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

Let Us Behold (Not Begrudge) Our Gracious God (Jonah 4:1–11)

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Let Us Behold (Not Begrudge) Our Gracious God
(Jonah 4:1–11)

This Sunday we brought our study of Jonah to a close. After looking at the big picture of Jonah (Jonah 1–4), diving into his storm of disobedience (Jonah 1), going under the waters of Jonah’s baptism (Jonah 1:17; cf. Matthew 12:38–41), inspecting Jonah’s prayer (Jonah 2), and learning what true repentance looks like (Jonah 3), we set our gaze on the God of sovereign grace.

By reading in Jonah in conversation with Genesis 4, Exodus 34, and 1 Kings 19, to name but a few passages, we learned what Jonah 4 says to us about our hearts and God’s. Just as the other chapters examined the heart of the reader, Jonah 4 does so all the more. It finishes with Jonah’s rage and God’s question, and it prompts the reader to ask: Will you begrudge God’s grace too?

You can listen to the message online. Discussion questions can be found below as well as a few additional resources. Continue reading

A Repentant Prayer or a Faithless Fake? What Jonah 2 Teaches Us About Our Hearts

kristine-weilert-88989-unsplash.jpgEarlier this week, I observed the way Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving cited or alluded to many Psalms. Today, I want to consider what this may mean for Jonah and for us who read his book.

To get a handle on the meaning of Jonah’s prayer, we must answer this question: Is Jonah’s prayer a genuine word of repentant thanksgiving, one that faithfully cites many Psalms? Or is his prayer a faithless fake that masquerades under a smokescreen of Scripture? To answer that big question lets look at four smaller questions.

  1. What do we know about the historical Jonah?
  2. What do the Minor Prophets indicate about Jonah?
  3. What does the book of Jonah say about Jonah?
  4. What does the prayer itself reveal about Jonah?

By answering these questions, we should have good chance of rendering a verdict on Jonah’s prayer and what it is intended to communicate to us. Continue reading

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

The Sign of Jonah: Swallowed in Death, Raised in Life (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:38–41)

jonah04The Sign of Jonah: Swallowed in Death, Raised in Life (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:38–41)

While the world went looking for Easter Eggs and basketball games this weekend, the church of Jesus Christ remembered the resurrection of our Lord. More valuable than anything an egg can offer, and more reliable than any team we cheer; the resurrected Christ offers us forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who turn from sin to trust him.

This is what we celebrated on Sunday (and every Sunday). And at our church the focus was on the sign of Jesus, as found in Jonah 1:17.  Amazingly, some eight centuries before Christ’s death and resurrection, we learn that the God of Israel took the rebellious actions of Jonah and turned them in “sign” pointing forward to Jesus. As Jesus himself says in Matthew 12:38–41, Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish foreshadowed his own death and resurrection.

You can listen to the sermon online. You can find discussion questions and further resources below.   Continue reading

Adam as Prophet, Priest and King, and the Bible as the Story of ‘Three Sons’

leviticusWhat has been the best book you have read in 2018? For me, it has been a 300+ page study on Leviticus. Yes, Leviticus!

In Who Shall Ascend the Hill of the Lord? A biblical theology of the book of Leviticus, Michael L. Morales gives the reader a biblical feast. From considering the literary shape of the Pentateuch to the goal of the Yom Kippur (The Day of the Lord), from considering the typology of the tabernacle to the priestly role of Adam, Morales’ book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the system of mediation outlined in the books of Moses.

Even more, the whole book helps the Bible student to learn how to read the Bible and to understand God’s covenantal purposes for bringing his people into his presence. For these reasons, I would highly recommend this book. For now, let me share a quotation that demonstrates the richness of his study.

Adam as Prophet, Priest and King, and the Bible as the Story of Three Sons

Making a bevy of intra-biblical connections, Morales explains how Adam functioned as a prophet, priest, and king. Moreover, he explains how the whole story of the Bible can be explained along the lines of God’s Son—from Adam to Israel to Christ.

Without comment, I will share his words. I pray they stir up your affections for God as much as they did me.

Davidic kingship, then, is (1) rooted in YHWH’s kingship and (2) an inheritance of Adam’s roles as son of God. In reality, all three offices of anointing (prophets, priests, and kings) possess an Adamic role, and are oriented by the mountain of God. Indeed, as to the Adamic role, it is possible to comprehend the progress of redemptive history according to what we may call ‘God’s three sons’:

  • Adam was the first firstborn, who functioned as prophet, priest, and king.
  • Secondly, God created a corporate firstborn son, Israel. (Due to humanity’s estate of sin and misery there was a separation of powers, as it were, with the distribution of the offices of prophet, priest and king among the members of Israel distinctly.)
  • Finally, as the last Adam and true Israel, the Son of God dawned, as prophet, priest and king, now conforming humanity to himself as the image and likeness of God.

As to the offices being oriented by the mountain of God, we have already observed in a previous chapter how the high priest’s office is focused upon and validated by his annual entrance into the summit of the architectural mountain of God, the holy of holies, on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). Similarly, kings were enthroned upon God’s holy mountain, and prophets were sent from it. The king, at his coronation, was installed upon God’s holy mountain, reigning from the earthly Zion as a reflection of YHWH’s reign from the heavenly Zion (Ps. 2). And to become a servant of YHWH, a prophet had first to encounter him at the mountain of God and then be sent forth from it as a messenger (Isa. 6; Exod. 3:1-10). Since all three offices are cultic, functioning distinctly for the same divine goal, one may see how kingship in ancient Israel accorded with what I have argued to be the Pentateuch’s major theme: the Davidic king reigned to shepherd humanity to the house of God upon the mountain of God. (Who Shall Ascend the Hill of the Lord?, 235–36. Bullet points mine.)

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Into the Depths: An Introduction to the Book of Jonah

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Into the Depths: An Introduction to the Book of Jonah (Jonah 1:1–4:8)

Jonah is an amazing book, but one that requires repeated readings, a willingness to learn, and a commitment to the God who created the world, controls the nations, and directs all history to the true prophet, priest, and king—Jesus Christ.

On Sunday we started a six week journey through the story of Jonah. Let me encourage you to read the book in one sitting—it’s only 48 verses—and consider how this book exposes the hardness of our hearts, even as it displays the mercy and grace of God.

For an introduction to the book, you can listen to the sermon online. But don’t miss some of the resources below. They will help you get a greater sense of the book in its historical, literary, and canonical contexts (i.e., how it fits in the Minor Prophets). Discussion questions and additional resources are below. 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

Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Canonical Reading

bill-williams-3302And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
— Genesis 1:28 —

Few commands in Scripture are more important than the first one: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”

In Genesis 1 we learn God made mankind in his image and after his likeness. The purpose of this “imaging” is disputed and multi-faceted (as I’ve described here). However, it is clear that the first command is to be fruitful and multiply, a pregnant command if there ever was one.

In fact, from the placement of this command—the first chapter of the first book in the Bible—we see how programmatic this command is. It is fundamental to being human, and therefore it applies to every one of us. At the same time, from a canonical reading of Scripture we learn how this phrase repeats and develops, so that it bears significance for more than just having babies. In other words, though it never loses this meaning (child-bearing is an implicit part of humanity), the progress of revelation also shows how fruitfulness relates to the Word of God, regeneration, and the Great Commission.

So, in what follows, I will list out many places where this language (“be fruitful and multiply”) occurs, with a few comments along the way.  Then, I will list four ways that reading Genesis 1:28 canonically helps us understand this verse and the whole structure of the Bible. Continue reading