Faith in the Face of Apostasy, The Gospel According to Elijah & Elisha (The Gospel according to the Old Testament) Paperback – 6 Jul 2012
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About the Author
The late Raymond B. Dillard (PhD, Dropsie University) was professor of Old Testament language and literature at Westminster Theological Seminary.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Along with Dale Ralph Davis, this was the most helpful I found in my studies of Elijah and Elisha.
Thankfully, the last twenty or thirty years have seen a revival of interest in the Old Testament and the recovery of preaching it as a Christian testament. Moralistic surveys of the characters of the Old Testament might have some use, but they are being set aside today in favor of a biblical theological approach that sees a unity in the Bible as a whole. The narrative of Scripture is being seen again as thoroughly Christocentric, and countless believers are being revitalized in their faith through finding the glory of God in the Old Testament afresh.
A big factor in the renaissance of the study of the OT has been the impact of good Christian books. P & R Publishing has produced a series of helpful books on OT themes called "The Gospel According to the Old Testament" series. The first book in that series is "Faith in the Face of Apostasy: The Gospel According to Elijah and Elisha" by Raymond B. Dillard.
Dillard's book and the series as a whole, parts ways from a simple anthropocentric approach to the OT. Such an approach centers on people and their needs, and looks to the OT for examples to follow, and life-lessons to learn. Dillard's approach, in contrast, focuses on what we can learn about God from the story, remembering that all OT stories have the unique quality of being divine revelation. The "first question" in this approach, "will not be `What's here for me?' but rather `What do I learn about God from this passage?'" Once we learn "about what God is like" from the passage, we are then prepared to ask "How we should I respond to this God?" Dillard then goes a bit further. "For Christian readers of the Old Testament", he says, "there is yet another step to take.... We need to ask, How can we see God in Christ reconciling the world to himself in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures? That is, in addition to anthropocentric and theocentric ways of reading the Bible, there is also a Christocentric approach." (pg. 124-125)
With these goals in mind, the book begins with a historical overview of the time period of Elisha and Elijah and the likely time when Kings was written (the Babylonian exile period). It is interesting to note that Elijah and Elisha are singled out and given almost 1/3 of the space of the entire book of 1-2 Kings. Dillard also traces how later Scripture uses the account of Elijah and Elisha, focusing particularly on the parallels Matthew draws between Elijah and John the Baptist, and Jesus and Elisha.
The book moves on to a treatment of all the texts in 1 and 2 Kings where Elijah and Elisha have an important role. Each chapter contains, two or three passages (quoted entirely) which are discussed individually followed by questions for further reflection. Having the Biblical text included allows for the book's easy use as a devotional guide. The study questions make it handy for a small group study, and the material covered is simple and direct enough to allow for several uses. The themes developed and traced often throughout Scripture, make this an accessible theological resource, and the brief nature of the thoughts shared make it a perfect tool for pastors, who could easily prepare a longer sermon using the material Dillard offers as their starting point.
Dillard's exegesis is sound and the application he draws is challenging, relevant and helpful. I particularly enjoyed how he brought to bear a detailed understanding of the historic worship of Baal (from the Ugaritic texts) and how this highlights many of the points made in the stories of Elijah and Elisha. From crossing the Jordan, to the chariot of fire, from the rain being stopped and with fire coming from heaven, all of this relates to the alleged domain and limits of the god Baal. Dillard also excels at translating the concerns of the agrarian age of Elijah and Elisha to our own contemporary problems. Along the way he also develops a thoroughly God-centered approach.
The anticipatory function of Elijah and Elisha (e.g., the confrontation with Baal on the spot of the future battle of Armageddon, the feeding of a hundred men from 20 loaves with food "left over", and etc.) is highlighted well in this book, even as parallels with Christ are carefully and judiciously drawn. Sometimes more explicit NT connections are left for the discussion questions, and I credit the author with stopping short of stretching too far in finding types and analogies of NT truths in the stories. I was intrigued too by the fascinating parallels drawn between Elijah and Moses when they went to Mount Horeb, and the discussion of the redemptive role of miracles - restoring creation to how it was intended to be.
