Helpless and Hopeless Humankind (Motyer)

Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary If you’ve used Bible commentaries even a little bit, you know that they are quite often hit or miss.  I’ve had it more than a few times that I purchase a highly recommended commentary and was disappointed with it so much that I turned around and sold it. Such is how it sometimes goes!

However, I’ve always been happy with Alec Motyer’s commentaries.  I was reminded of that today when studying the pretty tough and dark prophecy in Isaiah 13, where Yahweh uses the Medes to brutally wipe out the Babylonians.  It’s the Day of the Lord in all it’s fury!  Isaiah 13:14 notes that on that day (the day of Yahweh) the people (of Babylon) will be like “gazelles that are chased” [וְהָיָה֙ כִּצְבִ֣י מֻדָּ֔ח] and “like sheep that no man gathers” [וּכְצֹ֖אן וְאֵ֣ין מְקַבֵּ֑ץ] (JPS).  What does this mean? Obviously, it has to do with the Babylonians trying to escape the merciless slaughter of the Medes.  But what’s with the imagery?  Motyer comments briefly but well:

‘Like a hunted gazelle’ and ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ are complementary similies.  The first animal is endangered by the attentions of the people, the second is endangered without their attentions. So, finding the Lord as their enemy and losing him as their shepherd, humankind is indeed helpless and hopeless, with everything to flee from and nowhere to flee too.”

There’s more to this passage for sure.  But Motyer picks up the poetic imagery very well.  It also reminds us that rejecting the Lord is not the path of joy, peace, and comfort.  Instead, it’s a path full of hopelessness and helplessness.

J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 139.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Amos Then and Now (Motyer)

The Message of Amos: The Day of the Lion (Bible Speaks Today) I’ve always appreciated Alec Motyer’s commentaries on various books of the Bible (e.g. Isaiah, James, Philippians, etc.).  I recently began studying Amos to prepare for an upcoming sermon series and I was immediately impressed with Motyer’s introduction to Amos in his commentary on the same.  Here’s one section I underlined:

…The third emphasis in Amos’ message to the church is that religious profession and religious practice are invalid—to be more precise, repulsive to God and therefore not just useless but also dangerous—unless verified by clear evidences. Throughout his book, by implication, but in a succinct fashion in 7:7–8:10, Amos makes clear what the evidences of true religion are. It is the task of the expository studies at that point to explain them, but here they are in summary. In personal terms, true religion is to respond fully to the grace and law of God, living out the law in a life of obedience, resting on the grace both for ability and forgiveness; towards God, true religion is a reverent hearing and receiving of His Word; and towards other people it appears as honesty, considerateness and unfailing concern for the needy. Take these things away and what remains does nothing more than invite the adverse judgment of God.

In all this Amos speaks directly to the church today, and we must banish any thought that he speaks primarily to some other people or to other situations and that it is only by some exegetical gymnastics that there is a message here for the Christian. Amos addressed ‘Israel’ and we are ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal. 6:16). It is to be noted that Paul does not say ‘the new Israel’, and nowhere in the Bible does such a phrase (or notion) occur. Jesus designated His people as the inheritors of the new Covenant predicted by Jeremiah (31:31–34; cf. 1 Cor. 11:25); Paul spoke of them as the children of Abraham, along with Isaac (Gal. 4:28); he also said that ‘we are the circumcision’ (Phil. 3:3). It is precisely because this is the true situation that James can take the prophecies of Amos as a handbook for the church’s mission (Acts 15:15 ff.). In doing this he sets an example in the realms of both principle and practice: in principle, in that Amos brings a Word of God directly (not mediately) to us for our direction, admonition and instruction, and in practice, in that we are to see all that he says in the light of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, a kingdom not of this world, not promoted by the methods of the world, nor seeking political fulfilments in a geographical location.

 J. A. Motyer, The Message of Amos: The Day of the Lion, ed. J. A. Motyer and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), 18–19.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Come: Eat and Drink for Free!

Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary Isaiah 55:1-2 is beautiful biblical poetry that calls all people drink freely from the well of living water:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. (NIV)

I like how Alec Motyer comments on these verses (emphases his):

v1–2, Free provision for every need. The contrasting promises of waters to drink and the richest of fare (2d) to eat embraces every need and every necessary supply. The first invitation, Come to the waters, underlines a life-threatening need and an abundant supply. The second invitation, come, buy and eat, extended to the one who has no money, highlights inability and helplessness: on the one hand, how can one without money buy? But, on the other hand, nothing can be had without payment (buy). Someone—in context, by implication, the Servant in his saving efficacy—has paid the purchase price. The third invitation, Come, buy wine and milk, without money, stresses the richness of the provision: not just the water of bare necessity but the wine and milk of luxurious satisfaction. Isaiah has already pictured the idolater pouring out gold and silver (46:6) in order to ‘feed on ashes’ (44:20). The antidote to such lack of discernment (44:19; cf. 40:18–20, 25), mental delusion (44:20) and pointless labour (44:12)—what an exposure of religion without revelation!—is to listen, listen (lit. ‘listen listeningly’): to give full attention to listening and do nothing else at all, to give full and undivided attention to the word of God. It is in this way that the ashes of false religion are replaced by the richest of fare.

 J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 387–388.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI 54015

Haggai and God’s Instrumental Word

Minor Prophets, The: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary One of the big themes of Haggai is the power and efficacy of God’s word in the lives of his covenant people.  In BC 520 Yahweh, through his prophet Haggai, rebuked Israel for procrastinating and neglecting to rebuild the temple.  He also called them to renewed obedience.  And the Jews (both leaders and laymen) responded with reverence, repentance, and obedience – attitudes and actions that God’s presence and “stirring” produced in them (see Hag. 1).  Alec Motyer summarizes this well in his commentary on Haggai:

“The call to fetch timber (1:8) and build the house [temple] has met with a positive response.  The disinterested people have become the listening, obedient people.  It is to such that the Lord came with quickening power (1:14) – a quickening that promoted active obedience to the word they had begun to heed.”

“Thus a new pattern emerges: a) responding to the Word (v 12), b) encouraged by the Word (v 13), a’) quickened by the Word (v 14-15).  This sequence is deeply important, for it contains the whole truth about the crucial matter of renewal, the revitalization of God’s people.”

“When we begin to respond to the Word of God (1:12), he immediately uses his word for our further encouragement (1:13) and follows with a renewing, inward work in our spirits to mobilize us for obedience (1:14).  The word of God is his chosen instrument of renewal, in which the key human factor is obedience and the key divine factor an energizing work of God making that obedience possible.”

So in Reformed theology we say God’s Word is his primary means of showering grace upon his people.  He uses his Word to convict people of sin, fear his name, repent, believe, and move forward in obedience.  Haggai shows us God also uses his Word to bring renewal to his people – renewed repentance, renewed fear of God, and renewed obedience along with motivation to obey.  This is one big reason Paul didn’t tell Timothy (or the church today) to entertain or amuse, but to preach the word! (2 Tim. 4.2).

The above quote can be found in The Minor Prophets, volume 3, ed. Thomas McComiskey.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church
hammond, wi