Review of Deuteronomy and the Meaning of Monotheism

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deuteronomy-and-the-meaning-of-monotheismNathan MacDonald. Deuteronomy and the Meaning of “Monotheism.” 2d ed. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 1. Edited by Bernd Janowski, Mark S. Smith, and Hermann Spieckermann. Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen, 2012.

This volume is close to home for me as it is the second edition of the published version of a 2001 dissertation completed under the supervision of my own supervisor Walter Moberly.

The fact that this volume has seen a second edition so soon after the first publication in 2002 is not only an uncommon occurrence for a book of this kind but is a testimony to its overall favorable acceptance by readers. Indeed, this book is not only theologically engaging and biblically attentive, it is also eminently readable.

The book itself is comprised of two prefaces, an introduction, six chapter, and finally a conclusion. The subject of the volume is that of “monotheism,” especially as it relates to key texts in Deuteronomy. MacDonald’s conclusion is that in the book of Deuteronomy, God’s election of Israel over and against other nations finds its counterpart in Israel’s election of YHWH as their one God over and against other gods.

Working toward this conclusion MacDonald discusses several texts within Deuteronomy, but none more than Deut 6:4, which he translates, “Hear O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one.” Arguably there is no verse in the Bible that is used more often to support monotheism. However, before this verse is ever addressed, MacDonald begins with a discussion in chapter 1 on the use and definition of “monotheism.” In this chapter MacDonald demonstrates clearly that the word “monotheism” has a long and colored history, one that is rooted in rationalism. The word “monotheism” was and still is most often used in the negative. In other words, “monotheism” rather than “paganism/polytheism,” or “monotheism” rather than “atheism.” In other words, the word “monotheism” often reflects a rationalistic understanding of religion that pits Christianity’s one God against paganism’s multiple gods and atheism’s rejection of a god.

None of this is to say that these are unhelpful or unimportant distinctions. What MacDonald aims to do, rather, is to test the waters of Deuteronomy to determine whether the biblical text itself reflects this self-same understanding of “monotheism.”

In the end, MacDonald’s evaluation of the relevant biblical texts concludes that Moses in the book of Deuteronomy is more concerned with exhorting Israel to choose to follow YHWH rather than the gods of the other nations. In other words, Deuteronomy is not a text which argues for “monotheism” in the rationalistic sense of the word (i.e., one god vs. many or no gods). Instead, MacDonald posits that Deuteronomy is a text which encourages Israel to love the One God who led them out of bondage and who is now calling them to live faithfully. In other words, as far as Israel is concerned they are to live life as if there are no other gods. In the same way that a husband might tell his wife that she is his “one and only,” Israel is to say to YHWH, “you are my one and only.”

This understanding of “monotheism” understands that there are many other objects (false gods) that are vying for our affection and can draw us away from our devotion to YHWH. This view of “monotheism” also creates a fascinating parallel with the doctrine of election. In the same way that Israel is God’s elect nation, YHWH is Israel’s elect God. In fact, the election of Israel over and against the other nations is a fundamental theme in the book of Deuteronomy (esp. ch. 7). It should not surprise us then that Moses would encourage Israel to elect YHWH as their one true love over and against all other gods.

In the end, this is a fascinating work that represents an important step forward in theology. This book argues convincingly that Deuteronomy is not a book for arguing for the existence of one god rather than many gods but is instead a book which encourages Israel to choose YHWH as its one true God and to live obediently toward this God. These statements must be tempered however by the recognition that this does not in any way undermine the Christian conviction in the singularity of YHWH as the one true and living God; in fact, in most cases, the rationalistic use of the term “monotheism” is still useful today. MacDonald’s work, however, reminds us that there are many false gods that seek to draw us away from our devotion to YHWH, and we must be “monotheistic” in the added sense that we are to be devoted to One God.

