Review: Jeremiah Among the Prophets

Jack Lundbom has written extensively on Jeremiah (A Prophet Like Moses, A Study in Ancient Hebrew Rhetoric, Jeremiah Closer Up). On top of those, he has written three massive commentaries in the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary series (1–20; 21–36; 37–52). All of this piqued my interest in Lundbom’s writings. I thought it would be good to start with one of the smaller books, hoping they would be more user-friendly for the wider audience. In his preface, Lundbom says that his book “seeks to place before the beginning student and general reader a representative discussion of material contained in the biblical book of Jeremiah. It is written for those who may never look into a Jeremiah commentary” (ix). He hopes that this “modest introduction” will pique the interests of others so that they will eventually and intentionally “break open” a commentary on Jeremiah. A worthy goal.

Lundbom’s volume contains 20 chapters. He does not intend to cover every section and chapter of Jeremiah, but only to make the bird’s eye view ever so pleasing. Each chapter is pretty short too—usually extending only to 6-7 pages (chapter 13, at 13 pages long, is the abnormality).

The Chocolate Milk

Lundbom easily shows that he has dwelt in the land of Jeremiah for a long time. Rather than getting into complicated discussions of who wrote what part of Jeremiah, Lundbom examines the logic of Jeremiah’s message, who he’s talking to, and why they needed to hear it. He guides the reader through historical contexts, international threats, and Jeremiah’s anguish as God’s prophet. Chapters contain extensive use of Lundbom’s own translation. This is both a pro and a con, as the translations can take up a lot of space within already short chapters. However, Lundbom’s translations emphasize speaker changes and rhetorical features (e.g., repetition, metaphors, etc). There are a few New Testament references, such as one to the exchange of God’s glory for lesser idols in Romans 1.23 (12), the promise of the new covenant in the church (113), John the Baptist (126), the good Samaritan (129), and a few others.

The Spoiled Milk

The downside to Lundbom’s work is that some of his 3-volume AYB volumes have leaked into this shorter work. In dealing with Jer 4.5–10, Lundbom says, “The core oracle may have been delivered just prior to the Babylonian attack of 598, and the add-on dialogue at perhaps the same time” (22). He makes no other comment about this in the remaining paragraph, not does he explain anything else about it. These kinds of statements make the book feel more shaky. No only does Lundbom choose to comment on some verses over others in many of the chapters, but why doesn’t it seem like this section was written just before Babylon’s entry into Judah? How can we tell? Unfortunately this isn’t the only time this happens.

Sometimes Lundbom states that a verse has been added on later. He says of Jeremiah 15, “Verse 21, which more or less repeats v. 20, is a later add-on” (51). Yet, for the purpose of the book (“the beginning student and general reader”), this seems neither helpful nor appropriate. If footnotes were kept to a minimum, why think that the audience would care to know about this one sentence? No information is given to clarify the matter. How can we (especially the layperson) know that this verse was added later? Why should he care? How does it affect the message of Jeremiah’s book?

Lundbom emphasizes structures, outlines, chiasmus, enthymemes (a rhetorical syllogism lacking one premise), and apostrophes (speaking to an imaginary audience). I like details, but even for me these often seemed too out of place. Many general readers aren’t going to get excited about chiasmus or the fact that “the last two addresses [in Jer 22.29–30] employ the rhetorical device apostrophe,” especially when they aren’t told why these features occur (69). They just do.

Recommended?

If you are studying Jeremiah, you should have one of Lundbom’s books (at least). If you only have an interest in Jeremiah, I don’t think this would be the first place to start. Jeremiah Among the Prophets seems to be Lundbom’s style of work found in his AYB set in a nutshell. Although there is no technical jargon, the reading is not smooth. I found it difficult to grasp Jeremiah’s overall message without having first a broad sweep of his book. Lundbom divided his AYB set into three sections: Jer 1–20; 21–36; 37–52. I would have found it helpful if he would have taken those three broad sections and explained their overall message before going into the snapshots of Jeremiah’s life and message.

