In 2020 I focused my daily Bible reading on Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. I wanted to read these books along with a brief commentary that would orient me to my reading.
In the past for these books, I’ve used Barry’s Webb’s The Message of Isaiah, Derek Kidner’s The Message of Jeremiah (both in the Bible Speaks Today series), and Peter Cragie’s Ezekiel (in the Daily Study Bible Series). Craigie is a bit less conservative than the previous two authors, but in general these books were helpful for that purpose.
This year, I choose Herbert Wolf’s Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah, Charles Feinberg’s Jeremiah: A Commentary, and Charles Feinberg’s The Prophecy of Ezekiel: The Glory of the Lord. Wolf, a translator of Isaiah for the 1984 NIV, does quite a good job of briefly and insightfully summarizing the thought of each chapter. I picked up Feinberg’s commentary on Jeremiah recalling that Dr. Bob Bell, on of my seminary professors, identified it as one of his favorite on the book. (It appears in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 6, but someone had given me a standalone version). Since I had also been given a copy of Feinberg’s book on Ezekiel, I thought I’d stick with Feinberg through Ezekiel. The Ezekiel commentary served its purpose, but the Jeremiah commentary is superior to it.
On the side, I did some other reading in connection with these books, reading Andrew Abernethy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach, Andrew Shead’s A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah (both in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series) Daniel Block’s By the River of Chebar: Historical, Literary, and Theological Studies in the Book of Ezekiel, and Daniel Block’s Beyond the River of Chebar: Studies in Kingship and Eschatology in the Book of Ezekiel. Abernethy’s book is helpful survey of the vitally important theme of kingdom in Isaiah. My one disappointment was the credence he gave to critical scholarship on the authorship of the book. I found Shead’s book most helpful on the issue of Jeremiah’s structure. Block’s two books on Ezekiel are a collection of articles he wrote on this book over the years. Though not all were of equal interest to me, his studies on the theology of Ezekiel in the first volume and his studies in the second volume on the Messiah and on the final vision (Eze. 40-48) were very helpful.
Another resource that I picked up along the way was the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. I’m not typically a fan of study Bibles. I’d rather grab a brief commentary like Wolf on Isaiah, or Kidner on Jeremiah because they would typically give me fuller information with not much more reading than the fragmentary notes in a study Bible (notes which too often don’t address the question I have in mind). However, I found the NIVBTSB to be very helpful in orienting me to a passage. Its notes are hierarchical with a notes summarizing major sections and sub -sections of the text before the notes on the individual verses. In this way the NIVBTSB is an ideal companion for Bible reading.
The one drawback to the NIVBTSB is the NIV 2011 text. In many ways the NIV 2011 is an improvement on the NIV 1984. The one exception is its attempts to avoid the generic “man” and the generic pronouns “he,” “his,” “him,” etc. I wish the NIV 2011 reflected the original languages more closely in the area of gender. Gender is a hotly contested area in our culture at present, and it seems wisest to allow God to speak to us about this topic rather than trying to conform his words to our way of speaking.
For instance, the translation “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:28) obscures the representative nature of the first man, Adam. The obfuscation happens by trying to avoid using the generic “man” to stand for man and woman. But part of the teaching of this passage is that man does stand for both men and women, not just linguistically but for the race (Adam), in the home (husband), for the church (Christ).
Another example. I was recently studying Job 14 where Job is speaking of a representative man. On one level this man represents all humans but on another he represents Job himself. There is also likely an allusion back to Adam, the first man, who brought this trouble on mankind. The NIV 2011 obscures this by translating ‘adam as “Mortals.” This translation also allowed the translators to transform all of the singular pronouns (“he,” “him,” etc.) into plurals, which further obscures the fact that the man being referred to is a stand in for Job. This is most problematic in the final verse of the chapter where the loneliness and isolation of this man is portrayed: “He feels but the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself” (NIV 1984). The isolation doesn’t come through with the plural pronouns: “They feel but the pain of their own bodies and mourn only for themselves” (NIV 2011).
I routinely find examples where these kinds of subtle transformations end up obscuring the text.
Reading Feinberg on Jeremiah and Ezekiel this year was a step back into the world of mid-twentieth century dispensationalism. For instance, here is a passage I read recently:
“The emphasis here is unmistakably on the Sabbath and the new moon, which alone should indicate the Jewish setting of the passage, and that we are not here on Christian or New Testament ground. The broad context of the last chapters of Ezekiel, it cannot be repeated too often because so often ignored, is not treating Christian truth, though there are definite implications for such, of course. In short, the Sabbath of the Old Testament will be reinstituted for a restored and consecrated Israel. The Sabbath will be enforced as soon as the church is translated because the end of Daniel’s seventy weeks will occur on Jewish ground (Matt. 24:29). Then the Sabbath will continue into the Messiah’s reign, for this is the consummation and culmination of Israel’s, not the church’s, history (study Isa. 66:23 and the broad context there).”Charles Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel, 267.
Feinberg seems unaware of the implications of this assertion. The transition from Sabbath to Lord’s Day was a transition from a day marking rest after the original creation to a day marking the new creation inaugurated by the resurrection of Christ. It would be exceedingly odd for God’s people to shift their day of worship back to the seventh day just as the new creation dawns in the millennium.
Furthermore, Feinberg seems to assume that the church’s history ends with the rapture. However, the church as the union of Jew and Gentile into one new man is part of the enduring cross-work of Christ. It is not mere a temporary phase in redemption history.
On the other hand, I was also reading George Schwab’s recent commentary on Hosea where he says, commenting on Hosea 2:21-23:
“On the one hand, the passage addresses historical Israel, the people who abandoned Yahweh in order to worship Baal. They are promised restoration as a religious-political entity on their traditional plot of land, which was fulfilled when Judah returned from exile. On another level, however, this passage is a picture of something much grander and more far-reaching. The scope of the new covenant is universal. According to Paul (quoting from this passage), it will encompass the whole earth and every people group (Rom. 9:25–26). Every Christian can rejoice in this fuller meaning, for he or she is a demonstration of its ongoing fulfillment.”George M. Schwab Sr., “Hosea,” in Daniel–Malachi, ESV Expository Commentary, 7:192–193.
But it simply will not do to limit Israel’s share in the fulfillment of this passage to the post-exilic period. That period did not see these new covenant fulfillments for Israel. This prophecy includes a future restoration of Israel “as a religious- political entity on their traditional plot of land” in the future day of the Lord.
There is a better way between the older forms of dispensationalism—which divided the church and Israel, and which was insensitive to redemptive historical developments from the Old Testament through the New and into the new creation (millennium and eternal state)—and the recent trend to deny any future fulfillment of prophecies made to the nation Israel.
That better way would see the church joined with Israel into one new man, and it would see the Gentiles become heirs of the covenant promises along with Israel—but in such a way that the specific promises made to the nation are not cancelled but extended.
Right now, I think progressive dispensationalism captures this balance best, but what I’ve described above need not be limited to dispensationalism. For instance, the future fulfillment of the land promises for Israel was envisioned by a number of Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, and David Brown (of Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown fame). There is nothing inconsistent with covenant theology (or, I think, Progressive Covenantalism) and the position outlined above. True, such views have traditionally been limited to millennialists, but there is no reason in principle why they could not be held by amillennialists who believe in an earthly eternal state.