For 2022 I focused my personal Bible reading on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I read a shorter commentary on these books, the notes in the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, and a few other resources.
Richard Averbeck contributed excellent notes for the NIV BTSB on Leviticus. I also read his articles in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch and in NIDOTTE on the sacrificial system and the key words related to it. I also read his article “Reading the Ritual Law of Leviticus Theologically” in Interpreting the Old Testament Theologically. Averbeck is slated to write the Leviticus volume in the EEC series, and based on these articles, I expect to be especially helpful on the ritual elements of the book.
For the commentary I chose Jay Sklar‘s entry in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries series and found it to be excellent. He was less helpful than Averbeck on the opening section of the book, which discusses sacrifices, but I found him full of insight in his comments on the laws in the latter part of the book. I found that he anticipated the questions that I had about these laws and answered them with clarity and brevity. He has a fuller commentary on Leviticus coming out this spring in the ZECOT series.
I also read Michael L. Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Leviticus. This was one of the best books I read all year, and it is one of the best entries in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. It is subtitled “A Biblical Theology of Leviticus,” but it is more than that. It locates Leviticus within the structure of the Pentateuch, and thus discusses the structure of the Pentateuch. Morales also traces the theme of God’s presence through Genesis and Exodus. Morales is also full of insight on how this theme and others extend through the rest of the canon. And that is all in addition to his insightful theological comments on the book of Leviticus.
This is a book in which even the places where I think Morales is wrong were helpful in stimulating my thought. For instance, Morales argues for a structure of the creation week account that highlights days four and seven and which minimizes day six. From this structure he emphasizes the theme of God’s presence with his people in festivals and Sabbaths.
Morales is correct to highlight the importance of the seventh day, but I am not convinced of his Days 1, 4, 7 palistrophe, with day 4 setting up the times for cultic festivals. מוֹעֵד can refer to cultic festivals, but it is a much broader word than that. In a creation Psalm (104:19) it is clearly contrasted with the normal order of day and night and the seasons.
I also remain skeptical of readings which read cultic material back into Genesis 1 and 2. It is more plausible that Genesis 1 and 2 are about the normal creation order rather than about the cult of the Mosaic covenant. Connections between creation and cult are due to the cult looking back to what was lost in creation because of the Fall and to it looking forward to the restoration of creation.
I further doubt that the rule of the sun and moon over the day and the night is a rule that is placed over the rule of man. This would place parts of the creation over man, the image bearer of God. Different terminology is used, suggesting that distinct kinds of rule are in view (the terms used of man indicate that he is to continue to shape the world that God has made; they are not static terms).
The argument that “word allotment” is not sufficient to demonstrate the significance of day six is true in the abstract, but in this case the narrative slows down with the creation of man and shifts into poetry at some points. Thus, the argument is not merely that there are more words given to day six. The argument is that the narrative pace shifts to place special emphasis on the creation of man in God’s image and on the dominion blessing.
In addition, the dominion blessing is the fountainhead for the blessing, seed, land themes that are central to Genesis and at the heart of all of the covenants. These verses are also the foundation for the kingdom of God theme, which is central to the Bible’s storyline and to the gospel.
Finally, to say that the primary blessing of the imago dei is to have fellowship with God is, without minimizing the importance of that blessing, not actually what the text says. Grammatically, the blessing of the imago dei is tied to the blessing of dominion over the earth. Further, the idea that the seventh day is about the presence of God and fellowship with God is not actually found in Genesis 2:1-3. Humans are not mentioned in those verses nor is the theme of presence/fellowship.
I agree that the presence of God theme is one of the central themes of Scripture. Exodus 33 makes clear that to receive the seed and land blessings apart from God’s presence is no blessing at all. But the presence of God theme is assumed rather than explicit in Genesis 1 and 2.
A better way forward is to bring together the imago dei/creation blessing with the seventh day. I wonder if a case could be made that God is setting a telos for man in the seventh day. God blessed mankind with rule over the earth, which meant that he was to extend the Garden to cover the world, as it were (along with other cultural developments). But at a certain point man would complete this work and enter into God’s rest.
