Theology and Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann, Fortress, 777 pp., $48.00. Walter Brueggemann’s brilliant new book, the culmination of a lifetime of incisive theological work, embodies the transitional moment between one interpretive age and the creative stirrings of a new one. While he does not assume that new methods are always …
We find the most penetrating understanding of the power and politics in the biblical literature. Thus far we tend to suppress those biblical passages that expose radically the reality of the power such as Revelation 13. Churches have been preoccupied with Romans 13, which has often been misinterpreted. There are three levels of power realities …
This is a book about ethics and rules, life and faith. It is written by one who wants to explore each of these categories. I am not a universal man. I am a particular man with a particular heritage and particular attitudes. I have been shaped by my environment and by my century. I speak …
Exodus is the story of Israel’s creation-deliverance by Yahweh and is based not on demonstrable historical evidence but on the interpretation of the events as seen in the light of faith. The story centers around the person of Moses who appears as something more than a mere man.
Ellul begins with a study of the interaction of Naaman and Elisha. As the title suggests, the focus is on Naaman rather than on Elisha. Working through the biblical account step by step, Ellul reads the text carefully, finding hints of how God works through people, those who are faithful, as well as those who are not. This analysis results in insights regarding how God accomplishes his purpose through people who make both wise and unwise choices.
Cultic vesus Yahwistic prophetism is discussed including the seer, the contagious prophet, institutional prophetism along with a disucssion concerning the role of Form Criticism.
Their conglomerate tribal origins as slaves under persecution by Pharaoh Rameses II is the setting for the emergence of the Hebrews as a people under the leadership of Moses. The Lord’s astounding victory over Pharaoh is the dominant theme of Exodus, and brings together the exiled Moses with the suffering slaves, from which Moses emerges as a kind of God-like man. His leadership is traced through the dealings with Pharaoh, the nine plagues, the escape by sea with its supernatural overtones, and the wilderness wanderings.
Israel came late into the course of Oriental history. Though a small nation, there is need to understand how she differed from her neighbors and contemporaries. Israel transcended them attaining a world of thinking and concepts much like our own. Though Greece has distinct regards in some attributes for us today, Israel can be considered the great divide of humanity. Through commerce Israel affected all who came into contact with her.
After examining the historical setting for the Commandment that prohibits adultery, including the conditions and exceptions in force among the early Hebrews, the author suggests sexual morality guidelines for Christians today.
II Isaiah (chapters 34-35, 40-45), is in the prophetic tradition of I Isaiah in its developed emphasis on Yahweh’s holiness during the Babylonian exile, with a promise of deliverance and restoration of Israel as the servant people described in four poems. Napier summarizes classical prophetism as encompassing word and symbol, election and covenant, rebellion and judgment, compassion and redemption leading to consummation in radically transformed history.
Microethics are the personal acts of an individual, his or her personal gifts of charity and personal works of love. Macroethics are the corporate acts of the whole culture, which should be designed to build a just society. Both are important.
Some of classical prophetism’s persistent themes are sounded again, reinterpreted out of the broadening experiences of the sixth century.
Napier explores the tensions between mind and faith in four areas: in apocalypse as found in Isaiah 24-27, Joel, and Zechariah 9-14; pride and justification as seen in Job; faith and worldly wisdom in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon; and Judaism vis-a-vis the world in Daniel, Esther and Jonah.
"You shall not bear false witness" is a call to a life that is open, free, vulnerable, and risky, but that is where life is lived, and that is where its meaning is found.
“You shall not covet” is the behavioral application of “You shall have no other gods but me.” The author suggests several implications in seeking a just and humane society.
What does one do when things are at their blackest? Ellul turns next to Joram who faces a deeply distressing situation. This provides the stimulus for reflection on the role of the prophet amid the worst situation. There is also delicate analysis of how God works through decisions of humans whether or not they are responsive to God’s word through the prophet.
What is recalled in Genesis about Abraham is hardly the distillation of hero tales. They are not the exploits of Abraham but the initiative, the actions and the purpose of Yahweh in his relationship with Abraham.
