Archive for Old Testament

When God Spoke Greek — Book Blog Tour

When I was approached about participating in the Book Blog Tour for Timothy Michael Law’s new book, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, I was beyond excited. I have, in the past, lamented how in all my years of theological training I have never once had a class on the Septuagint. I can count on one hand the number of times the Septuagint was mentioned in New Testament classes (usually in relation to how the NT author quoted the Old Testament), and I don’t think the Septuagint was ever brought up in an Old Testament class. Given this gap, I was hoping that this new book would help fill the gap. I can say with confidence, that this book definitely begins to fill said gap. Timothy Michael Law notes in his introduction that he was wanting to make the Septuagint more accessible. And he does.


Now, it’s important to note that I’m coming at this book as a seminary student, an aspiring theologian, and a person involved in church ministry. As such, the questions that I bring to this book include:


  • Would this book work as a textbook for college students? Would this book work as a textbook for seminary students?
  • Would this book have helped my studies as a student?
  • What are the theological implications of the NT authors quoting the Septuagint, especially when it differs from the Hebrew text?
  • Would this book be helpful for teaching lay people in the church about the history of Scripture?

Now onto my look at chapters 11 and 12!


In chapter eleven, TML begins by talking about the Septuagint influenced the transmission of Scripture into other languages. For example, the Latin Scripture were produced, not from the Hebrew text, but from the Greek. It is also from the Septuagint that the earliest Coptic, Armenian, Gothic and Arabic translations were produced. TML goes so far as to say, “Had there been no Septuagint, and had early Jewish converts remained in a Semitic world, the church may never have moved outside of its Palestinian birthplace.” (129)

He then looks at Philo and Josephus’ use and explanations of the origins of the Septuagint. For Philo, it was important to justify the text and he set out to demonstrate how it was divinely inspired. Josephus, on the other hand, is not so interested in justifying the divine inspiration of the Septuagint, so much as just reporting how the Hebrew Scriptures came to be translated into Greek.

By the 4th century, we find Eusebius arguing that “God providentially guided a translation into Greek so that when the Savior of the world did appear the nations would recognize him. This was the time when God spoke Greek.” (131) TML writes that by the 4th century, “the idea that the Septuagint was the inspired word of God was already so deeply rooted in the church that it allowed these writers to speak of it as the preparation for the gospel and as the superior, indeed, the only, word of God for the church.” (132)

TML then asks one of the questions that I myself was bringing to the text: “In what ways did [the Septuagint] contribute to the theological and exegetical formation of the early centuries of Christianity?” (132) He notes that the Latin and Greek Fathers were not concerned with how accurately the Greek translated the Hebrew, and that “presumably most Christians would have viewed the Hebrew Bible as strictly Jewish scripture, but the Septuagint was the treasure of the church.” (133) He explores examples of typological exegesis that were common because the Septuagint’s translations of key words like “Lord,” and “Anointed” made it easy for readers to see foreshadowing references to Christ.

As well, the Septuagint became extremely important theologically as the early church struggled against heresies. Over and over, it was the Septuagint and not the Hebrew texts that the Church Fathers would return to over and over again to craft a coherent defense of the faith.

TML concludes the chapter by noting that it wasn’t just theology that was profoundly influenced by the Greek text. Indeed, the Septuagint played a role in also developing preaching, liturgy and Christian piety (aka spiritual formation). Ultimately, “Most Christians would have heard the Septuagint taught and would have been shaped by it without knowing anything about its relationship to the Hebrew.” (139)

In chapter twelve, TML looks at Origen and his influence on biblical scholarship in the early church. He argues that Origen’s “textual scholarship inadvertently hastened the end of the Septuagint’s prominence in the church.” (141) Origen’s study of Scripture was extensive. He was continually learning about exegetical methods, not only from Christian scholars in Alexandria, but also from Jewish and Greek (secular) scholars. It was this deep passion for exegesis that led Origen to compile the Hexapla: “a six-columned Bible in which he placed six different biblical texts in parallel columns.” (143) This project made the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts stand how. But how would Origen explain the differences? “When the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint were at odds with one another, there were two possible explanations: copyists introduced genuine errors in the transmission of the manuscripts, or Providence introduced the divergences for the church’s edification.” (144) TML is quick to note that Origen had great respect for the Septuagint and that “Origen’s aim was never to dislodge the Septuagint from the lecterns of the churches in favor of the Hebrew Bible.” (145)

So how did this massive exegetical work by Origen hasten the demise of the Septuagint’s prominence in the church? By accident!

