Tag Archives: Old Testament

“There’s a Psalm for That”

In our highly technological age, we often assume that any problem can be tackled with a computer program, mobile app, or invention.  And we certainly have seen a number of needs addressed.  I use my phone on a daily basis for easy access to an alarm clock, camera, calendar, and, oh, yes, a telephone (but there are also apps that will let me use it as a level with a virtual bubble, print wirelessly, play games, watch videos, listen to my music collection, check my bank account, etc.).  For so many things that a person would like to do…. “There’s an App for That” ™ (literally ™ – Trademarked by Apple in 2010, but my phone happens to be Android, for what it’s worth).

In our highly technological age, we often forget to interact with a resource that deals with virtually any spiritual problem with struggle with.  And we certainly have a number of them.  Confusion, depression, anxiety, and fear, as well as thankfulness, joy, and celebration are all dealt with in this resource.  For so many things that we as sinners struggle with…  Yes, it’s in the Bible.  But even more specifically, there is one book that is especially suited to the whole range of human emotions.  Whatever your situation, however you feel…. “There’s a Psalm for That” (and yes, I realize others have thought of this adaptation of the catchphrase).

In many ways, the book of Psalms is the “app store” of the Bible, a place you can go and search for God-inspired material about what you are going through.  You can tell by the New Testament “ratings” (69 quotations versus 51 for the next most quoted Old Testament book, Isaiah, out of 263 total citations), which include use by Jesus and the apostles, that the Psalms ought to be used by Christians (not that we shouldn’t use the rest of the Old Testament and the Bible!).

Feeling far from God but looking for hope?  Check out Psalms 42 & 43.  Struggling with fear?  Psalm 27.  Expressing thanks?  Psalm 106 and 107.  Got contentment?  Psalm 23.  Oppressed by enemies?  Psalm 55.  Want to praise the Lord with music?  Psalm 150.  Facing a crisis where it feels like your world is falling apart?  Psalm 46 (God is our refuge and strength – a very present help in trouble, even though the earth be removed and the mountains quake!).  This is not an exhaustive list.  There are 150 Psalms that cover the whole range of human emotions – yours to download, peruse, pray, sing, read, apply – no credit card information required.

With this being said, it would not be fair to characterize the Psalms as band-aids or quick fixes for our problems.  But sometimes the Psalm is the medicine for the situation (and we may have to take it multiple doses!).  Other times, the psalm helps us to trust the Great Physician for His wisdom and timing in placing us in that situation or helps us to wait on Him to remove the problem in His appointed way and time.

In the preface to his commentary on the Psalms, John Calvin wrote (and this quote is worth citing and reading in full):

I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated. The other parts of Scripture contain the commandments which God enjoined his servants to announce to us. But here the prophets themselves, seeing they are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particulars in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and of the many vices with which we abound, may remain concealed. It is certainly a rare and singular advantage, when all lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light, purged from that most baneful infection, hypocrisy. In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in The Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine. Genuine and earnest prayer proceeds first from a sense of our need, and next, from faith in the promises of God. It is by perusing these inspired compositions, that men will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies, and, at the same time, instructed in seeking remedies for their cure. In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book. And not only are the promises of God presented to us in it, but oftentimes there is exhibited to us one standing, as it were, amidst the invitations of God on the one hand, and the impediments of the flesh on the other, girding and preparing himself for prayer: thus teaching us, if at any time we are agitated with a variety of doubts, to resist and fight against them, until the soul, freed and disentangled from all these impediments, rise up to God; and not only so, but even when in the midst of doubts, fears, and apprehensions, let us put forth our efforts in prayer, until we experience some consolation which may calm and bring contentment to our minds.

Struggling with something in your life?  Feel far from God?  Need to rejoice?  There’s a Psalm for that.

Peeling Back the Veneer of Bad Hermeneutics to Display the Old Testament as a Glorious Masterpiece: a Review of Jesus on Every Page

ImageDavid Murray, Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013).  246pp., including study questions, end notes, and Scripture and subject indices.  Review by Doug Smith.

The author, Dr. David Murray, is professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  For me, reading Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament is like looking at a piece of antique furniture covered with multiple layers of veneer.  As I read through the book, layer after layer of veneer was stripped off until a beautiful original masterpiece sparkled in dazzling glory.  At least four layers come to mind as modern obstacles to reading the Old Testament as a work about Jesus.

Peeling Back Layer 1:  We Can See an Approach That Is Biblical

The book shows an approach that is modeled in the Bible itself, although this method of interpretation is often hidden by layers of academic “scholarship” that sometimes asserts as truisms rules such as “one cannot use the New Testament to interpret the Old Testament.”  Dr. Murray shows, from the Scriptures, that Jesus and the apostles had other ideas, as they believed that the Old Testament spoke of Him (John 5:46; Luke 24:27, 44), and Old Testament authors such as David knew it (Acts 2:25-31; cf. Psalm 16:8-11).  Whether law, prophecy, poetry, promises, or wisdom literature, Jesus is shown to be the focus of the whole Old Testament.

Peeling Back Layer 2:  We Can See an Approach That Is Balanced

We must not avoid the ditch of denying that the Old Testament is about Jesus, when the New Testament clearly demonstrates that it is, but must also avoid the ditch of seeing Jesus in ways that abuse the true intention of the text.  Some have failed to see the richness of the Old Testament’s witness to Jesus because fanciful allegorizations that toss away the historical significance of the text have deterred them.