 

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Sermon:Psalm 13

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David Appointeth a Band of Singers and Music to Praise the Lord

“David Appointeth a Band of Singers and Music to Praise the Lord” Woodcut by Hans Holbein (c. 1497-1543)

The year is 1812, and William Carey, the founder of modern Protestant missions has been in India for nearly 20 years. It took him seven years before he baptized his first Indian convert to Christianity. It took him as long to learn Bengali and translate the New Testament. Along the way he had written grammars and dictionaries so that others could learn Bengali as well and in order to assist in the translation of the Bible.

Life had already been tough for him and his family, though. He had been sick repeatedly. He had a son die at the age of 5. His wife suffered with mental illness and had even attempted to take William’s life.

Then in 1812, after two decades of work (ultimately after a half of his life in India had elapsed), a fire broke out in the mission’s printing press. All of Carey’s work was destroyed. His original dictionaries and grammars burned without a trace and without any duplicates. Hand-written original Bible translations went up in smoke. Perhaps worst of all, Carey’s custom made, one-of-a-kind printing type had all melted.

What would you do?

How do you respond to hard times and suffering? Continue reading

Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 6)

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forsaken

“Forsaken” Charles Horne and Julius Bewer, The Bible and Its Story, Volume 10 (New York, NY: Francis R. Niglutsch, 1910).

What about Jesus?

But what about the Christian? Admittedly I have spoken here mostly about Israel and Israel’s election as God’s people and Israel’s responsiveness in love to God.

But what does this have to do with the church?

Additionally, how has Christ changed things?

Well as you may already recognize, what we have learned about the nature of history and our response to it is in many ways identical in the New Covenant Era.

For example. Just like Moses’s audience who were not actually at Sinai, we were not at Calvary, nor have we ever seen Jesus.

But what does Jesus tell his apostles in John 20:29

“Blessed are those who believe and have not seen” (John 20:29)

The apostles saw the Lord and they saw the risen Lord. They believed on the basis of what their eyes saw. But we do not yet have that joy. But one day we will.

No, our response to Christ is on the basis of what He did for us. Based upon the testimony that the apostles have given and is written for us.

And yet, there is also a sense in which, through their testimony, and through worship, prayer, and meditation, we can ascend that hill called Calvary.

We can take that journey with Christ. We can take up our crosses alongside Him.

For our life is hidden with Christ.

“Blessed are those who believe and have not seen” (John 20:29)

Like the Israelite, who’s cultural identity places him with those who stood at Sinai, our identity is united with Christ Himself.

For we have been…

  • Crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20)
  • Buried with Christ (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12)
  • Raised with Christ (Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:5–6; Colossians 3:1)
  • We live in Christ (Galatians 2:20)
  • Seated in the heavenlies with Christ (Ephesians 2:4–6)

You see beloved, the past does far more than instruct us on what has happened in days gone by.

It tells us who we are.

You see, when our children and grand-children ask us why we do what we do, why we live the way we live, why we work hard, or confess our sins to one another, or visit friends in need, the answer does not come from within ourselves. It is not because we are nice people or because it is just the polite thing to do, or because it is our habit to live in such a way.

The answer comes from outside of us. The answer is that Christ has done amazing, remarkable (and I mean things worth talking about, things worth meditating upon) for His people. We then invite our children, grand-children, family, friends, everyone to become a part of His people. We invite them to identify with those who are recipients of and respondents to the great mercy of God.

You see, the past, not only tells us who we are, but it is the basis of our response in faith to the Lord.

What has the Lord done for us?

Not only has he come to live as an example for us, but he supremely came to reconcile us to God on the cross and secure our eternal security on Easter Sunday.

I dare say, that this is not new knowledge.

But let us not forget. Let us make it fresh in our minds. Let us go to Calvary and see Him there.

Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 5)

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Moses

“The Song of Moses” Charles Horne and Julius Bewer, The Bible and Its Story, Volume 2 (New York, NY: Francis R. Niglutsch, 1910).

Fourth, WE TOO NEED TO LEARN TO RESPONDING APPROPRIATELY (vv. 39-40)

What is the result of all of this? What conclusion is to be drawn from these claims and from this theologically oriented interpretation of history?

