KERUX: THE JOURNAL
NORTHWEST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Editor for the Faculty: James T. Dennison, Jr.
1. ISAIAH'S CHRISTMAS CHILDREN: THE GLORY CHILD...........................................................................................................................3
3. SAMSONTHE LAST JUDGE.....................................................................................................................................................................11
5. THE MEETING OF MARY AND ELIZABETH: AN ESCHATOLOGICAL ENCOUNTER.........................................................................32
6. BOOK REVIEWS...........................................................................................................................................................................................49
KERUX is a publication of Northwest Theological Seminary and appears three times each year (May, September, December). Editorial offices are located at 17711 Spruce Way, Lynnwood, WA 98037-7431. Correspondence should be directed to the editor at this address. Subscription rates for one year are: $20.00 (U.S. and Canada); $25.00 (Elsewhere). All remittances should be made payable in U. S. Funds. KERUX is: abstracted in New Testament Abstracts, Cambridge, MA, Old Testament Abstracts, Washingon, DC and Religious and Theological Abstracts, Myerstown, PA; indexed in ATLA Religion Database, Chicago, IL and the Elenchus of Biblica, Rome, Italy.
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ISSN 0888-8513 December 2002 Vol. 17, No. 3
Isaiah's Christmas Children: The Glory Child
Charles G. Dennison
Now it may very well be, if you were to tell the truth, that you are put off by readings from the prophets. You would much rather be somewhere else than in the prophets. There are, of course, those golden passages, those texts that rise right off the page, that seem to be self-contained units in themselvescogent all by themselvesat least you think they are. There are those passages like Isaiah 9:6, the familiar text: "For unto us a child is born and unto us a son is given." You even rehearse verses like these and use them. You might even emboss your greeting cards with them. But while you are familiar with the words, at the same time you have to admitif you are honest with yourselfthe prophetic literature is not your favorite Scriptural literature. You would rather be somewhere else, the clarity of Isaiah 9:6 notwithstanding.
For you have noticed as you have worked through the passage that we read that you have these opaque, not quite translucent, statements appearing in the latter part of chapter 8. There are comments about binding up the testimony (v. 16); remarks about familiar spirits and peeping and muttering wizards (v. 19); sojourning refugees wandering about, "hardly bestead and hungry" (v. 21), as the King James puts it. As if the prophets were not difficult in their own right, we have to heap on top of that the obscurity of 17th century
King James English. "Hardly bestead"? What does that mean? Well, I won't leave you in the dark. It means "painfully situated." Things don't get much better as you move into the ninth chapterthe verses immediately preceding our so-called golden passage (verse 6 in that ninth chapter). For instance, what do you make of the "day of Midian" mentioned in verse 4? What is that all about? What do you make of the boots and "garments rolled in blood" destined for the incinerator in verse 5?
But if the difficulty of these words and the images evoked by them aren't enough, we also have in the prophets those sudden and profound changes in directionseemingly without warning. You are moving along in one direction and suddenly you are caught off guard. It seems as if there is a complete reversal within the space of a sentence. In an earlier message, we noticed one of those profound reversals of direction as we moved from verse 8 in chapter 8 into the ninth verse. The eighth verse speaks unmistakably about the impending judgment that is coming upon Judah. The ninth verse, however, speaks about the promise of justice that is going to be meted out upon the nations. The thought (by the time we reach the end of the thought in verse 10) is expressing itself in the greatest confidence concerning God's covenantal presence with his people. Verse 8 is God's judgment upon Judah. By the time we reach the end of verse 10, God's blessing is on these same people. What is going on here?
But further we are going to make it darker still, if I were to add one more unsettling feature from the prophets beyond the obscure words and images, beyond the radical redirections, mid-line it seems. (You might consider verse 3 there in chapter 9 for a radical reversal mid-line.) If I were to add one more unsettling feature (equally liable to put you off with regard to prophetic literature), I would call your attention to the frequent "confusion" within the prophets concerning not simply what is being said, but to whom it is being said or about whom it is being said. You cannot keep all of the characters straight. As you move through the prophets, you are not merely in the dark about what the prophet is talking about, you are in the dark about whom he is talking or to whom he is talking. The prophets become like one of those massive Russian novels, where you have the list of characters with all sorts of different names. In the middle of the novel, you have no idea about whom the author is talking.
But looking once more particularly along these lines of our passage, we may conclude that the latter verses in chapter 8 are particularly focused upon Judah. But chapter 9, while apparently picking up on the theme at the end of chapter 8 (you note that trouble, darkness, dimness and anguish of verse 22 in that eighth chapter), appears however to be addressed to the ten northern tribes. Chapter 9 makes mention of Zebulun and Naphtali (v. 1)northern tribes. We move from Judah back to the ten northern tribes. We even move beyond the Jordan territory that is not within the province of Judah at all. Mention is made of Galilee of the Gentiles at the end of that first verse. We discover not then simply the radical redirection of the message from judgment to deliverance, but the radical disjunction of those addressed as we move from section to section. These are reasons why the prophets, except for those golden passages, may not be our favorite portions of Scripture.
But having said this, it is not to say that God himself is unaware of our predicament. It is not to say that God himself is without his reasons for making the prophetic revelation what it iseven making it difficult as it is! For example, those quick, sudden redirections; those abrupt, surprising shifts from wrath to grace, from wrath to mercy, are as startling as God's grace itself. There it is! The message of these redirections is not meant in any way to lull Israel to sleep in a vain confidence that regardless of how bad things are or even how bad Israel herself might be, she can always count on God's love because there is that intrusion of mercy even in these passages about wrath. No, that messagethe message of these radical redirectionsis that against the background of God's just judgment, his grace, his mercy, is always surprising and inexplicable. In other words, given the deplorable state of his people, the appearance of grace is not the natural thing. It is not the expected thing. It is not even the logical thing. For the natural, expected and logical thing is the Lord's just judgment. Therefore as utterly gracious as his mercy is and as utterly unmerited as his deliverance for his people is, so completely disarming and befuddling and sudden are the prophets's announcements of salvation even in the contexts of statements about judgment to an unworthy people.
You might well work off of the prophets in this regard concerning your own estate. The temptation may be for you to think that God's mercy and
grace to you is the natural thing. It is the thing to be expected. It is the logical thing. You may even in a flattering way point to aspects of your own personality and character that make this such a natural thing, such an expected and logical thing. Well, I am actually a very good person and God knows that, so the logical thing, of course, is that he will show me mercy. That is very close to the theology of Islam. It is not the theology of the Bible. With regard to these radical redirections, you move suddenly from a message about judgment to mercy. As utterly gracious as God's mercy is, as utterly unmerited as his deliverance for his people, so completely disarming and befuddling is the prophet's announcement of salvation to an unworthy people.
It is this mercy, it is this grace, which is further served by the prophet's movement from audience to audience within his message. There is this redirection from wrath to grace, the confusion as to who he's talking aboutgrace central to the one, grace central to the other as well. It is this mercy, it is this grace, which is further served by the prophet's movement from audience to audience in his message. As we have already noted, Isaiah's words at the end of chapter 8, beginning at verse 16, find their context in the prophet's address to Judah. But even moving on from Judah, the immediate address is more particularly to the small band of disciples that have gathered around the prophet himself in Jerusalem. It would seem that God's grace (as we watch the movement from audience to audience) has receded now from the ten northern tribes, but also from the two southern tribes and is now residing with the little group of Isaiah's followers. But before we can blink, we move into the ninth chapter of Isaiah and its message about the great light to shine upon a people in darkness. And who are these people? They are not Isaiah's disciples, living within territorial Judah and within Jerusalem, who might well expect to receive the light since they are eminently worthy. Nor are they Judah itself, who has claim (in their own estimation) to David's throne and proximity to the temple. Instead, the light is promised to the most unlikely candidate of allthe ten lost northern tribes. In the course of time and because of their dispersion, these were placed humanly speaking in an impossible situation beyond all retrieval. That is the power of the language. They walk in darkness as a perpetual state. They live under the shadow of death as a perpetual state. The point is not the possibility of rescue; the point is the impossibility of rescue. But it is these people described here who could not be any further removed
from hope or light. It is these people who become the recipients of what is most precious from God, and this in order that Judeans, proximate to the throne of David and the temple (even Isaiah and his disciples), might know and be absolutely certain that the Lord's radiant favor is all of grace and his work of redemption is by his power and by his power alone. Nothing less than this is the lesson of Isaiah's glory child in Isaiah 9:6.
The glory child of Isaiah 9:6 is the fourth child in a list of five child figures belonging to this section of Isaiah's prophecy, Isaiah 7 through 12, the so-called "Book of Immanuel". Two of the previous children were Isaiah's own: Shear-jashub (7:3) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:3). The other child amongst those three was the mysterious child of 7:14the child given the name Immanuel. If with the presentation of these three previous children, there had been a systematic and ingenious dismantling of human pride; an undoing for the nation of Judah like the undoing of the prophet himself in the description of his call in Isaiah 6, then this fourth child is the crowning touch. I say this to you not simply because of the way this child is described and the titles that are heaped upon him by the end of that sixth verse. Rather I say this because of the way in which the verse beginsthe way in which his birth is presented. Whatever there was of the supernatural involved in the previous three children is now outdone in the fourth. I say this fully aware of how much has been said about Immanuel in connection with the supernatural. For even a virginally conceived Immanuel (if that is how we are to understand the child of 7:14) is outdone by the glory child of Isaiah 9.
You see, the glory child of Isaiah 9 is shrouded in more mystery still. To begin with, his birth is described as a collective birth for all Israel, as if the whole of the nation were pregnant and delivering the child. "For unto us a child is born;" or as the New American Standard version has it, "a child will be born to us"as if we are the ones giving birth to the child. This fanciful way of presenting the child is set before us, not in order to relegate the child or the birth to the world of myth or fantasy. Rather it is meant to highlight the unity of the people in the interests of their true hope. All Israel, as it were, is gathered for the purpose of giving birth to the substance of her hope. And that you see against the background of the judgment that has just been read out over all of Israel. The nation is dispersed. The nation is judged. The nation is
gone. But now the nation is described as gatheredas if that nation were one person, as if that nation were one woman, giving birth to the child. Of course this is a poetical way of speaking and only in the theological sense of it does it have its full and proper meaning, since obviously in the literal sense, no nation gives birth to a child.
But now having seen this point, we are alert to the fact that in the literal sense, no parent, no individual parent, is identified with regard to this child. No parent, no individual parent, is identified with regard to this child and in this regard, the glory child of Isaiah 9 is the only child among all the children mentioned in Isaiah 7 through 12 so identified. No parent. No apparent parent. The intended impact of this description is to heighten the sense of the supernatural, even carrying you beyond what you may have perceived of the supernatural in the description of the Immanuel child of Isaiah 7:14. The intended impact then of this description is to heighten the sense of the supernatural and to suggest to you that the true parentage of this child is none other than God himself. The very next phrase in the verse fills out this interpretation: unto us not only is a child born, unto us a son is given. Once more the collective sense of it in the reception of the child, as if the whole nation were receiving the child as one; but likewise once more, no identifiable parent. The implication being that God is the parent and that it is he who is giving the child to the people. The child is his gift to them.
But you remember how we led into this section in the sermon. It has been made clear that God's people are not worthy to receive God's gift, are they? Neither are they in their own strength, capable of procuring the child or generating the child. Therefore, laid within the glory child of Isaiah 9 is the message that God's deliverance of his people will be through a child he uniquely begetsone who will be the pure embodiment of his own absolute grace and his absolute powerthe manifest demonstration of both. And what a child this is! According to one reading, "His name shall be called as a counselor, wonderful; in might, like a God; for eternity, a father; in the realm of peace, a prince." But such a description of this child is not quite adequate. It does not quite capture the sense and magnitude of this child who has been given. Looking at the supernatural and divinely gracious character of the child himself, such a reading as has been suggested will never do. For in truth, this child is the
most wonderful of counselors, exceeding all. No godlike hero is hea champion for the peoplerather he is the mighty God himself. He is indeed a fatherhe is the progenitor of eternity and of those who belong to eternity. And he is a sovereign with his own domainthat domain being peace. He is a sovereign that both owns that domain and in his very person is identified with it. He is not only the prince over peace; he is the prince that is peace. So the child, the glory child has come and has been acknowledged to be all of this. Has he not? even by you?
