Preaching Hard Texts of the Old Testament. By Elizabeth Achtemeier. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. 192 pages. Paperback, $14.95.
Elizabeth Achetemeier again has written a stimulating book drawing together preaching and Old Testament studies. This time Achtemeier tackles thirty-two difficult texts, including Gen. 3:16 (“[your husband] shall rule over you”), Exod. 15:3 (“the Lord is a man of war”), and Amos 7:3, 6 (“the Lord repented”). She also discusses the total destruction of cities during the conquest of Canaan (Deut. 20:10-18), God’s command to Hosea to marry a harlot (Hos. 1:2-9), and the Jews’ divorcing of their non-Israelite wives (Ezra 9-10).
Achtemeier, now retired from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, divides her discussion of each passage into “plumbing the text” and “forming the sermon.” The first interprets the text in its context and the second suggests how to develop a sermon from the passage. Her pointers for forming the sermons exemplify the process she described so helpfully in a previous book, Preaching from the Old Testament, in which she called for pairing Old Testament texts with suitable New Testament ones. Her suggestions are solidly theological, appropriately Christological, and relevant.
Achtemeier repeatedly defends the holiness of God, his right to judge sin, his power to use nature and evil rulers to carry out the discipline of his people, and other neglected truths. She insists that “if we have some problems with a passage in the Old Testament, it is not the Bible’s problem. It is ours” (p. ix).
Doubtless some conservative interpreters would dispute Achtemeier’s conclusions about background issues such as whether the book of Esther is “a combination of fact and fiction” (p. 86). In practice those issues often have little bearing on her suggestions for preaching the texts. Readers surely will disagree with her interpretation of one passage or another (as this reviewer does), but that is to be expected in a book dealing with “hard texts.” If the right interpretation were easy to determine, there would be no need for this book. Credit Achtemeier for tackling difficult texts courageously and for calling preachers to proclaim the God who is actually revealed in Scripture, not the whittled-down conception of him that prevails in contemporary culture.