Genesis 1-11 sets the particular story of Israel against the background of all creation and in the midst of universal human existence. Creation is not envisaged as creation out of nothing, but rather as the radical transformation of prior chaos by Yahweh. The universal human situation is described in the self-contained tales of the Garden of Eden (3), the Brothers Cain and Abel (4), the Flood (6-9), and the Tower of Babel (11). These tell the story of man’s rebellion against Yahweh’s good intentions in creation, the alienation from God that resulted, and the introduction of the theme of salvation as seen in the call of Abraham.
The role of written transmission, while significantly existent, remained sometimes, and for long periods of time, subordinate to that of oral transmission.
The glory and the holiness of the God of Mount Sinai calls forth in the Covenant people awe, wonder, and fear, which is expressed, finally, in their obedience to those principles through which God’s presence is seen in human life.
Surrounding cultures worshiped multiple gods. In sharp contrast, the Hebrews had one God who was personal, their national God, and for them the God of all the earth and everyone in it. Being loyal to, and trusting in, one god, was not always understood by other cultures, but the Hebrew culture influenced others by their beliefs and religious practices.
The appearance of the Lord at Mt. Horeb in Sinai to contract a Covenant with the Israelites was an auditory rather than a visual appearance. As the senior party of the Covenant, the Lord offers to redeem Israel from its multi-form, perennial Egypts and bring it into the freedom of his service, provided Israel accepts this offer and commits itself to the Covenant as God has made it known in the Ten Commandments. This chapters examines each commandment.
This account adds yet another dimension to the interplay of God with the world where human purpose is shown to be only temporarily effective when it is disobedient to God’s purpose. The prophet must be faithful, even when the word from the Lord is a hard word. Even those who disobey this word end up evidence of how God works out God’s purpose. The bitter realism of the passage becomes stark evidence of how God triumphs.
We do not think there is anywhere in the Bible a purely objective, detached account of sequential events. The essence of history, which must of course be extracted from. the actual event, is the revelation, the self-disclosure, of God.
The historical, etiological and theological meaning of the covenant in relation to the patriarchs (Genesis 12-50), the Sinai decalogue (Exodus 19-20), the Covenant Code (Exodus 2:1-24), the work and person of Moses (Exodus 32-34), the priestly cultus and ethic (Leviticus 16, 19, 23-26), the narratives of wilderness and occupation (Numbers 5-6, 11-17, 20-24; Joshua 1-12, 23-24).
The classical prophet, although highly creative and proclaiming a new word, was debtor, and certainly conscious debtor, to a core tradition already long established.
The history, background, and setting of the Ten Commandments
These priestly directions for instituting the Covenant are presented as coming from Moses and Sinai, and detail the building of the Temple as modeled on the Tabernacle, with descriptions of the Ark, table, lampstand, altar, court, nightlamp, priestly apparel and other more minor items, and culminating in a priestly emphasis on the Sabbath law as absolute.
Israel was fully aware of that most critical question of all man’s thought — the problem that man is to himself. So here the question of what is man is delved into seeking the answers that the Hebrew arrived at, and thought processes which we can use today.
The theme of anarchy pervades Joshua 1-12 and Judges 2-5 in telling the story of Israel’s being called out of Egypt under Moses and into the Promised Land under Joshua. Judges 6-21 and Ruth describe pre-monarchic Israel including accounts of Gideon, Jotham, Jephthah and Samson documenting this anarchy prior to the monarchy.
Man has always considered his relationship to the stars, sun, moon, weather, and the physical earth. More than these has been his relationship to each other. Above all is his relationship to God. All these are considered yielding thinking and positions useful for man today.
The first commandment is nothing less than a command to acknowledge the reality of God’s total claim upon their lives.
A study of Isaiah of Jerusalem. He, no more than any other prophet, is typical. But one suspects that the phrase “typical prophet” is a contradiction in terms. In the very nature of his being a prophet, a spokesman for Yahweh, a prophet does not and cannot conform to a type. But Isaiah is central to Old Testament prophecy, perhaps as no other.
