhuman fleshand is bound to us in our life in this world until that life is completely resolved by the glories of the kingdom of heaven. And thus, the enormity of God is matched by the enormity of his love. And that, telegraphed to you in a child.
To Every Man's Conscience in
the Sight of God
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
Jeong Woo (James) Lee
Even in this fourth chapter, underneath the current of Paul's words flows a criticism of his opponents in the church at Corinth. Paul does not engage in a direct confrontation with his opponents at the church of Corinth. This was not because he was a coward. Paul was writing to a church which, in general, showed a sign of repentance as well as allegiance and loyalty to Paul. Not to his opponents, but to his beloved church was he addressing his letter. Nevertheless Paul was aware of the continuing presence of his opponents in the church. Therefore it was necessary for Paul to warn the church of the danger they posed to the peace and purity of the church.
For the peace and purity of the churchthat was the reason for Paul's contention with his opponents. Paul was not squabbling with them about petty, personal matters. The church was not a place for petty, personal bickering, for the church belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul said in Ephesians 5:25-27: ". . . Christ . . . loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless." Those who belonged to this church of Jesus Christ are those who "have been cruci-
fied with Christ" (Gal. 2:20); those who "have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so [they] too might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). Having died to themselves and to the world, the members of the church of Jesus Christ "should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf" (2 Cor. 5:15).
The church of Jesus Christ is a community of saints who owe eternal debt and gratitude to the One who lived, died and was raised from the dead on their behalf. Having tasted the goodness of the Lord, the saints confess: "Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise Thee" (Ps. 63:3); ". . . [a] day in Thy courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of wickedness [as king]" (Ps. 84:10). Awed by the reality of God's overwhelming grace, they confess as their deepest desire, "Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:20-21).
Do you see? A saint can no longer hold his own pride and ego dear to his heart. His heart finds no joy in self-indulgence, but is wearied by it. The matters regarding his personal welfare no longer consume him but seem a rather frivolous preoccupation that is only tiring and burdensome. For he has experienced the overwhelming freedom of losing himself in the vast ocean of God's love. The fear of losing his reputation and the anxiety of protecting his own interest no longer afflict his soul. There is joyful and willing abandonment of self-interest and self-importance. More than that, he counts all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, for whom he suffers the loss of all things, and counts them but rubbish in order that he may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8). His greatest desire is to see the smiling face of his Master, to bring delight to his Lord, to hear from his lips, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!" He has no fear of being abused by his Master, for his Master loved him to the point of laying down his life for him. As a matter of fact, if he loves his Master so much, it is only because his Master first loved him.
To engage, therefore, in petty squabbles over wounded pride and hurt feelings, is not worthy of the members of the church of Jesus Christ. The church of Jesus Christ must not be poisoned with the toxin of bitterness and
resentment, brewed in the dark recesses of one's heart. Neither should we allow the hysterical biting and scratching of enraged egos and wounded pride to tear up the church of Jesus Christ. This is all the more urgent because the church and its members are not yet perfectand never will be until the day of glorification. Though conquered, the remnant of our sin remains in our body of flesh. Though set free from the dominion of sin, we are not completely free of all sins. The wind of temptation blows through the pipe of our sinful body. As it does, it produces enticing tunes that still charm the remnant of our old self to raise its hideous, cobra-like head and hiss with complaints and grumbling. However, our standard of holiness cannot be compromised because greater is the power of him who squashes the head of the serpent under his feet and frees us from the bewitching spell of sin and self-righteousness.
We dare not stiffen our neck, raise our head of egotism and disturb the serene peace of the church of Jesus Christ. How utterly contemptible is our sin of egotistical pride and self-importance in the eyes of the exalted, sovereign Lord of heaven and earth! How utterly loathsome is our loud demand for our rights before the One who, though he was rich, yet for our sake became poor, that we through his poverty might become rich! We were saved because he who was God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself to the point of death in order that he might save us who deserved nothing but eternal condemnation. How can we bicker with one another and raise our voice in the church of Jesus Christ?
Paul, more than anyone, understood these things. We must then appreciate the fact that Paul's trouble with his opponents at Corinth was not personal in nature. Their criticism of Paul displayed serious theological errors, which undermined not only Paul's reputation but also the truth of the gospel itself, of which Paul was a minister. What was at stake was the truth of the gospel and the purity of the church. Paul could not simply let things be for the sake of some superficial peace in the church. As a pastor, he was entrusted with the responsibility not only to preach the truth of the gospel, but also to protect the church from erroneous teachings and heretical views. To let such things fester in the church would have been a gross disservice to his Master as well as to those he served. The pain of pruning had to be inflicted for the well-being of the church. The lump of dough had to be unleavened in order to maintain the
purity and holiness of the church. For such things, the church must not remain idle and silent. For such things, the church should not avoid conflicts.
