Since the 1960s, Tyndale Old (and New) Testament Commentaries (TOTC) series has sought to be faithful to the text of Scripture in a scholarly way without running into the despairing Bog of Details. New discoveries of ancient Near Eastern artifacts and texts increasingly give a sharper understanding of the Old Testament, 75% of the Bible which too often goes unnoticed. However, a significant reason the OT is often ignored is because, being so far removed from today’s reader, it is difficult to understand. Why would the Lord command Jeremiah three different times not to pray for Israel (7.16; 11.14; 14.11)? Why are six of the final seven chapters denunciations against the surrounding nations? How do we work out that God is in control of what happens to Israel, he is their enemy, yet he is also their loving husband (same in Lamentations too)? And why is Jeremiah impossible to outline?
Hetty Lalleman has set forth an excellent volume on Jeremiah and Lamentations. She teaches Old Testament studies at Spurgeon’s College in London, wrote her Master’s thesis and PhD on Jeremiah, and has also written Celebrating the Law? Rethinking Old Testament Ethics.
It’s should be no surprise that Jeremiah takes up the bulk of this volume (299 pages) with Lamentations running at 55 pages. There are three parts to each section of the commentary—context, comment, and meaning. Context sets the new text within the flow of the book. Comment is the exegetical portion where Lalleman emphasis repeated themes, rhetorical questions, the שׁוּב motif of “repenting”/“returning”/“turning away,” Jeremiah’s laments, chiastic structures, what makes a prophet true or false, and contrasts (33.5//33.8-9; 31.4//31.22; 31.5//5.17). While she doesn’t comment on everything (which isn’t a drawback), she does draw the reader back and forth to many other places in Scripture (Jer 33.11 with Pss 100.5 + 136; Lam 2.14 with Jer 6.14 + 8.11).
Finally, the Meaning section draws the main points of the passage together into a brief paragraph so that the reader can get his bearings. Lalleman doesn’t speak much about the NT, but it does come up, and especially when there is messianic language (see the Meaning section at the end of Jer 33 [pgs 243–44]). This strength is seen more in the volumes by Kidner and Wright. The primary purpose of the TOTC volumes is to discuss what the OT text is saying. It’s the job of the TNTC (NT commentaries) to take the OT information and show its fulfillment in Christ.
Lalleman makes some comments about the chronology and structuring of Jeremiah, but doesn’t have an extended conversation about it. Primarily, Jeremiah isn’t set in a chronological manner because he/Baruch wanted to emphasize certain themes throughout the book (see her outline here). Thus, the chronology has been “rearranged” to make certain themes visible.
Lamentations is easier to outline, and it divided into 5 units based on each chapter. Further outlining can be found at the beginning of each unit.
Unfortunately, I can’t cover everything in Lalleman’s volume here, but I will try to show what Lalleman says about some of the complex issues raised above.
- Don’t pray (7.16; 11.14; 14.11)? Jeremiah is told not to intercede for Israel because they are too far gone. Babylon will come, and exile will happen. “Judgment is now irreversible” (135).
- Oracles against the nations (OAN): Theologically, the OAN “emphasize that God is in control over all nations” (55). God will not be bested by any earthly superpower, not even Babylon. He even uses them for his own purposes, which goes for the other nations too. Israel and Judah are often times worse than their pagan neighbors, yet if God can change the hearts of his own rebellious people, then he can even change those of the Gentiles.
- Israel’s enemy and loving Husband?: “Israel will be punished for their sins, but will eventually be saved through judgment” (226). The new covenant is promised, and God promises throughout the book, especially here in the Book of Comfort (30–33) to “turn” the hearts of his people to him. It is in the exile that Israel realizes their need for repentance (Lam 3.40).
- Structure of Jeremiah: There are many ways to divide Jeremiah, and “a consensus is not in sight” (62). However, she disagrees with other commentators (e.g., Wright, Mackay, Wilcock) who see Jeremiah 25 as a hinge chapter. Instead she takes Jeremiah 23–29 together, “because the theme of ‘false prophets versus true prophet’ extends through these chapters” (63).
Unfortunately, as with Kidner and Wright, there is no Scripture index.
Lalleman has helped explain the big picture and the nuances of Jeremiah to me. She has sat with me for a number of Sunday mornings and has guided me through this long, foreign, and bewildering text, and I wouldn’t want to be far away from her volume when I study this book. A good expositional companion to Lalleman on Jermeiah would be Christopher Wright’s BST volume, and a good companion commentary on Lamentations would be Parry’s THOTC volume.
Lalleman’s volume is good to use as preparation for a Bible study, for a sermon, and for teaching in a Bible college/seminary atmosphere. She gives enough detail without being overbearing, and that makes her volume a delight to use in all settings.
- Series: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Book 21)
- Author: Hetty Lalleman
- Paperback: 373 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (March 1, 2013)
- Read a sample here
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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.