Building an Old Testament Library: Hosea-Malachi

Mark J. Boda and Joel Barker

This contribution to the series on building a biblical library begins with suggestions on books that are helpful for honing one’s hermeneutic for studying the Minor Prophets/Book of the Twelve, before turning to a review of recent commentaries on the various books. The focus is on works written over the past two decades since they are most likely to be in print today.

For a basic orientation to Christian interpretation of and preaching from the OT in general, with some attention to the prophets in particular, see the edited volumes by Craig G. Bartholomew and David J. H. Beldman, Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address (Eerdmans, 2012), and Grenville J. R. Kent, Paul J. Kissling, and Laurence A. Turner, Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching (IVP Academic, 2010), as well as the key contribution of Christopher J. H. Wright, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth (Zondervan, 2016). Guidance to hone your interpretive skills for the prophetic books can be gained from Aaron Chalmers, Interpreting the Prophets (InterVarsity, 2015), and James D. Nogalski, Interpreting Prophetic Literature (Westminster John Knox, 2015). The volumes by Paul L. Redditt, Introduction to the Prophets (Eerdmans, 2008), and J. Daniel Hays, The Message of the Prophets (Zondervan, 2010), as well as the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (IVP Academic, 2013), provide recent reviews of approaches to and summaries of the content of the prophetic books.

Recent research on the book of the Twelve (Minor Prophets) has argued for reading these books as a literary and canonical unit and not merely as twelve discrete literary units. For scholarly debate over this issue see Ehud Ben Zvi, James D. Nogalski, and Thomas Römer, Two Sides of a Coin: Juxtaposing Views on Interpreting the Book of the Twelve / the Twelve Prophetic Books (Gorgias Press, 2010). These insights are now making an impact on the commentaries available, showcased especially in the two volumes on the Twelve prophets by Nogalski in the Smyth and Helwys Commentary series (Smith & Helwys, 2011).

Turning to recent commentaries, it is important to note at the outset that variety and quality are keys to choosing commentaries when studying the biblical text for preaching and teaching. Three types of commentary are helpful. First, one needs to find commentary that focuses on exegesis, providing foundational insights into the ancient historical and literary context of the text. It is important to have access to at least some commentary that translates or at least addresses the text in its original languages, not only for those with proficiency in the original languages, but also for those trying to understand major differences between modern translations. A second type of commentary is on the broader biblical theological-canonical context of the text. This type of commentary highlights the meaning of the text not only within its original contexts, but also within its final canonical contexts within the Old and New Testaments. A third type of commentary identifies the implications of the ancient text situated in canonical context for contemporary life. These three types of commentary can be written at various levels, targeting lay, pastoral, or scholarly readers. Rarely does one find a single volume that combines all three of these types in one volume and yet all three are important to those who must preach and teach the text. The following review will hopefully provide some insights into recent commentary on the Minor Prophets/Book of the Twelve (Hosea-Malachi) using the grid described above.

A few commentators who deal with the Minor Prophets/Book of the Twelve as a whole need to be singled out from the outset because of the excellence of their works, which should be consulted when studying these twelve prophets. Offering a look at the Minor Prophets/Book of the Twelve through the eyes of one author, Marvin A. Sweeney (Berit Olam; Liturgical, 2000) demonstrates sensitivity to the narrative and poetic features of this entire corpus. His work provides a solid foundation from which to launch into further theological reflection. Nogalski (above) has also provided careful commentary on the Twelve prophets with reflections throughout on ways that the various texts reflect larger developments within the Book of the Twelve as a literary unit. Also helpful are the more succinct and accessible two volumes on the Minor Prophets by Elizabeth Achtemeier (vol. 1) and John Goldingay Pamela J. Scalise (vol. 2) in Baker Academic’s Understand the Bible Commentary Series (UBCS, 2012). For a more compact review of the message of the twelve minor prophets see the volume by Richard Alan Fuhr Jr. and Gary E. Yates (Broadman & Holman, 2016).

For Hosea, Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman (Anchor Bible [AB]; Doubleday, 1980) provide detailed exegesis with a thorough grounding in the original language. A detailed recent work that is sensitive to the original language and Hosea’s creative use of metaphor is J. Andrew Dearman’s contribution to the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT; Eerdmans, 2010). Duane A. Garrett (New American Commentary [NAC]; Broadman, 1997) sets up the literary structure of the book, provides verse-by-verse commentary, and makes contemporary applications using occasional excurses throughout the commentary. Thomas Edward McComiskey (Baker Academic, 1992) provides decent work on the original language and offers insight into the text’s background world. Gary V. Smith (New International Version Application Commentary [NIVAC]; Zondervan, 2001) provides some decent exegesis but is most useful for the broader canonical theology of the book and its use in the contemporary world. Bo H. Lim and Daniel Castelo (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary [THOTC]; Eerdmans, 2015) combine exegetical and theological reflection. Dearman, Garrett, and Smith would cover Hosea nicely for the evangelical interpreter.

