Going Back to the Beginning

I reviewed volume 3 of Allen Ross’s commentary on the Psalms some time ago. It seems a bit backwards, starting at the end and only then going to the beginning, but I was so thoroughly impressed with volume 3 that I thought it would be worth my time to work through volume 1 and 2 as well. Volume 2 is waiting for me to crack open its spine, and as each volume comes in at around 930 pages, it might be waiting for a while yet.

41RK4MMfRgLThe style, layout, and approach in this volume is the same as in volume 3, so I don’t feel the need to revisit it is great detail. In my previous review, I highlighted the ease of interacting with the structure of Ross’s work, and the treasure trove of information that he provides for each Psalm. What sets this volume apart is the lengthy introductory essay in the front.

Composing almost 200 pages of the first volume, it covers the necessary explanations of Ross’ approach, and how to make the most of these commentaries. While the essay was not necessary for my reading of volume 3, having now spent some time with it, I dearly wished I had read, at the very least, “Literary Forms and Functions in the Psalms” (p. 111-145). Ross handles the minutiae of this section throughout his exegesis, but I found his summary and his presentation of the big picture to be a great help as I worked through volume 1. For instance, while I had read about royal and lament and wisdom psalms previously, enthronement psalms were new to me. The general concept, and its conceptual history, fascinated me, and gave me refreshed perspective when looking at Psalm 41 or 99. And there were additional categories in this section to consider, such as the Songs of Zion, which greatly added to how I interact with the Psalms as I read them now.

Of course, saying that a commentary changed one’s perspective is not new, nor is it limited to Biblical studies. But the nature of Ross’s writing is different from the commentary one picks up on Hemingway or on the Iliad. The point of understanding the Psalms better is to approach God’s revelation and purposes with eyes open wide. Here, though the poetic form of each psalm provides challenges, exegesis is so helpful in grappling with texts that can be difficult or even opaque at times.

As Ross nicely summarizes the issue: “the exegetical exposition . . . is the one method that guarantees the entire psalm will be explained, correlated and applied in a clear, interesting, and meaningful way” (179). Ross certainly approaches this goal in his commentary, and his observations and study will benefit any Christian wishing to better understand these worship “essentials”, both of the past and for today (147).

 

 

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Craziness & Romance in the Bible

9780825425561I have read three previous entires in the Kregel Exegetical Library, and have come away edified by any of them. Each is written by a scholar of the highest integrity, and deals openly with problematic passages. A Commentary on Judges and Ruth does not disappoint. Dr. Robert Chisholm, a regular Biblical commentator for most folks who have taken a Hebrew class, handles some of the strangest passages in the Old Testament narrative in a clear, effective manner. If you are looking for a book that will help unravel some of the violence and bizarre events of Israel’s early days, then this is a good place to start.

A prime example comes from the section on Jephthah’s foolish vow (Judges 11:29-40). A number of explanations for understanding this passage have been explored over the years (Wikipedia even has a section dedicated to it), but consensus is rare. Chisholm dedicates 17 pages to the issue, and alternates being exposition in the main body of the text, and extensive footnotes about various views. Though Chisholm does not convince me of his own view, that Jephthah does in fact offer a human sacrifice to Yahweh, he is cautious in dismissing opposing perspectives and provides ample space for those views to be considered by the reader.  This kind of writing is typical of the entire work, and made reading it an exercise in humility and conversation.

Of course, the extensive footnoting method used by Chisholm might be daunting to some, particularly the laity. But it is most definitely worth it to sift through those lengthy academic ramblings in order to find a beautiful gem of wisdom that adds to one’s understanding of the Biblical story.

It is also worth noting that Chisholm treats the book of Ruth as part of the story told in Judges, rather than a one shot episode of the coming kingdom through David. Chisholm is careful not to throw arbitrary labels at Ruth, chastising the myriad of scholars who has sought to impose their own perspective on the book, rather than letting it speak for itself. Though his treatment of the book is brief, Chisholm offers a balanced, reverent account of one of the most overlooked books in the Bible.