It can be easy to criticize an introductory work, wishing for this but receiving that. Introductory works are meant to introduce, yet this one would not be for the general reader. Unfortunately, I still don’t know any book length treatments to direct you to—only articles and chapters in larger books (Biblical theologies, dictionaries, OT surveys). For helpful, longer commentaries, see Lalleman, Wright, and Kidner. I still haven’t found a good, short, overview of Jeremiah. Perhaps Lundbom’s other short volumes (referenced above) would be closer to that mark.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Jack Lundbom
  • Paperback: 166 pages
  • Publisher: James Clarke & Co (March 28, 2013)

Buy it from Amazon or James Clarke/Lutterworth

Disclosure: I received this book free from James Clarke/Lutterworth. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Jeremiah—The Fate of a Prophet

Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible, and it is certainly one of the most complex. The book’s timetable jumps around (think Memento, only without a clear structure). Rabbi Dr. Binyamin Lau, an Israeli community leader, educator, and social activist, has undertaken a study of Jeremiah, “disassembled… and reconstructed it according to the chronology of Jeremiah’s life and the development of his prophecy” (xxii). 

Lau divides Jeremiah into three main units.

  1. The Reign of Josiah (640-609 BCE)
  2. The Reign of Jehoiakim (609-598 BCE)
  3. The Reign of Zedekiah (597-586 BCE)

He includes two indexes at the end of his book;

  1. The Chapters of Jeremiah — Original Order
  2. The Chapters of Jeremiah — Chronological Order

Lau claims not to have “inserted any ideas not found in the text” (xxii). Yet, I beg to differ, even if he didn’t insert his own ideas on purpose. Lau takes Huldah’s prophecy from 2 Kings 22.16–17 and traps Josiah with it. Rather, he says Josiah “is trapped. The prophetess has condemned Jerusalem to destruction, leaving no possibility for the repairs and reforms he advocates” (45).  However, he leaves out vv. 18–20 where God tells Josiah that he will die in peace because of his humble heart. This doesn’t mean this kind of death can’t happen to (some) other Israelites who would repent, nor would continuing his reform mean he was “rebelling “ against Huldah’s prophecy (45).

Lau says that Jeremiah 2 “reinforces the impression that the young prophet has not yet been impacted by Josiah’s revolution” (37), but there’s no explanation how it “reinforces” that idea.

I was surprised not to see certain topics explained at all, especially with the new covenant. Lau covers Jeremiah 31 pretty early in the book (I do not know why, nor do I know why he separated it from chapter 30). Lau quotes big blocks of verses from Jeremiah 31 (as he does in the rest of the book), but he stops at v. 27. He makes no mention of the new covenant, a pivotal prophesy in Jeremiah (considering it comes within the “Book of Consolation” in the canonical order). It is one of the few uplifting prophecies in the book. 

There is more detail than necessary, even if it does make the “story” more interesting. After Hanamel sells his land to Jeremiah, upon Hanamel’s leaving Lau remarks,

Once his transaction with Jeremiah has been completed, Hanameel takes his leave. He is surely pleased to have earned some extra money during what was undoubtedly an unprecedentedly steep downturn in the local real estate market. He considers the stupidity of his crazy cousin, who has fallen prey to his swindle, and takes his leave (178).

Perhaps this is all true, but how would we know? The text does not tell us. The Babylonians were in Anathoth, but was Hanamel intentionally swindling Jeremiah? Was he considering the stupidity of this sale? In Jeremiah’s prayer to God in 32:16–25, was Jeremiah accusing “God of tormenting him” (179)? It doesn’t seem like it. These sound like “ideas not found in the text” (xxii). 

When it comes to Lau’s reconstruction chronology, he doesn’t always explain how he arrived at that conclusion. It just is that way, and he’s able to make a story from it. However, I’m not convinced. Chapters 47, 48, 50, and 51 are also not included in Lau’s book.