For the book of Joel, Garrett (NAC, 1997) sets up the literary structure of the book and moves towards contemporary applications in excurses. Raymond Dillard’s work on Joel in the three-volume commentary on the Minor Prophets edited by McComiskey remains an excellent resource for original language work (Baker, 2009) From a more critical perspective, John Barton (Old Testament Library [OTL]; Westminster, 2001) offers solid exegesis while also showing some concern for theology and literary shape. James L. Crenshaw (AB, 1995) provides detailed exegesis of the text of Joel, handling the challenges of the original language. Richard J. Coggins (New Century Bible [NCB], Continuum, 2000) offers an accessible introduction to the book and its use of literary allusion. David W. Baker (NIVAC, 2006) is a useful resource since he moves from discussion of exegetical issues to the place of the book within the canon of Scripture and finally to its applicability in contemporary circumstances. Garrett, Baker, and possibly Barton are the essentials from this list.

As we move to Amos, Shalom M. Paul’s (Hermeneia; Fortress, 1991) intricately detailed work remains the most indispensable resource for original language and exegetical studies in Amos. Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman (AB, 1989) provide a massively detailed exegesis and demonstrate a strong historical concern with some sensitivity given to the literary features of the book. R. Reed Lessing (Concord, 2009) is another thorough exegetical treatment. Coggins addresses Amos in the same volume as Joel (NCB, 2000) and provides a readable introduction to the book’s literary structure. Smith (NIVAC, 2001) continues in the same vein as the Hosea portion of his commentary (see above) and he is quite helpful for bringing Amos forward into contemporary circumstances. Paul, Lessing, and Smith provide the best coverage of Amos.

Paul R. Raabe (AB, 1996) provides an in-depth look at Obadiah. He is conversant with issues of historical concern but ultimately chooses to read the book as a literary unity. There is a nice discussion of the literary features that characterize Hebrew prophecy in the introduction. For work on the discourse structure, John Barton (OTL, 2001) continues on from his work on Joel (see above) with solid exegesis and engagement with original language from a critical perspective. For an evangelical treatment of Obadiah’s discourse, see Daniel I. Block (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament [ZECOT]; Zondervan, 2013). Billy K. Smith and Frank S. Page (NAC, 1995) offer accessible exegesis and demonstrate some theological concern. For more contemporary relevance of the book, see the work of Baker (NIVAC, 2006) that follows his Joel section. A collection of Block, Smith and Page, and Baker would cover an excellent range of topics.

Moving to Jonah, Jack M. Sasson (AB, 1990) provides insight into the original language of the text although he argues that it is not worth attempting to secure the book’s date of composition. Kevin J. Youngblood (ZECOT, 2013) does an excellent job of showing the progression of the discourse in Jonah and provides some introductory work on theological and practical implications of the text. Desmond Alexander (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary [TOTC]; InterVarsity, 1988) stresses Jonah’s unity in his exegesis and provides good comments on its broader significance in the canon. Smith and Page (see above) offer solid exegetical and literary work. James Bruckner (NIVAC; Zondervan, 2004) is lighter on exegesis but superior as concerns the broader biblical-theological significance and contemporary application of this book. Smith and Page, Youngblood, and Bruckner are recommended here.

An excellent evangelical treatment of the original text of Micah comes from Bruce K. Waltke (Eerdmans, 2006), who also makes some attempt to provide expositional aids for the preacher. Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman (AB, 2000) also give a thorough exegetical treatment of Micah from a more critical perspective. Daniel Smith-Christopher (OTL, 2015) offers a unique sociological perspective on Micah as a critique of the excesses of royal power. Kenneth L. Barker (NAC, 1999) is a good supplement to Waltke for exegesis and biblical theology. Smith builds on his work in Hosea and Amos in the last section of this volume (see above), and he provides insights for applying this ancient prophet to a contemporary audience based on solid exegesis. The preacher would be well served by Waltke, Barker, and Smith.

