Review: Beyond the River Chebar

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Beyond the River Chebar, a compilation of studies on kingship and eschatology in Ezekiel, is part two of the “River Chebar” series. Volume one is titled By the River Chebar (my review), and covers historical, literary, and theological topics in Ezekiel. Daniel Block, Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, has been studying Ezekiel for twenty-five years now and is known for his works on Ezekiel and Deuteronomy.

As stated in volume one, to interpret the Hebrew Bible one must ask at least three questions:

  1. What does the text say?
  2. What did the text mean to the original audience?
  3. What does the text mean to me?
  4. What does the text say it like that?

Block proves that his twenty-five years have given him a grasp of Ezekiel’s thought world and of his own literary connections throughout the book.

Summary

Chapter One deals with Ezekiel’s lack of enthusiasm for “Zion theology.” The name “Zion” is missing form the book, the kingship of YHWH “receives little attention,” Ezekiel is more focused on Israel returning to the land than to “Jerusalem,” he never links God’s electing choice of the land of Zion and his election of David together, and more. Ezekiel is trying to dismantle Israel’s towering pride and bring them to a point of humble repentance and full obedience and serve to Yahweh.

Chapter Two shows how Ezekiel portrays the past, the present, and the future monarchy of Israel. Most of the kings were wicked, but YHWH does have a final plan of restoration. “[T]he exile should be interpreted not as a sign of divine rejection, but of election. YHWH had removed [the exiles] from Jerusalem to spare them the conflagration to come, and in Babylon he personally became their ‘small sanctuary’” (33). What happens to King Jehoiachin at the end of the exile is a ray of hope for the exiles and the dynasty of David.

Chapter Three gives us a look at how the book of Ezekiel contributes to the picture of King Jehoiachin in his portrayal as a cedar sprig (Ezek 17), a lion (Ezek 19.2-9), and a vine (Ezek 19.10-14). Again, the conclusion is that Ezekiel’s portrait of King Jehoiachin is a ray of hope that God “will not forget his ancient word to David” (73). Unfortunately, much of what is in the previous chapter is included here, although that’s to be expected when separate monographs are brought together into a single volume.

Chapter Four shows how Ezekiel’s prophecies were to destroy Israel’s notions of security simply based on their relationship to YHWH, and instead they were given to inspire hope that YHWH had not forgotten his covenant with his people and would rescue them through the means of a Davidic Messianic figure. In Chapter Five, this essay consists of observations on how the Gog oracle (Ezek 38-39) should be interpreted, on the form of the oracle, and a summary of the interpretation.

Chapter Six asks, “How does Ezekiel 38.17 fit in with the Gog prophecy?” Is Gog the one of whom YHWH spoke in former days by his servants the prophets of Israel? Or is he not? Chapter Seven – Having come after a few chapters of salvation/redemption prophecies, the prophecy about Gog in Ezekiel 38-39 seems misplaced. What is the function of the Gog oracle in Ezekiel 38-39? Ezek 39.21-29 shows how God will use Gog to glorify himself as the one who keeps his promises to his people by saving them and by permanently making them his own.

Chapter Eight gives us “ten interpretive keys to Ezekiel’s final vision” (Ezek 40-48). These chapters are not to be taken literally, as “the present vision picks up the theological theme [of YHWH’s permanent residence among his people] and describes the spiritual reality in concrete terms, employing the familiar cultural idioms of temple, altar, sacrifices, [prince], and land” (172). Chapter Nine provides us with the key to interpreting Ezekiel’s temple: Ezekiel 43.10-11. The sacred space of the temple the “perfection… and order of the entire system [would] create in [Israel] intense shame for their own iniquitous actions… and shatter all assumptions of worthiness” (186). 

The Chocolate Milk

What I found noteworthy is Block’s constant awareness of the context. He informs the reader of Ezekiel’s polemic against Israel’s “kings” and thus for the use of the term “prince” to distance the Davidic king from (most of) the unstable kings of Israel and Judah.

In chapter six, Gog in Prophetic Tradition, Block says that “the Gog pericope may be interpreted as a full-blown commentary on 28:25-26. This pattern of raising and idea briefly, only to drop it and then return to it in full with a full treatment in a later prophecy, may be observed repeatedly in the book of Ezekiel” (127). Examples include Ezek 16.60-63 and 36.16-32; 36.27 and 37.1-14 (fn. 2, 127).

Recommended?

Block is an extremely gifted scholar. He covers an exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) amount of information (this can be seen especially in his footnotes). This is certainly an academic work. While it can be read and understood by a layman (me, for example), it is indeed not devotional reading. Yet, in all of it’s depth and torrents of information, you will get quality scholarship here. Block is an expert on Ezekiel (one of over twenty-five years [xi]), but is a conservative, evangelical scholar. He accepts a holistic view of Ezekiel’s work. It’s not that there couldn’t be any editing, but that the hand of Ezekiel is surely behind the book.

These are Ezekiel’s words from God. These are the thoughts and struggles of a prophet-priest who was commissioned by God to speak satire and extreme language to get Israel to listen, and who gave prophecies of hope and restoration so that God’s people would be at peace and have confidence in their God.

Lagniappe

Buy on Amazon or at Wipf & Stock

[Special thanks to Wipf & Stock for allowing me to review this book. I was not required to give a positive review in exchange for this book].

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