Building an Old Testament Library: 1 Samuel – Job

L. Daniel Hawk

1 and 2 Samuel stand apart as a sublime expression of narrative artistry, an account of the turbulent transition from tribal society to kingdom, and the theological charter for the Davidic monarchy. David G. Firth (Apollos Old Testament Commentary [AOTC] [InterVarsity, 2009]) gives due attention to all three aspects through a skillful narrative analysis of the canonical text, supplemented by descriptions of its form and content and reflections on the books’ import for pastors and leaders. Firth sees the question of sovereignty as the theological thread of the book, manifested in the interactions of Yahweh and the kings as well as those between kings and prophets. Briefer in scope, Bill T. Arnold (The NIV Application Commentary [NIVAC] [Zondervan, 2003]) inclines more to the books’ character as ancient historiography, with rich reflections on contemporary significance. Walter Brueggemann (Intepretation [Int][Westminster John Knox, 1990]) remains one of the few commentators to incorporate recent scholarship on the books’ narrative ambiguity and critique of power. Following a similar line is Eugene Peterson’s short reading (Westminster Bible Companion [Westminster, 1999]) and David H. Jensen (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible [Westminster John Knox, 2015]), whose focus on personhood and politics brings a fresh and timely perspective.

Notable volumes on individual books are David Toshio Tsumura (New International Commentary on the Old Testament [NICOT] [Eerdmans, 2007]), which is distinguished by thorough linguistic and grammatical analysis; Keith Bodner’s quirky and often insightful reading (Hebrew Bible Monographs [Sheffield Phoenix, 2008]); and Ralph Klein (2nd ed., Word Biblical Commentary [WBC] [Zondervan, 2014]) and A. A. Anderson (WBC, 2015)– which are characterized by solid exposition and interaction with the breadth of contemporary scholarship.

Commentators on 1 and 2 Kings must deal with thorny issues of chronology and history, the books’ distinct literary character and features, and the theological perspectives that thread through the whole. Lissa M. Wray Beal (AOTC, 2014) addresses all of these aspects with clarity and insight, offering a particularly accessible discussion of the chronological problems and of the complex interaction of the narrative’s theological themes. Paul R. House (The New American Commentary [NAC] [Broadman and Holman, 1995]) makes a strong case for the historical reliability of the books’ content in conversation with relevant scholarship. Historical analysis and exposition are also integrated well in the briefer commentaries of Iain Provan (New International Biblical Commentary [NIBC] [Hendrickson, 1995]) and Donald Wiseman (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries [TOTC] [IVP Academic, 1993]). All can be supplemented by the more detailed historical analysis of Mordechai Cogan (Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries [AYB] [New Haven, 2001]) and Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor (AYB, 1988). Walter Brueggemann (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary [SHBC] [Smyth & Helwys, 2000]) accentuates the books’ narrative ambience with an engaging storytelling flare. Of the two volumes of the WBC, Simon DeVries (2nd ed., 2004) presents a thorough if somewhat dense account of scholarly and historical issues, whereas T. R. Hobbs’s rich theological treatment (1986), is second to none.

A number of excellent commentaries, employing a surprising array of approaches, have been published on 1 and 2 Chronicles. The older commentaries of H. G. M. Williamson (New Century Bible [NCB] [Eerdmans, 1982]), Roddy Braun (1 Chronicles [WBC, 1986]), and Raymond B. Dillard (2 Chronicles [WBC, 1988]) remain important works that offer solid coverage of all aspects of study relating to the books. Williamson’s significant work on the books’ historical and theological character remains foundational, while the latter two authors’ volumes are noteworthy for their accessible exposition in conversation with scholarly discourse.

