All posts by randymccracken

I am a teacher at Calvary Chapel Bible College York and the author of "Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel".

The Theology of 1&2 Samuel

The Theology of 1&2 Samuel

I’m a big fan of getting the “Big Picture” of a biblical book. The old cliche that “You can lose the forest for the trees,” is definitely true in biblical studies. We can become so microscopic by examining a word or verse (which definitely has its place!), that we can lose the meaning of the whole. My purpose in this article is to look at the theology, or big picture, of 1&2 Samuel. These books were originally one book and, therefore, they should not be separated if one is looking for the overall teaching they provide. (Note: I have done a similar post on The theme of the book of Genesis).

We’ll tackle the theology of 1&2 Samuel by looking at the following four points:

  1. 1&2 Samuel is a story about 4 main families (a point often overlooked in many commentaries and studies of these books).
  2. A summary of the contents of these books.
  3. How the beginning and ending of 1&2 Samuel contributes to understanding its main themes.
  4. Key texts that summarize important theological points being made.

A Story About 4 Families

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel
The significance of family relationships is highlighted in my book “Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel”. Available at Amazon USA / UK.

Because these are books that talk about the establishment of the monarchy in Israel, it’s often overlooked that these books are a story about 4 families. The families of Samuel, Eli, Saul, and David not only dominate the narrative of 1&2 Samuel, almost every person mentioned in these books is related to one of these four families! There are a few exceptions to this, but the only reason these exceptions appear in the story is because of their effect upon—and relationship to these 4 main families.

There’s also a special relationship between the heads of these 4 families. Samuel becomes a surrogate son of Eli, Saul becomes a surrogate son of Samuel, and David becomes a surrogate son of Saul. These relationships connect the leading figures of 1&2 Samuel and move the story forward.

The use of family language in 1&2 Samuel is also very striking. For example the word “son” or “sons” occurs over 300 times in these books. The word “house” which can not only refer to a physical building, but to a family or dynasty—like “the house of Saul,” or “the house of David”—occurs about 176 times. The word “father” occurs 82 times, and I could bore you with the frequent occurrences of other family terms, but hopefully you get the idea. This emphasis on family is what led me to title my book on 1&2 Samuel “Family Portraits,” and it’s a feature of these books that is often overlooked.

Overview of Contents of 1&2 Samuel

There’s a great deal of disagreement over how to outline the books of Samuel. My purpose here is to present an outline that will give us a general overview of the contents without going into detail as to why I’ve broken the chapters down the way I have. That would be another long post.

Any overview of 1&2 Samuel should point out that these books constantly present contrasts between the major characters.
1 Sam. 1-7 depicts the end of the period of the Judges and present a contrast between the inept and corrupt leadership of Eli and his sons with Samuel. These chapters also anticipate the coming monarchy through Hannah’s prayer and by depicting Eli in royal terms. Chapters 4-7 also detail the important threat that the Philistines pose to Israel. Eli’s ungodly leadership results in God abandoning Israel to Philistine domination, but Samuel’s godly leadership reverses the tide and brings victory to Israel over their enemies.

1 Sam. 8-15 introduces the people’s demand for a king, followed by the selection of Saul. While there are mixed reviews on the beginning of Saul’s kingship in 9-11—some in favor, some not—Samuel’s speech in chapter 12 lays the groundwork for what the Lord expects in both a king and His people. Sadly, chapters 13-15 tell of Saul’s rebellion and rejection. Saul’s son Jonathan provides a positive contrast to his father as we see what a godly king should look like, while Samuel’s instructions and rebukes demonstrate Saul’s rebellion.

1 Sam. 16-2 Sam. 1 introduces us to David and provides various contrasts with Saul. David receives God’s Spirit while Saul loses the Spirit, only to have an evil spirit torment him. While Saul fears the enemy, David steps out in faith and defeats Goliath. Thus, just as Eli’s leadership  resulted in failure and domination by the Philistines, so too does Saul’s. David, like Samuel before him, brings Israel victory against the Philistines. Saul seeks to kill David, while Jonathan befriends him. And when presented with the opportunity, David refuses to take Saul’s life. These chapters end describing Saul’s death and David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan.

2 Sam. 2-8 describe the rise of David over Judah first, and finally over all of Israel. The early chapters (2-4) contrast the rule of David and his general Joab with the rule of Saul’s son Ishbosheth and his commander Abner. Chapters 5-8 show David fulfilling a number of ancient prophecies, as well as establishing Jerusalem as the political and spiritual capital of Israel. The highlight is chapter 7 when God makes a covenant with David and promises him an eternal dynasty. This covenant recalls the words of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:10 and highlights the messianic theme of 1&2 Samuel.

2 Sam. 9-20 focuses on the house of David. Chapter 9 introduces David’s desire to do good to the house of Saul by blessing Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. Things begin to unravel however when David is provoked into a war with the Ammonites. During the war, David commits adultery with Bathsheba and murders her husband Uriah. Chapters 13-20 explore the consequences of David’s sin and the destruction that falls on his household as well as the nation. Absalom’s rebellion is at the heart of these chapters and the author once again presents another contrast. This time it’s between David and his son Absalom.

The books of Samuel conclude with chapters 21-24. These chapters are not in chronological order. Instead they’re ordered by a literary technique known as chiasm.  While David doesn’t die until 1 Kings 2, these chapters present a fitting conclusion to the books of 1&2 Samuel, including a psalm of David and his final words.

The Beginning and Ending of 1&2 Samuel

Hannah's song & David's psalm
Here is a list of some of the similiarities between Hannah’s song and David’s psalm.

Introductions to biblical books are very important for understanding the overall messages that God seeks to convey. It’s also instructive to compare the beginning of a book with its end, especially when that book is a narrative like 1&2 Samuel. One should ask what’s different at the end from the beginning? How does the end of the story reflect on the changes that have occurred since the introduction? These questions are very instructive when it comes to 1&2 Samuel.

1 Samuel begins with a family crisis that is resolved by Hannah giving birth to Samuel and fulfilling her vow of dedicating him to the Lord. The climax of this story finds Hannah offering a Psalm of praise to the Lord at the beginning of chapter 2.

As we read her words of praise, however, it becomes clear that Hannah’s words are not simply about her own situation. They’re related to God’s ways of dealing with His people. They speak of His sovereignty and power as He raises people up and brings them down. Her psalm ends in 2:10 by speaking of God’s “anointed” and “king.” Of course, there’s no king at this point in the story and, so, Hannah’s prayer anticipates the future. Her words are, in fact, prophetic and introduce a messianic theme that leads to God’s covenant with David (2 Sam. 7). This covenant informs the rest of the OT and anticipates Israel’s future messiah, a descendant of David. If we pay close attention to her psalm of praise, we’ll find that it actually provides a blueprint for the stories that follow in the rest of the book.

As we approach the end of the book in 2 Samuel 22, we find a psalm of David (as noted above). A comparison with Hannah’s psalm reveals many similar words and phrases. In fact, the theme of David’s psalm is the same as Hannah’s—God’s power. The difference is that, while Hannah’s psalm looks forward and proclaims the things God will do, David’s psalm looks back on what God has done.

Many have also noted that David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan, which occurs in the middle of the book (2 Sam. 1) has a similar theme. And so the beginning, middle, and end of Samuel have important psalms that talk about power.