Recommended?

It’s only once in a blue moon that I don’t recommend a book, and I’m happy about that. I’m going against the flow of everyone else on Amazon about this book, so I could very well be wrong. I found Lau to be of little help in my study with Jeremiah. I usually didn’t know why he ordered Jeremiah the way he did, and his speculations were hard to believe. This doesn’t mean that other commentators don’t speculate, they are just more ready to admit to their speculations when it comes to “ideas not found in the text” (xxii). For more helpful commentaries, see Lalleman, Wright, and Kidner

Lagniappe

  • Author: Binyamin Lau
  • Hardcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Koren Publishers (July 15, 2013)

Buy it on Amazon or from Koren Publishers

Disclosure: I received this book free from Koren Publishers. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant

Discussions on the atonement are never-ending, and it’s only getting harder to keep up. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but where ought one start? Michael Gorman, author of numerous books (Reading Revelation Responsibly, Becoming the Gospel, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, etc), has written “a (not so) new model of the atonement.” This model argues for

a more comprehensive, integrated, participatory, communal, and missional model than any of the major models in the tradition. It overcomes the inherent rift in many interpretations of the atonement between the benefits  of Jesus’ death and the practices of participatory discipleship  that his death both enables and demands. I contend throughout the book that in the New Testament the death of Jesus is not only the source , but also the shape , of salvation. It therefore also determines the shape of the community—the community of the new covenant—that benefits from and participates in Jesus’ saving death. (4)

Throughout the book, Gorman presents connections between Christ’s atonement, the new covenant inaugurated by his blood, and the way the church community participates in his death and suffering while looking forward to the day of resurrection. One of Gorman’s focuses is how Christ’s new-creational people participate in faithfulness, love, and peace (4).

Throughout the New Testament, faith, as a practice, is about faithfulness even to the point of suffering and death; love, as a practice, has a distinctive, Christlike shape of siding with the weak and eschewing domination in favor of service; and hope, as a practice, means living peaceably (which includes nonviolently) and making peace. Thus the summary triad “faithfulness, love, and peace” is appropriate. (4-5)

Gorman isn’t concerned to interact with other interpretations of the atonement, nor with the “mechanics” of the atonement or the atonement theories. Rather than diving into how it works, Gorman wants to portray what it does in the lives of believers. Gorman claims, “The New Testament is much more concerned about what Jesus’ death does for and to humanity than how it does it.” (5).

Outline

  • Chapters one overviews the lack of the “new covenant” theme in traditional and recent discussions of the atonement. Gorman puts forth that new covenant texts and themes had a farther-reaching effect that many scholars give credit, and that the new covenant is the atonements umbrella theme.

The preceding chapters explore the ways Christ’s death both effected and affected the new covenant.

  • Chapters 2 and 3 bring together the cross and the new covenant by surveying the NT books, revealing how we participate in Christ’s death through baptism.
  • Participating in Christ’s death means a different way of living for the Christian. Chapter four examines faithfulness to God, chapter 5—loving others, and chapters 6 and 7—peacemaking—what the covenant does and how it shows up in our communities.
  • Chapter 8 is Gorman’s conclusion. “The cross shapes each of these aspects of Christian thought and life, weaving them together into a comprehensive and integrated whole” (209). The new covenant’s effects are multi-dimensional; Gorman views this new covenantal model as the umbrella model which houses the other “penultimate” models. There is no “one” view, as many of them emphasize different aspects of the atonement. Though I would think of it more as a hierarchy, with some (penal substitution) deserving greater (and not lesser) emphasis than others.

Gorman argues for a kind of theosis, saying that the Christian life/community is a “transformative, communal participation in the life of God as the new covenant people of God” (68). Belief in Jesus is not merely an intellectual assent. Instead, “his story will become [our] story” (87). We live out his story daily. In writing about Revelation 1.5-6, Gorman says, “Those liberated from sin by Jesus’ death (the cross as the source of salvation) are now shaped into faithful witnesses, even to the point of suffering and death (the cross as the shape of salvation)” (103). John reminds the churches that he is their brother and fellow participant in both the tribulation and the kingdom (Rev 1.9).

