Review of ‘He Will Reign Forever’ (Pt.2)

Part One

As the author comes to the Prophets, he gives his reader a summary of the overall message of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel:

Israel was being judged and dispersed to the nations for covenant disobedience, but in the latter days Israel would be regathered and restored to her land and experience New Covenant blessings, both material and spiritual, under the leadership of the ultimate Son of David.  As a result, the nations, who will be judged for a time, will also benefit from the reign of Messiah, and the restoration of Israel and become the people of God alongside Israel in an earthly kingdom. – He Will Reign Forever, 145

This coherent statement reflects well the theological orientation of the Major Prophets, and not a few of the Minor Prophets too (e.g. Hosea, Micah, Zechariah), and represents a sort of stasis in the prophetic word whether before or after the Exilic period.  From a straight reading of these books the themes of punishment and end-time restoration under the coming King, with benefits extending out to the nations are prominent features in the Prophetic picture.  From their point of view, there is no inkling that what they had to say was communicatively in need of transformative re-readings in light of what was to come.  Although it is not his stated intent, Vlach does pause long enough to interact a little with amillennialist Sam Storms (176-177), noting in particular that as well as morphing the prophet’s apparent meaning, “this perspective underestimates what Isaiah’s audience was capable of grasping.” (177).  Indeed, some who would spiritualize the words of the Prophets sound rather patronizing in their opinions about the inability of OT saints to know the meaning of what they were hearing.

Especially notable in this section are Vlach’s explorations of particular prophetic passages.  Isaiah 2 gets an excellent extended treatment (147-154), which includes a section on whether the Church is envisaged in Isaiah 2.  Another text receiving more than usual attention is the so-called “Little Apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 (164-167).  Jeremiah 18 also receives welcome consideration (182-183), while certain important themes are dealt with in footnotes; for example, the throne of David (137 n.21), the role of the “law” (149 n.10), and the preservation of animals under the auspices of the covenant with Noah (158-160).

One obviously has to pick and choose when writing on the Prophets, but I think the author does enough with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel to establish their unified “kingdom voice”.  He takes care to note that in saving the nations God does not redefine Israel (164, 170-171).  When addressing the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53 he shows that the Servant is also the coming King (156).  He states,

Isaiah’s depiction of the Suffering Servant also shows that the objective basis for the kingdom of God is atonement for sin.  There is no kingdom or participation in the kingdom without the cross.  No kingdom without the cross (Col. 1:20). (156).

Here one is waiting for a New covenant section which enlarges on this important insight.  Once “the objective basis for the kingdom” is established, how does this translate into God’s obligations to His people?  What is the kingdom that they may reasonably expect to see?  The author does of course make it clear that the kingdom promises mean what they say (e.g. 160), but the objective basis is covenantal, and therefore hermeneutical.  Vlach is a theologian, and one of the best that Dispensationalism has to offer.  Perhaps I am being unreasonable, but this passage gives one an opportunity for driving home the literal cross literal crown view of prophecy at a time when evangelical writers are falling over one another trying to turn Old Testament prophets into social reformers and voices of conscience. Notwithstanding, on the next page (161) I was happy to read a reference to the “second exodus” motif which actually interprets it as a real second exodus.  And when the Servant is brought up a little further on He is seen as representative of Israel and so the guarantor of Israel’s covenant rights (169-170), not as the lone true Israelite in whom a “New Israel” can be recognized.  The intermediate kingdom is the one most often spoken of by the prophets.  Vlach is careful to notice that this kingdom will include death and sin, although not with anything like the scale and devastation seen today (e.g. 133, 173-175)

Jeremiah is a book that it is easy to get lost in, due to its arrangement and length.  The challenge for the Dispensational interpreter, for whom outlandish spiritualizing of the eschatological details is not an option, is to say enough to give a proper impression of the extremely important Christology of Jeremiah – which is virtually all kingdom oriented – while tying in the New covenant implications in which they are embedded.  Jeremiah’s position as a pre-exilic and exilic prophet must be understood, for he brings together strong Deuteronomic threads and projects them into the post-exilic era, thus showing the continuity of Old Testament prophecy better than perhaps any other book.

Again Vlach’s sense of proportion does not fail him.  His treatment of Jeremiah’s “Book of Consolation” (chapters 30 – 33) hits the highpoints, stressing in particular the “five covenants” that are brought together in this crucial section.

He moves from there on to Ezekiel, where he devotes quite a lot of space to emphasizing the two temples at the beginning and the end of the book (e.g. 194-196, 202-205).  This is appreciated, although one feels that other aspects of the book (like Ezek. 37) get less space than they deserve.

I am not able to agree with the author’s view that the battle of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38-39 coincides with the one in Revelation 20:7-10 at the close of the Millennial reign (202).  This admittedly tricky passage includes some factors which challenge that position (e.g. Ezek. 38:23; 39:7-13, 21).  Vlach explicitly states that he does not want to delve into the questions, and I respect his judgment, while again regretting the chance to learn more about his views.

Another feature I liked in Vlach’s study of the Prophets was that he used non-dispensational, and sometimes non-evangelical scholars as authorities to underscore crucial interpretative points on several occasions.  Perhaps most noticeably Richard Hess’s views on Ezekiel’s temple (204-205).  Although some readers may feel uneasy with the practice, what it does is strengthen Vlach’s case, because it shows that the interpretation being considered is not simply a product of Dispensationalist hopeful thinking.  The author is a scholar who knows the literature and maintains a solid Dispensational stance anyway.  May his tribe increase.

When it comes to Daniel, I couldn’t help feeling that the book deserved more attention.  Although Vlach makes the most of the space, Daniel only gets thirteen pages!  He might respond that his main concern is the kingdom, but I still would have liked a few more pages for this pivotal book.  That said, Daniel 2, 7, 9 and 12 are all covered, and the author’s ability to say many things in a few words means that students will benefit from the material that is presented.

The Minor Prophets have just twenty-six pages assigned to them.  I refrain from saying much about them other than they get a good survey given the restriction.  As is fitting, Zechariah receives more commentary than the rest of the books.  In Malachi, Andrew Hill and Dwight Pentecost are quoted but no citation is given (247).  The OT material ends with a quick summary of its kingdom picture (249-252).

I should probably wait until my last part of this review to comment on the NT, but I do at least wish to give Vlach a lot of kudos for stressing the role of expectation in the early Gospel narratives.  Expectation is a cue to whether or not there is any hermeneutical transformation from the OT to the New.  By taking the time to put the expectations of key players in these early chapters on display (255-279) creates a solid foundation for his interpretation of the New Testament, and for the way the Apostolic writers use the Old Testament.

 

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