Category Archives: Commentaries

Teach the Text Samuel Commentary in Logos

Teach the Text Samuel Commentary in Logos

Available at
Available at

1&2 Samuel Commentary Teach the Text from Logos Bible Software.

I have enjoyed the 1&2 Samuel commentary in the Teach the Text series so much that I decided to request a copy from Logos Bible Software. Logos offers many additional benefits that are not possible with a hardcopy. Because I have previously reviewed the contents of this commentary, I will focus on the benefits offered by the Logos edition. If, however, you have not yet read my review of the commentary itself, I have included it as well.

The Benefits of the Logos Edition of the 1&2 Samuel Commentary in the Teach the Text Series

The first thing that Logos allows me to do is show you the beautiful layout of this commentary. In my first review I noted that the Teach the Text series is attractively presented. In the photos that follow, you will have an opportunity to see what I mean.

This sample page shows the colorful maps and photos that adorn the pages of the 1&2 Samuel commentary
This sample page shows the colorful maps and photos that adorn the pages of the 1&2 Samuel commentary

Every author of the Teach the Text series follows a five-point outline. I have detailed these in the review below, but here I offer a photo of the introductory pages showing the five-point layout.

This photo shows the 5-point layout of the commentary. I have highlighted the heading. Logos allows you to use a highlighter pen just as you might in a hardcopy.
This photo shows the 5-point layout of the commentary. I have highlighted the heading. Logos allows you to use a highlighter pen just as you might in a hardcopy. The folder to the left of the highlighting also allows you to make comments on the portion you have highlighted.

The great benefit of Logos is that it allows you to interact with the text in various ways. Logos users will be familiar with some of the advantages that I list here. First, the ability to hover your mouse over something in the text and receive immediate information is extremely helpful. For example, how many times have you seen a textual reference in parenthesis and meant to look it up but never got around to it? With Logos you can simply hover over the textual reference and see it immediately without leaving the page. The photo below not only shows this feature, (the mouse is hovered over Matt. 12:34–see the lower righthand corner), it also shows an example of the layout of Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary. The photo shows the “Theological Insights” and “Teaching the Text” sections on 1 Samuel 16 (top of columns 1&3), while also showing another interesting feature of Chisholm’s commentary–a dialogue box that focuses on special issues (this one intriguingly entitled, “Divine Deception?”).

Logos allows you to see a Scripture reference immediately simply by hovering your mouse over it.
Logos allows you to see a Scripture reference immediately simply by hovering your mouse over it.

The hovering feature is also helpful when there are abbreviations in the text that you’re not sure of. Furthermore, when an author references a certain source, if you have that source in your Logos library, you can hover your mouse over it and pull up the reference to that source. This is especially helpful if the author is referring to a Hebrew word and quotes BDB (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew Lexicon) as his source, or is referring to an ancient text that you may have available in your Logos library (such as Hallo and Youngers’ The Context of Scripture, which contains translations of ancient Near Eastern texts). Since the internet has become such a great source of information, modern authors will sometimes give website addresses in the footnotes. If you’re reading a hardcopy you have to jot down the reference and then open your computer to check it out. Again, it’s probably one of those things you’d like to do, but may never get around to. In Logos, it’s just a button click away! All you need to do is click on the web address and Logos immediately takes you there!

There is a dropdown menu in Logos that provides a number of advantages including a special “reading view,” which is the view I have been using for these photos. A really nice feature I have recently discovered is the “read aloud” option (see the menu on the left and go halfway down). If you’re tired of reading, or prefer someone else to read to you, you can click on this function and Logos will read the text to you! You can also click on “show table of contents” in this panel and immediately go to any part of the book. The following photo shows the drop down panel with these and other options. I have also chosen this page from Chisholm’s Samuel commentary because it illustrates the verse by verse commentary section, it shows an example of a chart (partially blocked by the drop down panel), and it shows an example of the “Key themes” box which summarizes in a few words the important ideas of the text under consideration.

Note the drop down panel in the left column which gives the Logos reader many options.
Note the drop down panel in the left column which gives the Logos reader many options.

Besides highlighting text (mentioned above), Logos also allows you to copy text. So if you are making notes for a sermon or Bible study, or you are writing an article, all you have to do is use your cursor to highlight the text, right click, and click copy. Logos even supplies the footnote so you don’t have to remember where you got the information from. This is especially convenient if you’re writing a paper because you don’t have to go to the trouble to compose the footnote! These are just a few of the wonderful features of reading in Logos. I’m sure as time goes on, I will discover others. As I promised, below is a review of Chisholm’s Samuel commentary. If you haven’t previously read it, please continue in order to gain a fuller appreciation of this book.

