A number of facts and issues related to the Pentateuch struck me as particularly significant, and all have impact based on the careful examination of the work itself in the text. I believe people usually accept the Book, or Five Books, as a kind of ultimate scriptural authority, and do not question aspects of it as is done elsewhere. That the text identifies multiple reasons for argument or debate then challenges my own perspectives. For example, the authors note how Moses is typically considered the author of Numbers, but the book only references him in this way once (Hill, Walton 145). This alone makes me reconsider, not so much my trust in the Pentateuch, but the reasons for that trust.
This in turn relates to the authors’ understanding of a broader reality behind arguments as to the accuracy of the Historical Books. They are, of course, documents of history, but they exist as no other historical works do, in that they are encompassed within the divine plan of self-revelation (212). Personally, it has always fascinated me that Christians perpetually insist upon a kind of knowing they simultaneously recognize as belonging only to God. More exactly, exact authorship of the Books seems to me not a critical concern as long as we accept the fundamental truths of the Historical Books. I understand that the authors are obligated to present their findings regarding the legitimacy of the Books in strictly historical terms.
They are right to note, as other scholars have, that archaeological evidence does not support the accounts of Hebrew encounters with other peoples, for example (148). More impactful to me, however, is the consistent reliance on the Books as revealing truth, no matter the investigation of how that truth was transcribed millennia ago.
Regarding actual information I found helpful, the authors’ discussion of Ezra and Nehemiah as potentially one chronicler is truly fascinating to me (312). We have so long dealt with the Books in literal ways, concerning authorship, and this view expands meaning in my eyes. This is particularly true as both Ezra and Nehemiah shared an era and acted as reformers for the Hebrew faith (341). I had also never recognized the distinction of Esther, in that this account never mentions God as God (492), even though the Book fully underscores God’s presence in all that is documented. Turning to the Poetic Books, Job has always been problematic for me.
I understand that the message is difficult because it defies customary view of God’s love for the righteous, and that the world does not exist so simply (409). Still, the authors do not change my sense that God’s conduct here is not in keeping with His being elsewhere. With the Psalms, I have a far deeper sense of these works as “mysteries”; they have overt meanings, but they also indicate intents of their composition related to their eras, and the state of Israel at the times. Proverbs is less challenging as the authors define exactly what these messages exist to do. They are only analogies to illustrate principles, rather than prophecies or promises (441), and I think the authors are correct to reaffirm this reality. Ecclesiastes performs much of the same purpose, if from a different direction.
Its wisdom derives from the exposure of the meaninglessness of the life devoted to pleasure, which is revealed through the stories related and which ultimately refutes the cynical perspective often attached to the Book (464). Lastly, theme is difficult to identify in the Song of Songs, even as scholars have seen the work as allegory. As with Esther, there is no reference to God at all, and the focus is instead on passionate love between a man and woman. Certainly, nothing in the Bible is this erotic (492). While I am partially able to accept the eroticism as allegory, however, this text is more problematic for me than Job. If the theme is to celebrate the love between God and His church, I cannot understand why physical human passion would be the metaphor chosen for this.
As I perceive it and as the text seems to support, or assist me in understanding, the Old Testament prophets exist in dual ways. On one level, they have a mission beyond the mortal; they are empowered to reveal what will be, as dictated by God. On another, however, and equally importantly, they are in place to assess the realities of their times and settings, and note how these diverge from, or conform to, God’s will. This relates to the themes recurrent in the prophets’ lives, in that they often “served two masters.” Many served their kings, even as their deeper purpose was to interpret the will of God for the king and the people, and indicate the consequences to come for failure or success. As prophecy was often in poetic form, also, meaning could be misinterpreted (386).
Their role, however, was still that of divine messenger and, in a sense, political instrument. Of all the prophets, I personally find Daniel the most compelling because he combines the divine role with a humanity I perceive in no other prophet. His focus is on the kingdom of God, even as he confronts the social and political realities of his time (576). In fact, Daniel seems to be more rooted in the upheavals of his era as no other prophet was, and this invests him with a specifically human quality. For me, that quality then illustrates the connection between God and humanity in a strikingly direct way.