Just as Hannah’s psalm is preceded by an introductory story, so David’s psalm is followed by some concluding material. This type of structure where something begins and ends in a similar way is known in literary circles as an inclusio. Think of it like a set of bookends or a parenthesis that blocks off a portion of text.

To summarize, by looking at the beginning and ending of the books of Samuel, we’ve learned that power is a key theme to the book. To be more specific, we’ve learned that God’s sovereignty is a truth that determines the outcome of the story. While 1&2 Samuel affirm that Israel is God’s king and His power is absolute, it also includes God working in Israel through His anointed king.

Key Texts in 1&2 Samuel

1&2 Samuel Key texts
The four key texts of 1&2 Samuel

Our last point of discussion is to note some of the key texts in 1&2 Samuel. An important question to ask is, “How do we know when we’re getting the message that God wanted to communicate through His Word, as opposed to making the text say whatever we want?

One of those ways is by becoming sensitive to what I call key texts. A key text might be a phrase within a verse, or perhaps a verse, or even a group of verses, that when you read them communicate an important truth that explains the story. In the case of the books of Samuel, there are certain texts that seem to jump off the page and say, “This explains in a nutshell what you’ve been reading about!”

In my opinion, there are four key texts in Samuel that summarize the major themes and purposes of the book. These four texts can be broken down into what I would call the main key text, which is then supported by the other three key texts.

1. The main key text of 1&2 Samuel is one we’ve already mentioned in the previous section. It’s Hannah’s psalm, or as some call it, Hannah’s prayer which is found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

As we’ve seen, the theme of this psalm praises God for His power. Hannah declares that the Lord is in control. She says that the Lord raises up and brings down, the Lord kills and makes alive. This theme of power shouldn’t surprise us. After all, the books of Samuel are about the establishment of the monarchy, which is an expression of the exercise of human power. But Hannah’s psalm declares to us from the beginning that though humans may struggle for power with one another, ultimately it’s God’s power that matters. Hannah also announces in the final verse that God exercises power by giving strength to His anointed. Her psalm explains the contrasts in the book. The contrasts we spoke of when outlining the contents. Through Hannah’s words we understand why Samuel is raised up and Eli and his sons are brought down. Why Saul is brought low and David is exalted.

Very simply, Hannah’s prayer is the basis that explains everything that happens in 1&2 Samuel. Although we’ll meet many fascinating and compelling characters in 1&2 Samuel, Hannah’s prayer reminds us that God is the main character of the book.

2. The next key text, and first supporting text is found in 1 Samuel 2:30. When God rebukes Eli through a prophet, God tells him, “Those who honor me, I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed.” These words are important because they let us know that God is not arbitrary. Hannah said “God raises up and God brings down.” We might ask, “On what basis?” Does God act arbitrarily? Is there no rhyme or reason why He does what He does? 1 Samuel 2:30 provides the reason why some are brought low, while others are exalted. It has to do with whether they honor or despise the Lord.

This statement matches the teaching of the Law where God promises to bless the faithful and judge the rebellious (e.g., Deut. 27-28). However, the picture isn’t this “black and white.” 1&2 Samuel gives ample evidence that God’s grace and mercy are important elements that must be factored into the equation.

3. The third key text, and second supporting text, is found in Samuel’s rebuke of Saul in 1 Sam. 15:22-23. There Samuel says, “To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed than the fat of rams.” Throughout 1&2 Samuel an emphasis is placed on true obedience vs. outward, ritualistic observance. God is looking for genuine worship, not outward show. There are many stories that reflect this important theme, including the contrast in the first two chapters between Eli and Hannah (as well as Eli’s sons and Samuel).

4. The fourth, and final key text (and third supporting text), is 1 Sam. 16:7. When God calls Samuel to go to the house of Jesse because He’s chosen a king from among his sons, He has to rebuke Samuel to not look at the outward appearance, as is common for humans to do. God tells Samuel that He doesn’t look on the outward appearance, but He looks on the heart.

The word “heart” is an important word in 1&2 Samuel. It occurs fifty-one times. Not only are there many stories that teach the lesson to not be fooled by outward appearance, this verse also connects closely with the other key texts. For example, God isn’t interested in outward ritual, but inward obedience of the heart. It’s the person with a genuine heart who honors God and this further explains God’s motivation in raising up some while bringing others down (1 Sam. 2:35; 13:14).

All four of these key texts work hand in hand and explain every story that is recounted in 1&2 Samuel.

Conclusion

Some would argue that the main point of the books of Samuel is the establishment of the monarchy, or, more specifically, the establishment of the Davidic monarchy. As we’ve seen, the theme of God’s anointed one is certainly an important theme in these books. However, one of the problems that can develop from this approach is simply looking at 1&2 Samuel as a historical source (“This is what happened long ago”). Of course, there are also many skeptics who would say this is an imaginative history. I would disagree and contend that these books contain genuine history, but we sell these books short if we only see them as history.

The four key texts noted above, and the way each of these texts interlock with the overall storyline, shows that 1&2 Samuel is much more than a nice story or ancient history. The message conveyed (and summarized in these 4 texts) is still very contemporary. In a world where the use and abuse of power is still a common theme, we need to know where real power lies. In our search for significance we need to realize that the honor we seek to achieve for ourselves is relatively meaningless and very fleeting. But in honoring the Lord, there is the promise of attaining everlasting significance as He promises to “honor those who honor Him.” This theme is continued in the NT where believers in Jesus are promised to share in His glory (e.g., Rom. 5:1; 8:30). Finally, the importance of integrity (the heart) and not focusing on outward appearance (or religious ritual without true content) is a message definitely needed in our society which is so image conscious but often lacks true depth and authenticity. The storyline, and culture that these books emanate from, may indeed be ancient, but the messages conveyed in 1&2 Samuel are very contemporary. These are books that definitely need to be taught and preached in the church today.

For a more indepth treatment of 1&2 Samuel check out my book Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel available at Amazon USA / UK, WestBow Press (e-book version available here), Barnes & Noble, and other internet outlets.

Goliath’s Gath Has Been Found

Goliath’s Gath Has Been Found

Gath, Tell es-Safi
My visit to Gath in the summer of 2008.

The ancient city of Gath (modern Tell es-Safi) has been experiencing the archaeologist’s spade for the past 23 years under the direction of lead archaeologist Aren Maeir from Bar-Ilan University. This excavation has revealed much about the Philistines, the ancient people who lived there. Perhaps, most famously, a piece of pottery was discovered in the excavation that bears similarities with the name Goliath (see my article here and the photo below). Maeir recently stated, “One of the nice things about excavations at this site – and archaeology in general – is that every time you excavate, there are surprises.” One of those surprises, just recently announced, is the discovery of an older city of Gath laying below the one that has been excavated for the past 23 years. This older city dates to the 11th century B.C., the time of David and Goliath, and is even larger and more impressive than the one Maeir and his team have been excavating over the past, almost, quarter of a century!

Goliath’s Gath is Impressive!