Chapter Thirteen, “Christ’s Pictures,” is especially helpful in its treatment of typology, which some view with suspicion due to some flagrant abuses in interpretation. The author warns of getting to Jesus “through various unpredictable leaps of logic and irrationality” (137) and offers a constructive definition of typology:  “a type is a real person, place, object, or event that God ordained to act as a predictive pattern or resemblance of Jesus’ person and work, or of opposition to both” (138). Types must also have a fulfillment that is enlarged, clarified, and heightened in Christ (148).

The careful definition and explanation of the typology in the BIble helps guard against abuse, but should also give us confidence that there are types beyond the ones explicitly identified as such, so that we should not be ashamed to see people like Joseph as real historical figures who prefigured Christ’s work of redemption:  “Limiting ourselves only to explicit types would mean that while minor characters such as Melchizedek and JOnah are types because they are identified as such in the New Testament, major biblical personalities such as Joseph and Joshua are not” (140).

Peeling Back Layer 3:  We Can See an Approach That Is Accessible

For some, seeing Christ in the Old Testament is obscured a thick overcoat of seemingly cold, complicated jargon.  This book’s personal, simple approach makes it easily accessible.  Dr. Murray begins the book with his personal journey on the “Emmaus Road,” which would lead him to wonderful vistas of seeing Christ in the Old Testament.  It is encouraging to hear that, just as this doesn’t come easily to many of us, that the author is a fellow traveler who has been changed on the journey and is passionate to share that experience.

Furthermore, the book uses a simple, popular style to treat a subject that has been handled academically.  While there is a place for technical, exhaustive treatments, the Lord has richly blessed us with a resource that covers the main topics, gives practical suggestions and examples, is relatively brief (just over 200 pages of generously sized and spaced font) and is not hard to digest.

Make no mistake – the burden of this book is to radical alter conventional thinking about the Old Testament, but it is possibly to be helpful and persuasive without limiting oneself to an audience of specialists.

By “putting the cookies on the bottom shelf,” as some have described similar approaches, the author has produced a work that is useful for the average individual as well as the pastor or the scholar with more training in academic literature.

Peeling Back Layer 4:  We Can See an Approach That Is Full of Faith

For some, the main obstacle to seeing Jesus in the Old Testament is a veneer over their own hearts; a veil that separates them from seeing clearly because of their unbelief.  This book demonstrates faith in God, in the words of Jesus, in the words of the Holy Spirit communicated through the prophets and apostles – a faith that turns on the lights, and without which we can only see shadows in the Old Testament.

This is a veneer that only the Holy Spirit can pull back (2 Corinthians 3), and I pray God will place this book in the hands of some that will read these Scriptures with a new understanding for the first time, and put their faith in Christ.

In addition, this book has some other uses I can commend.  For students taking a Bible class in college, particularly an Old Testament one, it could be a great tool for a potential scenario where the professor (even if conservative) may advocate a method of Old Testament interpretation that downplays the New Testament.  The man or woman in the pew would be edified by reading this work, and could get more out of their Old Testament Bible reading as a result.  This would also be a great textbook – I hope to use it in my teaching of Bible study methods to adults (definitely the next time I teach a CAPS hermeneutics class!), as well as a high school Old Testament survey class.  Bible professors and pastors should eagerly ingest this book.  As I am preparing to go share God’s Word as a guest speaker this weekend, I have more passion and clarity in my mind about this topic as a result of reading this book, and a desire to continue learning and seeing Jesus in His Word — all of it, New Testament and Old.  I highly commend this book, and if you order before today is over, you get a generous helping of resources to help in your study ($100 value for free, including Dr. Murray’s Old Testament lecture notes, video series on Christ as the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, and more).

You can buy the book here if you want a hard copy, or here if you prefer the Kindle version.  I also encourage you to check out Dr. Murray’s blog at headhearthand.org.

Thanks, Dr. Murray, for your part in helping to strip off the veneer to display the beauty of the Old Testament.


I received a digital review copy of this book from the author, with the freedom to give it an honest review, which I have done.

Habakkuk Overview (Outline)

Wordle: Habakkuk

TRUSTING GOD IN TROUBLESOME TIMES

Habakkuk’s Message of Hope

I. Take Your Perplexities to God (1:1-2:1)

A. with alarm over unchecked sin (1:1-4) (Our prayers suffer when we are unconcerned.)

1. in our country

2. in our church

3. in our selves

B. with amazement at God’s sovereignty (1:5-11) (Our prayers suffer when we are unimpressed with God.)

C. with awareness of God’s character (1:12-17)  (Our prayers suffer when we are not gripped by God’s character.)

D. with anticipation for God’s answer (2:1)  (Our prayers suffer when we are proud, stubborn, and impatient concerning God’s answer.)