General Observations on the Teach the Text Commentary Series

The “Teach the Text Commentary Series” was commissioned to help the busy pastor and to fill a void in commentaries that are both scholarly, and yet practical. The aim is to present the “big picture” of a biblical book by dividing it “into carefully selected preaching units, each covered in six pages” (p. ix). There are 5 main areas of focus within these 6 pages: 1) Big Idea; 2) Key Themes; 3) Understanding the Text (this is the longest section including such subjects as context, outline, historical and cultural background, interpretive insights, and theology); 4) Teaching the Text; and 5) Illustrating the Text (pp. xi-xii). It is important to keep this structure and the necessary restrictions in mind when evaluating each commentary in this series.

Such an approach is clearly not intended to be exhaustive. So is there room for a commentary series with this more generalized approach? I believe there is. My own classroom teaching experience has demonstrated to me the need for students to gain the “big picture” of a biblical book. It is important to be able to summarize the main themes and key ideas of a book. Oftentimes people read or study a biblical book and have no idea of how to summarize its main message(s). The “Big Idea” and “Key Themes” features of this series go a long way in aiding the reader to achieve this goal. Therefore, the structure of the Teach the Text Commentary series is not only helpful to the pastor, who may be consulting it for his weekly sermon, it is also beneficial for the beginning student.

Before making specific remarks on Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary, I would also like to add that the “Teach the Text Commentary Series” is attractively presented. Each hardback volume is printed on heavy-duty paper which is ideal for the many helpful maps, photos, and illustrations contained in each commentary.

Comments on 1&2 Samuel Commentary

Chisholm begins his 1&2 Samuel commentary with a brief 7-page introduction. He summarizes these books by noting the three main characters (Samuel, Saul, and David) and by stating, “David is the focal point of the story” (p.1). Saul acts as a foil to David, while “Samuel’s support of David becomes foundational to the narrator’s defense of David” (pp. 1-2). The high point of the book is the Lord’s covenant with David, securing his dynasty and proving faithful even in the midst of David’s sin. Chisholm divides 1&2 Samuel into 7 sections based on “its major plot movements, revolving around the theme of kingship” (p. 4). His outline is as follows: 1) Prelude to Kingship (1 Sam. 1-7); 2) Kingship inaugurated (1 Sam. 8-12); 3) Kingship Fails (1 Sam. 13-15); 4) Kingship in Limbo (1 Sam. 16-31); 5) Kingship Revived (2 Sam. 1-10); 6) Kingship Threatened and Preserved (2 Sam. 11-20); and 7) Epilogue (2 Sam. 21-24). One potential weakness is that this outline is not clearly delineated in the commentary that follows. Perhaps Chisholm’s reason for ignoring this is because he does not find “clear-cut structural markers” in the text (p. 4), but sees the divisions above as related to plot development.

Chisholm packs a lot of information and insight into each 6-page unit of commentary. The information provided on historical and cultural background, though not found in every section, is very helpful for the beginning reader and student. Topics include foreign gods such as Baal or Dagon, divination, the Amalekites, or documents of the ancient Near East that have parallels with biblical material. This information enriches the presentation, as do the color photos that frequently accompany them. At times Chisholm includes side boxes that deal with special issues such as “The Problem of Genocide” or “The Legal Background of Tamar’s Request.”

Two characteristics of Chisholm’s exegesis that I found particularly helpful include his attention to certain words, and parallels and/or contrasts between biblical characters. Chisholm does an excellent job of paying attention to words or phrases found in 1&2 Samuel and demonstrating their connection with another incident in 1&2 Samuel (or the Former Prophets, meaning Joshua-2 Kings). For example, he notes that the expression “terror filled his heart” in 1 Samuel 28:5, in reference to Saul, only occurs one other time in 1-2 Samuel. It is found in the story of Eli’s demise as his “heart trembled over the fate of the ark of God” (p. 184). This kind of verbal connection suggests the author is comparing the circumstances of Saul and Eli. Similarly, Chisholm frequently points out similarities between incidents or characters in 1&2 Samuel with other biblical characters or incidents. One example is the similarities between the actions of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13-14 with Abimelech in Judges 9 (p. 252). This attention to biblical typology is extremely helpful when interpreting a narrative text (see my discussion in Family Portraits, p. 11).