In the previous chapter, Paul dealt with the grave theological error that his opponents taught at the church of Corinth. Those false teachers, most likely from the Jewish sector, continued to uphold Moses (and his law) as the highest standard for the Christian ethics and life. Of course, they called themselves Christian and acknowledged Jesus as God's anointed one. They might have seen in the death of Jesus Christ an atoning sacrifice for their sins. They might have rejoiced in and even preached the resurrection of Jesus Christ as an evidence of God's victory over death. However, their greatest appreciation of Jesus Christ lay in seeing him as the greatest affirmation of the Law of Moses. Didn't Jesus himself say that he came to fulfill the law? And what law did they have except the Law of Moses? When Jesus died for the sins of his people, did he not do so according to the principle of atonement in the Law of Moses? When Jesus taught the people, was he not the greatest rabbi to expound the Law of Moses? The Law of Moses was the law of God and as such absolute, eternal and unchangeable. No onenot even Jesus, the Son of Goddared to usurp the authority of Moses the Lawgiver.
Such a conviction happened to serve the false teachers, rather conveniently, to validate and emphasize their special position in the Christian community as people of the Jewish pedigree. After all, Moses was a Jew and the law was given to the Jewish nationnot to mention the fact that Jesus too was a Jew as they were. Therefore, they had a special claim on Moses in a way that the Gentiles never could. But they were willing, for a reasonable fee, to teach the sublime, exalted Law of Moses. And the Gentiles had better learn from their teaching and example. For the way to be truly Christian was by being Jewish.
In doing so, they could not help but point out certain fatal errors in Paul's theologyhis obvious neglect of the Law of Moses. One would expect Paul, as a Jew and a former Pharisee, to have a greater appreciation for the law of their forefathers. He should know more than anyone the benefits of the law. People are too sinful to be left alone without the constant vigil of the law. Especially the Gentiles, whose lives had been immersed in lawless savagerythey must be reined in by rules and regulationsrules and regulations that are comprehensive in scope, specific in application and weighty in punishment.
People need to be told, clearly and specifically, what to doalong with a good dose of warning against breaking the law and its terrible consequences. If not, they would only be lazy and lost. People need to be driven into obedience and the law was the most effective whip. The Law of Moses was the best medicine for sanctification. That was why Paul, in their view, was such a dangerous man. In his preaching of justification by faith alone, they detected too much of an antinomian tendency, wanting to do away with the law altogether.
Paul met their objection head on. In his counterattack against his opponents, Paul went directly to the one to whom they appealed as the source of their authorityMoses. Throughout 2 Corinthians 3, Paul showed the relative value of Moses and his ministry of the law compared to the absolute value of Jesus Christ and Paul's ministry as a minister of the new covenant. In doing so, Paul did not intend to criticize or disparage Moses. Moses faithfully served the Lord according to the role which God assigned to him. It was just that his role was not as absolute as that for which Paul's opponents wanted to give him credit. The ministry of Moses was a ministry of death, not of life. Did they have to be reminded of the gloomy fact that the very first incidents following the giving of the law were tragicthe shattering of the tablets of the Ten Commandments and the killing of the three thousand as the punishment for their golden-calf worship? Did they have to be reminded that Moses, the lawgiver, was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, but died outside of it?
And Paul demonstrated the relative role of Moses also by pointing out the temporary, fading radiance of Moses' face. Something absolute cannot fade in its glory. The veiling of Moses' face was not to hide the brilliance of its glory, but to hide its fading. And such was precisely the role and the end assigned to Moses and his ministry of delivering the law at Mount Sinai. Moses and his law were not meant to stand forever, but to fade away into what is truly eternal and absolute. The glory of Moses shone with a borrowed rayand that only through the dark nightuntil the Sun of incomparable glory appeared. The glory of Moses was but a cocoon, existing only to give birth to something that far transcended its humble glory. The Law of Moses was no different. The law that dictated the life in the temporary, earthly kingdom of Israel had to give way to the law that dictated the life in the eternal, heavenly kingdom of the Son of God. The Law of Moses, too, was a cocoon, whose true fulfillment was found in the birth of the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:2).
To hold on to the glory of Moses and his law, therefore, was utterly foolish. More than that, to continue to hold on to the glory of Moses and his law was to deny the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled the law, not by affirming the eternal validity of the Law of Moses, but by bringing it into the arena of the kingdom of heaven. To hold on to the Law of Moses is to hold on to the vision of an earthly paradise and reject the vision of the eternal, heavenly kingdom of God. Such a vision is nothing less than Satanic. Those who reject Christ but hold on to the Mosaic religion are called "a synagogue of Satan" by Jesus (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). But God has called us as heavenly citizens in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul's ministry was unto this kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, Paul's vision was turned away from the small plot of land called Canaan. His new vision was directed toward the kingdom of God in heaven. Now that he was given this vision, not even the whole world could fill up his new vision. In Jesus Christ, he was brought out of this world into the marvelous kingdom of God's Son. He now lived, though he walked on this earth, in the kingdom of God that had come in Jesus Christ. As it was a heavenly kingdom, it had no earthly boundaries and treasures to physically assure our membership in it. It manifested itself in its spiritual power of regeneration and transformation.
It is in this context that we must view Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 4:2: "[B]ut we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." In his description of his ministry, he appeals to "every man's conscience in the sight of God" (v. 2) as his "court of appeal." The true significance of these words must be determined in the context of the contrast between Paul's ministry and the ministry of his opponents.
As you can see, Paul's description of his ministry is presented both in negative and positive terms. He renounced the things hidden because of shame. He does not walk in craftiness. He does not adulterate the word of God. On the other hand, his ministry is characterized by the positive traits of manifesting the truth, commending himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God. Later on, Paul goes on to say that, in his ministry, he does not preach himself but Christ Jesus as Lord (v. 5).
