Jeremiah 36 and the Prophetic Process

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of March 7. Enjoy!

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The thirty-sixth chapter of Jeremiah stands out as somewhat of an oddity in which readers are afforded a glimpse into the nitty-gritty of the prophetic process and the subsequent royal response. Chronological order has been disrupted in this middle section of Jeremiah: several chapters dealing with the reign of Zedekiah, Judah’s final king, are followed by this flashback to the days of Jehoiakim. First, although Yahweh appears to order Jeremiah to write a scroll (Jer 36:2), the prophet immediately chooses to dictate to Baruch, his scribe and assistant (Jer 36:4). I view this as an example of prophetic freedom, in which Jeremiah receives the word of Yahweh and is allowed to make key decisions about the development of the message. Yahweh furthermore permits dissemination on Jeremiah’s terms, as when the prophet chooses to have the scroll read aloud from a balcony on the event of a fast (Jer 36:10). Additionally, Jeremiah must have been granted the liberty to present Yahweh’s message in a certain manner, choosing from the many words that Yahweh spoke to him to that point. Perhaps the scroll contained some combination of the first 22 chapters of our present book of Jeremiah, including the metaphors of the linen loincloth and the potter and the clay in addition to harsh words of judgment.

Whatever the scroll may have said, we note that the message was shocking enough that Micaiah and Jehudi combined to request additional readings of the scroll (Jer 36:11-14), and eventually they question Baruch on the manner in which the scroll came to be written. The responses of Jehoiakim and his officials stand out against those of Micaiah and Jehudi, however. The king and his men elect to “play it cool,” calmly destroying the scroll piece by piece in a manner tantamount to choosing whom they will serve (Jo 24:15). Victor H. Matthews notes that none of the king’s men tears their clothes in grief, instead shearing Baruch’s scroll to “remain faithful to its covenant with Nebuchadnezzar, even if it means that it has abrogated its treaty with Yahweh.”[1] Pamela J. Scalise draws attention to the distinctive contrast between the fire that Jehoiakim uses to consume the scroll of Baruch and the eventual “conflagration of judgment that would destroy the nation and his royal line.”[2]

With key elements of the pericope illuminated, we can now tackle the thorny questions of authorship and motive for this chapter. While some scholars insist that the canonical chapter originate with Jeremiah or Baruch, they are unable to properly account for the phenomenon of third person voice that permeates every mention of the prophet and his scribe. Moreover, the story is full of what appear to be eyewitness accounts, parts of which we tacitly understand that either Jeremiah or Baruch would have been absent. Yair Hoffman opts instead for authorship by the biblically ubiquitous “anonymous omniscient teller.”[3] Furthermore, the form of the chapter deviates from most other biblical narratives given its “abundance of technical, administrative and factual data,” including names, places and dates, that would be more characteristic of “a kind of legal or official document, an accurate testimony.”[4] What, then, is the motive perpetuated by Jeremiah 36? Its literary elements serve to indict Jehoiakim, but Hoffman suggests that this is merely secondary to the intention of the author of the chapter, whom he views as the editor of our most basic form of Jeremiah. He suggests, “The author of the story wanted to validate his scroll and to substantiate his own editorial considerations. In order to achieve these purposes, he hitched his wagon to two stars: Jeremiah, and his faithful disciple and scribe, Baruch.”[5]


[1] Victor H. Matthews, Social World of the Hebrew Prophets (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2001), 124.

[2] Pamela J. Scalise, “Scrolling through Jeremiah: Written Documents as a Reader’s Guide to the Book of Jeremiah,” Review and Expositor 101, no. 2 (Spring 2004), 216.

[3] Yair Hoffman, “Aetiology, Redaction and Historicity in Jeremiah XXXVI,” Vetus Testamentum 46, no. 2 (April 1996), 181. Hoffman regards the scroll, rather than Jeremiah or Baruch, as the chief protagonist of chapter 36.

[4] Ibid., 183.

[5] Ibid., 189.

My Old Testament-Style “Prophetic Message”

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of February 28. Enjoy!

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FIRST, a special note about this week’s reflection paper. I wrote in the traditional prophetic style, applying themes that are common through the prophets. Many of them are referenced below. Don’t crucify me, dear readers: I know full well what Jeremiah says about false prophets. I’m not actually claiming divine inspiration or prophetic status here. Thanks!