Maeir at Gath
Maeir standing by the ruins of the ancient Water Gate in Gath. ( Credit: TELL ES-SAFI/GATH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT)

The Jerusalem Post states, “While archaeologists have known for decades that Tell es-Safi contained the ruins of Goliath’s birthplace, the recent discovery beneath a pre-existing site reveals that his native city was a place of even greater architectural grandeur than the Gath of a century later” (for the full article click here). Digging beneath a previously explored area in Gath, this year (2019) the team discovered a large fortified structure with massive stones. Maeir states that the monumental architecture is larger than almost anything found in the Levant during this time period. As an example of the difference in size, Maeir compares the stones of the upper (later) period of the city (1.6 feet, or 1/2 meter long) with what he calls the “Goliath layer” recently discovered (3.2 – 6.5 feet, or between 1-2 meters). The walls of the older layer are also twice the width of the later walls (13 feet wide as opposed to 6.5 – 8 feet wide). The area covered by ancient Gath is also impressive. Maeir states that it covered about 123.5 acres, more than twice the size of comparable cities in the Levant. By comparison, the city of Jerusalem is estimated to have been about 10 acres in the time of David! For more details on the impressive size of Gath, see the excellent article in The Times of Israel.

Interpretation of the Find and Presuppositions

goliath ostracon
This is the piece of pottery, mentioned in the article above  (known as an ostracon), with names etched on it that resemble Goliath’s name. Discovered at Tell es-Safi, biblical Gath.

As we are all aware, all of us have certain presuppositions in our approach to anything in life. The same is true for archaeologists and biblical scholars. Maeir’s presuppositions differ from mine. He believes that much of the Bible was written at a later time period than the events that are described. Consequently he also believes that the Bible contains various myths, legends, and inaccuracies. As a result, he has suggested that the story of the gigantic size of Goliath (and others) may be related to the size of this ancient city and its walls. He thinks that ancient people would have reasoned that giant walls require giants to build them. Thus he does not believe the story of David and Goliath is literally true but derives from some such supposition.

Although Goliath may not be as tall as some think that he was (see my article here), I do respectfully disagree with Professor Maeir, since I hold to a strong view of the inspiration of Scripture. In my opinion, the power and sophistication of the Philistines and their great city of Gath, which has been revealed through archaeology, only confirms what the Bible has to say about them. They are pictured as a more technologically advanced society than the Israelites (e.g., 1 Sam. 13:19-22), as well as a dangerous and powerful foe. Many of the articles announcing this discovery are running with Professor Maeir’s theory. I for one, cannot agree. While we may not always be in agreement with the presuppositions and conclusions of others, we are certainly debtors to the men and women archaeologists who are uncovering the rich history of Israel’s past.

For other articles related to this recent discovery, see the following links:

This is the link to the Tell es-Safi site: gath.wordpress.com

Short article in Bible History Daily 

Has Ziklag Been Discovered?

Has Ziklag Been Discovered?

Map of Ziklag
Although Ziklag is known to be in the southern part of Judah near Philistine territory, this map illustrates the uncertainty of its exact location. (Notice that 2 places are marked as possibilities, neither of which reflects the location suggested by the recent discovery).

Fearing that Saul would one day catch up with him, David, his six hundred men and their families, fled to King Achish, king of Gath (1 Sam. 27:1-4). After spending some time there and pretending to be a loyal vassal, David prevailed on Achish to give him his own city. Achish chose Ziklag and David, his troops and their families, turned a former Philistine town into an Israelite town (1 Sam. 27:5-7).

The exact location of Ziklag has been debated by geographers and archaeologists. Recently, however archaeologists Yoseph Garfinkel, Saar Ganor, Kyle Keimer, and Gil Davis have announced that they believe they have discovered it in their excavation at Khirbet a-Ra‘i (https://www.timesofisrael.com/as-archaeologists-say-theyve-found-king-davids-city-of-refuge-a-debate-begins/).

Lead archaeologists at Khirbet a-Ra'i
The three directors of the Khirbet a-Ra‘i excavation, possibly the biblical Ziklag. (Left to right) Israel Antiquities Authority’s Saar Ganor, Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, Head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Dr. Kyle Keimer of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, on July 8, 2019. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

David’s Sojourn in Ziklag

According to 1 Samuel 27:7, David spent 16 months in the land of the Philistines. Presumably, most of that time was spent at Ziklag. From Ziklag, David and his men carried out raids against the enemies of Judah in the South (1 Sam. 27:8). However, when reporting his activities to Achish, he would inform him that he had been attacking areas in southern Judah associated with Israelite allies and inhabitants (1 Sam. 27:10-12).

When the Philistines gathered their troops to fight against Saul, Achish expected David, as a loyal vassal, to accompany him (1 Sam. 28:1-2). However, the other Philistine commanders did not trust David and his men and sent them packing back to Ziklag (1 Sam. 29:1-11). During the time that David and his men were absent from Ziklag, the Amalekites, a perennial enemy of Israel (and among those whom David had attacked—1 Sam. 27:8), captured the defenseless city of Ziklag. They set it on fire and took all of the families of David and his men captive (1 Sam. 30:1-4). The story turns out well for David and his men as they pursue the Amalekites and are able to save their families (1 Sam. 30:18-20).

Identification of Khirbet a-Ra‘i as Ziklag

Khirbet a-Ra‘i
Aerial view of Khirbet a-Ra‘i. Photo by Emil Ajem, Israel Antiquities Authority

The dig at Khirbet a-Ra‘i commenced in 2015. The leaders of this excavation include archaeologists who also excavated Khirbet Qeiyafa. Khirbet a-Ra‘i is located between Kiryat Gat and Lachish.  Keimer, one of the lead archaeologists states that three elements must exist for a city to qualify as the location of Ziklag. 1. 12th-century BCE Philistine habitation; 2. 10th century settlement, and; 3. a destruction layer. All of these are present at Khirbet a-Ra‘i. Regarding other possible candidates for the location of Ziklag Keimer stated, “Each candidate had a problem — the sequence, the geography, no destruction layer. But Khirbet a-Ra‘i seems to check all the boxes.”

Other archaeologists are not as convinced. Bar Ilan University Professor Aren Maeir, director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project for the past 23 years, is against the identification. In a phone conversation with The Times of Israel, Maeir said, “This suggestion of Yossi Garfinkel is so unacceptable, it’s unbelievable. There is simply no basis for this. I don’t know how he got to it.” Another prominent archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein, agrees. One of the main arguments by these archaeologists is that the ancient city of Ziklag must be farther south than Khirbet a-Ra‘i. One reason for this is that Joshua 19:5 states that Ziklag was part of the inheritance of the tribe of Simeon, which was given a southern portion of the tribe of Judah. In the map at the top of the page the reader will notice that guesses as to possible locations for Ziklag are much further south of Gath. This isn’t the first time that Maeir and Finkelstein have had disagreements with Garfinkel over biblical sites (e.g., Khirbet Qeiyafa). Only time will tell if Khirbet a-Ra‘i may be ancient Ziklag. Meanwhile, it is certainly another interesting excavation in a land full of fascinating archaeological sites!

For more information on this discovery see the following links:

https://www.timesofisrael.com/as-archaeologists-say-theyve-found-king-davids-city-of-refuge-a-debate-begins/

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-town-of-ziklag-may-have-been-discovered/?mqsc=E4072404&dk=ZE9A7XZ42&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDDaily%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=ZE9A7XZ42

https://www.israelhayom.com/2019/07/08/archaeologists-announce-discovery-of-the-biblical-city-of-ziklag/

The following link from the Jerusalem Post also includes a short video showing the excavation.  https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Biblical-city-of-Ziklag-where-King-David-took-refuge-found-594955

 

Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible

Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible

King James Bible
Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark Ward

Mark Ward has written a very informative and well-balanced book looking at the KJV and the need for modern English versions of the Bible. Ward loves and appreciates the KJV, but he also presents clear reasons why the Bible is needed in one’s contemporary language.