The negative descriptions of his ministry are intended to set him apart from his opponents and their ministry. The characteristics from which Paul is distancing himself are the very ones that he attributes to his opponents. They do not let go of the things hidden because of shame; they walk in craftiness; they adulterate the word of God; they preach themselves rather than Christ. These negative characteristics are drawn from the episodes surrounding the fall of Adam. And as sons of the fallen Adam, they have become the sons of the greater Tempter. So, these false teachers refuse to let go of shameful things so long as they could hide them (as Adam hid himself among the trees); they walk in craftiness, as the serpentine Satan crawled in the garden; they adulterate the word of God as their evil Father tempted the innocent Pair by contradicting the word of God.
What is more, these characteristics are reinforced by their tenacious commitment to Moses and the old covenant. The phrase "things hidden because of shame" (which they refused to let go), is strongly reminiscent of the veiling of the fading glory of Moses mentioned in the preceding section. Paul seems to associate the Mosaic Covenant with shame (as with death). To hold on to Moses and his covenant is to refuse to let go of the hidden things of shame. What is more, to hold on to the Old Testament as the absolute truth in and of itself apart from its fulfillment in Jesus Christ is nothing less than adulterating the word of God. Being faithful to any text of the Old Testament is more than a careful grammatico-historical analysis of that particular text alone. One cannot be faithful to the text of the Old Testament apart from seeing its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
This applies to the law as well. The law, though good and holy, was weak because of the sinfulness of man and only resulted in producing more and greater sin in man (Rom. 7:8). Sinful man, when confronted with God's holy law, did not respond in humble obedience. Rather, man responded to sin with his ingenuity to find ways of breaking the law without getting caughtto observe the letter of the law and still break the spirit of the lawto hold on to sinful inclinations in his heart while observing the law externally. But such was precisely the limitation of the theocratic arrangement: the Law of Moses was the ultimate court of appeal for one's guilt or righteousness, but the law could only see one's outside.
Paul's court of appeal, on the other hand, is no longer the Law of Moses, as it is for his opponents at Corinth. He speaks "in Christ in the sight of God" (2:17). He commends himself "to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (4:2). He appeals to "the testimony of [his] conscience" for the genuineness of his ministry to the Corinthians. Indeed, throughout the whole Pauline corpus, Paul never appeals to the law for the defense of his actions. Again and again, he appeals to his conscience in the sight of God (Acts 24:16; Rom. 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12; 4:2; 2 Tim. 1:3). And he exhorts believers to maintain a clear conscience, cleansed and set free by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 8:7ff.; 10:25ff.; 1 Tim. 1:5).
This is not a reckless, antinomian abandonment of the law and a radical subjectivization of ethics. Paul is not an antinomian. Rather, he is subject to a greater law than the Law of Moses. For he now belongs to a kingdom greater than the theocratic nation of Israelto the kingdom of God in heaven. He does not stand before the law that cannot see his heart; he now stands in the sight of God, who sees all things, even into the deepest recesses of his heart. He does not live by the Law of Moses, but by "the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ." This reality is expressed in his conducting himself in the sight of God and commending himself to every man's conscience. Yes, Paul now lives in a different environmentan environment radically different from the nation of Israel. The kingdom of God has come in Jesus Christ!
That is why the arena of Paul's ministry is no longer people's external behavior, but their conscience. Conscience, of course, is not the ultimate standard of righteousness. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:4: "For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord." Also, there is a weak conscience as well as a conscience dictated by true knowledge. The ultimate standard of righteousness is the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ. Therein the fullness of God's righteousness is revealed.
Nevertheless, Paul's appeal to conscience is significant. It signals a redemptive historical transition in the administration of the law of Godfrom the externality of the Mosaic Law to the internality of the law of the kingdom of heaven. The nature and extent of Christ's saving work indicate the nature and extent of the believer's ethical arena. Listen to Hebrews 9:9-10: "Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect
in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation." In Jesus Christ, the time of external, ceremonial cleansing is superseded by the time of internal, efficacious cleansing of one's conscience. No one can hide behind a mere appearance of righteousness. The law of the kingdom of heaven probes deep into one's mind, heart and conscience.
Yet we need not fear that we are fully exposed in the sight of God. For Jesus Christ bore our judgment in his suffering and death. Jesus accomplished for us the perfect righteousness through his perfect, righteous life. Though we stand before the all-seeing, most-exacting sight of God, we have no reason to fear. For our sins have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ. For we are covered with the robe of righteousness. As Horatio G. Spafford sang: "My sinO the bliss of this glorious thought!My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul. . . . The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, 'Even so'it is well with my soul."
Now we serve the Lord in the security that the efficacy of Christ's blood and the perfection of Christ's righteousness afford. For those who are in Christ Jesus, to be in the sight of God is to be in the presence of God's love. Therefore we serve not with fear but with joy inexpressible. Like a little boy running all over the soccer field, encouraged and strengthened by the proud gaze of his father following his every move, so we desire to move, live and have our being in the sight of our God. Therefore brothers and sisters, let us no longer subject ourselves under the accusing, hateful sight of the evil One. Let us no longer run into the dark corner of guilt, regret and shame. Let us bask in the loving gaze of our heavenly Father. Let us walk in the sight of God. Let us enjoy a clean and perfect conscience and never part with it.
