Shelf Life Book Review: The Words of the Wise Are Like Goads

Miles Custis

The Words of the Wise Are Like Goads: Engaging Qohelet in the 21st Century
Eisenbrauns, 2013

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In this resource, Mark J. Boda, Tremper Longman III and Christian G. Rata present essays on Ecclesiastes in five categories. The first set of essays discusses how Ecclesiastes was understood throughout history by early interpreters, rabbis, Reformers and Puritans. Essays in the second section relate to the history, form, and rhetoric of Ecclesiastes, while part three examines specific passages—such as the epilogue or Ecclesiastes 7:23–8:1—or key concepts, like the use of Hebrew words throughout the book. The fourth section deals with technical examinations of the language and grammar of Ecclesiastes, and the final section discusses practical issues of interpretation.

It is the final section that sets the volume apart from other collections of essays. “The Theology of Ecclesiastes,” by Craig Bartholomew, examines the key messages of the book in light of the biblical canon. Pastors and teachers will find Daniel Fredericks’ essay, “Preaching Qohelet,” especially relevant. Fredericks provides sermon outlines and suggests useful themes—like humanity’s limitations and God’s sovereignty—that pastors or teachers can develop and share with their congregations.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 2

Is This Where God Wants Me?

Ryan J. Pemberton

I often wondered whether business in general, and sales-related business specifically, could be amenable to the Gospel. As a 20-something young professional finding success in the business world, I began to feel uneasy about my work. “Can I follow God in this position?” I wondered. “Is this really where He wants me?”

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Search as we might, we won’t find a Bible passage that tells us whether our current job is the right one. However, there are helpful texts, such as the two stories of men meeting Jesus for the first time found in Luke 18–19. Their responses illustrate what following Jesus actually requires.

What If My Job Is Questionable?

Luke 19 tells the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, the tax collector—a detested job if ever there was one. Luke tells us that the crowd is shocked by Jesus’ request to stay at Zacchaeus’ home. To them, he was a sinner by virtue of his trade. Luke also mentions his wealth (19:2). Not only did Zacchaeus have an unpopular career, he was good at it.

If anyone could expect to be called out of their job, it would be Zacchaeus, and yet that wasn’t the case. Instead, Jesus praises Zacchaeus for his change of heart. Brought face-to-face with Jesus, Zacchaeus says, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (19:8). Jesus recognizes Zachaeus’ generosity as a mark of his role in the family of God: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). While Christians ought to refuse any work that causes others to stumble (Luke 17:1–2), Jesus appears less concerned with the “what” of our work and more concerned with the “how.”

When Our Work Obstructs Our Faith

There are some instances, though, where we must prayerfully consider whether our career hinders our pursuit of Christ.

In Luke 18, a rich man of influence comes to Jesus with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). He claims he has kept all the commandments. “What more could I possibly do?” he seems to be asking. Jesus’ response: Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow me (Luke 18:22).

These words hold true for us: Christ must come first. Typically our jobs are not evil in and of themselves, and we can follow Jesus while working diligently in them. But they can become an idol if we let them, and we are called to rid ourselves of idols.

In Ephesians 6:5–8, Paul advises his readers to work for earthly employers “not only to win their favor … but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” We are to “serve wholeheartedly” in our work, as if we are working for God Himself, but we must be certain that God comes first. We must be careful not to allow our work or income to replace the priority of serving God and loving others.

Following God Where You Are

The Bible does not attempt to tell each Christian whether their current job is the right one. And yet, in these two examples, we see that (almost) any job can be where we are “supposed” to be—as long as we follow Christ in them, refusing to make our career an idol. If we find we cannot follow God without leaving a job, we can trust His Spirit to lead us in His will through prayer for discernment (Jas 1:5; Phil 4:6–7).

In most cases, however, God calls us to follow by selflessly devoting ourselves to Him—right where we are—as living sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5; Rom 12:1), as joy-filled agents of redemption, and as part of a complete cruciform life. Such a calling can be just as daunting as dropping our nets to follow Him.

Biblical references are taken from the New International Version (NIV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 1

A Jealous, Violent and Good God

Eli T. Evans

“God is love.” So say T-shirts and coffee cups, quoting 1 John 4:8. The verse is consistently near the top of “most quoted verses” lists, and it’s easy to imagine why. Verses from the book of Nahum, on the other hand, show up near the bottom.