“If Origen included the Hebrew Bible in the first column of his Hexapla, didn’t that imply it was worth studying? The fifth column, in which he had created a hybrid text composed of the church’s Septuagint with additional readings from other Greek Jewish versions, may have begun as a scholarly tool for exegesis, apologetics, and textual analysis. But the new fifth column text was soon copied with the signs [that noted divergences from the Hebrew] removed and was dispersed widely. It moved out from a scholarly and professional realm, where caveats could have helped to prevent its misuse, and into the church. Unintentionally, Origen’s work contaminated the stream of biblical transmission: from the fourth century almost all Septuagint manuscripts had been influenced by the so-called Origenic, or Hexaplaric, version.” (145)

And this contamination was not gradual. Instead “it exploded on to the map and changed the course of the Septuagint’s history thereafter.” TML concludes the chapter by noting: “A new spirit was unleashed, and if scholars had not noticed before the divergent nature of the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible they would soon find it impossible to ignore. The final days of the Septuagint in the West had begun.” (150)


So would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Reading this book has begun to fill in some of the gaps of my theological education. If I was teaching a course, how would I use this book? If I was teaching a class on the Patristic Fathers, either at the college or seminary level, this would definitely be on the syllabus as a required reading. If I was teaching a survey NT or OT class, I wouldn’t necessarily assign this book, but would instead create a lecture or two on the Septuagint based on the material in this book. At a church level, I think it would be fantastic to do a small group study on the history of Scripture and use this book as one of the materials to be read over the course of a season (with 13 chapters plus a postscript, this book is ideally laid out for a fall (Sept-Dec) or spring (Jan-Apr) weekly study group).

My only real complaint is that once again a publisher has decided that a book aimed at a general audience needs endnotes. Publishers, please stop doing this! A general audience will not be put off by a few footnotes, and footnotes actually make the book easier to read.


You can follow the rest of the Book Blog Tour on When God Spoke Greek here.


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Does Uriah Know?

Last week, I was giving a lecture on Desire (Covetousness and Lust) as part of my internship. We were talking about the story of David and Bathsheba as the worst (best?) example of the danger of lust. I was suggesting that the tenth commandment, “do not covet,” is strategically placed as the last commandment because it encompasses so many of the other sins listed in the 10 commandments, and it is the opposite of the first commandment:the first commandment tells us about properly ordered desire, while the last tells us about disordered desire. I had the class list all the other sins that flowed from David’s coveting of Bathsheba, and we concluded that he broke practically all of the commandments. Somehow I ended up down a rabbit trail (which is really easy to do when I’m in 1 or 2 Samuel) and asked this question of the class: Does Uriah Know? That is, does Uriah know what David has done and does it make David’s sin(s) all the more heinous given that he’s not fooling anyone?

In this post, I am going to attempt to unrabbit trail my thoughts.

English: Uriah the Hittite

English: Uriah the Hittite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the narrator does not specifically tell us one way or the other, there are several hints that suggest that Uriah does in fact know what David has done. Though the king as ordered Uriah to go home and have relations with his wife, Uriah does not, and instead sleeps in the courtyard. To disobey the king is to invite death. But Uriah does not fear David. This could be because he is in a position of power knowing exactly what David has done. David would not dare murder Uriah for disobedience, for people would know that David had murdered him to cover something up.

Uriah, in responding to David’s inquiry about why he has not obeyed, says that he cannot go home and enjoy the pleasures of a homecoming when his comrades are in the battlefield, unable to also enjoy rest. He swears a double oath, on both the life and soul of David, he will not do “this thing.” Of course “this thing” is ambiguous, but I would suggest that if Uriah knows, then he is saying that he will not participate in the David’s cover-up, and ultimately in David’s sin.

If it is read in this way, then Uriah is the foil for David. Uriah, the convert to Judaism (the narrative repeatedly refers to Uriah as “Uriah the Hittite”), cares more for theology than David. This is especially ironic if we read David as a hologram of Israel. An outsider understands the honour of being chosen (a man or nation after God’s own heart) then Israel (David), who forgets.

If Uriah does know, then what David is about to do next is even more perplexing. David is so concerned with himself and with his image that he is willing to have an innocent man put to death; a man who knows David’s sin, and chooses to allow David to kill him. The honour and nobility of this soldier and friend stands in stark contrast to the self-righteous king who does not even go out to battle when it is the season for kings to go out. When Uriah disobeys the king, David must realize that Uriah has the upper hand. That he orders Joab to have Uriah murdered in such a public and obvious way shows that David is so self-centred and so desperate that it is Joab who has to rewrite the orders to protect David’s position as king.

Though not stated in the text, one has to wonder if there may not have been a prior relationship (or flirting) between David and Bathsheba, of which Uriah may have been aware. Uriah, being one of David’s top men, and being the grandson-in-law of David’s top minister, would have had many opportunities to socialize with the king. It may have been that David had previously “scoped out” Bathsheba, and Uriah should be aware of the many wives and concubines that David acquires in his role as king. Uriah, then, may not surprised that David, being a ladies’ man and being home alone while the troops are at war, would find a way to enjoy the presence of Bathsheba.



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The Identity of Leviathan and the Meaning of the Book of Job — By Dr. Eric Ortlund

One of my favourite things about seminary is being able to hear about what the professors are currently researching. At Briercrest, there are monthly/bi-monthly colloquia, where faculty present their latest paper, research, or test out material for presenting at academic conferences. On Friday, Dr. Eric Ortlund, professor of Old Testament presented on “The Identity of Leviathan and the Meaning of the Book of Job.” The tech people recorded the colloquium and it’s now available for those who weren’t able to attend. (Let’s hope they video all the colloquia this year!)