The Spoiled Milk

Gorman has helpful comments about the new covenant and a supersessionist/anti-Judaism belief. He says, “the idea of a new covenant does not make sense except, first of all, as a category of Jewish identity and theology” (23). This promise was given to the Jewish people first, and the Gentiles were allowed to be grafted in (Rom 11). Gentile Christians must not forget the Jewish origins of Christianity (i.e., Jesus was a Jew). However, in some places Gorman seems to downplay the “newness” of the new covenant (23, 214). There is no need to disparage the “old covenant,” but Paul said that the old one has been abolished and done away with (see here) because the glory of the new is so much better (2 Cor 3.7–11). Though, perhaps I have simply misunderstood Dr. Gorman’s arguments.

Recommended?

Whether or not one agrees with all Gorman has said here, this book is an excellent resource for those who are interested in the new covenant, the atonement, and the outflow of new-covenant living (peace, faithfulness, love). We were once an enemy of God, and he has now made peace with us so that we can be his eternally adopted children. Should that not play out in our own lives? This would be beneficial required reading in seminary classrooms, for students, for pastors, and for teachers. This would make a good pair with Adam Johnson’s Atonement: A Guide for the Perplexed, which surveys the many atonement models and looks at how they emphasize a true aspect of Christ’s work.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: James Clarke/Lutterworth (June 30, 2014)
  • Language: English

Buy it from Amazon or James Clarke/Lutterworth

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lutterworth/James Clarke. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic of 50 years, said in a review on Keller’s book that, “like pickles in a jar, our minds are soaked with all sorts of secular subtleties.” It was Job who said, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42.3b, 5-6).

Timothy Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (though he was pastoring there when he wrote this book), gives his reader a few steps with which to climb out of that pickle jar. His book contains three units: (1) philosophical, (2) theological, and (3) practical answers to the problem of evil. He helps us to (1) understand the furnace, (2) to face the furnace, and (3) to walk with God in the furnace.

Outline and Content

In Understanding the Furnace, Keller takes the philosophical route to talk about pain. He examines how other cultures have viewed suffering, how Christianity is better, and how our view should challenge the secular view. This is not to say that the wisest Christian will not be troubled by suffering, but they will not be debilitated by it. We are not to look for instant gratification. Through sacrificing for others, gain we a love, appreciation, and even a joy with them in the long-term. To many, “words life ‘suffering’ are unbelievably negative” (78). “The belief—that because we cannot think of something, God cannot think of it either—is more than a fallacy. It is a mark of great pride and faith in one’s own mind” (99).

Facing the Furnace offers the Christian a chance to grow in their ideas of suffering. Do we deserve the good life? Is God sovereign? Is he just? Is suffering just? We are self-centered beings. We want our independence and the ability to do whatever we want to do. But suffering shatters our false gods. Suffering shows us that we are not in command. But Keller remarks, “Suffering is both just and unjust” (130). Keller later adds, “This balance—that God is just and will bring final justice, but life in the meantime is often deeply unfair—keeps us from many deadly errors” (130). “God is both a sovereign and a suffering God” (130). The psalmist proclaims that it is this God who “fulfills his purpose for me” (Ps 57.2), but our God suffers and reigns. It was the wounded Lamb who was worthy to open the scrolls (Rev 5.6-7) of judgment against evil. “And so it is a wounded lamb who now is able not simply to judge wrongdoing but actually to undo the damage that evil has wreaked on creation” (156).

