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Reviews | From Hosea to Zephaniah

From Hosea to Zephaniah

Fred Pearce

Paperback or e-book (ePub)

208 pages

From Hosea to Zephaniah

The Testimony review (from March 1980)

From Hosea to Zephaniah

THIS COMPILATION of articles originally published in the Study Section of The Christadelphian is a welcome addition to Christadelphian literature if for no other reason than that it fills a gap in a useful and profitable way. Nevertheless it is an ambitious project to condense an exposition of nine separate books into 200 pages. This point is brought home more forcibly when we realise that these 200 pages cover no less than 47 chapters of the Scriptures, an average of four pages per chapter. On the one hand therefore it is inevitable that at times the exposition is somewhat sketchy, yet on the other hand Brother Pearce should be complimented for putting so much useful information and exposition into such a short space. It is only fair to quote from the “Preface” concerning the intended coverage of the book: “The work has been designed for the individual reader or the member of the ecclesial Bible Class who wants a readable summary of the prophets’ message”. The reviewer can confirm that the book achieves this aim, having already used it to glean an introduction and some useful points, though not a complete exposition, for an address on “The Prophecy of Nahum”.

Because Brother Pearce had a vast amount of material to condense into a short space, and because he did not want to produce a rather difficult-to-read verse-by-verse exposition, he adopted an unusual format. This comprises a division into relatively short, headed, sections, covering an average of five or six verses each, with the sections grouped under broader headings corresponding with the Scriptural chapter or theme division as appropriate. Thus the text is more readable (though less detailed) than a verse-by-verse exposition, and it is easy to locate the explanation of a particular verse or group of verses.

In addition there are some 14 “Special Notes” which are used to focus on a point worthy of more detailed attention. Examples of these are: “The day of the Lord”; “How can the Lord repent?”; “Who is the ‘Northerner’?”; and “James and the Tabernacle of David”.

The second of the examples given above demonstrates another useful characteristic of this book. We are often given a useful insight into the meaning or usage of a particular Hebrew word. In the example referred to the word is racham – repent. Other generally useful points about the book are the pieces of historical background, and the valuable explanations of those rather obscure geographical references which are rather frequent in the minor prophets.

To demonstrate the flavour of the book a little more fully let us look at some particular highlights. Firstly, the overall background to the period of ancient history in which the minor prophets are set gives us an overview which we all too easily miss in our detailed study of the Scriptures. Brother Pearce notes the controlling hand of God in the broad span of ancient history. We are shown that from the 18th to the 14th centuries B.C. Egypt was politically and militarily weak. “How remarkable to discover that the great powers from the ‘north’, as they were later to prove themselves, Assyria and Babylon, were in a similar position. The significant result was that the land of Canaan was not regularly dominated by any great power for a period of 600 years. It is into this period that the bulk of Israel’s history fits. These circumstances are a remarkable illustration of the mercy and foresight of God; mercy in that Israel were given a land of their own and opportunity to develop freely in it under God’s guidance, relatively unopposed, at least by any great power …” (pages 2-3).

Into this historical period fits the “ministry of the prophets”. We are then given a useful section on all those true prophets mentioned in the Scriptures in addition to those whose writings are preserved in the Old Testament. The point being made is that Israel’s prophets were not a rather “rare phenomenon” but a continual ministry (see pages 12-13). Brother Pearce is rightly at pains to set the prophets in their correct Scriptural context, unlike the majority of commentators who regard the prophetic writings as of much later origin than they claim for themselves. They see them as compilations of religious writings rather than the inspired utterances of the men who gave their names to the books. These “critical” arguments are ably and comprehensibly destroyed as each prophet is dealt with. One good technique that is used is to show that the critics do not agree among themselves, and while some are sceptical, others accept what the Bible claims for itself.

On the matter of the mechanisms of inspiration of the prophets Brother Pearce demolishes the notion of prophetic “ecstatic” utterances with a number of useful quotations, such as: “God speaks to the prophets not in magical processes nor through the visions of poor phrenetics, but by a clear and intelligible word, addressed to the intellect and the heart. The characteristic of the true prophet is that he retains his consciousness and self control under revelation” (page 16 – quoted from Robertson Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, page 289).

Another favourite theme of the critics is to trace the supposed evolution of Israel’s religious thought. Brother Pearce turns this idea on its head. For each book we are given good illustrations of how the themes of the prophets are rooted in the Pentateuch; for example, no less than 79 verses in Hosea, we are told, contain allusions to the books of Moses.

There are also more specific highlights of exposition in this book. For the present reviewer one of the most notable of these occurs on pages 28 and 29, where the numerical value of the Hebrew words for Joel’s palmerworm, locust, cankerworm and caterpillar are shown to match the time periods that successive world powers dominated Israel. Brother Pearce admits that slight adjustments do have to be made to fit this to the domination of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, but rightly comments that “it is astonishing to be able to offer it at all”.

One should perhaps mention some weaknesses that the present writer feels are to be found in this work. It is clear that Brother Pearce is widely read among the commentators, and he is generally very discerning about what is and what is not worthwhile. But he occasionally adopts, almost unawares, some of their ideas. He rejects the suggestion that Israel’s religious thought evolved only gradually, yet in his concluding remarks on Obadiah he says: “Israel’s future horizon is restricted in this prophecy to those limits which were the actual experience of those who heard it in the first place. There is no suggestion that the kingdom of the future will take in territories far beyond these confines” (i.e. Palestine, Phoenicia, Edom, Moab and Ammon). This is a strange statement in view of the last phrase of Obadiah, “… and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (verse 21). Surely such a phrase would be understood in the context of a future worldwide kingdom.

Perhaps the section that will cause more disagreement than any other is the exposition concerning Hosea’s relationship with his harlot wife Gomer. That relationship was, as Brother Pearce shows, a parable of God’s covenant marriage with Israel. However this reviewer is not happy with the suggestion that Hosea’s third child, Lo-Ammi, meaning “not my people” demonstrated the “cancellation of the covenant made at Sinai and Israel’s final rejection by God” (page 97). To say that the covenant was suspended might be more accurate, for even now Israel has not been finally and totally rejected. Furthermore it is debatable whether “Israel’s adulteries have destroyed her marriage bond with the Lord” (page 98). Rather Israel was punished for her spiritual adultery and the privileges of her marriage were suspended, but nevertheless, through their Messiah, “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26). Such matters of exposition need care as they relate directly to moral conduct within the ecclesia today concerning marriage and divorce.

In conclusion, this work is a valuable one for every Christadelphian bookshelf. It is an exposition of some of the less familiar portions of Scripture which moved the author to finish the book with the following words: “In the firm conviction that God will ‘perform the truth to Jacob and the mercy to Abraham’ which He has ‘sworn unto our fathers from the days of old’, we may go quietly on our way in faith, earnestly desiring the manifestation of the sons of God” (page 200).

RICHARD MELLOWES

(Originally published in the March 1980 edition of The Testimony Magazine (pages 70-72), and is reproduced by kind permission.)

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