Biblioblog Carnival February 2012

It’s a port of call, a home away from home, for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs and wanderers. A shining beacon on the internet, all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but it’s our last best hope for peace. The year is 2012. The name of the place is The Biblioblogging Carnival.


Ranger One/Valen/Sinclair — Barth, Barth and More Barth
“There was a saying on Mimbar, anyone who wanted to get a straight answer out of Ranger One was to look at every reply in a mirror while hanging upside down from the ceiling.” “Did it work?” “Oddly enough, yes! Or after a while you passed out and had a vision. Either way the result was pretty much the same.”

Travis McMaken posts the abstract for his completed dissertation on Infant Baptism after Barth. Kait points us to Barth on the Freedom of Theology. She also looks at Barth and Oppression. What would Barth say about Tim Tebow? Andrew Browne reflects on how he fell in love with theology. Darren looks at Van Til’s critique of Barth. This was followed up by a post by David Congdon on Barth and actualistic ontology.
And, of course, we can’t forget Daniel Kirk’s weekly interactions with Barth: one, two, three and four.

Sheridan: (playing a game of chess with Theo) Concentrate all you want, there’s nowhere you can go.
Brother Theo: I’d expect a comment like that from someone with no clearly defined pattern of faith.
Sheridan: I believe in a little of everything. I’m an eclectic. Open minded.
Brother Theo: Rudderless, directionless, cast adrift without compass, on an ocean of ecclesiastical possibilities. Tossed by the winds this way, that way…
Sheridan: Oh, I’m hearing a lot of talk and you still haven’t made a move!
Brother Theo: Your Ambassador Delenn has a wonderful phrase: Faith manages. Check. And I do believe, mate.

Tripp and Bo introduce Process Theology to the readers of Rachel Held Evans blog. Julie Clawson asks her own questions about Process Theology.
Carson Clark asks the age-old question Was Calvin a Calvinist?
Brian Gronewoller looks at Polycarp and the idea that Christians shouldn’t explain Christianity.
Daniel McClellan contemplates conceptualizations of theological boundaries and the prototype theory.

A look at freewill and biology.

Rod talks about the theological and cultural significance of the mission of the Trinity. The trek through the top 10 theologians continued over at Parchment and Pen with #1 being Augustine.
Allan Bevere writes that our God is too small. Ken Schenck on why we need theology. C. Michael Patton looks at the doctrine of the Trinity. Brian LePort asks whether Oneness Pentecostalism is the same as Modalism.

Hermeneutics & Interpretation:
Leslie Keeney works toward a Christocentric hermeneutic. Andrew’s writes on the clarity or otherwise of Scripture.


Church History:

Church historians are like Delenn, who can’t seem to explain anything without starting off with “A thousand years ago…”

Greg Boyd writes that the most tragic event in history was Constantine’s victory. Sheila McGinn reflects on God’s “tenting” and church schisms. James McGrath tackled the way mythicists misrepresent historians and also points us to an online bibliography of Syriac Christianity.


The Book of G’Quan — Old Testament:

“Do not thump the book of G’Quan. It is disrespectful.”
Steven Leckvold compares how Augustine and Chrystosom read Genesis 1 & 2. David Miller talks about teaching his youngest Hebrew student. Jason asks where Cain’s wife came from. Jeremiah points to an early non-literal reading of Genesis 1. Bob MacDonald examines Jonah 1. Brian LePort points us to a Aramaic learning resource. RJS asked when was Genesis written and why. Theophrastus discusses how translators and publishers have treated Targum Onkelos versus Septuagint Pentateuch.


The Book of G’Kar — New Testament:
“Well, if the book is holy and I am holy, then I must help you become closer to the thoughts of the universe. Put your face in the book.” [slam!]
Tim Henderson spends some time working through Michael Licona’s ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’: one, two, three, four, five. Nijay Gupta asks whether the world needs another commentary on Colossians?
Did you see the blog tour for Daniel Kirk’s “Jesus I have Loved, But Paul?” Collin Hansen interviews Peter O’Brien about the warning passages in Hebrews. Monica Coleman takes another look at Mary and Martha.

Michael Gorman posts a few paragraphs from his upcoming work on the Mission of God in the writings of Paul.
RJS starts the conversation about Peter Enns’ latest book, by looking at how Paul referred to Adam.

Kevin DeYoung looks at the 144,000 in Revelation. Matthew Montonini looks at Jesus’ emotion in Mark 3:5. Preston Sprinkle gives us a good introduction and overview of The New Perspective On Paul. James Crossley examines a fascinating interview between Craig Keener and Michael Liconaon in which they explore racism in New Testament studies. Suzanne McCarthy continues her examination of Junia with a look at the use of episemos in Psalms of Solomon.