Walking with God in the Furnace brings along practices that we ought to grow into. It’s not enough to have a right mindset about God during suffering. We must show that correct thinking by doing; we need to so that we don’t revert back to our old ways of thinking. We learn to walk with God in daily prayer, Bible reading, loving our Christian family, worshiping together in community as we await Christ’s return. We learn to weep. We learn to listen to those who weep. Keller emphasizes that not all people suffer in the same way. Some need to hear the logical reasons first. Some need to hear the Bible verses of God’s faithfulness. Some just need to have someone nearby, to know someone cares, to know someone is there for them. We trust in the God we can’t see. We pray honestly to him.

“You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend” (Ps. 88.18).

The Chocolate Milk

Keller uses the image of a fiery furnace because of the well-known image of torment which fire brings. However, “if used properly, it does not destroy,” but instead refines (8). Keller acknowledges that this book does not need to be read in order (9). In fact, for the one who is suffering now, they shouldn’t start with part one. They should probably begin with part three, learning how to walk with God in their torment. They can read sections of part two when they need it.

Keller rightly points out that the reason the secular world emphasizes fixing the here and now is because that is all they have. They have no other happiness to offer. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t love others and do what we can to fix the world, but we know we can’t. All it takes is one hurricane to drown Houston, one ice storm for towns to lose power for weeks, one tornado to level buildings and houses—all that we have worked for. Keller doesn’t mince words. It’s not if we will suffer, it’s when. Christians need to get into the habit of walking with God now, praying, living in community, serving one another, and being ready to love when tragedy—small, great—strikes.

A true highlight of Keller’s book is the inclusion of a true story of suffering at the end of each chapter. Some stories finish with a good ending in sight. Others don’t. But they all present the growing faith of the sufferer and their stronger relationship with Christ.

Somehow in modern-day Christian circles, we tend to see God’s faithfulness as saving us from suffering. And yes, sometimes, in His great mercy, He does save us from suffering. But that is not the mark of His faithfulness. We see in Scripture that many of those He loved deeply are also those who suffered greatly. (Gigi, 185)

It is one of the many excellences of the book that Job is brought to contentment without ever knowing all the facts of his case…. [T]he test would work only if Job did not know what it was for. God thrusts Job into an experience of dereliction to make it possible for Job to enter into a life of naked faith, to learn to love God for himself alone. God does not seem to give this privilege to many people, for they pay a terrible price of suffering for their discoveries. But part of the discovery is to see the suffering itself as one of God’s most precious gifts. To withhold the full story from Job, even after the test was over, keeps him walking by faith, not by sight. He does not say in the end, “Now I see it all.” He never sees it all. He sees God (Job 42:5). Perhaps it is better if God never tells any of us the whole story of our life. (283, from Francis Anderson’s Job [TOTC] volume, pg. 270, n1)

Recommended?

Keller’s book should be read by all Christians. It is a solid reservoir of biblical truth. As The Princess Bride tells us, “Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The Bible admits to our pain. It gives us no prosperity gospel, health-and-wealth, pie in the sky doctrines. Some have it easier, some just have it rough. We will walk through a furnace, but Godwho hung like meat on a cross before a crowd who couldn’t stop mocking him he will walk with you.

Lagniappe

Buy from Amazon or Penguin Random House

Disclosure: I received this book free from Penguin Books. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Jeremiah (Kidner)

During his lifetime, Derek Kidner (1913-2008) was a prolific commentator for the TOTC and BST series. He wrote commentaries on Genesis, Proverbs (review), Ecclesiastes, Ezra & Nehemiah, Hosea, and two volumes on Psalms (review of Pss 73–150). His pastor’s heart and his OT scholarship come out in all of his commentaries. He’s pithy, wise, discerning, and easily draws his readers to look to Christ in the NT.

Kidner has Old Testament wisdom/skill (ḥokmâ) when it comes to exegesis and application. One can observe his pithiness in this commentary—Kidner explains Jeremiah’s 1,364 verses in only 150 pages! While many other commentaries explain everything almost to the point that you no longer need to look at the biblical text itself, a reading of Kidner requires an open Bible.

