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Intended Allegory in the Song of Songs?

For a number of years now learned interpreters of Scripture have been telling us that the Song of Songs is (primarily) about human love. I put the word primarily in parentheses in that last sentence for a reason. I had grown so accustomed to the emphasis on human love in the Song that I had begun to assume that’s all modern commentators said about it. As I was recently pondering this, I went back and looked at what they actually say. They typically add a word like “primarily” or “mainly,” leaving the door open to a spiritual meaning of the Song. But then when they get into it, all they talk about is human love.

In this post I want to pose a question: is it possible that Solomon intended the Song to have an allegorical layer of meaning?

Usually when you suggest that the Song is about something more than human love, people roll their eyes and write you off as a prude.

I’m not a prude, okay?

I do think the Song is about human love, and I think human love is great. Really great! I love my wife, and I can’t get over God giving us something so surprising, so pleasing, so good as marriage. Everything that happens within the context of this comprehensive interpersonal union of one man and one woman being one flesh is better than any of the perversions people use to ruin it. So I’m on board with human love in the Song.

My question, though, is whether there’s more to the Song than merely human love, more that Solomon, whom I take to have written the Song (cf. Song 1:1), intended his audience to get from this piece of poetry. I’m not out to defend the history of interpretation by asking this question, but it is worth observing that the idea that the Song has a spiritual meaning has been, well, dominant across the ages. Is there exegetical evidence for it, though?

Let me note that by allegory I don’t mean something terribly complicated. Let’s stick with a simple definition from dictionary.com: “a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.” This seems to work for the way Paul uses allegory in Galatians 4:24.

So here’s the simple proposal this post is inviting you to consider: is it possible that Solomon intended to represent the spiritual relationship between God and his people through a poetic depiction of the human relationship between the King and the Bride in the Song of Songs?

What could have prompted Solomon to think of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as being analogous to human marriage?

Well, in Exodus 34:14–16 Israel is already being warned not to “whore after their gods.” By describing idolatry with the language of prostitution and sexual immorality, Moses is talking about the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as though it is a marriage. So this way of thinking about God’s relationship with his people is well established prior to the time of Solomon, and it continues after Solomon, not least with Hosea, where when Hosea marries Gomer, Hosea plays the part of Yahweh, Gomer the part of Israel.

So I think we can be confident that biblical authors prior to and after Solomon were thinking about a spiritual meaning of marriage, recognizing an analogy between human marriage and God’s covenant with Israel. Is there more specific evidence?

Psalm 45 is perhaps the closest analogy to the Song of Songs in the Old Testament, being a wedding song for Israel’s king. The Psalm begins with a celebration of the king in Psalm 45:1–9, then concludes with an address to the princess marrying the king in 45:10–17. As the psalmist extols the greatness of the king, he says in Psalm 45:6, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” showing—at least—a very tight connection between Yahweh and the king who represents him. With a statement like this in Psalm 45, and with other texts in the OT communicating a very close connection between Israel’s God and Israel’s king (e.g., Num 23:21; Isa 9:6; Jer 23:6; Hos 3:5; Mic 2:13; 5:4; Zech 12:8; 13:7) it would seem natural—not forced or fanciful—to see an analogy between the King and his Bride and Yahweh and Israel in the Song of Songs.

What about evidence that later OT authors might have read the Song this way? Is there anything that points in that direction? The King in the Song is regularly called the Bride’s “beloved.” This particular Hebrew word means different things in different contexts. In some contexts it means “uncle.” It is not often used outside the Song of Songs the way Solomon uses it in the Song. In fact, the only place outside the Song of Songs where the word is used with the same meaning it has in the Song is Isaiah 5:1, where Isaiah writes, “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard.” What follows in Isaiah 5 makes it clear that Isaiah is referring to Yahweh as his beloved. Given the fact that the only Scripture in which the word is used this way prior to Isaiah is the Song of Songs, it would seem at least possible that Isaiah’s thinking about the Lord has been influenced by the Song, with the result that Isaiah refers to the Lord the way the King is referenced in the Song. A related form, though not exactly the same Hebrew word, is used in a similar way, with reference to the relationship between Yahweh and Israel, in Jeremiah 11:15, Ezekiel 16:8, Psalm 60:5 (MT 60:7)/108:6 (MT 108:7), and 127:2.

There is more that could be said. For instance, the king’s procession to the wedding in Song 3:6–11 seems to have been crafted to recall Israel being led out to Sinai for the wedding between herself and Yahweh, who would dwell with her in the tabernacle and lead her by the pillar of fire and cloud. But the strongest argument for this way of thinking about the Song, it seems to me, comes from Paul telling the Ephesians what marriage is ultimately about in Ephesians 5:32, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Yahweh married Israel at Sinai. When she broke the covenant by whoring after other gods, she was eventually exiled, with the prophets promising a renewal of the broken marriage (see esp. Hos 2:14–23), a new covenant (Jer 31:31–34). Jesus came calling himself the Bridegroom (Matt 9:15), being recognized as such by the Baptist (John 3:29), and laying down his life for his bride (Eph 5:25) that she might be clothed in white linen for the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev 19:7–8).