Mike Bird looks at Galatians 1:4. Claude Mariottini offers an excerpt from his entry on ‘fear’ in the Holman Bible Dictionary. Brian LePort on proskuneo in Matthew. Jeremy Rios looks at Matthew 24. Bill Mounce on how a comma makes a world of difference. Rod looks at the similarities between Plutarch, the NT and the Church Fathers.


Interplanetary Expeditions — Archaeology:

“Exploring the Past to create a better future”
Several posts about The Talpiot Tomb from around the blogosphere can be found here, here, here and here. A new fragment of the book of Romans has been found.


Futuristic Monks — Book Reviews:
“Faith and reason are the shoes on your feet. You can travel further with both than you can with just one.”

Nijay Gupta writes about how much of the book to read before you write a review. Stephanie Lowery reviews ‘The Church and Development in Africa.’ James White critiques Roger Olson’s portrayal of Calvinism in his newest book, ‘Against Calvinism.‘ Brian LePort reviews ‘The Torah’. Nick Norelli reviews Craig Keener’s commentary on Romans.
James Pate works his way through Ben Witherington’s ‘Jesus the Sage’ one, two, three, four. Todd Miles reviews Keith Johnson’s Rethinking the Trinity and Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment.
John the Lutheran interacts with Terry Eagleton’s new book on New Atheism.


Academics — The Same in Any Era:

“You do not wish to know anything. You wish only to speak. That which you know, you ignore, because it is inconvenient. That which you do not know, you invent.”

The Best Footnote Ever.

Marc Cortez provides info on how bad the job market is for PhD-holders. E-books don’t save students much money. Bradley Wright explains why he would rather research than publish. How to survive a postgrad program. Brad writes about how to cultivate a Sabbath rest for those in academia (grad school). Jason Staples writes about how he has changed how his tests his NT students. Roland Boer has been providing a hilarious list and description of “Types of Scholars.”


Interstellar Network News — Politics and Culture:

“A no-holds-barred look at the events of today that will shape the world of tomorrow.”

TC Moore writes about the seduction of politics. Not being a fan of football, I largely ignored the 316 hoopla about Tim Tebow. Here is one post about Tebowing.

A youtube video made the rounds about being cool with Jesus but not with religion. Several people have chimed in. Of note, check out Dane Ortlund’s reflection, where he asks if these analyses and critiques of the video are nitpicking. The Jesus and Religion video guy responds to Kevin DeYoung.

Travis McMacken and David Congdon write an open letter to the editors of Christianity Today regarding an article in the latest issue on Christians and politics. Roger Olson suggests it is time to throw out the ‘Right-Middle-Left’ Spectrum. Allan Bevere chimes in and says that Olson’s suggestion applies not just to evangelicalism, but also to politics in general.


Shadows vs. Vorlon — Complementarianism/Egalitarianism:

They’ve fought so long that they’ve stopped respecting each other’s viewpoints and so entrenched in their own rightness that they’re willing to destroy entire planets to prove that they’re right.

Roger Olson offers a critique of extreme complementarianism. Later Olson argues that complementarianism “is an open door to abuse and idolatry.” Rod offers some thoughts in light of Roger Olson’s post on Gender and Feminism.

Kait Dugan looks at the Trinity and Gender Inclusive Language. Brian LePort considers the image of woman in Genesis 1 &2. Leslie Keeney has a word for women who feel called to Christian academia.

Jon Coutts asks who are the daughters of Zelophehad today? He also suggests that the labels ‘complementarian’ and ‘egalitarian’ hinder the ongoing conversation. Josh writes about Strategic Advice for Egalitarians. Derek Ouellette is going to continue to wrestle through the egalitarian/comp debate, trying to take into account his post conservative sensibilities.

Scot Mcknight points us to an article by Nijay Gupta on the role of Deborah in contemporary discussions of women in ministry. Tim Challies reflects on Mutual Submission. Matthew Tan looks at First-Wave, Second-Wave and Standpoint feminism. Preston Yancey writes about his journey through the comp/egal debate. Frank Viola writes about God’s view of women.

You know what, on second thought, maybe the comp/egal debate is not so much Vorlons vs. Shadows as it is Drazi vs. Drazi: Green must fight purple. Purple must fight green.


We Have ‘Six’ — Mark Driscoll’s ‘Real Marriage’:

“You see, we have six, ah… we have six, you see, and each one is a different level of intimacy and pleasure. So, you know, first you have one, and that’s naa-naa. Then there’s two… and by the time you get to five it’s a heehaa-heehaa.”

Rachel Held Evans. The Friendly Atheist. Denny Burk. David Moore. Internet Monk.
Books and Culture. Doug Wilson. Matthew Lee Anderson’s two part review: here and here. The best review of the book has to be Eugene Cho’s.

And then the brouhaha continued after Driscoll gave an interview on a British radio station.