But even before you, there were the statements read out by the apostle Paul that he (this child) would be received by all Israelthat is, all Israel that is Israel; and not only by Israel, but by the nations flung far and wide. To those to whom this child has truly come, there is no question about his identity. Nor is there any question about whether their goodness or their works brought about his birth. You see how the Protestant message of salvation by grace alone must be proclaimed with the Christmas message. Do you see that no work by Israel, by a Jewno inherent value rising from them, no inherent goodness, no work on their part laid in righteousnesscould bring forth the birth of the child? The child was a gift. And as the child is a gift, so is the salvation that is to be found in him. There is no other way and there can be no other message than this. It is those people who are receiving this child on God's terms who know that the gift is all of grace and that it is all of God. Praise his name! Don't you?
SamsonThe Last Judge*
Robert A. Starke
Samson's life, like that of a wayward politician, is a public relations nightmare. Born as a fulfillment of divine promise, Samson's first public act is his intention to enter into a forbidden marriage with a Philistine woman who has caught his eye. What follows is an almost unbroken stream of disappointments and apparent violations of the Nazarite vow that set him apart from the womb. The cast of characters and the settingsprostitutes and drinking bashessound more like a modern TV drama than the life of a man placed among the heroes of the faith in the book of Hebrews (11:32). Perhaps not surprisingly, one commentator has gone so far as to draw parallels between the Samson saga and the disgraced and now dethroned mayor of Washington, D.C., Marion Barry,1 pointing out that both were seduced by beautiful women, entrapped by those in power, and ultimately imprisoned for the crime of pursuing their passions.
To many, Samson is simply the "profligate judge," the "bawdy giant."2 In the eyes of many, Samson assumes comic-book proportions. He appears on
*An address delivered at the Summer Pastor's Institute of Northwest Theological
Seminary on August 19, 2002.
the stage of redemptive history as the biblical Superman, the Hebrew "Man of Steel"ha'ish pladath, the Man of Steel with a glaring weaknesswomen are to Samson as kryptonite is to the comic-book hero. For some, Samson has become merely an oversexed muscleman.3 Is Samson, as someone has described him, merely a man "full of high spirits and low ethics"4? Is Samson simply the "noble savage"5 or is his life more complex than it may first appear? Like Manoah, we ask, "How is the boy to be judged" (Jdg. 13:12)?
Some have sought understanding of Samson's story through the application of the tools of literary criticism. Turning to Aristotelian plot analysis, Samson has been alternately classified as a tragic figure whose saga ends in disintegration, alienation, and death; or as a comedic figure couched in word plays, parody, and hyperbole.6 Such analysis seeks to provide argument for the Samson story being ultimately one of restoration and resolution,7 and yet, ultimately fails to provide a framework for understanding the role of Samson. The Jewish scholar Margalith has sought to explain away Samson as folk-tale, seeing the narrative as a Semitic reinterpretation of the Hercules myth.8 Margalith attempts to demonstrate the parallels between the legendary activities of Hercules, and those of Samson, such as the hero's involvement with women of ill-repute and the centrality of pillars and lions in both accounts. That the Samson saga is pure folklore is made evident, according to Margalith, by what he sees as the obvious internal inconsistencies and unrealistic depiction of events.
3 James Crenshaw,
Samson: A Secret Betrayed, a Vow Ignored (Atlanta: John
In reality then, now some three thousand years later, Samson's worst fears have been realized. Samson has indeed "fallen into the hands of the uncircumcised" (Jdg. 15:18). Even among conservative, evangelical scholars, Samson is considered an anti-hero, the "embodiment of all that was wrong with the judges,"9 the embodiment of all that was wrong with the covenant people of God. The modern consensus, if there is such a thing, is that Samson's life illustrates the spiritual decline of the people of God. Samson's failings are used to reinforce the perceived cyclical pattern in the book of Judges of rebellion, retribution, repentance, and rescue. This simplistic approach perceives in Samson only the unfulfilled great expectations, signified by the angelic announcement of his birth, and therefore, the crushing certainty and humiliation of a self-inflicted death as the universal result of moral failure. For most, Samson's life is a tragedy. His is a "dead end."10 Unable to see beyond his obvious struggles with the flesh, commentators relegate Samson to the role of negative paradigma model of "how not to judge Israel," or, to be relevant, how not to succeed in corporate America. Today, even Delilah's cries of "The Philistines are upon you!" seem unable to awaken the Samson saga from its moralistic slumber.
One way out of this moralistic quagmire is to examine more closely the ethical dilemmas in which Samson is entangled. As Tim Lim argued in his discussion of the book of Judges at last year's Kerux Conference,11 perhaps Samson's failings have been judged too harshly. Lim argues that Samson does not, in fact, violate his Nazarite vow. It is true that there is no explicit criticism in the text itself of Samson's apparent dalliances with women or the perceived violations of his Nazarite vow. Lim points out that in Samson's intended marriage to the Timnite woman, she is, in Samson's eyes, "just" or "righteous"yashar. Lim explains, rightly, that this is not an adjective of appearance, but rather an ethical judgment. The implication being that, in Samson's evaluation, this Philistine woman is "just" or "righteous" and there are no such
9 New Interpreter's
Bible, vol. II (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988) 842.
women among his brothers (Jdg. 14:3). Yet, this same term (yashar) is used in the author's thematic criticism of the covenant people during the period of the Judges: "every man did what was right (yashar) in his own eyes" (17:6; 21:25). So Samson is shown to be, rather than upright, a man of his times, exercising his perceived autonomy. In addition, the term used in the text to describe Samson's anticipated Timnite bride is the common term "woman" ('ishah) not the more acceptable term "maiden" (na'arah) used to refer to a chaste young woman (Gen. 24:16). The text, rather than supporting Samson's evaluation of his bride-to-be as righteous, mocks him.
Secondly, Lim saw the obvious parallels with Joshua's holy war against the Canaanites as the explanation for Samson's involvement with the prostitute in Gaza (Jdg. 16:1-3). Lim likened Samson's nocturnal visit to that of the visit of Joshua's spies to the house of Rahab (Josh. 2:1ff.), where they gathered evidence against the enemies of God. But it should be noted that here Samson "sees" (ra'ah) a "woman of harlotries" ('ishah zonah). The same verb is used earlier for his attraction to his Philistine fiancée. It should also be noted that the spies in Joshua merely seek refuge; Samson dwells with the prostitute until midnight. If there is an allusion here to the conquest under Joshua, it must be admitted that there is also an allusion to Samson's earlier encounter with another of the daughters of the Philistines.
It is true, as Lim pointed out, that in the case of Delilah, she is not explicitly described as a prostitute or even as a Philistine. She is however the only woman in the Samson saga not defined by her relationship to a man.12 Each of the other women in the story is identified in relationship to men, most notably Samson: his mother (14:3), his wife (15:1), the object of his desire (16:1). Delilah, whose name is perhaps best translated as "devotee"implying, quite possibly, service as a temple prostitutestands independent of men, independent of Samson, in spite of his "attachment" ('ahav, 16:1) to her. The attachment here is not mutual. There are, as Lim noted, obvious parallels between Delilah and Samson's mother. Both Delilah and his mother cradle the infantile Samson in their laps (16:19). Samson's reluctant admission to Delilah that he
12 Susan Ackerman, Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen (New York: Doubleday, 1998) 231.
has been "a Nazarite to God from my mother's womb" (16:17) is a nearly word for word recitation of the angel's words to his mother prophesying his birth (13:5). For obvious reasons, Samson omits the ominous words of foreshadowing: "to the day of his death" (13:7). It is conceivable that Delilah is playing the foil to Samson's mother, narratively speaking, and in reality. But none of this conclusively exonerates either Delilah or Samson's illicit relationship with her.
Finally, Lim addresses the issue of Samson violating his vow by participating in the "feast" or mishteh that he hosts to celebrate his anticipated wedding (14:10). This "feast" is grammatically linked to drinking, and the behavior at such would have been similar to modern bachelor parties. Lim's suggestion that such parties were associated with beer rather than wine is tenuous at best, since the feast was held not far from the "vineyards of Timnah" (14:5). Even if beer were the beverage of choice, Samson's Nazarite vow included not only abstention from the fruit of the vine, but also "strong drink" (13:4). It would seem that some stain of impropriety must remain on Samson.
It is my belief that Samson's deliverance from the hands of the moralizing, modern day Philistines must come from some other avenue. Without entirely dismissing Mr. Lim's arguments out of hand, Samson then is, as moderns would say, a man with "issues."
To properly understand Samson, we must acknowledge that Samson, like most of the Judges who preceded him, is a man whom the Lord uses in spite of his failings. Each of the previous Judges whose stories are fully developed had glaring weaknesses.13 Ehud was not simply "left-handed" as most of our English translations point out, but as the Hebrew text explains, he was "hindered or crippled ('itter) in his right hand" (Jdg. 3:15). Deborah had the distinct disadvantage of being a woman attempting to lead in a patriarchal society. Gideon, by his own admission was but a "trifling" (sa'ir) in his father's house, who in turn belonged to the "scrawniest" (dal) tribe (6:15). Jephthah, born to a prostitute, was both a social outcast, as well as a literal "cast-out", being driven from his father's house by his half-brothers (11:2). While none
13 Klein, 115.
of the previous Judges are said to have suffered from an ethical lapse such as Samson, each was flawed in person or character. Samson then differs from the other Judges in terms of his failings only in type and degree.
Samson shares more in common with the Judges that precede him in the book than simply their flaws. The Samson narrative is rife with allusions to the ministry of the previous Judges. In Samson's story, like that of Ehud, "secrets figure prominently."14 The source of Samson's strength is secret; that his marriage to the Timnite was of the Lord is a secret, even to Samson (14:4). Samson is linked to Deborah, as his life is characterized by betrayal, while Deborah uses betrayal to her advantage (4:17ff.). Jael under Deborah's leadership brings an end to Sisera with the "peg" (yetad) of a tent (16:14), while Delilah attempts to bring an end to Samson by way of a "peg" (yetad) from her loom (16:14). Samson, like Gideon before him (6:34), is a man led by the Spirit (13:25; 14:6; 14:19; 15:14). Gideon overthrows the Midianites using 300 men with torches (7:16ff.), Samson uses 300 foxes with torches tied between them (15:1ff.). Samson, as was Jephthah, is known for his vow. Jephthah is remembered for the apparent horrific consequences of keeping a rash vow, while Samson suffers the consequences for violating a sacred promise. Samson is both inextricably linked to the covenant people of God, and to the other Judges, by calling, and by nature. Samson, like the Israelites, "did what was right in his own eyes" (cf. 14:3, 7 with 17:6; 21:25). Clearly, those whom the Lord raised up as Judges were a reflection of the spiritual state of the Israelites themselves.
Nevertheless, similarities and allusions alone cannot account for the dramatic difference in the character of Samson's story. Without shying away from Samson's real, or even his perceived moral failings, one must admit that Samson is singular as a Judge in redemptive history. Samson is more than an anti-hero. Samson is not to be dismissed as merely a "judge who chases women instead of enemies and who avenges only personal grievances."15 The Samson saga cannot be bound by the braided cords of reductionism and mere moral
14 New Interpreter's
instruction. Samson is more complex than this. Samson refuses to remain a blind, decrepit, tragic figure, morally or otherwise.
It is my contention that one must first view the Samson narrative in light of its place in both the book of Judges and in redemptive history. Consciously, Samson has been placed as the twelfth and final Judge in the book of Judges. It is obvious that the author has placed Samson here intentionallyhistorically, Samson's exploits were contemporaneous with those of Jephthah, Izban, and Elon (cf. 10:7). The inspired author has placed Samson last, "on display at the end of the procession,"16 as it were, signifying not only the end of an era (although technically Samuel also "judges" Israel before anointing Saul),17 but also signifying the culmination of the judicial role in the history of the covenant people. Samson is, for the author's purposes, and for biblical-theological purposes, the Last Judgehashofet ha'aharon the Eschatological Judge. Samson ushers in the end of an era and serves as the harbinger of a new era. As every covenant child knows, Samson's saga ends with Samson standing between two pillars in the temple of Dagon. In redemptive history, Samson also stands poised between two pillars, between two agesthe present age of domination, defeat, and despair, and the age to come with its promise of theocratic and theophanic deliverance, vindication, and victory. With arms stretched out in death, Samson crushes the domination that characterizes the present age, and through its rubble, allows the people of God to glimpse the glory of the age to come. As the angel announces to Manoah's wife, the child "shall begin to deliver Israel" (13:5).
