An Evidence of Repentance or Hypocrisy: Why Does Jonah 2 Cite So Many Psalms?

aaron-burden-534684-unsplashIt is striking the way Jonah 2 employs language from the Psalms. For those familiar with the Hebrew Psalter, it would be difficult to hear Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving without reflecting on other inspired Psalms. Just as songs which recycle older lyrics or melodies remind us of previous songs, so Jonah’s prayer should bring to our memory many lines in the Psalter.

Here is a verse by verse comparison. Clearly, the use of the Psalter is intentional, but I wonder why. Is the use of the Psalms an evidence of Jonah’s return to righteousness? Or is it something else? Could it be an instance where the Jonah’s lips draw near to God, but his heart remains far away? Should we automatically assume his use of Scripture is a sign of repentance? Or could it be that his prayer of thanksgiving without any stated repentance, as in Psalms 32 and 51, is actually an indicator of Jonah’s unrepentance.

Tomorrow, I’ll circle back to answer that question. But today, let me know what you think. Why does Jonah’s prayer recycle so many Psalms? Check on the comparison below and let me know what you think.
Continue reading

Reading the Minor Prophets Together: Ten Observations from Paul House’s ‘The Unity of the Twelve’

12By 1990 there was no consensus on the structure of the Minor Prophets. Observing this fact, Paul House, in his book The Unity of the Twelve, surveyed the way scholars looked to chronology and regional location as possible ways “the Twelve” were ordered. Such approaches were significantly lacking, however, and so he concluded: “It is probable that historical research has not successfully uncovered the structure of the Twelve because that structure is governed by literary principles” (67).

In conversation with literary critics and scholars employing methods of canonical criticism, House shows why we should read the Twelve as more than 12 similar but separated oracles. Rather, by examining the structure and plot of the Twelve we can come to a clearer understanding of the unified message that the Minor Prophets is seeking to convey.

As others have observed in the Psalms, there is an intentional ordering in the Minor Prophets, better termed The Twelve. Historically, these 12 books are always found together and typically in the same order (63). For that reason, a unified study of their message is valid and valuable. And Paul House’s book, though technical, is an important for helping read and understand the Minor Prophets.

To get a sense of his argument and how the twelve prophets are unified, let me share some of his observations—first on the structure of the Twelve, then on the plot of the Twelve. Continue reading

Sovereignty, Satire, and Second Chances: An Introduction to the Book of Jonah

jonah04For being only four chapters and 48 verses, the book of Jonah demands a lot from its readers. In the original language, it becomes clear how well-crafted the book is. In four chapters, there are at least four chiasms that organize the book, and on the whole, Jonah is a literary masterpiece. At the same time, the book is best understand in combination with the rest of the Minor Prophets—consider the way Jonah’s rebellion mirrors that of Edom in Obadiah, or the way the king of Nineveh preaches Joel 2:12–14 (see Jonah 3:6–9).

Still, if Jonah demands a lot from its readers, it gives even more. In its four scenes, it gives its readers an incredible vision of God, his grace, his power, and his purpose among the nations. In other words, in the rebellion of Jonah, a (false) prophet of the Lord, we find much about God’s grace.

Over the next two months, our church will be spending ample time in this book, along with a few other Minor Prophets. So in this post, let me introduce a few themes we will see again and again—namely, God’s sovereignty, the book of Jonah’s satire, and the promise of second chances for sinners who repent and turn to God. Continue reading

Getting into Jonah by Seeing the Book’s Literary Structures

chiasm_textIn a pair of articles on literary structure and the book of Jonah, Ernst Wendland argues for what makes a chiasm valid, with a test case in the book of Jonah. As our church begins to study Jonah, I share the outlines from his second article. You can find his reflections on chiasms here.

They demonstrate how much the biblical authors, in this case Jonah or another prophet well-acquainted with Jonah, incorporated literary devices to express their arguments. For casual readers of the Bible, these outlines suggest that their are depths untold in the meaning and message of Scripture. For teachers, these are the structures we must find as we seek to understand the author’s original intent.

All the chiastic structures outlined below come from Ernst Wendland’s Text Analysis and Genre of Jonah (pt 2) (JETS 1996). The highlights are my own.

