My birthday was this past summer, and Kregel Academic gave me another opportunity to choose a book for review (as a birthday gift). I skipped over Michael Shepherd’s commentary on the Book of the Twelve last time, but I couldn’t let it slip past me again. Michael Shepherd, associate professor of biblical studies at Cedarville University, has written a few monographs on the Old Testament, such as one on the Twelve Prophets in the New Testament and how to understand the Bible on its own terms (and more).
Shepherd has given us a different sort of commentary on the Minor Prophets (or “the Twelve”) than what you are likely accustomed to. Some (like Marvin Sweeney) highlight common themes between the Twelve, and others (like James Nogalski) either “trace the historical development of the Twelve through various hypothetical stages of redaction” or editing or they do so with each book of the Minor Prophets, considering of what Amos said is really what Amos said or not (11-12). Shepherd considers the Twelve to be twelve separate prophets (16) who declared God’s word from the eighth century BC to the postexilic period. Yet as well, the collection had a final editor (16) who was a careful student of the book of Jeremiah, something Shepherd expounds upon throughout his commentary (14).
Instead of looking at the historical circumstances around each prophet, Shepherd looks at the final text—the text as we have it today. He writes, “This literary work refers to real events, but it now has a life of its own and creates a world of its own” (18). This is not to deny nor question its historicity, but “it is a matter of the book’s unique and revelatory depiction of things, in distinction from the events themselves” (18).
After listing some historical evidence for the unity of the Twelve, Shepherd lists internal evidence for its composition (23). There are three components here that help us to identify the activity of the final composer:
- Seams–These are pieces of text that connect the end of one book to the beginning of the next. The seams stand “apart from the material that proceeds and follows” (23).
- Then we look at how the author develops Hosea 3:4–5.
- “Wherever the first two criterion are met… there is a citation from the book of Jeremiah” (23).
The text of Hosea 3:4–5 says, 4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.
Verse 5 “envisions a reunited kingdom under the rule of the future ideal Davidic king (cf., Jer. 3:14–18).” As well, Hos 3:5 is a citation of both Jeremiah 30:8–9 and 23:5–6.
Jeremiah 30:8–9, 8 “And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. 9 But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.
Jeremiah 23:5–6, 5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
This “speaks of restoration… “at the end of the days”… in a new exodus… and in a new covenant relationship” (25). Shepherd then shows the seams of each book before getting into his commentary. Being around 500 pages, Shepherd’s commentary isn’t meant to be a proliferation of all the information you can find on the Twelve. Instead, he shows the overarching message that unifies them together as one “book.”
Shepherd doesn’t look much at the historical circumstances of the prophets, and that is understandable. What strikes me as odd is that there is no outline for any of the prophets. One (mainly me) would think that for a commentary so focused on the text itself, there would be an outline of sorts showing how each prophet was written to be read and interpreted. Nevertheless, this is a great commentary.
Shepherd loads the commentary with references to other parts of Scripture. Sometimes this can seem overwhelming, like in the case of Jonah 2. In that chapter Jonah goes down in to the deep abyss of the chaotic waters and is swallowed up by the great fish. Imagery is taken from all over the Psalms, and Shepherd draws our attention to many of those references (without elaborating on them). Those references help you get into the Psalms to see Jonah’s knowledge of the Psalms and how their imagery pervaded his thinking. As well, concerning “the man” in Zechariah 6:12, Shepherd refers you back to the prophecies in the Tanakh “that refer to the Messiah as ‘a man’ or ‘the man’ (LXX Num. 24:7a, 17b; 2 Sam. 23:1; LXX Isa. 19:20)” (427). As well as the fact that his name is “Branch” which links to various OT prophecies, and this man will “‘sprout’ from his place and build the temple of the Lord in accordance with the terms of the covenant with David” in 2 Sam. 7:13). This is both a benefit since it connects you to a wide range of OT texts, helping you to see, really, how it’s all connected. For some, the commentary text itself can seem stuffed and cluttered due to this, but I think the benefit outweighs the clutter.
If you’re a pastor, teacher, or layperson, these commentary is very helpful in giving you the lay of the land in the Twelve as well as seeing how they are a unity. Rather than reading about hypothetical backgrounds to the prophets and their texts (and if they even really said half of what’s there), Shepherd gives us the text as we have it, it’s final form, God’s word, and points to the overall unified message of the Twelve: God’s kingdom is coming through his Davidic King, the Messiah, in which the wicked will be judged and the righteous delivered and restored.
- Author: Michael B. Shepherd
- Hardcover: 528 pages
- Publisher: Kregel Academic (June 26, 2018)
Buy it from Amazon or Kregel Academic!
Disclosure: I received this book free from Kregel 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.