First and Second Samuel: Interpretation Bible Commentary

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I’ve thought for some time that the value of the Interpretation Bible Commentary series is in its theological reflection. It’s a critical series, but I often find the theology valuable enough to check out even though I don’t agree with the criticism nor the methodology that’s used. Walter Brueggemann is perhaps the best writer in the series for pulling out these theological gems that no one else thinks of. People all across the theological spectrum are impressed by his creative writing.

The introduction given is hardly an introduction for the books of Samuel at all. In only a few words, he describes the period of the books of Samuel as one of major social change. Going from a tribal system to a monarchy would indeed be quite a transition. He sees three factors in that social change that we can easily agree with. From there, in a few more pages, he provides more introduction to his approach than to the overall books of Samuel themselves. This is not a standard academic introduction.

While he may have had little interest in the introduction, he poured all his efforts into the commentary itself. Again, there are critical perspectives you may not agree with, but there are nuggets all around for those who are looking. Every passage will likely have them. These nuggets will be both theologically profound and exquisitely stated. This commentary is worth looking up.

I received this map free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Bible Unfiltered by Michael Heiser

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This book is unique. There are 60 short chapters that cover many topics. What makes the book stand out on the shelves is that the topics it covers are often those you won’t find many other places. His title suggests his point – we place too many filters on our Bible before we even open it to study. The subtitle “approaching Scripture on its own terms” is a call to fresh study with real attempts to remove those filters.

The 60 chapters are divided into three parts. Part one addresses the broad issues involved in interpreting the Bible responsibly. It’s in this section that he attempts to prove to you that you do, in fact, have unhelpful filters on your Bible. Parts two and three cover the Old and New Testaments respectively. These two sections are different than the first one in that they are not really looking at broad hermeneutical mistakes made in either Testament, but rather specific points where we drop the ball.

If I had a criticism of this book, it would spring from the same place where its celebrated uniqueness comes from. At times, it seems Mr. Heiser interprets on the edges. Too much time on the edges is dangerous for some Bible students because they lose the big picture. To get around this criticism, you must accept this book for what it is: a provocative attempt to force you to see if you are reading from the Scriptures rather than into them.

Several of the topics covered were fascinating. A few I simply could not agree with based on the scriptural evidence. A case in point would be chapter 12 where he claims that all our Genesis commentaries are eight-track tapes. I’m sorry, but what one scholar wrote about in 2010 does not instantly become the gold standard for all Christians, even on an obscure topic like the one in that chapter.

You have got to appreciate what this book is trying to do. We often neither search the Scriptures diligently enough nor think deeply enough. This book will push us to do better and that’s its value. Along the way, you will likely gain some new insights on scriptural subjects you have thought about in some time.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Lord Is Good by Christopher R. J. Holmes

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This book by Christopher R. J. Holmes challenged me. For sure I enjoyed it, and I learned great things, but this is no lazy summer afternoon reading. You can decide for yourself, but I need books like this. I need to be pushed past the fluff that prevails in Christianity today. I can’t say I agreed with every single word he said or every conclusion he drew, but I felt a connection with Mr. Holmes because I felt on every page that he sincerely believed that the Lord is good!

Don’t let the subtitle “seeking the God of the Psalter” lead you to believe that this is some sort of commentary on the Book of Psalms. Truth be told, had the printer accidentally left off the subtitle, I would probably have only thought that he quoted Psalms more than other books of the Bible. This observation is no criticism, however, because this is a profound theological work. Still, you will likely see a few verses in the Psalms far differently after reading this book.

As I read this book, I thought at times that the author could easily go to the field of philosophy and succeed. Still, his biblical observations were rich. At other times, I thought he had something of a love affair with Thomas Aquinas and was at least a member of the fan club of Augustine and Barth. For me, what he drew from each of them and put together was closer to what I would think than any one of the three individually. Mr. Holmes deserves credit because it would be a gross misrepresentation to say that he merely regurgitated what others had said. These three theologians have put such a strong stamp on what Christianity believes on the subject of the goodness of God that it would be impossible not to greatly interact with them in a book like this one.

