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Richard D. Phillips. Jonah & Micah. P & R Publishing, 2010. 432 pages.

Faithful exposition and application of the biblical text is foundational to the health of any local church. The Reformed Expository Commentary series strives to provide pastors, church leaders and teachers with biblically faithful exposition supported by fresh application. Richard Phillips is more than qualified and gifted to produce a volume about these minor prophets that stands in the long stream of the Reformed tradition: a tradition that is biblical, doctrinal, redemptive-historical and practical.

Jonah is about the amazing grace and mercy of God. Phillips says, “The book of Jonah challenges us to consider not only what it means to believe the gospel of grace, but also what it means to live the gospel of grace” (italics original). Jonah is an ideal companion along the adventure of learning about the massive depth of God’s grace.

The book of Micah, according to Phillips, gives shape to the Church’s challenge in our time. Though Israel faced the dark dual threats of neighboring nations and divine judgment, the bright light of gospel mercy shines through the promises of God. Though His people sin, God always responds to their repentance with matchless grace. “The God Micah presents to us truly is an incomparable God: sovereign, holy, and abounding in grace.”

This volume is helpful to pastors and bible teachers on a number of levels. First, Phillips is biblical. He walks through each book passage by passage and, though this volume is not intended to be exegetical, he does give careful attention to each text. When teaching about Nineveh’s repentance in Jonah 3:5-10, Phillips gives the immediate context of repentance, moves to what biblical repentance looks like in Jonah 3, and then gives a brief overview of repentance throughout the Bible. Second, Phillips provides a fine example of redemptive-historical interpretation of the Scriptures from a covenantal perspective. He shows where the text is pointing to Christ and how the Old Testament gives us examples of living by faith. Finally, each exposition, in one way or another, brings into focus the shining light of the gospel. Phillips does this in a way that never seems forced in his exposition or over-reaching in his interpretations.

There are a few areas of which potential readers should be aware.  First, if you do not share Phillips’ covenantal presuppositions, you will not agree with all the interpretations advanced in these expositions. If you are aware of this, you will be able to read what is helpful and what does not fit within your understanding of the Bible. The series and this volume are “committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.” This volume did not give as much attention to biblical theology as deserved in some areas, but the editors and authors are up front about their doctrinal foundations and intentions.

Secondly, in his opening exposition in Jonah, Phillips says,

When most people think of Jonah, they think only of the famous fish that swallowed him. Their first question is, Did this really happen? Or, What kind of fish was it? But these questions are incidental to the book. Far more importantly, Jonah brings us face to face with such important issues such as God’s grace for the wicked, God’s sovereignty over his servants, and the intense human struggle involved with forgiveness and repentance.

Curious, I flipped to his exposition on Jonah 1:17. There he says, “It is important to defend the validity of the text. But for those who can accept that God performs miracles in our world, the more important point is the text’s meaning.” I understand what Phillips is getting at, which is to say that too many people get caught up with the great fish and wrongly focus on it rather than the God who is sovereign over it and over Jonah. What I do not fully understand is how these statements made it to print because I believe the historicity of the Bible is never “incidental”. Phillips rightly sees the danger that lurks when the focus is shifted from God, but Jonah did not believe the great fish to be incidental, nor did Jesus in Matthew 12. I commend Phillips’ attempt at trying to ward off liberal attacks on the “validity of the text” (65), but his plan of attack seems to be liberal itself and therefore falls well short. Instead of saying the reality of the fish is incidental to the message of Jonah, Phillips would have been standing firm in the stream of his own tradition if he had not gotten caught up in the reality of the fish, focusing rather on to the even more striking reality of who God is.

Finally, though this commentary is practical and has appropriate illustrations, many times that did not always mean I would be able to make the same points to my congregation or class. That does not mean I thought his points were off-base, but only that I believe the Bible is alive and active. A pastor will need to not take the easy route of using Phillips’ illustrations and applications, instead doing the hard work of wrestling with what God has to say through the books of Jonah and Micah to their local congregation.

