Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy | Book Review

Title: The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy: Studies and Expositions of the Messiah in the Old Testament
Editors: Michael Rydelnik and Edwin Blum
Publisher: Moody Publishers, 2019
Price: $39.99 (amz)  
Binding: Hardback
Pages: 1440
Does the Old Testament speak of the Messiah? And, if it does, how does it do so? 

In this volume, Michael Rydelnik and Edwin Blum gather arguments and exegetical studies that passionately answer the former question in the affirmative and provide a roadmap to reflecting on the latter question. In the first part of the Handbook, sixteen entries of varying lengths engage a series of methodological issues that inform an examination of the Messiah in the Old Testament (21-239). These range from the titles that relate to messianic prophecy, text-critical issues, interpretive approaches, the Old Testament’s use of the Old Testament, the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament, and the history of reception (e.g., in Intertestamental, Rabbinic, Aramaic, and medieval Jewish literature). 

The bulk of the following collection consists of hermeneutical and exegetical treatments (239-1338). The textual material covered includes individual texts (like Gen 3:15), larger sections (like the Servant songs in Isaiah), groupings of texts (like the psalms of Ascent), and the message of smaller books (like Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs). The scope of these studies moves across the Old Testament from the Pentateuch (7 entries), the prophetic history (5 entries), the Prophets (42 entries), the Psalms (20 entries), and the rest of the Writings (11 entries).

Two elements that signal the interpretive perspective of the volume are John Sailhamer’s reprinted article, “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible” (41-61) and Rydelnik’s orienting essays (“The Messiah and his Titles,” 29-39; and “Interpretive Approaches to Messianic Prophecy,” 73-91). After noting the tendency within some quarters to downplay or deny the messianic nature of the Old Testament, Blum and Rydelnik observe that there remains “the need to reclaim and explain messianic prophecy” (25). They also articulate three of the shared starting points undergirding each part of the volume: 1) that the Scriptures are the inspired and authoritative Word of God, 2) that the Hebrew Bible reveals the Messiah in individual passages and also as a whole, and 3) that the prophetic authors understood that they were writing about the Messiah (see 25-27). In this way, they argue that “Jesus’ perspective on the messianic nature of the inspired Word of God steered all of [their] work” (27). 

Rydelnik argues further that “there indeed was a clearly intended messianic message in the Hebrew Bible” (29). Minimally, the term Messiah refers to “an individual, uniquely consecrated to the service of God” (30). Broadened further, the messianic expectation included complementary concepts like a king from the line of David, an eschatological deliverer and ruler, and a redeemer that will save the people from sin (30-31). When understood in light of related titles for this coming one (like son of God, son of Man, prophet like Moses, one shepherd, etc), a well-developed understanding of the coming Messiah emerges (33-39). The Messiah is “this King that the Hebrew Bible foretells, through prophetic prediction and pattern” (33). Rydelnik summarizes that the contributors of this volume utilize “an expansive approach to the issue of messianic prophecy” (38) and do not limit their analysis to locations where the specific term “messiah” is found. 

In his article, Sailhamer provides a reflection on the hermeneutical issues involved in perceiving “the Messiah and the Hebrew Bible” (41-60). A key focus for Sailhamer is to establish the nature of the relationship between the testaments. He argues that “the NT is not so much a guide to understanding the OT as it is the goal of understanding the OT” (47). “Unless we understand the OT picture of the Messiah,” Sailhamer contends, “we will not understand the NT picture of Jesus” (47-48). Accordingly, “the OT, not the NT, is the messianic searchlight” (48). A foundational assumption in this approach is that the Old Testament “not only predicts the coming of a Messiah,” but also “describes and identifies that Messiah” (49). In other words, in the Prophets and the Writings, “we find a full and detailed exposition of the Pentateuch’s messianism” (50). 

In this intertextual exposition, then, “the OT messianic hope is extended and deepened to the point at which we find it in the NT” (50). When the New Testament authors speak about Jesus as the Christ, Sailhamer reasons, “they build on and develop the messianic vision that is already present in the earlier texts” (58). Consequently, the Old Testament books are “messianic in the full NT sense of the word” (59). In fact, Sailhamer concludes, “the messianic thrust of the OT was the whole reason the books of the Hebrew Bible were written” and represents “the deep-seated messianic hope of a small group of faithful prophets and their followers” (59). 

