5 Stars Out Of 5
A Guide in the Wilderness
June 27, 2012
San Diego, CA
Anyone who hikes in the desert knows how hard it can be to navigate such terrain and how important it is to prepare. I learned this once when I and several friends decided to explore some of Joshua Tree National Park's more than one-thousand square miles. Wandering into the wastes, none of us thought to pack more than our teenage bravado and perhaps a Capri Sun. We snaked for hours past gangling specimens of that namesake Joshua tree and over immense mounds of granite. By noon we were lost. Without maps, compasses, water, and food we became increasingly disoriented, fatigued, and nervous. Fortunately, we came across someone who knew the way back. Since then I've known how essential the right tools and supplies are for wilderness treks.
Reading the Old Testament can be much the same, especially for people unfamiliar with the landscape. What does it all mean? How do I grow from it? Why does it seem so dry? Thankfully, Rev. Daniel R. Hyde comes to our aid with a new book to guide and nourish believers in our study of Israel's desert wanderings, and in particular, help Christians understand the purpose of the Tabernacle for today. God in Our Midst (Reformation Trust, 2012) is an easy door into Biblical Studies that not only digs into its main theme, but presents readers with sound tools for interpreting the entire Old Testament in light of the New Testament.
The book is based on Hyde's sermons through Leviticus, but it has been fortified with historical quotes, archeological insight, and devotional application. Pastors will find substantial help from a complete subject/scripture index, but the studies will not fly over the heads of less advanced learners, either. God in Our Midst shares illustrations from the acclaimed ESV Study Bible and, at 275 pages, it's just long enough to feel thorough without overwhelming you. Best of all, you'll discover the apparent wilderness of Leviticus blooming with life to enflame your devotion to Christ.
The book consists of 17 chapters and includes a helpful introduction by David P. Murray. He notes six characteristics of a good Old Testament commentary:
1. It handles the scripture with reverence and diligence as the Word of God.
2. It's method of interpretation starts at the original context, instead of rushing straight to find 21st-century relevance.
3. It should portray a central unified message unfolding throughout the Bible, of gracious redemption through faith in the Messiah. God didn't "start over" in different ages, but was revealing his grace more and more.
4. It should follow the Apostolic example of using the New Testament to interpret the Old.
5. It must connect the faith of Old Testament believers with New Testament Church to show we share the same hope and are saved through the same Savior.
6. It must have application for the modern Church, teaching us about godly worship, communion, obedience, and service.
Murray concludes, "He gives us, at last, a modern book on the Old Testament that treats the believing Israelites as brothers and sisters in Christ rather than as slightly confused, animistic, legalistic idolaters." After giving God in Our Midst the thumbs-up, he sends us off to the Introduction.
Here Rev. Hyde lays ground-rules for interpreting events and idioms of the Old Testament in a way that avoids running off into bizarre and strained typologiesâ€”you know the kind that insist on deep and certain symbolism behind every name and number. Instead, he shows how the Apostles read the Prophets and gives us safe boundaries to do the same:
"What does it mean to read the Word and the tabernacle story simply? It means that we must read it theologically. In reading, then, we ask not about the hidden meaning of minor details such as the rings, the poles, and the boards of the tabernacle, or the color of the stones in the high priest's ephod, but questions such as, "What does this passage teach me about God, about my sins, about Christ's redemptive work, and about how I am to live for the glory of God?"
For me, this section alone would have been worth the cost of the book. In case anyone doesn't see the value in studying these texts, Hyde says,
"The details of the Word of God matter. For example, Jesus based an entire argument for the resurrection on the present tense of a verb (Luke 20:37-38), and Paul based an entire argument for Jesus being the seed of Abraham on a singular noun (Gal. 3:16). It is clear, then, that we need to read and meditate on this portion of the Word of God purposefully and prayerfully. When we read the Word in a studious, contemplative, and prayerful way, we come to see not only the individual pearls of doctrine and application contained therein, but also how all of those pearls hang together like those on a necklace. The Word of God is as beautiful in its presentation as in its proclamation."
Throughout the book, Hyde develops a theme that redemption culminates in adoration. This motif is woven into the designs and rituals of the Tabernacle,
"There is a wonderful theological and practical reason why more than half of Exodus is set at Sinai [...] The Israelites were saved from Egypt that they might serve the Lord. Likewise, our purpose for being called out of the darkness of the world is that we might be called into the brilliant presence of God. We exist, as the memorable words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism teach us, "to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever" (Q&A 1)."
Subsequent chapters are devoted to various elements of the Tabernacle, such as the brazen altar, the ark of the covenant, and the golden lamp stand. In each case, Hyde gives strong reasons to see the redemptive work of Christ pictured in them. At no time did I get that sticky, uncomfortable feeling that he was stretching the text too far. For instance,
"It is fascinating that the Lord put the most unattractive curtains on the outside and the most attractive on the inside. John J. Davis writes, "From a purely aesthetic point of view the tabernacle could not be considered a thing of beauty, at least not from the outside." This is typical of God, who often cloaks His glory in simplicity, His power in weakness, and His wisdom in foolishness to confound the unbeliever but to comfort the believer (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-31). Ultimately, He cloaked His majesty in flesh as His Son, Jesus Christ, took on ordinary humanity: "He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him" (Isa. 53:2b). In a sense, then, to come to the tabernacle was to come to the holy God Himself, hidden under the veils of the ordinary and earthly."
The remaining chapters include a much-needed warning on why we ought to worship God as He commandsâ€”rather than how we think the market will respondâ€”and a useful appendix for pastors considering preaching through the Pentatuech.
In all, I found this to be a rewarding book and I wish it had come into my hands shortly after I was convertedâ€”a lot of confusion could have been avoided. Hyde sets the standard for mixing theological precision with Biblical reverence and spiritual devotion. You can't come away from this without feeling moved to worship our Savior. I leave you with these closing words,
"As you read and meditate on the tabernacle narrative with me, I pray that you may come to see that it is not something obscure that happened thousands of years ago. Instead, I pray you will read this narrative as your family story. This is how Peter challenged his readers throughout Asia Minor, which was hundreds of miles from Jerusalem, in the middle of the first century, several decades after our Lord's ministry. He said that the Holy Spirit had revealed to the prophets "that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look" (1 Peter 1:12). [...] Ultimately, we need to mediate on this, our family story, because we have the same God as our forefathers. The same God who said to them, "I may dwell in their midst" (Ex. 25:8), says to us today, "In [Christ] you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22). Just as He did for our forefathers, God has come to dwell among us that we might have a relationship with Him based on His amazing grace."
Five stars, recommended!