Cover Image: Look to the Rock

Look to the Rock:
An Old Testament Background to our Understanding of Christ

Alec Motyer (IVP, 1996)

Blurb Review by Dr Eric Ortlund

Review by Dr Eric Ortlund

Those readers familiar with Motyer's excellent commentary on Isaiah may be surprised to learn that this later volume, while not without its strengths, does not constitute a substantial contribution to biblical theology or our understanding of the relation of the two testaments. While this book contains passages of great insight and does, in a basically accurate way, trace how the OT creates expectations which are fulfilled in the NT, it does so only in the most general sense, and unfortunately also advances a variety of tenuous exegetical inferences in doing so.

Motyer's method is stated briefly in a three-page introductory chapter, in which he notes how the OT creates expectations, in a variety of areas of religious life and theological reflection, which are not fully fulfilled until one reaches the NT; the task is thus to expose how various expectations or promises about Yahweh's relationship to Israel are made whole in Jesus Christ. Seven chapters follow, concerning God's kingship, the covenant and law, the revelation of God in the image of man and in the word of God (chapters three and four, respectively), the problem of sin, and the problem of death; the final chapter is a more summary-like sounding of the expectation/fulfillment dynamic in the OT as a whole. Of these thematic discussions, the last four are relatively strong; Moyter does show, for instance, how Christ is the ultimate and final word of God, taking up into himself all of Yahweh's previous revelation in action and word to Israel. The discussion of sin and its defeat in both testaments is also good (especially on the world-wide consequences of sin, as seen in Gen 1-11).

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the first three chapters. On the theme of Christ as the image of God, for instance, Motyer gives a highly sensitive reading of the different ways in which humanity images Yahweh as (for instance) male and female, as vice-regents, and even physically (Motyer is especially good on this last point, noting how there is an appropriate physical form which somehow images the glory of the invisible God [pg. 69]). Motyer stumbles badly, however, by engaging in a quasi-Midrashic association between humanity as a revelation of Yahweh as the Mosaic Torah as an expression Yahweh's very holiness (see Lev 19); Motyer concludes that obedience to divine command increases humanity's revelatory capacity (pg. 78). Although this might be true in a general sense, I cannot see this inference made anywhere in texts dealing with creation or ritual holiness (in either testament!). The same over-generality hinders the discussion of the issue of kingship in Israel and the NT's proclamation of Christ as King; while correctly noting that the fourfold refrain about the lack of a king among Israel's warring tribes in Judg 17-21 creates an expectation for an obedient, theocratic king-an expectation which the various kings of Samuel and Kings cannot meet, but which is then focused in Messianic expectation - Motyer uses the repeated mention of "seed" in the promises to David in 2 Sam 7 to connect expectations surrounding the Davidic king not only to the Abrahamic covenant, but also to the promise of Gen 3.15. He then fuses these Abrahamic/Davidic promises to the Servant of Isa 53! Although the attention to "seed" in Gen 3, 12, and 2 Sam 7 may be intended to refer to each other, Motyer owes his readers a stronger argument that it really is the intention of these texts to do so; and although Jesus Christ does fulfill the promises of all these texts, I do not think that Isa 53 was written intentionally to remind the reader of the former. Motyer's questionable association also ignores the problematic status of the Davidic covenant in Isa 40-55; after the constant attention to David in Isa 1-39, it receives only on mention in 55.3 and is applied, not to David's heir, but to the entire people. It appears that these OT texts are "conversing" with each other in more complex ways than Motyer makes note of.

Exegesis which is similarly tenuous is unfortunately not merely occasional throughout the other chapters. He eisegetes, for instance, an entire spiritual biography into Gen 6.5-9, interpreting the toledot formula (most improbably) as signaling Abraham's spiritual birth (pg. 44); other examples of this sort of argumentation could be given. Finally, although one does not want to be ungracious in reviewing a book which does have some significant strengths, Motyer makes a number of gaffs in the realm of OT studies, claiming that the Baal Epic simply portrays nature worship and fertility religion and then drawing a too-facile distinction between Israelite religion and that of its neighbors (even though the last 30 years of scholarship on this text have shown that the Baal Epic is about far more than only the cycle of seasons), and quoting scholars of previous generations such as W. F. Albright and Y. Kaufman in order to clinch arguments (even though the unbalanced views of these authors are now well known).

As stated above, there are some strong chapters in this book, but the same generality (and too-frequent tenuous inference) pervades the whole. While certainly not without insight, Motyer's work raises-by way of neglect!-a series of central questions of biblical theology: how do the different texts and traditions of the OT talk amongst themselves? How does the OT create an organic, large-scale structure among its various parts? (Motyer's glossing over the different appeals to David in Isa 1-39 and 40-55 is a glaring example of this.) Furthermore, what patterns emerge in the use of the OT by the NT, and how can we follow these patterns in availing ourselves of the whole of God's word? Motyer's generality in method does little to help answer these questions and thus limits the usefulness of his study.

©2019 Beginning with Moses. Designed and built by David Turner