II. Think Upon the Payday of God (2:2-20)

A. Consider the vision God reveals (2:2-3)

1. Its transmission – written and plain

2. Its trustworthiness (cf. Hebrews 10:37-38)

B. Consider the verdict God renders (2:4)

1. On those who trust in themselves

2. On those who trust in God (cf. Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38)

C. Consider the vengeance God repays (2:5-20)

1. Description of the wicked (2:5)

2. Declaration against the wicked:  five woes – catalog of wrongs & corresponding retribution (2:6-20)

a. First set of woes

i. Plunder (2:6-8)

ii. Self-exaltation (2:9-11)

iii. Oppression (2:12-14)

b. But God’s glory will cover the earth (2:14)

c. Second set of woes

iv. Exploitation (2:15-17)

v. Idolatry (2:18-20)

d. But God is in His holy temple – let all be silent (2:20)

III. Triumph in the Person of God (3:1-19)

A. Plead with God in supplication (3:1-2)

1. Pray for revival

2. Pray for mercy

B. Praise God for His supremacy (3:3-15)

1. Remember His sovereignty over nature and nations

2. Remember His salvation for His people

C. Pursue God for satisfaction (3:16-19)

1. Recognize that circumstances are not guaranteed

2. Rejoice in the character of God

a. Rejoice in His salvation

b. Rejoice in His strength

Resources for Preaching Isaiah 53

If there is any one passage in the Old Testament which seems to
the Christian heart to be a prophecy of the redeeming work of Christ, it is that matchless fifty-third chapter of Isaiah.  We read it today, often even in preference to New Testament passages, as setting forth the atonement which our Lord made for the sins of others upon the cross.  Never, says the simple Christian, was there a prophecy made more gloriously plain.”

– J. Gresham Machen (quoted in E. J. Young, Isaiah Fifty-Three: a Devotional and Expository Study)

I am presently in the middle of a series, preaching through Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – the fourth of four “Servant Songs/Psalms” in Isaiah, this being the one about Jesus the Messiah as the suffering Servant.  This is a glorious passage, well worth our time to study and share.  The heart of the gospel is revealed here, even in the Old Testament, as we read the passage in the context of God’s plan of redemption, unfolded in the Bible.  [UPDATE: I finished preaching this series today — although I certainly did not exhaust the passage; I hope to return to it someday.  Click here if you would like to view sermon notes and listen to or download audio mp3 files from the series.]

Due to the limited nature of my present study, I have not attempted to access very many works concerning that text.  However, I would like to compile a list of helpful resources for the benefit of others and possibly for my own benefit (I would love to study and preach this passage again sometime!).  Below are some resources I have found useful in this study.  If you have studied this passage and found useful helps, please share them by leaving a comment.

These resources are in alphabetical order by author/speaker:

  • Mark Dever, Sermon: “Crushed for Our Iniquities” (this link takes you to a page where you can download the free mp3 audio file) – click here to view or download Dever’s sermon manuscript (complete with his handwritten modifications)
  • Peter Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)” – scholarly article by noted Old Testament & Hebrew scholar
  • Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey & Andrew Sach. Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007) Pages 52-67 contain an excellent discussion of this passage, and extremely helpful book on the subject of substitutionary atonement.  Highly recommended.
  • F. Duane Lindsey, The Servant Songs: a Study in Isaiah (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985) (compilation of articles originally published in theological journal Bibliotheca Sacra – you can access much of this content by searching at http://faculty.gordon.edu/search/search.cfm) Click here to access the relevant material on Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in a pdf file or click here to view it as a webpage.
  • John MacArthur, The Murder of Jesus (Nashville: Word, 2000) – while not properly a commentary on Isaiah 53 (it covers materials from the gospels), it provides good illustrations of the extremities of pain suffered by Jesus (that Isaiah prophesied about), as well explanations of the kangaroo court that fulfilled the text
  • Arthur B. Walton, Portraits of Christ in Isaiah (Schaumburg, Illinois: Regular Baptist Press, 1995) – Adult Student Book – a remarkably meaty Sunday school curriculum with some great illustrations and explanation of the text
  • Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) (Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is covered in volume 2 of this 3 volume set) Very helpful commentary on Isaiah.  If one was only going to consult one of his works on this passage, the next recommendation would suffice.  But I hope to preach from other portions of Isaiah (maybe the whole book someday) and definitely plan to consult this commentary.  (Some audio of class lecture here.)
  • Edward J. Young, Isaiah Fifty-Three: a Devotional and Expository Study (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952).  A superb and helpful book.  (I found a pdf posted online, but not sure it’s there legally.  I have a hardcover copy.)

Any resources you have used and would recommend?

Preaching in the Advent Season

When it comes to Christmas, some preachers are faced with one or more dilemmas:

  • Should I temporarily step away from the book I am preaching through to preach a special Christmas message or series of messages throughout December?
  • What texts and topics shall I cover?
  • How can I present the old, old story without coming across in a stale way? How do I stay fresh with texts and topics I feel I have exhausted?

Some preachers will not deviate from their normal preaching, but will continue through the book or series they are working through.  Some of these will probably recognize the season somewhere in the service.  Others will continue their normal preaching rotation, but may use the Christmas story as an illustration of the text.  If they are preaching on humility, they may point to how Christ’s first coming provides a perfect example of humility.

Others, however, will devote entire messages to the themes of Christmas.  If this is your preference, here are some ideas that may help you present fresh, helpful, Biblical messages for the Advent season, whether you are a pastor or are filling in this month.

Expository Series

  • Preaching through a portion of a book – the most obvious idea here would be to preach through Matthew 1 & 2 or Luke 1 & 2.  One year, I had the opportunity to fill in at a church in December and preached consecutive messages from Matthew 1:1-17, 1:18-25, 2:1-18, and finished with 28:18-20 (connecting the coming of the King to His marching orders in the Great Commission).
  • Preaching through selected passages – one could take a theme and preach expository messages from key passages related to it, for example: “Christmas prophecies made and fulfilled” or “Christmas with the patriarchs & prophets.”
  • Preaching stand-alone messages – one could select various passages to preach messages that are not part of a series, except that they share the Christmas theme (such as Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:1-9, Micah 5:2, Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1:14, Galatians 4:4-7, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 1, etc.).