There are nine chapters in this book that cover the subjects of simplicity, you are good (that doesn’t mean what you first think), goodness and the Trinity, you do good, the good Creator, goodness and evil, teach me your statutes, goodness and Jesus Christ, and perfection. I could only read one chapter, or sometimes only half a chapter, at a time. There was too much to take in! Every chapter was great, but my personal favorite was the one on goodness and evil. That one really helped some light bulbs come on for me.

I’ve learned that this book is part of IVP’s series entitled Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture. Though this is by far the most interesting subject to me of those released, if this series can turn out more works like this one it will be a dandy.

We all have our systematic theologies on our shelves, but this is the type of theological work that needs to find its place beside them. The Lord’s attribute of being good is brought alive here and I’m a richer person for it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Leviticus (OTL) by Gerstenberger

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Erhard Gerstenberger replaces Noth in the Old Testament Library (OTL) series with this volume. It strikes me differently than many other volumes in this series. Whereas many volumes in the series make a greater theological contribution than an exegetical one, this one gives us little theology around its exegesis. The whole series is known as a critical one yet in this volume it seems more pronounced to me. Known as a form critic, the author talks much about sources. Those discussions seem nebulous and unprovable to my mind and give the text a devastating uncertainty. How deeply you fall into the critical viewpoint will determine how high you rate this volume. If you’re more conservative like me, you may not find the theological compensations that some others in the series provide.

The Introduction begins by describing difficulties in reading the Bible. The aforementioned subject of sources arises immediately. He describes the audience as “a colorless someone” and does not demonstrate a passion for the book of the Bible that he commentates on that is found in the best commentaries. He discusses authorship, subsequent influence of cultic law, and structure. He takes the critical line across the board.

In the commentary proper, he does provide a lot of exegesis (the best trait of the book) and a lot of detail about the ceremonial things that are foreign to our thinking. He would bring up things like feminist concerns that put him at odds with the text.

In a nutshell, critical scholars will likely rate this book highly, those doing exegesis will appreciate some details, and more conservative readers will likely not enjoy this book as much as several others in the series. In fairness, it could be that the Book of Leviticus doesn’t lend itself to the same kind of theological treatment several others in this series provide.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Philippians and Philemon (NTL) by Cousar

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This volume by Charles Cousar in the New Testament Library (NTL) series covers Philippians and Philemon. I’ve read some unfavorable reviews on this book mostly owing to its brevity. While that charge is true, I came away rating this book better than I expected. It does hold to the familiar NTL pattern, is less critical than I anticipated, and provides insight.

After a bibliography, we have an Introduction to Philippians. He begins by acknowledging the theme of joy. (How could we trust any book on Philippians that ignored the theme of joy?) He introduces us to both the city and the church at Philippi. Its history in the Roman Empire, as well as its significance, are clearly reviewed. He refers, as he has at other times, on the fondness Paul has for this congregation. When he moved to the subject of authorship and integrity of the letter, he admits that the Pauline authorship is rarely questioned. Though he mentions a few absurd prognostications about authorship, he seems comfortable with Paul. As to place and date of writing, he presents briefly the evidence for Rome, Caesarea, and Ephesus before cautiously choosing Ephesus for this commentary. He explains Paul sending this letter as a thank you to the Philippians. He discusses structure and suggests an outline. As with any of these Philippian commentaries, he discusses the opponents. I thought he provided his best observations when he discussed the message of the letter. In less than 70 pages, he provides a commentary on Philippians that is worth consulting.

I felt the Introduction to Philemon was simply too short and discussed too little. What he did discuss, though, was some of the things that you wrestle with in such an introduction. The commentary on Philemon was unacceptably brief.

While this volume may not rate as highly as some in the series, it’s by no means a throwaway volume, at least on Philippians. If you are filling out your NTL collection, there is still value here as this author does his best work in providing nuggets for the preacher.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

First and Second Chronicles (Interpretation) by Tuell

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Here’s a moderately critical work that’s one of the best in the Interpretation Bible Commentary series. Steven Tuell, who has also written a succinct commentary on Ezekiel that has been well received, writes on First and Second Chronicles here. Though you might consider a work of 250 pages on both books of Chronicles a little too brief, he makes good use of every page. To my mind, the best contributions of this book are the theological reflection on and a big-picture presentation of Chronicles.

