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good booksD. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks. 
Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic

(Downers Grove: IVP, 2002)

(Part 2: Part 1 appeared in last week’s BTW)

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. 

But 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.

The 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.

The 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.

I 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.

This 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.

Sandy 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.

This 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.

(Dr Philip Satterthwaite)

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. 

Please 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.

Chapel speaker for next week (25 Jun) will be Mr Lawrence Khoo from Prinsep St Presbyterian Church.

News Bits

  1. Courses commencing in Term 3:
    • Tent module: Tenkmakers & Ethical Issues (starting Jul 1, Tue). Coordinator: Dr John Lim.

    • Principles & Practices in Worship & Speech (starting Jul 2, Wed), by Rev Ng Seng Chuan.

    • Biblical Hebrew II (from Jul 14, Mon). Dr.P. Satterthwaite.

    • The Sermon on the Mount (starting Jul 15, Tue),  by Dr John Lim.

    • A Framework for Biblical Counselling (I) (starting Jul 16, Wed), by Mr Yam Keng Mun.

    • Old Testament Foundations II (starting Jul 17, Thu), by Dr P. Satterthwaite.

    • Building Strong Families in the Local Church (starting Jul 22, Tue), Dr Danny Goh.

    • The World at Your Doorstep (starting Aug 1, Fri), by Mr Jonathan Cortes.

  2. Away from Office. Ms Serene Woon will be on leave from 23 - 26 June. Please approach the other admin staff if you need any assistance.


A Blessed Birthday to ...

by Rev Dr Douglas Milne

“God, Terrorism & The Just War”
Date/Time: 28 June, Saturday, 7.30 - 9.00pm
4 Bishan St 13,  Sanctuary, Zion BP Church.

Admission is free.

Rev Dr Douglas Milne will also
conduct the following courses:

  • Theological Foundations I : God in Revelation 
    & Humankind as Created & Fallen 

    (30 June; 1,3,5,7,8,10,12 July)

  • Ethics, War & Terrorism (2,4,9,11 July)

Note: Theological Foundations I is a required course for 
MCS & MDiv students. For more details, please contact us at
tel. 63538071 or email:

Dr Cheng Ching Keng  17/6

Elder Stephen Gan  17/6

Mr Dennis Kwok  17/6

Mr Gordon Goh  18/6

Mr Daniel Ng  18/6

Ms Catherine Pang  18/6

Mr Yong Pin Yoon  18/6

Mdm Evan Fong  18/6

Mr Leong Chun Nam  20/6

Ms Wun Yoke Chan  20/6

Mr Choo Kok Weng  22/6

Ms Mak Moo Theng  22/6

Mr Lawrence Ng  22/6

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This page is updated on 13 June 2003 by Leong Kok Weng.
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