The Song of Songs is a poetic summary and interpretation of the Bible’s big story: the descendant of David—king of Israel about whom the promises of 2 Samuel 7 were made (promises resonant with the blessing of Abraham from Genesis 12:1–3, promises that will be realized through the one whose descent can be traced all the way back to Adam, who can thus be identified as the promised seed of the woman from Genesis 3:15)—renews an eden-like intimacy between himself and his Bride, reversing the affects of the fall (cf. Gen 3:16 and Song 7:10). All this is fulfilled in Christ Jesus, son of David, Yahweh incarnate, the one greater than Solomon (Matt 12:42), who initiated the new covenant between himself and his bride, the church, and who will return for the grand consummation when the Bride herself, the new Jerusalem, will descend from heaven having the glory of God (Rev 21:9–11).

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This post originally appeared at Christianity.com.

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God: The Merciful Judge

This past weekend it was my privilege to be in Fayetteville, AR, at University Baptist Church. I spoke on the theme of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.

These talks seek to summarize the Bible’s big story, highlighting the promises that generate the typological patterns.

The talks are now available on UBC’s website, or you can use these links:

God:The Merciful Judge – Session 1 [ 47:38 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 2 [ 51:08 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 3 [ 45:19 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 4 [ 42:22 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 5 [ 38:30 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
The Doctrine of Election – A Q&A Panel Discussion [ 1:02:24 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Jeremiah 16 [ 48:16 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
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Jeremiah: A Type of Christ Who Speaks for God

I’ve argued that Jeremiah was a prophet like Moses, and Jesus is the typological fulfillment of this pattern that began with Moses. Luke presents both Peter and Stephen asserting that Jesus is the prophet like Moses announced in Deuteronomy 18:15–18 (Acts 3:22–23; 7:37), and Matthew, Mark, and Luke are pointing to this in their transfiguration accounts (see esp. Luke 9:31, 35).

The Lord told Moses that he would be “as God” to Pharaoh with Aaron as his mouth (Exod 4:16). It’s as though Moses represents God and Aaron becomes the prophet of God.

Moses spoke for God. One aspect of being a prophet like Moses, then, is speaking for God.

In Jeremiah 4:19–22, Jeremiah is speaking in the first person (“My,” “I”, etc.). It seems that Jeremiah is speaking of himself in verse 19, “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!” And he continues to speak in the first person through verse 26. By 4:22, though, it appears that he is speaking as or for Yahweh rather than himself when he says, “my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding.”

The key phrase here that makes me think that the “I/My” is Yahweh rather than Jeremiah is “they know me not” (Jer 4:22). It seems that the problem the people have is that they don’t know God. Even if this is merely Jeremiah saying that the people don’t recognize him as Yahweh’s prophet, the cause of that would that they don’t know God, so it still points to Jeremiah speaking for God.

It seems to me, though, that what’s in view is not that the people don’t know Jeremiah (though they are not heeding his message). The problem is that they don’t know God. So in Jeremiah 4:19–22, it seems that Jeremiah begins speaking of himself in the first person and ends by speaking for Yahweh in the first person.

I take this as another way that Jeremiah is a prophet like Moses. God made Moses to be as God to Pharaoh (Exod 4:16), and God made Jeremiah to speak for God to the people of Israel.

This trajectory will be fulfilled in the one who came as God incarnate and spoke as God to the people. Jeremiah, then, is an installment in the typological pattern of the prophet like Moses who speaks for God, a typological pattern that Jesus fulfills.

If you want more on this passage, here’s my sermon on Jeremiah 4:5–31, “Wash Your Heart from Evil.”

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Genesis Genealogies Graphic

Jerod Harper has a nice note on the way the genealogies in Genesis trace the descent of the line of the seed of the woman, accompanied by this splendid graphic:

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The Hero Story (The Messiah in the Old Testament)

This essay appears in the spring 2011 issue of Southern Seminary magazine, The Tie. I am grateful to post it here by permission. Click through for a free subscription to The Tie.

Have you heard the ballad of the hoped for hero? Ancient prophecies foretell his coming. Not altogether clear, shrouded in mystery, but enough to kindle hopes and keep the flickering flame alive. Everything depends on his coming. In fact, if these prophecies aren’t realized, there is no final defense against evil. No ultimate hope. No redemption. No restoration. Curiously, some think that the veiled and wispy nature of the intimations that he will arise amount to nothing at all. If they are correct, is there any basis for the claims that the prophecies have in fact been fulfilled?

The sprawling, ramshackle narrative of the Old Testament is the one true hero story on which all the others are based. Oh sure, it may not always seem that the texts are concerned with the hoped for hero, but these books can only be understood in light of the back story that informs them. The hero is the driving force of that narrative undercurrent, so even when we are not reading prophecies about him or statements of hope that he will come, we nevertheless read authors who portray a world and a people whose future depends on the promised champion.