The League of Non-Aligned Worlds — Conference Announcements and Calls for Papers:

Jim Linville announces the Research in Religious Studies conference at the University of Lethbridge. Paul in Conversation. Jesus Conference announcement. Frank Emanuel announces the call for papers for the next meeting of the Canadian Theological Society. Pastorum Live conference in June.


Zocalo — Miscellaneous:
“Zocalo is a human word. It’s from one of their southern continents. I think it means great marketplace.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with Ben Witherington whose daughter passed away on January 11th at the age of 32.

Kevin ponders the difference between urban and rural religious landscapes. Adam McLane talks about how youth ministry is flatlining. Gavin Ortlund offers some thoughts on ‘Mere Christianity.’ Frank Viola looks at the four streams within evangelicalism. Richard Flory looks at research about how going to church influences our lives. Joel interviews Allan Bevere. Thabiti looks at blackness and whiteness.

Leslie suggests that our definition of a successful ministry is problematic. The crew over at Black, White and Grey point us to their top 11 religion research stories. They also look at the question of how many Americans are Atheist. J.K. Gayle provides an analysis of how Martin Luther King used Bible in his civil rights speeches.


The Biblioblog Carnival changed the future and it changed us. It taught us that we have to create the future or others will do it for us. It showed us that we have to care for one another, because if we don’t, who will? And that true strength sometimes comes from the most unlikely places. Mostly, though, I think it gave us hope, that there can always be new beginnings. Even for people like us.

God Speaks: Direct Divine Speech in 2 Samuel — Conclusion

{Previous Entries in the Series: Part one, two, three, four, five, six}


In 2 Samuel, the direct speech of God is rare and at some points perhaps manipulated, but nevertheless the reader sees that God is indeed a character in the plot, acting both behind the scenes and in the spotlight. An exilic perspective of hearing this narrative would understand that, though Israel has brought on this situation by rejecting God and demanding a king (1 Samuel 8), God does not abandon his promises or his people. The hope is that, even in exile, God is working behind the scenes, and will at some point make a dramatic entrance and once again take centre stage with his divine speech and actions.

The modern reader should be attentive to the manner in which God speaks in the narrative, in that it can be unsolicited, and in that it is very often less frequent than we pretend it to be. We have perhaps become like David, attempting to manipulate God’s word to suit our purposes. The modern reader can be struck by the long chapters of silence, but be comforted and humbled to know that God is indeed at work despite our manipulations.

God, as has been demonstrated through an examination of his speaking, is a character in the narrative of 2 Samuel, alongside David, Nathan and the others. Indeed, “the whole story pertains to God…God is everywhere involved and God…ultimately prevails in all that goes on.”(1)

(1) Wharton, 348.

God Speaks: Direct Divine Speech in 2 Samuel — Part Six

{Previous Entries in the Series: Part one, two, three, four, five}


The second time God speaks through the prophet, it again is unsolicited and in this case, God’s speech dramatically alters David’s position of power. In committing adultery with Bathsheba, and then killing her husband to cover up his indiscretion, David is able to manipulate the situation so that he is in control. No one needs to know what David has done. He is king and as such there is a range of latitude. Without being sought, God reappears and, through the prophet Nathan, confronts David with his sin (12:1-12). While David thought he was in control of the situation, he was not. God is the one who is in control and because of David’s sin, God would “raise up evil from his own household” (12:10).

It is interesting to watch the progression of God’s dealings with David. In chapter five it is a mild rebuke for not understanding that God is the battle-fighter. In chapter seven it is a harsher rebuke followed by a fantastic and unmerited promise. Here in chapter twelve the rebuke is severe. So severe is the rebuke that David repents for sinning against God in all that he has done, not merely for sinning against Bathsheba and Uriah.(1)

The shift from God speaking through the ephod to speaking through the prophet is indicative of how God would continue to interact with Israel. Nathan then is the prototype of the later prophets. In both cases in 2 Samuel when God speaks through the prophet it is unsolicited and plot altering. When God speaks through prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Amos, it is unsolicited but crucial to changing the path Israel is on, if only they choose to listen.

Speaking as Action

The idea that the narrator of 2 Samuel has a theology that suggests God is “working in a hidden way through the hearts and minds of men” would be inconsistent with the magnitude of his speaking in 2 Samuel. It is true that God’s speaking is rare, and it is true that God is working behind the scenes, but that God shows up and speaks unsolicitedly and in surprising ways to up-end the plot and its characters (namely David), suggests a different theology of God wherein God’s speaking is action, action that is just as important and effective (though possibly more dramatic) than only working through the “hearts and minds of men.”(2)

Indeed, throughout the Old Testament narrative there is a tension between God being both hidden and present in Israel. This is seen in the Mosaic narrative, for example, in that the author balances the access Israel has to God with the understanding that at the same time God is free from Israel and does ultimately what he chooses.(3) God can and does choose to act and interact with Israel, as he deems necessary, whether it is behind the scenes or in the foreground.