Jonah & Micah is pastorally helpful, as it is a good example of biblical exposition and produces application points and questions that are faithful to the text. If you have a limited budget and can only afford a few resources for the books of Jonah and Micah, or you are not Reformed, you may choose to buy other more exegetical commentaries that will help you wrestle with the text for yourself and your own congregation. But if you are looking for a companion study volume that shows the massive grace and unceasing mercy of the sovereign God, Jonah & Micah would be a helpful resource on your shelf.

Seconds away from turning in last night, I heard that the President was going to address the nation. As we all know by now since it was reported over and over as we waited and waited, a live, Presidential address at 10:30pm on a Sunday after everyone was home and prepping for Monday is far from ordinary. In fact, it is extraordinary. After 9 years, 7 months and 20 days (3,519 days), the United States military achieved their top priority in their mission against al Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden is dead. President Obama said, “On nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.” The United States government rightly executed its divinely appointed authority to bring wrath upon workers of evil, bringing about justice for a country and its citizens, especially those who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terrorism. A just government cannot stand idly by, as it “does bear the sword in vain.” But during the President’s address and in much of the following commentary, I was reminded of a few truths. First, though “justice has been done”, it is only a glimpse of true justice. Ultimately, every human being deserves death for their willful pride and rebellion against the One True God. Mankind does not deserve justice in the sense that it has been used these past hours. It is a mercy that God has not left us to ourselves, dead in our sin and objects of wrath, for that is what we truly deserve. Bin Laden met his just end, but I am keenly reminded that if my sinful heart and rebellious actions against the Creator were revealed to the world, there would be many who would want me to get what I deserve.

We also must remember that God is magnified when justice prevails in our world. John Piper wrote on September 12, 2001, that God-ordained authorities using “force to restrain evil and bring law-breakers to justice” bring glory to God in displaying His character and His will that sin be somewhat restrained in this world. The United States’ execution of justice points us to the God who is just and who will one day make all things right in a world filled with injustice. When this news comes up in conversation today, boldly point those around you, both believers and unbelievers, to the ultimate reality of true and coming justice so that Christians may glorify God and unbelievers may have an opportunity to hear the good news of the gospel. Today, let us boldly proclaim the story of redemption that culminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus, where justice and mercy met.

Thirdly, God’s plan of redemption will not stop. It will not hit any roadblocks. It will not be deterred. It will come to pass. As our country’s top officials slap each other’s backs at the accomplishment of a mission that the world had come to wonder if success was achievable, we see a picture worth a thousand words. Judgment is coming for all (Acts 17:30-31; Revelation 20:11-15). We can fight it. We can ignore it. We can even try to hide from it. But one day, “God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5) and “Christ will judge the living and the dead” (1 Timothy 4:1), both believers and unbelievers (Romans 14:10,12; Matthew 25:36-41). We are heading somewhere and it is to stand before a great white throne and Jesus Christ sitting upon it. Though Osama met a violent and just end, it is nothing compared to having to account for his heinous actions against a holy God.

Not only is judgment coming, but our life’s end as well. Whether we die someday or are alive when the Last Day arrives, our time will come to a close. Maybe it is today. Bin Laden woke up yesterday like he had every day for the previous 54 years, unaware that the previous 8 months had been leading up to his death. We do not know when death will come, but it is one of the sure things in life. And even if you live during the time when Christ returns, even that event will be sudden and unexpected (Matthew 24:44, 25:13). Let us live with our eyes fixed on Jesus as we run this race. Let this news be a reminder that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, so that you may pursue your joy in Christ alone today in everything you do for His glory.

So let us be reminded today of the God who created all things for his glory with justice having a right and good place in it. Let us be reminded that we too are sinners deserving death and in need of great mercy, and new mercies every day. Praise be to God for his justice and mercy! If justice is all we had, judgment is all we would receive. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).