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Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic [Paperback]

By Brent Sandy (Author)
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Item description for Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic by Brent Sandy...

Overview
What are we to make of Isaiah's image of Mount Zion as the highest of the mountains, or Zechariah's picture of the Mount of Olives split in two, or Daniel's "beast rising out of the sea" or Revelation's "great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns"? How can Peter claim that on the day of Pentecost the prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled, with signs in heaven and wonders on earth, the sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood? The language and imagery of biblical prophecy has been the source of puzzlement for many Christians and a point of dispute for some. How ironic that is! For the prophets and seers were the wordsmiths of their time. They took pains to speak God's word clearly and effectively to their contemporaries. How should we, as citizens of the twenty-first century, understand the imagery of this ancient biblical literature? Are there any clues in the texts themselves, any principles we can apply as we read these important but puzzling biblical texts? Brent Sandy carefully considers the language and imagery of prophecy and apocalyptic, how it is used, how it is fulfilled within Scripture, and how we should read it against the horizon of our future. Clearly and engagingly written, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks is the kind of book that gives its readers a new vantage point from which to view the landscape of prophetic and apocalyptic language and imagery.

Publishers Description
What are we to make of Isaiah's image of Mount Zion as the highest of the mountains, or Zechariah's picture of the Mount of Olives split in two, or Daniel's "beast rising out of the sea" or Revelation's "great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns"? How can Peter claim that on the day of Pentecost the prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled, with signs in heaven and wonders on earth, the sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood? The language and imagery of biblical prophecy has been the source of puzzlement for many Christians and a point of dispute for some. How ironic that is For the prophets and seers were the wordsmiths of their time. They took pains to speak God's word clearly and effectively to their contemporaries. How should we, as citizens of the twenty-first century, understand the imagery of this ancient biblical literature? Are there any clues in the texts themselves, any principles we can apply as we read these important but puzzling biblical texts? D. Brent Sandy carefully considers the language and imagery of prophecy and apocalyptic, how it is used, how it is fulfilled within Scripture, and how we should read it against the horizon of our future. Clearly and engagingly written, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks is the kind of book that gives its readers a new vantage point from which to view the landscape of prophetic and apocalyptic language and imagery.

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Item Specifications...


Studio: IVP Academic
Pages   228
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 6" Height: 8.75"
Weight:   0.9 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 22, 2002
Publisher   IVP-InterVarsity Press
ISBN  083082653X  
ISBN13  9780830826537  


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Reviews - What do customers think about Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic?

