Old Testament Commentary Reviews: The Major Prophets

Horizontally stacked books, pages facing out

Old Testament Commentary Reviews:

The Major Prophets

The Old Testament is made up of thirty-nine books that are traditionally divided into five groupings:

  • The Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).
  • The Historical books (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1/2 Samuel, 1/2 Kings, 1/2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther).
  • Poetry & Wisdom writings (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs).
  • The Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel).
  • The Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

Thousands of commentaries have been written about these books, and it’s easy to become confused because these resources are written to various audiences. Choosing the “best” will depend upon the kind of analysis you desire. My recommendations are divided into the three most common categories:

  • Devotional/Introductory–the primary focus is application of the Word and growing in Christ. Lots of “how to” questions are answered.
  • Pastoral/Intermediate–these commentaries also contain application but are more information oriented. Some go deep into the history or cultural background of the text, while others pay more attention to linguistics. Lots of “what does it mean” questions are answered. Useful for any Christ follower and especially helpful to those who teach.
  • Technical/Advanced–primary value is to teachers and advanced students. Some technical commentaries focus on textual criticism (the reliability of the text), while others address linguistics (the text itself). Lots of minutiae. These commentaries contain Hebrew text (sometimes transliterated, sometimes not) and require familiarity with Hebrew to extract their full benefit, but even those with no knowledge of the language will find these commentaries useful.

Isaiah

My recommendation for a devotional/introductory commentary on Isaiah is by Barry Webb in the Bible Speaks Today (IVP, 1996). 252 pp. A clear and concise overview that is Christ-centered and filled with helpful insights–an ideal companion when reading Isaiah. Available on the secondary market for three dollars or so.

My recommendation for a pastoral/intermediate commentary on Isaiah is by J. Alec Motyer in The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (IVP, 1993). 544 pp. Motyer spent many years studying Isaiah, and he has written the best single volume commentary on the text. Conservative, concise, and clear–Motyer’s verse-by-verse analysis gets to the heart of Isaiah’s message. Includes a helpful structural analysis and solid theological insights. Hebrew words are transliterated in both the text and the footnotes. If I were limited to one commentary on Isaiah, this would be my choice.

Lagniappe: Motyer wrote a distilled and less technical version of this commentary for the TOTC series in 1999, but unless your bookshelf space is limited, get the 1993 volume. But if bookshelf space is limited, or your budget is tight, you will not be disappointed with Motyer’s TOTC (available on the secondary market for a few dollars).

My recommendation for an advanced/technical commentary on Isaiah is by John Oswalt in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (two volumes, Eerdmans, 1986 and 1998). 1509 pp. A bit dated, but still my favorite advanced resource. Good introductory materials. Solid exegesis in a reader-friendly format. Especially strong in grammatical analysis. Hebrew words are transliterated in both the text and the footnotes–a very accessible technical commentary. But when you research this book, compare it to Oswalt’s NIVAC commentary (2003, 736 pp.). One of the best in the series, and busy pastors/teachers may prefer the less technical and application-oriented NIVAC for crafting sermons and lessons.

Also recommended: Gary Smith in the New American Commentary (two volumes, Broadman, 2007 and 2009). 1488 pp. If you are looking for a more recent commentary that explores the latest developments in Isaianic research from a conservative perspective, this would be an excellent choice.

Jeremiah

I have four recommendations for a devotional/introductory commentary on Jeremiah. Two are a bit dated, but all four are outstanding. One of the best is by Hetty Lalleman in the the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Jeremiah/Lamentations (IVP, 2013). 373 pp. Lalleman wrote her doctoral thesis on Jeremiah, and her ability to condense and explain this long text is superlative. Each section explores context (background info), content (exegesis), and meaning (a summary of the passage). Lalleman rarely ventures into the New Testament; for a more Christ-centered approach, get Christopher Wright in the the Bible Speaks Today (IVP, 2014). 448 pp. An exceptional theological exposition that is more up-to-date and full than the (still valuable) volume by Derek Kidner it replaces. Wright’s BST is the newest and my personal favorite, but if you are looking for a devotional commentary, preview Lalleman, Kidner, Wright, and the TOTC by R.K. Harrison (1981) that Lalleman replaced. All four are worth consulting, and the older commentaries by Kidner and Harrison are available on on the secondary market for a few dollars each.

My recommendation for a pastoral/intermediate commentary on Jeremiah is by Philip Ryken in Preaching the Word, Jeremiah/Lamentations (Crossway, 2001). 832 pp. This massive tome is more sermonic exposition than commentary, but pastors and teachers who regularly write sermons/lessons will appreciate Ryken’s lucid explanations and applications. And because it is sermonic exposition, it is also a terrific devotional commentary to read alongside the text.

My recommendation for an advanced/technical commentary on Jeremiah is by John L. MacKay in the Mentor Old Testament (two volumes, Mentor, 2004 and 2008). 1216 pp. Helpful introductory materials and a comprehensive but not overly technical analysis that is conservative, well-written and balanced. If I were limited to one commentary on Jeremiah, this would be my choice.

Lagniappe: Pastors and teachers will love MacKay’s commentary; language students will find it insufficient, and for them I recommend the pricey but exhaustive analysis by Jack Lundbom in the Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries (3 volumes, Yale University Press, 1999 and 2004).

Lamentations

My recommendation for a devotional/introductory commentary on Lamentations is by Christopher Wright in the the Bible Speaks Today (IVP, 2015). 176 pp. A clear, concise, and Christ-centered analysis that gets to the heart of the message of Lamentations. Also my top pick for an introductory commentary on Jeremiah.