This theophanic annunciation of Samson's birth is both retrospective and prospective, with its obvious parallels to previous momentous events in redemptive history: a barren wife, an angelic messenger, a doubtful parent, an unexpected conceptionall serve to set the Samson narrative apart from that of the other Judges. There is something quite distinct about Samson. Manoah's wife's barrenness ties her to the matriarchs of the covenant: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel. Samson's birth is thus linked to the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
16 1 Corinthians 4:9, NIV. (All Biblical quotations are taken from the NASB,
1998, unless noted.)
Joseph. The expectations then for this child are high. Given the name "Samson" (which means "little sun") perhaps, the reader is left to wonder, "Will he be a new dawn for the people of God?" "Impelled" (pa'am) by the Spirit of God, set apart from the womb as a Nazarite, Samson's future is bright. The announcement of Samson's birth is not merely retrospective, with its clear ties to earlier events in redemptive history, it is prospective as well, looking to the dawn of the age to come. We cannot help but read the beginning of the Samson saga and be reminded of another divine annunciation. Here we have a distinct foreshadowing of a future angelic announcement to another pious woman of faitha woman whose Son will bring the realization of the promise implicit in Samsonhe will "save His people" (13:5).18
This foreshadowing is strengthened by a sense of foreboding as well. For Samson is said to only "begin" (13:5) the deliverance of the covenant people. He will be unable to complete it. Samson's victories, like his failings, are temporary, transitory, earthly. This sense of foreboding is heightened as Manoah's wife reports the angelic message to her husband, choosing not to mention Samson's mission of deliverance, but only Samson's prenatal Nazarite vow. Here she expands upon what has been recorded, adding that the promised son will not only be a "Nazarite from the womb" but until "the day of his death" as well (13:7). Samson's end is hauntingly mentioned even here at his beginning. And again, we have Samson poised between two pillars, life and death.
Another clue to understanding Samson is what is omitted in the annunciation account. Unlike the previous annunciation accounts in redemptive history, here we find no embittered words from the barren wife; here there are no impassioned pleas to God for a child; here there are no underhanded attempts to circumvent providence through a surrogate mother. Manoah's wife bears her shame in silence, perhaps even content in her barrenness. Likewise, the Israelites, of whom she is a part, have ceased to cry out to the Lord for deliverance. The covenant people also bear their oppression in silence, seemingly content in the knowledge that the Philistines rule over them (15:11). Whereas
18 Matthew 1:21
once the cycle of the book of Judges had included repentance, the people's cry for rescue is no longer heard. The theophanic annunciation is preceded only by the description of rebellion"the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord" and retribution"so the Lord gave them into the hands of the Philistines" (13:1). We look in vain for any request from the people for deliverance.
If Israel is to be saved, the Lord himself must act, unbidden. Thus, in what Hamlin describes as "divine impatience,"19 the angel, in his announcement, three times implies divine initiative: "Behold now . . . Now therefore . . . For behold . . ." (hinneh na'. . . we'atah na'. . . ki hinnak. . . , 13:3, 4, 5). The message is clear. It is the Lord alone who initiates salvation. It is the Lord alone who will begin to deliver his people by means of a promised birth. It is the Lord, not Samson, who later will "seek an occasion against the Philistines" (14:4). It is the Spirit of the Lord who comes upon Samson three times, unbidden, enabling Samson to defeat his enemies (14:6, 19; 15:14). Throughout the narrative it is the Spirit of the Lord who "rushes upon" Samson, driving him to his foreordained purpose. Samson, like the nation he is to deliver, appears passive apart from the Spirit's impelling him to act. Even the Nazarite vow itself, which figures so prominently in the saga, is imposed upon Samson in utero.
This Nazarite vowSamson's repeated passivity toward it, and his ultimate embrace of itis clearly among the driving forces of the narrative. This Nazarite vow is not only central to the Samson saga (contrary to Crenshaw and Eissfeldt),20 not so much because of how frequently or consistently he may or may not have broken these vows, but for what being a Nazarite implies. On one level, Samson's status as a Nazarite serves to highlight the tension inherent in living between the two ages. Samson is christened a Nazarite, and yet seems better suited as a Canaanite. Samson is entangled in the present age, while partaking of, in part, the age to come. But on another level, Samson as nazir (a Nazarite) sheds light on the deliverance that Samson "begins" to
19 Hamlin, 130.
enact, and the nature of the One who will ultimately accomplish true deliverance.
Clearly at the heart of the Nazarite vow is separation. In the description of the vow in Numbers 6, "separation" (nazir) is mentioned no less than eighteen times. Thus the Nazarite is to be separate: separate from the fruit of the vine, separate from the razor, separate from death. Elsewhere the term is translated "crown" (Ex. 29:6) or "prince" (Lam. 4:7, NIV), also signifying distinctiveness.21 The nazir is one who stands apart, separate, alone. And Samson, while morally indistinct perhaps, stands alone (nazir) against the enemies of God. In stark contrast to the other Judges, Samson leads no armies. Ehud the cripple had his armies. Deborah led the sons of Israel against the Canaanites. The Lord whittled down the forces of Gideon to a mere 300. Even the illegitimate Jephthah was followed into battle by the sons of Israel. Samson, the nazir, stands alone. He hears no cry from the people for deliverance, no armies follow Samson. Rather a band of three thousand from the tribe of Judah conspire to hand him over to the Philistines (15:11ff.). Samson faces the uncircumcised alone, separate, distinct from his brother Israelites. Bare-handed, he battles friend and foe. The only weapon he is explicitly said to wield is an unadorned donkey's jawbone (15:15), with which he slays a thousand. Samson as judge is a true nazira solitary figure that stands alone as the Lord's warrior.
Some, in trying to understand Samson's Nazarite status, have seen in this separateness, in the rawness of Samson's methods, an implied struggle between nature and culture. The saga of Samson, it is argued, symbolizes the struggle of the relatively unsophisticated Israelites, who, "in some sense are out of nature,"22 to transform and ultimately overcome more cultured civilizations that threaten Israel's distinctiveness, represented here by the Philistines. Throughout, Samson is seen as a natural force who battles not with
21 "Nazir," by Thomas E. McComiskey. In Harris, Archer, Waltke, eds.,
Theological Wordbook of the OT (Chicago: Moody, 1980) 2:567-68.
"culture-intensive"23 weapons but "interrupts or destroys man-made barriers."24 Samson's sustenance comes directly from naturefirst as honey from the lion's carcass (14:8), then as water flowing from the rock (15:18). He destroys cultivated fields, city gates, and templesall symbols of culture and social institutions, and then retires to the wildernessnature itself (15:8). Samson's demise, at the hands of Delilah, the temptress of culture, therefore, is seen from the same perspective. Samson ultimately succumbs in a series of capitulations to culture, moving each time further from nature. He first tells Delilah that seven "fresh" (untreated by human hands) pieces of rawhide can bind him (16:8). Next, Samson suggests that it is cords of roperope being a more culture-intensive itemthat will subdue him (16:11). And likewise with the offer that it is the pin of a loom (16:13) that will secure him, Samson moves further away from the natural toward culture and civilization. The true path to overcoming Samson is seen, finally, to be the razor"culture's tool for taming and changing the natural state."25 In today's psychological vernacular, Samson is envisioned then, as the hero of the marginalized, the disempowered, those who struggle against the oppressive forces of established social institutions, and are, as of yet, unable to overcome.
As biblical theologians, we must reject this reading of Samson. The cutting of Samson's hair is not symbolic of the final socialization of a marginal culture to a more dominant culture. Rather Samson's hair is the sign and seal of his consecration to God. Samson's locks are a visible word, proclaiming to friend and foe alike that he is set apart to the Lord. It is not that Samson's hair is the source of his strength. His unshorn hair serves only as a sign. His power resides in his dedication, his consecration to the Lord. Interestingly, the Nazarite prohibition against the cutting of hair is the only one of the three marks of separation that is specifically applied to Samson (13:5). The prohibition against wine and strong drink is applied only to his mother, and for emphasis is repeated (13:7, 14), while the Nazarite proscription against contact with a corpse
is not mentioned at all.26 The message here is not that Samson has become like the Philistines, the established social institution, but that Samson has renounced his status as nazir. Samson no longer sees himself as distinct, no longer alone. With the shearing of his hair, Samson believes he has achieved his desire to "be like any other man" (16:7, 11, 13, 17). The point is not that Samson is identifying himself with the Philistines. In turning from his status as nazir, as holy, the text pictures Samson as identifying himself with the covenant people Israel, accepting and acknowledging that the "Philistines are rulers over us" (15:11). Samson has become "the mirror" of Israel's "fickle state."27
Samson's life then, in renouncing his status as nazir, is the life of the covenant people of God and not merely as a type of Israel either. The allusions and parallels are not coincidental. Samson is one now with the nation of Israel. Samson's cognizance of his consecration to the Lord, and yet, his brazen disregard for the implications of such consecration all mirror that of nation of Israel. His birth is linked to those of the patriarchs through a theophanic announcement. Set apart from the womb to be holy to the Lord, Samson, like Joseph, is bound by his brothers and sold into bondage (15:13). After experiencing a "great deliverance" (15:18), he finds himself in the wilderness, where he grumbles before God. In answer, the Lord "splits" the rock and Samson/Israel is refreshed. Israel's pursuit of foreign gods, which throughout Scripture, even in the book of Judges, is spoken of as "playing the harlot" (2:17), is lived out in Samson's liaisons with first the Timnite woman, then the prostitute in Gaza, and finally in his surrender to the wiles of Delilah. Thus, Samson/Israel, shorn like a captive of war, is enslaved and exiled (cf. Is. 7:20).
Samson's final days are filled with irony.28 Samson, the great symbol of masculinity, is subdued by a woman and the tools of femininitya loom and its pins, a pair of scissors.29 Some have even suggested that, ironically, the
26 Though it may be implied in the mention of abstaining from "any unclean
thing" (13:7, 14).
"defeated warrior has been made into a woman,"30 shorn like an exile and assigned the tasks of a woman. Samson who "saw" a woman in Timnah (14:1), Samson who "saw" in Gaza a woman of harlotries (16:1), is now sightless. Samson who used the jawbone of a donkey to slay the Philistines, has become the Philistines' donkey, doing the work of grinding (16:21). He who had once degraded his fiancée as a "heifer" (14:18), has himself become a heifer, pulling a millstone, grinding grain to the glory of the Philistine grain-god.31 Throughout the narrative, Samson is seen "going down" (yarad). This is not merely a passing topographical comment, but a theological statement.32 Willingly, Samson has left the heightssymbolic of God's presencehas left his family, has left the covenant people to mingle with the uncircumcised. Samson "goes down" to Timnah three times (14:1, 5, 7). Samson "goes down" to Ashkelon (14:19), to Etam (15:8). Now, in the end, Samson is "made to go down" to Gaza (16:21). Gaza, the scene of perhaps his greatest feat, the carrying off of the city gates (16:3), is chosen by the Philistines to be the scene of his greatest humiliation. Yet in the end, this will be the site of his greatest victory.
Unwittingly, unwillingly perhaps, Samson is vicariously living Israel's life. Samson, as Judge, Samson as deliverer, enters fully upon the life of his people. Their sin is his sin. Their oppression becomes his oppression. Samson becomes Israelalone, separate, nazir. Samson alone bears the humiliation. Samson alone is forsaken by the Lord. Samson alone receives the scourging that is Israel's.
