A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by B. Jason Epps
V. Philips Long is Professor Emeritus at Regent College Vancouver. He has published on the reign and rejection of King Saul and books on biblical history and the history of Israel. He has also written the 1 and 2 Samuel sections in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary.
Long notes very early on that in order to understand the New Testament, one must understand 1 and 2 Samuel and the Old Testament as a whole. For too long has the Old Testament taken a back seat in many of our churches when in reality it is the Old Testament that brings forth greater richness than we can ever imagine into the New Testament. He notes that the Scripture passages he quotes are from the NIV 2011. This is only of minor interest, primarily because most of Tyndale’s commentaries are built around the ESV. This is most likely because of Long’s work in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary.
In his introduction, Long notes that in spite of our English tendency to divide 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Samuel were originally considered one book in numerous early manuscripts, which is why he argues that they should be treated as one holistic unit. This also explains why, even though the commentary covers both 1 and 2 Samuel, they are grouped together as one with no major divisions between the two. Interestingly, he argues that even though Samuel is not the main character or the author of the book since he dies before 2 Samuel, he argues these books should be called 1 and 2 Samuel primarily because of the influence of Samuel over the entire book.
Long argues that while some, like Kitchen, have suggested an organizational schema for the book, he is not convinced. Therefore, he states that he will analyze the book according to the narrative schema since most of the material follows in a sequential manner with a few intervening narrative elements like flashbacks. In place of seeing theological theme connections, he provides an overview summary of the chronological events of the book which helps readers orient themselves to the grand flow of the books of Samuel.
In discussing how one should best understand the historical context of the book, he notes the deficiencies in the revisionist interpretations, which in his mind have a tendency to read their own desires into the text and perform unwarranted scholastic leaps. Revisionist theories, according to Long, have a tendency to overemphasize the humanness of people in 1 and 2 Samuel, for example seeing Samuel as a crotchety old man who does not really understand the future. However, Long argues quite convincingly that these are just a matter of personal imposition on the text by scholars and do not do justice nor make sense within the biblical frame.
In his discussion of revisionist theories, he presents their positions in an easy to understand way while also clearly establishing the strengths and weaknesses of their position, which ultimately increases the reader’s confidence in the text of 1 and 2 Samuel. On the other side, he is also against blindly trusting historical tradition just for the sake of it. Rather, his approach to interpretation and historical schema is to simply follow the text and allow the text itself to correct any false preconceived notions. He argues that this philosophy will help provide a greater richness and complete understanding to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel.
Long particularly notes that as far as the author in the books of Samuel, it is difficult to determine. According to Jewish tradition, the book of Samuel was completed by Samuel, Nathan, and by God. It appears that he does not find this interpretation convincing, but he does not offer an alternative. He argues based on Samuel’s position in the canon that since Samuel is included in the prophets, it is most likely that he had a writing ministry similar to that of the other prophets. We just have no record of this. While I find this to be an interesting notion, the support for it seems to be circumstantial since it rests on Samuel’s placement in the Hebrew canon, which was ultimately determined centuries after the book was written although the book was recognized as authoritative well before that. However, this conclusion may gain more concrete validity if support and documentation is found. Whether or not Samuel had a writing ministry does not change the themes and purposes of the books of Samuel.
Similar to most Tyndale commentaries, the table of contents subdivides the introduction, but not the commentary proper, making it difficult to access a particular verse. Similar to Tyndale commentaries, larger sections of Scripture are divided into chapter sections, which are then subdivided into smaller units. Within these smaller units, the structure generally provides the context of the particular section, usually done by simple summary. Then the particular verse sections are analyzed. Usually this commentary covers three verses per paragraph. Once he is done with this verse section, he transitions to a section which he calls “Meaning” in which he discusses scholastic views on this section, practical application, and theological themes. In a way, this “Meaning” section is more or less a conclusion of these verse sections.
An interesting feature in this commentary is his detailed explanation of the significance of words and names. He transliterates these Hebrew words and names but goes into great depth with their significance and potential importance to the grand narrative of the books of Samuel. This is especially helpful because readers sometimes have a tendency to overlook the significance of names. A greater awareness of this allows the reader to have a greater appreciation of the author’s particular subtle emphases in the book of Samuel.
Ultimately, this commentary accomplishes its goal of being understandable and scholarly. This commentary is approachable to the average lay church goer with its easy-to-understand language and clear analysis. The commentary, like all Tyndale commentaries, provides a section on further reading and research as well as an outlined structure of the book to help orient the reader. As such, this commentary would be immensely helpful to a lay leader in a church or a beginning student in college or seminary who wants a clear overview of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel.
B. Jason Epps
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Buy the books
1 AND 2 SAMUEL, by V. Philips Long