Considering the constraints placed upon him by the commentary’s design (6 pages per literary unit), Chisholm’s overall treatment of the text of 1&2 Samuel is excellent. There is, however, one exception. Although 2 Samuel 2:1-5:5 can legitimately be viewed as a structural unit, treating it in the 6-page format does it a great injustice. This material is too important and too theologically rich to be skimmed over so briefly. Dividing this section by episodes, or even by chapters, would have been a better approach. This imbalance is all the more noticeable when the following section (2 Sam. 5:6-25), arguably less “meaty” than 2 Samuel 2-4, is given the full 6-page treatment. (For Chisholm’s reasoning on this see my interview with him which was conducted after this review.)

Perhaps the greatest challenge in writing a commentary of this kind is providing illustrations for the text. This is certainly a subjective task. Certain illustrations will ring true with some, while others will find them unhelpful. In an interview I conducted with Chisholm (click on link above), I discovered that this section was added by the editors, not by Chisholm himself. While I would not endorse the use of every illustration suggested in this commentary, I do believe a sufficient job has been done. The editors themselves point out that this section of the commentary is intended to provide “general ideas” and to “serve as a catalyst for effectively illustrating the text” (p. xii).

In conclusion, Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary achieves the aims of this series admirably. He is a scholar of high caliber and is a well-established expert on the entire corpus of the Former Prophets. Pastors, students, and others wanting to become grounded in the message of 1&2 Samuel will benefit greatly from this commentary. I used it for my own 1&2 Samuel class this past semester and will continue to do so in the future. I heartily recommend it to others.

Purchase Robert Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel Commentary from Logos Bible Software by clicking on this link.

(Many thanks to Logos Bible Software for supplying this review copy of Robert Chisholm Jr.’s 1&2 Samuel Commentary in the Teach the Text Commentary series in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.)

Favorite 1&2 Samuel Commentaries

Favorite 1&2 Samuel Commentaries

From time to time I am asked by students and others what my favorite Bible commentaries are. I thought I would start with my favorite books to teach (1&2 Samuel) and list the commentaries that have had the greatest impact on me. In the future I will list favorite commentaries from other Old and New Testament books. I’ve decided not to limit myself to a certain number (5, or 10–although this particular post has 5!) because the number may be different with each book of the Bible. If you are interested in purchasing any of these commentaries, I have provided links to Amazon (USA and UK under the book images. In no particular order, here are my favorite 1&2 Samuel commentaries.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

1. Robert Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, The New American Commentary, (Broaman & Holman, 1996), 512 pp.

The New American Commentary is a solid evangelical commentary series. The NIV version is used, followed by a verse by verse commentary by the author. Bergen’s commentary begins with approximately a 40 page introduction to the books of Samuel. Like many modern commentaries, Bergen is sensitive to the literary art of the ancient biblical writer, which means he looks at the final form of the bibical text and focuses on its message. For me, the main strength of this commentary is Bergen’s knowledge of the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and how the authority of the “Books of Moses” are reflected in 1&2 Samuel. At every turn, Bergen gives examples of how a knowledge of the Law of Moses deepens the reader’s understanding of 1&2 Samuel. For example, in the introductory material, Bergen provides two charts (historical interconnections and legal interconnections, pp. 47-50) which demonstrate the interconnections between the Pentateuch and 1&2 Samuel. In my opinion, one of Bergen’s weaknesses is that David can seemingly do no wrong (except of course in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah!). For example, when David asks the priest Ahimelech for bread and a sword, he lies to the priest by telling him that he is on secret business for the king (1 Sam. 21:2). To save David from an obvious lie Bergen suggests that the king David has in mind is Yahweh (p. 221). That’s a small criticism, however. Bergen’s commentary is sure to increase your understanding of the books of Samuel. I would give it 4 1/4 stars out of 5.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

