A Good Book

I have gone on record before as an enthusiast for dictionaries. Of all the books in BGST Library, dictionaries are among the most useful for students and other interested lay people. I mean volumes such as: dictionaries of the Bible and biblical theology; dictionaries of theology and ethics; dictionaries of church history and practical theology. Such books are generally written with students in view, unlike many of the more technical volumes in BGST Library, and if one wants a brief, up-to-date summary of scholarship on a particular topic (the interpretation of Romans; Thomas Aquinas; homosexuality, etc.), they should be your first port of call.

An excellent example of this genre is the recently-appeared Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), edited by T.D. Alexander and D.W. Baker. I should declare an interest here: I am one of two authors of the article 'Nations of Canaan'. But I have sampled enough of the other articles to form what I hope is a reasonably objective view. It is a large book (c. 950 pages, including all the indexes), and that is in itself a significant feature: it means that more topics can be covered than would be possible if the Pentateuch were being treated as part of a dictionary of the entire Bible, and that these topics can be covered in more depth and detail. (Other volumes are projected for the other parts of the Old Testament. This whole series can be compared to a similar series of IVP dictionaries on Jesus and the Gospels, Paul and His Letters, and The New Testament and Later Developments.)

I have decided to read through this dictionary in its entirety! I don't read newspapers at the breakfast table, but as I usually take breakfast alone (my wife being otherwise occupied by the time I get up), I often find myself looking for something to divert me as I eat. Recently I started to read articles from this Dictionary, and found that they were just the right size! I've some way to go, of course, but then I expect to continue eating breakfasts for the foreseeable future as well. Articles I have enjoyed have been: 'Aaron', 'Babel', 'Cain', 'Deuteronomy, Book of', 'Hermeneutics' and 'Prophets, Prophecy'. Others I am particularly looking forward to reading are: 'Archaeology', 'Egypt, Egyptians', 'Faith', 'Family Relationships', 'Historical Criticism', 'Image of God', 'Messiah', 'Preaching from the Pentateuch', 'Rainbow', 'Source Criticism', 'Theology of the Pentateuch'…… Most of these articles are written by specialists in their respective fields, and present good surveys of their topics, with further references to past and contemporary scholarship, from an Evangelical perspective.

This Dictionary belongs in BGST's reference section so you'll need to buy your own copy if you want to imitate my practice; and in any case your breakfasts are probably not as solitary as mine. But I do recommend that you cast your eye over this extremely good book: you may well find something you want to follow up.

(Reviewed by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)

Dr. Satterthwaite spoke on the topic of 'Finishing Badly'. (Those who attended Chapel may have noted that what he said started quite well but finished less convincingly, so he may be said unintentionally to have exemplified his point. However…)

Imagine a young Christian man who makes a name for himself early on in his life by defeating a non-Christian in a public debate. His public career is launched by that incident. He goes on to engage in a high-profile, successful evangelistic ministry. Imagine that man, now at the end of his life, having perhaps endured some setbacks later on his career, but still loved and respected  by many. He invites his son, who is going to succeed him in his ministry, to his death-bed. He earnestly tells his son to remain faithful to God and to his word. But then, as he continues to speak, a different note enters his words: he reminds his son of two people who in different ways hurt him and hindered his ministry, and in angry, vengeful terms tells his son to do everything he can to ruin them: 'I want you to wreck their ministries!' Those are his last words. He dies shortly afterwards.

What would you think of a man who could say such things on his death-bed, mixing earnest religious counsel with a vehement desire for vengeance? This incident as stated is fictitious, but something very like it did happen, and is in fact recorded in the Bible: for this imaginary account is simply an updated, christianised version of the biblical account of the life of King David.

David started extremely well, defeating Goliath, the Philistine champion. His first words in the Bible show his faith in God and his concern for God's honour (1 Sam. 17:26, 45-47). David's rise to become Israel's king started with that victory. Nothing could stop him, not Saul, not the Philistines, for God was with him. All Israel loved him, and in due course he became their king.

1 Kings 2:1-9 shows us David on his death-bed. He summons Solomon to him and tells him to remain devoted to God and to keep the Law of Moses (vv. 2-4). But then he goes on and mentions three men who have featured in the events of his life (vv. 5-9): Joab, Barzillai and Shimei. He tells Solomon to look after Barzillai's sons, but to find a way to put Joab and Shimei to death. Of Shimei he says: 'you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol' (v. 9). These are his last recorded words in Scripture.

They are terrible words. If Joab was guilty, he should have been punished earlier. If David gave an oath to Shimei, he should not have encouraged Solomon to break the oath on his behalf. What makes the second part of what David says even worse is that it comes after the pious-sounding advice with which he began.

How did it happen that David ended so badly? Why did he carry so many unresolved, indeed bloodthirsty feelings to the grave? Where did things start to go wrong in his life? Clearly his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah (2 Sam. 11) was a major setback. Nothing really went well for him after that, and that was partly due to God's judgment on him for what he had done (2 Sam. 12). But David arguably made things worse for himself, most notably in failing to discipline his sons Amnon and Absalom (chs. 13-18). By the end of his reign, Joab was the one who gets things done, not he himself (chs. 19-20). When we see David at the beginning of 1 Kings it is as though he had lost interest in being king. In his last words, all he can do is chew over old grudges, as if trying to blame others for the failures of the latter part of his reign. Perhaps he has still not accepted that he is the one who must bear the greatest responsibility for these failures.

What we learn from considering David's life is:

  • It is disastrous to fall into serious error, particularly for those who lead God's people.

  • If one falls into error, then one must take responsibility for what one has done, seek forgiveness from God and from those one has harmed, and attempt to rebuild one's life and repair the damage one has done. This may be painful and humiliating, but the alternative, simply giving up and remaining distant from God, makes a bad situation even worse.

  • We should aim to end our lives well, unlike David. We should aim to avoid serious error. But if we do fall into error, then we must, by God's grace, do all we can to repair the damage we have done.

  • As far as lies within our power, we should die reconciled to everyone we have known. There should be no 'loose ends' when we die. Our last words should be words of love, thanksgiving, blessing and forgiveness.

New "video class". Dr Quek will be offering "Introduction to Church History" (CH 101, 3 credits, required for M Div) via group tutorials. Those interested please indicate by email (bgst@pacific.net.sg) or contact Anthony Tay by 4 April (Friday). The course description and manual may be requested from BGST Library. The five group tutorials for this course will finish by end May and students may submit their written paper later.

I Will Not Hurry
I will not hurry through this day!
Lord, I will listen by the way,
To humming bees and singing birds,
To murmuring trees and friendly words;
And for the moments in between
Seek glimpses of Thy great Unseen.

I will not hurry through this day,
I will take time to think and pray;
I will look up into the sky,
Where fleecy clouds and swallows fly;
And somewhere in the day, maybe
I will catch whispers, Lord, from Thee!

  Ralph Spaulding Cushman

A Blessed Birthday to ...

Mr Brian Tan 25/3
Mr Simon Liew Teo Chye 26/3
Mrs Tan Lee Lee 26/3
Mr Charles Ho 26/3
Mr Gunar Sahari 27/3
Mr Chen Chih Hwa 29/3
Dr Lim Hock Bin 30/3
Dr Koh Tse Yuen 30/3

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This page is updated on 27 Mar 2003 by Leong Kok Weng
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