The true story of the world is the prototypical work of art that has been imitated by all myth-makers and storytellers. Did you read of Heracles slaying the Hydra? The mighty deliverer achieved expiation by smiting the snake. Then there’s Odysseus coming in wrath at the end of the Odyssey to rescue his bride. It’s positively apocalyptic. We could go on and on with such examples. If a myth is an archetypal story that explains the world and provides hope, this hero story is the world’s one true myth. Justin Martyr said that the demons had salted the world’s religions with tidbits of the true story to inoculate people against the world’s one cure. And in stories influenced by Christianity you have imitations and approximations of it: Beowulf slaying first the one who descends from Cain, Grendel, and then the dragon. St. George, too, kills a dragon. These are but reflections and refractions of the light of the world, the ancient hope for the prince of life who comes to crush the head of that ancient serpent, the dragon, who is the Devil and Satan.

When we consider the Messiah in the Old Testament, our minds are confronted with the answer to the world’s questions, the fulfillment of all yearnings, the satisfaction of the universal desire for beauty and joy and peace and, and well, everything. You could say it’s Hitchcock’s McGuffin—something everyone wants, needs, and looks for at all costs—but the McGuffin may not be profound enough to capture the weight of this, the real thing. Jesu joy of man’s desiring. Indeed. Jesus is the ultimate object of C. S. Lewis’s Sehnsucht—he is the one who fulfills the inconsolable longing for we know not what.

Swathed in cryptic hints and echoes from the distant past, hidden in shadows and faintly perceived from whispers subtly woven through the Old Testament. Soft impressions seen through a glass darkly, the trace of an outline, the kind of thing that almost has to be pointed out before you see it clearly, but then once you’ve seen it, you can’t see anything else. You don’t want to see anything else.

The promises of the coming seed of the woman all partake of a haunting, hopeful melody, to which the Old Testament’s composer returns again and again. The delay between these prophecies only increases the pathos, adds to the beauty so pure it’s painful. The next oracle almost sneaks up on us, and at points we only recognize it after it has passed us by. Suddenly the words ignite and we read and re-read the promise of a seed who is a lion who wields a scepter who will be a son to the Most High. Each hook and loop in the interweaving of prophecy and pattern comes like a familiar rhythm, or a restrained suggestion, hearkening us back to something earlier in the music. The artist who orchestrates the living production in real time threads the line of promise lightly—but thoroughly—through the whole symphonic poem of the Bible.

Those with eyes to see and ears to hear are ravished by a beauty better than all else they might desire. They lean in close, straining to hear and see, longing, yearning, hoping, as they earnestly attend to past promise, and watch for what they hope will be reiterations and expositions of it. The shadows may be long and the clouds thick, but a conviction has seized them that the heavens will be rolled back when the star shines out of Judah.

Then come the “experts.” They huff and snort that there is no theme that has been resumed. They deny that this rhythm sounds like that one. They insist that when these notes in this melody are taken apart, they bear no relation to one another. They explain that this beat cannot possibly be related to that one, and that the meaning some heard in that first syncopation was never there in the first place.

But we’ve heard the music, and for all the seeming intelligence of their explanations, we know what the music does to us. Those notes may be nothing in isolation, but in aggregate they form a song more lovely than the lectures of learned scoffers. We know this melody is meant to evoke earlier ones, and as soon as we hear the music again, the denials of the little men behind the microphones lose all power to compel. The strains of hope and longing that we have heard awaken faith and conviction and boldness, even as the academics drone on in their boring refusal to enjoy the music.

The one who wrote the music and conducted the orchestra came, and still people refused to hear his song. They did not recognize the one who was foretold, whose pattern was prefigured, whose destiny it was to unlock the door to life, lay the foundation for faith, design the theater for God’s glory, and build the temple of the Holy Spirit, but the hoped for hero really has come. And he’s coming back. He came the first time as a man of sorrows to be acquainted with grief. When he comes again his robe will be sprinkled with the blood of his enemies who lie trampled beneath his feet. He will accomplish God’s purpose and fill the lands with God’s glory like water fills the seas.

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Sermons on Nehemiah

In God’s kindness we made our way through both Ezra and Nehemiah at Kenwood Baptist Church. The sermons on Ezra can be found here.

May the Lord bless his word.