This comprehensive vision of how the Old Testament speaks of the Messiah on its own terms guides the textual and biblical-theological reflections in the rest of the Handbook. Within this shared set of convictions, there is space given for different emphases and direct dialogue. One such area relates to the nature of typological interpretation. Sailhamer tends to avoid this interpretive category (e.g., see his characterization on 44-47). While there is a general caution regarding the use of typology as an overarching theological grid for understanding the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament, there are several places in this volume where typology is affirmed, connected to the textual work of biblical authors, and utilized as an important tool in understanding the Messiah in the Old Testament.

For example, Seth Postell articulates an understanding of typology as a compositional strategy within the Old Testament itself. Noting that “the OT’s design was to prepare its readers for the future through careful meditation on the past” (161), Postell argues that the New Testament authors were “continuing a pattern that had already been established in the OT” (162). Authors like Matthew, Paul, and Hebrews provide interpretations that are “a natural and expected extension of the typological interpretations” of figures like Adam, Moses, Israel, and the Tabernacle (162). 

Similarly, Glen Kreider considers the types of the Messiah as prophet, priest, and king (135-44), and Robert Cole affirms the typological interpretation that is “ubiquitous and deliberate throughout the entire Hebrew Bible,” including the Psalter (557n37). In this vein, while both see a strategic relationship between Matthew 2, Hosea 11, and Numbers 23-24 (“Out of Egypt I called my son”), Rydelnik disagrees with Sailhamer on the nature of this connection (52-53, 106-09, and 115n20; see also the discussion of Sailhamer’s understanding of the Song of Songs: 130-31, and 769-83). 

Another clear example of difference and dialogue relates to the messianic message of Deuteronomy. Daniel L. Block argues that Deut 18:15 is not directly messianic (“a prophet like Moses”), but he also maintains that Deuteronomy provides a “Mosaic paradigm of kingship” in Deut 17:14-20. The articulation of kingship found here, Block concludes, anticipates the righteous kingship of the Messiah (315-22). In the following entry, Jim Sibley argues against this view, concluding that Deut 18:15-19 is “a messianic prophecy that speaks directly and solely of the coming deliverer, later known as the Messiah” (338). 

In relation to the broader field of scholarship, this volume represents a wide-ranging reference work that comes from a distinctive starting point. The areas of dialogue noted above are on a small-scale and under the umbrella of a clearly articulated understanding of how the Hebrew Bible works and how it speaks about the Messiah. The alternative positions criticized most frequently are historical-critical approaches that reject any form of messianic expectation. Consistently critiqued, too, are Evangelical positions that primarily understand the messianic nature of the Old Testament as generated by New Testament authors (sensus plenior, double-fulfillment, etc). 

There are also a variety of methods and modes of analysis at play throughout the volume (from narrowly textual to overtly theological). Josh Matthews, for instance, provides a close reading of Jer 31:31-34 highlighting the relationship between the old and new covenants in both the Pentateuch and Jeremiah as a whole (1035-47). T. Desmond Alexander examines the covenant with Abraham in specific texts like Gen 12:1-3 but also within the shape of the book of Genesis (259-70). Walter Kaiser discusses 2 Samuel 7 and the covenant with David in relation to the book of Chronicles and inter-linked Psalms (385-97). Randy McKinion analyzes the composition of the Psalms of Ascent (Pss 120-134) and also the effect of their strategic arrangement within the Psalter (711-26). 

This type of textual and theological analysis forms the heart of this substantive collection of studies. In contrast to the “messianic minimalism” that the contributors critique, this volume represents a theoretical and exegetical argument for a kind of messianic maximalism. 

Accordingly, those asking, “How would one arrive at this position?” and “What would it look like to do exegesis and biblical theology on this basis?” will find here a thorough and reflective resource.

Also in JETS 63.2 (June 2020): 354-57.

Book Review
July 6, 2021


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