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Immersed this week in three minor prophets of the late seventh century, I became interested in what seems like the redundancy of the prophetic word. But for all of the repeated messages and allusions, the people of Judah were unable to respond to Yahweh’s incessant call to save their nation. While the American Christian church is not threatened by a military foe like Babylon, the second chapter of Habakkuk saddened me for the state of our empire that, while proclaiming liberty and freedom, equally oppresses the people of the world and obfuscates the life of faith. What follows is my reflection on the prophets we have studied thus far in the semester, and an application of their messages I believe to be relevant to the modern church.

The word of Yahweh that came to Rob Heaton Ben-Donald of St. Louis in the third year of President Obama:

My chosen people, my royal priesthood, says Yahweh,
they have fallen far from me,
they no longer can see me.

I have raised this people to bring blessing to a troubled world,
but they have learned nothing from the demise of Israel,
and even less from the fall of Judah.

Every desire of my heart, says Yahweh,
is to rejoice over them with gladness,
to renew them in my love (Zep 3:17).

Are they interested in that?
Will they be a people who seek truth?
Can they follow the example of radical inclusiveness?
Can they be a light unto the world,
that I may once again shine through it and take delight in my creation?
They,

Who are impressed when they erect magnificent buildings,
Thinking their height brings them closer to me,
Or that their great volume can better accommodate my glory.

Who wave their national flag boisterously,
And with incessant pride applaud their warriors,
When such exuberance should be reserved only for me.

Who trounce the globe holding the rifle with two hands,
Relegating the good news to their day-pack.
Bullets and bombs are their chief exports,
Bibles are far behind.
In which does their trust lie?

Who obsess over the size of their savings,
Building their nests on high,
Hoarding their lives from the Lord,
Safe from the reach of harm (Hb 2:9).
To what benefit is their accumulation when but bones they will become?

Who burden the world with a particular set of beliefs,
Their dogmatic assent to this or that
Overshadows applying the life of faith.

Who continually divide themselves among doctrinal lines,
Striving to prove to themselves that they are more right
than their brother.

Who stand by idly while my people are oppressed in their midst;
Why would they dirty their hands with the problems of their world,
Of the homeless man, of the battered woman, or of the orphaned child,
When they have grasped eternal life,
When their salvation has surely been reached?

Who vow to dedicate their entire lives to knowing me,
Yet gladly settle for lesser versions of my truth.
“I hate, I despise” their worship ceremonies;
I take no delight if they cannot express belief with their lives.
My ears are turned from the noise of their mouths (Am 5:21 NRSV, 23).

Who claim to know my word, yet care not what it says,
And even less, why it says.
In pursuit of relationship with me, they lose sight of my story, says Yahweh.

Who selectively ostracize their neighbors based on sin and perceived sin;
So easily they forget where they came from,
The people they once were.

If they really believed that the kingdom of God was at hand,
Wouldn’t I be able to see it in their lives?
For the life of faith is not about rules and regulations to follow,
But rather me to follow, says Yahweh.

For, “what does Yahweh require of [his people]
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with [their] God?” (Mi 6:8 NRSV)

In past days I have raised up other nations to destroy this people, but no longer.
For they have proven perfectly capable of destroying themselves,
Of detaching from me, of forgetting their mission,
Of becoming worthless (2 Kgs 17:15).

But I, Yahweh Adonai, “a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in hesed and faithfulness,
keeping hesed for the thousandth generation” (Ex 34:6-7 NRSV),
I do not change.

In love, I shall continue to pursue my people.
Who knows? They may repent and change their lives;
they may turn from their staunch individualism and their cheapened faith,
so that they may live evermore for me (Jon 3:9).

On the Inspiration of Jesus and the Prescriptive Nature of Isaiah

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of February 21. Enjoy!

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In reading the New Testament, one indirectly reads a lot of Isaiah. Though detached some 800 years from the life of the historical Isaiah, the four evangelists make numerous Isaianic connections to the life, death and message of Jesus. In doing so, these early Christian writers are merely continuing a tradition that manifests itself in the latter half of our canonical book of Isaiah, when the prophet’s original message was found to have new meanings for a nation threatened by Babylon and a people returned from exile.[1] For better or for worse, Matthew’s birth narrative identifies Jesus with a young woman whose child will be named “God with us,” or Emmanuel. Furthermore, the Christian claims to Isaiah 53 require no superfluous introduction. It is no wonder that this Isaianic legacy of Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν leads Gordon McConville to devote a large sidebar to the question of whether prophecy is predictive.[2]

Meanwhile, I am developing this reflection paper under the guise that Isaiah’s prophecies are better understood as prescriptive. In other words, was Jesus’ awareness of the full body of Isaiah something of a roadmap for his ministry? Even if one doubts the scene in the Nazarene synagogue wherein Jesus was said to read from the scroll of Isaiah (Lk 4:16-20), as many scholars do, one cannot deny that his ministry drew special inspiration from Isaiah. For example, Jesus’ unique devotion to the cause of the poor evokes Isaiah’s description of the “shoot” of Jesse: “He shall not judge by what his eyes see . . . but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Is 11:3-4 NRSV).

