Book Giveaway Winner: T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God

Commentary on HebrewsThere were fourteen comments from people hoping to win a copy of T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology). Follow the link to read my review. I copied all the name into a spreadsheet, sorted randomly then used random.org to select a winner. And the winner is….Dwight Gingrich. Congrats Dwight, I have sent an email to what I think is your email (a Canadian Yahoo account?) If you do not see that, contact me at plong42 @ gmail.com and I will arrange to ship the book out ASAP.

Dwight said his favorite Hebrews commentary is Gareth Lee Cockerill’s NICNT volume, a fine choice indeed. This was not published when I wrote on the best commentary on Hebrews in 2012. There were very few repeats among the fourteen comments; I expected a few F. F. Bruce votes, but only William Lane’s Word commentary scored two votes. But this is not the Jesus Seminar, so voting does not really count.

Big thanks to IVP Academic for sending an extra copy to pass along to readers of this blog. If you don’t win this book, check back soon for another book giveaway.

 

Dean R. Ulruch, Now and Not Yet: Theology and Mission in Ezra–Nehemiah

Ulruch, Dean R. Now and Not Yet: Theology and Mission in Ezra-Nehemiah. NSBT 57; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. 184 pp. Pb; $28.  Link to IVP Academic

Dean Ulrich has served both the church and academy. His North-West University (South Africa) PhD dissertation was published as The Antiochene Crisis and Jubilee Theology in Daniel’s Seventy Sevens (Oudtestamentische Studiën 66; Brill, 2016). He has also published a commentary on Ruth (P&R, 2007) and served as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Wexford, Pennsylvania. His experience in both church and academy is clear in his Now and Not Yet: Theology and Mission in Ezra–Nehemiah. In this new NSBT volume, Ulrich shows that participating in God’s mission for his world is a key message of Ezra and Nehemiah.Ezra-Nehemiah

As Ulrich describes in his introduction, there are many reasons for academic and pastoral inattention to the books of Ezra-Nehemiah. For many, Ezra-Nehemiah is a legalistic jumble of sources, lacking a coherent theology and littered with obtuse lists. For others, Nehemiah stands as a model for leadership (usually by contemporary writers looking for proof texts for their leadership principles). Ulrich argues Ezra-Nehemiah is a literary unit with rich missional theology which illustrates how God’s people continue to experience his salvation in the post-exilic world.

After a chapter outlining what he means by biblical theology and Ezra-Nehemiah’s contribution to biblical theology, Ulrich works his way through the books thematically (although this follows the order of the books themselves). The first section of Ezra deals with the return from exile (ch. 3), the rebuilding of the temple (ch. 4), and the security of Jerusalem (ch. 6). Throughout these chapters, he integrates the prophets Haggai and Zechariah in order to offer a narrative of the rebuilding of the early community in Judea after the exile.

Most Bible readers associate Ezra-Nehemiah with rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, but Ulrich also points out that the books are interested in rebuilding the people of God (ch. 5). By the time Ezra arrives in Jerusalem, the people have been worshiping in the rebuilt Temple for many years. For most modern readers, the problem of foreign marriage seems strange, and Ezra’s solution seems drastic: divorce foreign wives and exclude them from the people of God! This is even more surprising since there is no evidence the Gentile women were encouraging their Judean husbands to worship idols, as with Solomon. Ulrich admits the measures “may seem harsh, gut the identify and mission of God’s people after the exile were at stake” (94). The new community must take steps to preserve its distinctiveness or it will “transmute into something quite different from the original vision of the founder” (94).

Perhaps another reason for scholarly and pastoral inattention to Ezra-Nehemiah is the books ends unsatisfactorily (156). We know that the post-exilic community continues to struggle, and the tensions present in these books continue through the Maccabean Revolt and into the first century. This is the “now, not yet” from the subtitle of the bool. Although the Temple is rebuilt and the walls of Jerusalem are complete, the people continued to struggle with certain practices such as tithing, Sabbath, and intermarriage. Ulrich draws Malachi into his discussion of the end of Nehemiah, since that late prophet deals with the apathy of the Judeans. The book of Daniel addresses some of these issues from the perspective of those still living in exile. There were faithful Jews living in the Diaspora, even if Judeans struggled with certain practices.

Conclusion. Ulrich’s Now and Not Yet will serve as a theological commentary for both pastors and academics teaching through Ezra-Nehemiah, two overlooked Old Testament books.