Mark J. Boda (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary [Tyndale House, 2010]) reads with a fine attention to rhetorical detail and a stimulating writing style, following on an insightful treatment of introductory matters. All in all, however, the exegetical depth and detail of Sara Japhet’s exposition of the books (Old Testament Library [OTL] [Westminster John Knox, 1993]) is unsurpassed. August H. Konkel (Believers Church Bible Commentary [Herald, 2016]) reads the books from a Peace Church perspective and, as is characteristic of the series, appends an excellent collection of essays on a variety of pertinent topics. Eugene Merrill’s massive volume (Kregel Exegetical Library [Kregel Academic, 2015]) brings a senior scholar’s wisdom to the task of a wide-ranging volume that is focused not only on the book’s historical and literary features but to their messianic overtones. Although his inerrantist perspective leads to stretched harmonization at points, this is more than overcome by his insight into the text and its background. Directly theological is Scott Hahn’s illuminating treatment (The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire: A Theological Commentary on 1-2 Chronicles [Baker Academic, 2012]), which reads the books not only to their theology but also toward the ways they function typologically to prefigure the church.

Modern commentators of Ezra and Nehemiah combine the books into one volume, reflecting the fact that, although they stand as separate books in the OT canon, they were not separated into two books until the Middle Ages. H. W. M. Williamson’s volume (WBC, 1985) stands head and shoulders above the pack. Williamson skillfully guides the reader through the difficult issues of chronology (especially those surrounding the relationship between the historical figures and their reforms) and the books’ historical testimony in light of archeological data, while keeping the focus on the biblical text through a masterful exegetical and theological reading. Charles Fensham (NICOT, 1983) provides an accessible linguistic, grammatical, and structural analysis, with judicious discussions of the historical context and solid exposition. D. J. A. Clines (NCB, 1984) is noteworthy for his significant interaction with the breadth of scholarly literature. The briefer commentary of Leslie Allen (Leslie C. Allen and Timothy S. Laniak, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther [NIBC, 2003]) offers an updated, concise orientation, with insightful exposition. Along the same lines, Gary V. Smith (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary [Tyndale House, 2010]) offers a thorough and cogent orientation to the books and very readable exposition.

The little book of Esther raises considerable interpretive issues. Its high literary style, association with Purim, and editorial history (manifested by an expanded text in the Septuagint), require careful assessment of its literary style, genre, and historicity. Frederic Bush (WBC, 1996) is exceptional in scope and comprehensiveness. Bush’s introduction provides exhaustive coverage of all major issues associated with the book’s interpretation and the scholarship that informs it, as well as meticulous exposition focused on the narrative’s discourse. Karen H. Jobes (NIVAC, 1999) writes with an engaging style and offers insightful reflections on how the book’s theology contributes to Christian theology and formation. Debra Reid’s exposition is concise and broken down into smaller units (TOTC, 2008). Readers interested in a more thorough discussion of the book’s historicity from an evangelical point of view will want to consult Timothy S. Laniak (NIBC, 2003).

A couple of Jewish commentators can be read with benefit. Jon E. Levenson’s masterful exposition brings together literary artistry, theology, and liturgical setting (OTL, 1997). Robert Alter (Strong as Death Is Love: The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, and Daniel: A Translation with Commentary [Norton, 2016]), one of first and the leading voices in narrative analysis, leads readers into a rich understanding of the book’s literary artistry.

Job is arguably one of the most linguistically, literarily, and theologically complex books in the canon. David J. A. Clines’s three-volume set (WBC, 1989—2011) sets the bar, due to the breadth and sophistication of his literary and theological analysis. Clines notably breaks out of the scholarly box to incorporate insights from interpreters throughout history and outside the academic arena. Tremper Longmann III (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms [Baker Academic, 2012]) sets the book within the tradition’s questioning of wisdom and renders compact, incisive commentary. Lindsay Wilson (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary [Eerdmans, 2015]) follows a similar tack, viewing the book as a corrective to a mistaken theology of retribution. Wilson’s theological reflections are particularly rich and extend the book’s discourse into such arenas as systematic theology, ethics, and practical theology. John E. Hartley (2nd ed., NICOT, 1988) focuses on the book’s linguistic features and dialogues with the breadth of scholarly interpretations of the book to date. Although not strictly a commentary, Carol A. Newsom, The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imaginations (Oxford University Press, 2003), is must reading due to her approach, which appropriates narrative theory to propose that readers should be more attentive to the dialogue that the characters maintain about wisdom, rather than to ascertain the single meaning or perspective the book conveys.

Posted Jan 25, 2017