September 12, 2010, Nehemiah 1–2, “Pray and Act”

September 19, 2010, Nehemiah 3–4, “Building While the Nations Rage”

October 3, 2010, Nehemiah 5, “A Wartime Lifestyle on a Millionaire’s Budget”

October 10, 2010, Nehemiah 6–7, “Press On”

October 24, 2010, Technical difficulty – Nehemiah 8, “God’s Word Forms God’s People” was not recorded

October 31, 2010, Nehemiah 9, “Repentance”

November 14, 2010, Nehemiah 10, “Making a Covenant to Keep the Covenant”

November 28, 2010, Nehemiah 11–12, “Repopulating the City and Dedicating the Wall”

December 5, 2010, Nehemiah 13, “The Ongoing Need for Correction and Repentance”

December 26, 2010, “The Messianic Hope in Ezra–Nehemiah”

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“Son of Man” or “Human Beings” in the NIV 2011: What Difference Does It Make?

In answer to the question: What makes a translation [of the Bible] accurate?

I said: “Its ability to preserve the way that later biblical authors evoke earlier Scripture.”

You can read my explanation at the BibleGateway Perspectives in Translation forum.

The NIV 2011 provides a perfect illustration of my point. Hebrews 2:6–8 is quoting Psalm 8:5–7, but the NIV 2011 has a problem with the text.

Here is Psalm 8:4 in the NIV 2011:

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?[c]

Here is the quotation of Psalm 8:4 in Hebrews 2:6 in the NIV 2011:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?

The problem here is not that Psalm 8:4 says “human beings” rather than “son of man.” Psalm 8:4 says “son of man.” You can come to your own conclusions as to why the NIV 2011 prefers to render the phrase “son of man” in Psalm 8:4 as “human beings.”

I would argue that in Psalm 8 David is describing his role as a new Adam exercising dominion over God’s creation (cf. Ps 8:6–8 and Gen 1:26–28) so that God’s name/glory will cover the dry lands as the waters cover the sea (cf. Ps 8:1, 9). This is in keeping with the promises that God has made to David in 2 Samuel 7, which are restated in Psalm 2.

So in Psalm 8 David refers to himself as “son of man,” then talks about how God made him ruler over the beasts of the field. In Daniel 7, in the context of a vision of various beasts who have taken over the rule God’s world, Daniel sees “one like a son of man” approach the Ancient of Days and receive everlasting dominion. Then Jesus refers to himself as “son of man” all over the place in the gospels, and the author of Hebrews, discussing Jesus, quotes Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2.

So is it important to render Psalm 8:4 “son of man”? Or can we render it “human beings”?

The answer depends on what you prioritize.

Apparently the Committee on Bible Translation prioritizes something that causes them to change the words “son of man” in Psalm 8:4 to “human beings.”

If the highest priority is to translate what the text says so that the interconnectedness of Scripture can be maintained, so that people can understand the whole Bible and see how everything fits together “according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth” (Eph 1:9–10, ESV), then simple phrases like “son of man” should be translated simply “son of man.”

No small theological matter is at stake here. Does it matter whether Psalm 8 can be seen to be pointing forward to Christ, who fulfills the Davidic pattern as the new Adam who will exercise dominion and make the name of the LORD majestic in all the earth?

Postscript: I hope that this post is rendered irrelevant by the Committee on Bible Translation changing the phrase in Psalm 8:4 from “human beings” to “son of man.” I know they have “son of man” in a footnote, but “son of man” should be in the text not in a footnote.

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Couldn’t Disagree More!

Joseph Fitzmyer writes regarding Genesis 3:15:

“Moreover, this verse does not mention משיח [Messiah], or even have a hidden reference to a coming Messiah, despite the later interpretations often given to it in both the Jewish and Christian tradition” (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The One Who Is to Come [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007], 28).

The language and imagery of Genesis 3:15 is reused all across the Old Testament and into the New. Further, the blessings of Genesis 12:1-3 are the direct answer to the curses of Genesis 3:14-19, and the Balaam oracles in Numbers 22-24 connect Genesis 3:15 to Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 49:8-12, so that we see that within the Pentateuch itself Genesis 3:15 exercises a profound influence on the gathering lines of promise. This is picked up in the Prophets and the Writings and rightly understood by, among others, the Apostle Paul, who explains that the blessing of Abraham has come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:14, cf. 3:16).

For more detail, see these two essays:

The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10.2 (2006), 30–54.

The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” Tyndale Bulletin 58.2 (2007), 253–73.

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Review of Joel Kennedy’s The Recapitulation of Israel

Joel Kennedy. The Recapitulation of Israel: Use of Israel’s History in Matthew 1:1–4:11. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2.257. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008. 264pp. 9783161498251. $105.00 (paper). Published in Bulletin for Biblical Research 20.2 (2010): 268-69.

This book is a revision of a dissertation supervised by Francis Watson at Aberdeen. The subject of the book is “the Christological use of Israel’s history in Matthew 1:1–4:11” (3), and its “primary focus . . . is examining Israel’s history and the recapitulation of it in Matthew” (17). Though Kennedy defines “recapitulation as a particular subset of typology,” he thinks “at this point in the discussion, it appears best to step aside from trying to defend typology as a legitimate label for Matthew’s work” (21). He states that typology needs “further refinement,” and therefore his study avoids “the term typology and seek[s] to strictly examine Matthew’s text itself in regard to recapitulation” (22). Kennedy states, “The term most apt in describing [the] utilization of Israel’s history in Matthew is recapitulation, which includes repetition, summing up, representation, and embodiment” (23).

