Dr. Elmer A. Martens, who passed away in September of 2016, has an impressive resume of works and writings that have proven impacting for many generations. Martens earned a BA from the University of Saskatchewan, and a BEd from the University of Manitoba before graduating with a doctorate in Old Testament Studies from the Claremont Graduate School. Martens taught Old Testament and served as the President Emeritus of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California. In addition to serving in Fresno, Martens also taught in Japan, India, Korea, Russia, Kenya, Brazil, Congo, and Canada at different seminaries and colleges, including the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Among many great books, Martens crowning jewel was his book God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology.
Methods of biblical studies vary and have their strengths and weaknesses, but the most popular among scholars are historical, systematic, theological, topical, or exegetical. Regardless of the method of study, the drive behind systematizing biblical themes is to make sure they are relevant for each generation.
In his book God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology, Dr. Elmer Martens uses a synthetic method of biblical study to connect themes about God to mankind with the Old Testament as the backdrop upon which this connection occurs. To set his stage and show God’s design for constructing his kingdom, Marten uses four headings focused around the essential text of Exodus 5:22-6:13: salvation, community, knowledge of God, and land. Throughout the book, Martens does an excellent job of isolating Old Testament theological ideology into three eras: pre-monarchic, monarchic, and post-monarchic.
The first part of the book is written within the confines of the pre-monarchial era with an emphasis on the history of the nation of Israel, specifically it’s impact on the rise and growth of Christianity. The subjects of salvation and deliverance are showcased through Yahweh, the divine warrior. Martens points out, “While it may jar modern sensibilities to speak of Yahweh as warrior, one must understand and appreciate the advantage which this kind of language has over the abstract philosophical language of God as infinite, spirit, etc.” Marten continues to define how salvation for Israel was not only due to the Warrior God, Yahweh, but also because of the cult; that is, all acts of ritual worship toward God, specifically, sacrifice. To explain, Marten offers, “Sacrifice, an early cult form, was connected to an act of deliverance. This deliverance from the angel of death was commemorated in worship rituals: each year Israel was required to observe the Passover.” From the congregation to the individual, blood sacrifice played a significant role in the deliverance that Israel. To close out this first part of his book, Marten says, “The change of circumstance to come in history is to be grounded in a cultic act involving God’s forgiveness. But in early Israel the deliverance models are basically distinct. Salvation as deliverance comes in history. Salvation as blessing is experienced through cult.”
The second part of Martens’ book is discussed within the realm of the monarchial era. In this section of his book, Marten places God’s design template over his ideas and thoughts to either prove or disprove his methodology. It is noted that both Hosea and Exodus are designed much the same though they are from separate eras. To give an example, Martens says, “In the period of the monarchy, too, there are dramatic occasions of deliverance (though none on as large a scale as the exodus), as for example the sudden departure from Hezekiah’s Jerusalem of Sennacherib’s army because of the plague (2 Ki. 18-19). Salvation language is prominent during this period, crystallized in two dominant motifs: the day of Yahweh, and messianic expectations.” The point that is driven home in this second section of Martens’ book is that the Warrior God spoken of in Exodus is now presented in the phrase the Day of Yahweh. The people of Israel were in need of deliverance and the prophets told them to expect a Messiah.
The last part of Martens’ book is discussed within the post-monarchial period and serves to strengthen and reaffirm his view on God’s design. By way of passages in the book of Ezekiel, Martens shows how God is known and deliverance is experienced. Making the necessary connections for his readers understanding of the template, Martens adds, “With this promise for deliverance Ezekiel affirms God’s design for his people as announced already in Exodus 6. The salvation announcement proceeds next with a reference to land, an element in fourth position in the Exodus passage. Ezekiel elaborates on the security and prosperity which Israel can anticipate in the land.”
In the conclusion Martens recaps the shifting nature of the deliverance of God from the pre-monarchial to post monarchial era. He reaffirms that in the pre-monarchial period deliverance was brought about by the Warrior God, whereas in the monarchial period deliverance came by way of Israel’s army, and the expectation of a Messiah. Finally, in the post-monarchial period, divine deliverance came exclusively from the Messiah defined as catastrophic event, the Day of the Lord.
Overall, I think Martens’ book is educational and unique in its original idea about God’s design for deliverance having a template in the Old Testament book of Exodus. The brilliance of Martens writing was to make readers familiar with what I consider lesser known facts and revelations from the Old Testament. Martens has applied a method which has proven to be an outstanding way to do biblical research.
I have to admit, some of the verses used are vague and seem to be overarching examples for Martens to make his point. Nevertheless, despite this one weakness, I found Martens’ book helpful in recognizing modes of biblical theology.
I personally like that this book was written in a way that could be used in a classroom or a pastor’s study. I would recommend this book due to the original nature of it, and due to the number of sermon starters for pastors or Sunday school teacher who would want a great resource for Old Testament teaching.
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