New Life Mission Church of La Jolla (PCA)
La Jolla, California
Hagar's Wilderness Sojourn
Aimless, pointless, goalless: all describe the nature of the serpent seed's sojourn. Hagar has been exiled from the covenant home and is to seek refuge under the common-curse sun. With her son Ishmael, Hagar possesses no place to go but to dwell under the common curse of the sun. This narrative declares that there is a difference between the serpent seed's sojourn and the Abrahamite sojourn. The covenant community lives in light of consummation glory, but the Hagarite lives by Qoheleth's common curse proclamation"Vanity of vanities all is vanity."
Hagar sits center stage with her child, and there is no food and water. Hagar has now come to the end of her journey. She has been sent away from the covenant community, and now her life has come to an end. This is not a joyful ending, but a morbid ending as Hagar can only place her child under the comfortless shade and wait for their death under the sun. This appears to be their future: journey, dehydration, and then death.
The last scene was quiet, as Ishmael's master disowned him in a silent ceremony. Remember Abraham, the master, woke Hagar up, handed her food and water, and then handed her Ishmael. The child is banished and sent away.
Abraham set the solemn tone of the last narrative as he quietly banished this family to the wilderness away from the covenant home to dwell under the sun (Gen. 21:9-21).
The ceremony is over and now we hear the voice of Hagar. "Do not let me see the boy die!" she cries. But who is listening? She is now confronted with the meaninglessness of her life under the sun. The new Cain vagrant-wandering family is confronted with what it means to live under the common curse as Hagar sits a bowshot away from her child. She can only see and hear her son take his last few dying breaths in the comfortless shade. To her, existence is but life ending in a meaningless death. In truth, there is little that can be done to alleviate the common curse.
There is nothing that this mother can do as we hear her sobs of pain. This wilderness living is a curse under the sun culminating in death. This mother finds no refuge under the common curse, and she is an example of what the preacher says in Ecclesiastes, "Vanity of vanities .Vanity of vanities! All is Vanity" (Ecc. 1:2). Hagar's wilderness sojourn provides us with a description of life radically different from the Abrahamic wilderness sojourn. The former is characterized by death and despair, but the latter is marked by life and hope.
The Angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar again. The Angel of the Lord spoke to her in chapter 16 and told her to return to Sarah. But that is not the case at this point in Hagar's life. He reminds her of what he said in chapter 16 about this child, "Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has given heed to your affliction" (v. 12). This child she carried in her womb has now come to fruition. She is not called to go back to the covenant community, but now she is called to look to this child. She is called to look to the child who will be a wild ass of a man (16:12). This wild ass of a man is to be her strength in the wilderness sojourn. The Lord has not forgotten what he has stated, but rather he reminds and unfolds for Hagar what has already been said previously in the history of the covenant.
The Angel of the Lord proceeds to make a declaration about this boy. The promise that was spoken to Abraham as he was told to send this serpent seed anti-covenant family away is now told to Hagar. The Angel of the Lord who intrudes into history now tells Hagar that this child will become a great nation. This child who is dehydrated, this child from whom Hagar sits a bow shot away, this child that she watches die in the meaningless wilderness experience will not die now, and his life will be prolonged. The boy is not Isaac, but this boy is merely a temporary provision in this life. Hagar is not turned to the reality of what Isaac pointed to; she is only pointed to her son. This son, to whom she has given birth, will not win anything of eternal substance for her, but only a temporary name under the sun. Hagar is called to look to this child (who mocked the covenant community), but not beyond this child to provide life for her.
The Lord now points Hagar's focus away from this boy and points her attention to the well of water that is before her. The Lord opens her eyes and she sees the well. She notices a well that had been covered, a well for temporary provision. The Angel of the Lord (pre-incarnate Christ) does not call this woman to look to eschatological resurrection-life, rather he calls her attention to the temporary provision of the well that is before her. This is not like the woman at the well in John whose attention is turned from the city of man to Christ the king. This slave woman's attention is turned only to this well, this temporary provision of life under the common curse.
Hagar is not pointed to the true giver of eternal life. She is not pointed to a true immortal name, but to Ishmael, a name that will last as long as the city of man, a name that is associated with a wild ass.
We observe that Hagar and her descendants will be against the people of Isaac. She also serves to anticipate a major event in the history of redemption. Hagar is a precursor for the exodus of IsraelIsaac's line and Abraham's family. Hagar is the slave woman who is oppressed by Sarah and then driven away. Hagar, like Moses, is asked to leave a family. Hagar leads the Ishmaelites. Moses leads Israel. Hagar needs water; God intrudes and opens her eyes to
see a well. Moses needs water; God intervenes and makes the water sweet. Hagar settles in the desert of Paran. Moses camps in Paran (Num. 12:16).