Moses tells us in vv. 39-40, which in the Hebrew is the conclusion.

know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”

What is the proper response to the knowledge that the Lord is the Lord over all: that He has assigned the created order to the nations, but has chosen Israel out of all the nations to be his special inheritance?

What is the proper response to the knowledge that the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt?

What is the proper response to the fact that the Lord has made a covenant with each and every generation of Israel?

What is the proper response to the recognition that the way one treats the Lord’s commands is a reflection of the way one treats the Lord himself?

The proper response is 1) right thinking and 2) loving obedience.

1) First, note the strong theological statement in v. 39.

“So acknowledge today and take to heart that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.”

The statement is remarkable, among other reasons, because Moses makes this a conclusion of God’s revelation to Israel through history and through his sovereignty over the nations.

The similar statement in v. 35 confirms this: Why did the Lord bring Israel out of Egypt with great signs and wonders? So that He might make Himself known to Israel.

This we know, both from the Old Testament and the New Testament, that God has revealed Himself in a general way to the whole world both through His creation and through His actions. But is this enough? NO.

2) For second, we note in v. 40 that Israel is to respond to what it has seen and experience with obedience. Israel has been selected from all the nations to receive the revelation of the Lord.

And yet it is all too easy here to fall into the trap of commanding obedience for the sake of blessing or out of fear of reprisal. We should instead, here, understand obedience as the proper response to the Lord because it shows a receptivity to God’s love and grace and a responsiveness of love.

For to obey God is an act of love.

What is the reason for obedience in this chapter of Deut?

It is not blessing.

It is not out of obligation.

It is not out of fear.

All of these are present within this chapter, no doubt.

But no, the overwhelming reason for obedience according to this chapter is that obedience is the proper response to what God has already done for Israel. What has he done?

The Lord has made His commandments and Himself known to Israel.

1) He is offering to have a relationship with Israel. How remarkable it was when the Lord revealed His name to Moses. This is His essence and identity. He then at Sinai descended upon the Mountain to make himself known to the entire nation. Then on top of that, he entered into the Tabernacle so that he might even dwell among his people.

2) He also gave Israel a collection of laws and statutes by which they should live and worship him. We saw in vv. 1-8 that there is a connection between how someone treats the Lord and how someone treats his commandments are related.

The Lord is offering Israel Himself and His laws.

Take it or leave it.

If Israel takes it, there is blessing in store. If Israel leaves it, there are curses in store. The good life, the blessed life, the full life is to be found in responding to God’s actions by choosing to be in relationship with Him and choosing to obey his commands.

 

Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 4)

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Hear, O Israel

“Hear, O Israel” by Charles Horne and Julius Bewer, The Bible and Its Story, Volume 2 (New York, NY: Francis R. Niglutsch, 1910).

Third, WE MUST INTERPRET THE PAST THROUGH A THEOLOGICAL LENS (vv. 15–38)

What do I mean by this title?

Well, let’s take a look at what Moses says in vv. 15–38

His statements can be summed up in vv. 15–16

15 Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female,…”

Isn’t that amazing! Listen, when God gives the second commandment that forbids idols, he does so on the grounds that he is a jealous God. God never says, “you shall not make idols because I am a spirit and have no form which can be copied.”

We take this for granted, but this is something that Moses interprets from the historical event. That is not something that should be missed or passed over quickly. In fact this entire section of Moses’s speech is filled with theologically oriented interpretations of the events at Sinai.

In vv. 19–20 Moses does it again.

19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.”

Did you catch that?

  1. First he says that the hosts of heaven have been given to the nations as an inheritance for their worship.
  2. Then he says that Israel had been given to the Lord as His inheritance.

This shows us the vital importance of interpreting the past through the lens of God’s revelation, in the light of God’s character, on the basis of his word.