Kidner divides Jeremiah into 3 units according to historical dates. 

  • Prologue (1)
  • From Josiah to the first year of Nebuchadnezzar (2–20)
  • From Josiah’s successors to the captivity (21–45)
  • Oracles concerning the nations (46–51)
  • Epilogue (52)

Kidner also provides three appendices:

  1. Sin, judgment, repentance, grace and salvation in the preaching of Jeremiah
  2. The chapters of the book in their chronological setting
  3. A table of dates

At 150 pages, Kidner’s Introduction is a mere 9 pages, though it gives the surrounding historical context. That context is vitally important in a book that dates many of its passages, they just aren’t usually in chronological order. Knowing the dates and the historical events in Kings and Chronicles (references also given throughout this volume) brings more life to Jeremiah.

Kidner points out the irony in Jeremiah’s statements against his opponents. In Jeremiah 7.8–15, concerning Jeremiah’s appeal to reason and to history, Kidner says,

Its first step is to expose the nonsense — and the effrontery — of tearing up the ten commandments and turning up in church (10), as though saved to sin. The second, the den of robbers saying (11), brings out the greater nonsense of thinking to tie God’s hands. The temple could only give sanctuary as a sanctuary. Let man take it over, and God will have left it (49).

When Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel comes to him in prison and asks if he would redeem and purchase Hanamel’s land (it was probably inhabited by the Babylonians at this point and, thus, was basically worthless), Kidner replies, “Was there ever a more insensitive prison-visitor?” (112). And should we expect anything less? His family plotted against him (12.6). Why should we expect kind words from his cousin? Given that this was of the Lord, Jeremiah bought the measly plot of land as a sign of God’s promise to return his people. Kidner says, “Each [field] a vindication of his [Jeremiah’s] gallant act of faith and of the Lord’s delight in doing [his people] good…. Seventeen shekels of silver (9) were surely never better spent” (114).

His proverbial twists and applicable thoughts express, in a nutshell, God’s words to Jeremiah, his Jerusalem audience, his Babylonian audience, and his present day audience and exhorts and encourages both God’s people and God’s preachers today. In Jeremiah 17.17–18, Kidner writes,

Jeramiah (sp) recalls the warning he received at his commissioning… for dismay [1.17, and “terror” in 17.17] is the word he now dwells on… but we should not miss the note of “fear and trembling” (cf. 1 Cor. 2:3) which was the cost of his outspokenness. It silently rebukes the blandness of the safe preacher (74).

As with Hetty and Wright, there is no Scripture index.

Recommended?

While Kidner’s volume isn’t strong in detailed exegesis, and it won’t be the go-to commentary for many because of it’s brevity, those brief comments give you a taste of each section’s distinct meaning and, ultimately, of all of Jeremiah. Kidner would be best used for both the Bible study and in sermon prep. He’s strong on the historical events of Jeremiah, drawing in the NT, and summarizing the main idea(s) in a section of Scripture.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Kidner Classic Commentaries
  • Author: Derek Kidner
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 3, 2014)

Buy this from IVP Academic or Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Jeremiah (BST)

The Bible Speaks Today (BST) series has a threefold ideal:

  • to expound the biblical text with accuracy
  • to relate it to contemporary life, and
  • to be readable.

While it is not exactly a “commentary,” this is not a sermon series either (a la Preaching the Word). In his volume, Wright writes specifically to pastors and preachers, those called to fill God’s people with his word and a solid, biblical knowledge of him. Wright is an ideal person to write on Jeremiah. He is an OT theologian who has been writing on the OT, OT ethics, and OT commentaries for years (e.g., Deuteronomy, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel). Having written so much about the OT, Wright is able to keeps the entire story and canon of the Bible in mind as he fills in the details about the suffering prophet.

