Song of the Vineyard by B. Davie Napier
B. Davie Napier, at the time of this writing was Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Intepretation at Yale Divinity School. He later became President of Pacific School of Religion. He is a minister of the United Church of Christ and an author of several books on the Old Testament. Song of the Vineyard was published in 1962 by Harper & Row, Publishers. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
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.
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.
Chapter 1: Lord and People
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.
Chapter 2: Lord and World
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.
Chapter 3: Lord and Covenant
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).
Chapter 4: Anarchy
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.
Chapter 5. Monarchy
I and II Samuel were originally one book that was a composite of underlying sources that tell a variety of stories about various personalities.
Chapter 6: Rupture
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.
Chapter 7: Anticipated Judgment: The Eighth Century
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.
Chapter 8. Suspended Judgment: The Seventh Century
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.
Chapter 9. Applied Judgment: The Sixth Century
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.
Chapter 10: The Culmination, Summary, and Projection of Prophetic Faith
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.
Chapter 11. Yahwism Into Judaism
Some of classical prophetism’s persistent themes are sounded again, reinterpreted out of the broadening experiences of the sixth century.
Chapter 12: Tension of Mind and Faith
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.
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