Important prophetic figures of the tenth and ninth centuries — Samuel, Nathan, Ahijah, Elijah, Micaiah, and Elisha — are analyzed.
These chapters are dominated by the figure and role of Moses who, when the incident of the Golden Calf shattered the Covenant, was able to use the uniqueness of his relationship with the Lord to appease the divine anger through intercession and argument with the Lord, and to gain for Israel full divine forgiveness. There also emerges in this passage the appearance of an alternative Ten Commandments known as the “Ritual Decalogue.”
Ellul plunges even deeper into the mystery of how God’s purposes are accomplished through human agency. Jehu is not a pleasant person, but a sort of enforcer. Using the choice of transparency versus opacity, Ellul shows how Jehu fulfills prophecy without being a witness to God’s mercy and love. The relevance to contemporary church life is clear and challenging. The final sentence poses a question which offers the reader one final challenge worth one’s persistence.
The next political figure in Second Kings is Ahaz. After an intense analysis of this king’s policies and history, Ellul reflects at length on how his encounter with Isaiah demonstrates how politics emerge as the substance of Second Kings. The chapter ends with a challenging reflection on God’s Holy Spirit with particular reference to what it means to act prophetically in the present.
A survey, necessarily brief, of the major codes of law in the Old Testament, their superficial characteristics, the general qualities which they hold in common particularly as against other extrabiblical codes, points of difference among the three major earlier codes, the ethical qualities and content of these three, and finally the central theological motivation of all Old Testament law. We may then attempt, from this assessment of the law, to distinguish its primary theological presuppositions.
The implications of holding that God is One. The nature of Idolatry.
There is little in this extended section which has not appeared earlier in Exodus, chapters 25-31. In the earlier section these elaborate instructions on the physical means, forms, nature, dimensions, and personnel of the institutional structure are recorded as plans, while here they are repeated as a record of actual construction.
To a greater or lesser degree in all the great classical prophets one sees the phenomenon of the psychology of captivity, a self-consciousness in vocation characterized by feelings of having been overpowered by the Word of Yahweh.
Jewish thought favored an honest acceptance of government, whatever it might be, and loyal conformity to promulgated law, but only within the limits of Jewish conscience.
I and II Samuel were originally one book that was a composite of underlying sources that tell a variety of stories about various personalities.
A name for the Hebrews was a powerful symbol. When you called someone’s name, you were claiming either superiority or equality. Therefore, God’s name was “holy” — set apart from all other names.
The Old Testament is a history of peoples, but primarily the Hebrews. Necessarily a part of history is nature, or natural events such as planting and harvest seasons, the great flood, etc. And nature connects with God.
This chapter deals with an encounter between Hezekiah and an emissary of Assyria, Rabshakeh. The foreign representative delivers a prophetic message, which Hezekiah receives as a Word from the Lord. Rabshakeh proceeds to challenge Israel and their God. The challenge provides Ellul opportunity to reflect on politics and faith, with a probing analysis of propaganda which identifies how “modern” this passage is.
I Kings 1-11 offers a brief description and evaluation of a series of kings ending with Solomon, and the division of the northern and southern kingdoms. The central theme of I Kings 11-16 is the emergent prophetism based on prophetic Yahwism as contrasted with popular Yahwism. I Kings 17 to II Kings 14 gives the background of classical prophetism as seen in Samuel, Elisha and Elijah.
The 8th century prophets indict Israel for her unrighteousness, beginning with Amos 1-9 which is unrelieved condemnation that turns to some contingent hope. Hosea offers more positive prospects for the man/God relationship in his analogous relationship with his wife Gomer. It is in Isaiah 1-23, 28-33 and Micah 1-7 that 8th-century prophetism reaches its theological and ethical zenith.
The final chapter explores Hezekiah’s role in this crisis, which Ellul sees as one of a faithful sovereign. Hezekiah sees that the crisis is beyond politics, since the Assyrians have impugned God. There is a limit to politics, and thus of all human intentionality. The final section is a discussion of “miracle” which establishes how God can be sovereign without diminishing human agency.
