Review by Eric Tully
Old Testament commentaries often deal with the technical details of Hebrew grammar, exegetical difficulties, historical background, and theological insights. When it comes to synthesizing all of these details and explaining how they support the argument and main idea of the author, however, pastors and students are often on their own. The move from exegetical details to meaning is the most critical component of exegesis, but it is also – by far – the most difficult. In attempt to provide further assistance, a new commentary series from Zondervan, “Hearing the Message of Scripture,” focuses on the structure, argument and main idea of each passage.
This volume on Obadiah is the first in the series. It is written by Daniel Block who is also the general editor. Block is Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. He has published prolifically on the Old Testament including substantial commentaries on Judges (NAC), Deuteronomy (NIVAC), and Ezekiel (NICOT). This book consists of a short bibliography (two pages), Block’s translation of Obadiah, an introduction to the book, and the commentary itself.
Block explains that the “primary goal of this commentary series is to help serious students of Scripture, as well as those charged with preaching and teaching the Word of God, to hear the message of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard” (9-10). Authors in the series are concerned with three principle questions:
- “What are the principle theological points the biblical writers are making?”
- “How do the biblical writers make those points?”
- “What significance does the message of the present text have for understanding the message of the biblical book within which it is embedded and the message of the Scripture as a whole?” (10).
In the introduction, Block discusses the historical background of the book and its rhetorical aims and strategy. He argues that the prophetic oracles come from the prophet in the mid-6th century BC and are associated with the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586. Before the fall of Jerusalem, Obadiah’s audience was confident that they would never be defeated because of their four “pillars”: the land, covenant, Zion and David. When they were defeated, they had to deal with the spiritual fallout as they re-examined their relationship with YHWH, his potential impotence, betrayal, and abandonment (34). Obadiah’s rhetorical aim is to “rebuild his audience’s hope in the eternal promises of God” (35). Obadiah’s argument consists of two main points. First, divine justice will prevail against his enemies, and second, divine fidelity will prevail with his people (35).
The commentary on this very short book is divided into five units:
- Introduction: Setting the Stage for the “Days” (v. 1)
- The Judgment: Esau’s Humiliation on his “Day” of Doom (vv. 2-10)
- The Indictment: Esau’s Crimes on the “Day of Jacob” (vv. 11-14)
- The Bad Good News: The Demise of Esau on the “Day of YHWH” (vv. 15-18)
- The Good Good News: The Restoration of Jacob on the “Day of YHWH” (vv. 19-21)
Each unit in the commentary follows the same structure, designed to keep everything “in orbit” around the overall message of the book:
The first section of each unit gives the “Main Idea” in two to three sentences. For example, Block describes the main idea of Obadiah 2-10 as follows, “Though Esau prides himself in his independence and security, because of violence to his brother on his day of doom, YHWH will personally bring him down and cut him off forever. But YHWH will involve the nations who may be allied with Esau now. They will treacherously pillage all Esau’s resources and drive him from his own land” (55).
The second section is the “Literary Context.” This is a brief discussion of the passage’s relationship to the book as a whole and its role in the prophet’s argument. Block discusses the contents of the text that precede and follow the passage. He uses a chart for each passage that shows the unit in relationship to the rest of the book.
Following this is “Translation and Outline.” Here, Block lays out his translation of the passage in outline form. He uses highlighting, arrows, line numbers, and indentation to indicate the “thought flow” of the passage. To the right of the translation is a structure outline of the passage with each component clearly marked. While this is presented in English, it is based on Block’s evaluation of the Hebrew text.
The fourth section is “Structure and Literary Form” where Block explains the structure and gives a brief survey of the literary form and style.
The fifth section is the “Explanation of the Text.” Block deals with each verse or sub-unit of the passage in more detail, commenting on Hebrew words, historical background, intertextual links with other books, and figurative language. He makes frequent use of charts for comparing passages and his writing is clear, interesting, and accessible. He transliterates references to Hebrew and places more technical discussions and interaction with other commentaries in the footnotes.
In volumes covering longer books, the final section of each passage will cover “Canonical and Practical Significance.” However, because the entire book of Obadiah is only twenty-one verses, Block saves this discussion for the very end of the book. He comments on the message of the book for Israel before moving to its broader, enduring theological message that Edom is representative of the nations. He closes the commentary and the book with a Christological focus on “Christ the King in Obadiah.”
It is exciting to see not only a new commentary on Obadiah, but a new series of commentaries that takes a creative approach to explaining the biblical text. Block’s commentary is highly organized, well-written, and achieves his goal of focusing on the argument and aims of the text. The commentary is attractively presented and filled with helpful charts and diagrams. While the discussion is highly accessible, it is based on careful scholarship and significant interaction with the Hebrew text.
Pastors and students will find this to be a valuable resource. While it is not primarily intended to provide detailed discussion of textual and exegetical issues, its disciplined approach and clear goals mean that no discussion is wasted or extraneous. Those looking to improve their own exegetical skills might consider using it as a model for the ways that individual details in the biblical text form an argument to proclaim a message for the edification of God’s people. Highly recommended.
Dr. Eric Tully is Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Language at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is also Book Review Editor for Old Testament here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
Obadiah: The Kingship Belongs To Yhwh