God’s presence is not just affirmed by characters, or even the narrator attributing victory or blessing to God (e.g., 2 Samuel 5:12). God’s presence is affirmed by his word, and his word is indicative of God actively participating in the life of Israel (and David). From Genesis onward, God’s speaking involves action. The word of God is therefore the act of God. Thus, it is God’s speaking, rather than his working behind the scenes, that propels a theological understanding of the history of Israel.(4) In God speaking, Israel and the reader learn that divine speech is “the power behind his historical identity which is that of a judging yet desisting, forbearing self.”(5)

In the five instances of God speaking in 2 Samuel, God is by his speech actively affecting and effecting the history of Israel. In affirming David’s request (however manipulated) via the ephod to go up to Hebron, God is actively establishing a united Israel under David. In telling David how to fight the Philistines, God is actively taking on the role of king. He has declared himself to be in battle on behalf of Israel; because of God’s action, the Philistines do not stand a chance against Israel. In promising to build and uphold the Davidic dynasty, God is actively establishing Israel’s future in that moment, regardless of how sinful and disobedient the nation of Israel would behave.

God’s word of promise is fulfilled in the Word, who is Jesus (John 1:1). And in speaking to David’s sin, God is confronting, judging and yet still being faithful to his promise. In his speaking, God is actively the one who is all-powerful and unwavering. The character of God is unchanging, and it is his speeches that demonstrate that he is active and will continue to be active in the life and faith of Israel.

Tomorrow: The Conclusion

(1) Hamilton, 334.
(2) Whybray, 7.
(3) Walter Bruggemann, Old Testament Theology: Essays on Structure, Theme and Text. (Minneapolis: Fortress, Press, 1992), 150.
(4) MacDonald for example, using Karl Barth’s argument that “the sole creative force by which God creates the world is divine speech” argues that God’s speaking is a demonstration of God being “an active personal self.” Neil MacDonald, “Divine Speaking as Godly Action in Old Testament Narrative” in Behind the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation. Ed. Craig Bartholomew, C. Stephen Evans and Mary Healy. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 471.
(5) Neil MacDonald, Metaphysics and the God of Israel. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 161.

God Speaks: Direct Divine Speech in 2 Samuel — Part Five

{Previous Entries in the Series: Part one, two, three, four}

God Speaks Through The Prophet:

The other two instances of God speaking in 2 Samuel occur unsolicitedly, and through a person as opposed to an artifact, and as will be seen, both times his speaking alters the plot of the Samuel narrative.

The first is when David seeks Nathan the prophet’s blessing to build a temple for God, without actually mentioning the temple (7:1-3). The prophet, if he knows that David is referring to a temple, does not use the word in his response, but says that David is free to do as he sees fit. It is interesting that this is the first time that is recorded that David seeks out the guidance of a prophet. Craig, for example, asks why David is now going to Nathan rather than to the ephod.(1) Perhaps in this moment David is not playing to an audience, as he was in 2:1 and 5:19. Or perhaps he is indeed playing to audience, the audience being Nathan. If, as has been theorized, Nathan is a prophet from the northern tribes,(2) then perhaps David is attempting to see how loyal this northern prophet would be to a southern king. Nevertheless, it is striking the difference between Saul and David. Saul was more often seeking advice from prophets (1 Samuel 9:9-10; 28:6, 15) than David.(3)

David, having the prophet’s blessing, is set to build the temple. However, unannounced and unexpected, God dramatically reappears, and his speech not only alters the plot of 2 Samuel, but of the entire future narrative of Israel. God proclaims and calls out David’s plans for a temple. If 5:23 was a gentle rebuke reminding David of his position in relation to God, then this speech in chapter 7 is more pronounced. Five times God uses the word “I” in describing all that he has done, and Fokkelman suggests that God’s tone is at times indignant.(4) God is rebuking David because David has forgotten God’s authority and that ultimately God is the king of Israel.

In the short time of God’s silence between 5:23 and 7:4, David’s relationship with God had changed. In attempting to move the ark improperly and seeing the wrath of God, David is no longer eager, but reluctant to confide in and seek the will of God.(5) At question is David’s motivation for building the temple. Matthews has suggested that because of the powerful imagery and authority of the ark, it was in David’s best interest to house the ark away from the public’s immediate view so that it not “compete with his public role as the sole leader of the Israelites…so that from now on they will focus only on the person of the king.”(6)

God will have none of that, and in reappearing in the narrative, God’s speech demonstrates that God is neither acquiescent or complacent to David’s plans. God will not be tucked away in a temple away from his people, or in the shadow of a king he placed in power. Indeed God wishes to dwell in the presence of his people (7:7). But God does not end his speech with rebuke. Instead, he extends his promise that he made to David in such a way that unconditionally God will continue David’s line into eternity. God will not withdraw his favour forever, as he did with Saul (7:15).

It is significant that scholars see this chapter as the theological centre of the Samuel narrative.(7) It is God’s speech and his covenantal promise with David that is the dramatic turning point of the narrative, as well as the ultimate hope for the nation of Israel in the centuries following, ultimately being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In a narrative where God rarely speaks, it is ironic that his speech is that focal point.