Hagar's life anticipates Israel's exodus event (the Abrahamites if you will). The fundamental distinction is that Hagar's exodus is not the same exodus as Moses', but a satanic serpent exodus for the city of man. This is anti-redemption! Hagar is the one who is sent out of the covenant home. She is sent out because she has mocked the covenant of grace through her son.1 Unlike the serpent in the garden who is listened to and allowed to speak, Hagar is sent away speechless, representing the new serpent people sent away by a typological second Adam. The mother is then confronted with the meaningless existence of life when one is apart from the covenant of grace. Thus, this is really no exodus in terms of redemption and freedom from bondage; rather this is freedom from the covenant into the bondage of a meaningless existence under the common-curse sun.
Israel's exodus is a fundamentally different experience than Hagar's exodus. They are under the oppression of the serpent people. Israel is led through a temporary time of suffering and then they are brought to their typological heaven, Canaan. Thus the exodus of Israel leads to a goal. There is a time of suffering; then there is deliverance culminating in rest. Hagar's exodus drives her away from the covenant people. Hagar's exodus does not lead to a goal, only a meaningless existence under the common curse.
Hagar needs a new identity to soften the pain of her satanic exodus anti-redemptive event. Hagar now moves from slave woman to the mother and head of a great nation. Hagar is the one who finds the wife for her child. She is head of the nation as she takes on the role of a father in finding a wife for the child. According to custom, it is the father who is to find the wife, but Hagar takes the responsibility. Hagar, the Egyptian, wants to find a mate from the Egyptian people. She does not want her line to intermarry with the seed of the woman. So she finds an Egyptian spouse and takes on the role of the father. Thus she becomes the mocker of the family arrangement in the common grace situation
1 Genesis 21:9-21 shows that Hagar has her identity in her son. She does not rebuke Ishmael for his wicked act. Therefore she participates by not preventing or stopping his mockery of Isaac.
in which she finds herself. She is the mother and father of this nation. There is no need for Abraham to find a wife for her child; Hagar can do just fine on her own!
Hagar does not look into any family line; she looks into the Egyptian line. This child is to be a super-oppressor of Israel. This mother wants this child to marry into her line. He is the one whose lineage will move from petty mocking to serpent-warrior oppressor. He will be the father of a great nation. His lineage is with the Egyptian line that will oppress and enslave the Israelites. He will use this temporary time under common grace curse in his meaningless existence to persecute the covenant people of God and then die.
Ishmael is not going to wait patiently for the future. No! this man has more pride and dignity than that; this man is going to be the mighty warrior against the people of God and God himself. This child picks up his war bowthe war bow that God temporarily lays down after the flood (Gen. 9:13). This child, as he is becoming man, is beginning here to fulfill his role as the wild-ass-serpent-warrior people. He will move from hunting animals to hunting the people of God. It is God who has provided for him and suspended his death in the wilderness. Now this child picks up the war bow as if to initiate holy war with God and his people. Indeed the seed of the serpent is presumptuous with God's longsuffering and provision for the common grace reprobate.
This anti-covenant family is the one which undergoes little change. They begin in the wilderness about to die, and the narrative ends with them still in the wilderness. There is really nothing that has changed. They have just been revived and their death sentence is put off a little while longer. This suspension has allowed a little transition in the narrative. Instead of Hagar sitting a bow shot away, this child picks up his bow. Then Hagar takes the old water skin that is empty in the beginning of the narrative and fills it again. In the beginning they are weak; now they are refreshed. But they are refreshed for what? Refreshed for a longer meaningless existence to face the wrath of God? Refreshed with no security or goal or purpose except to initiate holy war with God who preserved them?
This anti-covenant people had time to repent, but they are exiled from the covenant home at the command of God. It is God and God alone who has
guided and revived this family. He has allowed this anti-Israel people to exist, and he has raised them up. God alone sustains the reprobate for his purposes. We see from this narrative that God is playing an eschatological chess game, initiated in time in Genesis 3:15. The battle and the final future victory are declared in the first gospel. It is God who is moving and orchestrating each piece until the final consummation. The serpent seed is so ignorant and arrogant that it does not see that in each stage of the game, it has been in checkmate. It is God who revives this family and raises up the challenger for his new creatures, his typological second-Adam people. It is God who brings about victory through his typological second Adam, Abraham. It is Abraham who (unlike the first Adam) sent the serpent seed into the wilderness. This is why God can tell Abraham that his descendants will be enslaved. God has decreed the future and therefore knows the future. God also knows the final resting place for his people. It is not Canaan, but Heaventhe reality for the type. God knows the outcome of the battle before that outcome arrives in history.
As we see the history of the covenant unfold, we notice that it appears at various times as if the serpent-seed gains the upper hand. This is only a mere appearance because we know that God never loses control or allows the serpent-reprobate-people to win. At the time of the Egyptians, Israel is in bondage to the anti-Israel-Ishmaelite people. It is the Lord who delivers his people and brings them through the water ordeal of the Red Sea and crushes the serpent army under the forces of the water. His people are declared his righteous people as they are delivered through this ordeal. There is another time when it appears the serpent has wonChrist on the cross crying out, "My God my God why have you forsaken me?" Christ cries out on the cross when he faces the full existential horror of the reprobates' meaningless existence. Three days later he is raised from the dead. He passes the ordeal of death. It appears that the serpent has won, but Christ is declared the righteous Son of God by conquering death. This is a vindication and pardon for his people and a declaration of final consummation judgment against the reprobate.