The Introduction begins by opining the diminished acceptance of Chronicles compared to other books of the Bible. He explains that to many Chronicles is little more “than a dull rewrite of Samuel and Kings”. The author works against that comman viewpoint and champions Chronicles as a unique book of the Bible that covers the broadest historical range of any book in the Bible – from Adam to the Babylonian Captivity. Though I don’t care for the label “Deuteronomistic history” as a description of Joshua through Kings, he gives good explanation of how they interact, are similar, and are different. He highlights how Chronicles uses other scriptures widely. In fact, he says, “the most distinctive feature of Chronicles is the large degree to which it reproduces other biblical texts”. He looks at Chronicles as it relates to Ezra and Nehemiah, and from there launches into an explanation of date and composition. The dating he explains is more conservative than what you might expect in a more critical series. The brief section on the theology in Chronicles is just a preview of what you will find in the commentary itself.

While this commentary might not be my first choice when I’m digging into a passage in Chronicles, I still see it as a great second choice and one that I will enjoy consulting. What I see in the commentary proper is of distinct value.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Understanding the Ecology of the Bible-An Exciting New Carta Introductory Atlas

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If you’ve had the privilege of reading some of these attractive introductory atlases published by Carta, you know how rewarding they can be. This latest one on the ecology of the Bible by prolific writer Paul H. Wright, who excels on works of Bible geography, history, and even a major Bible Atlas, is one of the best yet. Mr. Wright has already produced in this series of introductory atlases works that include an overview of the New Testament, one on geography, one on biblical kingdoms and empires, and one on biblical archaeology. Mastering these works by Mr. Wright will greatly expand your Bible study.

Don’t for a minute think of 48 large pages on the ecology of the Bible as an esoteric effort. So much is missed in Bible passages when you miss these details. For many of us, the natural world and ecology we live in are so different from that of the Bible that we can easily miss even the main flow of the story itself. I believe a thorough perusal of this work would be the equivalent of a college class. Fortunately, the writing is accessible and even beginners can glean so much here.

It’s thorough enough to be effective as I didn’t see any ecological or natural world item that was overlooked. The pictures were so beautiful that I would catch myself thinking, wow, I’d like to be there! The maps are all top-notch and what we’ve come to expect in any work bearing the Carta imprint. Again, I especially adored this title and I’m a fan of all these Carta introductory atlases. Look this one up!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Jeremiah and Lamentations (Reformation Commentary on Scripture)

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Don’t think of this as a curiosity piece. There’s real value here as previous generations have distinct contributions they can make to our understanding of the Bible. The Lord has spoken in every generation. This large, beautiful volume is the latest release in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series. Covering Jeremiah and Lamentations, this book of 600 large pages makes many important observations that can enrich our Bible studies.

I can’t imagine the amount of research that was required by J. Jeffery Tyler to produce this volume. Without a doubt, this book also has great historical value. The trends in the Reformation become clear as a more careful return to the text of Scripture is apparent in their work. My only problem with calling this a historical work would be a possible misinterpretation that you couldn’t use it as a commentary. For my time, this volume’s expository light is its greatest asset. In addition, the Book of Jeremiah is always one of those where you would appreciate a little more help.

All of this is not to say that you will fail to enjoy the historical contribution this book makes. There is a general introduction that overviews the Reformation and explains what this commentary series is trying to accomplish. There’s also a wonderful introduction to Jeremiah and Lamentations in the Reformation. I enjoyed reading it. There were the names I was very familiar with and those I had never heard of it at all. All facets of the Reformation were fair game for this work and even the Anabaptists were brought into the commentary. Some of those unknown names reminded me that all of our heroes are not household names. Many more than we know are worth knowing. When the introduction explained the main themes that the Reformers often discussed it’s easy to see that those probably are the true themes of Jeremiah and Lamentations. Maybe new is not always better!

Every passage gets an overview and commentary from the Reformers in the commentary section. Again, it must’ve taken so much sifting to cherry pick for us readers the best of the bunch. The editor doesn’t excessively quote any one Reformer and that variety strengthens the work.