The Preface to the King James Bible 

Ward quotes an interesting statement made in the preface to the KJV. It reads, “As nothing is begun and perfected at the same time, and the latter thoughts are thought to be the wiser; so, if we building upon their foundation that went before us, and being holpen by their labours, do endeavour to make that better which they left so good; no man, we are sure, hath cause to mislike us; they, we persuade ourselves, if they were alive, would thank us.” (p. 83). 

Besides the archaic language which begs for a modern equivalent (how many times did you have to read the quote to understand it, and who among us knows what “holpen” means?), I find 3 interesting things about this quote:

1. The translators acknowledgement of their debt to those English translators who had gone before (Tyndale, Coverdale, etc.).

2. The concern of their own translation efforts being rejected (“no man, we are sure, hath cause to dislike us.”)

3. Their acknowledgement that building on previous efforts will “make that better which they left so good”. As Ward notes, “The KJV translators were not KJV-Only. They would most definitely support the work of later translators building on their foundation and being helped by their labors.” (p. 83).

Why I Recommend This Book

There is a lot to be praised about this book. First, it is concise and easily readable in a short amount of time. Second, it is written with sensitivity toward both the KJV and those who love it. Third, it is written by someone who knows the KJV, and is aware of the issues involving Bible translation. Fourth, it is written by one who has done the research. 

This is not an “off the cuff” bashing of the KJV, but a well-reasoned and well-researched book. I recommend it, not only to my friends who are KJV-Only Bible readers, but for those in the church who ask the frequent question: “What translation of the Bible is the best/should I use?” Ward’s final chapter focuses on this question in particular, but his whole book gives a well-rounded approach to answering it.

Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible is available at Amazon USA / UK and Lexham Press.

NICOT/NICNT on Sale at Logos!

NICOT/NICNT
Check out the sale on NICOT/NICNT at Logos. Available until 5/15/19.

NICOT/NICNT on Sale at Logos!

Logos has announced that one of the best evangelical commentary sets available is on sale until May 15, 2019. The entire series of the NICOT/NICNT is on sale for a whopping 43% off! If you can’t afford the whole series, you may want to purchase the volumes of your choice for $29.99 (excluding the two newest volumes). A majority of volumes in this series run between $45.00 – $80.00, so it is worth your while to get in on the sale. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about you can check out my review of the NICOT/NICNT Commentary series that I posted this past December. I’ve reproduced it below for your convenience. Click here or any of the links on this page to go to the sale page at Logos.

The New International Commentary Series on the Old and New Testaments (My Review)

If I could only own one full set of commentaries, the New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (abbreviated as NICOT/NICNT) would be my choice. In fact, when the folks at Logos/Faithlife offered me the opportunity to own and write a review on a commentary series, the NICOT/NICNT was my choice! Beginning with the initial publication of the NICNT in the late 1940s, the New International Commentary series has been a staple in the lives of pastors, rabbis, students, seminary libraries, and those who are serious about plumbing the depths of the Bible. Like a fine wine, it as continued to improve with age. Many of its volumes are listed as the first or second top commentary on bestcommentaries.com.

Begun by a team of international scholars, the New International Commentary is a series in the evangelical Protestant tradition. Joel Green, the current editor of the New Testament series, writes that the NICNT was written “. . . to provide earnest students of the New Testament with an exposition that is thorough and abreast of modern scholarship and at the same time loyal to the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.”

 

NICOT Judges Commentary
In this screenshot, author Barry Webb discusses historical issues related to the Book of Judges.

Each commentary begins with an introduction to the selected book(s) and looks at matters of authorship, date, background, purpose, structure, and theology (see screenshot above). This is followed by the author’s own translation of the Hebrew or Greek text and then a verse-by-verse commentary. Each commentary focuses on exposition of the text with theological and devotional insight, while not ignoring important critical matters dealing with the text.

Likes Regarding the New International Commentary Series

NICOT/NICNT
Always updating, the New International Commentary series volume on Galatians by David A. deSilva has just been published this year (2018).

One of the features of this long-running commentary series that I value is its commitment to stay abreast with the latest in scholarship. As the decades have passed, the New International Commentary series has grown along with contemporary methods of investigating the text of Scripture. As a result, older, outdated volumes, have been replaced, while volumes that retain their usefulness are in the process of being updated. For example, just this year (2018) Eerdmans (the publisher of the New International Commentary) has published a new commentary on Galatians by David A. deSilva. DeSilva’s commentary replaces the Galatians commentary by Ronald Y. K. Fung published in 1988, which, in turn, replaced the commentary on Galatians by Herman N. Ridderbos from 1953! These three commentaries on Galatians illustrate another feature I like. In older editions of the New International Commentary authors were much more brief in their treatment of the text. Whether that was by design (an editorial decision) or by author choice I do not know. While some may appreciate a brief commentary, and they do have an important contribution to make, I like the fact that the newer publications in the New International Commentary series allow the author freedom regarding page length. Looking again at the three editions of the Galatians commentary, Ridderbos’s original treatment of Galatians was 240 pages. Fung’s version was 375 pages. The latest contribution by deSilva is 622 pages. This example is characteristic of the entire commentary series. The new volumes coming out, whether replacements or brand new products are longer than the older volumes. Obviously this is only a plus if the author of a given commentary is providing good information, but this does not seem to be a problem in this series.

Dislikes Regarding the New International Commentary Series

The New International Commentary series currently consists of 48 volumes (26 OT and 22 NT). The New Testament series is nearly complete, only lacking commentaries on 2 Peter and Jude. The Old Testament series still lacks volumes on Exodus, 2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, and Amos. This is one of the drawbacks of this series. There is not yet a commentary on every book of the Bible. One would hope that the editors would encourage scholars assigned a certain book to meet a reasonable deadline so that the rest of these commentaries can be made available. One case in point is David Toshio Tsumura’s commentary on First Samuel which came out in 2007. Eleven years later, readers continue to wait for his commentary on Second Samuel.

The New International Commentary Series in Logos

Logos 8
Logos 8 is now available! Check out my review here, click on the link provided and get your update with a discount!

I am a person who still enjoys grabbing an actual book and reading through it. I also have to admit that I enjoy the sight of bookshelves full of books. However, I am gradually being won over by the new technological revolution which is spearheaded in the realm of Bible software by Logos/Faithlife. As great as it would be to have the entire NICOT/NICNT series lining my bookshelves (and I do have a number of volumes), I am in love with the idea of being able to take this entire series with me on my laptop, IPad, or IPhone! Granted, a person usually only needs one commentary at a time, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that Logos puts a whole library of commentaries at your disposal.

Users of Logos are also well aware of the powerful search tools available in Logos. Every word in the New International Commentary series is tagged so that anything can be looked up in a matter of moments. If you’ve forgotten where that quote is that you liked, or a particular insight, it can be easily found by typing a word or phrase into Logos. This beats thumbing through a 1,000 page commentary trying to find that special quote or insight. Given the choice of having this commentary series on my shelves or on my computer is a no-brainer. I’d choose my computer every time.