For Nahum, Tremper Longman III (in McComiskey, ed; see above) offers solid evangelical exegesis of the book with concern for its literary and rhetorical shaping. Barker (NAC, 1998) provides useful exegetical work along with brief comments concerning contemporary application interwoven in the exegesis. Richard D. Patterson (Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary [WEC]; Moody, 1991) engages the original language closely but also provides significant detail on the book’s connection to biblical-theological concerns. O. Palmer Robertson (NICOT, 1990) does a good job of situating Nahum in its historical context with sensitivity to biblical theology. Bruckner (NIVAC, 2004) is quite helpful for the theological significance and contemporary applicability of this text. Duane L. Christiansen (Anchor Yale Bible [AYB]; Yale University Press, 2009) provides translation of and commentary on the original text, but has some eccentric poetic approaches that may confuse readers. Patterson, Bailey, and Bruckner would provide excellent coverage of this book.

For a critical engagement of the original texts of Habakkuk and Zephaniah, one would be well served by Francis I. Andersen (AB, 2001) on Habakkuk and Marvin A. Sweeney (Hermeneia; Fortress, 2003) on Zephaniah. Volumes that represent evangelical exegesis with attention to the theological dimension of the text include those by Robertson (NICOT, 1990), Patterson (WEC, 1991), and Bailey (NAC, 1999). Robertson’s is more theological, Patterson more exegetical, and Bailey strikes a balance between the two. Although some may find his commentary short on exegesis Bruckner (NIVAC, 2004) helps contemporary preachers and teachers think through contemporary implications of the text with hermeneutical sensitivity. For coverage of these two prophets choose Andersen (Habakkuk) / Sweeney (Zephaniah), Bailey (Habakkuk / Zephaniah), and Bruckner (Habakkuk / Zephaniah).

For the book of Haggai, Carol L. Meyers and Eric M. Meyers (AB, 1987) and David L. Petersen (OTL, 1984) are unquestionably the most exhaustive on ancient translation, and on historical and literary issues. Eugene H. Merrill (Moody, 1994), Richard A. Taylor (NAC, 2004) and Andrew E. Hill (TOTC, 2012) provide extensive evangelical exegesis with some theological reflection. For a literary-canonical approach to Haggai with insights into contemporary relevance, see Tim Meadowcroft’s contribution (Readings; Sheffield Phoenix, 2006), which analyzes Haggai’s discourse with narrative sensitivity. Mark J. Boda (NIVAC, 2004) and Anthony Petterson (Apollos Old Testament Commentary [AOTC]; InterVarsity, 2015) seek to balance exegesis of Haggai with biblical theological and contemporary reflection, not only helping the contemporary reader hear the text in its ancient context, but guiding them to hear the text’s message in a contemporary context through Christian eyes. The commentaries by Meyers and Meyers, Taylor, and Petterson cover the various dimensions necessary for studying these books.

For the book of Zechariah, the new commentaries by Al Wolters (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament [HCOT]; Peeters, 2015) and Mark J. Boda (NICOT, 2016) provide fresh translations from the original text with extensive commentary. They replace the older standards of Meyers and Meyers (AB, 1987, 1993) and Petersen (OTL, 1995). Merrill (Moody, 1994), George Klein (NAC, 2008), and Hill (TOTC, 2012) include both exegesis and theological reflection. As with Haggai, so with Zechariah, Boda (NIVAC, 2004) and Petterson (AOTC, 2015) cover original meaning as well as contemporary significance using biblical theology. Although more compact, Barry G. Webb (The Bible Speaks Today; InterVarsity, 2003) provides a superb balance of exegesis and biblical theology on the book of Zechariah. The commentaries by Boda (NICOT), Hill, and Petterson cover the various dimensions necessary for studying these books.

For engaging the original text of Malachi, see the extensive work of Andrew Hill (AB, 1998). As with his work on Haggai and Zechariah, Merrill (Moody, 1994) is helpful for reading the text in its original context, while further insight can be gained from more critical work by Petersen (OTL, 1995). Ray Clendenen (NAC, 2004) not only provides cutting-edge research on the structure of the discourse of Malachi, he also devotes some space to the larger biblical theological and contemporary context of the Christian reader. This latter context is developed more fully in Baker’s volume (NIVAC, 2006), which will be extremely helpful for preachers. As with Haggai and Zechariah, Petterson (AOTC, 2015) provides for Malachi a balance of exegesis with application with sensitivity to biblical theology, and Hill (TOTC, 2012) includes both exegesis and theological reflection. The three best choices would be Hill (AB), Clendenen, and Petterson.

As one can see these “minor prophets” have become a “major” focus in recent research. This is due to the wealth of theology contained within these books that represent the oral and written words of God to various communities for nearly five hundred years, words that have the potential to inspire and shape the people of God today.

Posted Apr 12, 2017