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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Job - Teach the Text Series (Daniel J Estes)

TITLE: Job (Teach the Text Commentary Series)
AUTHOR: Daniel J Estes
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (288 pages).

The book of Job continues to be a popular book to study. Although there are tough issues of life it deals with, one of the reasons why it is still frequently studied and talked about is because it deals directly with things that many people have continued to face: Pain and Suffering. Life is painful, and in the words of the late M Scott Peck, "Life is Difficult." Indeed it is. Still, the interest continues unabated. Enters another commentary offered by Baker Books called the "Teach the Text Commentary Series." It has the familiar five sections structure.
  1. Big Idea
  2. Key Themes
  3. Understanding the Text
  4. Teaching the Text
  5. Illustrating the Text

The Introduction comprises very clear and concise information about the book of Job; like the authorship, date, setting, structure, outline, the literature at that time, purpose, theme, and some guidance with regards to teaching and preaching from the book of Job. This introduction is a must-read in order for readers to get a grasp of the commentary's intent from the start. Readers can benefit from the outline of the biblical book. I have modified them slightly as follows:

  1. Prologues (Job 1-2);
  2. Dialogues I (Job 3-14);
  3. Dialogues II (Job 15-21);
  4. Dialogues III (Job 22-27);
  5. Interlude (Job 28);
  6. Three Monologues (Job 29-41);
  7. Epilogue (Job 42).

Following the brief introduction, Daniel Estes launches into a chapter by chapter commentary, adhering closely to the five-fold structure set out. Each chapter begins with a title that states the overall big idea of the chapter. I find it helpful as it keeps my mind focused on the big idea. That said, it may in some way limit the reader's openness to the possibility of other big ideas. To be fair, this problem is not just limited to this but to all other commentaries as well. The key is to be understand this commentary is just one way to understand. We can always consider the interpretive insights as an invitation to ponder upon rather than a dogma to be insisted on.

The key themes blue block in every chapter is every teacher's favourite. It summarizes in a nutshell what that chapter is about. Using these themes, we can read the text with the idea in mind. This is helpful because Job can be a very difficult book to study, and can also be misunderstood by the casual reader. For example, much of the dialogues coming from the three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and to some extent Job and Elihu, constitute bad advice. The three friends begins well in silence, but loses their way as they allow their own interpretations of what is happening to Job take precedence over God's purposes. In some way, these themes are interpretations of many of these interpretations.

The section on understanding the text is the main body of the entire book. Going chapter by chapter, verse by verse, it is a communicator's paradise. I read the comments back to myself and I can imagine it being verbalized over the pulpit. It is very listenable. The use of Hebrew words are inserted to expand the meaning of the text and also intentionally kept to the minimal to avoid making the book overly technical. At the same time, the additional information about the contexts of the text gives readers a lot of ideas to chew on. For example, there are explanatory columns on theodicy to give readers an appreciation of this area of interpretation; backgrounds on Eliphaz's insistence on disciplines; insights on places in Job's world to give readers some idea of what he is talking about; and many more. The theological insights are critical as they help bring together the key themes and ideas within the context of the Bible. Sometimes, when students study book by book, or chapter by chapter, one can get lost in the details and mistake the forest for the trees. The theological insights give us a bigger picture of God's story.

The part on teaching the text is not just for teachers but can help students at many levels. I find it most helpful to use this part and refer often to the preceding section. In fact, I feel that "understanding" and "teaching" the text can even be combined into one section for maximum impact. At times, breaking the chapters up is like separating the rice from the fish when eating sushi. That said, the effort to stay faithful to the sectioning is commendable as the author wants the book to work well for readers in general.

As a preacher, illustrating the text is one of the most enjoyable sections. In order to connect better with audiences, stories and anecdotes are often necessary, and Daniel Estes is very generous in his sharing. The examples are taken from authors like Philip Yancey; literature like Victor Hugo's Les Miserables; testimony by Elisabeth Elliot; films like "It's a Wonderful Life"; and many illustrations that the contemporary reader can appreciate.

So What?

In commentaries, one of the struggles is the debate between readability and textual accuracy. It is easy to say that we want everything to be understandable to readers, to be faithful to the text, and to be completely biblical in every way. Yet, decisions constantly need to be made with regards to reverence of the Word and relevance to the world. We can be so textually accurate to the point that it becomes gibberish to readers. At the same time, we can be so relevant to readers that the interpretations say things beyond the biblical emphases. This commentary attempts to do both and it is delightfully effective.

With this kind of commentary, there is no way anyone can be bored. There are lots of colour and pictures throughout the book. There are many creative insights that readers can be challenged to develop further. What I really appreciate is the overall readability of the commentary that makes it a valuable resource for teaching and for preaching. The bibliography is respectable but can be a little more extensive. I am not sure why the bibliography leaves out John Walton's very recent commentary. Still, I will give high marks for this commentary, especially from a pedagogical and communicator standpoint.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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