If you have an older version of Logos and you’re wondering if you can buy this commentary series and still have it available when you update, the answer is “Yes.” You never lose any books that you purchase in Logos. They will always transfer when you update to a newer version. Of course, this series isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a commentary series that provides in-depth treatment of the Bible with great theological insights this one is definitely worth saving up for.

To check out the current sale at Logos use this link.

Shechem: Insights From Biblical Geography

Shechem: Insights From Biblical Geography

Ancient Shechem
Aerial view of the ancient city of Shechem

In my previous two posts (here and here), I have sought to demonstrate how learning biblical geography can be a helpful way of studying the text of Scripture. The ancient city of Shechem, located near modern Nablus, is another example of what can be learned by studying biblical geography. The city of Shechem is mentioned 54 times in the OT, not counting an additional 13 times where it refers to an individual by the same name. It is specifically mentioned twice in the NT (both in Acts 7:16), however, the mention of Sychar in John 4 may be the same city. It is certainly the same geographical area (see discussion below). Because of its frequency, we will only examine the most significant occurrences of this city in Scripture.

Shechem and the Patriarchs

Shechem
Shechem is located in the heart of the Land of Canaan.

The first mention of Shechem occurs in Genesis 12:6 when Abram enters the land of Canaan. We’re told that the Lord appeared to Abram and promised him that the Land of Canaan would be given to his descendants. As a result Abram built an altar. Thus our initial introduction to Shechem involves the Lord revealing Himself to Abram and Abram’s grateful response by building an altar.

Simeon and Levi
Genesis 34 tells the story of how Jacob’s sons destroy the inhabitants of Shechem for the rape of their sister.

Shechem plays a significant role in the story of Jacob after his return to the land (having spent 20 years with his uncle Laban in Haran). It is only the second place in Canaan where one of the patriarchs purchased a part of the land (the other was the cave of Macpelah and surrounding land where Abraham buried Sarah–Gen. 23:16-20). We are told that Jacob purchased some land near Shechem, and then, like his grandfather Abram, he built an altar there which he called “El Elohe Israel” (God, the God of Israel–Gen. 33:18-20). Thus, the first two mentions of Shechem in the Bible represent God’s promise of the land, along with Jacob’s purchase of some of that land, followed by both patriarchs worshipping the true God by building an altar to Him.

Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped by a man named Shechem (Gen. 34). Shechem was the son of Hamor, the ruler of the city at this time, and for whom, apparently, the city was named. Outraged at the treatment of their sister, the brothers (led by Simeon and Levi) devise a plan that leads to the destruction of the people of Shechem. Jacob fears retaliation by the surrounding inhabitants and God appears to him at that time telling him to go to Bethel. Before leaving, however, Jacob has his household put away all their foreign gods and purify themselves (Gen. 35:2).

As an interesting sidenote: In Hebrew the name “Hamor” means “donkey.” The inhabitants of Shechem are referred to as the “sons of Hamor” or “sons of a donkey.” While excavating the city under the lowest floor of the outer guardroom, what appears to be a donkey was found buried there [Toombs, L. E. (1992). Shechem (Place). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 5, p. 1182)]. The reason this is interesting is that Canaanites are known to have ritually slaughtered donkeys in dedication to their gods and buried them in the foundation of the city gates. See the following article: Bronze-Age Donkey Sacrifice Found in Israel.

Joshua

Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal. The vicinity of ancient Shechem.
Mounts Gerazim and Ebal provide the backdrop to the city of Shechem.

The Book of Joshua informs us that Shechem was both a city of refuge (Josh. 20:7), as well as a Levitical city (Josh. 21:21). Shechem was located near two mountains–Gerizim and Ebal. Before entering the Promised Land, Moses had commanded the people to build an altar on Mount Ebal and to divide the tribes between the two mountains. Half were to pronounce the blessings of the Law from Mount Gerizim, while the other half were to pronounce the curses of the Law from Mount Ebal. The fulfillment of this command is recorded in Joshua 8:30-35.  Shechem is also the setting for Joshua’s famous speech that includes the words, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15; see Josh. 24:1). These important events recall the patriarchal stories, especially the story of Jacob. Just as Jacob had called on his household to put away their foreign gods, so Joshua, centuries later, challenged the nation of Israel to do the same. Except for the horrendous crime committed by Jacob’s sons in the slaughter of the people of Shechem, its early history left a legacy of commitment to God and a repudiation of foreign gods. Shechem was also the place where the bones of Joseph were laid to rest (Josh. 24:32), a reminder of the promise given to Abram at Shechem that God would give his descendants the Land of Canaan. Not too bad of a start for this geographical location. But all that was about to change!

Abimelech

Death of Abimelech
Abimelech was killed when a woman threw an upper millstone on his head, crushing his skull.

The story of Abimelech, the son of Gideon by a concubine, is recorded in Judges 8:30-9:57. Although at one point Gideon had broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah pole (Judg. 6:27-28), leading Israel away from idolatry, by the end of his life he was responsible for leading Israel back into idolatry. Abimelech’s mother was from Shechem (Judg. 8:31) and he was able to convince the leaders of Shechem to make him king (Judg. 9:1-2) and destroy the other sons of Gideon (also known as Jerubaal). Abimelech hires 70 “worthless men” to do the job of slaughtering the 70 sons of Gideon. He hires them by using money from the temple in Shechem dedicated to the god Baal-Berith (Judg. 9:4-6). It is unclear how many temples existed in Shechem. Later in the story a temple dedicated to El-Berith is also mentioned (Judg. 9:46). Many scholars believe that these are two names for the same temple. El, which means god (or God), was the head of the Canaanite pantheon. According to Canaanite religion, Baal was a son (or possibly a grandson). There is also a sanctuary mentioned in Joshua 24:26. After Joshua wrote some words in the book of the Law, we are told that he set up a large stone “under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.” Ironically, this may be the same place later called the temple of Baal-Berith. In other words, a place that was known for turning from foreign gods to worship the true God had become a place where Baal was now worshipped. Another irony of the Abimelech story is that he destroys this temple when he demolishes the city of Shechem (Judg. 9:46-49)–the very temple whose funds had been used to install him as king!

Temple of Baal Berith in ancient Shechem
This photo, the same as the one above, points out the Temple and standing stone discovered at Shechem

Archaeologists have uncovered a temple in ancient Shechem (see the photo above). The destruction dates to the 12th century BC, the same time period as Abimelech’s destruction described in Judges 9. A standing stone was also discovered, part of which is still standing. It is probably this stone which is referred to in Judges 9:6 which states that Abimelech was made king “beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem.” Some also believe that this may be the same stone mentioned in Joshua 24:26. Archaeologists have also uncovered a statue of Baal at Shechem providing firm evidence that Baal was worshipped there. For further information click on the following link: Abimelech at Shechem.

Shechem and The Divided Kingdom

The disappointing history of Shechem continues as it becomes the scene for the coronation of Solomon’s son Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:1). On this occasion, however, the northern tribes presented their grievances and when Rehoboam answered them harshly, the ten northern tribes made Jeroboam their king and created a permanent separation that lasted until the Exile. In fact, Shechem was fortified by Jeroboam and became the first capital city of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 12:25). If the reign of Abimelech emphasized the spiritual apostasy of Israel, the dissolution of the United Monarchy at Shechem was a precursor to the troubles that would plague Israel and Judah eventually leading both kingdoms into exile. Thus bringing to an end (at least momentarily) the promise made to Abram to give the Land of Canaan to his descendants.

