Hearing The Message of Scripture: Obadiah and Jonah

December 17, 2014 — Leave a comment

While there are many commentaries series that focus on the New Testament only, there are not an equal number that do so for the Old. A few years back, Zondervan introduced its Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. Now, they’ve added a new series for the Old Testament: Hearing The Message of Scripture. Rather than simply being a cloned version for the Old Testament, this series has a slightly different layout and purpose.

First, each section of the book being commented upon follows this outline:

  • The Main Idea of The Passage
  • Literary Context
  • Translation and Outline
  • Structure and Literary Form
  • Explanation of the Text
  • Canonical and Practical Significance

Attentive readers will notice that this looks very similar, except for maybe the latter section which is not exactly synonymous with Theology in Application like ZECNT uses. However, in the Series Introduction, series editor Daniel Block explains:

The way in which this series treats biblical books will be uneven. Commentators on smaller books will have sufficient scope to answer fully each of the issues listed above on each unit of the text. However, limitations of space preclude full treatment of every text for the larger books. Instead, commentators will guide readers through ## 1-4 and 6 for every literary unit, but “Full Explanation of the Text” (#5) will be selective, generally limited to twelve to fifteen literary units deemed most critical for hearing the message of the book (11).

As you can see then, the focus is not necessarily on exegeting each and every individual verse in the book. Rather, the focus is on grasping the general big picture message of the book through selective detailed analysis of the particulars.

One of the ways this plays out is that unlike the ZECNT series which generally breaks up the Explanation section verse by verse with English then Greek, there is no Hebrew in the print edition (there is in the electronic). There are select transliterations, but you do not see verse by verse laid out in the original Hebrew in the explanation sections.


Another way this plays out, and this is seen in the inaugural volume written by Daniel Block himself, is that a book like Obadiah gets a very detailed treatment. Other than I think the Anchor Bible commentary series, I don’t know of an Old Testament commentary series with a single volume on Obadiah. Instead, he always gets bundled with adjacent books in the minor prophets, or in a kind of miscellaneous collection of leftovers (e.g. the NIVAC volume). Here, Obadiah gets full treatment with a rather extensive introduction (20+ pages) highlighting the background to the book, the rhetorical aims and strategy of Obadiah, and a detailed look at the structure of the book. Then for the next 60 or so pages, the commentary proper on Obadiah follows.

In many ways, it was an excellent strategy to introduce this commentary series with a single volume on the shortest book in the Old Testament. It helps to immediately set it apart from other traditional series, and in addition, the format chosen works particularly well for a detailed study of a minor prophet. Considering how neglected the minor prophets can be in Christian preaching and teaching (besides Jonah, see below), with a commentary like this on your shelf, it would be easy to put together a fairly significant small group Bible study for 6 weeks that just focused on Obadiah. I say 6 weeks because Block divides the book into 5 key sections and then concludes the commentary as a whole with the aforementioned section on canonical and practical significance (instead of making it a section at the end of each chapter). If I happen to try that, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Daniel I. Block, Obadiah: The Kingship Belongs to YHWH (Hearing The Message of Scripture: A Commentary on The Old Testament). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, January 2014. 128 pp. Hardcover, $19.99.

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Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!


In addition to the volume on Obadiah, Zondervan also released the volume on Jonah at the outset. It would have been to nice to have a book from a different section of the Old Testament, but Jonah is sufficiently different from the rest of the minor prophets to stand out. Rather than a string of oracles, the book is a short narrative, and a commentary like this is perfect for the kind of analysis it needs, as Kevin Youngblood, associate professor of Biblical Studies at Harding University explains:

Jonah was selected as the subject of one of the first volumes for the series because it contains a relatively brief narrative in the style of classical Hebrew, a genre in which many of the greatest advances and the most assured results of text linguistic analysis have been achieved. In addition, the book contains a psalm suitable for piloting a text linguistic approach to the exegesis of Hebrew poetry (13).

So, by releasing these two volumes early, we are able to see how the series handles prophecy, narrative, and poetry. In his introduction proper, Youngblood digs into the canonical and historical context of Jonah, as well as the book’s rich literary context. One of my biggest surprises in seminary was during Hebrew II when I learned that Jonah wasn’t really a kid’s story about a big fish but was a tightly structured literary masterpiece full of irony, wordplay, and intense theological wrestling.

I have tried with varying success to pass these insights along to 9th graders. If I were going to spend more focused time on the book of Jonah in the course of my class, this is the commentary I’d go to. Youngblood divides the book up into 7 subsections, and each follows the above outlined format. Unlike Block’s book, Youngblood offers extended canonical and practical reflections at the end of each subsection rather than the book as a whole. This makes more sense given the content of Jonah, and also makes the study more usable in preaching and teaching contexts.

On the whole, though I’ve been brief about Jonah in particular, I’d highly recommend picking up this volume specifically if you want to check out this commentary series. Not to say there isn’t that much below the surface in Obadiah, but much of the wordplay and nuance in Jonah is inaccessible if you don’t know Hebrew. This volume helps you out and ties Jonah into a broader theological context for many of the issues the book raises. In addition, it has the advantages of honing Youngblood’s text linguistic approach in on the fine literary work that Jonah is. If this volume is any indication, you’ll want to keep an eye out for future releases as they become available.

Kevin J. Youngblood, Jonah: God’s Scandalous Mercy (Hearing The Message of Scripture: A Commentary on The Old Testament). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, January 2014. 192 pp. Hardcover, $29.99.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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