 

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Matthew S. Harmon, The Servant of the Lord and His Servant People

Harmon, Matthew S. The Servant of the Lord and His Servant People: Tracing a Biblical Theme Through the Canon. NSBT 54; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. 262 pp. Pb; $27.  Link to IVP Academic

Matthew Harmon (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He recently contributed Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration in the ESBT series (IVP Academic 2020) and a recent Galatians commentary (Lexham 2021). This new monograph traces the theme of the servant of the Lord through four key figures in the Old Testament and Isaiah’s suffering servant, all of which point towards Jesus as the ultimate Servant of the Lord.

Harmon, Servant of the LordAfter a short introductory chapter, Harmon surveys for examples of individuals identified as a servant of the Lord in the Old Testament: Adam, Moses, Joshua, and David. Adam was the image bearer in the garden who served as a priest in Eden, a temple sanctuary for the Lord. Moses served in both royal and priestly roles with a focus on the prophetic fulfillment of God’s purposes. Joshua seems like an unlikely addition to the list, but Harmon argues he is a priestly character who mediates God’s presence to the nations and intercedes on behalf of the God’s people. David is called a servant king (1 Samuel 23:10-12) and the Davidic covenant calls David a servant ten times. Since much of the evidence for David as a servant of the Lord comes from the psalms, Harmon refers to him as the singing servant” based on Psalm 89.

After surveying these four examples, Harmon turns to a discussion of the suffering servant in the book of Isaiah (chapter six). In the four examples surveyed in the first part of the book, the servant of the Lord ultimately fails in that role. The Lord’s response is to raise up a new servant who will succeed as the light to the gentiles (141). Although he briefly detects a few instances of servant language in Isaiah 1-39, his focus is on the servant in Isaiah 40-66, and specifically Isaiah 40-54. The question has always been: who is the suffering servant in Isaiah? Sometimes, it is Israel as the servant nation of Israel (42:1-9). In other examples, the suffering servant is an individual (49:1-13). The servant in Isaiah 53 experiences the curses that came from Adam’s failure in the garden. This song also looks forward to restoration and blessing after the servant has offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. He sees a hint of the resurrection. After the servant’s self-sacrifice, he will “see his seed.”

In Chapter 7, Harmon discusses Jesus as the servant of the Lord par excellence. The New Testament uses Isaiah’s servant language and often applies it directly to Jesus. Harmon begins with Philippians 2:5-11, perhaps the earliest use of servant language to describe Jesus. Into the Christ hymn, servant language focuses on the obedience and humility of the servant as he lays down his life. But Philippians also describes the exaltation of the servant as God vindicates him in the resurrection. Harmon detects about a dozen keywords and phrases found in Philippians 2: 5-11 that draw on Isaiah’s servant songs. He then surveys the gospels and finds allusions to the servant songs in the birth, early childhood, baptism, and ministry of Jesus. These allusions are more intense in the death and resurrection of Jesus. When the apostles preach the gospel on the day of Pentecost, they identified Jesus with the Isaiah’s suffering servant (Acts 3:13, for example).

For Harmon, Jesus is the fulfillment of the previous servants. Adam, Moses, Joshua, and David in some ways served as prophet, priest, or king, and he failed in that role. He concludes, “there should be no doubt that the New Testament presents Jesus as the servant of the Lord par excellence” (178). In fact, the New Testament presents the totality of Jesus’s identity as fulfilling the role of Isaiah’s servant of the Lord. Harmon refers Adam as a servant, but also as a prophet priest and king. Likewise, both Moses and David are royal servants who also served in priestly and prophetic roles. To a large extent, servant language was common for prophets, priests and kings in the ancient world, opening the door for the connection to Jesus as “prophet, priest, and king,” similar to Ben Gladd, From Adam and Israel to the Church (IVP Academic, 2019).

The final two chapters of the book discuss the apostles as servants of Christ, highlighting self-designations as “servant” in the epistles. The work of Jesus as the servant par excellence would produce a servant people (201). In Luke 2: 46-49 and Acts 1:8, Jesus transfers his mission as the servant to his people. Much of this material detects allusions to Isaiah’s suffering servant in the New Testament, but sometimes it is not clear that there is, in fact, an allusion. This is the problem with any sort of intertextual study. Once you look for servant language, you find it everywhere. Nevertheless, Harmon demonstrates Jesus as the Lord’s servant becomes a template for how the church ought to serve in the world today.