2. J. Robert Vannoy, 1-2 Samuel, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, (Tyndale House, 2009), 452 pp.

Vannoy’s 1&2 Samuel commentary is also the work of an evangelical scholar. He begins with a 38 page introduction discussing such topics as date and occasion of writing in which he challenges some of the long-held presuppositions of some scholars regarding the so-called “Deuteronomistic History” (Many scholars contend that Deuteronomy was written in two instalments: 1] during the time of Josiah; and 2] during the exile). He argues that moving the date of Deuteronomy from the Mosaic era and placing it at the end of the kingdom period “has far-reaching implications for the literature of the Old Testament.” This, of course, includes the books of Samuel. Vannoy argues for an early date of writing for the books of Samuel (about 931 B.C. following the division of the kingdom, p. 9). Vannoy also approaches the text with a literary sensitivity. He calls attention to the structure of different parts of 1&2 Samuel and his comments are based on the final form of the text. This commentary uses the NLT. Each section consists of the NLT, followed by a “Notes” section which comments on significant Hebrew words and textual issues. Next is the author’s verse by verse commentary followed by “Endnotes.” Vannoy’s greatest strength, in my opinion, is his ability to relate the text of 1&2 Samuel to Christological concerns. For example, he states, “…while Christian interpreters should take their point of departure, as much as is possible, from the perspective of the original author and his audience, they must also read every narrative of Scripture in the ever-widening context of the growth of revelation and redemption as it is disclosed in the entirety of the Christian canon” (p. 10). I would give this commentary 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

3. Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, and 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Focus on the Bible (Christian Focus, 1999 & 2000), 336 pp. each.

If you’re looking for someone who knows all of the scholarly issues, is evangelical, and communicates in a common-sense, down-to-earth style, then Dale Ralph Davis is your commentator! These two Samuel commentaries form part of a six-commentary series by Davis, extending from Joshua-2 Kings. Davis is a former seminary professor (Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Ms.), and a current pastor (Woodland Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, Ms.). His pastor’s perspective will speak to the average Christian who enjoys good commentary interspersed with homey illustrations (warning–be prepared to learn a lot of American Civil War history–a favourite topic of Davis’s illustrations).

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

Even though Davis is coming from a Reformed background, his commentary is balanced and it is rare to see (though not impossible) Calvinistic coloring bleed over into his interpretation. Davis wastes no time with introductory matters in his 1&2 Samuel commentaries; he allots all of 2 pages in each one! Instead, he dives right into the text. Even though reading both volumes amounts to a little over 700 pages of reading, Davis is one of my students’ favourite commentators. Some prefer his style (which is very colloquial) to that of other, more formal, commentators. To give you a flavor for Davis’s style, here are a few quotes: “Amnon has far more glands than brains” (2 Sam., p. 167). Speaking of Joab’s murder of Amasa, Davis writes, “It was business as usual. No need to cry over spilled blood. It’s merely a clinical matter for Joab” (2 Sam., p. 254). Davis is colorful, but he is also very knowledgeable. His 1&2 Samuel commentaries will definitely increase your understanding of these books. I would give Davis 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Available from Amazon USA / UK
Available from Amazon USA / UK

4. David Firth, 1&2 Samuel, Apollos Old Testament Commentary (IVP & Apollos, 2009), 614 pp.

Of all the commentaries I recommended to this point, Firth’s is the most comprehensive. This is due largely to the format of the Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series. Firth’s commentary consists of an original translation of the Hebrew text, followed by notes on the text, a section on “Form and Structure,” followed by the verse by verse commentary section, and finally, an “Explanation” section which consists of further reflections on the passage (for a fuller breakdown of the format followed by the Apollos OT series,  see my review of 1&2 Kings).  Usually a commentary that has notes on the Hebrew text explaining the author’s translation is very technical and only for scholars and those who know the original language. However, Firth’s textual notes are very readable and quite interesting. I often pulled out my yellow highlighter to note a point he was making. Firth’s commentary is solid and insightful with one exception: his interpretation of the David and Bathsheba episode (which he argues is not the best title for this incident, and he is probably right). Firth attempts to incorporate some sociological insights into why the incident happened using the values of honor and shame. Although a knowledge of cultural values can prove extremely enlightening (as I frequently argue in my posts on this blog), in this case I think that it has led Firth astray in his understanding of the narrative. Briefly, his argument is that David does not send for Bathsheba because she is beautiful (and he lusts after her), but in order to “claim authority from Uriah” and ultimately to kill him (p. 416). Firth says that the text gives no reason for David’s desire to kill Uriah and suggests that perhaps Uriah is a threat to David like David was to Saul. He emphasizes, however that this is only a supposition. In my opinion, this interpretation completely distorts things that we know about David and, perhaps most importantly, misses the parallels between David and his son Amnon (who clearly has a lust problem with his sister–2 Sam. 13). Other than this one unusual interpretation, I find Firth’s commentary to be very insightful and a rewarding read. I would give it 4 1/4 stars out of 5.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