Moreover, Jesus’ Isaianic orientation may have even borrowed and adapted thematic elements for his signature parable form. Isaiah sings of a vineyard that produces wild grapes (Is 5:1-7), while Jesus tells of a vineyard that received new laborers as the day progressed (Mt 20:1-16). Whereas Isaiah’s vineyard represented the house of Israel, Jesus develops a portrait of the vineyard as an instrument for the kingdom of heaven, which is buttressed by a second Matthean vineyard parable, that of the wicked tenants (Mt 28:33-41). A simple matter of collecting the harvest gives way to murder, and the vineyard is unproductive in a manner that Steve Moyise suggests would, without pause, “suggest to a Jewish audience the allegory of Is 5.”[3] Another parable true to the theme of Isaiah’s vineyard is that of the barren fig tree (Lk 13:6-9). In both cases, the owner of the plant expects it to follow the natural order and yield proper fruit, and furthermore, a condemnation against Israel is implied, given that “the fig tree is a common sign of divine blessings in Jewish lore.”[4] As Moyise explains, “the reason Jesus introduces the fig tree is because it concentrates the divine judgment in one single act. Is 5 describes the destruction of the vineyard in a series of actions . . . but cutting down a fig tree is swift and decisive.”[5]

We can scarcely doubt that the book of Isaiah inspired its first generation of hearers and even continues to do so today; consider that Isaiah 11 is read aloud in modern Israeli synagogues both during Passover and on Yom Ha’atsmaut, the country’s Independence Day.[6] It is no stretch of the imagination, therefore, that Jesus’ own ministry, and indeed, his self-understanding, were prescribed and informed by themes of a peaceful kingdom, the coming judgment, the suffering servant, the gathering of nations, and a “Wonderful Counselor” (Is 9:6 NRSV), all of which are developed in Isaiah.


[1] J. Gordon McConville, A Guide to the Prophets, vol. 4 of Exploring the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 4.

[2] Ibid., 8-9.

[3] Steve Moyise, “Jesus and Isaiah,” Neotestimenica 43, no. 2 (2009), 253.

[4] Robert W. Funk, Bernard Brandon Scott, and James R. Butts, The Parables of Jesus: Red Letter Edition (Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1988), 60.

[5] Moyise, 254-255.

[6] Christopher Leighton and Adam Gregerman, “Between Text & Sermon: Isaiah 11:1-11,” Interpretation 64, no. 3 (July 2010), 287.

The Reverse Gospel of Amos

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of February 14. Enjoy!

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Amos begins his prophetic book with what I suggest might be referred to as the “reverse gospel.” Whereas the actual gospel is good news first revealed through the seed of Abraham and later, most poignantly and emphatically, to all nations, Amos’ condemnations from the mouth of Yahweh are just the opposite. Bad, or harsh, news filters first to Israel’s neighbors, but most critically upon Israel itself. And despite the difficulty in reasonably or confidently dating all of the oracles against the nations to Amos himself and the time in which he preached, the lesson from these sharp and biting words is not principally that Yahweh will judge them (though that is certainly important), but that Yahweh will judge Israel all the more. Yes, other nations have rebelled, but is that not to be expected given their lack of immediate inclusion within the unfolding revelation of Yahweh? Yet Israel, which had been given the promises of Yahweh, wasted them given that they “sell the righteous for silver . . . trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,” and “lay themselves down beside every altar” (Am 2:6-8 NRSV). Judah, for its part, has also “rejected the law of [Yahweh], and have not kept his statutes” (Am 2:4 NRSV). So while the other nations have committed innumerable acts against Israel and Judah, Israel and Judah have committed graver sins against Yahweh.