Samson as Israel is not, however, merely a negative paradigm. Samson does not, as some insist, remain "a tragic figure, forever blind to the larger purposes"33 of his God. Admittedly, Samson willingly enters into the sinful-
30 Niditch, 617.
ness and rebellion of God's elect. Admittedly, Samson is inextricably linked to this present evil age. But Samson also partakes of the age to come. To view the life of Samson as merely negative is to ignore the fact that Samson is the Last Judgethe Eschatological Judge. Samson's life is not limited to defeat and death. One must not, one cannot, forget that Samson is a man of the Spirit (14:6, 19; 15:14). He single-handedly defeats the "roaring lion, seeking someone to devour"34 (14:5-6). He kindles the fires of judgment against God's enemies and "burns the chaff with unquenchable fire"35 (15:4). Samson is shown to be the jealous groom, desirous of his bride's affection (15:1). We see Samson "demolish strongholds"36 and "possess the gates of his enemies"37 (16:3). Samson's life is no tragedy. Samson is victorious over all his enemies. Even in defeat, even in death, Samson is triumphant. To read the Samson saga as only a dramatic representation of the "implosion"38 of the covenant people, is to leave Samson blind, impotent, and shackled.
And Samson will not remain shackled. Blind, enslaved and oppressed by the forces of evil, Samson still stands as naziralone, separated unto the Lord. He cannot rid himself of his status. His saga is not yet consummated. Samson proves ultimately, that he is not merely a man "full of high spirits and low ethics,"39 it is the Philistines who are in "high spirits" (16:25), deriding and mocking him, just as Samson had them with his riddles and puns. Samson, at last, in the end, is in the Spirit. Samson, at last, in the end, is truly nazir now not just merely alone, but separated unto the Lord, for the God unto whom Samson is consecrated stands with him. Samson by faith now looks to him who alone can deliver him. Samson no longer believes that he can "go out as at other times and shake [himself] free" (16:20). Rather, for the first time in his story, Samson, like the One greater than Samson, "calls" (qara' )
34 1 Peter 5:8.
out in faith to "the One able to save Him from death."40 The Philistines "call" (qara' ) for Samson (16:25), but Samson "calls" (qara' ) upon the Lord (16:28), using each of the divine designations'Adonai, 'Elohim, and Yahweh, signifying submission. The Philistines look for amusement, to "make sport" of Samson. Samson looks for vindication. Here there is no carnal presumption that God would act as requested, as there had been at Lehi (15:18). Twice Samson entreats the Lord, "Please remember," "Please strengthen" (16:28), using a particle that stresses his humility, his dependence,41 his faith.
As James Dennison has pointed out, Samson's end is his beginning.42 Samson, unbeknownst even to himself, remains a nazir "until the day of his death," just as his mother had prophesied (13:7). Samson's story does not end in exile, with humiliation, degradation, and death. It is in this, his final confrontation, as Milton has pointed out,43 that Samson truly becomes Samson. As the text reveals, "the hair of his head began to grow again" (16:22), echoing the thematic "begin" of the angelic annunciation (13:5). Samson's end is to be glorious, exceeding even the grand expectations elicited by his birth announcement. He is indeed the Last Judgethe Eschatological Judge. For his hair has "begun to grow." His hair, the sign and seal of his devotion to God, has begun to grow, because, in turn, Samson's faith has begun to grow. Only now does Samson begin to fulfill his promise. Only in death, will Samson prove himself to be Samson. Only in death will Samson live up to his namelittle sunfor in his death, a new dawn "begins" to rise.
The mighty man of God, again, stands between two pillars, this time literally. But now there is no wavering; there is no internal conflict. It is not by coincidence that Samson finds himself in the midst of the Philistines. It is not fate that has brought Samson to the temple of the Philistine's god. This is the
40 Hebrews 5:7.
end for which Samson has been destined. He has been nazir "until the day of his death" (13:7). Samson at last, in the end, will indeed fulfill his calling. Samson seeks divine vindication, rather than personal revenge. Samson's cry, "Let me die with the Philistines" (16:30), is not one of dejected resignation, but a cry of victorious faith. Samson grasps those pillars in faith. Waging holy war against the enemies of God, he gives his "life as a ransom for many."44 He cries to "the One able to save him from death," and at last, in the end, Samson is "heard because of his piety."45 In death, Samson is more victorious than he was in life. Samson, in death, shows himself to be a man of faith. In the end, Samson's journey is reversed. The author tells us, at last, that Samson is "brought up" ('alah, 16:31). Samson is raised! Samson is vindicated and rests with his fathers (16:31).
From this perspective, we see that by faith, Samson "shut the mouths of lions." By faith, Samson "experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment." By faith, Samson, "out of weakness was made strong." By faith, Samson "conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, received the promise." At last, in the end, Samson gains "approval through his faith." By faith, Samson indeed "obtains a better resurrection."46
In this we see that Samson is not the "profligate judge."47 He is hashofet ha'aharonthe Eschatological Judge. Samson ushers in deliverance for the people of God. Samson provides more than just "comic relief."48 He battles the principalities and powers of this dark age.49 Samson stands alone, nazir, against the forces of evil. Nazir—alone, he is rejected and betrayed, his own do not receive him. Samson enters the temple, where he is mocked and "made sport of" (16:25). In death, he quite literally crushes the heads of the servants
44 Mark 10:45.
of the ancient Serpent. Clearly Samson is a type of Christ. Samson's story is Christ's story.
In Samson, we see Christ, "as through a glass darkly."50 Unlike Christ, Samson is unable to deliver Israel fully, because he is Israel, and as Israel, Samson himself is in need of deliverance. Samson, the great man of strength, is also a man of great weakness. The deliverance that Samson accomplishes is temporary, transitory. There is a limit to what he is able to accomplish. As the angel had promised, Samson only "begins" to deliver Israel from their enemies (13:5). The author twice tells us that he "judged Israel twenty years" (15:20; 16:31), only half that of the typical judge, and only half the duration of the Philistine oppression (13:1). Samson cannot accomplish deliverance in any lasting, salvific sense. The saga of Samson turns our eyes to another Judge. In Samson we "see" the need for another Deliverer, One greater than Samson, "One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."51
Throughout the narrative, there is obvious foreshadowing, pointing the reader to the work of the One who is greater than Samson, our Lord Jesus Christ, the true Nazir. What Samson only "begins," Christ accomplishes. And in the end, his glorious end, the blind Samson "sees" this as well.52 Samson, in the end, "sees" that the Lord has "provided something better for us"53 and in the end, Samson is able to lay down his life, by faith, and embrace the promises "having seen them and welcomed them from afar."54
Samson's story is our story as well. Again, not in some moralistic sense, that somehow we must avoid the ethical pitfalls that Samson could not. But rather, we, like Samson, in union with Christ, stand between two pillars, between two ages. In Christ, we have been endued with the Spirit of God, and yet struggle with the flesh. Like Samson, in Christ, we drink from the living water that flows from the Rock, all the while dwelling in Philistine territory.
50 1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV.
Spiritually blind, we have been made to see through faith. Like Samson, our strength is made perfect in weakness. Like Samson, we cry out in faith to him who is able to deliver us. We too look in faith to the One who is able to save us completely. We embrace Jesus Christ by faith, just as Samson embraced those pillars. We participate in the glories of the age to come, even now. No longer shackled by the power of sin, death, and hell, we, who were brought down, have been raised up in glory through the death and resurrection of our JudgeJesus Christ. Like Samson, we cannot "be like other men" (16:7, 11, 13, 17). We are even now, being conformed to the image of Samson's Judge and our Judge. We have entered into the age to come. Together, we long for that final day when "we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is."55
San Jose, California
55 1 John 3:2.
Charles G. Dennison
Kristin A. Dennison Comments
The following brief analysis is based on a conversation I had with my late uncle, Charles Dennison, in June 1996 concerning his poetry.
The "Eumenides" is a commentary on the journey of the modern woman seeking liberated equality. In strong and harsh imagery, the speaker reveals the feminist movement for what it truly is. No longer is the modern woman the "glory circumscribed [and] pleasure" of the previous poem "Image" (see Kerux 17/2 [Sept. 2002]: 22-23). Instead, she is a bitter, angry rebel reacting against her "help meet" responsibilities and vying for an equality that leaves her empty and untouchable.
The title of the poem places us firmly in a pagan world. The Eumenides are born in The Oresteia of Aeschylus. Originally, they were the Erinyes or the Furies. These female goddesses were the enforcers of retaliatory justice, unceasingly pursuing their guilty victims until they could paralyze them with fear and drink their blood. After being replaced by the establishment of the Athenian court in the final play of the The Oresteia trilogy, the Furies are transformed into the Eumenides or the Benignant Ones. Now, instead of existing as revengeful vigilantes, these divinities are granted a home in Athens and rule there as a fearful and threatening deterrent to crime (cf. The Norton Book of Classical Literature, pp. 321, 334).
In the poem, the transformation of these goddesses is set up to parallel the progression of the modern feminist movement. From the frenetic, bra-burning radical of the 1960's to the respectable, "capped, gowned" liberal of the 1980's, this modern day "Fury" has been tempered into a "Benignant One." Under this façade of restraint though, she "wildly, ravenously" plays with her sexual liberty, seeking to gratify her physical desires. However, there is no satisfaction in this freedom, for she is still "grabbed by causes." It is not the relationship that is prioritized; instead her sexuality has become a pawn to play in the power game. Because of "her hatred for that beastly strength," there can be no true intimacy, no enjoyment of any male/female relationship. No longer motivated by the cause of equality, nothing less than "unman[ing] the man" and dominating him will satisfy her.
Yes, she is "civilized now." The modern feminist is no longer tied down by homebound responsibilities; "wombless" she has successfully exchanged the "shaded sanctuaries" of traditional femininity for the "arenas and temples" of the urban world. Ironically though, in her bid for equality, she succumbs to the very things that she hated in men, "cajoling powers, culling wealth." The
modern feminist is unapproachable, a deity to whom equality means everything and from whom humble submission is impossible. No longer the "suitable helper" ordained by God but an end to herself alone, the feminist destroys the love, romance, and intimacy proffered by the willing heart.
Sadly, in seeking affirmation, the modern feminist revels in what the pagan world offers, turning her back on the One who is her true validation and the true source of equality and satisfaction. "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband in the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be subject to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:22,24). In the assertion of her primacy, she denies the primacy of his Lordship. In her bid for power, she refuses to be identified with him who became powerlessness for our sake. In her self-deification, she denies the True God, the light of this dark world, the Savior whose side was pierced in the ultimate sacrifice of gracious love. What glories and joys does the feminist lose in her attempts to dominate the world! what fearful barrenness awaits the woman whose chief end is to glorify herself!
The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth:
An Eschatological Encounter*
Robert L. Broline, Jr.
Luke's Gospel has been called "the most beautiful book in the world." Adolph von Harnack, who devoted a great deal of his time to studying Luke's style of writing, said that Luke was "a master of language."
Luke sets before his readers a beautiful and masterful account of the story of Christmas in verses 39-56 of chapter 1. Luke proleptically presents the Christmas storythe story of Christ's birth in these verses. The Christmas story is all about the birth of the Lord Jesus. It is about God, the Son, coming into the world and becoming flesh; becoming man, that he might save his people from their sin (Mt. 1:21). Traditionally and historically, for Christians, who believe and trust in the Lord Jesus, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christborn of the Virgin Mary to be the Savior that he might save his people
*A revised version of an address delivered at the Summer Pastor's Institute, Northwest Theological Seminary, August 22, 2002. This address/article arises from the author's May 2000 S.T.M. dissertation submitted to the faculty of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
from their sins through his death upon the cross and resurrection from the dead. Historically, this is the church's understanding of the gospel, the Good News as it is presented in the Scriptures.
Most people are prone to connect the Christmas story solely to the account of Christ's birth found in Luke 2. However, we must not limit Luke's story of Christmas to chapter 2, because Luke does not wait until chapter 2 of his gospel to unfold the story of Christmas.
In fact, the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary in chapter 1 is included by Luke in order to prepare us for the actual event of the Savior's birth in chapter 2. Further, unlocking the significance and meaning of the story of Elizabeth and Mary's meeting unlocks the true significance and fullness of the story of Jesus' birth.
