Books Write-Up: Obadiah, Jonah and Micah; Letters for the Church; the Paradox of Sonship

I will be catching up on book reviews in this post. IVP Academic sent me complimentary copies of these books. My reviews are honest!

A. Daniel C. Timmer. Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. IVP Academic, 2021. Go here to purchase the book.

Daniel C. Timmer teaches biblical studies at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and also in Montreal, Quebec at the Faculte de theologie evangelique. As the title indicates, this book is a commentary on the biblical books of Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah.

Some items:

—-The sections on Jonah and Micah are more interesting than the one on Obadiah. The Obadiah section still engages some intriguing scholarly views, such as one that the ancient Judahites hated the Edomites because the Judahites feared that the Edomites had replaced them as God’s people. Not surprisingly, Timmer rejects this view, but what is amazing is the ideas that scholars put out there in an attempt to be fresh and original.

—-The Jonah section is noteworthy because it treats the Book of Jonah as historically accurate and as pre-exilic. That contrasts with the picture I long got about the book in my reading of scholarship: that it is some post-exilic fable promoting inclusivism towards Gentiles when there was controversy about inclusivism and exclusivism within the post-exilic Jewish community. Timmer’s commitment to Jonah’s historicity is manifest in three areas. First, Timmer contends that the language of Jonah reflects pre-exilic Hebrew and defends the idea that the Hebrew is authentically archaic as opposed to being post-exilic archaizing. Second, Timmer notes the deterioration of the Assyrian empire in the ninth century, which would have made the Ninevites receptive to Jonah’s prophecy of doom. Third, Timmer harmonizes the text of Jonah with history. Jonah 3:6-9 mentions a king of Nineveh and, because Nineveh was not Assyria’s capital city prior to 705, Timmer concludes that this “king” is not a king of all Assyria but rather a magnate over one of the fragments of the Assyrian empire.

—-Timmer offers intriguing possibilities and engages scholarly speculation. He speculates that Jonah himself may have commissioned the ship that took him to Tarshish, meaning Jonah was more than a mere passenger. And, contrary to those who maintain that Jonah’s message to the Ninevites is solely one of doom, Timmer notes possible indications that Jonah preached repentance to the Ninevites.

—-In the section on Micah, Timmer attributes the false prophecies of the false prophets to demons. I am hesitant to accept Timmer’s conclusion here because I think that it projects later demonology onto a pre-exilic book. Plus, it brings to mind annoying tendencies of my religious background, which attributed anything supernatural outside of a rigid religious construct to demons. Still, Timmer’s conclusion does raise profound questions. First, to what did the Hebrew Bible attribute false prophecy? Were the false prophets lying? Did they receive their visions from a supernatural source other than God? There are places in the Hebrew Bible that appear to engage this question. Jeremiah 23:16 asserts that false prophets are speaking their own ideas, not the words of God; here, they are deluded or lying. I Kings 22:21-23, however, depicts God himself sending a lying spirit to the mouths of the false prophets. On a similar note, Deuteronomy 13:1-3 asserts that a false prophet may be part of God’s testing of the Israelites’ faithfulness, implying, perhaps, that God sent the false prophet to test the Israelites. Second, while I doubt that pre-exilic ancient Israelites conceived of an arch-enemy of God, Satan, having a retinue of demons seeking to undermine God’s plan, that does not mean that they lacked a demonology altogether, and they may have seen at least some demons as more than pesky spirits, which is how some scholars tend to portray the ancient conception of demons. Deuteronomy 32:17 states that the false gods to whom Israelites sacrificed were demons (shedim); these were more than pesky spirits but were able to impersonate deity.

—-Since I became aware of the historical-critical method, I have wondered how to approach the eschatological passages of the Old Testament prophets. Micah forecasts the dramatic, supernatural restoration of Israel and the Davidic king in reference to the nations of his time, such as Assyria. Micah 5, which Matthew 2:6 applies to Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem, depicts seven princes defeating Assyria, a power in Micah’s own time that had largely vanished from the scene by the time of Jesus. Is Micah 5 Micah’s view about what would happen in his own day, within his own geo-political context, as opposed to being a prophecy about the distant future? Timmer engages this question, treating the references to Assyria in Micah 5 as paradigmatic and typological for Israel’s foes in general. Timmer states on page 181 that “this typological understanding of these two empires fits well with Micah’s use of Nimrod for Babylon (cf. Gen. 10:8-10).” As Nimrod in the Book of Genesis could foreshadow later Babylon, so could Assyria be a type for Israel’s eschatological enemies.