It is Christ who has secured your eternal existence for you. It is Christ who gives you his confirmation spirit, the Holy Spirit, as a downpayment for the life to come. You now begin to taste that life spiritually as you are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. Look to Christ knowing that your wilderness
experience is not like Hagar's. You are not given a temporary provision of water, the temporary promise of being a great nation, but you have the eternal land of Heaven. Your paradigm is not suffering and then facing the horror of hell, but your paradigm is suffering and then glory. Your good shepherd who allows the reprobate to exist under common grace for a time is leading you now. Your Good Shepherd is leading you and has secured for you all that you are and all that you possess. Look to Christ, your Good Shepherd !
Covenant United Reformed Church
Preachers: Tell the Story of
Gregory Edward Reynolds
As Charles Dennison so aptly put it: "There are no 'modern' preachers; there are only preachers."1 With Paul and John, we are in the final, that is eschatological, epoch or world of redemptive history. However, this does not eliminate the challenges which the preacher faces in his unique cultural situation. The biblical response to that challenge is exemplified by Paul in terms of his approach to the two different audiences in the synagogue, for example at Pisidian Antioch, and the pagans in Athens (Acts 13:14-41; 17:16-31). The era of electronic communication media represents a unique challenge to the preacher in our new century. As with Paul, our situation demands that we tell the story of redemption. The centrality of narrative in the Bible cannot be overemphasized. The Covenantal structure of the entire Bible places the narrative text in the context of God's plan and work of redemption. Every other biblical genre is rooted in that covenantal narrative. Thus we should not be surprised to find New Testament preaching focusing on the story of redemption, even when it is given to an audience which has only natural revelation at its disposal. Without the Gospel-Acts narratives, for example, the epistles are meaningless.
1 Charles Dennison, "Preaching and Application: A Review." Kerux: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching 4/3 (December 1989): 52.
The importance of story-telling in the ancient world has been largely overlooked by Reformed preachers. This reaction to evangelical anecdotal preaching has left a void which needs to be filled. In the more orally-aurally oriented culture of the ancient world, where personal possession of "books" was rare, story-telling was the primary means of propagating and transmitting tradition. This appears to have been the case during the millennia from Adam's fall to the Mosaic revelation. The increase of oral-aural sensibilities in the electronic age is a providential prod to call us to return to the power of the story of redemption in order to impress the souls of our hearers.
Those, like Neil Postman, who are seeking to fend off the purposelessness, atomizing, dumbing down and evacuation of public education affirm the transcendent value and necessity of the great narratives, of which Christianity is one. 2 But the church itself has atomized Scripture by quoting prooftexts and taking Scripture stories and examples and using them as if they came out of nowhere. We have eviscerated the Scripture by tearing apart the single story of redemption into little timeless pieces, used for moral lessons and successful living. The power of the Great epochal Narrative of Redemption thus disappears. With Christ at its center, every text has a location in that history. To call it a story does not imply fiction. It is a single history with a beginning and an end. It is full of characters and concrete detail, full of interest as told by the Great Raconteur, the Holy Spirit, in order to reveal the Original character and Hero, Jesus Christ. The narrative power of television as the great storyteller of our time can only be countered by the Story of Redemption in the Bible. The story line of the Bible is the structure of the whole. While the electronic media, especially television and film, narrate the stories of a lost world seeking transcendence apart from God, and thus disciple the world, the church needs to be discipling God's people in the story of salvation. God has spoken. God has entered history. The Christ of Scripture is his final Word to this present evil age.
2 Neil Postman, The End of Education (New York: Knopf, 1995). Cf. also his Teaching as a Subversive Activity (New York: Dell, 1969); Teaching as a Conserving Activity (New York: Dell, 1979); The Disappearance of Childhood (London: Allen, 1983).
"Biblical theology imparts a new life and freshness to the old truth by placing it in its original historic setting. The Bible is not a handbook of dogmatics: it is a historical book full of dramatic interest."3 Biblical theology represents the interface between the text of Scripture and our system of theology. It is after all God's way of accounting for his redemptive acts in history. Thus, far from being a threat to either systematic theology or supernaturalism, biblical theology lends cohesiveness and coherence to the orthodox account of truth. Without systematic theology, biblical theology will tend toward immanentism; without biblical theology, systematic theology will tend toward mere abstraction.4
Immanentism in all of its forms, including evolutionary thought, and Process Theology's idea that God is himself developing, is best answered on its own grounds: the historical. The "history of special revelation" is the divinely given account of the way in which the absolutely transcendent Creator God has acted in history through the vehicle of his covenant. Ultimately all forms of immanentism fail to find meaning and direction in history for the very reason that, in seeking concreteness in the historical, they have no reference point by which to interpret the very history they investigate. Only the Covenant Theology of the Bible presents the Absolute One and history together. It "grants us a new vision of the glory of God. As eternal, he lives above the sphere of history. He is the Being, and not the becoming one. But, since for our salvation he has condescended to work and speak in the form of time, and thus to make his work and his speech partake of the peculiar glory that belongs to all organic growth, we must also seek to know him as the One that is, that was, and that is to come, in order that our theology may adequately perform its function of glorifying God in every mode of his self-revelation to us."5
3 Geerhardus Vos, "The Nature and Aims of Biblical Theology." Kerux: A Journal of Biblical Theological Preaching 14/1 (May 1999): 7. Originally from The Union Seminary Magazine 13/3 (February-March 1902): 194-99.
