Greg Beale’s new book is an important read:
Careful students of Scripture know that the rhetorical device of irony is often found on the lips of the prophets, Jesus and the disciples. But irony in fact pervades the biblical story, and God deals with us by means of irony as well. That is the theme of this important new volume.
If you are familiar with the book of Esther, you will know about one classic biblical story that perfectly highlights what Beale’s latest offering is all about. The evil Haman devises diabolical plans to wipe out all the Jews and have Mordecai hanged, but in the end the Jews are fully vindicated and triumphant, while Haman is hanged on his own scaffold!
This is a clear case of retributive irony – one of two main types of irony found in the Bible. The other is redemptive irony. In this brief (200-page) book Beale shows how these sorts of ironic twists and turns are found throughout Scripture.
Those who are familiar with his work will find this another first-rate volume. The prolific New Testament scholar and biblical theology professor has produced a number of very important works over the years. It would be hard to choose his finest work, but his 1200-page commentary on Revelation is certainly right up there.
In this new volume he looks in some detail at these ironic reversals. Of course Satan embodies the ultimate form of retributive irony, while Christ embodies the ultimate form of redemptive irony. From Genesis to Revelation we find irony at work.
This is already found in the stories of creation and the fall. Adam and Eve were to reflect God’s image, but by sinning they end up reflecting the serpent’s image. In his priestly role Adam was to guard the garden, but he allowed Satan to get the upper hand. He is judged along with the serpent.
But redemptive reversal is already promised in Genesis 3:15, and the ultimate judgment of Satan and the rescue of mankind is provided for, to be fulfilled in the life and work of Christ. Later Old Testament stories also demonstrate these themes.
Consider Pharaoh, “one of the best examples of ironic judgment”. Claiming to be God, he falls under the judgment of the one true God. His hatred of God’s people ended up with them vindicated and liberated, while he and his forces were routed and embarrassed. His plan to kill the firstborn sons of Israel backfired, with his own son – and those of all the Egyptians – killed instead.
His chapter on people becoming like the idols that they worship of course was the theme of an entire volume of his (We Become What We Worship, 2008). “What we revere is what we resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” The prophet Isaiah of course made much of those who worship dumb idols becoming like them.
The grand example of redemptive irony on the one hand and retributive irony on the other concerns the death and resurrection of Christ. Satan thought he got the greatest win ever as Jesus was dying on the cross. But his resurrection from the dead pronounced the defeat of Satan and the reversal of Adam’s fall.
The Second Adam undid all that the First Adam had brought upon the world, and secured our redemption. And all this was rich in irony. The Jews back then thought the coming Messiah would be a conquering king. They certainly did not think in terms of a suffering servant (although he was predicted in Isaiah).
Worse yet, how could their deliverer die on a tree – accursed of God? “How could the most blessed and glorious person of Israel – the coming Messiah – be at the same time the most cursed and abominable?” As is the norm, God’s ways are not our ways, and what we think should be done is usually the opposite of what God knows should be done. God does the unexpected, confounding the wise as he achieves his purposes.
And what is true of Jesus is also true of his followers. They too are perfected in weakness, suffering and hostility from the world. They too will be despised and rejected in this life, but in their powerlessness and tribulations the glory of Christ shines through.
The New Testament constantly tells us that the disciples of Christ will suffer, will be persecuted, and will find the strength and power of God made perfect in their weakness. The life of Christ becomes a pattern for us, as were the lives of Old Testament saints such as Joseph. He certainly went through many reversals of fortune, but it all ended up for good (Gen. 50:20). The same for believers today, where God causes all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28).
The irony of rejoicing in suffering, weakness and hardship demonstrates the way that God works. It is all part of the redemptive irony we find throughout Scripture. Says Beale:
Jesus overcame by being overcome at the cross. The cross itself was an invisible victory over satanic forces and was subsequently expressed visibly in his resurrection body. So the Lamb slew his spiritual opponents by allowing himself to be slain temporarily…. Christians should reflect in their lives the same paradoxical pattern of their Lord’s life. We also must persevere in faith through temptations to compromise. When we remain steadfast in belief, we also, like our Savior, will suffer tribulation. Yet our victory lies in the continued maintenance of faith in the face of discouraging circumstances…. Christians must overcome through faith while suffering, as Jesus did.
Beale offers some practical helps on how the believer can endure and stand strong in the face of such ironies and paradoxical realities. He concludes with some helpful truths: “Though believers may seem defeated or appear as failures or on the verge of death, God will bless them in the midst of their suffering, if they persevere in faith. . . . Without this kind of irony they cannot grow. This is why God always at some point in the life of Christians brings impossible or difficult situations to confront them.”
This volume then is a very nice combination of solid biblical studies coupled with encouraging devotional insights. Theologically solid, easy to read, and very relevant to all believers, this is another worthwhile volume from Beale. It deserves a wide reading.
(Australians can find the book here: reformers.com.au/products/9781433563287-ssbt-redemptive-reversals-and-the-ironic-overturning-of-human-wisdom-g-k-beale?_pos=8&_sid=9fd044f9f&_ss=r )