After the Introduction, Chapter 2 looks at Matthew’s Genealogy (Matt 1:1–17). Kennedy passes over Matthew 1:18–25, moving directly to what he refers to as the “Passive Recapitulation of Israel’s History” in Chapter 3 (Matt 2:1–23). Chapter 4 then treats the “Active Recapitulation of Israel’s History” (Matt 3:1–4:11).

Kennedy’s treatment of Matthew’s genealogy first discusses the multilinear and unilinear genealogies in the Old Testament, then proposes that unilinear genealogies can also be teleological when they aim to highlight a key figure at the climactic end of the genealogy, such as the genealogy in Ruth that concludes with David. He then shows that genealogies are compressed narrative summaries. All this sets up a useful discussion of the way Matthew uses the genealogy to present Jesus as the recapitulation of Israel. The sense in which Israel’s history is “passively” recapitulated is that Jesus relives and repeats it in the events that happen to him as a child. Kennedy reads Matthew 2 from the perspective that it is narrating the new exodus. Chapter 4 then discusses the baptism and testing of Jesus.

This book makes an important contribution to the discussion of the use of the OT in the New. More work like this needs to be done, looking at the larger patterns and frameworks in the OT and then examining how these are used in the New. This goes far beyond citation formulas, verbal quotations and allusions, and other connections that are established at lexical levels. The kind of work that needs to be done, like Kennedy’s, is only possible from reading the texts in their original languages, gaining a thorough knowledge of the stories and patterns, and then engaging in slow reflection on textual connections. Too much work on the use of the OT in the New has been done without respect for OT context. Too many assertions have been made by NT scholars (and OT scholars too) whose conclusions betray simple failure to understand what either the OT or NT author was doing.

My only complaints about the present volume have to do with the way it tries to avoid the issue of typology. The attempt to circumvent the issue fails because though the word “typology” is avoided, the term that is used, “recapitulation,” is presented as a subset of typology. I cannot find a statement that differentiates between the two, nor do I see appreciable distinctions between what Kennedy calls “recapitulation” and what Allison, for instance, calls “typology” (Kennedy briefly summarizes Allison, with approbation, on p. 21). Connected to this is Kennedy’s dissatisfying decision to pass right over Matthew 1:18–25. The thesis of my essay (“The Virgin Will Conceive: Typological Fulfillment in Matthew 1:18–23,” in Built upon the Rock, ed. John Nolland and Dan Gurtner [Eerdmans, 2008], 228–47) fits perfectly, it seems to me, with Kennedy’s thesis, and he cites other essays from Built upon the Rock, so he had access to the volume. Perhaps the sticking point was the word “typology,” but in the absence of clear discrimination between that term and “recapitulation,” it seems that one word is merely standing in for the other. Many people have reservations about typology as a method of interpretation, but I do not think that using a different term for the same thing will alleviate those concerns. These complaints registered, let me say that this is an enjoyable and insightful volume that moves in a productive direction. Kennedy models an interpretive approach that will yield sound conclusions regarding how the New Testament authors understood the Old and presented their work as its fulfillment.

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What Is the Old Testament?

Over on the MCTS blog there’s an answer with which I heartily agree!

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Peter Gentry on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks

The next issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 14.1 (2010) is soon to be released. The issue is on eschatology, and you can see the Table of Contents here.

SBJT has generously made available what looks to be the most important essay in this issue: Peter J. Gentry, “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and the New Exodus,” SBJT 14.1 (2010): 26–45.

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That the Generations to Come Might Praise the Lord

On January 31 it was my privilege to preach at Kemp Road Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio.

I attempted to set the role of the family in the wider context of God’s purposes in Old Testament theology, moving from the father’s role in Deuteronomy 6 to the king’s role as a father to his people in Deuteronomy 17 to some brief thoughts on Proverbs 3, where we see Solomon acting as a father obediently teaching his son (and by extension the nation) as he teaches Torah in the book of Proverbs.

Have a listen and let me know what you think.

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SBC Messianic Fellowship

For those coming in early for the SBC this summer, it would be great to have you join me on Saturday, June 20 from 1:25pm to 4:30 for two sessions at the SBC Messianic Fellowship Meeting. Come ready to study the Twelve Prophets! (some of them, anyway).

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“Arise, O Star” at Songs of Southern Friday Night

Last summer I posted the lyrics to “Arise, O Star,” which is my attempt to put the Messiah in the Old Testament to music.

This spring there was an invitation here at SBTS for folks to submit songs they had written, so I turned this one in along with another (an attempt to put the ESV text of Psalm 67 to music, more on that later). Anyway, this Friday night some of the songs submitted, including “Arise, O Star,” will be sung in Dillard Chapel. Here are the details:

The School of Church Music and Worship School Council and the Hymn Society are sponsoring a worship service presenting new songs and hymns written by members of the Southern Seminary community.  The service will held in Dillard Chapel on Friday, April 17th at 7:30 pm.  Everyone is welcome to attend.