In this case, Moses tells Israel, “You should not be surprised when other nations worship the created order, but that is not who you are. The Lord rescued you from the furnace of trials that was your life in Egypt. He brought you out and your identity is the people of God. You belong to him. Your devotion belongs to him.”

Moses does the same in vv. 32–38

He calls upon Israel to consider the past, “Has any other people heard the voice of God and lived?” “Has any other god brought his people out of slavery?”

The answer of course is “no.”

But why does he ask?

Because he wants to teach Israel how to interpret the past theologically. He wants Israel to learn to ask important questions about the nature of the past and their part in it.

He wants the nation to learn to think about what God has done for them and how to respond correctly. Which is our last point.

 

Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 3)

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Mount Sinai

Mt. Sinai

Second, WE NEED TO LEARN THE NATURE OF THE PAST

There are two features that interest us here.

1) First, Not seeing is not not believing (vv. 9–14)

In order to understand the power of Moses’s message to Israel in Deut 4, it is important to recognize one important thing: As depicted by the text, the vast majority of Moses’s audience here was not alive when Israel stood at the foot of the mountain. 

We know this, don’t we? We know this because we remember the importance of that rebellion at Kadesh Barnea when Israel, incited by the bad report from 10 of the spies, rebelled against the Lord and refused to enter the good land that God was giving to them.

You remember how the Lord said in Numbers 14 that not one of that generation from 20 years old and upward who grumbled against Him would be allowed to enter into the land. You remember how Israel suddenly had a change of heart, (didn’t they?), and tried to enter the land. But they were rebuffed. They were defeated and were forced to wander through the wilderness until that generation was dead.

And this fact is also essential to the book of Deuteronomy as well. For in Deut 1, Moses reminds the nation of this event with these words from God:

“Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers…”

To make this point even more clear, he notes in 2:14 that,

“the time that it took for us to come from Kadesh-barnea, until we crossed over the brook Zered, was thirty-eight years; until all the generation of the men of war perished from within the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them. 15 “Moreover the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from within the camp, until they all perished.”

Why am I telling you this?

Why is this important?

Well let’s have a look at how Moses speaks to Israel? Let me read it again!

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— 10 how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ 11 And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14 And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.”

Moses take this generation that is made up of people that were not there or were too young to understand these events and he places them in the shoes of their parents.

He says that these are events that they saw with their eyes.

They saw the smoke and the fire and the dark darkness

He says that they heard the voice of God speaking with them.

They heard the very words of God speaking the words of the covenant.

Deuteronomy is very special in this presentation of Israel actually hearing the voice of God. Exodus presents it as a conversation between God and Moses, but Deuteronomy makes this event appeal to the imagination of Israel by putting Israel there.

Moses take this generation that is made up of people that were not there or were too young to understand these events and he places them in the shoes of their parents.

In Deut 5:3–7, Moses says that,

“The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, while I was standing between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain. He said, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Did you catch that?

Moses says that it was actually not with the fathers that God made this covenant, but with this generation that was standing on the banks of the Jordan. He also puts this generation at the Mountain where they, not their fathers, hear the Lord say, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Of course, it was not this generation that was slaves in Egypt, but their parents.

In other words, what is taking place is that Moses is speaking to a nation with a collective identity. What God does for one generation, he does for all generations. God’s covenant people have a collective identity.

He says, in ch. 29: “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day.”

This means that no future generation can say that this covenant does not require their obedience because they weren’t there. Instead, the Lord makes this covenant with every generation. Every generation can essentially say that they were there. That they saw the fire and smoke. That they heard the voice of the Lord and that they entered into the covenant with the Lord.

2) Second, the past is worth teaching!

The second thing that I want us to see in vv. 9-14 is the twice repeated command to teach children. In the first case, it is a command to teach the children about the events at Sinai. In the second case, it is a command to teach the children to fear the Lord, that is, to respect and trust him.

Why are these commands so important?

Why is it so important to remember what happened?

Because so much of our faith and obedience is based 0n responding to what God has done for us.

