THE BOOK OF ISAIAH, the English text, with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes: Volume I, Chapters 1–18, by Edward J. Young. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1965. Pp. xii + 534. $7.95.
Previous publications have shown Dr. Young’s absorbing interest in the book of Isaiah. This commentary, the first to appear in the series The New lnternational Commentary on the Old Testament, is additional evidence of the love which the writer, who is Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary, has for the prophecies of Isaiah. Only one who has been gripped by Isaiah could have the patience to read the voluminous material that has been written on this prophet and to write a commentary of over 500 pages on only the first 18 chapters. Dr. Young is also a very sympathetic listener to the messages of Isaiah; he has tried to understand what Isaiah, sent directly by God, had to say and sought to make these messages plain to those who read Isaiah today. It is especially Young’s sympathetic understanding of Isaiah which makes this commentary a very valuable one.
In earlier publications Dr. Young has consistently defended -this reviewer believes rightly so—the unity of authorship of Isaiah. Except for repeating this same position, in this volume this subject is not discussed at length; that will be done in the projected third and final volume. It should be interesting to read Dr. Young’s reaction to the views on this matter—not brand new!—that were expressed in the article “Second Isaiah and the Copyright Law” in a recent issue of the Reformed Journal.
In this book the author gives his own translation of Isaiah, a translation almost wholly based on the Masoretic text which he holds in high esteem. Young’s great confidence in the Masoretic text is partially based on the usefulness of the so-called “Chart of Short Vowels” which is explained and elucidated in Appendix I, “The Text of Isaiah.” In the translation the older English of the King James is used. This reviewer who, it must be said, did not grow up with the King James, prefers a translation in contemporary English. Young is careful to note weaknesses in the Authorized Version but he has paid no attention to the R.S.V. in this commentary. I question the correctness of the translation “because ye are not established” in 7:9.
Unhappily this commentary is marred by numerous typographical inconsistencies. These inconsistencies are found especially between the translation of the text of Isaiah as given at the beginning of each new division in the commentary and the text, or part of it, as repeated in the commentary proper. Here follows a random sampling: Isaiah 1:2, 4, 9, 10, 16, 18, 20 … Isaiah 4:2(!), 3, 4. The rendering “the Sovereign One” for the Hebrew Adonai is not consistently carried through, d. Isaiah 3:1, 17 with 6:1, 8,11; 7:14 and other passages. In Isa. 4:4 the rendering “the LORD” is given whereas the Hebrew has Adonai.
In writing this commentary Dr. Young has tried to keep in mind the needs of the minister and Sunday school teacher (p. vii). Although not all (transliterated) Hebrew is absent from the main text and not every page excels in clarity—for instance, p. 46—the author has been tolerably successful in communicating also to Sunday-school teachers and others not acquainted with the intricacies of Hebrew grammar. This is certainly not a commentary to be shunned by the Hebraically ,uninitiated. The explanations of the text are often enlivened with pointed observations. Here is an example taken from the comments on Isaiah 2:10,
“In preaching as he does here. Isaiah is going contrary to modern psychological theories which assert that it is unwise and even wrong to use fear as a motif in preaching and teaching. How different God’s appraisal of preaching….The only way to run from God is to run to Him.”
Also the following lines are very pertinent:
“The greatest problem which any nation has to face is that of righteousness in its officials. Christians should not only pray for their rulers, they should also pray that God will give them righteous magistrates. They should also remember that they themselves are the salt of the earth, and that the best thing they can do with respect to social conditions is to live as Christians and seek to apply the principles of Christianity to every aspect of life” (p. 74).
For the translation of almah in Isaiah 1:14 Dr. Young unwaveringly chooses the word virgin. He also argues strongly for the directly messianic interpretation of this passage. This reviewer is more and more inclined to accept this view. The objection that this interpretation would make the prophecy almost meaningless to king Ahaz is not as formidable as it appears at first sight.
In this commentary the biblical teachings of the sovereignty of God and of salvation by grace alone are ably defended. Dr. Young has, however, not been able to escape the tendency to over-stress these doctrines in his comments on a number of relevant passages. Was it really necessary in connection with the “wash ye, make you clean” of Isaiah 1:16 to discuss the question how the command in this text fits the teaching of Scripture that it is only through Christ that we can be washed from our sins? It seems that Young finds more in these words of Isaiah than is actually there.
In the comments on Isaiah 6:9–10 greater emphasis might have been placed on the fact that the God-intended negative result of Isaiah’s preaching was God’s punishment upon the sins of the people. I think that I know what Dr. Young tries to say; nevertheless I hesitate to go along with him when he writes: “The proximate cause of the nation’s callousness was to be found in its sinful heart. The ultimate cause, however, was the reprobating decree of God” (pp. 260, 261). In the matter of election and reprobation as well as that of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility we face an inscrutable mystery which is ultimately the mystery of the very being and nature of God himself. Would we not do better to leave the inherent tension between the different emphases in Scripture unresolved, humbly admitting that we cannot capture God in a theological system?