The Overall Structure of Jonah

A. (1:1–3) Yahweh calls Jonah the first time and he flees from Nineveh

B. (1:4–16) A life/death crisis; exhortation by the captain; Jonah’s unwilling message to the pagan sailors of the ship; result: they all repent and pray

C. (1:17) Surprising transition: Yahweh saves Jonah by means of a great fish

D. (2:1–9) Jonah’s response, a pious prayer: thank you—for letting me live

E. (2:10) Instruction: Yahweh’s miraculous object lesson is complete—Jonah is safely delivered

A’. (3:1–3) Yahweh calls Jonah the second time and he travels to Nineveh

B’. (3:4–9) A life/death crisis; Jonah’s unwilling message to the pagan people of the city; exhortation by the king; result: they all repent and pray (an even greater number)

C’. (3:10) Surprising transition: Yahweh saves Nineveh by “repenting” himself

D’. (4:1–4) Jonah’s response, a peeved prayer: please—just let me die

E’. (4:5–9) Instruction: Yahweh’s miraculous object lesson in the plant, worm and wind—Jonah is sorely afflicted

F’ (4:10–11) Conclusion (thematic peak): Yahweh’s last word to Jonah and to every current listener: “Salvation belongs to Yahweh” (cf. 2:9)

Four Chiasms in Jonah

In addition to the overall storyline of Jonah, each chapter shows remarkable literary arrangement. Again, following the work of Ernst Wendland, consider how each chapter is structured.

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Reading Jonah

With these structures in mind, you are now better equipped to read this fascinating book. Even more, with these structures in mind, we find more clearly the original emphases. For more the literary structures of Jonah, see

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Good and the Bad of Brevard Childs’s Canonical Criticism

chilsdIn his book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Brevard Child’s explains his approach to canonical criticism, a term he does not like (82), but one that generally describes his approach to interpreting Scripture in its final form. Among critical scholars, i.e., those who employed historical-critical methods of interpretation, Childs championed a new (and better) approach to the Bible.

Instead of looking for the sources behind the text (e.g., Julius Wellhausen) or certain forms in the text (e.g., Herman Gunkel), or traditions running through the text (e.g., Gerhard Von Rad), Childs advocated an approach to the Bible which studied the final form of the text. In the academy, this approach turned the corner towards studying the unity of the Bible and not just its diversity. His work spurred on others to read the Bible canonically, and his labors helped turn the corner towards what is known today as TIS, the theological interpretation of Scripture.

Therefore, its worth considering what he said on the subject of reading the Bible in its canonical form. From his chapter on “Canonical Criticism,” here are a few insightful quotations, listed under five summary statements.

(Spoiler Alert: At the end, I’ll outline a few reasons why Childs approach may not be helpful as some think.) Continue reading

“Whatever You Ask in Prayer”: A Christ-Centered Re-Reading of a Commonly Misused Verse

rob-bye-103200-unsplash“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
— Matthew 21:22 —

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer,
believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
— Mark 11:24 —

In my high school year book, my senior quote was from Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Young in my faith but zealous, I was learning how to follow Christ and this verse seemed to be an appropriate way to express my devotion. Not to mention, it marked something of my eighteen-year-old theology: If I put my mind to it, Jesus could do anything.

In subsequent years, I’ve seen that my introduction to Christ came through various shades of moralistic, therapeutic deism with splashes of the Bible mixed in. I believed in God, the Bible, the historical death and resurrection, and my need for salvation, but I really didn’t understand the logic of the gospel—even though I believed in Christ crucified.

I believe God, in his unspeakable kindness, used a psychologically-slanted message of salvation to create in me a simple trust in Jesus. In a way that only a sovereign God could design, he planted the truth of Christ’s preciousness in my heart, even if it would take some time to see the darker lines of the gospel—namely God’s absolute holiness, my absolute need for atonement, and that faith included a dying to self and living for his glory (in a word, repentance is part of saving faith).

For me, college served as a crash course in theology, where the doctrines of grace began to redraw my earlier understanding of Christ and salvation. But before college, I believed Christ came to save me from hell and to help me fulfill my life’s purposes. After all I had found verses that said as much—Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24 being prime examples.

So, in my misguided zeal, I quoted Mark 11:24, a verse that I think many people misunderstand. Continue reading

Reading Proverbs Wisely

samantha-sophia-34200.jpgIn Proverbs the ideas of wisdom, righteousness, and reward are prevalent. And as I highlighted here and here, these three ideas are developed together under the old covenant. Therefore, they cannot be directly applied to the new covenant believer—at least, not without showing how they apply to us in Christ. That said, they are important for understanding the righteousness of Christ and the way in which we are to follow him when, by the Spirit, we walk by faith.