The world, if it has any regard at all for the Christmas story, regards the birth of Jesus as a mere symbol of peace, joy, and love toward one's fellow human being. In this way, God's purposes and intentions with regard to the redemption of his people in the Christmas event are ignoredso goes the world's perspective. On the other hand, the church of Jesus Christ recognizes and celebrates the story of Christ's birth in Luke chapter 2, not merely as a symbol of peace, joy, and love for one's fellow man, but as the great and definitive demonstration of God's love for his sinful people, and the peace and joy that he graciously pours out upon them in sending his only begotten Son to save them from their sins.
To understand and appreciate the redemptive significance and life-changing effect of this world-changing event put in motion by Christ's birth in chapter 2, one must understand and appreciate the redemptive-eschatological significance of Elizabeth and Mary's meeting. The meeting of Elizabeth and Mary in chapter 1 is included by Luke not only to prepare his readers for the specific event of the Savior's birth in chapter 2but this meeting also prepares the way for the Savior's entire life and ministry upon the earth.
The majority of the commentaries that I have reviewed readily admit that the meeting between Elizabeth and Mary serves as a bridge between: (1) the angelic birth announcements of John and Jesus (1:5-38); and (2) their actual arrival, as detailed in the subsequent birth narratives (1:57ff.). Further, most recognize the strong, deliberate parallels between John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah as presented by Luke in these infancy narratives. Some even explicitly contend that the comparison is primarily meant by Luke to emphasize the superiority of Jesus and his ministry over John and his ministry.
However, none of the commentaries that I have reviewed have been willing to go any further in working out the theological and eschatological significance of these two figures. In this meeting between Elizabeth and Mary, we are not merely to behold the superiority of Jesus over John, but we come face to face with the vital relationship that exists between the Old Testament era and the New Testament era, between the era of the law and the era of the gospel, between old Israel and new Israel, as embodied in the figures of Elizabeth and Mary respectively.
Mary and Elizabeth's meeting serves as a bridge for these parallel figures and the respective biblical eras they represent. Elizabeth represents the Old Testament era while Mary represents the New Testament era. Thus, the meeting of these two women anticipates the eschatological transition from the old era to the new era as represented in the respective children that they carry in their wombs.
Luke is compelling his readers to move beyond the mere surface of things. In this meeting of Elizabeth and Mary, Luke wants his readers to see much more going on here than a couple of cousins getting together to share their enthusiasm about being pregnant.
The actual disposition of Luke is recognized only when it is observed that the intimate details concerning Mary and the Baptist and the other sec-
ondary figures of the story are set forth because they illumine the significance of the birth of Christ, and so contribute to the proclamation of the gospel. In particular, these historical details provide the occasion for a long series of inspired disclosures which cast a brilliant light upon the Child who was born in Bethlehem. There is, therefore, no disparagement of history. Luke clearly intends to provide a record of a series of actual happenings. His narrative is a record of events, and especially of one great event. That momentous event, around which everything else turns and to which everything else points, is the fact that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary in the town of Bethlehem. That event is set forth as a divine act. But if no further explanation were offered, it would be quite unintelligible. The cluster of divine revelation, which both precedes and follows the account of the birth of Jesus, serves, however, to expound the true significance of the divine action (Stonehouse, The Witness of Luke to Christ, 47).
Luke makes this generally plain in the prologue to his gospel (Luke 1:1-4). Luke's prologue functions not only as a preface for his gospel, but it also functions as preface to the book of Acts (Acts 1:1-2). In Acts, Luke describes his gospel narrative as "the first account" which was "about all that Jesus began to do and to teach" up to Christ's ascension into heaven. This explicit and direct statement wonderfully sums up the central content and scope of Luke's Gospel accountthe central content is the life of Jesus Christ, with the scope being from even before his birth up to his ascension into heaven (Acts 1:2). Finally, the way that Luke ends his gospel confirms his Christ-centered and Christ-exalting intention (24:25-47).
Knowing that this is Luke's intention (as expressed in his prologue and as confirmed at the close of his narrative and as emphasized in the parallel features within his account), Luke is compelling his readers to see the redemptive and eschatological significance of Elizabeth and Mary's meeting communicated in the actual details of their angelically arranged encounter.
The account of Mary's meeting with Elizabeth stretches from verse 39 to verse 56 and can be neatly divided into four episodes:
Mary's Journey and Greeting (vv. 39-40)
A. Mary's Journey (v. 39)
In verse 39, we have Mary's journey to Elizabeth: "Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to a city of Judah" (v. 39). Mary, like her cousin Elizabeth, is a Jew. But Mary is of the tribe of Judah. And her husband Joseph is also a descendant of the tribe of Judah. They are both Israelites, they are both Jews, they are both of the tribe of Judah. Mary travels to meet Elizabeth "to the hill country, to a city of Judah." Mary's homeland is Judah, not Nazareth, which is to the north of Judah in the region of Galilee. Mary lived in the city of Nazarethoutside that specific territory in the Promised Land that God allotted to the tribe of Judah as their inheritance. Mary then journeys into the land of Judah from outside the land as if she herself is an alien or stranger to it. As one who lives outside the land of her (and Joseph's) inheritance, she is an alien, a stranger. Though Nazareth was within the bounds of the land of Canaan, as a whole she lived outside the specific territory allotted to her and Joseph as descendants of the tribe of Judah. In her corporate, representative identity, she reflects the identity of the people of God as a whole in this worldas aliens and strangers in this world.
There are various passages in the New Testament where God's people are described as aliens and strangers, or pilgrims in this world. For example, in Hebrews 11:8-10, Abraham is referred to as an "alien." But not only this, the writer specifically calls him an "alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land" (Heb. 11:9). Why does the author of Hebrews call Abraham an alien, a foreigner, while he is in the land of promise? In God's covenant with Abraham, God specifically tells Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldeans and to go to the land of Canaanthe land of promise (Gen. 12:1-3). Was not God's promise in the covenant with Abraham that God would bring his covenant people into the land of promise, the land of Canaan? Was this not brought about after the time of Abraham, in the time of Moses and Joshua according to the Old Testa-
ment Scriptures? And did not God bring this about when he raised up his mediator Moses and delivered his people from their bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt across the Red Sea? And finally, did not God bring his people into the Promised Land itself through the leadership of Joshua, conquering the land and dividing it up among the tribes of Israel? But in Hebrews 11, the author says not the Promised Land, nor even the whole earth was ever the ultimate promise and goal of the covenant. The goal was never here. No earthly city was ever considered the ultimate destination. This is how the author of Hebrews can rightly say that Abraham, as well as Isaac and Jacob, were "aliens in the land of promise as in a foreign land" because they were looking for the city which was built by God himself; indeed, they desired a better country, that is a heavenly one! (Heb. 11:16).
But this designation of the people of God as aliens and strangers is not only applied to Old Testament believers, it is also used in reference to New Testament believers (1 Pet. 1:1; 2:9-11). New Testament believers are called "strangers and aliens" here because their true inheritance and home is above (1 Pet. 1:2-4).
Mary then, in her covenantal or corporate personality as an alien or stranger, represents the believer of the New Testament era. The New Testament believer's identity is found in Mary's alien identity as demonstrated in her journey from Galilee to Judah. The New Testament church is to see herself in Mary, as representative of the New Testament era. As such, the New Testament church has an alien identity and a stranger residence even while she dwells within the geographical bounds of this world.
Further, Mary's journey to Judah from Galilee is like unto Jesus coming into this world from the world above. Mary, the alien, enters the territory of Judah. She comes from outside of that territory and comes to the people who are truly her kinfolk. She remains for three months, and then she returns. Even so, in her journey, in her movement, she reflects the movement of the One she presently carries in her womb. He too comes from outside to his family as an alien, as an outsider. He too journeys. He too will come to his ownhis own family. Mary's journey and subsequent departure with Christ in her womb symbolically presents Christ's journey, and previews his departure. Her journey reveals Christ's journey as he comes into this world from
outside itdown from heaven itself. And her departure from Judah back to Galilee previews Christ's departure back to the world aboveheavenupon his death, resurrection, and ascension.
This understanding and perspective on Mary's journey as a preview of Christ's journey is filled out and supported by Luke later in his gospel with respect to the well documented "journey of Christ" motif (from Galilee to Jerusalem). In his gospel account, Luke places great emphasis upon the journey of Christ from Galilee to Jerusalem. This "journey theme" is given special place and prominence in Luke's gospel compared to the other gospels. Lukein contrast to the other three gospelsdevotes almost ten chapters to this journey theme beginning in 9:51 and concluding upon his triumphant entry into Jerusalem in 19:28.
Now how does Christ's journey from Galilee to Jerusalem correspond to Mary's journey from Galilee to Judah, and back to Galilee? And how does it reflect Christ's movement from outside this world into this world and then his subsequent departure back to heaven? The answer is found in Luke chapter 9. The beginning point of Christ's journey toward Jerusalem (9:51) follows on the heels of the transfiguration of Christ on the mount (9:30-31).
In 9:30-31, Luke writes, "And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." In the glorious transfiguration of Christ upon the mount, the three disciples are granted a preview of Christ's coming glory in the event of his resurrection from the dead. Further, the word "departure" literally means "exodus", and has reference to Christ's ascension back into heaven. And this he would accomplish by way of his death upon a cross. He came to his own and those who were not truly his own did not receive him. Hence in this way, Mary's journey into Judah from Galilee anticipates the journey of Christ coming into this world from the world above.
B. Mary's Greeting (v. 40)
In verse 40, having arrived at the home of Elizabeth and Zacharias, Mary greets Elizabeth. But to understand the proper entrance into what takes place in the meeting between these two women in all of its fullness and depth, we
must first identify Elizabeth and consider her actions prior to this encounter with Mary.
Who is Elizabeth? She is a descendent of the priest-line of Aaron. She is the wife of a priest, Zacharias (1:5). And she is the mother of John the Baptist. But there is more to her and in her than merely her individual Jewish pedigree. In light of her individual personality and identity, who is Elizabeth in her corporate personality and identity? In other words, whom does she represent in the role that she serves in God's unfolding plan of redemption? In her corporate personality, Elizabeth is Israel. She is the Old Testament people of God as a whole. She is the nation of Israel as a whole. She is Israel positively considered, living proximate in Judah to God's promises to David within reach of and devoted to Jerusalem. As such, she is bound to her husband in the service that God has prescribed for his sanctuary in the temple. Elizabeth is an extension of her husband Zacharias. Elizabeth is Israel who along with Zacharias is described as righteous in the sight of God and walking blamelessly in all his commandments (Luke 1:6).
As positively as she is to be seen (and her husband) in relationship to Israel, at the same time, in her (and together with her husband) Luke also sets forth Israel's limitation and even Israel's corruption. Elizabeth like Israel is aged and barren. Elizabeth being bound to her husband is an extension of the Levitical order and also inclusive of Levitical unbeliefZacharias failed to believe the angel Gabriel's message to him (Luke 1:18). Elizabeth, like Israel, is stuck, despite her best intentions, in a bitter dissatisfaction over God's ways and means. This is demonstrated in her act of seclusion (1:24) and words of resentment (1:25). Marshall points out the controversy surrounding the meaning of these two verses as the epilogue to Elizabeth's conception by the divine interposition of God in keeping with his promise announced by his angel Gabriel (1:13). Marshall, along with the other commentators he cites, assumes that Elizabeth's response is one of genuine praise and thanksgiving to God (Marshall, 62). Assuming this interpretation to be correct, he then moves on to address her act of seclusion in verse 25:
However, none of the above explanations appear to be the proper reading of vv. 24-25 for two reasons. First, the text itself moves in the direction of understanding her action and words negatively. For example, her self-imposed seclusion or silence is best understood as an extension of Zacharias' imposed silence for his failure to believe the Angel's message (1:20). In this way, Elizabeth being bound to her husband represents Israel. Second, Luke's literary structuring of chapter one as a whole sets up a contrasta kind of before and after picture of Zacharias and Elizabeth. There is a chiasm in Luke 1 in which Luke takes his audience from Zacharias to Elizabeth to Mary; then from Mary back to Elizabeth back to Zacharias. Hence, Luke is contrasting Elizabeth's action and response (in vv. 24, 25) to her action and response in her encounter with Mary in vv. 40-45. Therefore, Elizabeth's response to God's action for this conception in her old age is to hide away in shame and then to exclaim in bitterness and resentment: "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me!"