4 It should be noted that abstraction is a necessary part of the human thought process. It is when this process, in theological reasoning, is not rooted in history that it leads to the kind of abstraction with which I am concerned.
5 Vos, "The Nature and Aims of Biblical Theology." Kerux, 8.
For the preacher there is no other theology which will answer his practical purposes in the church. "The knowledge of God communicated by it [the historic character of revelation] is nowhere for a purely intellectual purpose. From beginning to end it is intended to enter into the actual life of man. Hence God has interwoven his revelation with the historic life of the chosen race, so as to secure for it a practical form in all its parts. This principle has found its clearest expression in the idea of the covenant as the form of God's self-revelation to Israel. The covenant is an all-comprehensive communion of life, in which every self-disclosure is made subservient to a practical end."6
And yet at once the practicality of this historical concreteness stands as a most needed corrective of the subjectivism of our age and of the church which has taken on too much of the world's mindset in this department. "Sacred history deals with the redemptive realities created by the supernatural activity of God. Biblical theology deals with the redemptive knowledge communicated in order to interpret these realities. Revelation is designed to prepare, to accompany, and to interpret the great objective redemptive acts of God, such as the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection. It is not intended to follow the subjective appropriation of redemption in its further course."7 It is primarily by the work of the Holy Spirit through preaching that this "subjective appropriation of redemption" is carried on.
The faithful preacher will demonstrate from every text of Scripture the connection of his hearers to the history of redemption. "Practical" in this context is not to be understood as advocating the kind of "world catering" application to which many preachers give the same label. In our day "practical" often means meeting the so-called "needs" of people who are wedded to this world. In this construction the gospel becomes another program for promoting self-help and self-esteem. The practical nature of the Covenant is found in its revolutionary altering of the entire orientation and framework of the believer, who is connected by Christ to heavenly reality. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God . . ." The world's order of concerns is reversed. The source of this reversal is the present historical situation in which the Christ has come and reigns from
6 Ibid., 5.
7 Ibid., 4, 5.
his heavenly throne guiding history towards its consummation. The preacher will therefore avoid co-opting the gospel for a surreptitiously idolatrous agenda in the church,—an agenda which is being promoted with renewed vigor via the new electronic means.
The subject-object distinction of the Cartesian worldview tends toward logical sequential formulations in which discreet realities are abstracted from their context. The history of redemption brings subject and object together, without the relativizing tendency of postmodern alternatives of the Cartesian model. Unlike the "metalanguages" of structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, and all earthbound attempts to describe the world, the narrative of redemption functions as the metanarrative by which all others are to be interpreted and judged.
Truly there are no Biblical-theological preachers, only preachers. Preachers who do not tell the story of redemption are simply not preachers in the biblical sense.
Amoskeag Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Manchester, New Hampshire
J. P. Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative: An Introductory Guide. Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 1999. 216 pp. paperback. ISBN: 0-664-22263-3. $22.95.
I purchased this book with great expectations. Jan P. Fokkelman of the University of Leiden (the Netherlands) has produced stunning work on the narratives of 1 and 2 Samuel. His monumental four volume set, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel (Van Gorcum, 1981-1993), is a tour de force of the Hebrew text of these two central Biblical books. In addition, Fokkelman has contributed innovative narrative and structural analyses of portions of Genesis (Narrative Art in Genesis, 1975) and select Biblical poetry (Major Poems of the Hebrew Bible, 1998). As a central figure in the "narrative revolution," Fokkelman has confirmed the integrity of the received Hebrew text while penetrating profoundly the various threads of meaning woven by the Biblical storytellers and poets. If he is unimpressed with dogmatic categories such as divine inspiration, we are not surprised. He is a modern critical Bible scholar for whom such categories are, unfortunately, passé. Nevertheless, he is a master of the Hebrew idiom and refreshing new insights spring from his capable analysis of the text. Nor do we expect biblical-theological reflections from his myopic horizon. He is immersed in the immediate Hebrew text and rarely lifts his eye to the redemptive-historical, let alone the eschatological horizon. Still his work is stimulating, powerful, challengingand even a back door apology for several orthodox readings and positions (i.e., the integrity of the Hebrew text; a hesita-
tionoften outright ridiculeof form critical and source critical readings; the dramatic or affective power of the Biblical narratives to arrest the attentive reader).
The work under review takes its place within the genre of recent narrative approaches to the Bible. The mainstay of the movement has been Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981). Yet the magnum opus of the genre has been, in this writer's opinion, Shimon Bar-Efrat's Narrative Art in the Bible (1989). Fokkelman's new volume (first published in Dutch in 1995) will not replace Bar-Efrat. The latter's volume remains more accessible, better organized and more adaptable to Old and New Testament text alike. Fokkelman has written "An Introductory Guide" which, in fact, requires more narrative expertise (and exposure) than the beginning student/reader normally possesses. But more significantly, the present volume is not as theologically suggestive as Fokkelman's other major works. I do not mean to imply that Fokkelman unpacks the theological meaning of Hebrew passageshe eschews theological interpretation. Yet his careful discussion of the Hebrew text normally opens up avenues of theological consideration to the eager biblical theologian. In using his commentaries and detailed studies, I have been personally stimulated to "go beyond" Fokkelman, biblical-theologically speaking, precisely because he has so carefully explained the structure and meaning of the Hebrew text. In this respect, he remains immensely helpful to the preacher and student of the Word of God.
