Review: From Judgement to Hope

From Judgment to Hope, Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019.

Summary: A survey study of the prophets centering on the movement in these books from judgment to hope.

Walter Brueggemann is one of the foremost scholars on the prophetic literature in the Bible. This book represents a distillation of his scholarship, suited for an adult education course in a church or other group. He focuses on a common thread running through the books, a movement from judgment to hope similar to the New Testament movement from cross to resurrection to return in glory. He helps us understand the prophets in their historical context, their canonical context, and our contemporary context.

He begins with a chapter on the three major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel offering this summary:

  • Isaiah: Jerusalem lost and renewed
  • Jeremiah: covenant broken and restored
  • Ezekial: temple nullified and revivified

Brueggemann, like many scholars, adheres to a “three Isaiah” approach to Isaiah and devotes a chapter to First Isaiah and one to Second and Third Isaiah. First Isaiah traces the announcements of God’s justice due to the people’s injustices, the temporary salvation and eventual fall of Jerusalem, culminating in that fall and hope for restoration. Second Isaiah begins with the highway for our God and culminates with Israel the Servant. The discussion of Third Isaiah centers on the house of prayer for all peoples, God’s chosen fast, and the Spirit of the Lord speaking through the prophet of the new Jerusalem.

Then Brueggemann reviews the “Minor Prophets” in four groups of three, with correspondence to the major prophets:

  • The eight century BCE prophets (Isaiah)
    • Amos: justice and righteousness
    • Hosea: steadfast love and knowledge of God
    • Micah: justice and kindness
  • The seventh century BCE prophets (Jeremiah) — focusing on punishment, both covenantal and cosmic dimensions
    • Nahum
    • Habakkuk
    • Zephaniah
  • The sixth century BCE prophets (Ezekiel) — focusing on restoration, both covenantal and cosmic dimensions
    • Haggai
    • Zechariah
    • Malachi
  • The outliers
    • Jonah
    • Obadiah
    • Joel

Brueggemann only focuses individual chapters on the eight and sixth century BCE prophets. Patricia K. Tull supplements Brueggemann’s work with an introductory overview and a book by book summary in rough chronological order. In the after matter, you will also find a timeline placing the books along key events, familiar quotations from Isaiah and a brief glossary.

This work does offer an introduction to the major contours of the prophetic books, but aside from reflection questions that seem better suited to individual reading, does not seem well-organized for an adult course. It is a good review, though it seems quite cursory especially in its treatment of the seventh century minor prophets and the “outliers.” Frankly, this was a bit disappointing for a Brueggemann work, and unless you are collecting everything he has written, I would pass this one by.

Review: Interpreting the Prophetic Books

Prophetic BooksInterpreting the Prophetic Books, Gary V. Smith. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2014.

Summary: This is a concise guide for those preaching from Old Testament prophetic texts covering issues of genre, themes, interpretation, preaching, and contemporary application.

This summer, I’ve been part of a preaching team covering a number of the shorter books in the Bible one book per Sunday, including the Minor Prophets. My assignment has been the books of Nahum and Habakkuk. This is a challenging task if you are not a specialist in this area and some distance from your seminary classes! Distinguishing between near and distant fulfillment, understanding the setting, recognizing different genres within prophecy, and moving from the meaning of the text to relevant application for an audience separated by over two millenia and a cultural gap are all issues that face anyone working with these biblical texts.

Gary V. Smith’s book, part of Kregel’s series of Handbooks for Old Testament Interpretation, is a concise and helpful guide for all these issues and more. In six chapters coming in at under 200 pages, Smith covers the following:

Chapter 1. The Nature of Prophetic Literature: Temporal categories of present, future, and apocalyptic, genres of prophecy, and poetic elements including parallelism and imagery.

Chapter 2. Major Themes in the Prophetic Books: Themes running through the prophets, and themes by specific books.

Chapter 3. Preparing for Interpretation: Knowing the setting of the pre-exilic prophets to Israel and Judah, the exilic prophets, and the post-exilic prophets, issues to be aware of in Ancient Near East Prophecy, textual criticism, and the use of commentaries, including recommendations of commentaries by book (conservative to mainstream Western scholarship).

Chapter 4. Interpretive issues in Prophetic Texts: Literal vs. metaphorical, contextual limits, conditional or unconditional, near or far future, and prophecy and its New Testament fulfillment.

Chapter 5. Proclaiming Prophetic Texts: Getting oriented, shaping the presentation, determining the principle, and reflecting on the application.

Chapter 6. From Text to Application: Offers examples of the steps of Chapter 5 with reference to near future and distant future prophecy.

The book concludes with a glossary of terms relevant to interpreting the prophetic books.

The organization of the book follows good principles of biblical exegesis and provides pointers to the most common exegetical and interpretive issues that arise in handling the prophetic material. There is a brief and then more detailed table of contents that allows one to consult material relevant to a particular prophetic text. The author provides examples from scripture throughout to illustrate points. And the examples in Chapter 6 illustrate the process and care involved in putting together a message that is both exegetically sound and appropriate for one’s audience.

If there was any criticism that could be made of this book, it would be the very limited attention (six pages) given to prophecy and New Testament fulfillment, and particularly, to Christological interpretation. It may be that the author decided to defer to other texts that give greater attention to these matters but given that this is written for use by pastors of Christian churches, a fuller treatment might have been helpful.

On the whole, however, this is a valuable work that serves as a helpful review for those who have had seminary-level training in prophetic exegesis, and a valuable and accessible primer for those without such training.

_____________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”