The Israelites thought of themselves as a nation with loyalty to one God which in practice affected their personal lives, their religion, and their national and social obedience. Yet their practices were affected by nations about them, and by their own interpretations and desires. Nonetheless, the experiences of the Israelites can benefit us today.
Sabbath in its ultimate sense is not so much a day as an attitude.
Merely in terms of its creative influence upon human society, far and away the greatest of the books is the Bible. However, personal opinions do not enjoy the repute of the ages. A look then at the Hebrews and the Bible is worthwhile.
The fifth Commandment enjoins us to live as recipients of both the love of a mother and the love of a father.
Deuteronomy is seen as the reformed law of Yahweh that functions as a packaged legal prophetism. Nahum 1-3, Zephaniah 1-3 and Habakkuk 1-3 are the 7th century prophets who continue the tradition of classical prophetism in the uncertain time of Babylon’s ascendancy. The protesting prophetism of Jeremiah 1-52 places him as a prophet among prophets warning of Yahweh’s only suspended just judgment.
“You shall not kill” is not as simple as it sounds. It finally fades into a positive command. You shall give life even at the cost of your own—for this is the highest form of humanity.
Jeremiah’s prophetic judgment is balanced by his hope that God’s wrath is balanced by his love, as do Obadiah and Lamentations in their insistence on God’s continuing involvement in history. Ezekiel’s seemingly bizarre visions and trances nevertheless reveal a hope of resurrection for Israel in a new covenant.
All nature testifies to the glory of God; but Israel tends always to see God’s primary and decisive self-revelation in the arena of history, not nature. Israel conceives of no reality that is not historical reality. It is inevitable, therefore, that she clothe her primeval history in historical dress. What so convincingly to her is must have its expression in a setting of time and place and persons.
Our society is marked by a deep dislocation that touches every aspect of our lives. The old certitudes seem less certain; the old privileges are under powerful challenge; the old dominations are increasingly ineffective and fragile; the established governmental, educational, judicial and medical institutions seem less and less able to deliver what we need and …
(ENTIRE BOOK) This book discusses outstanding examples of Old Testament myth, legend, history, prophecy and law in an effort to show that common theological presuppositions underlie all of these varying literary types, and that they must be read and understood as speaking from faith to faith.
The stark realities of the world food crisis have made hunger a priority item on the agenda of American churches. With television bringing the hollow faces of starving children into our living rooms, it has become impossible for the community of faith to remain silent or unresponsive. It is tragic that millions must die before …
The whole Bible is "prophetic" since it consistently reflects the prophetic and passionately theological understanding of history.
The rediscovery, or perhaps, the discovery of the Bible apart from the apparent “tearing apart” by the scholars of the past century, involves no annulment, no abrogation of the principles and insights of this previous era. It does, however, imply a radical change in interpretation.
Ellul provides an initial statement about his purpose, specifically, why he chose Second Kings as the place to guide his reflections on how the faithful go about the political aspect of their lives. Suggesting that Second Kings is the most political in Scripture, he outlines why it is important for the Christian who is concerned about politics, in whatever sense that term is used. This initial taste of Ellul introduces the reader to Ellul’s approach as an exegete.
Exodus, like Genesis, is a book of origins that tells how the people of Israel became a people so that events in the present time are given sense and meaning by being viewed against the formative Exodus events. The author clarifies the use of the three source hypothesis – J, E and P, and stresses the connection of the Exodus and the torah in the development of Israel, and the deep relationship between the Exodus story and Christianity.
The Old Testament is the story of Israel It is literature in the sense that it is the oral and written creation of many individuals using many diverse forms and literary devices. It is history in that it is the story of God’s life and will on the plane of human history as witnessed in the life and faith of Israel. It is theology in that it is about the purpose and power of God in what the story characteristically calls the word of God. The story tends to group its varied events and components around four central events – the Exodus from Egypt, the establishment of the monarchy under David at Jerusalem, the purification of Israel by the Word of God in the political defeat at the hands of Assyria, and the fulfillment of Israel’s existence that has never quite come and will yet be seen in the blessing of the families of the earth and the healing of the world’s estrangement.