But this present offering is disappointing. First, it regurgitates much of Fokkelman's previous work. Scholars (as well as preachers) need not reinvent the wheel every time they compose or deliver; however Fokkelman's reuse of his previous work is less detailed, redundant (he frequently repeats pericopes and comments), often little more than a re-telling of the story and presumptuous (assuming a knowledge of literary vocabulary and technique which belongs to adepts, not novices). As a beginning introduction to the narrative method in Biblical study, Bar-Efrat remains the standard.
Even more crucial to the readers of this journal is Fokkelman's argument (pp. 22-23) that the text of Scripture has no final or absolutely objective reading; that is, reading the text of the Bible is ever-changing with the reader himself. This position is, of course, currently de rigueur in reader-response
theory together with the latter's deconstructionist and post-modernist aftermath. If the meaning of a text of scripture shifts with the ages, then no final reading is possible. Notice carefully that Fokkelman is not discussing deeper or more profound insights into the text as objective; he is rather intimating that subjectivity is the only way in which to read Biblical texts and those readings will change as presuppositions and perceptions (not to mention the cultural conditions) of the subjective reader change. In fine, Fokkelman cannot perceive Scripture as divine revelation; it is human story, only human story, nothing but human story. It does not seem to occur to him (can it ever truly occur to a post-Enlightenment fundamentalist of the left?) that the story is given by God himself. Indeed, there is an Eschatological Reader who is at once the Author and Finisher of the story. But this would transport us to the noumenal arena of the chasm and Fokkelman is content with phenomena this side of the ditch. Tragically, our author can only read the Biblical story horizontally.
There are occasional nuggets in this volume (and hence it is worthy of purchase for the serious student of narrative). Noting the seemingly "harsh juxtaposition" of Genesis 16:16 with 17:1 (Abram at 86 and 90 years of age respectively), Fokkelman comments: "[this] functions as the first demarcation of the central panel of life and death" (p. 43). Indeed! Abram drawn into the transition of life from the dead (even as his transition to "Abraham" implies). He would experience this again on Moriah (Gen. 22) in the "resurrection" of his only-beloved sonthis son who was conceived as life from death! Fokkelman has unwittingly reinforced the interpretation of Abram's eschatological faith as recorded by the writer to the Hebrews (11:17-19) and the apostle Paul (Rom. 4:19-25).
On page 78, Fokkelman observes that the narrator of the Joseph story (especially the section in which he searches for his brothers, is sold into slavery and ostensibly eliminated) combines both horizontal and vertical arrangements of the tale. By the horizontal, Fokkelman means those events which are embedded in the axis of timethe linear dimension. By the vertical, he means the "writer's vision" above the line of time and chronology. But in truth, the Writer/Revealer is the eschatological son, despised and rejected by his brothers, humiliated and apparently eliminated, only to be exalted as the savior of his people. A genuine biblical-theological horizontal/vertical interface centers
Joseph's story in his eschatological counterpart; and, in fact, displays the counterpart in and through the story of Joseph. From a purely narrative point of view, Fokkelman has perceived what the biblical theologian has already perceivedthe intimate conjunction of the horizontal and the vertical in Biblical revelation.
Fokkelman's explanation of Elisha's desire to receive a double portion of Elijah's spirit (2 Kgs. 2) deserves quoting in full. "This request reveals that Elisha . . . assumes the role of Elijah's son, and wants to inherit a firstborn's portion: under the law of succession, the eldest son receives a double share. No wonder Elisha should cry out at the moment supreme: 'Oh father, father! Israel's chariots and horseman!'"(p. 93)
Fokkelman ventures beyond the Hebrew Old Testament (for the first time, if I am not mistaken). He provides some remarks on the narrative art of the New Testament (pp. 188-205). Particularly useful is his introduction and overview of the literary and narrative character of the gospel of Luke. This is a superb literary introduction to the third gospel and an excellent starting point for the preacher seeking to preach through Luke's story of Jesus. My only caveat is his reductionism with regard to the phrase "Son of God" (p. 204). Fokkelman regards the title as "a clear metaphor," thus vitiating any supernatural or ontic character to Jesus' self-designation. We are accustomed to this liberal "Christology from below" in which Jesus himself (even when designated "Son of God") can never rise above critical-fundamentalist functionalism. But though we are accustomed to it, we remain committed to the supernatural Jesus whom we confess to be God the Son, ontological and incarnate second person of the eternal Godhead. The "hero" of the biblical tale is God himself soterically revealed in the incarnation of his theanthropic (God-man) Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fokkelman has not been well-served by his publishers, Dutch or American. At this juncture in Biblical studies, a bookespecially a book about Biblical narrativewhich lacks a Scripture index is an incomplete book. Fokkelman discusses numerous texts, but the reader must hunt them up virtually page by page. In this day of computers, word processors (with indexing features, no less) and scanners, this omission is unconscionable. Professor Fokkelman will continue to make contributions to the study of Biblical narra-
tives. In the future, he should contract with his publisher(s) to insure that an index of passages cited be appended.