The book does not have much on slavery or servanthood in the ancient world. There are many other studies discussing of slavery for New Testament studies (which Harmon acknowledges). Perhaps some background on servant language in the Ancient Near east would be helpful since more than half of the book concerns the image of a servant in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, this rich background material is outside the goals of the book.

 

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Matthew S. Harmon, Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration

Harmon, Matthew S. Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration. Essential Studies in Biblical Theology; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 207 pp. Pb; $22.  Link to IVP Academic

The Essential Studies in Biblical Theology attempt to span the whole canon of Scripture and seeks to connect the theme to the person of Christ. In this third volume of the series, Matthew Harmon traces the related themes of sin and exile from the original rebellion in the Garden of Eden to the end of the exile in the New Creation. Harmon (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Harmon’s The Servant of the Lord and His Servant People: Tracing a Biblical Theme Through the Canon (NSBT) will be published in January 2021. He has also written commentaries on Galatians, Philippians, 2 Peter, and Jude.

Harmon, Biblical Theology of Sin and RestorationHarmon acknowledges the catalyst for significant attention on the theme of exile and restoration is the work of N. T. Wright. Wright argues the “return from exile” motif is central for understanding the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Wright himself has published several books and essays on this topic, and these works have generated responses from various scholars. However, this book is not slavishly devoted to Wright, even if his influence is not far from the surface. Harmon’s goal in the book is clearly present how Scripture describes the believer’s experience of exile as “a longing for a place we have never been.” The German word Fernweh expresses this idea (3). He relates this to well-known books (The Hobbit) and films (Terminal), although I am surprised Harmon does not refer to the U2 song “All that you Can’t Leave Behind.”

This longing results from the fall. Harmon therefore begins with a summary of the Fall, “Humanity’s Original Rebellion and Exile” (ch. 1). When humans rebelled and were exiled from the Garden, they lost their status as God’s people, their place in Eden and their experience of God’s presence in the earthly sanctuary of Eden. The promise to Abram in Genesis 12 begins the restoration of these three things; God promised Abram that his descendants will be the people of God, that people will have a place (a land), and a new Edenic home where God’s presence will dwell with them (23).

Chapters 2-3 deal with the reality of the exile foreshadowed as early as Mount Sinai and the golden calf incident. Abraham’s descendants are as rebellious as Adam and will suffer the same kind of exile from the land. Harmon rightly shows the curses for failure to keep the Law result in exile from the land where God’s presence dwells. He traces this theme (briefly) from Joshua to 2 Kings. He describes life in exile as a time when some of God’s people remained faithful to Yahweh (Daniel, for example) while others continued their rebellion against God (Ezekiel 14).

The fourth chapter of the book deals with the prophetic anticipation of the return from exile when Israel repents. The prophets balance nearly every threat of exile with a promise of restoration. Harmon points out four aspects of these promises. First, God promises a restoration of Temple worship. Second, God’s people will (finally) keep his law (Torah). Third, God will restore his people to a particular land (turf, to keep the alliteration going). Fourth, a Davidic king will rule over this restored people (a throne). Harmon argues these four restoration promises embody the foundational components of people, place, and presence lost in the original fall, but promised in the Abrahamic covenant (67).

Since this restoration will require a New Covenant, Harmon examines new covenant language in Isaiah 40-55, Jeremiah 31, and Ezekiel 34-37. The exiles who returned to Judea in 539 B.C. expected these promises to be fulfilled, but reality did not live up to expectation. They rebuilt the Temple, but God did not fill the second temple with his glory. The returned exiles kept the Torah, but there was still rebellion as demonstrated by the problems addressed by Nehemiah and Malachi. The restored exiles only possessed a fraction of the land and a Davidic king never appeared to rule a restored kingdom. As Harmon describes it, the four aspects of restoration (Temple, Torah, Turf, and Throne) were inaugurated, but not consummated.

Chapters 5-6 pick up the restoration from exile theme from the prophets and apply it to the life and ministry of Jesus, but especially in his death, resurrection and ascension. Harmon follows N. T. Wright closely here and argues Jesus inaugurates the restoration from exile through his ministry. This restoration is demonstrated by his healing the sick (expected in Isaiah 35:5-7, for example), his authority over the demonic realm, and in his teaching ministry. But it is in his death that Jesus brings an end to humanity’s exile. First, Jesus dies as the suffering servant promise by Isaiah. Second, Jesus ends humanity’s exile by drinking the cup of God’s wrath. Third, Jesus ends the exile by dying at Passover as the Passover lamb who takes away the sins of the world. The resurrection in the ascension represents God vindicating Jesus as the one who ends the exile. Harmon considers this an inauguration of the New Covenant and the end of the exile, but the end will not be consummated until the (future) return of Christ (108).