This has been my favorite of the Kregel Exegetical commentaries thus far, and has definitely whetted my appetite for more.

The Joy of Exegeting the Psalms

Ask most high school students what kind of literature the enjoy the least, they’ll likely say poetry. Its symbolism and patterns often create a sense of tedium for many readers. Of course, poetry is a beautiful form of writing, and as I say to my own students when we memorize poetry throughout the school year, appreciating the mastery of a single word can bring joy and satisfaction far beyond  merely reading a poem.

I have noticed a tendency of Christians, myself included, to sometimes take the same perspective on the Psalms. Originally written in Hebrew, English translations of the Psalms appear in different forms and try to encapsulate the beauty of the original language in a number of ways. A helpful way to explore these Biblical songs and poems is through an exegetical study, clarifying some of the ways the Hebrew text stresses and highlights ideas and concepts. If, like me, you’re not a Semitic languages scholar, then a nice commentary is a good place to start.

Dr. Allen P. Ross has 9780825426667authored a three-volume set of exegetical commentaries on the Psalms for Kregel Academic. I have reviewed two other entries in the Kregel Exegetical Library (Exodus and I & II Chronicles), and was fortunate enough to get my hands on the final entry in Dr. Ross’s trilogy. While I do hope to eventually acquire the rest, examining Psalms 90-150 proved a great adventure in and of itself.

The format is simple, with substantial background and contextual information before each psalm that demonstrated the immense amount of study that has been spent on the poetic parts of Scripture. I will use Psalm 119 to detail some of the highlights of Ross’s work.

While it is the dominant psalm of the Biblical collection, Psalm 119 has cause some to despair over its apparent repetition of ideas and words. Ross, however, concludes that this is the result of a poor reading of the text. First, the Psalm should be seen as a literary work. In terms of dating, Psalm 119 seems to have been written prior to the Exile (461) and is written in such a way that a preacher could approach the text from various ways to preach through it either by stanza or theme or both (463). After drawing the background information together, Ross works through the Psalm using its acrostic format as the outline. Each section is translated, followed by a brief content summary and exegetical outline. This outline also serves as the main points for the commentary, which is delivered in an expository form making it easy for pastors to work through the content in small sections.

As a result, Ross gives a work that any Christian could pick and work through, while also being a wonderful aid to a pastor who wants to lead their congregation through the Psalms.

History, Exegesis, & Hebrew

When I think about books of 9780825425592the Bible that automatically engage my imagination and senses, I & II Chronicles does not immediately jump to mind. Eugene H. Merrill’s commentary does not change that, but it does offer a thorough perspective with loads to appreciate. Another addition to the Kregel Exegetical Library, a series I have explored previously, Merrill’s work is expansive.

Merrill reminded me that these books are more than mere history, serving as “a theological or ‘sacred’ history, recounting not only Israel’s past, but in a truncated sense a history of the world since Adam,” (pg. 22). And this is the lens that Merrill proposes to understand the book and its place in the Christian tradition. Merrill deals honestly and forthrightly with issues of chronology and source material, but offers a traditional, orthodox perspective that is edifying.

A highlight of the commentary, for me, was the “Theology” sections at the end of each chapter. After a thorough analysis of the Hebrew for a given portion, Merrill sets aside space to wrestle with the implications of such linguistics. It is these sections that helped the book to be more than a bland exegetical book on a standard historical work. Merrill ties everything together in these sections, making the exegesis practical and pertinent.

Still, the book is not as cumbersome as other commentaries. It’s 640 pages do justice to the topic at hand, and would serve and pastor or student of the Bible well when digging deep into the historical part of the Old Testament. Kregel has produced excellent commentaries in this Exegetical series, and Merrill’s contribution is no exception.

Commenting on the Text(s)

9780825443404As a student of the Bible, it is difficult to have enough resources for study. And when it comes to studying the Biblical languages, the problem seems to multiply exponentially. There are so many options for studying Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic that an individual can be easy overwhelmed. Kregel Academic’s Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament is something different though. Rather than another Greek manuscript (of which editions are numerous) or an exegetical guide (which are sometimes redundant), this text is a commentary on the actual manuscripts.