To Be Continued…

(1) Kenneth Craig, “The Character(ization) of God in 2 Samuel 7:1-17” Semeia 63 (1993), 164
(2) Anderson, 117.
(3) Craig, “Characterization”, 164.
(4) Fokkelman, 84.
(5) Murray, 129.
(6) Victor Matthews, Old Testament Turning Points: The Narratives That Shaped a Nation. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 90.
(7) Anderson, 112

God Speaks: Direct Divine Speech in 2 Samuel — Part Four

{Previous Entries in the Series: Part one, two, three}


But God is not always complacent and subservient to David when he inquires. For instance, after the Philistines were defeated in battle, and their idols captured, they returned for a second attempt. David once again inquires of the Lord, and this time gets a dramatic answer with very specific instructions. It is as if God is correcting David’s plan. David is not to go directly up against the Philistines, but rather is to circle around behind them (5:23). This battle would not be David’s, it would be God’s. God would strike the Philistines for David. David in this battle would be dependent on God, and would be God’s support rather than God being the support for David.

In directing David through this divine speech, God is rebalancing and perhaps even gently rebuking David. The role of the king in God’s economy was to be a servant to God, and God in turn is the warrior-king for Israel who protects and defends his people. That God is saying he will go out and slay the Philistines is a speech that should remind the reader of God’s promise and action in the past; in particular of God leading Israel as they crossed the Jordan river into the Promised Land, land that was given into their hands by God.(1)

While initially God is swift to answer David to demonstrate that David is the chosen one, David, like Saul, ends up facing God’s silent treatment. After David’s indiscretion with Bathsheba, and God’s confrontation through the prophet Nathan (to be discussed in the next section), the child borne out of David’s transgression is afflicted by God. David, having already admitted his sin, inquires of the Lord on behalf of the child (12:16). Here, though, there is no immediate response. In fact God does not say anything. David is faced with the ultimate silent treatment.

That God chooses to be silent, especially after his long speech confronting David, is glaring to the reader. In his silence, God is demonstrating that actions have consequences, and now David must decide how to react. That God does not speak again for the rest of the narrative demonstrates not that he has abandoned David, but that he is once again working behind the scenes. Perhaps, even, the reason that God does not speak again is that nowhere in the rest of the narrative (through chapter 20) does David inquire of the Lord.

True, David worships the Lord immediately after the death of his son is announced (12:20), which would demonstrate that he has accepted God’s decision,(2) but as Whybray notes, “not once – not even when he took the momentous decision to abandon Jerusalem to Absalom – are we told that David inquired of Yahweh.”(3)

Tomorrow’s Post: God Speaks Through the Prophet

(1) Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg, I and II Samuel: A Commentary. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964), 275.
(2) J.P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel: A Full Interpretation Based on Stylistic and Structural Analysis. Vol 1. (Netherlands: Van Gorcum & Company, 1981), 90.
(3) Whybray, 68.

God Speaks: Direct Divine Speech in 2 Samuel — Part Two

{This is part two in a series. For the introductory post see here}


The Ephod:

Of the five direct speeches of God, the first three occur when David inquires of the Lord, and it is most likely that David does so using the priestly ephod. David came into possession of the artifact while being pursued by Saul. Abiathar brought David the ephod, and David used the ephod to discover whether or not the Keilahlites would turn him over to Saul (1 Samuel 23:6-12). In total, David uses the ephod to inquire of God eight times in the Samuel narrative, four of which occur in 2 Samuel.(1)

It is not exactly clear how the use of the ephod elicited an answer from God, though it is most likely some kind of system of lots.(2) The ephod, as described in Exodus 28, is a vestment worn by the High Priest (originally Aaron). On the breastplate worn by the priest were two gems, Urim and Tummim.

The ephod was most likely worn with the breastplate and it has been suggested that when someone inquired of the Lord, the ephod would either fall so that one of the two stones would show, or the gems behind the ephod would flash.(3) The ephod may have had pockets or openings for the two stones, and the priest may have drawn out a stone to determine the answer to the question.(4) The stones most likely each had markings on them that were interpreted to represent either a yes or a no answer.(5) Of course, someone had to interpret whether the stone gave one answer or the other, and this was the role of the priest who wore it.

In the case of David inquiring of the Lord, it is unclear if he was going to a priest, who would interpret the lots,(6) or if David was himself doing the interpreting. Yes, Abiathar brought David the ephod in 1 Samuel 23, but further passages make no reference to a priest being present or speaking the answer to David.

The first instance of God speaking through the ephod occurs just after David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan. David inquires of the Lord as to where to go now that Saul is no longer pursuing him. David asks two questions, “Shall I go up to Judah?” and “Where shall I go?” (2:1). The first question is not a problem, because it elicits a yes or no answer. The second question does not. “Where shall I go?” requires a more specific answer.

The second instance of God speaking through the ephod occurs after David has been proclaimed King over all the tribes of Israel. The Philistines, having heard the news, seek out David. David asks God two yes or no questions. “Shall I go up against the Philistines?” and “Will you give them into my hand?” (5:19). Despite the clarity of the questions, the answer from God is longer than a simple yes. It is a seven-word yes.