If you’re in the Louisville area, it would be great to see you at this event Friday night.

Thanks to the valiant efforts of Chris Fenner, a “lead sheet” replete with musical notations and guitar chords now exists for “Arise, O Star.” If you are interested, you can download that here. You have my permission to sing this anytime you like with anyone who will join you.

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The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham

I have just been alerted that my Tyndale Bulletin essay, “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” is now online:

The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,Tyndale Bulletin 58.2 (2007), 253-73.

Here’s the abstract:

Might the blessing of Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 be a direct answer to the curses of Genesis 3:14-19? The curses of Genesis 3 introduce con­flict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, con­flict between the man and the woman, with difficulty in childbearing, and conflict between the man and the ground, which is cursed for man’s sin. God promises land, seed, and blessing to Abraham. The nations will be blessed through the seed of the woman, seed of Ab­raham, who crushes the serpent’s head. The birth of this seed means that the conflict between the man and his wife is not final, nor will the dif­ficulty in childbearing be fatal. And God promises land to Abraham and his seed, land that hints of a return to Eden.

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Review of Chester, Messiah and Exaltation

 

Andrew Chester, Messiah and Exaltation: Jewish Messianic and Visionary Traditions and New Testament Christology, WUNT 207. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007. 716pp. ISBN: 978-3-16-149091-0. $215.00. Cloth.

Published in BBR 18.2 (2008), 348-50. 

Encouraged to do so by Martin Hengel, Andrew Chester has revised or expanded several published essays, written three substantial new ones, and given them to us as Messiah and Exaltation. Chapter 1 sets forth the purpose of publishing these essays, which Chester states do not “form a single sustained argument” (2). These essays focus on key ideas regarding Jewish messianism and early Christology. In many ways all of the essays develop ideas first presented in what appears as chapter 5 of this volume. 

In chapter 2, Chester takes up arguments made by Maurice Casey, Richard Bauckham, and Timo Eskola. Casey argues that the Jewish prophet Jesus was only later turned into a Gentile God. Chester gives much more attention to Bauckham and Eskola. Bauckham posits a hard and fast line between the divine identity and other supernatural beings who do not, for instance, receive worship. Chester argues that Bauckham’s explanation of Logos and Wisdom as being included within the divine identity fails, bringing forth and discussing at length evidence that appears to overturn aspects of Bauckham’s argument. Eskola, according to Chester, recapitulates many themes already present in the work of others, such as Hengel, in his presentation of an intriguing Merkabah throne mysticism, which he argues is reflected in such texts as Psalms 110, 16, and 132, 2 Samuel 7, and Acts 2:22–36. For Chester, Eskola begs too many questions (a favorite charge of Chester’s) and insufficiently defines both “Messianism” and “Merkabah mysticism.” Chester summarizes, critiques, and seeks to go beyond these arguments in order to base early Christology primarily on the extraordinary visions experienced both by Christ himself and by his followers. These visions, Chester argues, were the central and shaping forces operating in early Christological thinking. Only once the importance of the visions is established would Chester bring in both the citation of Old Testament Yahweh texts with reference to Christ and the worship of Jesus, but he concedes that the process of theological development cannot be neatly demarcated. 

Chapter 3 examines the themes of “Resurrection, Transformation and Christology” in the OT, extra-biblical, and NT texts. Chester argues that “resurrection can be used to portray individual, national and cosmic transformation.” The NT presents the resurrected Christ as “transformed to take on the divine glory and image” (189), and believers anticipating transformation into the image of Christ. 

Chapter 4 turns to “The Nature and Scope of Messianism.” Chester first discusses the various definitions of messianism before turning to the primary evidence. His treatment of the Hebrew Bible is mainly a review of the works of minimalists such as Pomykala and Karrer and maximalists such as Laato and Horbury. Chester is not overly impressed with the minimalists, and his summaries of Laato and Horbury are nothing short of fascinating, though in Chester’s estimation, Laato begs too many questions and Horbury’s understanding of the messiah is too broad. Chester then undertakes a comprehensive discussion of evidence for messianism in the Qumran texts. He suggests that the evidence for two messiahs at Qumran is limited and “cannot simply be assumed to underlie all of Qumran messianism” (269). Chester then considers Messianism as it relates to the temple and the Torah and concludes with the NT evidence. 

Chapter five is the heart of the volume. This earliest essay contains the main lines of the arguments Chester develops, revises, and even changes through the subsequent essays. The essay is introduced with discussion of the various positions scholars take, followed by treatment of Jewish messianic expectation reflected in second temple writings, which leads into consideration of Jewish mediatorial figures (with which Bauckham took issue in God Crucified, an argument Chester challenges in chapter 2 of the present volume), and Chester concludes this essay looking at Pauline Christology as it relates to Jewish messianic expectation and mediatorial figures. 