Therefore, both Israel's best success and tragic failure are embodied symbolically in the figure of Elizabeth at the same time. Her best cannot save her. And her failure condemns her. But God works in her and for her, as God does for all Israel, and in her and for her, he establishes hope. By God's miraculous work, John is conceived in her womb. However, prior to her meeting with Mary and the child she has conceived in her womb, Elizabeth, like Israel itself during this time, is stuck, despite her best intentions, in a bitter dissatisfaction over God's ways and means as demonstrated in her act of seclusion (v. 24) and words of resentment (v. 25).
With these things in view concerning Elizabeth and what she represents, consider now the figure of Mary as she comes to Elizabeth's house and greets her. Whereas Elizabeth prefigures the Old Testament era as she awaits Mary's arrival, Mary in her arrival and greeting prefigures the coming of the New Testament era. The fact that Mary represents a new order appears to be underscored in her even physically. Mary is a virgin and she is young. This is in contrast to Elizabeth who is old. Mary will yet bear other children, while Elizabeth bears one child and no more. Mary carries within her the Son of God, and in her person she represents those bound to him, those in whom he comes to live in by his Spirit. In this way, if Elizabeth also represents old Israel, then in this encounter, Mary represents new Israelmatched up in her representative meaning with the New Testament church itself.
Mary greets Elizabeth. Mary, the alien, the outsider, enters into the house of Zacharias and greets her cousin Elizabeth. Zacharias is a priest and Elizabeth is of priestly descent (Luke 1:5). As a priest who serves in the temple, Zacharias is a servant of the law and the Old Testament era as a whole. As such, Zacharias and Elizabeth collectively represent the old administration. In Mary's greeting of Elizabeth is heard the greeting of the child within her. The Child himself, through Elizabeth, greets the child who is within her womb. Mary, with Jesus in her womb, embodies the new order. Mary represents the New Testament, while Elizabeth represents the Old Testament.
And in Mary's greeting of Elizabeth, Luke presents a picture of the compatibility of the new era with the old era as he matches up these two figures. In this meeting, we see the new order greeting the old order. Christ who represents and is to bring in the new order, the new administration, greets the old order, including Moses and the Prophets. Mary greets Elizabeth, her cousin, and the gospel greets the law. Jesus greets Moses, and it is a warm and friendly greeting. They are not hostile to one another; in fact, they are quite compatible cousins. Here in Elizabeth as representative of the old order, and Mary, the representative of the new order, Luke sets forth the positive relationship that exists between these two orders or eras.
Mary's Reception by Elizabeth (vv. 41-45)
In verses 41-45, Luke records Elizabeth's response to Mary's greetingMary's reception by Elizabeth. And in her welcome, Luke continues to set forth, the relationship between the old and new orders in the meeting of these two women. Elizabeth's response, her reception of Mary, is indeed a happy and friendly one. But even in her receptive and friendly response, Luke also presents a picture of the subordination of the old order to the new order. This is brought in two ways: (1) by what Elizabeth says to Mary here in these verses; and (2) by the action of the child in her womb and what he represents.
Elizabeth being filled with the Holy Spirit cries out loudly to Mary: "Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" In her happy welcome, Elizabeth blesses Mary not for her own sake, but specifically because of the Seed that she carries in her womb. Elizabeth expresses her humility and subordinates herself specifically to the One that Mary carries in her womb, and the new order that he carries with him. Both Mary and Elizabeth are to be seen as extensions of the respective children that they carry in their wombs. Luke tells us twice that the child in Elizabeth's womb, who is John the Baptist, leaped in her womb when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting (vv. 41, 44).
John the Baptist was the greatest of the Old Testament era, of whom Jesus later said, "Among those born among women, there was no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he" (Luke 7:28). John was a son of a priestthe son of one who administered the old order of the law, and he was also a prophet. As such then, John the Baptist was the final embodiment of the law and the prophets. And as the embodiment of the law and the prophets, in his jumping action, John leaps out to their fulfillment in Christ and the new order that he is to bring. John leaps in joy at Christ's arrival! The old era joyfully welcomes the new era as that for which it has longed! John the Baptist leaps for joy at the coming of Jesus the Christ to himdisplayed beautifully and profoundly in the coming of Mary to Elizabeth. The old order leaps for joy at the coming of the Messiah and the new and superior order that he is going to usher in through his ministry. In this regard,
consider the end of Luke's gospel. In Luke chapter 24, Jesus declares plainly and openly that the Old Testament is all about himthe Old Testament is merely preparation for the fulfillment to come with the coming of Christ into the world. The Old then as preparation, as promise, welcomes the New, as that for which it has longed for all along.
At the same time, however, in Elizabeth's welcome there is also an acknowledgment on her part that the old order is weak and helpless when left to itself. This is expressed in an indirect way by Elizabeth in her comment regarding Mary's faith in verse 45. In commending Mary's faith, Elizabeth makes a veiled reference to Zacharias. Zacharias is a priest, a servant and representative of the old order, whom Luke earlier described as pious and righteous before the Lord (Luke 1:6). Yet when the angel Gabriel comes to him, he fails to believe Gabriel's message (Luke 1:18). Note the contrast by Luke. Zacharias, the pious priest of Israel, fails to believe, but Mary, the lowly handmaid, does believe. He did not believe, but she did. She believed and submitted to the word of the Lord through Gabriel. Finally, the weakness of the old is further underscored in the barrenness of Zacharias and Elizabeththey could not produce a child on their own (Luke 1:7).
But this does not mean that when the new comes to the old that the old fails to welcome the new. In fact, the coming of Mary to Elizabeththe coming of the new to the oldresults in the transformation of the old by the new. When Mary comes to her and greets her, Elizabeth herself is transformed, and she bursts out in praise and thanksgiving. Mary's greeting elicits and gives rise to Elizabeth's praise and response in faith. Nothing less is in view here, other than Israel being led graciously to embrace the gospel. Elizabeth, left in herself, to herself, will not, cannot embrace the gospelas seen in her self-imposed seclusion (1:24) and her harbored bitterness (1:25). The change comes for her through Mary's greeting, and through the leap of the babe within her own womb, just as change will come later for many in Israel through John's preaching as the Forerunner in his announcement of the Messiah's arrival. The old is transformed with the coming of the new. Indeed it happily welcomes and gives way to the new order which Christ will eschatologically usher in by way of his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven (cf. Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:1-11).
Mary's Song (vv. 46-55)
In light of this happy reception and the transformation it brings, Mary now bursts out in song in verses 46-55the so-called "Magnificat". In this praise-filled outburst by Mary, the redemptive significance and world-changing character of Christ's anticipated advent now bursts upon the church. In case the church missed it in Mary's greeting and Elizabeth's welcome, Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will not allow the church to miss it now. The redemptive significance and world changing impact of the event is the gospel, the Good News of Christ's coming into the world.
Now there are several things to note in this regard about the Song of Mary in these verses. For instance, Bible commentators have noted that as many as fifteen Old Testament texts are directly quoted or alluded to in this Song. We will make three other observations with respect to Mary's Song.
A. The Great Things God Has Done in History
First of all, Mary's personal confession and praise of God for what has happened to her gives confident expression that the great turning point in salvation history has been reached. She joyfully exalts the Lord and rejoices in "God my Savior" signaling the fact that the redemption longed for has come. And God has brought it in fulfillment of the covenant to Abraham and the fathers (vv. 54-55).
B. The Great Reversal in History
The second observation is that the song itself helps to unfold the full meaning and range of this great turning point in salvation history for the church. In this song, God's people are shown a new way, a new perspective on the inheritance and the blessings that they, as the covenant people of God, have longed for all along.
In reading verses 51-53 (as one looks around at the world and as the church who lives in this world), one would have to say, "I don't see these things spoken of as having actually taken place in history at all as Mary claims in her song. What mighty deeds? As I look at this world with respect to God's people, I don't see the proud being cast down and scattered. I don't see the
wicked rulers brought down, and the humble exalted! I don't see the hungry filled with good things, the rich being sent away empty handed. What great turning point? I don't see it!"
However, in this song, Mary, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is not speaking about earthly blessings and an earthly inheritance. She is talking about heavenly blessings and a heavenly inheritance. She is singing about the true inheritance and blessings that come from above. And as Luke declares later, it will be by route of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension that this will be made known and realized. For it is only in heaven that we see the proud and wicked cast down, the humble exalted, the hungry filled with good things, and the rich being sent away empty handed.
And in all this, we do see the superior character of the New Testament over the Old even as the Old gives way to and finds its fulfillment in the New! Nothing less than the coming of the Kingdom of God to be preached by Jesus is being described by Mary in her songand that in anticipation of its final consummate appearance.
In this regard, match up Mary's New Testament era song with Hannah's Old Testament era song (1 Sam. 2:1-10). The deliberate intention of the Holy Spirit in matching up these songs is demonstrated in the fact that there are four explicit citations of Hannah's song in Mary's song. First, both songs begin on the same note: "My soul magnifies the Lord." Second, both songs celebrate the redemptive, momentous event of the coming of the Kingdom. Hannah bursts out in praise to God in celebration of the coming of Kingdom in anticipation of the coming of David's reign. Mary bursts out in praise to God in celebration of the coming of the Kingdom in connection with the coming of Jesus' reign. Mary's song makes the connection and comparison in order to show the conclusive character of the coming of the Kingdom of God in the conclusive and definitive coming of Jesus, the Christ. The redemptive and eschatological significance of this comparison lies in this. As great as David was (as great as his son Solomon's reign would be) it was a mere shadow, provisional and temporary in comparison to the kingdom and reign of David's greater Son. Christ's kingdom and reign is the reality. His kingdom and reign is permanent and eternal.
Further, the far superior character of the new, and subordination of the old era to the new era is seen in the citations of Old Testament texts themselves. There are over thirty different citations and allusions from the law, the prophets and the writings. The whole of the Old Testament is not only fulfilled in the New Testamentbut is interpreted by the New Testament. The Old Testament final interpretation is found as it is subjected to the light of God's conclusive act in Jesus Christ, and in his gospel.
C. The Great Movement in Mary's Song
Having emphasized the subordination of the old to the new in Mary's song, her song (while representative of the new era's superiority over the old era) also simultaneously carries the tone, the color, and the language of the old era. The close relationship to Hannah's story and song and the thirty plus citations from the Old Testament evidence the servant-manner of the new even as it chooses to subordinate itself to the old. Hence, Jesus the embodiment of the new era becomes the servant to the old era that he might fulfill the old and save those in bondage (cf. 1 Cor. 9:20). In this way, Mary's song captures the theme of humility. Not only will the old subordinate itself to the new, but the new also humbles itself and subordinates itself to the old. This demonstrates the very humility of God himself. For God will humble himself for the sake of the redemption that he is accomplishing for his covenant people. God's humility shows itself within Mary's song. This is demonstrated in the development of the song from beginning to end.
For example, the names for the Lord at the beginning of the song will disappear, and instead, by the end, the names of Israel and Abraham appear. In this way, Mary in her song captures the condescension of God, where God seemingly moves out of the way for the sake of his people whom he intends to exalt. The Lord becomes the servant for his people. This humility of servanthood in God plays out and anticipates that which is seen in the incarnation itselfGod taking to himself human flesh to be born of a womanhumbling and humiliating himself that his people might be exalted with him in his resurrection and ascension into glory above.
Mary's song fulfills all the songs, hymns and psalms that have gone before it in the Old Testament. And at the same time, Mary's song looks forward
in anticipation of the Song of the Lamb spoken of in the book of Revelation. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing" (Rev. 5:12). This is the Song, the "New Song", that is being sung in Heaven by the Risen and Exalted Savior together with his redeemed people. And this is the song, the "New Song", that the saints here are singing with the saints in Heavenas saints here sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs making melody with the heart to the Lord Sabbath by Sabbath to exalt their God and Savior.