Topical Series

  • Biographical studies – perhaps “the characters of Christmas”; could focus on the significance of the individual in the larger story and lessons we can learn (positive & negative) from individuals such as:  Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi, scribes, King Herod, Elizabeth, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, the angel Gabriel, Caesar Augustus (well, maybe not a whole message on him, since he is just mentioned in passing… but there could be some great contrasts between him and the true Ruler), God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and of course, Jesus.
  • Geographical theme – trace the events from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Calvary or something similar.
  • Christmas carols – take the song title as the sermon title, give the background to the song in the introduction and the preach on the main text or truth the song declares (make sure it does teach truth — see the next suggestion).
  • Christmas: fact or fiction? or “the myths of Christmas” – could debunk common errors (Really a “silent” night?  Is it true that “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes?”  Did the shepherds look up and see a star?  Did the wise men visit Jesus immediately after the shepherds?) and focus on giving an accurate account, encouraging the people that it is necessary to know what God’s Word actually says for ourselves.
  • The scandal of Christmas – man finds fiancée pregnant before marriage! king born in a cow trough!  etc. — there is plenty of shocking material in the Christmas story that points to the glory of God in using the lowly and unexpected to bring His plan to pass.
  • The wonder of Christmas – could deal with all the wondering and marveling that the people in the narratives do (Luke 2:18, 33) and how we ought to be far more amazed at what God has done than we are.
  • The necessity of Christmas – we don’t need a lot of the stuff we have or get, but we desperately needed for Jesus to come; one could preach a series on our accountability to God our Creator, the punishment our sin deserved, how Christ was qualified to be our sacrifice, and what He accomplished in His life and death

There are many ways to preach helpful, biblical messages for the Advent season.  And they can be intermingled as well (for example, preaching a biographical message each year and using the rest of the Sundays for an expository series).  But none of them will be as helpful and as biblical as they should be unless you also remember to do the following:

  • Connect passage to its context and main point, even if you’re focusing on a minor point.
  • Locate the Christmas story in the storyline of the Bible – particularly in how it is fulfilling God’s promises to bring salvation to sinful mankind.
  • Be sure to bring out who Jesus is, and the wonder of the incarnation – God taking on flesh, fully God and fully man (but perfect)it is also good to connect His humble birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, exalted title, and His future glorious return.
  • Explain why Jesus needed to come – although you could preach a whole message on this topic (one of the suggestions above), it needs to be present in some way any time we preach, if we are to be “gospel” preachers who preach the gospel.  And the whole reason Christmas should be so glorious is that it is an announcement of the gospel:   “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

The Unashamed Workman blog also has some suggestions for dealing with the “Challenges of Christmas Preaching” here.

Two related articles:

“An Ambivalent Hallmark Calendar Guy” by Dr. Michael Lawrence

“100 Failed Human Predictions” by Dr. David Murray

Book Review – Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

Goldsworthy, Graeme. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007. Jacketed Hardcover, 341 pp.

(Review copy courtesy of InterVarsity Press.)

Table of Contents

Excerpts:

PDF Introduction: Can hermeneutics be saved? PDF 1. The necessity for hermeneutics

Graeme Goldsworthy (Th.M. & Ph.D., UTS Virginia) is a retired lecturer at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. His other books include Prayer and the Knowledge of God (IVP, 2005), According to Plan (IVP, 1991; 2002), Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Eerdmans, 2000), Gospel & Kingdom, The Gospel in Revelation, and The Gospel and Wisdom. These last three titles have been reprinted as The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Paternoster, 2001)

Is there a key to interpreting the Bible? What should our basic presuppositions for hermeneutics be? What do we need to take into consideration when we approach the exegesis and interpretation of the Bible?

Description

Graeme Goldsworthy argues that the gospel is the hermeneutical key to the Scriptures and reality. In this book, he considers the basic foundations of proper biblical interpretation. His book is divided into three major sections. He lays some ground rules, shows faulty structures that deserve to be torn down, and suggests how we should rebuild in their place.

Section one, “Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics” (chapters 1-4), looks at the foundations of hermeneutics, particularly the basic presuppositions that support a proper approach. In this section, the author stresses the importance of the doctrines of grace alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, faith alone, and the Trinity. He also deals with the effect of the fall upon the human mind and the significance of the role of the risen Christ as mediator.

The second section, “Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics” (chapters 5-12), surveys the history of interpretation and the problems of faulty presuppositions and approaches. The author admits that he relied on secondary sources for this section, in order “to show some of the reactions and evaluations occurring in recent scholarly comment, particularly by evangelicals” so that we can “see how the various trends in hermeneutical theory have troubled and exercised the critical judgment of evangelicals” (p. 87). From allegorical interpretation in the early church to Enlightenment rationalism, postmodern “reader-response” approaches, and even evangelical pragmatism, the author relentlessly sifts through approaches that have eclipsed the gospel. He shows that liberals do not have a monopoly on the eclipse of the gospel, but many approaches adopted in conservative quarters have also obscured its clarity, including literalist and subjective approaches. He argues that a “proper grammatico-historical exegesis stems from the fact of the incarnation” (p. 99).

