Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Review of Peter Gentry’s Sure Mercies of David

In the Article “Rethinking the ‘Sure Mercies of David’” Peter Gentry argues that Isaiah 55:3 should be understood as a subjective genitive instead of an objective genitive. Gentry states, “The ‘sure mercies” are by David rather than for David as in the consensus view”(279)[1] He introduces the topic by explaining the debate on how the phrase hasde dâwïd  should be interpreted.
            Gentry explains that Chaquot and Beuken both took the subjective interpretation of the phrase. Meanwhile, Williamson and Walter Kaiser Jr. hold to the objective interpretation, which is the traditional view of how to interpret Isaiah 55:3. The objective view is explained in four basic parts by Gentry. First, Williams argues that Isaiah 55:3 in the LXX, conveys the idea of David being an objective genitive (280), and that the Vulgate and the Targum “preserve the ambiguity of the Hebrew” (280). Essentially, Williams believes that only the Syriac Peshitta supports the subjective genitive interpretation. Second, Williams dismisses the grammatical facts that the majority of occurrences of hesed, while being “bound to a noun…virtually everywhere the free member or pronominal suffix indicates the subject or agent of the kindness” (280). Rather, Williams believes that the readers originally would have understood “every text that precedes Isaiah 55:3 chronologically”. Williams’s fourth and final point is that 2 Samuel 7 is directly linked to Isaiah 55:3 and that it is “emphasizing the faithfulness of God” (280).
            Gentry responds by affirming Beuken’s and Caquot’s position about bound phrases being the reason to “interpret David as the agent or subject” (281). Gentry states, “out of eighteen instances in the plural, only two are considered objective; and…out of 228 occurrences of the singular only six can be found that may possibly or probably be read as objective” (281). Gentry also counters Williams and Kaiser, by explaining that Isaiah 55:3 cannot be interpreted to mean “‘blessings’ or ‘faithfulness promised’ to David”…but to mean “actions that fulfill covenant obligations and stipulations.
            Meanwhile, Gentry argues that the “waw-consecutive perfect forms marking future time in the middle of v. 9 clearly marks the break between past blessings and future promises”(283).  He further argues that Samuel  7:11b,12a agree with this future tense idea because they are promises that have “be fulfilled after David’s death” (283). Gentry also brings out the fact that God will establish an eternal throne and a father son relationship. He argues that this covenant is not unconditional but requires a “faithful son” (283). This is held together by a chiastic structure that shows that both divine and human faithfulness are part of this covenant (283). Furthermore, Gentry’s theory is based on this idea of a faithful father and son.
            Gentry bolsters his argument by explaining that in Hebrew the idea of being a son consisted of holding or possessing “common characteristics” of the father. Moreover, the ancient near east Canaanite and Egyptian cultures from 1650 B.C. forward believed that the king possessed common characteristics of their local deity (284). Thus, kings were believed to be the sons of God, and the representatives of God to humanity. Gentry also argues that God, in a way, intended it to be that some would represent God on earth. He explains that God created man in his image as a mirror to him. After the fall, Israel inherited that role and also according to Exodus 4:22-23 Israel is referred to as Yahweh’s son(287).  Finally, he reasons that the king is responsible for being the leader who God holds responsible to be His representation to the people and other nations(287). 

Gentry breaks down 2 Chronicles 6. Based on his analysis, Gentry basically argues that both Yahweh and the Davidic son both have to be faithful for this covenant promise to take place, because God uses the Davidic son to pour out on everyone his covenantal blessing (291). Hence, he seems to argue for a future Davidic son who will fulfill God’s covenantal promise. This is inferred when he states, “But the oracle through Nathan makes clear that Yahweh will only keep them [faithful promises] to and through a faithful son…[and that] the promises of Yahweh await fulfillment only when the throne is occupied by an obedient son” (291). Moreover, Gentry states, “that Yahweh must …provide the obedient son if the covenant is to be maintained” (291). Gentry also believes that in the Greek (LXX) Isaiah 55:3 and its New Testament echo in Acts 13:34 is an idiomatic phrase that could convey, if not be directly translated to something like holy decrees or assurance or kindness  of a future Davidic son (298-300).
In conclusion, Gentry believes that this passage is talking about a future Davidic son. He bases this from Isaiah 55:3b where the Hebrew phrase is “expressed in the future tense” (292). Moreover, Isaiah 55:4-5 continues to express this idea about God’s planned future for a “future David” who will be a “witness to the nations,” a “leader” and a “commander” (294). This is why Gentry’s argument is that the Hebrew phrase is subjective and not objective, resulting in a future Davidic son of God who is a faithful leader of people who are in Him, and those people who are in Him are witnesses to the nations.

         I think Gentry is right on several points. First, I do think he is right that the phrase hasde dâwïd is subjective and not objective. He makes a sound argument based on the grammar where most occurrences of hesed, when being “bound to a noun…virtually everywhere the free member or pronominal suffix indicates the subject or agent of the kindness” (280). Moreover of the eighteen times hasde  is used in the plural, only two are in the objective case, and of the 228  times it is found in the singular case only six are possibly objective genitives(281).
            Second, Gentry’s is correct when he states that it takes both a faithful God and a faithful Son in order for the covenantal promises to take place. His argument is strong especially when one realizes that Israel and the church today are both chosen to represent God here on earth to a fallen humanity. Moreover, the Davidic Son was responsible for being faithful, otherwise the blessing would not manifest because it is predicated on the son’s faithfulness. Gentry make this clear when he references Nathan’s oracle to David about not being able to build the temple (291).  David was being punished because he was not living faithfully and the promise of the temple would have to later be fulfilled by his son Solomon ( 1 Chr. 17:4).  
Finally, he is right about claiming that Isaiah 55:3b-5 is talking about a future Davidic Son. This is shown by the fact that “Isa 55:3b is expressed in the future tense,” and that the next passage in the perfect tense conveys the idea that God has a planned future for that son (192). This seems to be referring to the Messiah Jesus Christ who is both a descendent of David and a faithful son.  Moreover, Jesus is a faithful son who is also a firstborn of many sons and daughters who bear witness of Him and a relationship with God to the rest of the world. Finally, Jesus is also on a throne at the right hand of God. Therefore, while Gentry does not come right out and say it, I think he has given a very strong defense for there being Messianic prophecies in this passage that refer to Christ.

[1] Peter J Gentry, “Rethinking the ‘Sure Mercies of David.” WTJ 69(2007): 279.