Book Reviews

Book Review: The Seed of Promise (eds. Williamson & Cefalu)

T. Desmond Alexander, senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at Union Theological College, has written many books on biblical theology, three commentaries, co-edited The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology and Dictionary of the Old Testament, and has written numerous articles and book chapters. This festschrift commemorates Alexander’s work and was dedicated to him on his 65th birthday. This book contains seventeen essays brought together by two of Alexander’s former students, Paul Williamson and Rita Cefalu.

Desi, as many know him, spent his scholarly career both engaging with critical scholarship and writing for the church (xiv). As the editors write, Desi “has a subtle and gentlemanly way of undermining the critical perspective by using their own arguments and examples against them, and this he does with scholarly acumen and cogent reasoning” (xiv). As well, he “is passionate about helping people engage the Bible for all its worth…want[ing] us to understand how to read Scripture as a whole, so that we might better understand its message as the Word of God to us” (xiv).

The book is structured around the biblical theological theme of what is often called the Protoevangelium—that is, the seed promise of Genesis 3:15,

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Authors who have been influenced by Desi and who have worked on a particular book or theme of the Bible have been asked to investigate these themes further for this volume. This book contains eleven Old Testament essays and six New Testament essays.

A Few Highlights

I won’t summarize each chapter, as you can read brief summaries on a TGC review. But below are a few that stood out to me.

Jim Hamilton (in his re-printed essay) looks at the skull-crushing-seed of the woman throughout the Bible. The salvation of God’s people is brought through the judgment of God’s enemies as seen in Numbers against Moab (Num 24:17), Jael “crushing the head” of Sisera in Judges 4, and Isaiah who calls Israel the “seed of the wicked ones” (or “offspring of evil doers” in the ESV). I could mention more (like Isaiah 42:3 and Revelation 12), but Hamilton’s chapter is a good example of how Genesis 3:15 runs through Scripture.

Gary Millar looks at Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah as “the three ‘best’ kings of God’s people” (90). When good kings reign, it usually provides only a short relief before either a terrible king of the doom of exile. None of these kings could bring about the kind of kingdom God promised to give.  Millar notes how their failures point us to a coming King who has “Solomon’s wisdom, Hezekiah’s faith and Josiah’s relentless, word-driven piety” (111–12).

After noting various ways of understanding the final four verses of 2 Kings, Stephen Dempster cogently shows that the last four verses of 2 Kings are hopeful verses because the “last man standing” is a Davidide—Jehoiachin—a son in the line of David. He is “a lightning rod of hope” (126). A kingly descendant was promised in Genesis 3:15, one who would provide relief from sin’s curse (5:28–29). Kings were to come from Abraham and Sarah (17:6), a conquering lion from Judah (49:8–12). Yet what happened to God’s covenant to David and his promise never to remove his loving-kindness (hesed) from his descendants? Israel is in exile, but a son of David sits with the Babylonian king, one whose name actually appears twice in Jesus’ genealogy in Mathew 1. Jehoiachin continues the march to a true son of David, the Son of God, who is the true King. Though not an “exciting” chapter, I always enjoy reading Dempster and how he draws the Old Testament story together.

Graeme Goldsworthy looks at wisdom in the Old Testament and its fulfillment in Jesus. Whereas Job is wise and his “friends” give him faulty wisdom, Jesus is the Wise one and the Pharisees and scribes spout false wisdom. God in his wisdom created all things, and our sin warps and brings disorder. In God’s salvation in Christ, we see true wisdom and the “moral dimension of righteousness” in how we should live, bringing order to disorder. Loving instead of hating, speaking peace instead of slander, bringing order to chaos. Our sin un-creates, but in there there is new creation. In his wisdom, God creates and redeems.

It is common for such books to have essays that disagree with either the main theme of the book or of something the commemorated scholar has written before. Philip Johnston’s chapter on Psalms goes against the grain of the book and understands that the New Testament authors “re-applied” the psalms “to a new situation” when “they noticed how descriptions of the psalmists’ various misfortunes and hopes bore an uncanny resemblance to the experience of Jesus, or how their descriptions of royalty surpassed any ancient king but were gloriously accomplished in the person and mission of Jesus” (145).

This isn’t incorrect on its own, as he also notes that even Jesus’ own disciples were surprised at how Jesus fulfilled the role of Messiah since the Psalms didn’t give a clear picture of how the Messiah would save his people. This is true, but from how I understand Johnston, he places a bigger divide between the Psalms and their fulfillment in Jesus. That is, David wasn’t prophesying about Christ’s resurrection in Psalm 16 (see below).

For example, in Psalm 16, the Old Testament saints (supposedly) “had no developed sense of the afterlife” (159). Yet David, having faith in God, “hoped for some form of God-centered future” for himself (159). Peter quotes from Psalm 16 in Acts 2 and “takes the reference to Sheol and decay literally, and gives a relecture [re-reading] of the Psalms as predictive proof of Jesus’ resurrection” (160).

Yet in Rita Cefalu’s fine chapter on Peter’s speeches in Acts 2–3 on Jesus’ sufferings and glory, she reminds her readers that David had a promise from God, a sworn oath, as Peter says in Acts 2:30–31a,

Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ.

As Cefalu writes, “[I]t is on the basis of the original covenant sworn to David in 2 Sam 7 that he (David) was inspired to write the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s sufferings and glory in Pss 16 and 110” (289). All of David’s sons were under God’s discipline (2 Sam 7:14–15), but only Jesus was the completely obedient Son, and he secured the oath that was made to David. God’s kingdom is established through Christ the Son-King. David knew that if he died, God would raise up another king, possibly even believing there would be a resurrection of some sort. But you’ll need to read the book to decide whether Johnston or Cefalu are correct.

Recommended?

There are more essays that could be noted—Rosner’s essay on Gen 3:15 in Romans 16:20, McConville and Oswalt’s essays on Isaiah, Petterson on the Minor Prophets, Ortlund on Mark, etc. For pastors, teachers, and students looking to see how the messianic thread is sewn throughout Scripture, this is a great book to pick up (and don’t forget to pick up Alexander’s books).

Lagniappe

  • Editors: Paul Williamson & Rita Cefalu
  • Paperback: 422 pages
  • Publisher: GlossaHouse (May 12, 2020)

Buy it on Amazon or from GlossaHouse

Disclosure: I received this book free from GlossaHouse. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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