Mary's Stay and Departure (v. 56)
This brings us to the end of the meeting. Mary, who embodies the new order, stays to minister to Elizabeth (the embodiment of the old order) for three months. She then returns "home" to her "alien" earthly territorypointing to her true home. Three months, and then she leaves the territory of Judah in keeping with her alien identityJudah is not her true home. How long will Christ's ministry on earth last? Three years. Christ will minister to the old orderIsraelfor three years, and then he will return to his true home as he ascends to glory.
Luke preaches the whole gospel story in this meeting between Mary and Elizabeth. Luke preaches the great turning point of salvation history in this eschatological encounter, as well as the consummation to come in the return of the Lord Jesus. If the church is to stand alongside Mary in her faith, the church must also understand itself as aliens and strangers in this worldthose bound for another land. The law and gospel are not hostile to one anotherthey are mutually supportive. But the church must also acknowledge the new as superior to the old and must not hold improperly to the old as some in the church do. The church must see the gospel as being grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus by which he provides a heavenly inheritance. In the meeting of these two women, Luke is telling the church to give the preeminence to Christ by being like Mary, willing to submit to Christ in all
things as faithful servants of God's will. Thus the church continually confesses: "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior." This is the new song of Christ's churchthe church that belongs to the eschatological era of the New Testament, inaugurated by Christ's redemptive worksinging in anticipation of his glorious return and the consummation of his kingdom with its abundance of heavenly blessings.
Immanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Russell W. Howell and W. James Bradley, editors. Mathematics in a Postmodern Age; A Christian Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001. 407 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8028-4910-5. $28.00.
This is an important book for Christian thinkers and in particular is of value to mathematicians attempting to understand their role in the kingdom of God. It attempts to trace a postmodernist trend in contemporary mathematics and offer a critique from a Christian perspective. Although insightful, thought-provoking, and informative, this work has some deficiencies for those accustomed to a biblical-theological approach. Nevertheless, it is carefully researched, thorough, and penetrating in its analysis of current intellectual movements.
This book is written by a collection of authors brought together by the Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences. In attempting to answer the question "Why are the theorems of math true?", the authors take us through epistemology, history, culture, God's nature, ethics, artificial intelligence, intelligent design, psychology, and education. Due to the multifarious scope of the material and the diverse authorship, something should be said about each chapter.
The first chapter sets the stage for the inquiry by formulating modernism and postmodernism in terms of mathematics. Is mathematical truth static or
changing? Postmodernism attempts to locate mathematics within its cultural milieu with implications for what constitutes adequate proof and what problems are worth solving. Modernism, on the other hand, views mathematics as certain knowledgein fact, it is knowledge that can be obtained without the axiom of God's existence. Hence, the modernist spirit is grounded in the efforts of natural philosophy to produce an epistemology for autonomous man. The second chapter continues this cultural study by contrasting Greeks, Arabs, Chinese, and Europeans. This discussion is vital as a framework: the mathematician can see his work as part of an evolving intellectual movement which is influenced by cultural factors.1
The next two chapters deal with God as the eschatological Mathematician (the authors do not use this term!), involved in an eternal felicitous activity of mathematizing, i.e., creating and proving all of mathematics without termination. Chapter three gets pretty technical (there are some bits of mathematical logic) and can be skipped by the non-expert without much loss. But those who stick it out will be rewarded! The fourth chapter deals with aesthetic issues of mathematics and argues that the science proceeds by induction as much as by deduction. One key example is the selection of axioms, which ultimately rests on aesthetic principles"the simplest explanation is best."
The following three chapters treat the history of western mathematics more thoroughly. The focus is mathematization of the culture. By this, the authors mean the transformation of the ambient culture into something more quantitativetime, calendars, weights and measures, accounting, scales, calibration, experimentation, data collection, analysis, statistics, etc., and on into the information age. It is refreshing to be reminded of this and reflect on how different non-mathematized cultures must have been (maybe getting to church right on time was of less importance to Greeks dependent on the sundial for timekeeping). The key players in the development of western science, such as Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and Leibniz, are woven into the fasci-
1 As an example of historical factors, consider the geometric flavor of Greek mathematics versus the highly algebraic mathematics that emerged after Descartes. Many more important examples can be found in the book.
nating story. Some questions of the appropriateness of using mathematics in the social sciences are raised.
The eighth chapter discusses values in mathematics: is it technique, conceptual framework, or art? Why do we "do the math?" The next four chapters are pure fun: a discussion of artificial intelligence, the possibility of detecting intelligent design, psychological perspectives on mathematical learning, and the mathematical philosophies of constructivism. The conclusion offers a summary to the work: it investigates modern and postmodern views in relation to mathematics; it compares the evolution of mathematics in diverse cultures; it examines ethical issues in undertaking mathematical projects; and considers how "faith perspectives" could shape our thinking on important issues.
It is the issue of "faith perspectives" that is of most concern. Being a work of several contributors, it necessarily suffers from haziness, i.e., it lacks a clear, piercing voice that cries out to the world. It seems that its multifarious character blunts the edge of its analysis. One particularly disturbing case is the discussion of free will versus predestination. The editors suggest that the apparently contradictory nature of these concepts may be due to a perceived tension between completeness and consistency in God's character.2 Perhaps an Arminian was on the team.
Much more critical is the fact that their so-called "Christian perspective" differs in no essentials from Judaism and Islam. It is basically Theism plus The Fall. How does the resurrected Christ impact the value of mathematics and its truth? How does a New Creation framework affect the vocation of mathematics? If we now understand "truth" in the way Jesus used it, i.e., eschatological and eternal, then the truth of mathematics is to be understood in terms of the eschatological mathematical activity of God, communicated to
2 This is one of the most fascinating suggestions of the book. Completeness of a mathematical system has to do with its "power" for proving things, whereas consistency has to do with the avoidance of contradiction. It has been proven that certain mathematical systems cannot (sniff!) have both completeness and consistency. Using this as an analogy for anthropomorphic conceptions of God's character, the editors suggest that a fuller view of God (moving towards completeness) causes a tension with consistency. I quibble with the use of free will/predestination as an appropriate example, since this "mystery" has been adequately resolved (to my knowledge) by Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. The dual nature of Jesus might have been a better choice.
us in mere shadows cast down upon our world. How does the crucifixion impact our experiencesuffering in mathematics, perhaps? Is mathematics a semi-eschatological activity; is it Kingdom activity? None of these issues are adequately addressed and another book could certainly be written about it.
Nevertheless, this is a great book. Despite the title, it can and should be read by Christian scholars of all ilk. It is to be read over several months in small digestible portions, and will provoke periods of intense, quiet meditation on the deep things of God.
J. P. Fokkelman. Reading Biblical Poetry: An Introductory Guide. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. 243 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-664-22439-3. $24.95.
When Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to its Techniques by Wilfred G. E. Watson appeared in 1984 (revised editions 1986 and 1995), we had a handbook for unpacking Biblical poetry. Watson gave us the basic tool for understanding Hebrew poetic idiom. Beyond the standard parallelism (pioneered by Robert Lowth in 1753), Watson taught us to look for patternspoetic patterns, but nonetheless Semitic patterning in Biblical poetry. Those who neglected or ignored Watson's work impoverished themselves and their audiences. Ignorance is no excuse for eisegesis!
Now J. P. Fokkelman has pushed the envelope even furtherleaving us even more inexcusable!! Oh, there are some silly passé critical-fundamentalist expressions in Fokkelman's book, but he will grow up (hopefully); the text will compel him to even greater maturity in due time. And if not him, some orthodox student of the Word of God committed to concrete revelationGod does speak from heaven (eschatological vector) to men and women (horizontal vector) and the Holy Spirit does insure that what they write is "carried along" as theopneustos ("God-breathed") Scripturesome orthodox student of divinely-inspired Hebrew poetry will correct Fokkelman's infelicitiesyeah! his foolishnesses. But while we await this improvement, Fokkelman
overwhelms us with a fresh approach to the poetry of the Biblean approach which will repay study over and over of this foundational volume and leave us salivating (if not temporarily the poorer, financially) for his major 3-volume treatment of Hebrew poetry. The first of the latter volumes was released in 1998 (Major Poems of the Hebrew Bible) and covers The Song of the Sea (Ex. 15), The Song of Moses (Dt. 32) and Job's complaint (chapter 3) (price: ca. $70.00). Volume 2 (Major Poems of the Hebrew Bible, 2000) analyzes the prosody (textual rhythm and quantity) of 85 Psalms (not in order, i.e., Pss. 1-85) and Job 4-14 (price: ca. $100). Volume 3 (Major Poems of the Hebrew Bible) is in preparation and will complete Fokkelman's stunning analysis of the remaining 65 Psalms (it too will, undoubtedly, be pricey). (NB: Fokkelman's work will need to be compared to that of Marc Girard. His 3-volume masterpiece began with the title Les Psaumes: analyse structurelle et interpretation [Pss. 1-50]; it was continued under the title Les Psaumes Redecouverts: de la structure au sens [v. 2, Pss. 51-100; v. 3, Pss. 101-150]. This is a massive and meticulous examination of the structure of all 150 Psalms. While written in French, the English-only reader may benefit from the structural outlines which accompany the analysis of each Psalm.)
The present volume is required reading for any pastor or teacher picking up the Psalter, not to mention Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Lamentations and Ecclesiastes. But the reader of the Hebrew Bible will be keenly aware of the poetic idiom in the Pentateuch, the Historical Books and the Prophets. As Fokkelman points out, 37% of the Old Testament is poetrymore than 1/3 of the Tanakh. That is a major genre to master for any student of God's Word.
And how rich is that genre! If our devotional experience has been deepened by the poems of the Old Testament, Fokkelman's book will make that experience even more wonderful. If our identification with the mind and heart of the Biblical poet has caught us up into the text itself, Fokkelman's book will make that reading sweeter and more concrete. And if our Lord Jesus has been the Eschatological Poet who sings the songs of Zion over his sons and daughters (over us!), Fokkelman's book will display the artistry, the symmetry, the mirror-imagery of those redemptive-historical intonations.
Fokkelman takes us on a tour of how to read Biblical poetry. He does this, in the main, non-technically (a glossary of necessary technical terms is in-
cluded for the uninitiated, pp. 225-28). The average college student (and beyond) will not be daunted by his prose. "This book is intended for those who do not read Hebrew but have to rely on a translation of the Bible. I have tried to put myself in their position as much as possible . . . " ("Preface"). Using a building-block approach, Fokkelman disassembles and assembles select Hebrew poems from cola and verses (chapter 4, pp. 61-86), to strophes (chapter 5, pp. 87-115), to stanzas (chapter 6, pp. 117-40), to the poem as a whole (chapter 7, pp. 141-57). Along the way, he illustrates each stage with copious examples from the Bible (a full Scripture index appears on pp. 237-43). Especially helpful is an appendix in which he provides strophic and (often) stanza analysis of all 150 Psalms, Lamentations, Job, Proverbs and the Song of Solomon (pp. 211-24).
Having mentioned Robert Lowth above, it is important to describe Fokkelman's revision of Lowth's famous parallelismus membrorum ("parallelism of the members", i.e., of lines of the Psalms especially). Fokkelman is not denying parallelism in Hebrew poetry, but unlike Lowth he is extending it beyond a single verse, forcing the interpreter to follow the pattern of similarity (and parallelism) wherever they occur in the text. In addition, Fokkelman points out that rigid application of Lowth's principle eliminates nuanced differences in poetic strophes. The second element of the "parallel" may, in fact, be expanding on a difference in imagery, so that a broader facet of the imagery is contained in the subsequent line. Psalm 3:4 will suffice to whet our readers's appetites. "I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and he answered me from his holy mountain." The Psalmist and the Lord are parallel (actually chiastic"I"/"Lord": "he"[Lord]/"me"), but "holy mountain" expands the image of the arena from which the Lord hears and answers. Parallel lines add to one anotherthey do not merely duplicate one another.
Fokkelman is a critical scholar. Hence critical-fundamentalist positions appear in the book: Deutero-Isaiah, the Cyrus oracle of Isaiah 45 post eventum ("after the event," i.e., after 539 B.C.), "for the Israelites there was no life after death" (p. 161). These dutiful genuflections to the critical-fundamentalist guild are to be expected. They are minor irritants in a provocative and helpful study.