When God is loving and gracious to his covenant people, it is not so as to put us in His debt, but because he seeks to establish a relationship with us. The Lord is kind and gracious. He acts out of love towards those with whom he desires to be in a relationship. We his people respond out of gratitude in a loving response.

History works in this way: each generation of Israelites can tell their children, “This is what God did for us. We were slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out and made a covenant with us, and that includes you son.”

Each generation of Israelite can say, “The Lord has been gracious to me, therefore I will be faithful to Him.”

But there is more to learn from Moses’s discussion of the past, which we will take up next time.

 

Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 2)

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Moses Rehearseth

“Moses Rehearseth the Story of Israel’s Passage through the Wilderness” Woodcut by Hans Holbein (c. 1497-1543)

First, LET US RECOGNIZE THE COMMAND: Treat God and his Commands with Reverence (vv. 1–8)

The main point in this portion of the text is that there is a connection between how someone treats God’s commandments and how someone treats God Himself.

Let’s take a look at the text. In vv. 1 and 2 we have the explicit command to listen to the statutes and the ordinances and to obey them.

1And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.”

But more than that, Israel is commanded not to add to them or take away from them. God has given them all that they require to live in the land that He is giving to them.

Then we have vv. 3 and 4.

Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today.”

We all remember what happened there don’t we.

Numbers 25 tells us what happened. While Israel was camped at a place called Shittim, Israel was enticed by the Moabites to “yoke” themselves with Baal. At the end of the day 24,000 Israelites were dead who had “yoked” themselves to Baal.

We then learn in Deut 3:29 that Israel is currently standing “in the valley opposite the House of Peor.” In other words, they are still standing in the vicinity of where this mass idolatry took place.

Imagine it: Moses can literally point to the place where this event took place and say, “Yours are the eyes that saw what the Lord did there to those who followed after Baal, how he destroyed them.”

“But you” he says, “who held fast to the Lord are alive today.”

“They followed after Baal and are dead. But you held fast to the Lord and are alive.”

Why does Moses remind Israel right now of Baal Peor?

Well notice that it comes right after the command to keep the laws and right before a promise that these laws and these statutes are the nation’s wisdom in the sight of the nations.

This creates a parallel between how Israel treats the Lord’s commands and how Israel treats the Lord himself. In other words adding to or taking away from the words of the Lord is like following after Baal, whereas preserving and obeying the words of the Lord is like holding fast to the Lord.

In the end, the former leads ultimately to death.

The latter leads to life.

But more than merely physical life, God promises Israel life to the fullest. He offers them a blessed life, the good life.

He promises them that despite their small size and wealth, they will be the envy of all the nations. Why?

  1. Because Israel will be a wise and discerning nation
  2. And because Israel has a God that is near and who hears when Israel calls upon Him.

And there are those two elements once again: God’s laws and God Himself. You see, God is not just giving Israel a body of laws. No, He is also offering Himself. He is offering to be near to His people.

God is not some far off creator who set the world into motion and stood back to watch. Nor is he some authoritarian dictator who gives laws and enjoys watching his people fail so that he can punish them.

No, He is a God who is close. He is near to His people. He offers Himself. He gives Himself. He gives law and instruction, but they are part and parcel to His self-revelation and self-giving.

You see, God is not just giving Israel a body of laws. No, He is also offering Himself. He is offering to be near to His people.

He is offering Israel a life that is governed by a relationship with Him through adherence to His laws. This is the good life. Not just life, but blessedness. Of all the other possibilities, of all the other nations, Israel is elect and blessed with righteous and just laws and with a God who is near.

What a remarkable blessing this is. Other nations could never be sure that their God could hear them or wanted to act. But Israel knows that their God is near. Israel knows that their God hears. Israel knows that their God can and does act in history. But we must first understand the nature of history.

 

Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 1)

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Introduction

How do we pass on our faith to the next generations?