5. Robert B. Chisholm Jr., 1&2 Samuel, Teach the Text Commentary (BakerBooks, 2013), 337 pp.

I won’t say a lot about Chisholm’s commentary here because I have reviewed it elsewhere (click here to see the review, click here to see an interview with Chisholm), and I will be reviewing the Logos Bible Software version of it in a future post. I will simply say that if someone wants a good introduction to the books of 1&2 Samuel, this is one of the best. It is clearly written, and Chisholm is a knowledgeable evangelical scholar. The book includes pictures, charts, and sidebars which are of the highest quality and add to the overall presentation. Chisholm seeks to provide readers with the “Big Picture” and key themes of 1&2 Samuel and he admirably succeeds. The only shortcoming of the book is its brevity and some of the “application sections” (not added by Chisholm, but by the publisher). The brevity, however, is part of the overall design of the “Teach the Text Commentary” series. The fact that I am using it as one of the main textbooks in my 1&2 Samuel class should let you know how highly I think of it. I would give it 4 1/2 stars out of 5.

The temptation at this point is to go on and name a few other favorite Samuel commentaries, but I believe this is a good stopping point and so I will leave you with these 5. Feel free to suggest your own favorite Samuel commentaries in the comments, or to ask me a question about these or others.

1&2 Kings Apollos Commentary: Book Review

1&2 Kings Apollos Commentary: Book Review

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

Lissa M. Wray Beal, 1&2 Kings, Apollos Old Testament Commentary, (Nottingham & Downers Grove: Apollos and IVP, 2014), 615 pp.

1&2 Kings in the Apollos Commentary series by Lissa M. Wray Beal is a thorough and thoughtful treatment of these Old Testament books. Wray Beal is evangelical in her outlook but she is conversant with all scholarly positions. The commentary follows the usual format of the Apollos Old Testament series which includes:

1) Translation–A fresh translation of the original text by the author.

2) Notes on the Text–The author’s notes on the original text(s) (explaining grammatical and textual difficulties, noting alternative readings, and, at times, explaining the author’s reasoning for a particular translation).

3) Form and Structure–Insights on how the text is put together and reasons for treating a particular passage as a unit. Wray Beal also notes the theories of other scholars who speculate on the original sources that a given passage may have been derived from. She is usually dismissive of these theories and always asserts her interest in focusing on the final form of the text.

4) Comment–This section is a verse by verse exposition of the text of 1&2 Kings.

5) Explanation–A focus on the theology of the passage and how it relates to biblical themes and ideas presented elsewhere in Scripture. Wray Beal frequently shows how the theology of 1&2 Kings anticipates important theological concepts in the New Testament.

1&2 Kings Commentary Introductory Material

The commentary begins with a 38 page introduction on 1&2 Kings in which Wray Beal outlines the significant issues and features of 1&2 Kings, as well as her understanding and approach to these books. She notes both the prophetic and historical character of 1&2 Kings and has an extended discussion on the historiography of 1&2 Kings. She understands “the nature and purpose of 1-2 Kings to be representational historiography” (p. 39) By this she means that “the accounts are referential and not merely fictional or aesthetic…the author is constrained by the actualities of the subject matter” (p. 40). In other words, she sees the content of 1&2 Kings as a record of real historical events. However, she also notes that, “As narrative historiography, the accounts of the past are artistically drawn” (p. 40). This means 1&2 Kings contain the elements of good storytelling (e.g., characters, plot, narrative time and space). Her interpretation of 1&2 Kings is guided by both of these approaches. 1&2 Kings is also famous for its confusing numbers regarding the reign of the kings of Israel and Judah and Wray Beal has a brief section explaining her approach in the commentary. Basically, she accepts the well-known conclusions of Edwin Thiele regarding co-regencies and the different reckoning systems of accession and nonaccession years (I know this sounds technical for those not familiar with these issues, nevertheless, it is an important topic for studies in 1&2 Kings).

Wray Beal’s concluding section of the Introduction examines the main theological issues of 1&2 Kings. These include: 1) the influence of the lawcode in Deuteronomy; 2) the covenant made with David; 3) the power of the prophetic word; 4) the sovereignty of YHWH (Yahweh) over history; 5) the realities of judgment and grace; and 6) kingship as a tutor that leads to Christ. If you want a bird’s eye view of the messages of 1&2 Kings, this section is well worth the read.