—-Timmer states on page 228: “‘Zion’ will no longer be limited in terms of space and geography, so will be able to welcome many nations (4:1-4) from across the globe (7:11-12). Her newly arrived citizens, particularly those of non-Israelite ethnicity, will radically expand her population (it is important that Daughter Zion identifies herself as Abraham’s offspring, rather than extending that title to all ethnic Israelites).” Timmer essentially sees continuity between Micah’s eschatology and the New Testament’s inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God. How convincing this is, is a worthwhile question. Timmer, of course, has to deal with Micah 4:5’s declaration that the nations may walk in the name of their own gods, whereas Israel will walk in the name of the LORD. Does this envision a time of eschatological tolerance and pluralism, when Gentiles will worship their own gods rather than becoming part of the people of Israel and worshiping the LORD alone? Timmer’s solution appears to be that Israel recognizes she had better be faithful because that would be what would attract the nations to the God of Israel; otherwise, the nations will continue to worship their own gods. There is also the focus on ethnic Israel throughout Micah and all of the Old Testament prophets, for that matter, which makes me question whether Micah is downplaying ethnic Israel in favor of a spiritual community that includes Gentiles. Moreover, one may wonder if the nations in the “inclusivist” passages of the Old Testament prophets are necessarily joining the people of God or rather are becoming subordinate to the Israelites, meaning that their honor for God is an aspect of their political subordination to Israel. If so, such prophecies may concern Israel’s political prestige in the eschaton more than the nations becoming closer to God.

B. Darian R. Lockett. Letters for the Church: Reading James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude as Canon. IVP Academic, 2021. Go here to purchase the book.

Darian R. Lockett (Ph.D., St. Andrews) teaches New Testament at Biola University. This book goes through the Catholic epistles—-James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude—-while noting themes that unite them.

A few items:

—-Lockett largely accepts the traditional views of authorship, as he engages scholarly skepticism about said authorship. Some of his solutions are predictable, in light of conservative scholarship: attribute stylistic features to a secretary, patristic support, etc. In his discussion of II Peter, though, he refers to elements of II Peter that appear to regard the letter as a sequel to a previous letter, meaning one person may have written I-II Peter.

—-Where Lockett may stray, somewhat, from conservatism is in his treatment of Jude’s quotation of I Enoch. He surveys conservative scholarly denials that Jude regards I Enoch as divinely-authoritative and simply does not find them convincing. If Jude does regard I Enoch as divinely-authoritative, then that has profound implications, including Christians having another book in their canon.

—-Love is a theme that recurs in the book. This troubles me, as a shy introvert with grudges and social anxiety who cannot bring himself to love people and questions whether Christians manifest the unconditional love they judge me for lacking. That rant aside, Lockett, in some cases, shows how love fits into the argument of the Catholic epistles: James opposes favoritism for the rich over the poor, and James’s stance, of course, is consistent with love. In some cases, Lockett perhaps could have more effectively showed where love fits into the equation. In II Peter 2:21, for example, the author criticizes those who turned away from the sacred command, and Lockett interprets that sacred command as the command to love. Yet, Lockett also regards the context for that passage as pertinent to apostasy: leaving the faith and returning to pagan sensualism and hedonism. How does rejecting love fit into that apostasy?

—-In Jude 9, Jude refers to Michael’s dispute with Satan over the bones of Moses. The interpretation that I usually heard of that incident is that Satan wanted to make Moses’s bones an object of worship. Lockett, however, offers a different interpretation: that Satan was saying that Moses did not deserve proper burial because Moses had killed an Egyptian. Whether there is a basis for this interpretation is a good question, especially since, as Lockett states, the story “most likely comes from the lost ending of the Testament of Moses” (199).

—-Lockett is especially effective in painting the perspective against which II Peter contends, one that draws together different elements of the book. Why does II Peter focus on the inspiration of Scripture and divine judgment? Because people were saying that the prophets were merely conveying their own ideas, not divine revelation, and they were denying that divine judgment was something to fear, since things have continued the same way for millennia.

C. R.B. Jamieson. The Paradox of Sonship: Christology in the Epistle to the Hebrews. IVP Academic, 2021. Go here to purchase the book.