The New Testament

Jacob's well at the foot of Mount Gerizim near ancient Shechem
Jacob’s well, now housed inside a Greek Orthodox Church in the area near Mount Gerazim and ancient Shechem is the location of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman.

By the first century A.D., the area around Shechem had become part of Samaritan territory. In fact, archaeologists tell us that Shechem ceased to exist in the first century B.C.. The only direct reference to the ancient city of Shechem is found in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:16, when he is recounting the history of the patriarchs. However, the NT knows another very important episode that happened in the vicinity of ancient Shechem. This is the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well near Sychar (John 4:5). Whether Sychar refers to ancient Shechem or to a nearby town (known today as Askar), is disputed by scholars. One thing that is certain is that the well that Jesus meets this woman at is the well of Jacob and is near the parcel of land given to Joseph (John 4:5). Today a Greek Orthodox Church has been built over the site (see the photo on the left) which sits near the foot of Mount Gerizim. Anyone familiar with the ancient site of Shechem from the OT would immediately recognize that this conversation takes place in the same locale by the reference to the mountain on which the Samaritans worship (John 4:20). The ruins of the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim can still be seen today. This Temple, built around the middle of the 4th century B.C., was destroyed probably sometime in the 2nd century B.C. (either by John Hyrcanus, or Simeon the Just).

While Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman has many implications (including her own salvation, as well as those in the town), for our purposes it creates the perfect ending to the sorted tale of the city of Shechem. Jesus’ response to the woman at the well concerns worship that is “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). How fitting that Jesus speaks of the meaning of worship that pleases the Father in a place where Abram and Jacob had built altars to the true God, and where Jacob and, later Israel, had put away their foreign gods in order to worship the God of Israel. How fitting also that Jesus brings the gift of the Kingdom of God to this woman and the people of her town in the very area that had witnessed the division of the Kingdom of Israel! Knowing the stories about Shechem in the OT and understanding that Jacob’s well and the first century village of Sychar is in this same geographical area brings a satisfying conclusion to a city with a mixed spiritual and political heritage. How good of God to bring this region full-circle through providing the living water that only Jesus can give!

For more on Shechem see the excellent article entitled: The Geographical, Historical & Spiritual Significance of Shechem at bible.org.

Mahanaim: Insights From Biblical Geography

 Mahanaim: Insights From Biblical Geography

Mahanaim
Mahanaim was located in ancient Gilead near the Jabbok River. Its exact location is questionable. See the black arrow above.

Mahanaim is certainly not a household word. Even if you are a student of the Bible it may not be a familiar place to you. Don’t feel bad, my spell corrector doesn’t recognize it either! In spite of its relative obscurity, Mahanaim is an excellent example of important lessons that can be learned when biblical places are traced through the Bible (as advocated in my previous post Using Geography to Study the Bible). Mahanaim is mentioned thirteen times in the Bible (Gen. 32:1; Josh. 13:26, 30; 21:38; 2 Sam. 2:8, 12, 29; 17:24, 27; 19:32; 1 Kgs. 2:8; 4:14; 1 Chron. 6:80; and possibly Song of Songs 6:13). As this list shows, nearly half of the references occur in 2 Samuel.

Mahanaim in Genesis 32

Jacob meets Esau
Jacob’s meeting with Esau is dramatized in this painting by Frans Francken II dating from the 1620s.

The first occurrence of Mahanaim occurs in Genesis 32:1 in the story of Jacob’s return to the land after having spent 20 years with his uncle Laban in Haran (located in modern Syria). Jacob had fled to Haran because of his brother Esau’s threat to kill him for stealing the blessing from their father Isaac (Gen. 27:35-45). Jacob was fearful and apprehensive on his return, wondering if his brother still desired revenge (Gen. 32:6-7). The word “Mahanaim” is a dual form of the Hebrew word “Mahaneh,” which means “camp.” Therefore, Mahanaim means “two camps.” The meaning of this word is played on throughout the text. In Genesis 32:7 we are told that Jacob divided his family into two camps, hoping that if Esau attacked one part of the family, the other might escape (Gen. 32:8). The idea of two camps is also played upon by the mention of “God’s camp” which refers to Jacob’s encounter with some angels as he enters the land (Gen. 32:1-2). Jacob’s camp and Esau’s camp is yet a third reference to the idea of two camp’s in the story. The main point of this story, which extends into Genesis 33, is the reconciliation of two estranged brothers. The emphasis on two camps throughout suggests division and estrangement, but Esau’s warm and gracious welcome of his brother Jacob (Gen. 33:4), brings this reunion to a happy conclusion.

Jacob wrestles with the Angel
Jacob wrestles with the Angel–a painting by Gustav Doré 1885.

God’s place in the story is noted, not only through the mention of God’s camp (32:2), but also in Jacob’s wrestling with the Angel (Gen. 32:24-32). During this wrestling match, which happens at a place Jacob names Peniel (face of God–more on this below), Jacob receives a new name (Israel), which is suggestive of the change that has taken place in him. The theme of brother reconciled to brother in the sight of God is brought together in Jacob’s statement in Genesis 33: 10: “I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God.” The word “face” occurs throughout Genesis 32-33, sometimes referring to God (as in Peniel) and other times referring to Esau. The point of this story can be summed up in a statement made by the apostle John in another context where he writes, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).

The Jabbok River
Located in modern Jordan, the area around Mahanaim contains the Jabbok River (the modern day name is the Zarqa River). Photo from BiblePlaces.com

Mahanaim in the Books of Joshua and Samuel

Mahanaim is not connected with any particular story in the Book of Joshua, but we do learn several important things about it.  First, it was located on the border of the tribes of Gad and Manasseh (Josh. 13:24-30–Recall that Gad, Reuben, and 1/2 the tribe of Manasseh settled on the eastern side of the Jordan). Joshua 21:34-42 also informs us that it was a Levitical city, as well as a city of refuge.

2 Samuel contains two important stories in which Mahanaim plays a key role. Both stories in 2 Samuel concern a civil war within Israel. In 2 Samuel 2 David becomes king in Hebron of Judah, but rather than unite the kingdom under David, Abner (the commander of Saul’s army) takes Ish-bosheth (Saul’s son) and makes him king in Mahanaim (for more details on this story see my post here, or check out my book Family Portraits chapters 11 & 12). Abner and Ish-bosheth’s move to Mahanaim is probably a strategic one. It puts some distance between them and the Philistines (who have taken over a lot of Israelite terrritory–1 Sam. 31), and it also puts distance between them and David. The Lexham Bible Dictionary also suggests two other advantages: 1) It was in close proximity to Saul’s closest allies (the people of Jabesh-Gilead; see 1 Sam. 11); and 2) it gave them control of the iron ore industry which this area was famous for.

Mountains of Gilead
Although the exact location of Mahanaim remains uncertain, we do know that it is located in the mountainous area of ancient Gilead. Photo by Jim Greenhill at thebiblejourney.org.

Mahanaim becomes important later again in 2 Samuel chapters 15-19, when David’s son Absalom rebels again him. Ironically, Absalom has himself proclaimed king in Hebron (where David was originally anointed), and when he marches on Jerusalem, David flees to–you guessed it–Mahanaim. Eventually David’s forces defeat Absalom and David returns to take up the throne again in Jerusalem. But it is in the chamber over the gate in Mahanaim where the memorable scene of David weeping for his slain son occurs. There we read of his gut-wrenching grief over the death of his son as he cries out, “O my son Absalom–my son, my son Absalom–if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33/Hebrew text 19:1).