The Commentary Itself

As one can gather from the above discussion this commentary is most suited for pastors, seminary students, and serious students of the Bible. The commentary is very readable, but Wray Beal assumes her readers are familiar with scholarly issues and jargon. The commentary itself is very solid. Wray Beal has compiled a lot of useful insights and information on 1&2 Kings. She has definitely benefitted from those who have written on these books before her. However, there are not any significant novel insights in the commentary section. Wray Beal doesn’t strike any new ground; she lays out the various possibilities suggested by others and tells you where she stands and why. Therefore, if you’ve read a number of commentaries on 1&2 Kings, there will not be any new earth-shattering interpretations here.

The real strength of Wray Beal’s commentary (besides her solid, even if not creatively new, exposition) is the “Explanation” section. Here she often “waxes eloquent” on various theological issues raised by the text. Starting with the text in 1&2 Kings, she will then trace an idea or theme throughout the biblical canon, showing its meaning in other OT texts, as well as its NT significance. For example, she notes how the righteous reign of King Asa of Judah breaks the previous three generational pattern of apostasy. She states, “As predictable as sinfulness is, its cycle can be broken by righteousness” (p. 216). Asa is an example that Yahweh may always break in and interrupt the downward spiral of sin. She notes other biblical examples like Noah and King Josiah. Yet, while these inbreakings of righteousness are powerful, they are never complete. Asa’s reform left the high places, and Josiah’s reform could not reverse the coming judgment. All of this anticipates Paul’s cry, “Wretched man that I am, who will save me?” Wray Beal then comments, “Paul answers his own cry of wretchedness with thanksgiving to the last king of Israel–Jesus Christ. He is the one righteous king who fully and finally broke the cycle of sin, ending its power” (p. 217). This “big picture” approach of biblical doctrines and themes is characteristic of the Explanation section and adds some real punch to the value of the commentary.

If you’re looking for a solid commentary that combines the best of modern scholarship with some excellent theological reflection, and you’re not afraid of wading into the deep waters of academia, then Lissa M. Wray Beal’s 1&2 Kings Commentary in the Apollos Old Testament series is an excellent choice. I highly recommend it for serious Bible study.

Buy 1&2 Kings Apollos Old Testament Commentary from Amazon USA / UK


  • Series: Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Book 9)
  • Hardcover: 615 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830825096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830825097

(Thanks to IVP for providing this book in exchange for an unbiased review!)


The IVP Bible Background Commentary Part 2: Genesis – Kings

The IVP Bible Background Commentary Part 2: Genesis – Kings

untitledTHE IVP BIBLE BACKGROUND COMMENTARY: Old Testament. By John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000. 832 pages. Available at Amazon USA / UK

In my first review (which you can read by clicking here), I looked at the overall purpose and scope of the IVP Bible Background Commentary. In this review, I will focus on some of the interesting insights that can be learned by using this resource. Because of the sheer volume of material, I have chosen to focus on the Books of Genesis through 2 Kings. In a future review, I will look at the sections concerning the Psalms and Wisdom literature, as well as the Prophets.

Cultural Insights from the Ancient Near East

Since this is a commentary on Bible backgrounds, one expects information that provides insight into the culture of the ancient Near East. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, is loaded with wonderful insights that the ordinary Bible reader would be unfamiliar with. Moderns may think that the practice of polygamy in the ancient world was simply to satisfy the sexual desires of the male, but there were other motivating factors as well: “1) an imbalance in the number of males and females; 2) the need to produce large numbers of children to work herds and / or fields; 3) the desire to increase prestige and wealth of a household through multiple marriage contracts; and 4) the high rate of death of females in childbirth” (comment on Gen. 4:19, p. 34 and 1 Sam. 1:2, p. 281). Although this insight doesn’t justify polygamy, it does demonstrate some of the cultural factors that led to the practice.

From the movie "The Ten Commandments," Moses (Charlton Heston) and his father-in-law Jethro.
From the movie “The Ten Commandments,” Moses (Charlton Heston) and his father-in-law Jethro.

One interesting problem that the commentary resolves concerns the supposedly different names for Moses’s father-in-law. Was his name Jethro (Exod. 3:1), Reuel (Exod. 2:18), or Hobab (Judg. 4:11)? Did one man really have 3 names, or as some more sceptical scholars suggest, are 3 contradictory sources being used? The authors explain that, “The difficulty can be resolved once the ambiguity of the terminology is recognized. The term designating male in-laws is nonspecific. The term referred to a woman’s male relatives and could be used for her father, brother, or even grandfather” (comment on Exod. 3:1, p. 79). The authors suggest that Reuel may be the grandfather, Jethro the father (of Moses’s wife Zipporah), and Hobab a brother-in-law of Moses, or some other such combination.