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Nahum could be low on the list for a number of reasons. It’s a short book—the Minor Prophets are minor, after all. Also, it is a single prophetic oracle against the city of Nineveh that was fulfilled centuries before Christ. But the real issue with Nahum is that it paints a portrait of God that offends modern sensibilities. The book begins and ends with God’s wrath, and throughout the chapters He is angry, jealous, vengeful and brutally violent. For those who want to portray the God of the Old Testament as cruel, Nahum has some good lines. It starts right out with, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful” (Nah 1:2). God claims direct responsibility for Nineveh’s bloody fall (Nah 2:13), even declaring that He will treat Nineveh like the “whore” she is by stripping her naked and throwing “filth” at her (Nah 3:5–6). You won’t see that on a coffee cup any time soon.

Nevertheless, Nahum calls all of this “good news” (Nah 1:15). More to the point, it’s the good news.

First of all, Nahum isn’t alone in calling God “jealous.” This description is right in the first commandment (Exod 20:5). Exodus 34:14 even says that His name is “Jealous.” For you or me, jealousy would be a character flaw, but for God, it is an attribute: He is jealous over His relationship with His people. And Nahum isn’t the only one who says “vengeance” belongs to God (Deut 32:35, 41–43). The psalmist sings along: “O God of vengeance, shine forth!” (Psa 94:1). For us, revenge is a sin, but for a perfect God whose insight penetrates every heart, it is a pure expression of justice (see Rom 12:17–19).

Nahum’s God is the same “Father of Lights” we meet in the New Testament. “For God so loved the world” may be the most familiar passage in the Bible, but keep reading: “[W]hoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:16, 36). Jesus also says that we should “fear [God] who can destroy both the soul and body in hell” (Matt 25:31–46). Paul explains that “the wrath of God” is coming for everyone because “all have sinned” (Rom 1:18; 3:23).

According to Nahum, the only escape from God’s wrath is to trust in His goodness—a thread that runs throughout the Old Testament. “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,” declares Nahum 1:3; nevertheless, He “will by no means clear the guilty” (compare Exod 34:6–7; Pss 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). Faith is the only difference between those who receive God’s mercy and those who don’t: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (Nah 1:7). This is the same means of salvation articulated throughout the New Testament (e.g., John 10:14, 27; 1 Cor 8:3; 2 Tim 2:19).

As Nahum puts it, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace!” (1:15; compare Isa 52:7). Unfortunately, “peace” cannot come unless those who “plot against the Lord” are utterly destroyed (1:9). Similarly, the “good news” of the New Testament is good not only because of the salvation of those who believe in Jesus, but also because of—not in spite of—the total destruction of everyone else. In Revelation, the “smoke of their torment goes up forever,” and the response in heaven is jubilant (Rev 14:11, 18:9, 21:1–8; compare 2 Thess 1:5–10).

Nahum says, “Never again shall the worthless pass through [Israel]” (Nah 1:15). This is a genuine pronouncement of hope for Israel at the time—the same hope that John expresses for eternity in Revelation: “[N]othing unclean will ever enter [the New Jerusalem], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (Rev 21:27).

Will It Preach?

Modern sensibilities may rankle at the idea that violence is ever the solution; yet a heaven filled with violent and wicked people wouldn’t be heaven at all. It would just be this cursed earth all over again. Nahum knows that violence begets violence, and only God can break the cycle. God, for His part, takes no pleasure in this (Ezek 18:23; 33:11; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9), and neither should we. God’s just prerogative to destroy wickedness doesn’t sanction human-to-human violence—that’s exactly why Nineveh is being judged.

Justice is God’s, and that’s good because He is the only one who can bring it fairly. And it’s also good that justice is coming because, at some point, the pain must stop, and the violence we do to one another must end.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 1

Shelf Life Book Review: The Story of God Bible Commentary

Jon Jordan

The Story of God Bible Commentary: Philippians
Zondervan, 2013

In this volume of the new Story of God Commentary series, Lynn Cohick approaches each section of the brief letter of Philippians in three ways.

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In “Listen to the Story,” she reviews the biblical text and provides applicable references to similar passages. Cohick explores the meaning of Paul’s letter, addresses interpretive issues, and relates each section to other biblical texts in the “Explain the Story” section. Finally, in “Live the Story,” she offers practical thoughts on how to allow the Scriptures to guide our lives today.

