Cover Image: Plowshares and Pruning Hooks

Plowshares and Pruning Hooks:
Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic

D. Brent Sandy (IVP, 2002)

Blurb Review by Rev. Glenn Nesbitt.

Review by Rev. Glenn Nesbitt.

In Plowshares and Pruning Hooks, Brent Sandy aims 'to understand biblical prophecy and apocalyptic discover how biblical languages functions, how genres differ and how the original hearers would have understood what the prophets said.' The result is an accessible and thought provoking examination of the language of the prophets, particularly those of the Old Testament.

In the early chapters, Sandy states that the power of prophecy lay in its subject matter. The 'big issues' of God, humanity, calamity and prosperity necessitated strong language and vivid imagery especially as the prophets were speaking to spiritually harden people. Yet presenting God's message in human language limited by human experience was problematic. At the basic level, when should the words be taken at face value? Sandy rightly points out that the challenge lay with both the language of the prophecy itself and the audience.

In chapters 3-5, Sandy then outlines how the language of prophecy works as he examines the nature and function of metaphors and the portrayal of destruction and blessing. The best way to conceive the inconceivable about God is to picture him acting in very extreme ways and so the rhetoric of these 'covenant enforcement mediators' was intended to shock their audience to repentance and faith. Within this context, Sandy draws attention to the role of illocution, as the function of statements can yield clues to their meaning not just their content. There is also a helpful treatment of apocalyptic language with the plea to feel the emotion of the words and pay attention to their oral nature while not pushing all the detail for meaning.

The final two chapters focus on fulfillment, particularly prediction. The prophets prosecuted and persuaded through prediction, but to what extent did their pronouncements reveal details about the future? Sandy argues that they were transparently clear about the reality of judgment, but translucent about how it would occur, although past events were useful signposts. Twelve features of New Testament apocalyptic are then mentioned and the book concludes with some wise hermeneutical guidelines.

Plowshares and Pruning Hooks performs that valuable function of forcing the preacher or reader to think hard about what the prophet said and why he spoke in that way with those words. Sandy wants readers to read slowly and keep asking questions of the text. His modeling of sensitivity to the poetic language of prophecy is particularly helpful together with his warnings against literalism especially as it is often tempting to reading this genre like a New Testament epistle.

However the one major drawback of the book is its failure to interpret many of the prophecies in the light of Christ. Sandy believes that 'the central focus of prophecy is the Son of God', but this fails to inform or structure his writing. Messianic prophecies and expectations are mentioned, but there is no consideration of the three 'peaks' of fulfillment (immediate, Christ's first coming and then his second) or how the coming of Christ changed the New Testament writers' perspective of the future. The intentions of the prophets take precedence over their place in the canon and the role of biblical theology as a hermeneutic tool is neglected. The reader is left looking for a bit more. Nevertheless, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks is a very good secondary book for those beginning a preaching series or study in the prophets.

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