Chapter six will be particularly interesting to pre-millennial interpreters. Chester provides a thorough discussion of Eschatology and Messianic Hope. The Jewish evidence of a messianic “golden age” is treated, as are Christian texts, focusing on Revelation, chiliasts and non-chiliasts, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, 1 and 2 Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp, and the Epistle to Diognetus. Chapter seven treats “Messiah and Temple in the Sibylline Oracles,” chapter eight discusses “Messiah and Torah,” and chapter nine concludes the volume with “The ‘Law of Christ’ and the ‘Law of the Spirit’.” 

These essays are the work of a mature scholar who is thoroughly conversant with the primary and secondary evidence. Chester fairly presents the views of other scholars, summarizing them at length before moving into discussion and critique of the positions with which he agrees or disagrees. This aspect of the volume will benefit anyone interested in messianism. 

The detailed character of the arguments, the wide-ranging scope of the collection, and the massive scholarship involved make it difficult to take issue with particular points in a short review such as this. I submit a few general observations, more in the form of impressions than critiques. The long discussions sometimes yield little payoff or are so technical as to be mainly of interest to those working specifically on, say, “the law of Christ” (chapter 9), yet holding much less interest for those working on primary evidence for messianism in the Hebrew Bible (chapter 4). But, that is the nature of both the vast question of messianism and this particular volume—a collection of essays, which, as the author states at the outset, do not comprise a sustained argument for a thesis. The sometimes unremarkable conclusions to these long discussions reflect Chester’s caution, which is perhaps overly resistant to synthetic summaries. For some, this aspect of Chester’s work will be a mark of the quality of his scholarship, and there can be no disputing its quality. Others, though, will feel that the pendulum has swung too far from the synthesis of messianism presented in Schürer to an overemphasis on its diversity as seen in the minimalists. Chester’s work is moving the pendulum back toward the middle, but it is perhaps only a short step from Chester to Horbury (in spite of Chester’s claim that his view is “altogether different” 283 n. 293), which might make that middle look more and more like Schürer’s synthesis. If Schürer goes too far, it nevertheless seems that there is a core of messianism that holds together its various expressions (as Craig Evans has recently noted in The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments, Eerdmans 2007, 239). 

Chester, in spite of all the qualifications, reservations, and nuances, is no minimalist and helpfully argues that the messianic expectations attested in extra-biblical Jewish literature and the NT can be described as at least “latent” in the Old Testament itself (282–84). Further, he acknowledges Horbury’s point that bringing the various writings of the Old Testament together into the beginnings of the OT canon resulted in them being presented side by side, creating a dynamic interaction between the diverse OT indications of an expected deliverer (279–80). Minimalists may appreciate Chester’s ever present caution, insistence on the value of the texts in their own right, and attempts to qualify the conclusions drawn by maximalists, who may feel that the massive evidence Chester presents, in spite of his attempts to stem its tide with nuance and qualification, inexorably reinforces their position. No one will be convinced by everything here, but the thorough summaries of scholarship and the thoughtful discussion of primary evidence make this volume a valuable contribution.

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The Messiah in the Old Testament: A Rap

As promised, in the last day of my class on the Messiah in the Old Testament, I delivered this rap that I wrote as I was preparing for the forum on Christ in the OT that was held earlier this semester here at SBTS. I think one of the students got the audio, so if it becomes available to me, I’ll link it here.

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The Messiah in the Old Testament in Seven Minutes

One of my brother’s room-mates left some clothes that somehow I inherited. My brother makes fun of me for wearing some of the shorts because they are of the FUBU brand—FUBU means “For Us By Us,” and my brother tells me I’m not included in either of those references to “us.”

So with apologies to those who do belong in the “us” of “For Us By Us,” inspired by Jim Orrick’s Philosophy rap, here is my tribute to The Messiah in the Old Testament (imitation is the highest form of compliment).

 

God promised a seed, who would crush the serpent’s head
Adam and Eve hoped in what God said
This can be seen from the naming of the wife
Whereas death was promised, the promised seed means life

What Eve said when Cain and Seth were born
Shows she thought that the seed had been born
The line is traced to Noah, through ten generations
And at his birth his dad thinks its time for vacations

For the land had been cursed because of Adam’s sin
The toil was painful since the loss of Eden
But at the birth of Noah, Lamech hopes for relief
Return to Eden would mean the end of grief

After the flood another geneology
Takes us down to Abram on the family tree
In the blessing of Abram, God did promise
That by this man’s seed he would overcome the curse

So kings will come from Abram, and his seed take the land
The ruler’s staff will never leave Judah’s hand
At the Exodus from Egypt the nation is God’s son
We see a tension ‘tween the many and the one

On the way to the land, Balaam tried to curse
But all he did was bless, verse after verse
Out of Jacob he beheld, but as from afar
Seen but not now, the rising star

