Merrill Everlasting Dominion Readings (427-64, 127-62)

October 18, 2008

[Comments on readings in Merrill’s Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament] Merrill’s view on prophecy comes out in his comments on Hannah’s prayer, “But there can be little doubt that she also speaks of a ruler to come in the near future…” (p. 428).  I find it hard to agree that we can know for sure that Hannah was praying for a king “in the near future” because nothing in the text tells us.  Merrill uses the word, “also” and therefore tells us that he believes there is dualism in the prophetic text.  But again, I see no reason to force any dualistic view on Hannah’s prayer in this passage.
Some information that I have never heard is brought up when Merrill points out that “according to His own heart” is “a technical term referring to divine election” (p. 431).  Does this change the meaning of “a man after My own heart” as well?  I always thought it meant that David was aligned with God in His desires – meaning he was godly.  But Merrill really almost seems to strip down the terms of God’s “choice” to be legal and without emotion.  Yet I do not believe God is without emotion.  I believe He loves, with intense feeling.  One only has to look to Jesus to see this.  Jesus felt intense emotions, and love was one of them.  I am not sure why Merrill feels he must strip down God’s emotional side and make Him stone-cold.  But, that being said, I should look more into the meaning of these phrases for perhaps it is true that emotion has no part of them.
Merrill’s link to the royal priesthood is interesting (p. 447).  I don’t believe I have ever heard David being linked with Melchizedek.  I understand his logic in doing so, but I am just not sure if I totally agree on how something like that would come into being.  I mean, David just started doing his own sacrifices because he lived in the same city as Melchizedek (p. 451)?  I think I need a better reason than that.  It is interesting, because Heater in BTOT does not seem to agree with Merrill, for he points out that if Saul had sacrificed himself, he would have been disciplined for such action (BTOT p. 140 compared to Merrill p. 448), but that he most likely did not.  Heater therefore, does not take the text as literally as Merrill (for Merrill states the text says David sacrifices, and therefore we should take it as such).  But in the end, if the link with royal priesthood and Jesus is with David, why would the Hebrew author not mention it?  Why does he only mention Melchizedek and not David?  I believe, while Merrill may be on to something, he needs more proof, more link as it were, to say that the royal priesthood actually began (or continued depending on how you look at it) with David.
Elijah’s challenge to the people of Israel, “If Yahweh is God, follow Him.  But if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21 p. 455) caused me to think about apologetics in the Bible.  Because so much emphasis is placed on logically convincing people that God is God, and yet even in Elijah’s case, the amazing miracle, that gave the people a huge load of empirical evidence, did not change their heart.  Elijah’s depression after the event could really be compared on a small scale with those who go on their first evangelism encounter with all kinds of ways to “convince” people of the truth of the Gospel, and then come back without anyone believing.

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Homer Heater A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament Readings (115-55)

October 17, 2008

[Comments on readings in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament – chapter by Homer Heater] Homer Heater does a great job summarizing the theology of Samuel and Kings; truly the books are, “two marvelous compositions showing God’s rule among men and, more specifically, the men and women of Israel” (p. 116).  He states that the Davidic Covenant is the “centerpiece” of Samuel and of Kings (p. 120), and that by acknowledging this centrality one picks up on the argumentation of 1 Samuel and “how it moves inexorably toward 2 Samuel 7” (p. 120).  I am not sure if Heater showed this argument very clearly, and for such a bold statement, I would have expected more from him.
When Heater refers to the problem of high places in Samuel and Kings, he brings up an issue that caused me to have some questions in my mind.  The writer(s) of Samuel had no problem with high places as long as they were dedicated to the Lord but the writer(s) of Kings were opposed to them (p. 126).  First of all, Heater brings up a quote from someone who seems to be a liberal and doesn’t really give a reason for quoting him, only a brief comment that the author of the quote is obviously arguing in a “circle” (p. 126).  But my question really has to do with how far one takes the author’s words as his own, and delineates them from God’s own Word.  These are the narrators we are talking about.  So when can we know what God thinks about the matter, if the authors were humanly opposed?  Can we only take direct prophecy as the actual thoughts of God?  Heater opens up a huge box here, and does not close it.  I mean, for example, are the Psalms just thoughts of men, or can we take them as the authoritative Word of God?  There is a fine line here, in delineating between authors, and then ignoring the one author of Scripture, the Holy Spirit; and I am not sure Heater does us a service in his commentary on the matter.
Samuel’s first interaction with God would make an interesting study for as Heater quoted, “the word of the Lord was rare” (p. 129).  What are ways to know of God’s voice today.  Many claim they hear Him.  Eli’s instructions were quite simple, and it did not take long for him to catch on that it was God.  How did Old Testament saints know when God spoke to them?  They did not have the Bible as we have it today, and so by what method could they affirm anything dogmatically?  Was it through signs, or did God just make them know supernaturally it was really Him?  With all the charismatic dogma going around these days, such a study could prove helpful.
Heater makes a good point about the easy cross-over from Yahwism to Baal worship, in the fact that Yahweh could be called Baal.  As someone interested in translation, this also makes a good point, that just because a name is used of a false God, it does not mean it cannot be used for the true God.  Though great care must be taken in translation, this sheds some biblical light on the issue, rather than most arguments that I have heard which are purely based on man’s own reasoning.