Also recommended: Hetty Lalleman in the the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Jeremiah/Lamentations (IVP, 2013). 373 pp. Each section explores context (background info), content (exegesis), and meaning (a summary of the passage). Lalleman rarely ventures into the New Testament; for a more Christ-centered approach, get Wright’s BST.

My recommendation for a pastoral/intermediate commentary on Lamentations is by Philip Ryken in Preaching the Word, Jeremiah/Lamentations (Crossway, 2001). 832 pp. This massive tome is more sermonic exposition than commentary, but pastors and teachers who regularly write sermons/lessons will appreciate Ryken’s conversational explanations and applications. And because it is sermonic exposition, it is also a terrific devotional commentary to read alongside the text. Also my top pick for an intermediate commentary on Jeremiah.

Also recommended: Five Festal Garments: Christian Reflections on the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther (IVP Academic, 2000). 192 pp. Webb is a highly respected scholar and exegete, but in this volume he presents a concise and clear overview of the Megilloth (scrolls), five of the Old Testament’s most challenging books. I love the way Webb distills the essence of each book in just a few pages. Indispensable, and just a few dollars on the secondary market.

My recommendation for an advanced/technical commentary on Lamentations is by John L. MacKay in the Mentor Old Testament (Mentor, 2008). 240 pp. Helpful introductory materials and a comprehensive but not overly technical analysis that is conservative, well-written and balanced. If I were limited to one commentary on Lamentations, this would be my choice.

Lagniappe: Pastors and teachers will love MacKay’s commentary; language students will find it insufficient, and for them I recommend Paul House in the Word Biblical Commentary, Song of Songs/Lamentations (Nelson, 2004). 496 pp. The WBC formatting is a difficult to follow, but House has written the most helpful linguistic commentary on Lamentations, and advanced students will want this resource. The commentary on the Song of Songs by Duane Garrett is also good.

Ezekiel

My recommendation for a devotional/introductory commentary on Ezekiel is by Christopher Wright in the the Bible Speaks Today (IVP, 2001). 368 pp. A lucid and warm exposition with more exegesis than is normally found in the BST series. Wright arranges the study thematically to facilitate learning.

My recommendation for a pastoral/intermediate commentary on Ezekiel is by Iain Duguid in the NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1999). 576 pp. Daguid did his doctoral research on the book of Ezekiel in 1994, and five years later wrote this theologically mature analysis. Excellent exegesis and filled with theological insights. Not much in the way of technical help (get Block for that), but the “contemporary significance” section provides thoughtful reflections that are helpful when crafting sermons or lessons.

My recommendation for an advanced/technical commentary on Ezekiel is by Daniel Block in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (2 volumes, Eerdmans, 1997 and 1998). 1758 pp. A massive and magisterial tome. Solid exegesis and theology in a clear and convincing presentation. If I were limited to one commentary on Ezekiel, this would be my choice. Knowledge of Hebrew will enhance the value of this resource, but all Hebrew is transliterated, so it’s accessible to everyone. Couple this with Duguid when preaching/teaching through the book of Ezekiel, and you will be well equipped.

Daniel

Assembling a list of commentary recommendations on this book is challenging because one’s preferences will depend on their theology and eschatology. There are five basic approaches to interpreting the prophetic/apocalyptic passages in books like Daniel and Revelation: preterist (the prophecies point to the book’s immediate historical context and have mostly been fulfilled), historicist (the prophecies predict the whole course of Christian history), futurist (the prophecies point to events that are still in the future), idealist (the prophecies are a symbolic portrayal of the struggle between God and Satan and not strictly tied to historical events), and eclectic (a variation or combination of one or more of the aforementioned approaches). Three other terms are commonly used to better identify the positions: postmillennial, amillennial, and premillennial. Premillennialism is further divided into the Dispensational (pre-trib) and Historic (post-trib) camps. Most Bible scholars and resources (two-thirds) are amillennial. Your determination as to which are the “best” resources will be influenced by your personal beliefs, but there are a handful of books that are always at the top of the “best of” lists. Below are four premier commentaries that will help you better understand this complex and controversial book.

My recommendation for a devotional/introductory commentary on Daniel is by Iain Duguid in the Reformed Expository Commentary (Zondervan, 2008). 256 pp. Amillennial. Daguid is a scholar who is also a pastor, and his warm sermonic exposition of Daniel is filled with theological insights and relevant applications. I don’t always agree with Duguid in his understanding of the prophecy passages, but that doesn’t stop me from recommending this terrific devotional commentary.

My recommendation for a pastoral/intermediate commentary on Daniel is by Stephen Miller in the New American Commentary (Broadman, 1994). 348 pp. Premillennial. This is the commentary I reach for first when I have a general question about a passage in Daniel. It’s conservative, well-researched, and accessible. Miller does a great job of explaining the various interpretations of the prophecies and presents a convincing case for his own. Two quibbles: the dispensationalism that occasionally leaks out and the brevity of the analysis. Nevertheless, if I were limited to one commentary on Daniel, this would be my choice.

Also recommended: Tremper Longman III in the NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1999). 320 pp. Amillennial. Especially helpful for pastors and teachers preparing lessons/sermons. Stronger on chapters 1–6.

I cannot make a wholehearted recommendation for an advanced/technical commentary on Daniel. Most scholars will point to John Goldingay in the Word Biblical Commentary (Nelson, 1989). 416 pp. Amillennial. Goldingay is unsurpassed for historical background, and his language skills are amazing, but I don’t find his eschatological arguments convincing, and I strongly disagree with some of his conclusions (e.g., Goldingay sees much of the early narrative as fiction). So why recommend it? The linguistic support and the deep background info. The WBC format is not user friendly, but Goldingay improves it a bit by organizing his Comment and Explanation sections verse-by-verse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.