I’ve only reviewed a few of the volumes in this series so far, but I really like this one! When complete, this series will be a force to be reckoned with. In the meanwhile, don’t miss this great commentary on Jeremiah and Lamentations!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Understanding the Twelve Tribes–A New Carta Resource!

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This volume is another of the outstanding, profusely illustrated resources published by Carta. At this point, they have several of these large paged (9 X 12”) in a similar design that will provide the opportunity for much pleasurable study for Bible students. This new volume by Menashe Har-El is a fascinating treatment that will open up your thinking to all kinds of new things you didn’t know. The author is a biblical geography expert who has taught and written widely. This work illustrates several biblical passages that only gets a cursory look in other volumes. The word “fascinating” is not an exaggerated description.

The subtitle “Boundaries and Surrounding Nations” articulates the value of this book. After a broad introduction, the geographical division of the land among the tribes at the time of Joshua is explained. Some boundaries were natural landmarks while others were erected with piles of stones or fences. There’s further development of the tribe of Dan because it went to the coast and interacted with the area that the Philistines came and possessed. Dan also inhabited the far north of Israel.

From there, the book surveys the boundaries and major neighbors of Israel. First, we have a fascinating look at Egypt. From there we learn about the Amorites, more details about Egypt because of the interaction with Moses and the Exodus, Dedan and Tema (modern Saudia Arabia), and the land of Edom (later called Petra).

Several other people groups and nations are mentioned, and many Scriptures are quoted. These places are too quickly skimmed over by Bible students. In truth, they impact a large swath of Scripture and this book gives incredible help to our understanding.

The book is filled with incredible Carta maps! Without doubt, Carta maps are the best in print today. They are colorful, accurate, use miles/feet for measurement, and specifically illustrate what the author is discussing. The map of ancient routes in the holy land and the one showing the boundaries of the Tribes are exceptional. Other maps effectively bring alive the boundaries of Israel. Additionally, the pictures are beautiful and outstanding throughout.

Do you love digging in your Bible studies? You will want this book!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Old Testament Wisdom Literature by Bartholomew & O’Dowd

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This book exceeded the expectations I had when I picked it up. Not that I imagined it wouldn’t be a good volume, but that it would just be another introduction to the poetic sections of the Old Testament. What I found instead was a look at only those poetic books that could legitimately be called wisdom literature – Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The unique contributions of those three books, as well as wisdom in the Old Testament as a whole, the ANE background, how Jesus both carried on and fulfilled Old Testament wisdom, plus all the theological implications of wisdom, are found in this well-written book.

The book begins with an introduction that explains why the subject of Old Testament wisdom is important. Chapter 1 introduces Old Testament wisdom itself including its historical background. Chapter 2 tackles the ancient world wisdom. I often think those discussions are overblown by scholars because they always mistakenly assume the Bible draws from other sources rather than the other way around, but the scholarly review is still well done here. Chapter 3 ties wisdom into the genre of poetry in the Bible and explains a lot of technical aspects of parallelism and other devices of poetry.

When the book reaches chapter 4, in my opinion, it really blossoms. The chapter on Proverbs that reviews structure and design, and how wisdom is essential to it, makes for revealing reading. I loved it. Chapter 5 is a continuation as it looks at what the authors call “Lady Wisdom” and “Dame Folly”. These two chapters together really added something to my understanding.

Chapter 6 on Job was just as provocative. They dug in with so many wonderful thoughts that would help someone who was diving into the book of Job. Chapter 7 probes the scholarly debate over Job 28. I personally don’t see the problem that many scholars do, but it’s well explained here. Though it is likely just a matter of personal taste, I didn’t get as much out of the discussion on Ecclesiastes as I did on Proverbs and Job. I disagreed with both some presuppositions as well as some conclusions. Still, there were nuggets to find.

Chapter 10 took us to Jesus as the Wisdom of God. Wisdom as a controlling focus in the New Testament is not one I can accept to the degree that some people do, yet it’s equally true that wisdom has not vanished from the discussion when we enter the New Testament. You can do your own weighing of the subject in this chapter. The final two chapters are about theology. There’s much to gain as you read these two chapters, plus they give some guidance on how our Western eyes often miss the point.

Bartholomew and O’Dowd really pulled off the production of a good book here. It’s my new favorite introduction to Old Testament wisdom literature.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.