The final section, “Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics” (chapters 13-19), gives Goldsworthy’s prescription for a hermeneutical approach that is faithful to the Bible and therefore centered upon the gospel. Goldsworthy advocates “typology as a method of relating the Testaments” that underlines “the perspective of both their unity and diversity” (p. 238) by asking every text “how it testifies to Jesus” (p. 252). An extensive chart demonstrates how a macrotypology of the Bible works (pp. 253-256). He deals with the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of gospel-centered interpretation and takes a look at the concept of contextualization, including considerations relevant for Bible translation. He includes practical suggestions for Bible study (such as reading plans, taking notes, and prayer) and lists resources for teaching sound hermeneutics to children.

Evaluation

I found this book to be stimulating and fascinating. At least three strong points distinguish this book. The book is stellar in focusing on Christ as the hermeneutic of Scripture and reality, whereas many standard (even “evangelical”) hermeneutics texts neglect the scriptural idea that Christ is the hermeneutical key (Luke 24:27, 44). It seems so obvious, but it has been so obviously forgotten: “the principles of hermeneutics are to be found within the Scriptures themselves” (p. 22). Goldsworthy also persuasively argues that our hermeneutical approach is part of our sanctification, the renewing of our minds, made possible by the gospel. The fall affected our minds and ability for correct interpretation, but Christ even died for this—to justify and sanctify us from our faulty hermeneutics. Finally, the author’s analysis of how the gospel has been eclipsed by flawed hermeneutical approaches is no pedantic exercise but a helpful warning of how quickly we can move from the approach to the Bible advocated by Christ Himself and that displays His gospel in all its clarity. Neither historical proximity to the time of the apostles nor an accumulation of centuries of knowledge are fail-safe measures to ensure proper interpretation; only a renewed mind submitted to the Scriptures will protect Bible-believing Christians from alien influences that undermine the gospel in their hermeneutics.

Goldsworthy addresses several practical concerns with helpful warnings. He warns that separating biblical theology from systematic theology puts one “on the road to liberalism” (p. 271). He warns that the more dynamic Bible translations tend to iron out its metaphors, obscuring the way the text was originally communicated (pp. 290, 293). He writes that “recourse to commentaries and other helps is best left until later rather than sooner in the process of dealing with a text” (p. 313).

Despite the strengths of the book, one should use this book with much discrimination.

First, this book is not a handbook on hermeneutics for the average person.

Its best use would be at the seminary and graduate level. Even then, it may not be a good choice for an introductory hermeneutics class. Its lengthy treatment of matters related to hermeneutical theory is helpful. The author gives some advice about putting theory to work, but the book lacks a comprehensive method for hermeneutics. I point this out, not to denigrate the book, but to help people like me who might assume by its title that it would contain a comprehensive method for its approach. I recommend reading it in thinking through hermeneutical theory, but if you must choose one book to help you interpret the Bible, this is not the one. To see a work designed more for the purpose of equipping one to practice the gospel-centered interpretation the author advocates, see his introduction to biblical theology titled According to Plan: the Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (IVP, 2002) or the shorter summary by Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (IVP, 2002 — see my review here). (He does provide a brief overview the role of biblical theology in chapter 4 of this book.) The purpose of these works is to help one interpret the parts of the Bible in light of its big picture (something often neglected in hermeneutics texts), but are insufficient to equip one to deal with the various literary genres of Scripture.

Second, the reader should be aware of the author’s view on “literal” interpretation.

Goldsworthy classifies literalism as one of the culprits for the eclipse of the gospel in evangelicalism (p. 169ff.). While conceding that the incarnation required some literal fulfillment, he argues that the New Testament does not support a literal interpretation of Old Testament promises for the restoration of Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple (p. 170). He asserts that the “one great hermeneutic divide that separated Jesus from the unbelieving Jews concerned this very issue of prophetic fulfillment . . . That the Old Testament Scriptures are, as he says, about him (John 5:39-47; 8:39-47, 56-58) must seriously qualify literalism, since Jesus (as Jesus) is not literally in the Old Testament” and adds that “the hermeneutical principle of the Old Testament could only be understood Christologically” (p. 170). As convincing as his arguments appear, some may counter that New Testament events do not decisively rule out a future literal fulfillment, particularly since the prophets often saw events of Christ’s first and second coming together, like peaks of a mountain range that look side by side from afar.

Related to these views on literal interpretation is Goldsworthy’s amillennial eschatology. “Instead of the expected glorious reign of the Christ in a renewed Jerusalem, we learn that the scepter of the risen Christ is the preached word that will be the focus of the worldwide missionary endeavor of the church . . . Pentecost is the demonstration that the millennium has begun, Satan is bound, and Christ reigns through his gospel” (pp. 224-225, cf. p. 82).

Third, the author should probably give more caution in his advice about utilizing critical scholarship.

He suggests that Fundamentalism desires a return to pre-critical exegetical methods (p. 138, cf. pp. 181-182), although he may be painting with a bit of a broad brush, as some fundamentalist seminaries do engage critical works and even recommend critical commentaries as resources. While Goldsworthy recognizes the problem “of the extent to which we can plunder the Egyptians without returning to the leeks and the garlic” (p. 138), it seems that a further caveat should be given. There is a time and place to engage such scholarship, but it is probably best done—with much caution—by the trained scholar or pastor.

Conclusion

In this book, Goldsworthy addresses key issues in regard to hermeneutics. It is a challenging and worthwhile read for the serious student (although a subject index could have increased its usefulness), but may not be the best choice for a stand-alone guide to hermeneutics.

Reviewed by Doug Smith

This review is revised from its original appearance at www.sharperiron.org.