When one recalls the story of the reconciliation of brothers at Mahanaim told in Genesis 32-33, the sad stories of 2 Samuel become even more poignant. Both stories about civil war in 2 Samuel emphasize important family language and connections. When Joab pursues Abner and the forces of Israel in 2 Samuel 2 after inflicting a severe defeat on them, Abner pleads, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that it will be bitter in the end? How long will it be then until you tell the people to return from pursuing their brethren?” (2 Sam. 2:26). Notice the key word “brethren.” This is not simply a battle between two enemies; it is a family battle between brothers of the tribes of Israel. This same tragic message is enhanced further when David’s own son rebels against him. When the dust settles there is no victory celebration for David, but only the anguished cries of a father bereft of his son. The legacy of Mahanaim has turned from the shining legacy of brothers reuniting under God, to the nation of Israel and the family of David torn apart by hatred and enmity. It is making the geographical connection in these stories that highlights this important theme.

The Remaining Occurrences of Mahanaim

As a way of summarizing the other occurrences of Mahanaim, the reference in 1 Kings 2:8 refers back to the story of Absalom’s rebellion, while the reference in 1 Kings 4:14 notes that it was the seat of one of Solomon’s districts (he had 12 in all). The mention of Mahanaim in 1 Chronicles 6:80 is another geographical list stating that it belonged to the tribe of Gad. Finally, the use of “Mahanaim” in Song of Songs 6:13 (Hebrew text, 7:1), seems to be a reference to a particular kind of dance. Therefore, it is uncertain whether there is a reference to the city here. Before concluding this article, there is one more story we should look at.

Peniel, Succoth and Gideon

Peniel and Succoth
Gideon pursues the kings of Midian and goes through Peniel and Succoth. Photo taken from slideplayer.com

Although Mahanaim is not specifically mentioned in the story of Gideon, Peniel and Succoth are. We should recall that when Jacob prepared to meet his brother Esau, he was at Mahanaim. However, he wrestled with the Angel at Peniel close by. After reconciling with his brother, Genesis 33:17 tells us that Jacob moved on to Succoth. Being aware of this information demonstrates another way in which a knowledge of biblical geography (and biblical stories) can aid us in interpretation. In the story of Gideon, following his initial victory over the Midianites, he continues to pursue two of their kings. His pursuit takes him across the Jordan River into Gilead and the cities of Peniel and Succoth (Judg. 8:4-9). There he asks for supplies to feed his hungry and tired army, but the men of Peniel and Succoth refuse to help. Gideon states that upon his victorious return, he will deal with the men who have refused to support him and his troops. When Gideon does return victorious, he takes 77 elders of the town of Succoth and “teaches them a lesson” with thorns and briers. He then proceeds to Peniel (also spelled “Penuel”) and tears down a tower in the city, killing the men of the city. This is yet another tragic story related to this area that had begun with the reconciliation of brothers and the reconciliation of Jacob with his God. Here again we have fellow-Israelites who do not get along. The men of Succoth and Peniel refuse to support Gideon and in return he takes vengeance on them! So ends another sad story of disunity among brothers, who fail to see that they are each a reflection of the image of God and should, therefore, treat one another with loyalty and faithfulness. However, once again, it is the geographical information that links all of these stories together–stories with a common theme. The stories about Mahanaim (and the surrounding region) are just one example of how biblical geography can give us deeper insight into the Scriptures.

Using Geography to Study the Bible

Using Geography to Study the Bible

Map of ancient Israel
Using geography to study the Bible can add a new dimension to Bible study.

Where is Shechem, or Shiloh located and what did they look like in various times of biblical history? Is this a question you ever asked yourself as you read through the biblical text? I know that in times past I often read over place names in the Bible without ever giving them a second thought. Not only were they sometimes difficult to pronounce, but where they were and what they looked like didn’t seem that significant to the story. In other words, using geography to study the Bible never occurred to me. I think my experience is similar to many others. Ask yourself, “How many times have I looked up a biblical city in a concordance, then, after finding all of its occurrences in the Bible, read the various stories connected with it in both Old and New Testaments?” After all, how important can the ancient geography of the Bible be to my life?

Books on Using Geography to Study the Bible

John Beck’s book is a good introduction to using geography to study the Bible

Some books and articles that have appeared over the last few years argue that using geography to study the Bible can make a big difference in your understanding of Scripture, which, in turn, will have an impact on your life. One such book Along the Road: How Jesus Used Geography to Tell God’s Story, by John A. Beck, encourages using geography to the study the Bible. Beck is an adjunct faculty member at Jerusalem University College in Israel and has led many excursions to various biblical sites to teach the lessons that can be learned through the geography of the land. He notes that Bible study often uses different systems of organization such as chronological, or theological, but invites the reader to take a different approach. His challenge is to…”think how your reading and study might change if you organized the contents of the Bible geographically” (p. 20).

Anyone who’s been to the lands of the Bible knows how valuable it can be to see the places where certain events took place. Using geography to study the Bible comes quite naturally when visiting Israel. Anyone who has been on a biblical tour of Israel will have, in a sense, studied the Bible the way Beck (and others) are advocating. For example, a visit to the City of Dan (for more about Dan see my articles here and here) will usually lead to discussions that include the time of Abram (Gen. 14:14), the time of the Judges (Judges 18), and the beginning of the kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam I (1 Kgs 12-14). Similarly, when touring Jerusalem stories about David, Jesus, and the early Church will dominate the discussion, even though some of these people and events are separated by centuries. The biblical geography has a way of tying people and events together.

Last year I did a review on another book which advocates using geography to study the Bible. My review of the Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels can be found here. Editor Barry Beitzel points out that the Bible is unique among holy books for its concern with geography. He writes, “This tendency to incorporate the spatial dimension into a narrative actually sets the Bible apart from most other holy writings” (xiii). Along this same line, Paul H. Wright states, “Its sacred and literary contexts notwithstanding, the Old Testament is a text about people living in real places (i.e., geography) over time (i.e., history). These are realities that impact our understandings of the meaning(s) of the text, and it is from them that points of relevance for modern readers, including theologians, arise” (“Introduction to Historical Geography,” p. 6 in Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts, eds. Jonathan S. Greer, John W. Hilber, and John H. Walton, 2018). 

How Using Geography to Study the Bible Works

But how does a knowledge of biblical geography aid me in understanding the Bible? In my post on the Lexham Geographic Commentary I referenced a couple of quotes by Emily J. Thomassen. She asserts, “In biblical narrative, authors often mention place names in order to communicate a message of theological importance.” Again she notes, “In the ancient world, authors strategically used, reused, and nuanced geographic references in order to impact the reader” (p. 248). John Beck has some practical questions that every reader should ask when using geography to study the Bible.

1. Other than place, what do the passages have in common? Think in terms of people, events, and the words and phrases that make up the text.