The weeping prophet, who weeps God’s tears for his people and relays God’s anger against his people. Jeremiah images God’s relationship with Israel in two primary ways: one of a husband and his bride, the other of a father and his son. God is a “betrayed husband” and a “rejected father” (29). Thus, “God and his prophet suffer together in the anticipation and the actuality of the disaster” (30).

Structure and Content

Unfortunately, Wright doesn’t provide an outline. Instead his volume is made up of 34 chapters, with Jeremiah 25 as the “hinge” chapter. He says, “Chapter 25 is clearly a ‘hinge’ chapter that first looks back to all that has gone before in chapters 1–24 (25:1–7). Then it effectively ‘programmes’ the rest of the book by looking forward to the inevitable judgment on Judah that God will bring through the agency of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon (25:8–11), followed by God’s promised judgment on Babylon itself and indeed on all the earth (25:12–38)” (27).

Chapters end with a section on “theological and expository reflections” which present short thoughts for the reader (paster/congregation) to consider. For example, Wright says, “Jeremiah highlights biblical standards for human governments,” and then asks why Christians are more vocal over the new sexual agenda than they are about government policies which keep the poor and the vulnerable confined in their present state (246). To know God is “to practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness” in this life now (Jer 9.23–24).

Wright sees wordplays, alliteration, OT allusions, the repetition of words and themes all throughout Jeremiah. He draws together Jeremiah’s messages throughout the book and shows his unified message. In commenting on the abrupt, jarring verses of 30:23–24, Wright says, “Why is that past oracle of doom repeated here? For the purpose of wrapping it in the smothering embrace of the core covenant promise that Israel had known from their origins” (311).

Wright has rhetoric and uses imagery well, saying that Jeremiah and his message “stick out like a funeral director at a wedding,” which is very true (51). Considering all the false prophets who cried, “Peace, peace,” Jeremiah wept that Jerusalem would be overtaken by Babylon. The false prophets preached a wedding; Jeremiah preached a funeral.

Wright is not only sensitive to OT themes, but to NT themes and references as well. God’s promise in Jeremiah 30–33 and 35–37 that nothing could separate him from his people is echoed in Romans 8.38–39.

The Spoiled Milks

My two disappointments with this volume concern the lack of an outline and a lack of indexes, specifically a Scripture index (my same complaint with Lalleman’s and Kidner’s volumes). With so many NT Scriptures referenced, this volume would have been even more resourceful if one could easily see all of the Bible verses used.

Recommended?

Wright is a highly trusted exegete who has written numerous books and commentaries. Get this one, and don’t stop there. Wright, like Lalleman, is good to have for all Bible teaching settings. His chapters are longer than Lalleman’s (only Mackay’s are longer), but are packed with exegetical and expositional insights. I would use his volume if I taught a Bible study, a Bible college class, or preparation for a sermon. Good to be paired with Lalleman’s volume.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Christopher J. H. Wright
  • Series: Bible Speaks Today
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic; 1st edition (March 10, 2014)

Buy this from IVP Academic or Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Jeremiah & Lamentations (TOTC)

Since the 1960s, Tyndale Old (and New) Testament Commentaries (TOTC) series has sought to be faithful to the text of Scripture in a scholarly way without running into the despairing Bog of Details. New discoveries of ancient Near Eastern artifacts and texts increasingly give a sharper understanding of the Old Testament, 75% of the Bible which too often goes unnoticed. However, a significant reason the OT is often ignored is because, being so far removed from today’s reader, it is difficult to understand. Why would the Lord command Jeremiah three different times not to pray for Israel (7.16; 11.14; 14.11)? Why are six of the final seven chapters denunciations against the surrounding nations? How do we work out that God is in control of what happens to Israel, he is their enemy, yet he is also their loving husband (same in Lamentations too)? And why is Jeremiah impossible to outline?

Hetty Lalleman-de Winkel has set forth an excellent volume on Jeremiah and Lamentations. She teaches Old Testament studies at Spurgeon’s College in London, wrote her Master’s thesis and PhD on Jeremiah, and has also written Celebrating the Law? Rethinking Old Testament Ethics.