This is reflective of Jesus’ words in the parable of the faithful servant: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Lk 12:48 NRSV). Israel and Judah have been given much—indeed, they have been given Yahweh himself! Through their actions, however, they have chosen to squander, or at least disregard, the promise that through them the nations of the world would be blessed (Gn 12:3), and have practiced their desire to become like the other nations (1 Sm 8:20). As Victor H. Matthews cogently explains, Amos develops a message through a rhetorical strategy of judgment upon other nations as a gradual, yet grandiose, crescendo to his ultimate message of condemnation against Israel.[1]

Amos’ repeated admonitions to “seek [Yahweh] and live” (Am 5:6 NRSV) are closely connected to the Day of Yahweh. While it may be more germane to the text to imagine an inverse as seek not-Yahweh and die, I believe the modern body of believers can take even more meaning if the passage from Amos is interpreted as seek Yahweh and live as Yahweh intended you to live. In rejecting basic commands to resolutely pursue justice for all people and worship Yahweh with authenticity, Israel may be physically alive, but is spiritually and communally dead. Yahweh yearns for his people to return to right relationships, both with one’s neighbors and one’s God, and therefore also be alive in community and in worship. The book of Hosea conveys a similar theme in comparing Israel’s conduct to prostitution, as when Yahweh commands Hosea to “take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking [Yahweh]” (Hos 1:2 NRSV).

Amos may also teach us that the prophetic word can lose its sting when indictment and condemnation are so quickly followed by a fluffy pillow of reassurance and blessing. Though this pattern displays a beautiful theological message in the context of Isaiah, Jeremiah and others, Amos tugs more strongly at the notion of a collective, required repentance. Matthews writes, “Amos does not waste words on deaf ears. He simply tells them all what they need to know to live and leaves it to them to act on this advice.”[2] Such a message is in contrast to the guarantee that Yahweh will relent in Hosea: “I will not execute my fierce anger . . . for I am God and no mortal” (Hos 11:9 NRSV). Though sharp and biting words alone may seize our attention, thank-fully, the ways of man are not the way of Yahweh and our gospel is not presented in reverse.


[1] Victor H. Matthews, Social World of the Hebrew Prophets (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2001), 68-69.

[2] Ibid., 69.

A Brief Study of El Shaddai

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of February 7. Enjoy!

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This reflection paper will explore the prophet Joel’s use of a particular Hebrew proper name in his prophecy regarding the Day of Yahweh. Near the end of the first chapter, the book reads, “Alas for the day! For the day of (Yahweh) is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Jl 1:15 NRSV). This verse, which takes from its close parallel in Isaiah 13:6, features a footnote in my Bible that the word “Almighty” is the current adaptation of the Hebrew word “Shaddai”; in fact, most English translations choose to interpret the confusing Hebrew term as a descriptive feature for Yahweh rather than its variety of other possible constructions. Though this is understandable for our modern monotheistic setting, Shaddai is rendered in the NRSV translation of both Joel and Isaiah as a simile, which sparked a question: am I reading a metaphor for some well-known person or deity who would have been plainly obvious to the biblical writers, or is the author simply conveying the destructive characteristic of Yahweh?

After further research, I found that the terms “Shaddai” or “El Shaddai” appear 48 times in the Hebrew Bible. Six of these occurrences are in Genesis, three are in the remainder of the Pentateuch, and a remarkable 31 mentions come from Job alone.[1] In seeking to understand the origin of the term, however, scholarly attention has focused on the mentions from Genesis, where Shaddai is strongly connected to promises of fertility, and especially, distinguishing characteristics of the female anatomy. While etymologically a handful of meanings have been suggested, David Biale agrees that “the original meaning of shadu was probably ‘breast’ which, by a psychological association evident to the author of the Enûma Elish in ancient times and to Freud in our own, came to mean mountain.”[2] Nowhere is this double entendre more evident than in Genesis 49, when an aging Jacob invokes the blessing of Shaddai on Joseph that will manifest as “blessings of the breasts and of the womb” (Gn 49:25 NRSV). Jacob continues to remark that his blessing upon Joseph is “stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains” (Gn 49:26 NRSV). Furthermore, of the remaining mentions of Shaddai in Genesis, “four are fertility blessings of the ‘be fruitful and multiply’ variety,”[3] as evidenced by the promise to Abraham (Gn 17:1-7) and Isaac’s instruction for Jacob to take a wife from the house of Bethuel (Gn 28:1-5).