Ok…I realize that I am the youngster in the room, but let me be honest with you. As soon as my wife Beth and I started having children, I could not escape this one nagging question: How can I pass on this faith that was “once for all delivered to the saints” to my sons? That consuming question is why I am studying the Book of Deuteronomy for my PhD. That question is why I am studying our passage today for my PhD. I was desperate to know what the Bible has to tell us about how we can participate as parents in the work of God to make Himself known to the world and to redeem sinners for His glory.

ANE family

ANE Family

At the same time, however, we know from Scripture that God is sovereign in salvation. And yet, God has chosen to use us. God has equipped and commissioned His church to make disciples. For when Jesus told his disciple, “As you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that I am commanding you,” he prefaced this with, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me,” and he concluded it with “I am with you always.” He has commanded us and equipped us to participate in His work of redemption and reconciliation.

So what does this all have to do with our text this evening? Well, quite a bit actually. Let’s begin by establishing some important context for our text.

 

Setting the Scene

As you know, Deuteronomy is a series of speeches to the Israelites on the banks of the Jordan River on the Plains of Moab. Moses does not know exactly when he will die, but he does know that he will not be crossing over the Jordan with Israel. He knows that he will die in the wilderness without entering the land to which he has led the nation.

For this reason, many interpreters have called Deuteronomy a series of sermons. Moses is preoccupied with the question with which I have been preoccupied: How can I help pass on this faith to the next generation?

For Moses, he knows that the stakes are extremely high. Moses has been with the nation from the beginning. He has led Israel to Mount Sinai, he received the laws and communicated them to the nation. He oversaw the building of the Tabernacle where God descended and dwelt among his people. He interceded for the nation when God wanted to wipe it out and start over. He led them through the wilderness for nearly 40 years. And now they are on the edge of the Promised Land.

Moses addresses the nation for the purpose of changing their hearts. He calls upon the nation to choose YHWH. He calls upon Israel to respond to the Lord’s loving acts toward Israel by living obediently out of a grateful heart.

Moses knows the hearts of the people. He knows that they are stiff necked (9:6). He knows that they do not have a heart to know, or ears to hear, or eyes to see (29:4). He knows that they will not walk in the ways of the Lord forever. He knows that Israel will turn to idols and be punished by the Lord.

So what does Moses do about it?

Moses addresses the nation for the purpose of changing their hearts. He calls upon the nation to choose YHWH. He calls upon Israel to respond to the Lord’s loving acts toward Israel by living obediently out of a grateful heart.

You see, the entire book of Deuteronomy is built on the understanding that the past matters, that the past should influence the present. This is evident all over the book of Deuteronomy, but it can be easily seen in 10:12-16 where Moses follows a discussion of what happened at Sinai with these words:

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

You see, the past matters. God’s love for us in the past matters to the present. We love God because he first loved us do we not?

This is the theme for our message this evening. And although much more could be said about Deuteronomy 4, our focus tonight is Moses as a teacher and what he can show us about how to think about the past well, and by extension, how we can teach others to think about the past. What can we learn from the past and how? Additionally how should we respond to the past?

We will proceed with the following headings:

1) The Command (vv. 1–8)

2) The Nature of the Past (vv. 9–14)

3) Interpreting the Past (15–38)

4) Responding to the Past (39–40)

 

Review of The Old Testament by Richard Hess

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9780801037146Richard Hess, The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016). xiv + 801 pp. Hb. US $49.99. ISBN: 9780801037146.

Richard Hess has published a great deal in the area of Israelite religion as well as the ancient Near Eastern context in which Israel existed. Thus, it is not surprising to learn of this new and ambitions project: a comprehensive introduction to the Old Testament.

Hess is professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and is firmly situated within the broad evangelical camp. He has degrees from Wheaton College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Hebrew Union College (PhD). He is also a full and active member of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Whereas these qualifications in the past might have branded Hess as a certain kind of Evangelical, the landscape of Evangelicalism as changed quite a bit over the years. Hess is unquestionably a firm believer, committed to interpreting the Scriptures for the life and wellbeing of the church, but he does not always take the traditional view of date and authorship. However, it must be said that he is on the whole more conservative than most biblical scholars. He often defends the unity of books, though, for example with Isaiah and Daniel, Hess does not subscribe to single authorship.

