The Good News of God’s Vengeance: Nahum’s History and Literary Style

nahum05.jpegWriting about the misguided disinterest many generations of Christians have had towards the Minor Prophets, Thomas McComiskey states,

The corpus of biblical books we call the Minor Prophets has not enjoyed great prominence in the history of biblical interpretation. It is not difficult to understand why this is so. Where is the edification for.a modern Christian in a dirge celebrating the downfall of an ancient city? How can the gloomy forecasts of captivity for Israel and Judah lift the heart today? The Minor Prophets seem to have been preoccupied with nations and events that have little relevance to today’s world. How unlike the New Testament they are! (McComiskey, The Minor Prophets, ix)

If disinterest is a common feature with the Minor Prophets, Nahum may be one of the most ignored or unknown books of this already unknown section of Scripture. Written as a “war-taunt” against Nineveh, the book is replete with God’s judgment on this wicked city. Yes, in response to Jonah it repented of its evil (see Jonah 3), but a century later God sent Nahum to prophesy that the time of this city’s prosperity was over.

Reading this book nearly 3000 years later, we can easily miss its message because its diplomatic history, image-filled poetry, and covenantal theology make its message difficult to grasp. Yet, as McComiskey rightly avers, “A careful study of these prophets [Nahum included] reveals that many of the themes they expound transit the Testaments. They speak of the love of God as well as his justice. Their prophecies are not all doom, but are often rich with hope” (The Minor Prophetsix)

Certainly, this is true with Nahum. In the midst of its darkness and gloom, there are nuggets of gold which the worshiper of God can trust and treasure. As Nahum 1:15 says, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace!” There is good news in Nahum and it benefits the student of the word to wrestle with the whirlwind revealed in this poetic prophet. Still, to understand the fullness of the message it will require careful study (Psalm 111:2; 2 Timothy 2:7).

So, as we get ready to study this book for the next few weeks, let me highlight some of these features—namely, the history behind the book, the poetry in the book, and the good news which emerges from this book. Continue reading

Evidence of Design: Lexical and Thematic Unity in Genesis 3–4

chiasm_textGod’s Word is inspired by God, but it is also written by men. And in many cases, these men show incredible literary skill in penning God’s Word. One thinks of Psalm 119’s acrostic praise of God’s Word or Jonah’s detailed use of chiastic structures as examples of authors employing literary devices to shape and structure their God-given, God-inspired words.

The same is true in Genesis 3–4. In a section that is often whisk-away as myth or relativized as poetry, we find that the historical details of Cain and Abel are written with incredible attention to literary style (i.e., history in poetic form). The number of words, the narrative parallels between the first family (ch. 4) and the first sin (ch. 3), and the repetition of expression are just a few ways Moses employs poetics structures to stress the main points of this historical narrative.

In a day when bold and italics were not available and space was limited, these structures evidence the main point of his writing. Moreover, they capture the way in which human authorship is “fully human” (i.e., marked by conventions of human speech). Divine inspiration does not cancel out man’s humanity in his writing. Rather, it improves his acuity, frees his will, and empowers his words. This is what Peter means when he says “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Genesis 3–4 as a Test Case

Considering this, we look at Genesis 3–4 as an example of this literary design, where Moses under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote with incredible attention to detail—hence allowing us to interpret with great detail. What follows are some of the observations Gordon Wenham has made to show the lexical and structural detail of Genesis 3–4. Continue reading

The Genre of Genesis: A Soap Opera Under The Sovereignty of God

One of the most helpful things I have learned in the last few years about reading Scripture is the importance of determining the literary genre 0f any portion of Scripture.  For instance, to read Daniel’s apocalyptic visions with Pauline precision is to wind up with an overly literal reading, missing the ‘visual effect’ of the apocalyptic genre.  Likewise, reading Proverbs like laws etched in stone, puts too much weight on a literary form that is meant to convey probabilities that have reasonable exceptions, not laws of the universe.  So reading Scripture with an attentiveness to genre is helpful in avoiding misreadings, and there are many good–short and long–works on this subject.  For a whole Bible that treats the subject see The Literary Study Bible.

This week, as I was reading Genesis, the thought occurred: What kind of genre is this book, especially chapters 12-50?  It is certainly narrative in its structure.  Authors like Bruce Waltke and Jim Hamilton has shown in their recent works many literary devices, chiasms and the like.  It is historical, in that it conveys information of people, places, and events in a factual manner and in a linear fashion.  Moreover, it will develop mini biographies and include historical genealogies, all for the purpose of unfolding God’s plan of redemption and his covenantal commitments.  Still, it is also a colorful book of characters and stories that, while true, capture the imagination and draw out the readers imagination like any good story book.   So which is it?

It is certainly a combination of them all, but perhaps a modern analogy might be helpful.  Could it be said that God’s sovereign workings in Genesis are carried out in the midst of a twisting, turing Soap Opera.  Until, this week, I wouldn’t have said it that way, but in reading it again this week, that category certainly commends itself for understanding all that is going on, so long as it is always coupled with God’s inscrutable (and yet sometimes invisible) sovereignty.

Interestingly, based on the less than authoritative definition provided by wikipedia.com, Genesis would definitely fall into this category.  Here is there brief description of what we know as soap operas:

The main characteristics that define soap operas are “an emphasis on family life, personal relationships, sexual dramas, emotional and moral conflicts; some coverage of topical issues; set in familiar domestic interiors with only occasional excursions into new locations”.[3] Fitting in with these characteristics, most soap operas follow the lives of a group of characters who live or work in a particular place, or focus on a large extended family. The storylines follow the day-to-day activities and personal relationships of these characters. “Soap narratives, like those of film melodramas, are marked by what Steve Neale has described as ‘chance meetings, coincidences, missed meetings, sudden conversions, last-minute rescues and revelations, deus ex machina endings.'”

That about sums Genesis up, doesn’t it?  I think so.  It makes the book less pristine and more personal.  It touches the heart of the matter, that God has saved a people from sin, often times through the very act or acts of sin: “What you meant for evil,” Joseph said to his brothers, “God meant for good” (Gen 50:20).  Part of God’s glorious work of salvation is his ability to save people trapped in sin, in ways that soap opera writers could never script.  Likewise, such a view of Genesis encourages belief that when things in life get really, really messy, God still knows how to untie the Gordian knot, and even if it takes 13 years, as in Joseph’s case, or longer as in the case of Abraham (see Heb 11), He will make all things right in the end.  Therefore we await the reckoning!

It is amazing how God has worked in redemptive history–often in ways that do not commend repeating–in order to bring about his plan of salvation.  God is a merciful and patient God, and one proof is that he was able to bring through sinners like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph as sinless Son who will one day liberate us from the soap operas of this life.  That is good news.

Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

dss