1&2 Kings Apollos Commentary: Book Review
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.
- 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!)