This inability to comprehend God is not to be construed, however, as meaning that at the crucial point of our salvation he is in the final analysis a stranger to us. It is rather so that at this crucial point God is marvelously open to us. In Jesus Christ, his own Son, he stands before us as the One who died for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (John 14:9; I John 2:2). Commenting on Isaiah 13:9 Young writes very appropriately:
“Day of wrath and anguish! In that day who can stand? Are not we also, like the Babylonians, sinners who have turned against the holy Yahweh of hosts? We are such sinners indeed, but we have a refuge which God Himself has provided, even Jesus. How great is our deliverance, and how great the price paid for that deliverance! Ought not our blessed Redeemer ever to be the theme of our praise and song?”
STEPS IN FAITH, Dennis Hoekstra. The Committee on Education of the Christian Reformed Church. Rev. Wm. Vander Haak, editor. Grand Rapids: 1966.
The Committee on Education of the Christian Reformed Church has put out a number of catechism books over the past several years. Many of these books are to be commended for their relevance and doctrinal clarity. Unfortunately not all of the hooks can share in such a commendation. The one under review is such a book.
One of the criticisms which can be leveled at the committee as a whole is the fact that the catechism materials are pushing back the study of the Heidelberg Catechism with every new publication. There was a time when the first classes in catechism, grades 3 or 4 perhaps, studied Bible history. rather than the Catechism. But then the next grades, grade 5 at least, began to study a simplified form of the Catechism. But lately, this procedure is being discouraged. With the publication of this particular book, the 6th graders arc taught the general doctrinal and historical material that was once limited to the earlier grades. The Heidelberg Catechism is again put all to another year. This kind of trend is not a good one, in my opinion. Young people are becoming less doctrinally conscious as it is, without adding to the problem by deliberately waiting until the Junior High years before introducing the Catechism to them.
In terms of the particular book under review, one of the rather disturbing features of the book is the format that it follows. The author does not attempt to tench by way of doctrinal propositions; rather he invites the pupil to learn by discussion. He presents several views of a given subject, and then asks the student, “What Do You Think?” Therefore instead of teaching that the Bible is God’s infallible Word revealed to man, the author suggests several opinions as to the nature of Scripture. The student has not been given a foundation upon which he can base the opinion that is requested. It is evident in the book Steps in Faith that the author is interested in good educational methods. The methods followed in this book would be excellent in teaching some general material in school. But to follow this method in attempting to prepare young people for making a public confession of a faith which is solidly based on knowledge of God’s Word as interpreted in the Reformed Faith, is in my opinion a very deficient means of instruction.
The inadequacy of the method employed by Dr. Hoekstra can be seen especially in his lessons dealing with the birth, suffering, and death of Christ. There is no positive statement regarding the Virgin Birth of Christ. The suffering of Christ is made to appear as if it were the result of the misunderstanding of the people to whom he was sent, rather than the curse of God against sin. The treatment of this suffering and death of Christ is very weak The author, in relating the death of Christ, follows an interesting, but very unsatisfactory motif, presenting it to the children as an imaginary newspaper’s treatment of the death of Christ. Thus it is totally lacking in the beautiful and reverent account of the Scriptural emphasis on the atonement.
When we turn to the manual that accompanies the hard cover book Steps in Faith, we are also disappointed to find very little emphasis upon the real nature of the suffering of Christ as taught in the Word of God. The emphasis that is found in the manual is upon the fact that Christ suffered because he had a human nature. No mention is made at all of Scripture’s doctrine of the wrath of God against the sin of man as the reason for the terrible suffering of Christ. There is no teaching in this manual about the nature of the curse that rested upon Christ because of our sin. Instead the emphasis is upon man’s failure to understand Christ when he taught, when he cast out demons, and when he told his disciples that he had to suffer and die. These are the causes for his suffering according to the book and the manual. Now admittedly these contributed to our Savior’s suffering, but were they not only part of the much more important fact of the curse of God that rested upon him as our sin bearer?
I have attempted in this review to show that this book cannot be commended to the constituency of the Christian Reformed Church without serious reservations. However, this is not to say that the Committee on Education has not made a fine.-beginning in many of the books that it has published. Such contributions as With All My Heart by Mrs. Thea B. Van Halsema and Light Upon My Path by Miss Fredrica De Jong are worthy of our support. Let us have more catechism materials of this caliber, books that are Scripturally sound, and educationally relevant. If the Committee serves the Church in this way, it will be performing a valuable service indeed.
HENRY VANDEN HEUVEL