Thomas Constable A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament Readings (89-113)

October 16, 2008

[Comments on readings in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament – chapter by Thomas Constable] Thomas Constable does an excellent job at summarizing Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, but from the outset there is one issue in particular I felt he did not completely address (p. 93).  That is the statement in Joshua 21:43 that, “the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it.” Thomas claims that the promises were not fully realized in Joshua’s lifetime citing 24:1-28, but I do not feel that this is such a simple issue.  Joshua does not only once state explicitly that the Lord had given them the land, but twice (Joshua 23:14), so this really is a big deal.  Covenantal theologians do not interpret the text the same way Thomas does, and so I am really surprised that he did not spend more time developing his reasoning.  He points to some studies done by scholars, backing up his claim that what is said in Joshua is false (p. 103 footnote 21), but did he realize he is using the claims of scholars against the Bible?  No, this must be resolved by the Text, and I did not feel that he did so.
Also, the idea that Judges was recorded to provide “apologetic justification for Israel’s monarchy” (p. 94), seems a little hard to grasp, being that God was angry when Israel, shall we say, “recognized” they needed a king.  Sure, it might not have been the right timing – but it seemed like great timing, if Judges were in fact showing their need for one.  God was their king, but Israel did not want him.  And it gets sticky when we deal with the fact that Israel’s sin led to the Messiah (for it did, but would God have appointed a king over Israel if they had not asked for one?  It is hard to know).
Constable’s point regarding Israel’s continued existence as a nation as a polemic for God’s choice is compelling (p. 95), and I believe one that has yet to be fully explored (at least in covenantal circles).  God truly has remained faithful.  This should help us interpret the difficulties in the conditional statements in the covenants, being that God always gave Israel chance to repent, to return, and experience His blessing once again (even later, once Israel was exiled).
In Constables observations about love being “a commitment to honor and glorify [God]” I think he fails to take man’s fallen state into account.  If men were perfect, would there ever be a time when we did not feel love towards God?  Is it not rather because of sin, or even sin, because we do not feel love towards God, but must do things out of duty because we know we should do them?  I think perfect love is a love of feeling, but it is because of sin that we must make a commitment to honor and glorify God, because we will fail otherwise.


Merrill Everlasting Dominion Readings (75-126, 413-26)

October 15, 2008

[Comments on readings in Merrill’s Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament] One topic that I have yet to really study is that of Old Testament means of revelation from God (p. 76).  Merrill has great summaries on each mode of revelation in the Old Testament, but it leaves me still wondering.  As Christian conservatives we believe the Bible is the only revelation of God that can be truly infallible and inerrant, but how does that concept pan out in an Old Testament world?  They had dreams and visions, and yet they were for sure from God.  Why is it that we put the written word on a pedestal, and dismiss other means of past revelation as unreliable?  It seems like a hole in the system.  If revelation in dreams was once a valid way for God to communicate, why do we demean that mode of communication?  Could those revelations not be proven?  Were they just the “voice” in someone’s head?  We know them not to be, for Scripture tells us it was God Himself, but how did they know it was God?
On Merrill’s discussion about Isaiah 7:3-17 (p. 97), I found it difficult, if there were two fulfillments, to believe that there were two virgins.  Is it a virgin or is it not?  Obviously the New Testament tells us Mary was a virgin, but did Isaiah?  Because if the prophecy was fulfilled once with a non-virgin (meaning through relations with a man), how could the word that Isaiah used actually mean “virgin”?  Because the prophecy would be false – at least in the first fulfillment.
When Merrill states that Genesis 2 contains “highly figurative language” (p. 105), I am not sure if I agree.  What in the passage demands that it be figurative?  Merrill believes God did not actually “form, breathe, plant, and place” anything, but that these things rather happened as a direct result of God’s spoken word.  But what is preventing God from in some way, doing these things personally?  All Genesis 1 says is that God created man – it doesn’t say how (if He spoke or “formed” him).  Also, the planting of God refers directly to the Garden of Eden, which seems to be a special place, whereas there were other plants that were spoken into being, God could have taken special care of Eden.  Why does Merrill feel chapter 2 must be figurative?  I am not convinced.
The relationship Canaan had with Noah was quite interesting (p. 113).  I had never heard that or saw it in my reading of Scripture.  Very interesting!  This puts Merrill a step above Thomas Constable in my thoughts, especially because Merrill later has a whole section on “Holy War” (p. 415).  But I still found it interesting that neither of them made the connection to God being ready to give mercy to any Cannanite who wanted to repent, as shown through Rahab.  Merrill even mentions Rahab (p. 417), but does not draw any conclusion to her being saved (it sure sticks out like a sore thumb to me!).