Relevance in “Surprising” Places

I don’t know why I am surprised. Maybe it’s because we often suppose that we have to think of some clever way to introduce what we speak on and beat our heads against the wall to figure out how an ancient document has anything to do with life today…

But sometimes the answer is right under my nose. I recently preached from Ezra 7:10 at a rescue mission.

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

How could this help the men who are seeking help to come out of rough situations? Is it immediately obvious? Certainly, it is good to encourage them to devote themselves to study, practice, and teach the Bible, and I did that.

But I found a great on-ramp to share that by noticing the situation not far from the verse I planned to preach.  Times like these make me so grateful for the sound counsel of reading the whole book in which the preaching text is contained.  I didn’t have to view Ezra 7:10 in isolation of the rest of the book (actually, it can be dangerous to do that sort of thing!).

I found the relevance in the historical background in Ezra 7:9, and in Ezra 8:22.

For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.

[Then notice how the last phrase of verse 9 is connected with verse 10, “For,” or because of this reason] For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

and Nehemiah’s words to the king in 8:22:

The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.

What did I draw from this?  Ezra was part of a group coming up from the Babylonian captivity, where the nation had landed because of their refusal to hear and obey God’s Word.  Furthermore, to have the blessing of God (his good hand upon them), required a heart that diligently sought Him, seeking His Law, obeying it, and teaching it.  Ezra 8:22 shows that God’s hand could be on more people than Ezra.

As I saw these connections in God’s Word, the light bulb came on!  What a natural path of application!  As the people in Ezra’s day were seeking a new start, so are the men at this rescue mission.  As the people in Ezra’s day needed to study, do, and teach God’s Word and seek God to have his good hand upon them, so the men in this mission needed to diligently pay attention to the Bible, obey it, and be prepared to share it with others.  A right approach to God’s Word was foundational to a new start for the children of God then, and is also key to a “new start” for those who know Christ now.

Never underestimate the value of studying the context.  Sometimes you don’t need clever ideas. Often, you just need to read, pray, and think about the text surrounding your text.  You may just be surprised at what you find.

Book Review – God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible

Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 160pp. Paper.

One of the most helpful features of much modern technology is the “zoom” option. From cameras to word processors, the ability to see both small details and the big picture is helpful to understand more about what we are looking at. Vaughan Roberts’ book, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible is one attempt to give students of God’s Word “an overview of the main storyline of the Bible” to provide a helpful framework to keep in mind when studying its parts (20). Roberts helps readers “zoom out” to see what the forest of biblical theology looks like so we can better understand the purpose of the individual trees in the Bible and thus “get [our] bearings when [we] land in any part of it” (20).

DESCRIPTION

Roberts aims “to help Christians find their way around the Bible and to see how it all holds together and points us to Jesus” (14). Some have called this book “Goldsworthy lite,” thinking of it as a simplified version of Graeme Goldsworthy’s approach to biblical theology. Roberts admits as much, saying, “Anyone who has read Gospel and Kingdom[by Goldsworthy] will see its influence in these pages” (10). Both writers see Scripture as a unified and interconnected work. Roberts explains:

The Old Testament on its own is an unfinished story; a promise without a fulfillment. We must read on to the New Testament if we want to know what it really means. And the New Testament constantly looks back to the promise it fulfills. (19-20)

God’s Big Picture sees the kingdom of God as the unifying theme that shows how the Bible fits together. This theme is not forced upon the Scripture but arises out it and it sufficiently encompasses the whole of Scripture in a way that allows “each part to make its own distinct contribution” (20-21). Furthermore, “God’s kingdom was the dominant theme in Jesus’ teaching” (21). The kingdom of God is understood to be presented throughout Scripture as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing” (21).

In eight chapters, the book traces the kingdom motif throughout the Bible.

“The Pattern of the Kingdom” introduces us to elements of this unifying them by looking at Genesis 1:1-2:25. “The Perished Kingdom” (Gen. 3) shows the results of man’s rejection of God’s kingdom. “The Promised Kingdom” (Gen. 17:1-8; Gal. 3:6-14) focuses on God’s promises of salvation. It particularly emphasizes God’s covenant with Abraham, which promised a people, a land, and blessing, and shows that, from the start, the kingdom of God was intended to include Gentiles as well as Jews. “The Partial Kingdom” (a lengthy chapter in comparison with the others) covers passages ranging from Genesis 12 to 2 Samuel 7:1-17 to trace the kingdom through the history of Israel and highlights the promise of a king. “The Prophesied Kingdom” focuses on the role of the prophets in announcing the coming fulfillment of the promises of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God “sums up the prophetic hope” (108), according to Roberts. As the book turns to the New Testament in “The Present Kingdom,” the author states:

At first sight we may feel that a genealogy is an uninspiring way to start the New Testament, but, if we remember God’s promises, we will be on the edge of our seats as soon as we read the words: ‘A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (Matthew 1:1). He is the one who fulfills the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 and to David in 2 Samuel 7. The apostle Paul expresses it clearly: ‘no matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 1:20). (107)

The chapter shows how Jesus brings the kingdom of God. As for God’s people, Jesus did what Adam and Israel failed to do. Jesus is the place of God’s kingdom, fulfilling the purposes of the tabernacle and temple. God’s rule and blessing come about through the new covenant Jesus establishes and the blessing that flows from His kingship. These things came about through the “triumphant success” of the cross (114). There was no other way for Christ to bring God’s kingdom apart from His obedience to the Father and death as a substitute for sinners. His resurrection inaugurates a new age of God’s blessing.