The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of I and 2 Samuel, by Robert Alter, Norton. 410 pp. $30.00 Robert Alter’s contribution to current scripture studies has been immense and defining. Alter, who is professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, possesses a rare combination of interpretive gifts. He has …
In discussing Old Testament ethics, we are not faced with the usual problem of trying to pick out a consensus from a welter of diverging viewpoints and methods. If only there were such an abundance of careful studies on biblical ethics, we would find ourselves in the luxurious position of highlighting the helpful approaches, discarding …
The Old Testament caricature undoubtedly results from the lack of a critical and nuanced understanding of the scriptural witness. If our concern is peacemaking — particularly the special urgency given that task by the nuclear threat — then we shall have to come to grips with those portions of the biblical witness in which the …
A recent article in the C. S. Lewis Bulletin maintains that while Reflections on the Psalms (Harcourt, 1958) is "one of the lesser known works in the Lewis Canon," it "remains the one book on the Psalms that would satisfy the general reader in our time" (Carol Ann Brown, "Mirrors of Ourselves: Reflections from the …
Ellul closes reflecting on the role of humanity in God’s purpose. This is at the same time both an indictment on a world bent on achievement, as well as a celebration of human freedom as a great gift. At the end of this reflection, Ellul sums up in brief compass a theological review of the tour through Second Kings.
A serious, responsible, comprehensive review of that phenomenal movement which produced such giants in the history of religion as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and that crowning figure of prophetism, the Second Isaiah.
The author has indicated that it is hardly necessary to add that what is written here is not intended as a substitute for an introduction to, a history of, a commentary upon, or a theology of the Old Testament.
The editors and publishers of the Layman’s Bible Commentary series offer a rationale for the series as designed to be a concise non-technical guide for the layman offering helpful explanations of fundamental matters in simple, up-to-date terms that will move its readers to take up the Bible for themselves.
This short introduction to the Old Testament is designed for colleagues in teaching as well as formal and informal students including working clergy persons and lay persons. It is offered to provide help in understanding the text of the Old Testament and seeing the essential continuity of Old and New Testaments.
(ENTIRE BOOK) A careful examination of the prophetic movement from its beginning to its culmination in what is termed “classical prophetism” (800-600 B.C.).
For over a decade the work of Robert Alter, Adele Berlin, and Meir Stemberg1 has offered biblical interpreters and preachers new paths into the narratives of the Hebrew Bible. They have taught us to look closely at characterization, plot, and setting, and, when there is nothing left to see, to look for significance in what …
The Covenant Tradition in Politics, by Daniel J. Elazar; Translation Publishers. Vol 1.; Covenant and Polity in Biblical Israel, 459 pp. $29.95 paperback. Vol. 2; Covenant and Commonwealth, 362 pp. $54.95. Vol. 3; Covenant and Constitutionalism, 271 pp. $54.95. Vol. 4; Covenant and Civil Sociey, 382 pp.paperback, $29.95, $54.95. The past 40 years have been …
Rhetoric and preaching – what do the two have to do with one another? The question is as old as the early church’s concern over the use of pagan practices of oratory. Today, many are wary that the study of ancient and contemporary rhetoric will cause their preaching to become pompous, rigid and loaded with …
The author takes us through some experiences of his own into a world where we must listen and learn about the earth — Word of the Earth. Then turning to Elijah he gives us reason to be concerned, and that conservation of the earth within reason is a must topic along with the Word of God.
In all ages man has believed himself on a secure earth plateau, believing all is well. The fact is exploitation and pollution by the millions of tons each year during the now period. Yet humans are the privileged for they can think and act to preserve the earth, while using it with godly intuition. God gave the earth to man to manage wisely for his own use.
