Stephen Dempster – Micah Commentary – Q & A

micah bible commentary dempsterStephen Dempster is the author of the Micah commentary in the Two Horizons series. Dr. Dempster (Ph.D., Univeristy of Toronto) is the Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University.

Dr. Dempster has taught numerous courses on Old Testament books and biblical theology, include the Book of Micah. His professional appointments include serving as the Chair of the Biblical Theology Section for Evangelical Theological Society 2011 to 2016 as well as serving on the Editorial Board for Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament series from 2010 to 2017.

Dr. Dempster wrote Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series (IVP Academic), which D.A. Carson described as, “fresh, provocative, helpful–and doubtless will prove to be the stuff of many sermons and lectures.”

His other writing contributions include: “The Canon of Scripture,” in A Manifesto of Theological Interpretation, ed. in C. Bartholomew and H. Thomas, (Baker, 2016), 131-148; “The Old Testament Canon, Josephus and Cognitive Environment,” in The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson, (Zondervan, 2016), 321-361; “A Wandering Moabite: Ruth—A Book in Search of a Canonical Home,” in The Shape of the Ketuvim: History, Contoured Intertextuality, and Canon, ed. J. Steinberg and Tim Stone (Eisenbrauns, 2016 ), 87-118; and “From Slight Peg to Corner Stone to Capstone: The Resurrection of Christ on the Third Day According to the Scriptures,” Westminster Theological Journal 76 (2014): 371-410.

7 Questions on Micah in the Two Horizons Commentary Series

Recently, Dr. Dempster graciously answered my questions about his Micah commentary. Readers will learn how this commentary came to be, what is unique about it among Micah commentaries, and how the project edified him personally.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Micah?

I have been a Professor of Religious Studies for 3 decades at Crandall University, mainly teaching undergraduates. I have long been interested in Hebrew linguistic structure and exegesis and received training at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and the University of Toronto. Major academic mentors were Raymond Dillard, Palmer Robertson, John Revell, Paul Dion and John Wevers. Major spiritual mentors were my parents, the Reverend Sam Dempster and Mary Dempster. They taught me the old, old story at a young age and led me to faith. Another major mentor has been my wife Judy, who often reminds me of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs with her gracious and timely advice and practical down-to-earthness. And what can I say about our children (Jessica, Joanna, Nathan, Michael, Holly and Tori) who have blessed me and taught me so many life lessons! Not to mention countless students whom I have had the privilege of teaching and from whom I have learned so much, and faculty members with whom I have interacted and taught over the years.

I have also seen the importance of studying the Scriptures as canon and not just as a historical artifact. Brevard Childs has been an important influence on me in this regard. In fact Rolf Rendtorff begins his Magnum Opus on Old Testament Theology straight to the point: The Old Testament is a theological book! If this is the case, then it behooves interpreters to apply the text to their lives. Thus I am convinced that the Scriptures need to be applied to the church and the culture at large. Micah with his stress on justice cries out for application!

And what can I say about the most important influence? My raison d’être—the Lord Himself, who created me before I was born in my mother’s womb, and who has given me health and breath, and saved me to become his servant, and to walk in his hesed with Him, and to teach theology which is really about coming to understand one’s place in the world before Him. Jean Calvin once said that in the end theology teaches us that we all have to do with God. And Paul spoke about God revealed in Christ as a vast ocean of wisdom, knowledge and grace that we can swim in forever! And that all of us live and move and have our being in Him. O come let us adore Him!

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

It is intended for the church but I think it would most benefit pastors, students and lay Christians. Professors might be stimulated by it but its goal is to connect what communicators describe as the two horizons: the context then in Micah’s time and our context now.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Micah?