Roberts’ bite-size overview of the Gospels culminates in his assertion that the kingdom has come, although it has not yet come in its fullness (119). He compares Jesus to a conductor who has returned to offer salvation to those who have refused to play God’s tune. While some submit to this redeemer, they will continue to play some wrong notes and produce discord, since there is still a future aspect to the kingdom (118-119).

In “The Proclaimed Kingdom,” the author says, “The promises of the kingdom will not be completely fulfilled until [Christ’s] second coming” (123). He gives 2 Timothy 3:1 and James 5:3 as reasons for viewing “the last days” as the time between the first and second comings of Jesus, meaning that, according to New Testament usage, we have been in the last days for the last two millennia. God has delayed Jesus’ return “so that more people will have a chance to hear the gospel and repent before it is too late” (125). Right now, God is working by His Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel to extend His kingdom. The Spirit is reversing the judgment of Babel (separation of nations along linguistic lines) and, in a way peculiar to this age, He indwells and empowers believers to bear witness to the truth before those who do not believe. The return of Jesus takes place after the gospel is preached to all nations.

The church is God’s people (131). God’s place is this holy people who trust Christ. God’s Spirit dwells in us individually and as a Christian community (131), and helps us to enjoy God’s rule and blessing by living according to His standards (132).

The present age leaves us longing for “The Perfected Kingdom.” In this chapter, Roberts surveys the book of Revelation to show what God has told us about the complete fulfillment all His promises, particularly as His people are with Him in the new creation, in the new temple, enjoying His rule and blessing forever.

EVALUATION

The book has several advantages. Its brevity and ease of reading make it accessible to a wide audience, even as young as high school. Most of the chapters are short and include questions for discussion and application, making it ideal for Sunday school, classroom use, or personal study. It contains many helpful charts. It whets the appetite for further Bible study and is useful even for students advanced in their hermeneutics that may be familiar with the minutiae of Scripture but have forgotten what the view of the whole thing looks like. It is common to hear that we should interpret a text in light of its immediate context, the book that it is in, and the whole Bible, but sometimes it is difficult to see how it fits in with the rest of the canon. Vaughan Roberts has given us a resource that helps in this area.

As useful as the book is, the reader should be aware of Robert’s views of the interpretation of the days in Genesis 1, the nation Israel, and eschatology. These particular concerns would keep me from recommending the book for private study to those without a good grounding in the Scriptures and Christian theology.

Roberts states the following about God’s creation of the world:

Whether he completed the job in six literal twenty-four hours days or over a longer period does not really matter (Christian opinions differ over how we should interpret Genesis 1). What is important is the fact that God is the creator of all things. (27)

However, such an issue may well matter a great deal, as one’s view of the days of Genesis could impact one’s view of the historicity of Adam and Eve, the origin of sin, and even the events of the gospel itself. Some spiritualize the days of Genesis into long ages simply to accommodate a supposed body of scientific evidence that would render the literal interpretation nonsensical. These interpreters may well be guilty of compromising the very foundations of the gospel (albeit unintentionally).

Dispensational readers may quickly notice that Roberts’ does not share their views on the nature of Israel and predictive prophecy. His amillennial eschatology surfaces frequently in the last half of the book (I write as a premillennialist).

Roberts plainly states, “The new Israel is the church” (131). As far as a future for Israel, he discourages readers from looking for fulfillment of the Old Testament promises “in the State of Israel” and says not “to expect a new temple to be build there” (108). He writes:

God made his promises to Israel in ways they could understand. He used categories they were familiar with, such as the nation, the temple and material prosperity in the land. But the fulfillment breaks the boundaries of those categories. To expect a literal fulfillment is to miss the point. (109)

It would have been helpful to see his analysis of Romans chapters 9-11 (especially chapter 11) in regard to these points.

Neither the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign nor the 144,000 should be understood in terms of literal numbers, according to Roberts (145, 148). The lake of fire is seen to represent eternal death; Roberts does not clearly indicate whether he thinks this means there is an eternal conscious torment of the damned or not (144).

He also makes his amillennial views clear when he speaks about other passages in Revelation in an endnote, writing:

Revelation 20:2-3 speaks of Satan being bound and then thrown into the Abyss at the start of the thousand-year period. There is good reason to believe that those events have taken place in the past. Revelation 12:10 makes it clear that Satan has already been hurled down from heaven. He was defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ and has been bound ever since. He is powerless to stop God calling his elect into his kingdom, but he has still not admitted defeat and continues to attack God’s people. Revelation 11:7 describes him coming up from the Abyss to attack the witnessing church. He could not have come up from the bottomless pit if he had not already been thrown down into it. I believe that occurred when Christ died and rose. That is when the millennium began. It will continue until just before the return of Christ.

These concerns should not result in a dismissal of Roberts’ book, but they need to be pointed out. Because of them, I think the book would be most useful in a classroom setting or a discipleship/mentoring relationship where a more competent teacher can help the student when these issues arise.

CONCLUSION

Vaughan Roberts’ small volume of biblical theology is useful to help us “zoom out” and see the big picture of the Bible. Despite the caveats given above, the book is still valuable to help us see what the Bible is all about so we can interpret its parts in light of it as a whole. God’s Big Picture is a great starting point for encouragement to be better students of God’s Word, clear proclaimers of His truth, more obedient children of God, and more faithful evangelists in spreading the good news of King Jesus.