With the connection of Shaddai and fertility firmly established, the quest to understand the prophetic meaning of the term can begin. Surely Isaiah and Joel were not implying that the Day of Yahweh would be like one filled with breasts and fertility. This has led Biale to conclude that Shaddai language fell out of popularity among writers of the Old Testament books, perhaps around the seventh century b.c.e. when King Josiah’s reforms drove out Caananite fertility practices, including Asherah worship. In ridding the land of cultic behavior, however, Israelites had to deal with their own patriarchal fixation on Shaddai. Biale writes, “The psychological associations between El Shaddai and Asherah must have become embarrassing and even dangerous. Yet the old name could not be utterly suppressed.”[4] The solution was to retain the name Shaddai, but ascribe warrior-like qualities to the pseudo-deity, as in the Psalms: “When the Almighty scattered kings there, snow fell on Zalmon” (Ps 68:14 NRSV). Effectively, Shaddai’s fertility powers and breasts had been covered up, but Shaddai became powerful in conquest.

So while Joel piggybacks on the ideas of Isaiah, a calculated move that serves to further legitimize both within the canon, neither seems aware of Shaddai’s previous fertility qualities. Instead, both prophets are in agreement: the Day of Yahweh will bring destruction similar to that of an almighty warrior-deity, an alter ego of Yahweh. The motherly characteristics of Yahweh, by which he was known to the patriarchs (Ex 6:3), are sadly lost to history.


[1] David Biale, “The God with Breasts: El Shaddai in the Bible,” History of Religions 21, no. 3 (Feb. 1982), 243.

[2] Ibid., 240-241.

[3] Ibid., 247.

[4] Ibid., 254-255.

The Jonah Fable

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of January 31. Enjoy!

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For the modern critical scholar, both the book and the person of Jonah are difficult to date, relate, and investigate for a variety of reasons. The contents of the book of Jonah do not exactly lend historical credence to its narrative elements, perhaps leading to a suggestion that the text was intended solely as moral literature. A clue useful in pinning down the prophet is offered outside of the book bearing his name, as Old Testament readers also find Jonah delivering a message of expansion from Yahweh to King Jeroboam, son of Joash. Speaking of King Jeroboam II, the 2 Kings texts reads, “He restored the border of Israel from Lebohamath as far as the sea of the Arabah, according to the word of [Yahweh], the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher” (2 Kgs 14:25 NRSV). So how does an easily forgettable character, known only for prophesying to an unfavorable king of Israel, end up famous for a strange amphibious encounter to possibly being mentioned within Jesus’ ministry for his σημεῖον, or sign (Mt 16:4)? In his examination of the Jonah narrative’s insight into Old Testament Israel’s conception of mission, Daniel C. Timmer wonders aloud if the surviving literature is “as much a rogue as its main character, playing havoc with the theological expectations of the canonical reader.”[1] As this reflection paper explores, very little of the “rogue” Jonah narrative follows a “normal” or “expected” path.

Jonah and the "Great Fish"
Here’s a rendering of what probably didn’t ever happen.

Careful readers are immediately confronted with the amount of liberties taken within the text, from the points at which it simply lacks specificity to instances of abject hyperbole. For example, J. Gordon McConville writes that Jonah’s depiction of Nineveh’s size hardly matches current archaeological observations, and, moreover, that the literature is unlikely to reflect the actual system of government within the city.[2] So while the original author of Jonah would have undoubtedly known about Nineveh, a sense of distance from the city—both in proximity and theology—accompanies the text. Meanwhile, a number of other details range from improbable to outrageous, including Jonah’s manic depressive behavior, the suggestion of knee-jerk city-wide repentance, to even pondering the anatomical features and requirements of a fish great enough to swallow a man. Finally, one has to wonder at the gullibility of the Ninevites. In his supposed travels through the town’s streets, Jonah was hardly specific about the prophecy he received or even the one from whom it had been received, and yet the inhabitants of Nineveh either follow the king’s lead in mourning and fasting or beat him entirely to the punch. The king’s speech suggests that Jonah may have even obscured the name of Yahweh as he prophesied, as the generic ‘elohim is used: “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind” (Jon 3:9 NRSV).

Perhaps the most significant unexpected element of the narrative is the repentance of Nineveh, which was acceptable to Yahweh and qualified Jonah as “the most successful evangelist in history,” per Victor H. Matthews.[3] Given that the historicity of the Jonah story is deeply in question, the temporal salvation of Nineveh would have been a lesson to the author’s first audience, and it may have been as shocking as the Beatitudes or the parable of the Good Samaritan were to those gathered around Jesus. As Matthews and McConville document, Jonah reads as a coming out party for universalism, or the availability of Yahweh to people groups beyond Israel, though it should stand equally as a caution against both evading the call of God and expecting certain outcomes from one’s ministry. Despite the problems that pervade Jonah, the inherent theological lessons are not diminished by the possibility of pure literary origin.