Going back to the original Hebrew, with comparisons to later versions, the author reconstructs events at The Cave, yielding a better understanding of Elijah, and lessons for us today.
People, in large part, determine their own inheritance. That is, what we accept and reject from God, therefore whether we receive a full inheritance from God of all that He offers. The things of the earth, though important, are allowed to dominate.
The author poses a series of questions that relate to all the foregoing book. These then become questions for us.
Sociological criticism addresses long-noticed social features of the biblical text. The single most pervasive subject of the Old Testament traditions is the community of Israel itself. It is equally apparent that Israel lived in differing forms of social organization over its long history: as extended families or clans under patriarchs, as tribes during the period …
(ENTIRE BOOK) Professor Napier provides a beautifully presented chronological survey of the central events, themes, theology and figures of the Old Testament. Very helpful to all students.
The communication situation today The development of electronic technologies for storing and transferring information in the past two generations has been exponential. Things are now being done in electronic communication which once would have been thought impossible. These developments have changed not only the speed and way in which we now communicate: they have also …
(ENTIRE BOOK) A scholarly but non-technical analysis of the Book of Exodus, offering an appreciation of the beginnings of Judaism as well as some commonalities shared by Judaism and Christianity.
Additional reading is recommended from the following list of books, all in English. A number of significant German works are cited in the footnotes. A fuller, annotated English bibliography may be found in Gottwald, A Light to the Nations, pp. 553 ff. Albright, NV. F., From the Stone Age to Christianity, Anchor Edition, Garden City, …
Reading Gabe Fackre’s essay “What Theology Professors Are Teaching” in these pages last year evoked in me a great deal of envy. In a day of diversity and hypercontextualization, he was able to spot areas of common concern in the teaching of systematic theology. And he supported his claim with empirical fact: a survey of …
Paul was a newly minted seminary graduate and not much acquainted with the ways of the world when he arrived at his congregation just in time to conduct the wedding of one of the parish’s leading daughters. He had done well in his Biblical Introduction courses and had exhibited real skill in his worship leadership. …
(ENTIRE BOOK) The author examines the history and context of the Ten Commandments, and suggests their relevance in today’s world.
(ENTIRE BOOK) Schools of interpretation agree and affirm the unique historic significance of the Bible. Coupled with God’s people down through the centuries is revealed the influence of the Hebrew people, and the Bible, on those who interacted with the Hebrews, and remoter cultures surrounding them. From these Old Testament studies come a better understanding of the Hebrews, and therefore the Old Testament.
(ENTIRE BOOK) Second Kings does not come to mind as a source for reflection and insight for a Christian understanding of how a person of faith deals with politics. Nor would most commentators chose to make Elisha the focal figure for such a study. However, Ellul’s treatment furnishes one with a feast of careful analysis and insight for any person of faith seeking guidance in how to live as a Christian in a political world.
For Jewish homileticians, early spring is not a good time. According to the rabbinic cycle of Torah readings, this is when we come down from the great heights of Genesis and Exodus, with their breathtaking perspectives and sweeping visions, and enter the flat and seemingly arid plain of Leviticus. As my Protestant friends sympathetically remind …
The government in ancient Jerusalem was busy doing the things governments do: deploying ambassadors, developing new weapons systems, designing new technologies, dealing with cost overruns, securing more funding, levying taxes and holding press conferences. It was busy pursuing the things that would bring security (or the impression of it): power, money, technology. But the more …
Who, or what, is this Jahwist? Out of what bottle was he released, by whom and for what purpose? Why has he left the arid climes of historical readings of the Bible–a different kind of bottle–to emerge into fuller prominence as a Kafka-cool “J”? What sorts of wishes has he granted in the past, and …
While some of the best known and most loved stories are found in the book of Genesis, congregations can often tune out a sermon or lesson on Genesis with the thought that they are travelling well worn paths. On the other hand, Bible readers regularly find much that leaves them surprised, shocked, or wondering about …
(ENTIRE BOOK) A series of essays, with Elijah as the model, which examine the ministry and the minister.