Prophecy is not a time line, but a emotive and metaphorical theological message for an intended response.  Mar 26, 2008
How can God tell us about himself, things he has done, or things he will do in a way that we can understand? He spoke to prophets using ideas and terminology they would understand. It is not that the things he told them are not true, but there is a mental barrier at which man cannot understand the mind of God. God had to speak to them using their "world", and doing so in such a terminology and manner that it gets the main idea across to the intended recipient. The illustration at the end of the chapter is absolutely perfect. Can the lady give exact details about whitewater rafting to a seventy year old Bedouin? No, the best she can do with the language and cultural barriers is to tell him in word pictures he can understand and in a manner or motion which will add to what she is saying. Are there streets of gold? Maybe, but how else could John have described heaven except in materials he was familiar with? The problem is that we are so nosy for answers; we would get upset (if it were possible) if we got to heaven and the streets were not gold. We would have overlooked the big picture of perfect rest in unity with God to focus on one "wrong" detail about the pavement. There are problems with prophetic language, but the problem is not with God but with our feeble minds that cannot understand him but think they can.
The problem with prophecy lies not in prophecy itself but in the reader. The reader must divest himself into the culture in which the prophecy was written so he can better understand the use of the author's language. It is the same if a native Spanish speaker wants to really understand English; he is not going to only read a dictionary, but he is going to immerse himself into the American culture. However, there are great difficulties once you are inside the culture of the biblical language of prophetic literature. First, prophecy is difficult because much of it is written in poetic language. Poetry employs metaphoric language not a timetable of events; it is like music and is not meant to give us a detailed description of anything. A second difficulty stems from the first, in that prophecy employs figurative language. That would be fine if we knew that all of prophecy was figurative, but the problem is deciphering when the author is meant to be taken at face value. We use figurative language all the time, where the dictionary definition of the words used does not mean what the phrase as a whole in a certain context means. Thirdly, there is a problem in that the language of the prophets is full of emotion. It is like us today speaking in exaggeration for effect; we are not worried about the details but that the recipient understands our urgency or excitement. Hyperbole exists even in the narrative portions of Scripture (Deut 1:10, 28; Judg 20:16), and the author uses it as a means to shock the listener/reader. The focus is not historical accuracy because the author is not concerned with that, but the focus is on getting the attention of the intended recipient in the greatest manner possible.
Another difficulty in prophecy is that there seems to be unmentioned conditions in promised blessings from God. This seems to feed off of the previous difficulties in that the language of blessing can be taken as figurative and emotive. The prophet is trying to get the listener's attention, so they speak in blessing terminology that is full of emotion. The fifth difficulty with this genre of literature is that there are a number of visions given by God to the prophets. These visions have "otherworldly and fantastic" images, but are they meant to be symbolic or do they merely add to the main theme of the whole vision? Also, there is a difficulty in the fact that much of prophecy was both spoken and written. That is a problem because the speaker or author is going to give his message in a way that can be easily remembered. Many times we cannot remember our pastor's message from last week, but we can remember a gripping illustration or story that applied what he said. On top of making their prophecy remembered, the prophets had to be "different" from the number of prophets before him; and so he had to be even more fantastic in his language so his prophecy would stand out from the rest. Also, the prophet had to then write down this prophecy at some point, and in his compilation he might add or subtract things to make it better for reading. The last difficulty with prophecy is the fulfillment aspect. It is difficult to know if a prophecy has been fulfilled, if it is to be fulfilled, or if it has many layers of fulfillment. All seven of these difficulties seem to be centered on one problem, and that is when to take the words at face value.
That problem is the use of metaphors in language. Metaphors cannot be broken down and explained by dictionary definitions. So how do we who are thousands of years removed from the metaphoric language of Scripture understand what their metaphors meant? It is difficult for us even to understand modern metaphors in another language. Our fault in prophecy is that we have been taking metaphoric language and making it narrative so we can affix a normative meaning to that text. We do not like open-ended questions or things we cannot pin down and figure out. Metaphors are prolific in our speech and thoughts, and they do convey truth statements but not based upon taking the words at face value. Metaphors help someone who is trying to communicate something ambiguous, however the metaphor does not aid in making that object less ambiguous. "The Devil is like a roaring lion" is a metaphor (simile) that gives us an ambiguous idea (Devil) and a known object (roaring lion); so even though we still do not know the Devil any better, now we can at least think about what he is like. Unlike the one just given, the metaphor can not have any specific referent but merely aid in a big-picture idea of the passage. It is impossible to think of the prophets using any other language than metaphors to impact the reader with the urgency of the message with such graphic pictures that it will be remembered.
Metaphorical language takes on a whole new difficulty when it is used in reference to divine blessing and judgment. Just as man is limited in how he can describe God, he is limited in how he can describe in full an attribute of God. We have glimpses here and there of God from different angles, but no one passage describes him in full. The same is true of any characteristic of God; we simply cannot fathom in our limited understanding all of God or even all of just one part of God. It is also difficult when the author can write the same phrase but have different meanings for each one, so it is just as important to know how the author is using a phrase as to what the phrase means. The biblical language of judgment parallels that of the aNE in that it uses overwhelming curses that never seem to end and even seem to be self-contradicting.
Apocalyptic literature is a sub-genre under prophecy. Apocalyptic is quite different from prophecy in that the author uses it to take the reader into an imaginary world. It is like going through the wardrobe into Narnia, where good and evil are described as fantastic and graphic images. Things do not seem real in apocalyptic literature. The purpose of this "fairy-land" type imagery being in the canon is to show the reader that God is in control and will be victorious over evil. Since the beings and images are out of this world, it would make sense if it is not to be taken as detailed in prediction. The images do not have corresponding referents so there is no way to know what to expect if it has not yet been fulfilled. There is no point to trying to figure out all of the details of an apocalyptic vision, because they may have been added merely for effect or to aid the listener in remembrance.
The main question with prophecy is when or how will it be fulfilled, but prediction is only a small part of the genre of prophetic literature. The prophets were not giving their hearers/readers a detailed description of the future; however, they were mainly concerned that they make an immediate and appropriate response to their message. By nature, western minds want to know the future so they can feel as though they are somewhat in control of their destiny. But even when predictive prophecy is fulfilled in scripture, it is never in the way one would have expected just by reading the prophecy. So with prediction being a small part of prophecy, and its fulfillment not coming like we thought it would; we should not be reading prophecy making charts for how the future will play itself out. I think God does not want us to do that and that is exactly why he kept predictive prophecy to a minimum and even then it is translucent in its details. The response is not to look for when it will be fulfilled, but to know it will be fulfilled in some way and your response had better be obedience to God.
There are seven key features to "futurespeak" (prophecy and apocalyptic), and they are: poetry, metaphor, hyperbole, urgency, intentionality, immediacy, and orality. These features have been mentioned previously, but they all reflect why the author wrote the way he did. They wrote in such a way that was beautiful wording with many metaphors and emotive language so the hearers would remember it when it was read and respond immediately to the message. It is important to understand the context in which a metaphor is written or else you will not understand what it is there for. So, even though there is no details concerning the manner or time of future dates there are some things are certain. What we do know is there is going to be great manner of horrors and evil judgments and it will be a time of persecution and turmoil like never before; but Jesus is coming back and he has everything under his control and we need to overcome until the end. We need to look at futurespeak like we look at a stained-glass window. You do not look at this up close trying to see what is inside, but instead to view the beauty of it you step back and look at it all together.
I believe the main argument of this book is that we need to view prophecy from the perspective of the prophet who is speaking to a people with a message of blessing or cursing and not a map of the future. He does so with poetic language full of metaphors and hyperbole which do not always have corresponding referents, and if the referents were that important then they would have been mentioned. I completely agree with Sandy's thesis, and I think that when you step back and look at all of prophecy and how little of it is predictive and then how that small bit is fulfilled in a way not expected you will look for the message of the prophet and not the details of the future. Just in the little bit I know of the Hebrew language, I know the authors wrote in beautiful style with a theological message not a historical timeline. This book has already proved to greatly beneficial to my personal study of Scripture as I continue to force myself to step back and look at the big picture of the prophets message in light of the meta-narrative. This takes away much wasted energy trying to answer questions or fit a theological system with answers the Bible just does not give. We need to stop trying to figure out how and when all the fantastic events will happen, and we need to focus on our response to be overcomers and obedient to Christ.