In what follows I want to consider how to read the Proverbs wisely by holding the old covenant and new covenant together as we read Proverbs. In this approach to the Proverbs, we see the covenantal context of Proverbs relates to Christ and the whole counsel of Scripture. In other words, by holding these biblical realities together, we begin see how the wisdom of the old covenant called for God’s people to enjoy God’s gracious promises through wisely applying the law of Moses. However, for us, because we do not live under Moses, we learn how to apply them in Christ. Graphically, we might illustrate the difference like this:

Old Covenant

Law >> Wisdom >> Righteousness >> Reward (=Inheritance) . . . [Gospel]

New Covenant

Gospel >> Faith  >> Reward (=Inheritance) >> Law >> Wisdom >> Righteousness**

** Righteousness defined as a progressive growth in righteousness (i.e. sanctification) as the believer exercises faith in God’s Word, demonstrated in love and justice.

With this framework in place, we can see that the wisdom of the Proverbs still has a vital place in the life of a Christian. But it is not a pathway to salvation or blessing, as some prosperity preachers wrongly apply the proverbs. Neither are the Proverbs timeless principles that promise material blessing today; they are instead enduring principles that teach the child of God how to walk in the light of Christ.

In truth, by living out the Proverbs, we are often protected from many earthly trials and find greater earthly success. However, such proverbial fruit is all the more reason to be careful with Proverbs. Why? Because earthly fruit through a Provers-centered life does not mean that we can read Proverbs as a certified manual for ensuring material blessing. In fact, there are hints in the Proverbs that righteousness is itself a reward: “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice” (16:8).

In the end, we should read Proverbs regularly, but  we must read them wisely. And to help us read wisely, let’s consider how Proverbs speaks of righteousness and how we might apply its words in and through Christ today. Continue reading

12 Quotes from Peter Gentry’s Book on the Biblical Prophets

prophets

Peter Gentry, Donald L. Williams Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an incredibly helpful and accessible book in How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets. In this 140-page book, there is much general wisdom about reading Scripture and many specific applications for reading the Prophets, especially Isaiah.

In his plain-spoken and even humorous way, Gentry helps deepen our understanding how different the prophetic literature is. But even more, he gives tools to read these ancient words better.

In preaching Isaiah this month, I’ve found much help in How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets. I share a dozen of the best quotes from his book below. These give a taste of what you’ll find in this book. But let me encouragement you, if you take seriously the study of Scripture, pick up this book and spend time thinking about how to read the Prophets.  Continue reading

Two Rivers Run Through It: Tracing Zion and Zera’ (Seed) through the Book of Isaiah

matt-lamers-328906Isaiah is massive book that displays an even larger vision of God’s glory. And because of the scale and grandeur of its message, it often seems difficult to grasp its meaning. Sure, there are those familiar verses we often return to, but how do we grasp at the whole message of Isaiah?

In what follows, I am going to trace out two key themes that may help us see the forest and not just a few trees. The first stream relates to Zion, the key place in the book. The second relates to the messiah, or the seed (zera’), the key person in the book. By holding these two streams together, I think it helps us see the arrangement of the forest so that we can climb the heights in this glorious book. Continue reading

Singing the Four ‘Spirit’ Songs in Isaiah 56–66

motyer

Perhaps you are familiar with the four Servant Songs in Isaiah. They are found in Isaiah 40, 49, 50, and 53. And I would contend, they are deeply important for understanding who Christ is and how God promised to save his people.

But do you know there are also four “Spirit” songs in Isaiah? Or better, as Alec Motyer puts it, there are four songs in Isaiah 56–66 that identify the Spirit-anointed Savior who will also come to be identified with Christ? Until, reading Alec Motyer’s commentary on Isaiah 56–66, I had not seen that.

Sure, I had often wondered why Christian tradition stops counting the Servant songs at Isaiah 53, when Isaiah 61 is clearly another song extolling the glories of a Spirit-anointed Servant. But until preparing for this current sermon series, I had not put together the reality of four songs in Isaiah 59, 60, 61, and 63. Nor did I make the connection of these chapters with the previous four Servant songs in any specific way.

But after reading Motyer’s observations, it’s hard to miss the way in which these four ‘songs’ balance and apply the previous four songs. In what follows, let me share Motyer’s illuminating insights. I’ll add a few (work in progress) observations at the end. Continue reading