A scepter too, like the one that won’t leave Judah
The skull crushing seed of the woman, Yeshua
And then Moses promised, a prophet like himself
Who would match the pattern seen in Moses himself

Rejected by the people, afflicted and opposed
Feeds the hungry with the manna, heaven knows
That the one like Moses leads a new Exodus
From our sins, he will deliver us

Jesus said, “These testify of me”
You search the law, in it you should see
That though Moses left Egypt in haste and stealth
The reproach of Christ was better than its wealth

As the years go on, the people need a king
Who will keep the law and God’s praises sing
David was raised up by the Lord
And to him God did give his word

That his seed would sit forever on the throne
All the ends of the earth he would own
Serpents head crushed, enemies defeated
God’s son on the throne in Zion will be seated

Seed of the woman, seed of Abraham
Seed of Judah, possessor of the land
Crusher of the serpent, savior of the sheep
If you are his enemy you will weep

But David was a sinner, and so were his sons
So the nation’s sad story to exile runs
But on the way the prophets, called for repentance
Pointing to a day, when there would be a difference

For a shoot would arise from the stock of Jesse’s roots
To reign in righteousness and bear good fruits
Justice and peace in the power of the Spirit
And the lamb will lie down with the wolf and not fear it

In this new Eden the child will play
By the serpent’s hole and the lion eat hay
When the new David reigns in the restored land
God will pour out the Spirit on woman and man

And with his people make a new covenant
And they will understand what is meant
With the law on their hearts and their sins forgiven
Never again into exile driven

Much in the Book says the King will conquer
But the strain is also strong that says he will suffer
On behalf of his people, their sins he will bear
Like a lamb to the slaughter while the nations stare

As the one who stands next to the Lord,
The Shepherd, is struck by the wakened sword
And all the sheep flee, scattered on the hills,
While the nations rage, and the cup of wrath spills

Fulfilling all the types and prophecies
The King becomes the curse and dies on the tree
All this was hidden, as in a mystery,
Which God made known to Apostles, you see?

I could go on and on, so much I haven’t mentioned
Melchizedek hasn’t gotten any attention
Nor has his status as both king and priest
Which Jesus took up, never to cease

Interceding for his people as their covenant Lord
On the throne of David to fulfill the word
As the seed of the woman and of his father David
When God makes a promise you know he will keep it

So if you want to know what Jesus said
On the road to Emmaus from the law and prophets
Beginning from Moses, in all that was written
Opening their minds, explaining what was hidden

Look to the writings of the New Testament
Where the men taught by Jesus tell us what he meant
They show us how to read the OT
And Jesus sent the Spirit to help you and me

So spread the good news that the battle is won
The curse is reversed, the new age begun
We long for the day when he returns
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come, Lord, come.”

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How Much Christ in the Old Testament?

That was the topic of discussion yesterday. It was my privilege to participate in a panel discussion here at SBTS, and the audio file is here (HT: Awilum). 

My views have been shaped by the preaching, teaching, and writings of Drs. Thomas R. Schreiner, John Sailhamer, T. Desmond Alexander, Stephen G. Dempster, E. Earle Ellis, and N. T. Wright, among others. 

Here are my attemps to articulate my views that have found their way into print: 

“The Virgin Will Conceive: Typological Fulfillment in Matthew 1:18-23,” in Built upon the Rock: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew, ed. John Nolland and Dan Gurtner, 228-47. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008 (for the presentation version, click the cover of the book on the right side of the page).

The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” Tyndale Bulletin 58.2 (2007), 253-73.

The Messianic Music of the Song of Songs: A Non-Allegorical Interpretation,” Westminster Theological Journal 68 (2006) 331-45.

The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10.2 (2006), 30-54.

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Arise, O Star

[I wrote this some time back, and we have sung it a number of times at Redeemer. I’m only posting it now because I’ve only now figured out how to make things single spaced on the blog–press shift then enter.]

Arise, O Star

Verse 1
Seed of the woman
Promised long ago
Sworn to crush the serpent’s head
That to Eden we might go

All nations will be blessed
In the seed of Abraham
And the scepter is to Judah
The land belongs to him

Chorus

Arise, O Star
Jacob longs for you
Keep your word, Lord
Your promises all true

Your people wait
For that Day when you will come
Take your power and reign
Heaven’s highest Son

Verse 2
The branch will come from Jesse
Great David’s greater Son
As a Son to God comes He
To the throne in Zion

The prophet like Moses
Priest like Melchizedek
Anointed with the Spirit
Messiah, he shall reign

to chorus

Verse 3
So the Man of Sorrows came
Acquainted with his grief
Smitten for our sins
Raised to set us free

And he shall come again
With all his holy ones
For that day we watch
Come soon, Lord Jesus

to chorus

James Merrill Hamilton Jr.
March 31, 2006

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Here are the biblical texts that give rise to these lyrics:

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