The stories of Elijah and Elisha are breathtaking, and life-giving in themselves. Just as Elisha's bones brought a man to life, so too will this book bring life to your spiritual soul as you see those stories in a fresh and faith-filled way. The book may open your eyes to a Christian understanding of the Old Testament that you were unaware of. At the very least it will thrill you to the wonderful, covenant keeping God we serve, and His Son Jesus Christ. I highly recommend this book and others like it in "The Gospel According to the Old Testament" series.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing for review. The reviewer was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
'Let us then lay it down confidently as a truth which no engines of the devil can destroy, that the OT... was not confined to earthly objects, but contained a promise of spiritual and eternal life.' John Calvin, Institutes 2:10:23
Christians today have been equally guilty in wilfully rejecting much thereof. This negligibility has been the cause of much division, none more harmful to gospel interests in interpretation. As a corrective, the unity of Scripture and the relationship between the OT and the NT is set forth as the major objective in this study series, the first of which being by the late Raymond Dillard, Professor at Westminster.
Israel, as the theocracy, was to function as a material witness to Yahweh amongst the nations. A reversed tendency, however, is noticeable throughout her biblical history: 'The religious practices of the Canaanites continually threatened to infiltrate and adulterate the proper worship of God in spite of the strong warnings in the Law and the prophets.' p 4 As Deuteronomic history, The Book of Kings exhibits how the offices of king and prophet rest on an informed understanding of Moses' careful instructions for their rule, as set out in the Law (Deut 17 & 18), and how their obedience or disobedience evokes the divine pleasure or displeasure.
Our growth in faith in the face of apostasy and insurmountable adversity often requires a personal dimension introduced by testing and shaped through trial. This provides the interpretive grid whereby we may be expected to shake off our trust in worldly means, and turn in faith to God. "The word of the LORD came to Elijah" (1 Ki 18:1), and that provision of grace was sufficient to prepare Elijah for the confrontation with the prophets of Baal. God was preparing to show Israel, and us, that numerical dominance does not dictate or thwart His rule, even in the face of our exaggerated fears: 'Baal also had the backing of the greater number of supplicants and the support of the national leadership.' p 44 While approximately three years had elapsed, Elijah persevered in 'preaching the gospel' and brought the nation before God on Mt Carmel. 'The God who gives rain and answers by fire also rules over history in all of its small details and glorifies Himself through them.' p 45
"You shall not be in dread of them; for the LORD your God is in the midst of you, a great and terrible God." Deut 7:21
Dillard shows how one man's persistence in ministry can make a difference, yet even after the decisive victory Elijah still prayed that God would complete what He had begun. So James 'ends his book by reminding us of the effective and powerful prayer of Elijah. God will be true to His promises.' p 48 But as their fathers had done before them by promising to Moses "All that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Ex 19:8), the whole Israelite nation now professed that "The Lord - He is God!", only to re-capitulate and continue in their disobedience, with their wicked king and capricious queen taking the lead: 'But Ahab didn't repent; the people continued to reject God, and Elijah felt alone.' p 51 In 'The Further Adventures of Elijah' Professor Dillard diagnosed the absence of a single-mindedness and commitment to the gospel has led to the rampant faithlessness and apostasy in our generation. The successor to Elijah, the prophet Elisha, receives similar contemplation, with Dillard regularly drawing parallels between the lives of the faithful from the OT and applying the principles to be learnt there to NT believers.
Three times "the word of the LORD came to Elijah" to go to evil King Ahab and confront him with an unadulterated word from the LORD (1 Ki 17:1; 18:1; 21:17). Elijah fearlessly did as the Lord commanded is the refrain throughout his ministry. 'The work and presence of God in Elijah's day, no less than in our own, were marked by the presence of the word of God. To a generation looking for signs, we preach Christ, the wisdom and power of God. It is His voice, God's word, that is powerful.' p 56