A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament Readings (56-87)

October 14, 2008

[Comments on readings in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament – chapter by Merrill]  Merrill points to the very heart of the covenant relationship as “fellowship between Yahweh and His people” (p. 57).  I think this is important as one reads and studies the law, because at times it can seem very harsh.  But as one puts the law through this lens, it really does aid the understanding of it – God was so gracious to Israel to even tell them anything about how they can achieve a right relationship with Him, and the same is true for us today.  God is gracious beyond all our own understanding.  The people of Israel are chosen, set apart, not because they were great, but just because God set His love upon them, and one begins to see the concept of the “image-bearer” here, because in being the people of God, Israel was to be like God, in that they were to be holy as He is holy.  I think the more I read the more I am understanding this concept.  It is interesting that I never really have heard anyone articulate it.  It is good to learn more of God’s Word.
One characteristic of Merrill’s writing that maybe is a weakness is that he just states ideas without backing them up.  I realize there is only so much space in a one volume work, but for the more significant issues, I wish he would interact some with those of differing opinions for my benefit as I interact with others.  When he states that Israel would have hope in exile even though they were disobedient to the covenant because the covenant “was based on the unconditional promises of God” (p. 59) I really wonder what a covenantal theologian would say to that.  How would Merrill argue this point?  It really does seem like quite a big issue, but Merrill does not even go into more detail positively, let alone negatively.
Merrill explains, in his section on Deuteronomy, that “the emphasis is not on the universal covenant with all mankind….Rather [it] is on the covenant with Israel” (p. 67).  He then goes on to say that “The call to Israel is not to fill the created earth but to occupy a land” (p. 67).  I wonder how exactly this fits in to the idea that the “Creation Mandate” is the center for the whole Bible. And how does this work also for us, who have been given the mandate to make disciples?  I see that God’s rule has in some sense been forfeited until the end (Rev. 11:15 on page 69), but why Israel?  Why this taking of the land?  Does the Bible explain this explicitly, or is it something that is in-between the lines that we must put together for ourselves?  It would seem that if this is the theme of the Bible, it would be explicate, but I still do not understand fully how this all works out.
When Merrill brings up the form of Deuteronomy (p. 73), I still do not fully understand how this form would aid our interpretation.  Is it just a fact that helps those who do not believe the book was written in the time of Moses?  Or does it have some other usage that would not be able to be found through internal evidence?  Outlining a book normally does not take extra-biblical sources to accomplish.  So why is it brought up?  Especially since it is a covenant renewal text, rather than just a plain covenant (p. 74)?
If friend borrows money and we agree on payment, and he doesn’t pay, is the agreement over?  No!


Merrill Everlasting Dominion Readings (227-49, 251-73)