The text itself is helpfully structured. It contains an introduction and a chapter for each book of the Old Testament. The book contains black and white illustrations throughout and also has a centrally located quire of four glossy pages with full color pictures.

The introduction covers very important topics that, in my experience, are all too often left unaddressed in introductory classes. These topics include the various textual witnesses to the Old Testament. This issue very helpfully segways into other important issues such as the shape and scope, as well as the formation process, of our canon. These issues are particularly challenging in the field of Old Testament study, but are nonetheless essential for students to consider.

The chapters themselves are also very helpfully organized, and Hess provides much for the reader. He begins with an outline and summary of each book and then moves on to inform the reader as to the history of interpretation in specific modes of reading. He begins this survey with Premodern Readings and then moves on to Higher Criticism (a term that critical scholars no longer use), Literary Readings, Gender and Ideological Readings, Ancient Near Eastern Context, and Canonical Context. In almost every case, Hess presents these interpretive approaches and concludes by assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Part of the reason for this is to avoid isolating his readership and avoid controversy. Another aspect is that such an approach allows instructors to teach what they want without having to compete with Hess.

The intended audience for this book is clearly university and seminary students. Indeed, it is perfectly formatted for such an application. Its survey approach and wide scope of material will also be a welcome aspect for many Old Testament instructors. This strength is also its greatest weakness. It is so broad, that it is not very deep. The text will serve well as an introduction to the whole Old Testament, but the footnotes are barely adequate and would not serve the student well as a first step in research.

Hess has undoubtedly provided evangelicals with an immensely accessible and helpful book. He addresses each book of the Old Testament in turn and gives due treatment to all. Hess should be commended for addressing such a wide range of interpretive background for each Old Testament book, and this information will no doubt prove helpful to many students. More conservative evangelicals will struggle with his acceptance of many critical theories of composition, however the instructor will find in Hess a breadth that is unmatched in this decade.

Review of Two German OT Introductions

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RomerThomas Römer, Jean-Daniel Macchi, and Christophe Nihan, eds., Einleitung in das Alte Testament: Die Bücher der Hebräischen Bibel und die alttestamentlichen Schriften der katholischen, protestantischen und orthodoxen Kirchen. Trans. by Christine Henschel, Julia Hillebrand, and Wolfgang Hüllstrung. Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2013. xiv + 888 pp. Hb. € 62.

 

 

 

Christian einleitung 9th edFrevel, et al. eds., Einleitung in das Alte Testament. 9th edition. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 2016. 728 pp. Pb. € 34.

 

 

How can a biblical scholar stay abreast of current trends in research? To draw out the specific challenges that I have in mind, allow me to ask the question a bit more pointedly, how can specialists in wisdom literature remain informed about discussions and developments in pentateuchal studies? The challenge is obvious, yet it remains a genuine obstacle that shows no sign of reversal: the rate of publishing is staggering and anyone attempting to stay informed can feel overcome with texts. The challenge becomes even more pronounced when we consider how language and geographical divides act as barriers to the exchange of ideas.

In the present review, which focuses on the field of Old Testament study, I hope simply to argue for the value of consulting German introductions to the Old Testament and inform the reader of two recent contributions to the genre.

In the first case, allow me to state the obvious: introductions to the Bible are meant to be reader-friendly overviews of key issues and major themes. Introductions are especially helpful when reading up on a field in which you are not a specialist as they provide great refreshers on all of the essential information that you forgot after seminary or your first graduate course. Additionally, if you are a bit out of touch with a particular field, introductions offer helpful bibliographic information that is, in theory, up-to-date. This feature of introductions is especially helpful in recent years as the proliferation of publications has become unmanageable.

