D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares
and Pruning Hooks.
Having in the first half of his book discussed the nature of prophetic language and metaphor, Sandy turns to consider biblical apocalyptic, as represented by the books of Daniel and Revelation. Apocalyptic speaks in black and white terms: the present world is evil, and the only hope lies in God’s coming to destroy the power of evil. This message is conveyed by means of startling images and symbols (animal imagery, the language of cosmic catastrophe, celestial visions), which graphically portray the majesty of God and the wickedness of those who oppose him. The aim is to encourage the faithful who are facing opposition and may be tempted to despair: they are urged to persevere till the end.
does apocalyptic aim to give detailed predictions about future events?
Sandy takes as a test case Daniel 8, a vision given to Daniel in Babylon
in the 6th century BC. This vision begins with a goat attacking
and overcoming a two horned-ram (vv. 1–8). This is interpreted as
foretelling the defeat of Media and Persia by Greece (vv. 20–21). The
rest of the vision describes the sudden death of the king of Greece and
the division of his kingdom after his death (vv. 9–14, 22–25). This
vision was fulfilled towards the end of the 4th century, in the
rise of Alexander the Great and its aftermath. But, asks Sandy, how
closely did the course of events match the vision? If we compare vision
with historical fulfilment, we find that Daniel’s main claims were
indeed vindicated: Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and took
over their empire with startling rapidity; he died at the peak of his
power, and his empire fragmented after his death. But what about the
details of the vision? Daniel 8:4 speaks of the goat as charging ‘toward
the west and the north and the south’: the Persians did indeed make
conquests in these directions, but they also did so in the east (Esth.
1:1). The same verse says that ‘no animal could stand against him’:
but the Greeks won many victories over the Persians in the 5th
Century. Daniel 8:8 speaks of ‘the large horn’ being replaced by
‘four prominent horns’: but after Alexander’s death many of his
generals tried to take over his empire, and it cannot really be said that
his empire divided into four parts, north, south, east and west. It seems
that four is a symbolic number suggesting fragmentation (note the
reference in the same verse to ‘the four winds of heaven’), and does
not aim for mathematical precision; but would this have been clear before
the event? And so with other details of Daniel’s vision.
conclusion? Apocalyptic presents future events through a soft-focus lens;
it gives an impressionistic picture. Not all the details of apocalyptic
language are to be pressed. It is more important to get a sense of the
whole, and also to be aware of the purpose of the vision, which is usually
to encourage believers to remain faithful in the present.
next chapter asks ‘How Have the Prophecies been Fulfilled?’. It begins
by noting that though the biblical prophets do make predictions of the
future, this is only part of their message. Their main aim was to convict
their hearers of sin before God and to persuade them to repent: the
predictions of judgment are given mainly to encourage repentance in the
present. Again the question arises: how detailed are the predictions?
Sandy surveys a number of predictions of judgment whose fulfilments are
described in the Bible: the prophecies against the house of Eli (1 Sam.
2), Solomon (1 Ki. 11), Jeroboam I (1 Ki. 13–14), the house of Ahab (1
Ki. 21), and others. The general conclusion is that same as for Daniel 8.
Broadly speaking, events did take place as prophesied, but there were some
unexpected features: the altar at Bethel was destroyed, but over 200 years
after the prophecy of its destruction (compare 1 Ki. 13:1–3 with 2 Ki.
23:15–16); the prophecy about Ahab’s death apparently found two
fulfilments, neither of them exactly matching Elijah’s words (compare 1
Ki. 21:19 with 1 Ki. 22:38 and 2 Ki. 9:24–26). The prophecies were not
accurate down to the last detail, nor was it in fact necessary for them to
be so, given that their main aim was to bring about a change of heart in
their first hearers.
must say, I found this discussion fascinating and compelling. The
conclusion is clear: if it turns out that those prophecies whose
fulfilment we know about (from the Bible or elsewhere) did not give exact
or complete predictions, this means we must be cautious about those
prophecies whose fulfilment still lies in the future.
leads onto a discussion of NT prophecies relating to Christ’s second
coming and the new heavens and the new earth. Christians can be confident
that a glorious future awaits them: God will be faithful to what he has
promised, and the language of future judgment and blessing must be taken
with utmost seriousness. But we must avoid being dogmatic about the
details. Many throughout church history have used biblical prophecy and
apocalyptic to produce detailed maps of the future, and later events have
proved them wrong.
concludes with a plea to all Christians to reflect seriously on the nature
of prophecy and apocalyptic; to let this language move us to awe,
obedience and faithfulness in the present; and not to let disagreements
over the interpretation of prophecy be a cause of division in the church.
is a splendidly clear and helpful book on an important topic, a full-scale
introduction to the hermeneutics of biblical prophecy and apocalyptic. I
heartily commend it to all BTW readers.
Timothy Lim, a full-time student at BGST, was our speaker at Chapel on 18 June. He gave details of his own life: his Buddhist background; his conversion to Christianity; his marriage to Sharlene; his years of work with TransWorld Radio in China; and his calling to equip himself by studying at BGST. He went on to describe Evangel Christian Church, where he has been assistant pastor since March this year. Evangel started as the English congregation of a Chinese church, but became independent in 1980 and now has round about 100 members.
pray for Timothy and Sharlene as they expect the birth of their first
child in July, as Timothy juggles study and pastoral responsibilities, and
as they both seek God’s will for the future.
speaker for next week (25 Jun) will be Mr Lawrence Khoo from Prinsep St
A Blessed Birthday to ...
by Rev Dr Douglas Milne
Dr Douglas Milne will also
Theological Foundations I is a required course for
Cheng Ching Keng 17/6
Stephen Gan 17/6
Dennis Kwok 17/6
Gordon Goh 18/6
Daniel Ng 18/6
Catherine Pang 18/6
Yong Pin Yoon 18/6
Evan Fong 18/6
Leong Chun Nam 20/6
Wun Yoke Chan 20/6
Choo Kok Weng 22/6
Mak Moo Theng 22/6
Lawrence Ng 22/6