But there is a major irritant from his critical fundamentalism which I cannot ignore. Fokkelman regards the Song of Solomon as a "free love" tract
from ancient Israel (pp. 189-206). The anachronism apparent here is that Fokkelman has spent 180 pages urging us to read the text as it stands. He then reads Solomon's Song like a pornographer. We have become accustomed to this since Marvin Pope's perverse Anchor Bible commentary of the Song. And like Pope, Fokkelman seems bent on telling us more about his own sexual mores (and preferences) than Solomon's text. Like other "modern" commentators on the Song (Othmar Keel and Tremper Longman), the Song of Solomon is regarded as a collection of erotic love poems with no revelatory vector at all. The poetry is horizontal, only horizontal, nothing but horizontal, i.e. "horizontal" love between a man and a woman. In fact, any attempt to discover a vertical or a revelatory or an eschatological aspect in the Song is ridiculed as "allegorization" (Fokkelman's term) or spiritualization. Fokkelman even suggests Nietzsche (a paragon of Christ-like love, of course!) as providing the hermeneutical key to the Song: "love beyond good and evil" (p. 191).
I begin to smell something rotten in Leiden. Our post-Enlightenment professor of Hebrew Literature seems duty bound to display his elitist and modernist sexually liberated libido in a rant against the prude's view of Solomon's Song. So the lovers in the Song become an extension of the love-making mores of Fokkelman and his Dutch peers. In other words, in a book in which we have been urged to look at the text and allow the text to speak for itself, Fokkelman uses the text of Solomon's Song to parade his own modern sexual tastes. Undoubtedly, many will welcome this, but I must protest. Fokkelman on the Song of Solomon reads more like a page from the Woodstock generation than Solomon's sublime love for his Shulamiteand the Lord's sublime love for his children (see my "What Should I Read on the Song of Solomon?" Kerux: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching 8/2 [September 1993]: 35-41, available on kerux.com).
Still, the book is a must. Any preacher working on the Psalms who ignores this book is a "fool", i.e., one who stubbornly resists any new insights into the Hebrew text, even if they arise from meticulous study of the God-inspired Hebrew texts themselves (cf. Prov. 18:2).
Howard Rice and James Huffstutler. Reformed Worship. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001. 248 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-6645-0147-8. $24.95.
This book was penned by a theologian (Rice) and a pastor (Huffstutler) from the Presbyterian (USA) tradition. It consists of fourteen chapters with endnotes, bibliography, and a general index. Of the three books under consideration, this one exhibits the greatest incongruity between its title and contents. It reflects the abysmal perspectives and practices a truly Reformed outlook seeks to avoid. The opening chapter on the six "Characteristics of Reformed Worship" includes simplicity, combination of Word and Sacrament and the importance of singing Psalms. But the regulative principle does not even make the list. Rather "Martin Luther once said that God has given us five senses and we are ungrateful if we use fewer in worship." After opening the Pandora's box of worship in chapter one, the supposed Reformed characteristic of "adaptability" gives way to innovation and mutation. Following the two chapters on the history of worship are chapters on baptism and the Lord's Supper. There is no chapter on preaching the Word. Two pages of the chapter on "The Service of the Lord's Day" compose the painful tidbit offered. Here we read such tired clichés as: "the pastor stands with one foot in the biblical text and the other in the modern world"; "a sermon that makes no clear reference to the people's lives becomes irrelevant"; "a sermon should not pretend that the biblical passage has miraculously descended from the mouth of God"; "the preacher's task is to be personally present" (honest and self-revelatory because the people "long for authenticity"). Has "preaching" been replaced by "pastor" as means of grace? Any residue of preaching's grandeur is finally killed off with: "sermons exceeding twenty minutes cause minds to wander" because of the capacity of the television-tube brain. From this vacuous center, the worship service is then filled by stimulating the senses with stoles, paintings, artwork, banners, processional crosses, candles, etc. while concluding with a balloon release. The sage advice is: "think about the whole person who comes to worship with five senses." The nose of Luther's worship camel has now admitted into the tent the whole camel with circus in tow! There is nothing here of redemptive historical interest. There are only skeletal fragments
remaining from a Reformed worship once fueled by a robust faith in the Word of God and the regulative principle.
D.G. Hart and John R. Muether. With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002. 208 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8755-2179-7. $12.99.
In refreshing contrast to the former is the contribution from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church's historians Hart and Muether. The book is based on adult Sunday school lessons. As such its style is unencumbered, pointedly stated, and tightly argued. The lengths of the introduction and conclusion push the otherwise eleven-chapter book toward thirteen. It concludes with endnotes and indexes general, scriptural and confessional. Those of an old school persuasion will find their Reformed views fleshed out and defended. Others will be forced to consider "what spirit they are of." Reformed Presbyterian pastors could confidently pass this one out to newcomers or others questioning our basic assumptions. The authors are to be commended for filling in a gap with this contribution toward "returning to the basics of Reformed worship." And yes, the subtitle is appropriately backed up with a full chapter on the regulative principle.
From a BT (Biblical Theology/Theological) perspective the book has its shortcomings. It was disappointing to find no references to Vos, Kline, Gaffin, or Ridderbos, to name a few BT favorites. The two footnotes to Clowney are generic. Machen is footnoted six times and Calvin twenty-two. This reviewer would have been delighted to see more of a redemptive historical foundation to the opening three chapters on the church and the fourth on the Sabbath. The shape of the discussion and its chapter by chapter cohesion would have been served by tying it all into the church as the eschatological colony of heaven reflecting its ultimate identity every week in its Sabbath worship. This could have filled in the already-not yet schema in informing the church's holiness
(as belonging to the age to come and heaven above in contrast to this age/world), spiritual commission, peculiar worship, and rational for Sunday worship. As it is, the portrait was more black and white rather than in eschatological living color. This criticism is not intended to infer BT barrenness or resistance. BT sympathies are witnessed at various points: we are aliens in exile (p. 29); "the Church at worship is the real world . . . the gathering of the saints in the holy of holies is the eschatological foretaste of the new heavens and the new earth, the reality to which all of history is headed" (p. 34). These BT snippets are encouraging to see within the fabric of the discussion, but would have given the book an overhaul if they had been laid as major support beams. It is not surprising that we find no plug for redemptive historical preaching. Strangely, only a few pages are given to preaching (pp. 152-153; 182-183). They ask, "What is a better form of a sermon?" They answer "one that conforms to the teaching of the Bible . . . what the Bible teaches as a whole . . . the system of doctrine taught in Scripture." I would wish to have heard the answer, "Christ-centered sermons anchored in redemptive history." Avid BT preachers will groan over the brevity given to preaching and BT since "God's Word is at the heart of Reformed worship" (p. 183). They will wish that BT factored in more fundamentally into the book's development. But despite these weaknesses the book is an excellent presentation from a more doctrinal/systematic slant. All Reformed pastors will find this a welcome volume and an invaluable instructional tool for persuading and settling minds in "the basics of Reformed worship."
(Upon giving it to others, a copy of Larry Semel's 2001 Kerux Conference Lecture, "The Church as the Colony of Heaven," could be taped to the book as redemptive historical ballast.)
Michael Horton. A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002. 256 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8010-1234-1. $19.99.
Michael Horton, associate professor at Westminster West and editor of Modern Reformation, has composed this BT driven work on worship. It is about 30% longer than the former book consisting of twelve chapters with endnotes.
For the BT pastor, Horton's work is an excellent follow-up to Hart and Muether, filling in much of what is missing in their efforts. But this is what makes them so wonderfully complementary. The first persuades of "Reformed" worship in the plainest of terms. The second reinforces it but with a refreshing BT advancement. Now, to consider Horton's contribution.
First of all, I found the title to be mainly window dressing to provoke interest in the contents. The clumsy "third way" avenue detracts from the real contribution of the book as stated in the subtitle. Horton wants to lead us to "The Better Way" out of the traditional vs. contemporary impasse. At the end of the day he really doesn't succeed in getting beyond an old school paradigm. I am grateful.
Unlike the former's analytic approach, Horton gives a context, shape and fullness to worship by construing it as a major component in the larger drama of redemptive history. This means that preaching and worship are not mere doctrinal topics but components of a larger drama orchestrated by God. We find our significance in life as characters in the narrative of God's redemptive drama. Hart said, "the best worship is that which conforms to the Bible." If Vos is right that "the Bible is not a dogmatic handbook but a historical book full of dramatic interest" then Horton's project is indeed heading in the direction of "the best." As he says, "I have gone with the model of drama . . . because this appears to be one of the richest ways of reading the Bible" (p. 13). Chapter one "Setting the Stage" sees worship as covenant renewal between God and his people. The interplay between the covenant of works (Adam) and the covenant of grace (Adam saved and Abraham) structures the redemptive drama as it moves toward the eternal Sabbath and the New Covenant in
Jesus Christ. The church as wilderness community is sustained on the means of grace as the covenant is renewed each Sunday.
Chapters 2-5 are all about preaching. There is much to be commended here. The preached Word "re-scripts our lives" by incorporating them into the new narrative in Christ. "This narrative is not there to give us some additional help in constructing our own life movie but to judge it and us with it, so we can finally give up on it and become a character in the drama of redemption . . . Jesus Christ and the drama of redemption that begins, climaxes, and is consummated in him is the real world, the real setting of our life's play . . . we are transformed through perpetual immersion in Scripture as the story of our life . . . Doctrine and practical instruction will be driven home in our hearts as they are embedded in the dramatic telling and retelling of every biblical story in the light of its overarching story centering in Jesus Christ" (pp. 57, 59). Space prohibits further elaboration. But this is good stuff. In chapter 5, Horton begins with: "This chapter attempts to provide a biblical case for reading Scripture in terms of God's unfolding mystery of redemption, not as a collection of superior moral insights, empowering thoughts for each day, and end-times handbook, or a blueprint for a new social orderindeed, not even chiefly as a repository of doctrine . . . I want to take a look at . . . the redemptive historical model" (p. 81). This is in opposition to liberals and conservatives alike who prefer "moralistic preaching" (p. 87). The chapter ends with "Suggestions for Christ-Centered Reading & Preaching" (pp. 89-90). His suggestions are fine, in and of themselves. But there is no vertical vector of present eschatological union with Christ as part of this summation. The overlap of the ages through the cross and resurrection wherein we enjoy union with Christ, wherein we worship, wherein we "find our new identity," wherein we fit into the new narrative is absent. I think this is an oversight. However this was the place in the book to drive it home. Unfortunately his moment for dramatic flair fell flat. Thankfully, later on, there is some recovery in Chapter 8, "Tasting the Powers of the Age to Come."
Beginning with a brief exposé on the overlap of the two ages creating the "already-not yet" dynamic, he moves into the implications for the Christian life and worship. "With its already-not yet eschatology, Scripture points us to God with us, descending to us and seating us with Christ in heavenly places.
It directs us to the in breaking of the age to come through the preaching that makes a new creation, just as that Word gave birth to the first creation . . . he is present because of his promise, not because of the skill of ministers or musicians" (p. 135); "wherever the gospel is faithfully preached . . . we taste of the powers of the age to come . . . through these divinely appointed means, the Spirit breaks into our drab, one-dimensional, fearful, plotless world and sweeps us into his kingdom that is even now coming down out of heaven . . . Heaven will be the real thing that our worship servicesat their bestcan only help us receive as a foretaste" (p. 139).
There is much more here to stimulate and inform the mind of the BT pastor and parishioner. Horton has picked up the redemptive historical ball and seeks to show how the game is played on the field of worship. This is an encouraging work.
In passing, I was disappointed that there was no index to the book. But the endnotes do point us to Vos, Kline, Gaffin, Ridderbos and Clowney. This serves to demonstrate that Horton's offering is made as he stands on the shoulders of his Reformed BT fathers. This is an excellent contribution from a man who has reflected on the formative role BT should have on our worship. Combined with the former volume the two complement each other nicely as they repair and repave the road that ascends to Mt. Zion.