Harmon then turns to the epistles to develop exile themes (ch. 7, “Life as Exiles in a Fallen World”). Given the title for the chapter, it is not surprising that he gives serious attention to the letter of 1 Peter. He excepts the dominant view that 1 Peter was written to Gentile believers, although this once dominant view has a few recent dissenters. This does not distract from Harmon’s point that the letter portrays believers as sojourners and exiles in a fallen world. Through the death of Jesus, sinners are formed into a renewed and redeemed people, yet they are still living in a foreign land and looking forward to the end of the exile. Second, he turns to Hebrews and James as examples of how the church continues to live in exile. Like with 1 Peter, Hebrews and James seem clearly addressed to Jewish Christians who would resonate with the metaphor of exile.  Harmon includes four pages on two Pauline letters, although this is not as convincing as his sections on 1 Peter, Hebrews and James. Regarding Galatians, the examples Harmon offers have little to do with exile. For Philippians, focuses on citizenship in heaven. In either case the exile is not prominent, or even mentioned.

The penultimate chapter examines the book of Revelation and the ultimate end of Exile in the New Creation. There is nothing in this chapter on Revelation as a whole in this chapter, although the book has a great deal to say about living as an exile and second exodus themes run through the main section of the book. Harmon’s focus is in a “final exile” (Rev 20:11-15) and the new heaven and new earth. As expected, Harmon sees the description of the new creation in Revelation 21:1-5 as a new Eden. The river of life flowing recalls the rivers of the original Eden, and the tree of life returns. There is no hint of anything cursed in the new creation, so God’s glorious presence fills the new creation and humans are at least able to live out their purpose of the image bearers of God: “his servants will serve him” (136).

Harmon concludes this book with a chapter on practical implications of sin, exile, and restoration. Please seven brief points are pastoral, focusing on what God has done to fix the brokenness of this world, reminding us that this fallen world is not our home and that are true hope lies in the restoration planned by God from the beginning.

Conclusion. Since one goal of the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series is accessibility to beginning students and laypeople, Harmon’s Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration does not interact in detail with scholarly work on the exile and restoration. He has a section of recommendations for further reading divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced studies. He includes the very popular text by Lee Beach, The Church in Exile (IVP 2015) and Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty (IVP 2003). Several of the advanced studies interact with N. T. Wright, including two important essay collections: Carey Newman’s Jesus and the Restoration of Israel and James Scott’s Exile: A Conversation with N. T. Wright.

 

Other reviewed commentaries in Essentials of Biblical Theology series:

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Logos Flash Sale on New Studies in Biblical Theology

New Studies in Biblical Theology (45 vols.)

June 21–23 only, enjoy great savings on D. A. Carson’s New Studies in Biblical Theology from IVP Academic.  Individual volumes are $9.99, or get the whole set for $399. Back in February Logos gave away Mark Seifrid’s Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification (2000) and offered great discounts on Peter G. Bolt, The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel (2004) and Craig Blomberg’s Contagious Holiness:Jesus’ Meals with Sinners (2005). If you did buy those three in February, the cost of the whole set will be lower; Logos will not charge you for books you already own.

If you are unfamiliar with this series, the original Studies in Biblical Theology was published by SCM Press from 1952 through 1973. It included several important volumes, such as Early Christian Worship by Oscar Cullmann, Christ in the Wilderness by Ulrich W. Mauser and The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic by Klaus Koch. In 1995 IVP Academic re-booted the series with D. A. Carson as the series editor. Here is a summary of the first 35 volumes at the Gospel Coalition.

I have reviewed a few titles in the series (I have several more in my reading pile).

The sale does not include Peter T. O’Brien’s God Has Spoken in His Son: A Biblical Theology of Hebrews (2016; it was withdrawn from the series) or the recently published All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone by Brian J. Tabb.

Logos Bible Software also released a major upgrade at the end of 2018.  I did a “first look” review of Logos 8 here. There are plenty of new features to justify an upgrade and the software runs much more efficiently than the previous version (everything runs faster than Logos 7). You can save 25% on any upgrades to Logos 8 and pick five free books when you upgrade to Logos 8. Follow the link and used the code READINGACTS8.

Look over the titles on the Logos sale page, I am sure you will find many interesting studies to add to your Logos collection. But do not wait too long, the sale is over midnight PDT, June 23, 2019.