Book Review: ZIBBCOT Volume 5


Special thanks to Jesse Hillman at Zondervan for a review copy of this fine volume!

Before I jump in, I should share a little of my own background (insert pun apology here).  I’m nowhere near an Old Testament expert.  I have some decent background knowledge for the New Testament, (at least for an interested layman) but the OT is a different story.  For this reason I jumped at the chance to review an OT commentary, hoping it would help me appreciate the OT more.  While the series’ focus is on historical background, it is a valuable resource that any interested layperson or pastor could put to good use.

Now for the review.  First of all, some specifics are in order.  I received volume 5 which covers the wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs) and the minor prophets (Hosea – Malachi).  Each book has an introduction, each of which vary in length.  Most are rather extensive, though some books with scant information are shorter (Joel for example).  The introductions give information on dating, context, and the audience of the book.  The contents of the commentary are broken down by section and verse, following the normal format we see in other commentaries.  There is a plethora of end-notes and bibliographic information to further your research if you so desire.  Additionally, there is an introductory essay on comparative studies which was quite helpful to someone who was largely ignorant of the discipline.

There is a lot to like in this series.  What has impressed me most of all is the abundance of extant literature we have from the Ancient Near East.  We have Mesopotamian sources, Egyptian sources, Babylonian sources, Assyrian sources, Akkadian sources, and many others.  There’s a wide range of dates too, going as far back as the second millennium B.C.  All of these texts and records are brought to bear on the Biblical text in the relevant moments.  The volume also has brief articles interspersed throughout on a single topic of note.  Some examples include “Hymnic Doxologies” in Amos and “Divine Sonship” in the Psalms.  These typically go into more detail than the textual notes. 

As the name would indicate, there are tons of pictures in this series.  They are very well done.  I’m not a particularly visual person, but even for me they help connect the text in question to its historical context.  There are pictures to be found on nearly every page.  Often they take up half a page, and the quality is up-to-par.  They range from pieces carved in stone (murals?), to pottery and tablets.  Maps are also included at important points. 

Even with all the good things going for it, there are a few qualifiers to give the volume.  First, this isn’t a general purpose commentary, nor is it trying to be.  Detailed textual note are completely absent.  Instead, we’re treated to a rich assortment of historical background.  Second, it would be nice to have an article discussing in broad terms the various cultures which are cited in the text.  As an OT neophyte, I have very little basis to compare an Ugaritic citation with say, an Akkadian or Mesopotamian text.  Explaining these civilizations in the introduction would have helped me a great deal as I tried to make sense of the different sources.  At least a brief trace of the rise and fall of the culture in question.

All in all, the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament is a great series.  This volume has proved very useful recently as I’ve been reading through the Old Testament.  If you’re wanting to gain a richer understanding for the Old Testament, I’d definitely recommend this series.  Comparative studies have too long been ignored by evangelicals (myself included!) but volumes like these stand ready to help us pick the rich fruit that the discipline has left us.

Election for the Sake of All

I was listening to a podcast the other day (godpod from HTB in London), and came across a fascinating interpretation of election, or God’s choice of people to be saved.  It’s a tough doctrine to think about.  Some say that God chooses (elects) only particular persons to be saved.  The logical implication of this is that God chooses some to be damned, if only implicitly.  I’ve always found that hard to reconcile with the love of God, and it’s perhaps the biggest reason I’m not a Calvinist.  The proposal I came across concerning election turned the doctrine on its head.  Basically, instead of election being for the sake of the elect, it is for the sake of all.  Instead of God choosing the chosen people for the sake of the chosen people, it is for the sake of all.

The group discussing it traced lightly over Adam, Abraham, and Israel.  God’s choice runs through the whole Old Testament as a major theme.  God chooses Adam to exercise Godly dominion and care for his creation separate from all the other created beings.  God chooses Noah to preserve a remnant to repopulate the earth.  God chooses Abraham to bless the whole world.  He chooses Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and all the children of Israel to bear his message.  He chooses the kings and the prophets.  In no case was the election for the sake of the elect;  rather it was for the sake of those who the elect would serve.  Adam’s election was not for Adam; it was for the whole creation.  Abraham’s election was for the good of the whole earth.  “The scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham, ‘all nations will be blessed through you.’”  (Galatians 3:8)

Tracing the idea further, God’s choice of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph must be seen as actions to create and sustain the promise to Abraham.  God’s choice of Moses was not for Moses.  It was for Israel, and in turn all those whom Israel was called to bless.  The same with the judges, the kings, and the prophets.  Ultimately we arrive at Jesus, who is the ultimate Elect one.  He is God’s chosen vessel to redeem humanity.  All of God’s choices and actions prior to him come to climax in him.  All election after Jesus stands in the shadow (or light perhaps) of his life, death, and resurrection.  But even Jesus’ election was not for him, but because God loved the world, and longed to get the whole creation project back on track, to redeem and restore it.

This has huge implications for how we understand God’s choice of us.  We are not chosen to sit on a pew and “sit, soak and sour,” as my pastor used to say.  We are instead God’s chosen vessel to bring redemption and restoration to the whole world.  Our election is rooted not only in God’s love for us, but it must go forward into our vocation to “bless all nations.”  This idea is much more challenging.  It compels us to always look beyond ourselves, to look to a creation which is “groaning in the pains of childbirth,” eagerly yearning for the “revelation of the children of God.”  God chooses us that he may “choose” others.  Our faithfulness to this call matters.