<img class=” wp-image-961″ src=”” alt=”An account by Sargon II has similarities to Joshua 10:11” width=”173″ height=”213″ /> An account by Sargon II has similarities to Joshua 10:11

Other insights are provided by a brief discussion of the ancient Near East’s concept of corporate responsibility and how Achan’s sin impacted his whole family, not to mention the entire nation (comment on Josh. 7:1, pp. 218-219). A description of palace architecture also helps the reader better understand Ehud’s assassination of the Moabite king Eglon, and how he managed to escape (comment on Judg. 3:23, pp. 248-249). The authors also frequently quote from ancient texts that have similarities to biblical accounts. For example, one ancient Near Eastern text that comes from Sargon II, king of Assyria “reports that in his campaign against Urartu (714 B.C.) the god Adad stormed against his enemies with ‘stones from heaven’ and so annihilated them” (p. 225). This is reminiscent of the Lord’s intervention for Joshua against the kings of Canaan (Josh. 10:11).

The "witch" at Endor (1 Sam. 28)
The “witch” at Endor (1 Sam. 28)

One very interesting feature relates to an understanding of life after death in the ancient Near East. The authors discuss the strange story of the medium at Endor summoning Samuel at the request of Saul, after Samuel had died (1 Sam. 28). They comment, “This specialist from Endor used a ritual pit to conjure up the spirits of the dead….The pits were believed to be magical portals through which spirits could pass between the realms of the living and the dead. The practitioner was one who had special knowledge of the location of such a pit and who was familiar with the procedures necessary to summon the dead” (comment on 1 Sam. 28:7, p. 318). Of course, this doesn’t mean that the woman conjured up Samuel through her own power, but it does give insight into the ancient beliefs and practices involved. A comment on 1 Kings 16:4 regarding the fate of King Baasha of Israel and his family is also enlightening. The passage states that the king and his family members will be eaten by dogs if they die in the city or by birds if they die in the fields. The authors comment, “most ancient peoples believed that proper, timely burial affected the quality of the afterlife….We know that even Israelites believed that proper burial affected one’s afterlife, because they, like their neighbors, buried their loved ones with the provisions that would serve them in the afterlife; most often pottery vessels (filled with food) and jewelry (to ward off evil), with tools and personal items sometimes added” (p. 373).

IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Old Testament: Limitations

Me hanging out with Philistines at Tel es-Safi (Gath).
Me hanging out with Philistines at Tel es-Safi (Gath).

The authors frequently site knowledge that is available through archaeology. This could be regarding certain cities, or artefacts. For example, when speaking of the Tabernacle (2 Sam. 6:17, p. 332), the discovery of a Midianite tent shrine that dates from the 12th century B.C. is noted. While this is interesting information, it also points up a shortcoming in the commentary. A photo of such discoveries would be helpful (or a reference where further info and pictures might be found). Additionally, it is the archaeological information contained in the commentary that particularly cries out for a new updated edition. For example, when the Philistine city of Gath is mentioned in the text, the authors constantly remind us that there has been no archaeological work done at this site (see e.g., the comment on 1 Sam. 27:2, p. 317). However, this is no longer the case. In fact, excavations have been going on at Tel es-Safi (biblical Gath) since 1996 with many fascinating discoveries made (see my article on Philistine cities here).

Although the authors have intentionally omitted the use of references for the sake of the average reader, still the lack of references hurt the commentary. Besides the Midianite tent shrine mentioned above, there are many places that references would be extremely helpful, even for the average reader. For example, there is a brief discussion of the problem of the date of the Exodus on page 86. Although the article gives the basic outline of the problems involved, it is still very general. The curious reader, however, is not left with any suggestions on how to pursue a deeper treatment of the subject.

The commentary is also full of repetition. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be quite helpful to have information at your fingertips rather than being told to go to another place in the commentary to find it. The problem is the authors do both. For example, whole sections of the commentary on 1&2 Kings refer the reader to 2 Chronicles. Again, if this was the practice throughout the commentary, I would have no problem with it. In fact, it would shorten the commentary considerably and might allow for the photos and references that I believe would be helpful. My complaint is that the decision to repeat information (sometimes 3, 4 or more times), while at other times saying, “see such ‘n such” for information on this passage, seems arbitrary.