Comfort’s work is to note accurately and thoroughly those pesky places in the texts of the Bible where variants create problems. Having recently completed 9 hours of Greek training, I can genuinely say I wish I had owned this book earlier. The notes on the variants or difficult to translate portions are outstanding. “Why are there brackets in my NASB copy of John 8?” Comfort’s Commentary delves into that. “So do other commentaries…” While it is true that you could pick up D.A. Carson’s tome in the Pillar series, you would have to wade through some dense prose and lengthy exposition to find the simply answer to the question. This Commentary cuts through such matters and takes you straight to challenging portion of the text with minimal critical notes. For pastors and students or Greek, I cannot imagine doing Bible study without this little tool.

The flipside of that benefit is that the average Christian probably has little need for this book. In a word, it is a specialized tool. If you are a preacher, or a student, or a motivated layman, then I cannot recommend this book enough. However, if those brackets in the text or those tiny footnotes don’t bother you, then a more traditional commentary is probably where I’d point you.

Exegeting Exodus

9780825425516Studying the Bible in Hebrew is not for the faint of heart. As a young man, I learned first-hand how having a working knowledge that allowed me to use a Hebrew Greek concordance could enhance my study of God’s Word. Of course, I also learned that I had just enough knowledge to be dangerous to others and myself. It is often easier to latch on to an obscure meaning of a Hebrew or Greek word in order to make some kind of argument that suits your own personal interpretation. I have had discussions regarding the word “σταυρός” in the Gospels, where my dialogue partner was adamant that the word always meant “pike or pole” and demonstrated how Christians frequently believed lies passed on through history (a largely irrelevant point, even if true). I have also been on the receiving end of teaching that said Psalm 100 makes explicit the command to lift your hands in praise, despite the word there (“תּוֹדָה”) rarely meaning “to lift your hands” and the word most likely not meaning that in this particular Psalm. These kinds of disagreements are common, and have taught me two things: the need for my own humility, and the need for wiser input. Enter Duane Garrett’s A Commentary on Exodus.

A Commentary on Exodus is a masterpiece of Scriptural study. Garrett teaches Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his experience in both realms shows. The 130 page “Introduction” weaves history and textual criticism and theological debates into a coherent tapestry that illuminates the grand story of the Israelite people as they left the Egyptian kingdom. Garrett addresses the various “problems” with the text, and walks through the orthodox (and not so orthodox) ideas related to interpreting Exodus. He lands pretty clearly in the historically orthodox position, but he is cautious about asserting things that, in fact, are not known for certain. “In short, we have ample reason to believe that the biblical account is true, but we do not have sufficient evidence to specify the details of when it all happened and of what pharaoh was present,” (103). This kind of confident reticence is prevalent throughout the book, and is one of its charms.

The two portions of the commentary that were the most profitable in my reading were Part III and the Appendix. Part III, the longest section of the book, concentrated on the twelve miracles of the exodus, beginning with the transformation of Moses’ staff into a serpent and concluding with the death of Pharaoh’s army. Garrett’s break down of the twelve events into four categorical levels of intensity provided an insight I had not previously explored: the movement from warning to death. This is only one of the multiple highlights of Garrett’s exegetical prowess, and he continued to be just and astute in his concluding exploration of “The Songs of Exodus.” Though the Appendix is the shortest section of the book, Garrett’s thesis that these songs perhaps served as Israel’s earliest hymnody, as well as his pointing out sections I had not previously noticed to be poetic, prompts the reader for further study of this fascinating topic (722).

While the exegetical nature of this commentary might scare some laymen from picking it up, I believe that would do them a disservice. Garrett’s academic, yet winsome style makes this book accessible to a wide audience. The entire line of Kregel Exegetical Library books would be a welcome addition to any library, but this contribution on Exodus is a premier complement to the Biblical text. If I could only pick one commentary to have on the topic, it would be this one.