R.B. Jamieson (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

When the Epistle to the Hebrews refers to Jesus as God’s “son,” what does it mean? On the one hand, Hebrews appears to manifest a high Christology: Jesus is Son of God in that Jesus is God. Through the Son, God made the worlds (Hebrews 1:2). The Son’s word sustains all things, and the Son is the brightness of God’s glory and the image of God’s person (Hebrews 1:3). The Son is called God in Hebrews 1:8, and the Son is superior to Moses because Moses was a servant in the house, whereas the Son built the house, and the ultimate builder is God (Hebrews 3:1-6). The Son also, like God, lacks beginning of days and end of life (Hebrews 7:3).

On the other hand, Hebrews seems rather adoptionistic, in some places, meaning that the man Jesus became God’s Son rather than always possessing that status by virtue of inherent divinity. Hebrews 1:5 appears to suggest that God begot Jesus as Son on a specific day, which differs from God the Son being eternally begotten. Hebrews 2:10 affirms that Jesus was made perfect through sufferings. Does that imply that he was not perfect before? Is not God eternally perfect?

Jamieson’s solution is that there are two types of Sonship in Hebrews. First, Jesus has always been God’s Son in the sense that he himself is divine: he is, and always has been, God. Here, Jamieson rejects the conventional scholarly tendency to divorce the New Testament from Nicaea and Chalcedon, as if the latter cannot be used to understand the former. The latter, for Jamieson, is what makes sense of the former. To quote Jamieson on page 146, “Hebrews is not merely a significant step along the way to Nicaea but is, in a crucial sense, already there.”

But, second, being the Son of God also means being the Messiah, God’s chosen ruler. The Davidic king was considered the son of God (II Samuel 7:14), ruling on the throne of God (I Chronicles 29:23). The king became God’s son at his coronation (Psalm 2). Jesus, likewise, became God’s Son, the ruler of the cosmos, at his resurrection. Jesus attained a rulership and Messianic status that he lacked before. What, then, does Hebrews 2:10 mean when it says that the Son became perfect? Jamieson interprets that to mean that the Son, through suffering, qualified to become the high priest of humanity. By becoming human and suffering as a human, Jesus atoned for sin and became better able to understand Christians who struggle with sin (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15).

Some items:

—-Jamieson elucidates how Melchizedek fits into Hebrews’s argument. When Hebrews 7:3 affirms that Melchizedek lacked beginning of days and end of life, what does it mean? Was Melchizedek eternal? Was Melchizedek Jesus? Jamieson, of course, replies that Hebrews 7:3 is noting that Melchizedek lacks a genealogy: his mother and father are unmentioned in the Old Testament. How, though, does that fit into Hebrews’s argument? Jamieson’s response is that, according to Hebrews, Melchizedek is a type of Christ. What is true of Melchizedek merely on paper is true of Christ in reality.

—-Ordinarily, Jamieson is judicious and detailed in his argumentation. One aspect of his interpretation of Romans 1:3, however, is a stretch. Jamieson, echoing other scholars, argues that Jesus was Messiah due to his descent from Mary, who was a descendant of David. That was how Jesus was of the seed of David according to the flesh. Here, he is trying to reconcile Romans 1:3 with the virgin birth. If Jesus were not the seed of David through Joseph, since Joseph was not his biological father, then Jesus had to be the seed of David through Mary. But questions need to be addressed. Can Messianic status pass through the mother rather than the father? If Luke 3’s genealogy is indeed Jesus’s genealogy through Mary, does that not disqualify him from being the Davidic king, since the Davidic dynasty was through David’s son Solomon (II Samuel 7:14), not Nathan, the son of David mentioned in Luke 3? And is there any evidence that Mary had Davidic descent?

—-Jamieson at one point seems to deny that Hebrews envisions Christians reigning with Christ, as it focuses on Christ as king. That could be: from a historical-critical standpoint, one should focus on what the text says rather than importing what it does not say. But does not Jesus in Hebrews bring many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10)?

—-Where I am unclear, and this may be rectified through a rereading of the book, is where Jesus’s divinity fits into Jesus’s Messiahship. On some level, Jamieson appears to go an Anselmian route: only God could atone for the sins of all of humanity. Jamieson also seems to think that, according to Hebrews, Jesus’s divinity is part of his qualification to rule, and that it even elevates the concept of Messiahship beyond that of a mere Davidic king.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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