October 13, 2008

[Comments on readings in Merrill’s Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament] Merrill seems to believe that “One must be careful not to infer too much of the notion of substitutionary atonement from this [God clothing Adam and Eve] rather cryptic account” (p. 228), and yet he goes on to read quite a bit into that account.  Why should we read so much into the text when the Bible NEVER reads into it?  I am not aware of ANY Scripture that refers to God’s clothing of Adam and Eve (and the assumed animal killing) as a precursor to God’s provision of salvation in Jesus.  So why should infer it as Merrill seems to do?  It really does not seem like he takes his own advice, saying “Unless the Lord provided the covering, they would forever remain in their spiritual nakedness before him…This obviously presupposes the slaughter of an animal…” (p. 228)  And also, “not only did animal slaughter become understood as a religious obligation by the second generation, but with it had emerged at least a primitive cultus” (p. 229).  But it actually did not make animal slaughter an understood obligation, because Cain brought vegetables!  And Merrill even confirms the fact that it is unlikely that God did not accept Cain’s sacrifice because it was bloodless, but rather because Cain lacked faith (p. 230).  So why does Merrill feel the need to read so much into God’s covering of Adam and Eve?  Maybe because it seems plausible to him, but I really hesitate to read that much into it, especially because the Bible never refers to it (besides, “inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.” [2 Cor. 5:3]).  It feels uncomfortable to me. NOTE: it is important to remember Genesis is written to Israel, who understood sacrifice.  God didn’t use fig leaves – or something else, he used skin…
I thought Merrill’s discussion on Cain and Abel’s sacrifice was very insightful, and helpful in deciding whether or not it was the nature of the sacrifice or the nature of the worshipper that caused God to show favor or not (p. 230).  He does some very good exegesis, something that has not been fully shown in the book so far – at least not in this much detail.
It is also sad to note, as it is most of the time with “scholars” of the Old Testament, that many scholars argue that the account of Noah had to be “re-written” after Moses being that there is a reference to clean and unclean animals (p. 233).  But what Merrill failed to point out was that in the story itself God told Noah that he should take seven pairs of the clean animals, and it is clear that Noah did not just go get the animals, but that God made them come to him, so it would be apparent which animals were clean and were not by observation, even if God did not give Noah more information than is given in the text.  Sometimes scholarship, especially in the Old Testament just makes me sad because of how liberal they are – they do not even believe the Word they are studying.
The pointing out of Isaac’s question, “Where is the lamb?” (p. 235), was very interesting, and insightful.  I had never really thought about the fact that it showed that Isaac thought there should be a lamb, even though the law had not yet been given.  How should this influence the interpretation of other passages in Genesis, I do not know, but it is very interesting.  But even at this point, Merrill even states that he is “At the risk of reading later Old Testament revelation into the passage…” (p. 235).  What is the balance?


A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament Readings (1-56)

October 11, 2008

[Comments on readings in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament – this chapter was written by Merrill] The search for a center, or that one unifying idea in Scripture, Merrill agrees with himself that Genesis 1:26-28 is the center (p. 13 and p. 27 in  Everlasting Dominion).  I have never really thought of this as being the center of the Bible.  I always thought more along the lines that God saving mankind to demonstrate His glory in a way that otherwise would not have been possible was more the overarching “center.”  But I see value in pointing to Scripture, rather than some theological idea that is extra-biblical.  It is hard, at least at this point, to try and fit the whole of Scripture underneath the “commission” as it were, of man by God in the beginning because in my mind it does not “feel” as personal as what is revealed in the New Testament, in being the child of God and having a real, personal relationship with the God of the universe.  But as I think of Revelation, it really does seem to point to the center being Genesis 1:26-28, in that things are returned to what seems to be a “pre-fall state.”  Obviously things are different than the Garden in the new heaven and new earth, but the whole concept of reigning with Christ, and Jesus being the king, really rings true with this first commission.  But I am not totally ready yet to ascribe to this view, I think it will take some more study, and I look forward to studying the Old Testament in this light.
I’m not sure if I agree with Merrill in his point about the subjection of women.  It seems he believes that man was not over woman in role before the fall, but that this role came into being after the fall in the curse (p. 20).  Man named woman, normally understood to be a sign of authority (as was done to the animals).  Yes, this authority is different than the authority man has over animals, because God commissions both man and woman in this dominion.  But it still remains that man was created first, and woman was created out of man to be his help-mate, not the other way around.  I am not sure what Merrill’s views are on the roles of women and men in the church, but it would be interesting, especially to see how his views in Genesis effect his view of the New Testament passages.
When Merrill pointed Noah out as the “Second Adam” (p. 23), I cringed a little bit, in that I believe that to be a title of Christ.  I have never heard it assigned to Noah – but perhaps that is why he put it in quotations.  Also, I don’t agree with Merrill’s assumption of an Adamic Covenant, in that the covenant that God gave to Noah was that he would not kill all of mankind again by a flood, not the commission to be fruitful and multiply.  Therefore I do not feel that it “can refer only to something antecedent and the only possible antecedent is that covenant implied by Genesis 1:26-27” (p. 23).
In regards to man being as an image of God on the earth after the fall, this is a hot topic, and I think hard to articulate.  I think Merrill could have spent some more time articulating his view, because he does not get very specific into the practical realm of this fact.  If we are all the image of God, how does that play out?  Is this one rational for judgment, being that men have represented God in an unworthy manner?  What does the fact that man is still the image of God imply?  I feel like my questions are unanswered by Merrill.