Reviewed by Doug Smith

Is the Old Testament Still Relevant Today?

“Is the Old Testament Still Relevant Today?”

Dr. David Murray, professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, addressed issues related to this question in a recent conference at Fraser Valley Bible Conference in British Columbia. You can access the media from the conference by clicking here (you can watch video and/or download or stream audio).

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the sessions, and was especially moved as Murray clearly demonstrated that the Old Testament is a manual for Christian living. I found his treatment of Hebrews 11 and 12 to demonstrate this point beyond the shadow of a doubt. It is not a manual in a moralistic sense of do this, do this, do this – rather, we live a particular way because we are looking to Jesus in faith.

In addition to these lectures, I have been thoroughly enjoying Dr. Murray’s blog, “Head Heart Hand” and his weekly 30 minute podcast with Tim Challies, Connected Kingdom. I have been refreshed with the Gospel and gained helpful insights through these resources, and commend them to you.

“Is the Old Testament Still Relevant Today?” In a word, YES, and I encourage you to check out Dr. Murray’s lectures to see how it points to Christ, shows us how to live, and shows us how to read the New Testament.

Preaching Through Numbers: Ligon Duncan

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III serves as Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Jackson, Mississippi.  Dr. Duncan preached through the book of Numbers from January 2007 until May of 2008.  Most of the messages are available as free mp3 audio files, and all but one have text versions, accessible via the links below.  He models in this series what he shared in a 2006 message on “Preaching from the Old Testament” (free audio here), especially his message on “The Adultery Test” from Numbers 5:11-31 (preached on Valentine’s Day!).  Another highlight is his taking God’s Word seriously enough to take the time to read the entire 89 verses of chapter 7 as he speaks from it.  For more information about Dr. Duncan and more resources from him, visit www.fpcjackson.org.

Numbers 1:1-4 01a 1/3/2007 Introduction and Outline
Numbers 1:1-46 01b 1/10/2007 Numbered
Numbers 1:47-54 02a 1/17/2007 The Levites, however, were not numbered
Numbers 2 02b 1/24/2007 Arranged
Numbers 3 03a 1/24/2007 Priests, Duties, Firstborn
Numbers 4 03b 2/07/2007 Priests, Duties, Firstborn (2)
Numbers 5:1-10 04a 2/14/2007 Defiled
Numbers 5:11-31 04b 2/21/2007 The Adultery Test
Numbers 6:1-21 05a 2/28/2007 The Nazarites
Numbers 6:22-27 05b 3/21/2007 The Total Blessing
Numbers 7 06a 4/18/2007 Offerings of the Leaders
Numbers 8 06b 4/28/2007 Lamps, Levites, and Retirement
Numbers 9:1-14 07a 5/2/2007 Passover
Numbers 9:15 -10:10 07b 5/9/2007 Cloud and Trumpets
Numbers 10:11-36 08a 5/30/2007 Leaving Sinai
Numbers 11:1-15 08b 6/6/2007 Grumbling
Numbers 11:16-30 09a 6/20/2007 Elders and Quail
Numbers 11:31-35 09b 6/27/2007 The Plague
Numbers 12:1-16 10a 7/18/2007 Murmuring in the Land
Numbers 13:1-33 10b 8/1/2007 Spies in the Land
Numbers 14:1-45 11a 8/8/2007 Rebellion and Rebuke
Numbers 15:1-41 11b 8/19/2007 The Laws of the Land
Numbers 16:1-50 12a 8/22/2007 Korah’s Rebellion
Numbers 17 12b 8/29/2007 Aaron’s Rod Blossoming
Numbers 18:1-32 13a 9/2/2007 Levites’ Duties and Priestly Responsibility
Numbers 19 13b 9/9/2007 The Red Heifer
Numbers 20 14a 9/23/2007 Just Another Day in the Wilderness
Numbers 21:1-9 14b 10/7/2007 Snakebit
Numbers 21:10-35 15a 10/21/2007 The Wars of the Lord
Numbers 22:1-21 15b 11/4/2007 Conspiracy to Curse
Numbers 22:22-40 16a 11/11/2007 Balaam’s Ass
Numbers 22:41-23:26 16b 1/2/2008 Balaam’s Prophecy
Numbers 23:27 – 24:25 17a 1/9/2008 Balaam’s Prophecy (2)
Numbers 25:1-18 17b 1/16/2008 The Zeal of Phinehas
Numbers 26:1-65 18a 1/23/2008 The New Generation
Numbers 27:1-14 18b 1/27/2008 Inheritance Laws
Numbers 27:12-23 19a 1/30/2008 Succession Plan
Numbers 28:1-31 19b 2/6/2008 The Laws of Offerings
Numbers 29:1-40 20a 2/13/2008 The Offerings of the Seventh Month
Numbers 30:1-16 20b 2/27/2008 Vows
Numbers 31 21a 3/5/2008 Vengeance on Midian
Numbers 32 21b 3/12/2008 This Side of the Jordan
Numbers 33:1-49 22a 4/6/2008 From Egypt to Jordan
Numbers 33:50-56 22b 4/23/2008 Possessing the Land
Numbers 34:1-29 23a 4/27/2008 Divvying Up Canaan
Numbers 35:1-34 23b 5/4/2008 Cities of Refuge
Numbers 36:1-13 24a 5/11/2008 No Inheritance Transferred
Final sermon in the Numbers series.