Introductions also become a valuable method for keeping abreast of developments in other academic contexts. In pentateuchal scholarship, for example, a number of important projects have been launched or recently completed that have as their goal the building of dialog between different schools of thought and geographic regions. Over the years, the English, German, and Hebrew speaking worlds have gradually moved beyond previously held “consensus” views in importantly distinct ways.

Let us consider an example: If an American New Testament scholar were keen to understand development in the pentateuchal research within the German speaking world, he/she could pick up the recent Mohr Siebeck volume The Formation of the Pentateuch, but this would likely provide more information than the average New Testament scholar’s passing interest justifies.

Instead, our imagined New Testament scholar might consider picking up the latest German language introduction written for the undergraduate level. Not only does this guarantee an overview of the history of scholarship, but it will do so at a reading level that more readily accommodates our American scholar. At the risk of painting with too broad a brush, German biblical scholars are usually very thorough when it comes to literature reviews, and I have found this to be the case with the present introductions in view. Such literature reviews are invaluable in the case of foreign research contexts as they will often discuss scholarship that has not yet made its way into English translations or else the debate has remained contained within the German realm.

The first introduction in mind is a German translation of the French volume Introduction à l’Ancien Testament (2d. ed.; Geneva: Editions Labor et Fides, 2009). Although originally published in French, many of the contributors are Germans, thus we can still consider this a German introduction, however with the added benefit of encompassing the worlds of French and Swiss scholarship. As a Deuteronomy specialist, it was Thomas Römer that first attracted me to this introduction, as he makes the contribution to the chapters on the overview of pentateuchal research and the Deuteronomistic History. The book also has such esteemed contributors as Martin Rose, Konrad Schmid, and Christoph Uehlinger.

As the German subtitle suggests, a particularly noteworthy feature of this volume is the attention given to the Deuterocanonical and Pseudopigriphal texts, not a common feature in most American and British introductions to the Old Testament. Further, the books of the Protestant Old Testament are organized employing the traditional divisions of the Tanakh: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Within each of these literary divisions, the editors have provided an introduction to discuss major interpretive issues and the history of scholarship. For example, Römer has excellent introductions to the Pentateuch, the Deuteronomistic History, and the wisdom literature; Schmid introduces the form and genre of the Latter Prophets; Macchi introduces the Book of the Twelve; and Christoph Nihan introduces Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. These have proven to be very helpful contributions again and again.

The second introduction that I wish to discuss is the Kohlhammer Einleitung in das Alte Testament. Without a doubt, this introduction is a standard text for German undergraduate students (especially within the Catholic tradition), evidenced by the fact that this is now the ninth edition since 1995. Begun under the editorial supervision of Erich Zenger, it has since his death, passed into capable hands of Christian Frevel. Like the previous introduction, this volume has all of the features that you would expect from an Introduction to the Old Testament: discussions of canon, textual criticism, and an overview of the content and research history of each book of the Old Testament. It also contains a helpful glossary of key terms and a timeline of Israel/Palestine in biblical times.

The text only discusses the books of the Protestant Bible (including Apocrypha) and does so according to the following genres: Pentateuch, Historical, Wisdom, and Prophetic. This organization reflects the German context in which those students studying theology in their undergraduate course will have the specific intention of entering the local parish ministry of the Lutheran or Catholic churches. The overall emphasis is on reading from a Christian perspective, although the specific hermeneutic that is demonstrated within the text is decidedly historical and not explicitly Christian.

In all, these volume are eminently readable and have proven useful for my research on numerous occasions. Such volumes are excellent ways to refresh one’s understanding of key interpretive issues, as well as to learn of recent developments in biblical studies. These texts also demonstrate a growing attempt within the world of biblical studies to stem the tide of new form-critical and redaction-critical theories and instead move toward a sustained period of synthesis and re-evaluation. Accordingly, these volumes not only act as surveys, but as serious efforts to examine the history of Old Testament scholarship and to make claims about what has been helpful and what has not.