 
A Great Start  Nov 7, 2007
I got this book for its discussion of how specific Old Testament prophecies were in fact fulfilled. (Unfortunately, it did not include a discussion of Ezekiel's never fulfilled oracle against Tyre.) This is tremendously important work, as prophecies are rarely fulfilled quite the way expected. However, the last chapter addressed prophesies yet to be fulfilled, focusing on Revelation, the Olivet Discourse and similar New Testament prophecies. But why would the author think these prophecies are still to be fulfilled in the future? Is it because, unlike the Old Testament, there are no scripture verses that describe the fulfillment? It would seem to me the destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD is an unavoidable referent of all of the New Testament prophecies. If Sandy believes only scripture can describe the fulfillment of prophecy, why doesn't he say so? Is the issue his dispensationalism?
 
A Very Good Introduction to Prophesy  May 6, 2007
I thought that this was a decent little book, if you use it as an introduction. The main idea presented was that prophetic material was not all meant to be taken literally, and that a good deal of it is metaphorical. I guess that this would be a good book for someone who was into things like the Left Behind series, but to any serious biblical scholar this book is simply a repitition of what is already commonly known.

Beyond that, the author feels the need to try to wax eloquent on occassion, and really takes it over the top in an annoying manner. Like when he gets excited about the language of prophesy and says "Words of worship, terror and mercy are unparalleled. Words of beauty, passion and hope are unequalled. Words of adoration, condemnation and salvation are unrivaled." His attempts at eloquence simply get on my nerves, but perhaps others won't mind as much. He also feels the need to make horribly rash, subjective claims with no evidence, such as saying that prophetic literature in scripture is the most beautiful literature in the Bible, and in fact, all the literature of the world. It just irks me that he frequently proclaims his own subjective opinion as if it applied to everyone else as well.

Judging from my last paragraph, you may think that this is a terrible book, but it is in fact quite decent. Despite the author's writing style (which I found a little annoying), this was a book that promoted good exegesis of Bilblical prophesy, even if that exegesis was not something new. It is not a bad book, and could even be quite helpful for many who have been exposed to poor interpretations of the prophets.

Overall grade: B+
 
instructive, thoughtful exploration of biblical prophetic literature!!  Mar 14, 2007
this book explores the nature of prophetic/apocalyptic type literature in the bible and asks the right questions of it, points out many of the valid concerns and offers some good guidelines. Does not set out to establish any final conclusions, but rather this work aims to probe the subject according to the genre of prophetic and apocalyptic literature and the characteristics of that type of genre. Well worth the read to get your mental gears turning towards a more informed grasp of this aspect of biblical content, this book approaches the subject from a perspective that is sometimes ignored, unfortunately.
 
A refreshing look at how language works  May 30, 2003
When is an entire sentence a metaphor? How certain can we be about determining what is hyperbolic and what is not? Can we determine how prophecies will be fulfilled by how they have been fulfilled in the past?

Mr. Sandy explores the nature and function of language, and the power of that language in its poetic setting. A must read for any serious student of prophecy, to remind us to be humble in our interpretations of eschatalogical events.

 

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