[1] Daniel C. Timmer, “Jonah and Mission: Missiological Dichotomy, Biblical Theology, and the Via Tertia,” Westminster Theological Journal 70, no. 1 (Spring 2008), 160.

[2] J. Gordon McConville, A Guide to the Prophets, vol. 4 of Exploring the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 186.

[3] Victor H. Matthews, Social World of the Hebrew Prophets (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2001), 165.

War of Words: Sennacherib vs. Yahweh

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of December 13. Enjoy!

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To take advantage of the plethora of idle time spent traveling from Indianapolis to Anderson (and back) each weekday, I have listened to a public library edition of our assigned biblical readings on compact discs for the last two weeks. During this time, no passage has been narrated quite as powerfully as 2 Kings 18-20, wherein Sennacherib of Assyria, through his field commander the Rabshakeh, and Yahweh, through Isaiah, engage in a grandiose war of words. Their back-and-forth taunts and jabs touch on a number of topics: the awesome destructive power of the Assyrian army—and, especially, the gods it has overrun—the doom that awaits a rebellious and weakened Jerusalem, and the bodily by-products its citizenry will be left to consume, followed by Yahweh’s preordination of events and his response to the chest-beating “rage” and “insolence” of Sennacherib (2 Kgs 19:28 NIV). But upon further study, the true beauty of these accounts lies not in their narration, but their deeper exegetical analysis.

To be sure, scholars are befuddled by a number of questions that have arisen from investigating the chapters at hand. For example, it is likely that some liberty has been taken with the timeline of the pericope,[1] and the ebb and flow of messengers and their orations may actually be a marriage of multiple textual traditions.[2] While these problems are decidedly beyond the scope of this reflection paper, it is unavoidable that the Rabshakeh’s speech makes no sense in the context of the passages that immediately precede it, wherein Hezekiah won Sennacherib’s withdrawal from Lachish for an unfathomable sum of, literally, tons of gold and silver (2 Kgs 18:13-16). Miano asks, “Why would Sennacherib send his officials to demand unconditional surrender immediately after Hezekiah made peace with him by way of a substantial tribute?”[3]

That question cannot be sufficiently answered without the escape of an incomplete redaction. Such a conclusion might also add perspective to the narrative’s transition from a broad introductory statement about the fourteenth year of Hezekiah to an inordinate focus on individual speeches. Of this “disproportionate” use of direct address, Fewell notes, “Not only do the character’s speeches contain information crucial to the story, but also the tones of the speeches communicate certain dynamics that could not have been captured by straight narration.”[4] In this light, the Rabshakeh’s comments are nothing short of brilliant, serving to demoralize, humiliate and pierce the people of Jerusalem to the point of capitulation. Indeed, Eliakim, Shebna and Joah deliver the message to Hezekiah with torn clothes, as a sign of extreme sadness or mourning, and Hezekiah describes it to Isaiah as “a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace” (2 Kgs 19:3 NIV).

But perhaps these chapters are constructed in this manner to demonstrate the fallacy of taunting Yahweh, who comes to display his authority and supremacy over Sennacherib. Whereas the Rabshakeh contends that Yahweh is on the side of Assyria (2 Kgs 18:25), the prophecy of Isaiah mirrors and reflects the taunts lobbed against both Yahweh and his people. Yahweh appears to be against anyone who proudly proclaims that they have personally accomplished this or that (2 Kgs 19:23-28; Dt 8:10-20), and therefore “becomes the taunter, the threatener, the punisher and the destroyer.”[5] As Isaiah writes, “Assyria will fall by a sword that is not of man; a sword, not of mortals, will devour them. . . . at sight of the battle standard their commanders will panic” (Is 31:8-9 NIV). Apparently, the Rabshakeh’s ability to craft his message with harsh and prideful language is ultimately the undoing of Assyria, which begs the question: Did Babylon learn a lesson from the Rabshakeh and refrain from taunting Yahweh more than a century later?


[1] David Miano, “What Happened in the Fourteenth Year of Hezekiah?” in Milk and Honey: Essays on Ancient Israel and the Bible, ed. Sarah Malena and David Miano (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 113.

[2] Ibid., 114-122.

[3] Ibid., 119.

[4] Danna Nolan Fewell, “Sennacherib’s Defeat: Words at War in 2 Kings 18.13-19.37,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 34 (Fall 1986), 80.

[5] Ibid., 82.