Content

It’s should be no surprise that Jeremiah takes up the bulk of this volume (299 pages) with Lamentations running at 55 pages. There are three parts to each section of the commentary—context, comment, and meaning. Context sets the new text within the flow of the book. Comment is the exegetical portion where Lalleman emphasis repeated themes, rhetorical questions, the שׁוּב motif of “repenting”/“returning”/“turning away,” Jeremiah’s laments, chiastic structures, what makes a prophet true or false, and contrasts (33.5//33.8-9;  31.4//31.22;  31.5//5.17). While she doesn’t comment on everything (which isn’t a drawback), she does draw the reader back and forth to many other places in Scripture (Jer 33.11 with Pss 100.5 + 136; Lam 2.14 with Jer 6.14 + 8.11).

Finally, the Meaning section draws the main points of the passage together into a brief paragraph so that the reader can get his bearings. Lalleman doesn’t speak much about the NT, but it does come up, and especially when there is messianic language (see the Meaning section at the end of Jer 33 [pgs 243–44]). This strength is seen more in the volumes by Kidner and Wright. The primary purpose of the TOTC volumes is to discuss what the OT text is saying. It’s the job of the TNTC (NT commentaries) to take the OT information and show its fulfillment in Christ.

Lalleman makes some comments about the chronology and structuring of Jeremiah, but doesn’t have an extended conversation about it. Primarily, Jeremiah isn’t set in a chronological manner because he/Baruch wanted to emphasize certain themes throughout the book (see her outline here). Thus, the chronology has been “rearranged” to make certain themes visible.

Lamentations is easier to outline, and it divided into 5 units based on each chapter. Further outlining can be found at the beginning of each unit.

Unfortunately, I can’t cover everything in Lalleman’s volume here, but I will try to show what Lalleman says about some of the complex issues raised above.

  • Don’t pray (7.16; 11.14; 14.11)? Jeremiah is told not to intercede for Israel because they are too far gone. Babylon will come, and exile will happen. “Judgment is now irreversible” (135).
  • Oracles against the nations (OAN): Theologically, the OAN “emphasize that God is in control over all nations” (55). God will not be bested by any earthly superpower, not even Babylon. He even uses them for his own purposes, which goes for the other nations too. Israel and Judah are often times worse than their pagan neighbors, yet if God can change the hearts of his own rebellious people, then he can even change those of the Gentiles.
  • Israel’s enemy and loving Husband?: “Israel will be punished for their sins, but will eventually be saved through judgment” (226). The new covenant is promised, and God promises throughout the book, especially here in the Book of Comfort (30–33) to “turn” the hearts of his people to him. It is in the exile that Israel realizes their need for repentance (Lam 3.40).
  • Structure of Jeremiah: There are many ways to divide Jeremiah, and “a consensus is not in sight” (62). However, she disagrees with other commentators (e.g., Wright, Mackay, Wilcock) who see Jeremiah 25 as a hinge chapter. Instead she takes Jeremiah 23–29 together, “because the theme of ‘false prophets versus true prophet’ extends through these chapters” (63).

Unfortunately, as with Kidner and Wright, there is no Scripture index.

Recommended?

Lalleman has helped explain the big picture and the nuances of Jeremiah to me. She has sat with me for a number of Sunday mornings and has guided me through this long, foreign, and bewildering text, and I wouldn’t want to be far away from her volume when I study this book. A good expositional companion to Lalleman on Jermeiah would be Christopher Wright’s BST volume, and a good companion commentary on Lamentations would be Parry’s THOTC volume.

Lalleman’s volume is good to use as preparation for a Bible study, for a sermon, and for teaching in a Bible college/seminary atmosphere. She gives enough detail without being overbearing, and that makes her volume a delight to use in all settings.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Book 21)
  • Author: Hetty Lalleman
  • Paperback: 373 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 1, 2013)
  • Read a sample here

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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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