How is it that the ephod, assuming it uses a lots system, is able to provide answers beyond yes and no? Murray suggests that David is actually asking a series of questions and the narrator simplifies the answers from God into one long response.(7) Thus, in 2:1 when David asks, “Where shall I go?” he may have asked a series of questions, such as “Shall I go to Bethlehem?” “Shall I go to Shiloh?” “Shall I go to Hebron?” etc, and eventually the lot was cast yes, confirming he was to indeed go up to Hebron.

More on the Ephod in tomorrow’s post.

(1) Whybray, 68. (If you include 21:1 it is five times, but Whybray, like other scholars look at chapters 21-24 as a separate entity from the Samuel narrative).
(2) Donald Murray, Divine Prerogative and Royal Pretension: Pragmatics, Poetics and Polemics in a Narrative Sequence about David. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 92.
(3) Edward Robertson, “Urim and Tummim: What were They?” Vetus Testamentum 14 (1964), 73.
(4) Johannes Lindblom, “Lot-Casting in the Old Testament” Vetus Testamentum 12 (1962), 166.
(5) Robertson, 71.
(6) A.A. Anderson, 2nd Samuel. (Waco: Word Books, 1989), 22.
(7) Murray, 94-100.

God Speaks: Direct Divine Speech in 2 Samuel — Introduction

It has been suggested that the entire narrative of David’s rise to power, rule, and downfall can be read without ever once referring to God.(1) Very often when biblical scholars, and even some narrative scholars,(2) survey the topic in their books on biblical history, they fail to mention God as a prominent player alongside David, Nathan, Absalom and the others.(3)

A cursory reading of 2 Samuel would seem to fit this pattern. While the main characters refer to God, and refer to religious practices, God as a character is, for long chapters, silent. At the beginning of the Samuel narrative, the narrator makes an interesting comment on the time: “In those days the word of the Lord was rare.” (1Samuel 3:1) This note by the narrator is important, as it alerts the reader to pay attention when God does speak.

Some have suggested that the reason that God is not seen as a character alongside David and the others is that the author of the narrative has a theology of God that suggests that God works behind the scenes.(4) God cannot be lauded as a hero, or held out in prominence in the narrative, because he by his very nature stays offstage.

If the purpose of the Samuel narrative is to recount the story of how the Israelites ended up in exile in Babylon, then it could be proposed that when, how, and what God says in the story is of special interest to those hearing the story from an exilic perspective. Likewise, modern readers of the Samuel narrative should find significance in the contrast between the silence and speech of God in 2 Samuel.

I will argue that because God is a character in the narrative, his silence and more importantly his speeches are vital to the plot of 2 Samuel. The speeches of God directly answer the theological questions raised in exile, namely, “Where was God?”, “Has God abandoned us?”, and “Does God communicate?” The way in which God speaks, and occasions when God speaks, emphasize the role of prophet in the life of Israel. To examine the relationship between the speeches of God and the development of the plot, I will look at the two ways in which God speaks: through the priestly ephod, and through the prophet. The use and possible manipulation of the ephod by David to serve his own purposes will be examined, as well as the impact of God’s speaking on the plot of the narrative.

Before examining the speeches and silences of God, it is important to mention the foundational assumptions from which I will be operating. First, the character of David will not be read through the lens of Christian hero-worship, wherein David is truly “a man after God’s own heart” and, save for a few indiscretions, can do no wrong.(5) Rather the character of David will be read in a similar fashion as Saul in 1 Samuel, as a king who experiences a rise to power, a plateau of leadership, and decline in power and moral character.(6)

In relating to God, I will suggest that David may at times be manipulating God to further his personal agenda. Second, the authenticity of whether or not God is the one who speaks is important. I will assume that the narrator is a reliable and authoritative source. On the other hand, when characters attribute actions and speeches to God, and those actions and speeches are not verified or supported by the narrator, they are outside of the scope of this work. I will focus on direct speech, as confirmed and authenticated by the narrator.

(1) James Wharton, “A Plausible Tale: Story and Theology in II Samuel 9-20, I Kings 1-2” Interpretation 35 (1981), 346.
(2) See for example, F.F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations: The History of Israel from the Exodus to the Fall of the Second Temple. (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1963).
(3) In describing how the author of 2nd Samuel portrays the characters of the narrative Whybray lists off not only major characters such as David and Joab, but also minor characters such as Bathsheba and Ahithophel, but does not list God as a character in the narrative. See, R.N. Whybray, The Succession Narrative: A Study of II Sam. 9-20 and I Kings 1 and 2. (Naperville: Alec R. Allenson Inc, 1968), 35-45.
(4) Whybray, 48.
(5) This seems to be predominant is sermons and devotionals surrounding the life of David, but has also crept into commentaries. For example see, Robert Gordon, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986).
(6) Victor Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001) 299.