A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Eric Tully
The ESV Expository Commentary from Crossway is a helpful new resource, providing an accessible explanation of the biblical text of the Old and New Testaments with particular attention to biblical theology. The editors have assembled a first-rate team of scholars who clearly and faithfully exposit Scripture in service to the Church. Seven volumes have appeared:
- Vol. 3: 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles (2019)
- Vol. 4: Ezra-Job (2020)
- Vol. 7: Daniel-Malachi (2018—the volume under review)
- Vol. 9: John-Acts (2019)
- Vol. 10: Romans-Galatians (2020)
- Vol. 11: Ephesians-Philemon (2018)
- Vol. 12: Hebrews-Revelation (2018)
According to the series preface, the goal of the commentary is a “clear, crisp, and Christ-centered explanation of the biblical text. All Scripture speaks of Christ (Luke 24:27), and we have sought to show how each biblical book helps us to see the ‘light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6)” (9). The series has eight goals that distinguish it from the many other biblical commentaries available: (1) exegetically sound, (2) robustly biblical-theological (i.e. the Bible is an overarching unity culminating in Christ), (3) globally aware (i.e. having a global audience), (4) broadly reformed (grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, taught in Scripture alone, for God’s glory alone), (5) doctrinally conversant, (6) pastorally useful (for example, avoiding lengthy grammatical/syntactical discussions), (7) application-minded (with consistent bridges to contemporary life), and (8) efficient in expression (not a word-by-word analysis) (9-10). The ESV translation is the base text, but commentators are expected to make their own translation and do not have to agree with every translation decision reflected in the ESV.
Each volume, including Volume VII: Daniel-Malachi, is attractively bound in black hardcover with gold lettering. The pages are large (7×10”) allowing for large font size and wide margins. There are thirteen chapters in Volume VII, one each for Daniel and the twelve “Minor” prophets:
- Daniel (Mitchell L. Chase)
- Hosea (George M. Schwab Sr.)
- Joel (Allan M. Harman)
- Amos (Michael G. McKelvey)
- Obadiah (Max Roglund)
- Jonah (Jay Sklar)
- Micah (Stephen G. Dempster)
- Nahum (Daniel C. Timmer)
- Habakkuk (David G. Firth)
- Zephaniah (Jason S. DeRouchie)
- Haggai (Michael Stead)
- Zechariah (Anthony R. Petterson)
- Malachi (Eric Ortlund)
Each chapter contains the usual, standard, introductory categories along with a few categories that are specific to the goals of this series. Let us consider Mitchell Chase’s chapter on Daniel as an example of both the topics covered as well as the character of the volume.
Chase begins with a one-paragraph Overview of Daniel, including the general background and contents of the book.
Under Title and Author, he provides evidence supporting Daniel as the author of the book and critiques a few critical arguments challenging Daniel as the author. In my view, this is a crucial issue—affecting historical context, literary genre, and the biblical claims—which could have been a bit more robust.
Next, we find a brief discussion of Date and Occasion in which Chase argues that the book of Daniel was probably completed shortly after Daniel’s last vision in 536 BC. Daniel is a prophet who predicts the future accurately.
Under Genre and Literary Features, Chase mentions features such as narratives, visions, chiasm, first and third-person point of view, and the use of different languages in the book. Surprisingly, there is no discussion of the apocalyptic or prophetic-apocalyptic genre and what distinguishes it from classical prophecy.
The fifth category is Theology of Daniel, in which Chase lists divine sovereignty, worship, faithfulness, revelation, wisdom, judgment, deliverance, and dominion.
The sixth introductory category is Relationship to the Rest of the Bible and to Christ. Here Chase discusses the stone-kingdom of Daniel 2 which is inaugurated by Jesus, the redemptive rescues of Daniel and his friends in Daniel 3 and 6 which foreshadow Christ, and “one like a Son of Man” (Dan. 7:13; cf. Matt. 26:64), and the “anointed one” in Daniel 9 who finishes transgression.
The seventh category is Preaching from Daniel. Chase states that the book of Daniel should be read and proclaimed as a Christian book, integrated with Jesus as the climax of God’s revelation. He notes an emphasis on obedience in the book which is not mere moralism and should not be neglected (23).
The eighth category is Interpretive Challenges, in which Chase briefly draws attention to the kingdoms in chapters 2 and 7, the role of the “little horn” in chapters 7 and 8, the identification of the “heavenly figures,” the relationship between Darius and Cyrus, the two Greek versions of the book, and the symbolic numbers.
Finally, the introduction concludes with an Outline of the book. Chase notes the Aramaic chiasm in chapters 2-7 as well as the Hebrew chiasm in chapters 8-12.
Each unit of Commentary begins with a presentation of the ESV biblical text of the pericope, a brief overview of the unit, an outline of the unit, and some brief comments on its structure. The author proceeds paragraph by paragraph, drawing attention to particular details such as structure, literary features, historical background, and theological elements. As might be expected in a popular-level commentary, there is almost no interaction with other scholars and no footnotes or endnotes. Also, there is almost no discussion of the underlying Hebrew text.
The discussion of each pericope concludes with a Response in which the author moves from the details of the passage to the theological meaning and to biblical theology. For example, the response section to Hosea 2:6-15 summarizes the point of the pericope, relates it to Paul’s discussion of worship in 1 Corinthians 11, moves to the issue of discipline by the author of Hebrews 12, and ends with a brief comment about Jesus standing in the place of those who had earned judgment (191).
Overall, the commentary achieves its goals admirably and is an excellent resource for laypeople, teachers of adult classes or Bible studies, and pastors looking for a commentary that gets right at the theological point and explores biblical-theological implications.
I will mention two cautions. First, because a multi-volume commentary on the entire Bible requires strict word limits, readers should be aware that the introductions and commentaries are sometimes too terse. Pastors doing sermon preparation will need to supplement their resources with other commentaries that get more into the details and explain the Hebrew text.
Second, although one of the major emphases of this commentary series is biblical theology, some of these Christ-centered discussions in the commentaries are more convincing than others. In many cases, authors competently highlight themes that are realized in the NT and show how Christ is the answer to human rebellion. However, in some cases, the move to Christ is too simplistic and “easy” without adequate attention to the original literary context and sense of the OT passage. Comments about Jesus’ work on the cross sometimes solve the problem of sin and judgment in an OT passage in such a way that the power of the prophet’s words is undermined.
Before the prophet has an opportunity to conclude his own book with eschatological hope and a declaration that God will create a faithful people for himself, the commentator has already “stolen his thunder” in the course of commentary on many oracles of judgment, declaring that Christ reverses all these things. At times, it would be more effective to be patient, allowing the prophet to develop his argument and build tension, including the proclamation of divine wrath and terrible judgment, before making the move to Christ. If one is interpreting Scripture correctly, this move is inevitable and crucial; but if it comes too soon it does not allow the OT space to make distinctive claims.
The ESV Expository Commentary is highly recommended and we anticipate the completion of the series in the coming years.
Eric J. Tully is Director of the PhD (Theological Studies) and Associate Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.
Buy the books
ESV EXPOSITORY COMMENTARY: DANIEL–MALACHI (VOLUME 7), edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton, Jr., and Jay Sklar