Although this resource is appropriate for those without a scholarly background, footnotes offer alternate interpretations of the text, further explanation of difficult topics, and resources for further study.

Cohick and editors Scot McKnight and Tremper Longman III provide a resource that illuminates the ancient context of Philippians for today.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 2

Why Can’t I Eat Rock Badger?

John E. Anderson

For years, if you had asked me the rationale behind clean and unclean foods in Leviticus 11, I would have responded that it didn’t matter—that the concept was little more than an antiquated relic of Israelite legalism that failed to carry over into present times. Then I would have thrown in the trump card: Mark 7:19, where Jesus appears to declare all foods “clean,” thus rendering Leviticus 11 extinct. But I would have been wrong—not because Leviticus 11 outlines the appropriate diet according to the divine will for all time, but because I was asking the wrong questions of the text. What animates Leviticus 11 is not historical questions, but theological ones.

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What makes certain animals clean and others unclean for the ancient Israelites? Some chalk it up to little more than the “inscrutable will of God,” implying that there is no rational explanation and one should not be sought—the guidelines are to be followed simply because God decreed them so. 1 But these views stifle conversation and stand in tension with Jesus’ decree in Mark 7:19.

Another view anticipates the fda by several hundred years. In the Middle Ages, famed Jewish interpreter Maimonides suggested that unclean animals were potential disease carriers. For example, people can contract trichinosis from pigs. This approach is not applicable to all animals deemed “unclean,” nor does Leviticus 11 mention such health concerns. Moreover, archaeology has shown that other ancient peoples, like the Philistines, considered pig a regular delicacy. Besides, if the foods were dangerous, why would Jesus have declared all foods clean?

What these explanations miss, and what the context of Leviticus clarifies, is that theological concerns drive these dietary restrictions. Leviticus 11:44–45 echoes the refrain that could be called the theme of Leviticus: “For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” Leviticus is a theological treatise on holiness. What does Leviticus 11 look like if understood in this light?

The most compelling interpretation of this passage belongs not to a biblical scholar but to an anthropologist, Mary Douglas. Her seminal work, Purity and Danger, reads Leviticus 11 in concert with creation. 2 Genesis 1 sets up orderly classifications—creatures of the land, birds of the air, fish of the sea. Leviticus 11 parallels this as it envisions the distinct classifications of clean and unclean.

Thus, the problem with eating an animal like the rock badger is not that the badger is an abomination to creation or a potential health hazard; rather, it is that the animal chews the cud but lacks a cloven hoof (Lev 11:5). It is anomalous—it doesn’t easily fit into any category dictated by creation. The pig is similar: It has a cloven hoof but does not chew the cud, thus placing it outside priestly understandings of creation. In short, according to Douglas, if an animal conforms to the natural order, it is considered clean; if it does not, it is unclean. Leviticus 11 is concerned with setting up boundaries—in the guise of clean or unclean—that focus on issues of “social order, wholeness, and community identity.” 3 Clean and unclean in Leviticus 11 envisions holiness as wholeness, in accordance with God’s good creation.

It is easy to slip into the trap of seeing “unclean” and “sinful” as synonymous. But this is not the position of Leviticus 11. Pigs and rock badgers may be unclean, but they are not sinful. They are not “bad” or deviant creations. They simply fall outside the bounds of orderly classification. As Birch explains, “some impurities are associated with that which is natural and necessary (e.g., sex, death), others with sin and evil (e.g., idolatry, homicide, illicit sexual relations).” 4 In short, while all sins do lead to uncleanness, not all uncleanness is a result of sin.

Leviticus 11 reminds us of deep-seated theological principles and truths. It articulates not the oddity or incomprehensibility of Israel’s religion or its God, but rather affirms Israel’s unique calling to be set apart, classified and holy as God also is holy—to be representations of order in a world of chaos, illustrating God’s orderly work in the beginning. Leviticus is intended to ingrain that theological truth into every facet of life, from the mundane to the sublime, that has been sewn into the fabric of creation by the one holy God.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 6


1. John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 145.

2. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge, 2002) [original 1966].

3. Bruce C. Birch et al, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (2nd ed. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 133–34.

4. Birch, 134.