2. Do the passages that share a place also share a theme?

3. Do the geographically linked passages of the Bible build on one another, teaching a lesson God wants us to learn?

The best way to illustrate the significance of using geography to study the Bible is to give some practical examples. I plan to do this in future posts on this blog. However, I also want to take the opportunity to announce that some of the upcoming episodes of the podcast, Beyond Reading the Bible, hosted by myself and Lindsay Kennedy, will also address this subject. So if you’d rather listen than read, then check out our podcast! You can also check us out on Facebook right here. The episodes are slated for sometime later this Spring. You can catch the announcement of these episodes by following me on Facebook, Twitter, and  Linkedin, or you can follow me and Lindsay at the above links for Beyond Reading the Bible. Until then, let me encourage you to break out your concordance and check out all the occurrences of a particular place in the Bible (Hazor, the Wilderness, Gaza, etc.). Then use Beck’s questions above as your guide and see what you learn!

The other books mentioned in this post are listed here. Check them out for more in-depth study.

Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament
Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament is available at Amazon USA / UK
Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels
The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels is available in hardback or digital format at logos.com, or Amazon USA / UK

Great Christmas Deals for Logos 8

Great Christmas Deals for Logos 8

Logos 8 Christmas
Great Christmas Deals from Logos

Base Package Sale: Logos is offering an additional $100 off the launch discount for first-time base package purchasers. That means new customers can get Logos 8 Starter for only $165.49 (the regular price is $265.49). Also, anyone who purchases a base package will be able to gift Logos 7 Fundamentals to a friend. this is a great deal for you and for a friend, but it is only available till the end of the year. Just click on this link.

Zondervan Flash Sale: Logos is offering 40% off popular Zondervan resources, including various commentary series such as the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the Word Biblical Commentary, the NIV Application Commentary, and the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary. Buy now, the sale ends December 28th. Participating products can be seen by clicking this link.

Christmas Sale: Finally, Logos is putting dozens of products on sale up to 50% off, including a free resource. You can check this sale out here.

If you’re serious about Bible study, Logos 8 will greatly enhance your ability to get deeper into the Word. Logos 8 provides great resources, along with powerful search capabilities and many other features. For more information on the various features offered in Logos 8, see my post here. If you don’t have Logos yet, don’t miss this great Christmas deal. The price has never been lower, and don’t forget that you can also gift a friend Logos 7 and help them on their way to a deeper study the Bible!

The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

New International Commentary
The New International Commentary of the Old and New Testament is available at logos

If I could only own one full set of commentaries, the New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (abbreviated as NICOT/NICNT) would be my choice. In fact, when the folks at Logos/Faithlife offered me the opportunity to own and write a review on a commentary series, the NICOT/NICNT was my choice! Beginning with the initial publication of the NICNT in the late 1940s, the New International Commentary series has been a staple in the lives of pastors, rabbis, students, seminary libraries, and those who are serious about plumbing the depths of the Bible. Like a fine wine, it as continued to improve with age. Many of its volumes are listed as the first or second top commentary on bestcommentaries.com.

Begun by a team of international scholars, the New International Commentary is a series in the evangelical Protestant tradition. Joel Green, the current editor of the New Testament series, writes that the NICNT was written “. . . to provide earnest students of the New Testament with an exposition that is thorough and abreast of modern scholarship and at the same time loyal to the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.”

NICOT Judges Commentary
In this screenshot, author Barry Webb discusses historical issues related to the Book of Judges.

 

Each commentary begins with an introduction to the selected book(s) and looks at matters of authorship, date, background, purpose, structure, and theology (see screenshot above). This is followed by the author’s own translation of the Hebrew or Greek text and then a verse-by-verse commentary. Each commentary focuses on exposition of the text with theological and devotional insight, while not ignoring important critical matters dealing with the text.

Likes Regarding the New International Commentary Series

NICNT Galatians
Always updating, the New International Commentary series volume on Galatians by David A. deSilva has just been published this year (2018).

One of the features of this long-running commentary series that I value is its commitment to stay abreast with the latest in scholarship. As the decades have passed, the New International Commentary series has grown along with contemporary methods of investigating the text of Scripture. As a result, older, outdated volumes, have been replaced, while volumes that retain their usefulness are in the process of being updated. For example, just this year (2018) Eerdmans (the publisher of the New International Commentary) has published a new commentary on Galatians by David A. deSilva. DeSilva’s commentary replaces the Galatians commentary by Ronald Y. K. Fung published in 1988, which, in turn, replaced the commentary on Galatians by Herman N. Ridderbos from 1953! These three commentaries on Galatians illustrate another feature I like. In older editions of the New International Commentary authors were much more brief in their treatment of the text. Whether that was by design (an editorial decision) or by author choice I do not know. While some may appreciate a brief commentary, and they do have an important contribution to make, I like the fact that the newer publications in the New International Commentary series allow the author freedom regarding page length. Looking again at the three editions of the Galatians commentary, Ridderbos’s original treatment of Galatians was 240 pages. Fung’s version was 375 pages. The latest contribution by deSilva is 622 pages. This example is characteristic of the entire commentary series. The new volumes coming out, whether replacements or brand new products are longer than the older volumes. Obviously this is only a plus if the author of a given commentary is providing good information, but this does not seem to be a problem in this series.

Dislikes Regarding the New International Commentary Series

The New International Commentary series currently consists of 48 volumes (26 OT and 22 NT). The New Testament series is nearly complete, only lacking commentaries on 2 Peter and Jude. The Old Testament series still lacks volumes on Exodus, 2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, and Amos. This is one of the drawbacks of this series. There is not yet a commentary on every book of the Bible. One would hope that the editors would encourage scholars assigned a certain book to meet a reasonable deadline so that the rest of these commentaries can be made available. One case in point is David Toshio Tsumura’s commentary on First Samuel which came out in 2007. Eleven years later, readers continue to wait for his commentary on Second Samuel.

The New International Commentary Series in Logos

Logos 8
Logos 8 is now available! Check out my review here, click on the link provided and get your update with a discount!

I am a person who still enjoys grabbing an actual book and reading through it. I also have to admit that I enjoy the sight of bookshelves full of books. However, I am gradually being won over by the new technological revolution which is spearheaded in the realm of Bible software by Logos/Faithlife. As great as it would be to have the entire NICOT/NICNT series lining my bookshelves (and I do have a number of volumes), I am in love with the idea of being able to take this entire series with me on my laptop, IPad, or IPhone! Granted, a person usually only needs one commentary at a time, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that Logos puts a whole library of commentaries at your disposal.

Users of Logos are also well aware of the powerful search tools available in Logos. Every word in the New International Commentary series is tagged so that anything can be looked up in a matter of moments. If you’ve forgotten where that quote is that you liked, or a particular insight, it can be easily found by typing a word or phrase into Logos. This beats thumbing through a 1,000 page commentary trying to find that special quote or insight. Given the choice of having this commentary series on my shelves or on my computer is a no-brainer. I’d choose my computer every time.

If you have an older version of Logos and you’re wondering if you can buy this commentary series and still have it available when you update, the answer is “Yes.” You never lose any books that you purchase in Logos. They will always transfer when you update to a newer version. Of course, this series isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a commentary series that provides in-depth treatment of the Bible with great theological insights this one is definitely worth saving up for.

Purchase your copy of the NICOT/NICNT from Logos. You can also update your version of Logos to Logos 8 and get a 25% discount, along with 5 extra books of your choice by clicking on the link here.

Many thanks to FaithLife/Logos for a free review copy of the New International Commentary Series. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.