Tag Archives: Biblical theology

Review: Jacob and the Divine Trickster

Rating: ★★★★

Author: John E. Anderson is a Lutheran Old Testament scholar. Jacob and the Divine Trickster is Anderson’s dissertation written at Baylor and published with the recommendation of Walter Brueggemann.

Genre: Academic theology, narrative theology.

Overview: Jacob and the Divine Trickster is a theological study of the Jacob cycle. Anderson is primarily concerned with theology proper and not with textual-critical issues. The introduction sets up a challenge for readers who try to iron out tensions in the biblical text. In particular, Anderson believes that God is unquestionably implicated in several deceptive acts in Genesis—although the heavy term ‘deception’ is somewhat lightened in his definition towards “withholding information.”

Anderson develops this idea of cunning as a divine attribute, boldly referring to Jehovah as a “trickster God.” I agree, however, with Diana Lipton’s review:

Even if I can come to terms with the idea that God tricks people, I cannot see tricksterism (this may be the wrong term but no better one comes to mind) as a divine attribute, as Anderson seems to.

The key to Anderson’s book is that he catalogues all the ways that the Lord worked for Jacob, in fulfillment of the ancestral promises (in Gen. 12 and 28). This overall optimistic assessment of Jacob will prove to have staying power, I believe, if we can accept the Eastern understanding of ethics given to us in Genesis.

Meat:

Anderson follows the lead of Walter Brueggemann, Eric Seibert, and others in addressing ethical difficulties in the Old Testament head on. Whereas a fundamentalist take would ignore difficulties and systematic theologians cancel them out, Anderson chooses to lean into the difficulties he encounters in the text.

Although its main thesis is overstated in my opinion, the book is an important contribution, as it challenges 1) interpretations that assess Jacob’s deceptive behavior negatively; 2) interpretations that seek to distance God from Jacob’s behavior, when God is real and present in the Genesis text, ensuring the fulfillment of his promise.

A simple review like this doesn’t provide space for the many interesting points in the book. But I can pose some questions evoked while reading this book:

  • If Jacob’s repeated deception of Esau was immoral, would God have allowed him to obtain divine blessing by those means? (Is God’s blessing really so mechanistic that you could obtain godly blessing in an ungodly way?!)
  • Can we trust Jacob’s statement (in 27:20) that the Lord helped him to deceive his father? What if Isaac was in the wrong anyway?
  • What about 31:5, 7, and 9, where Jacob says God is working on his behalf against Laban?
  • Are Jacob’s deceptive acts ethically difficult for non-Western readers? Wouldn’t many Asians see him as merely cunning, a guy with street smarts, who knows how to be in the right place at the right time?

Bones:

Anderson’s book brings up a major ethical problem: is Jacob really immoral, or is it our European ethical framework that cause us to place limitations on the text? Anderson doesn’t answer this question for contemporary readers, in my opinion. He does pretty convincingly argue, though, that the Bible itself does not make excuses for Jacob’s deceptive acts.

Review: Notes on the Psalms

Rating: ★★★

Author: G. Campbell Morgan was a British Congregational preacher, active from 1883 to 1943, mostly at Westminster Chapel in London. Nicknamed “the Prince of Expositors,” Morgan’s accessible expository preaching gained him a wide audience on both sides of the Atlantic. During his long life of ministry, he published more than 60 books, many of which were sermons.

Overview:

The first edition of Morgan’s Notes on the Psalms (1947; posthumous) contains brief notes on all 150 psalms, as well as the full English text of the Psalms (in a metrical layout, two columns). I believe the Bible version used is the American Standard Version. For each psalm, Morgan gives a kind of outline or summary, with a few devotional comments. Most psalms have only one or two paragraphs, meant to give you the core of the psalm. Where needed, he sometimes adds brief notes related to translation problems.

Meat:

I really liked the way this book was laid out. Including the full text of the Psalms, while unusual, made the book extremely useful as devotional reading. I was amazed how much poignant historical and textual information he was able to fit in such a short book. I also felt that his summaries of each psalm were weighty. I did not feel—as I often feel in reading a modern Bible with headings—that the heading given to each psalm was overly modern and fell short of the author’s intended theme.

Bones:

Probably the most distracting thing about this book (for me) is the charts that divided the psalms into sections or “books”. Morgan himself admits in his preface that attempts to classify the psalms are “arbitrary,” but I felt that the book divisions in particular did not provide any helpful index to interpreting the individual psalms within them. There are differences in authorship and perhaps linguistic differences, but thematic differences were just too broad to detect over as many as 30 or 40 psalms. It distracts the reader from the fact that each of them has a unique origin, and even the traditional grouping and ordering was probably, to some extent, arbitrary.

For this reason, in my own summary of the Psalms, I recommend a variety of methods of classifying the Psalms, the best of which was the one I found on Dennis Bratcher’s website.

Read: At the time of writing, this book is freely available in PDF format here.

Review: Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of God

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: G. Campbell Morgan was a British Congregational preacher, active from 1883 to 1943, mostly at Westminster Chapel in London. Nicknamed “the Prince of Expositors,” Morgan’s accessible expository preaching gained him a wide audience on both sides of the Atlantic. During his long life of ministry, he published more than 60 books, many of which were sermons.

Overview:

Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of God (1934) is a masterful exposition of the prophecy of Hosea. Morgan’s style of exposition is not verse-by-verse, but rather utilizes thematic verses that summarize the key points of a chapter.

As implied in the title, his summary of Hosea is that it is about the union of God’s compassion and his holiness. G. Campbell Morgan is able to paint such a beautiful picture of God because he learns the brushstrokes from the Bible itself. In this book he will stretch your heart and stretch your theology as you see the suffering heart of God, longing to see his redeemed people walking in holiness, walking with him. But as always he exposits the Word with reverence and simplicity.

The first couple of sermons deal with Hosea’s suffering as prophet. There are many in the middle dealing with the defection of the people and its causes and course. The last few sermons were in my opinion the best as he talks about the love of God for his people, how he cannot give them up to a life without Him, but sent His missionary Son to pursue His straying lover, His prodigal son—His people.

Meat:

Morgan’s sermons are almost always simple, readable, applicable, and committed to the biblical text.

In much of his exposition, Morgan dwells long on the themes of God’s grief in Hosea, a prominent topic that is often shied away from because of its doctrinal difficulties. See for instance, the chapter entitled “The Difficulty of God”, on Hosea 6:4; while such language entangles systematic theologians in a thicket of complications, Morgan resolutely and simply discusses its meaning as it stands. He also does so without making God sound spineless or desperate. It illustrates Morgan’s commitment to the text, and vindicates him as an important preacher and writer for those interested in doing practical, biblical theology (as opposed to “systematics”).

Bones:

Morgan’s strength is how he deals with the text, but if he has a weakness, it would be in spiritualizing what were meant to be historical events in the text.

Free Books by G. Campbell Morgan (50+)

Some readers may remember that, about ten years ago, a number of G. Campbell Morgan books (which are in the public domain) were freely available online at gcampbellmorgan.com (then the G. Campbell Morgan Archive). These were nice because they were already formatted, and the PDFs were proofreaded and readable.

With the advent of ebooks, this was turned into a paysite, and has apparently been shut down or changed domains.

However, you can still access the old free website thanks to archive.org’s Wayback Machine, which is a web crawler that archives websites.

Use the links below:

Free G. Campbell Morgan books on the Internet Archive (50+)
Free G. Campbell Morgan audiobooks on LibriVox (3)
Free G. Campbell Morgan books on the Wayback Machine (30+)