The Reformation Commentary, Dead White Men, and Make-Up

The newest addition to IVP’s Reformation Commentary on Scripture (vol. 5) just came out, on the books of 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, edited by my BTS colleague Derek Cooper, and his colleague, Martin J. Lohrmann.

This is an impressive work (740 pages) which has been in the works for almost 8 years.  Many of the commentators included in this volume have never been translated into English (from Latin).  There is a lot of wisdom contained here, which was previously inaccessible to most modern readers.

Obviously, since this book focuses on the OT, and particularly the historical books, I may be more excited about it than many of you all, but for pastors, teachers, and scholars it contains many gems of Scriptural insight.

The commentators include the usual suspects (Jacobus Arminius, John Calvin, and Martin Luther), as well as some lesser known names (Johannes Bugenhagen, John Mayer, and Konrad Pellikan), each of whom are important Reformation figures and who commented extensively on the historical books of the Bible.

In addition to literally thousands of quotations from commentators, and three indices (Author, Subject, and Scripture), there’s an extremely helpful, forty page appendix giving paragraph sketches of Reformation era figures and works (686-725). If one wanted a quick introduction to the Reformation’s major figures, this appendix would be a great first stop.

For those of you who are thinking, but hasn’t the Western church read enough of these “dead white men“?  Yes, great point.  We desperately need to be reading more scholars from other parts of the world, who can open our eyes to new perspectives, many of which are closer to the thought and mindset of the ancient Near Eastern world than our own.  But these Reformation scholars still offer us profound insight on our own story, particularly for those of us who come from a Protestant tradition.

I’m looking forward to using this resource as I work on my 1, 2 Kings commentary for the Story of God commentary series for Zondervan.  (If you like this section of Scripture my co-authored textbook on the Historical Books comes out in July.)

While it will take me a long time to fully appreciate all the wisdom here, I smiled as I read these comments on the face-painting on Jezebel before her brutal death (2 Kgs. 9:30-8–thrown from a tower, trampled on by horses, consumed by dogs, who defecate her remains in a field), which is part of the Jehu narrative, on which I wrote my dissertation. When these guys talk about “face-painting” it’s not painting butterflies on the cheeks of little girls at a fair, but the general practice of using make-up.  John Mayer observes that Peter Martyr Vermigli condemns the practice of face-painting, along with Cyprian, Chrysostom, and Augustine, “It is practiced to allure men, and it changes their natural face into something artificial. But rather than bettering the face, it actually mars it” (p. 444).

Do you agree with these reformers about the use of make-up? 

The Wrath of Dave

About six months ago, IVP asked me to write an article on “Wrath” for their upcoming Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophetic Books (I wrote on “Jehu Dynasty” for IVP’s Dictionary of the OT Historical Books).  You may ask, “Why Dave for wrath?”  (My family thinks I’m the obvious choice.)

I’d like to think that I was selected for “Wrath” (does that make me a vessel of wrath?) because I wrote about God’s anger in God Behaving Badly (ch. 2–“Is God angry or loving?”), not due to something they knew about my temperament.

Shortly after IVP asked me to write on wrath, another friend (Heath Thomas) invited me to contribute an article to a volume he was helping put together on holy warfare in ancient Israel (I think their 1st choice fell through).  Since I was already writing on wrath, I decided to focus on two motivations for holy warfare: wrath and compassion.

Since I was starting to get a reputation for being the wrath of God guy, when the chance came to speak at my church I spoke on God’s wrath (based on ch. 2).  An another opportunity to preach came a few weeks later, so what did I chose?  Divine wrath, of course.

While at the InterVarsity regional conference (Shannon’s on staff with IV), I went golfing with a few friends last Thurs.  So the same day Tiger Woods shot a 77 at the PGA, I shot a 65 (although, I only played 9 holes).  One of my friends was looking at my clubs, and he says, “What’s this?  It says ‘WRATH’ on your golf club.”  I took the photo on the left.  (If you don’t believe me check out this link.)

So, what does it say on the bottom of your golf clubs?  “MERCY”? 

Gideon 1: Does God micro-manage Midian?

While I was a student in Oxford, I wrote my masters thesis on Gideon (“‘YHWH Will Rule over You’ (Judges 8:23): The Theocratic Ideal as a Theme Unifying the Disparate Traditions of the Gideon Narrative”).  The story is familiar from Sunday school days, but still profound.  Today, I’ll begin a series about the life of this prototypical post-modern hero (somehow I need to recycle this material from my thesis).

First, though we need some background.  As is typical of the judge-cycles that dominate the book, Gideon’s story begins with Israel “doing evil in the eyes of YHWH” so YHWH gave them into the hands of foreign oppressors, Midian this time (Judg. 6:1).  Midian would sweep in and raid Israel’s crops and livestock so that the land was “wasted” and Israel was greatly “impoverished” (Judg. 6:5-6).

As part of my research for an article on “Wrath” I’m writing for IVP’s Dictionary of the OT: Prophetic Books, I read an article today by Terence Fretheim on violence in the Prophets.  Fretheim argues that God doesn’t “micro-manage” the activity of human agents (like Midian), but they routinely exceed their mandate, which seems to be happening in Judges 6.  God allowed the Midianites to prevail over Israel, but then Midian exploited Israel beyond what YHWH had ordained.  Fretheim doesn’t think the Midianites merely puppets.

Fretheim raises an interesting issue that appears frequently in both historical books and then prophetic books.  How responsible are the Midianites (or the Assyrians or the Babylonians) for the crimes they perpetrated against Israel?  The text makes it clear that God worked through Midian, but if they weren’t independently responsible for the severity of their crimes it seems unfair that they would then be punished later.

So, how responsible was Midian for what they did to Israel?  Do you think God punishes his people today by allowing them to be oppressed?  If so, how?  Is it ever appropriate to say that to someone (“God is punishing you…”)? 

(Image is “Gideon and the angel” by He Qi-see his website.)