good booksThis week’s Good Book will not be available to BTW readers for a few days. This is because I find it a helpful treatment of an important topic, and will spread my review over two issues of BTW. But first I must finish reading it! The book is Plowshares and Pruning Hooks. Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic, by D. Brent Sandy (IVP, 2002).


            Sandy begins by setting out the main issue. Biblical prophecy is extraordinarily powerful. The images and language used have a habit of sticking in the mind: God as rot, eating away at his people (Hos. 5:12 ); God as a tree of life, bringing blessing (Hos. 14:8); God’s people as rejected silver (Jer. 6:30 ); God’s people as a divorced bride called back by her husband (Is. 54:6–7). But there are problems in interpreting such language: (1) it is poetic and not scientifically precise; (2) it is hard to tell what is literal and what is figurative; (3) it is emotive and sometimes exaggerated; (4) it is sometimes unclear whether promises are conditional or unconditional; (5) the imagery used verges on the surreal; (6) it is not always clear whether or not a prophecy has been fulfilled (e.g., concerning Israel’s return from exile).


            This sets the stage for a more detailed investigation of prophetic language. Biblical prophecy, Sandy argues, is mainly metaphoric and figurative. This does not mean it is merely pretty or vague, however: we use metaphors all the time in our speech, and a well-chosen metaphor can communicate truth clearly and powerfully. Sometimes the only way in which we can communicate is by metaphors, particularly when we try to speak of God and his actions.


            Take the language of destruction and blessing in the prophets. The visions of judgment seem extraordinarily brutal (Ezk. 32:4–7), and the visions of blessing almost unreal (Joel 3:18 ). How does this language work? Basically by using exaggerations to get the point across, as a parent might tell a child, ‘I’m going to lock you in a room and throw away the key!’ The language cannot be taken entirely at face value: it is partly stock language, much of which derives from the blessings and curses of the Pentateuchal covenants (Lev. 26; Deut. 28). We should not ask of such language ‘How is this all going to happen?’ (As Sandy notes, the terms of the curses in Deut. 28, if taken with absolute literalness, would imply that the Israelites would die six or seven times over). The appropriate question to ask is rather, ‘What response does this language aim to produce?’ This is not to underplay the reality of God’s judgment and blessing, but it is to take seriously the difficulty of speaking about these awesome realities in human language.


            Sandy writes clearly and engagingly. He is obviously something of a literary artist himself, using telling anecdotes and images to make his points. The argument is well-structured too: you get a sense of issues being dealt with at just the right points; e.g., his discussion of the various meanings of ‘forever’ in the Bible (not as simple as you might have thought!).


            Next week I review his chapters on the language of apocalyptic, and on the past and future fulfilment of prophecy.


(Reviewed by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)



Our speaker was Pastor Song Young Hak, who came to us from S. Korea with his wife and son at the end of last year. He began by briefly describing the history of Christianity in Korea . Christianity only came to Korea about 150 years ago, but the population of S. Korea is now about 20% Christian, with Christians particularly strongly represented in the cities on the west side of S. Korea. He then went into more detail about his home church in Seoul , which started in a house in 1970, but now has a membership of 1500. He showed a number of slides of the church and particularly of the student ministry which is one of his responsibilities as Assistant Pastor.


He concluded by mentioning three prayer needs:

  1. For Korea , particularly for the difficult relations between North and South.

  2. For his own church, particularly for the faithfulness of the church leaders.

  3. For his family: for his son as he adjusts to the education system here; for his wife as she tries to improve her English; and for his own studies as he works towards the MCS.


We apologise for an error at the end of the 2nd last paragraph of Chapel Notes in the last issue. The last two sentences of this paragraph should have read: “The new church building and congregation will be known as TA2. It will be an extension of the Hokkien-speaking ministry of TA.”


Chapel speaker for next week (18 Jun) will be Mr Timothy Lim.

News Bits

  1. BTW via email. In our efforts to be more cost effective, we would strongly encourage those of you who are currently receiving printed copies of BTW  to opt for BTW via email if you have an email address. For this purpose, we have attached a response­ slip for those who are receiving BTW by post. Looking forward to your support in this exercise.

  2. Rev Ng Seng Chuan will be preaching at Faith Mission Home on 15 June, 8.30am .

  3. Anonymous Donor. We want to thank God for a gift of $200 received from an anonymous donor. May the Lord continue to bless you as you bless others.

  4. BGST Garage Sale. We would like to thank Mrs Esther Quek for organizing a Garage Sale at Bishan St 11 this week from June 9-11. Some students from Singapore Bible College , members of Zion BP Church, students and staff of BGST worked hard to set up and sell a wide range of goods for sale. We want to say a warm “Thank You” to everyone who helped in one way or another. The total collected came to $2,774. In addition, Mrs Quek has personally prepared paper tole cards for sale and more than $1000 has come in. So the total amount raised for BGST operational expenses stands now at $4,075. Perhaps those who have a mind to contribute to this special fundraising effort might like to add to this amount. Thank you, Esther, and everyone who helped.

  5. Old Testament Foundations II (OT102). Students who have completed OT Foundations I (OT 101) in the last few years and who are intending to take OT Foundations II (OT 102) are advised to take OT 102 live in Semester 2, beginning 14th July. From 2004 onwards the teaching of both OT 101 and OT 102 will be revised, and the ‘old-style’ and ‘new-style’ OT Foundations courses will not be entirely compatible: a different text-book will be used, and the distribution of the biblical books between OT 101 and 102 will be different. Students who have not taken OT 101 are advised not  to take OT 102 in this coming semester. They should wait for OT 101 to be given live in 2004 and OT 102 to be given live in 2005. If you have any questions regarding the above, please contact the lecturer, Dr. P.E. Satterthwaite

A Blessed Birthday to ...

Dr Matthew Koh   9/6

Mdm Lam Moy Yin  9/6

Ms Tan Li Chuang  9/6

Mr Wong Kam Weng  9/6

Mdm Joceyn Wong  10/6

Mrs Ellie Ng  10/6

Ms Alice Philip  10/6

Ms Cindy Khaw  11/6

Mr Oliver Lawrence  11/6

Mr Dennis Lee  12/6

Ms Sandra Heng  13/6

Mr Ronald How  13/6

Ms Janette Koh  13/6

Mr Roshan Pereira  13/6

Pastor Gerald Seow  13/6

Mr Foo Say Chiang  14/6

Ms Rebecca Lee  14/6

Mr James Ong  14/6

Dr Quek Swee Hwa  15/6

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