I think part of what makes the commentary unique is that it has a smaller introduction than a lot of commentaries, and in the exegetical section there is an attempt not only to deal with the text in its historical context, but in its wider biblical context, even taking into account the New Testament. Moreover, the last ¼ of the commentary is devoted to exploring themes of Micah in the context of the Bible. Thus there are themes on justice, the land, true and false prophecy, and Micah’s doctrine of God. At the end of the book there is a section on Micah and modern ministry and some of the themes which might be helpful for modern communicators of the word: cheap grace, the relationship between idolatry-covetousness and injustice, etc.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

There were a number. I was blown away by the transcendent image of God at the beginning of Micah when all of created reality melts before him as he makes his entrance into the created order; and also at the end of the book when his transcendence is not understood as omnipotence and holiness but mercy and grace, or perhaps even better, when omnipotence and holiness are used at the service of mercy and grace.There is also a close relationship between the temple at the end of history where the nations ascend and are taught by Yahweh and from that teaching turn their instruments of destruction (sword and spear) into instruments of construction (shovels and rakes). The call goes out to Israel as they worship to not be concerned about one off performances of outlandish sacrifices but to hear Yahweh’s word to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. When the nations see Yahweh’s word embodied in His people, they will respond likewise! This sounds very much like Jesus saying to the church: In this way all will see that you are my disciples, by your love for one another!

When thinking about the power of forgiveness and the potential of it to not only change lives but to change history I was struck by the example of Adolf Hitler, who, because he did not experience forgiveness, became more and more bitter and ended up becoming the person that was responsible for so much carnage. If he had experienced forgiveness, history would have been very different.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

The realization that God has done so much for me as Creator and Redeemer and calls me to a relationship with Him (literally walk with Him), where he wants His values and character to rub off on me. Not only that I would seek justice but I would rather also love mercy. In fact it was this Hebrew word hesed which had such an impact on me. It’s a word that cannot be really translated. We use the word mercy or fidelity or covenant love or loyalty for understanding it in English. But it is all these things and more. But its essence is this. It is when a person with power sees a powerless person and responds with help when called upon. It often occurs in the context of the covenant, but it need not. Help is needed and the response of the person who can help is help! This is a quality that supremely describes Yahweh. He is a God of Hesed. In the great Israelite credo which describes the attributes of Yahweh, Exodus 34:6-7, it is the only characteristic that appears twice. And it is an incredible fact that not only does hesed characterize Yahweh, he loves doing hesed! In fact as I write in my commentary on Micah 7:18-20: “It is not just that God practises hesed or shows it, but that he delights in it. It is what gets him excited! Calvin aptly remarks, ‘for the only prop or support that can raise us up to God, when we desire to be reconciled to him is this, –that he loves mercy.’” And the ultimate expression of hesed is the Cross!

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Micah?

There are many number of commentaries. May I single out a few. Bruce Waltke’s is excellent for studying the text of Micah and the various versions, the LXX, the Vulgate etc. He is a very astute exegete as well with a clear interest in applying the text. Two German commentaries were very helpful with theology and exegesis, Wilhelm Rudolph and Hans Walter Wolff. Rudolph’s has not been translated but Wolff’s has. An extremely insightful francophone commentator is Bernard Renaud. His commentary contains a wealth of interpretive gems. At the same time all three commentators would argue that most of the book of Micah comes from a time later than Micah. A very practical, popular commentary for lay people is that by Ralph Davis. But two more comprehensive works have also been very helpful: Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets and Gerhard Von Rad’s Old Testament Theology: Vol 2. Both scholars have a deep appreciation for the driving force of the Prophets, the Word of God.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am currently working on a number of projects: 1) a commentary on Genesis using Hebrew discourse structure as a guide to exegesis 2) a monograph on Kingship and Kingdom in the Bible 3) a biblical theological commentary on Jeremiah and Lamentations 4) numerous essays.

I don’t know how people can follow my work and ministry other than read my few books (Dominion and Dynasty, and Micah: A Theological Commentary) and essays which are published in various journals and collections of essays. I teach at Crandall University, with two colleagues in my department, who are real heavyweights in the field of scholarship: John Stackhouse and Keith Bodner. I also have been blessed to teach in an adjunct role at Westminster Theological Centre in the United Kingdom under the expert leadership of theologian Lucy Peppiatt and Old Testament scholar Matt Lynch, and also in an adjunct role at Toronto Baptist Seminary under the competent guidance of Principal Kirk Wellum.

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