Evaluation of Genesis – 2 Kings, IVP Bible Background Commentary

In spite of the shortcomings I have mentioned, I believe this commentary is extremely useful and informative. Besides simply providing a review, I have attempted to show the reader some of the interesting insights available. Other helpful features include geographical information (stating how far it is from one place to another, or what the terrain is like). This can raise important issues for interpretation. For example, what are we to make of the fact that Saul’s hometown is only a short distance away from Samuel’s hometown, and yet Saul had never heard of Samuel! (comments on 1 Sam. 9:6, p. 293). Other helpful explanations include the value of different types of money (shekels, etc.), the times of year represented by the names of various months, and the meaning of certain political or military offices (e.g., the Assyrian official known as Tartan means “field marshal, 2 Kgs. 18:17, p. 405). Although I am hopeful that an update on the Old Testament volume will be forthcoming from IVP (as the New Testament one which appeared this year), I would still heartily recommend this commentary as a source of valuable information in better understanding the Bible and the ancient Near East.

(A copy of this commentary has been provided for the reviewer in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. Many thanks to the publishers at IVP!)

The IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament is available at,, and at Amazon USA / UK



IVP Bible Background Commentary Old Testament: Part 1

IVP Bible Background Commentary Old Testament

untitledTHE IVP BIBLE BACKGROUND COMMENTARY: Old Testament. By John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000. 832 pages. Available at Amazon USA / UK

This one volume commentary on the Old Testament is a companion to the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament (also available at Amazon USA / UK). The purpose of both of these volumes is to provide helpful information regarding the cultural context in which the Bible was written. This is a daunting task for the authors seeking to provide this information for the Old Testament. The number of books in the Old Testament, the length of historical time involved, and the vast knowledge required of different ancient cultures makes this a challenging undertaking. But Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, all well-known Old Testament scholars, are up to the task.

Author John Walton
Author John H. Walton

The authors do not claim that the material included in the commentary will necessarily help with the theological interpretation of the Bible (p. 7). Although the authors include this disclaimer, one could certainly debate that a knowledge of cultural context can enhance one’s understanding of a given text of Scripture. In fact, throughout the commentary (as we shall see in future reviews) the authors demonstrate how a knowledge of background material influences one’s interpretation of the text. That being said, the authors’ main concern, according to the preface, is to provide enough cultural context so that the Old Testament is not misinterpreted by imposing our own cultural biases and worldview on the text. Regarding the background information provided they state, “In many cases there may not be anything that can be done with the information, but having that information may prevent one from doing something with the text that should not be done” (p. 9).

Author, Victor H. Matthews
Author, Victor H. Matthews

This commentary is written with the lay-person in mind. As a result, references to scholarly or ancient sources are omitted. There are no footnotes; only a 10-page bibliography for those who might wish to pursue a topic further. While this uncluttered approach makes reading easier, this volume is also intended for the pastor and student and the lack of references makes further research more difficult. A helpful glossary of terms is included at the back of the book for those not familiar with certain terms or names. The back of the commentary also includes charts on the various ancient tablets and inscriptions mentioned in the commentary, a timeline, and some general maps, all in black and white. Better maps are available in other resources, but for a quick general reference regarding a particular site or city, the maps included are adequate. Although it would have added to the length and expense of the commentary, photographs, charts, and maps within the commentary would have been very helpful for the lay-person.

Author, Mark W. Chavalas
Author, Mark W. Chavalas

The IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament only treats the books of the Protestant Canon (as opposed to the Catholic Canon) and approaches them in that order (as opposed to the order in the Hebrew Bible). The commentary is divided into four main sections: The Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy); Historical Literature (Joshua-Esther); Wisdom and Poetic Literature; and Prophetic Literature. Each section includes an introduction to the books or type of literature found in it. Scattered throughout the commentary are discussions on important topics such as, “Ancient Near Eastern Flood Accounts,” “The Date of the Exodus,” “Egyptian Information About Canaan and Israel,” “Afterlife Beliefs in Israel and the Ancient Near East,” and many others.

All in all, this is an extremely useful and interesting commentary. Because of the size of the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament, I will be breaking it down into bite-sized chunks and reviewing various books, or sections, in future articles. Stay tuned for more on this excellent resource.

(Thanks to IVP for providing this review copy in exchange for an unbiased review. For other books from IVP please visit