I further wonder if under the Second Adam this task will be completed in the Millennium. Man can then enter the rest of the new earth. Humans will continue to reign under Christ, but it will not be a reign of subduing and gaining dominion.
Other works on Leviticus: Other works on Leviticus that I’ve found helpful are Wenham (NICOT), Kiuchi (AOTC), Hartley (WBC), Rooker (NAC), Currid (EPSC), Ross, Holiness to the Lord. I almost chose Wenham as my commentary for Leviticus this year, but I opted for something briefer. Wenham, however, is hard to surpass for insight. I’ve also found Kiuchi helpful on numerous occasions. I recall his comments on Leviticus 18:5 being especially helpful. Hartley has the most detailed treatment of the Hebrew (though Kiuchi also deals with Hebrew technicalities), but I too often find him operating with critical assumptions. Rook is good, but thinner than the others. I’ve benefited from Currid’s commentaries on the Pentateuch, especially those on Exodus and Genesis. I’ve only recently acquired his Leviticus volume; I expect it to be good. Ross spans the gap between exegesis and exposition and is regularly helpful.
For Numbers I chose Gordon Wenham‘s entry in the Tyndale series. It is an excellent, brief commentary. Though an older entry (1981), I still think it is an excellent entry point into the book.
I didn’t think that Jay Sklar‘s notes on Numbers in the NIV BTSB rose to the level of some of the other contributors. I didn’t feel as though he was orienting me to the structure and flow of the book the way many other contributors did. Instead, too many of the notes seemed to be of the one-off variety common in other study Bibles.
Other works on Numbers: Other works on Numbers that I’ve found helpful are Ashely (NICOT), Allen (EBC), Harrison (WEC), Cole (NAC), and Currid (EPSC). I don’t think that I’ve read anything by Ashley other than this commentary, but I’ve regularly been helped by his comments. Harrison also gives detailed help with the Hebrew. In addition to these, I’ve found Roy Gane (NIVAC) helpful on the numbers in Numbers (though I’ve not read other parts of his commentary) and Stubbs (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) helpful on the structure of the book.
Stephen Dempster contributed helpful notes to the NIV BTSB. I also read J. Gary Millar‘s contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy. I found this book most helpful in outlining the structure of Deuteronomy. It also provides a helpful, high level commentary on the whole book. This would be a good place to start a study of Deuteronomy. Millar is slated to write the Deuteronomy commentary in the Christian Standard Commentary series.
I chose Daniel Block‘s work in the NIV Application Commentary series as my commentary for Deuteronomy. Based on my experience with Block’s commentaries on Judges, Ruth, and Ezekiel, I expected to be in basic agreement with Block throughout. However, I found myself disagreeing with Block’s exegesis at key points. For instance, Block takes the “fathers” in Dt 4:31 to be the exodus generation and the covenant to be the Sinai covenant rather than taking the “fathers” to be the patriarchs and the covenant to be the Abrahamic. The latter is more likely. In verse 37 the “fathers” are distinct from the “you” that Yhwh brought out of Egypt. Motivating Block’s interpretation, in part, is his belief that the Abrahamic, Israelite, and new covenants are all part of the same covenant. A result of this framework is the blurring of distinctions between the unilateral nature of the Abrahamic and new covenants and the bilateral nature of the Mosaic covenant. Disagreements notwithstanding, the commentary is a helpful contribution.
Block has also compiled three books of essays on Deuteronomy: How I Love Your Torah, O LORD!: Studies in the Book of Deuteronomy, followed by The Gospel according to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy, and concluding with The Triumph of Grace: Literary and Theological Studies in Deuteronomy and Deuteronomic Themes. These studies were always rigorously argued and thought-provoking, even though I didn’t always agree with Block.
In “Reading the Decalogue Right to Left,” among some insightful observations about the Decalogue, Block also seems to relativize its status. In addition, he argues for the numbering the commands according to the Catholic and Lutheran tradition rather than with the Reformed tradition. His arguments are worth reading, though I did not find them persuasive in the end.
In “How Many Is God?” Block argues that the Shema is not “a great monotheistic confession,” noting “Moses had made that point in 4:35, 39. Instead, he argues for the translation, “YHWH our God! YHWH alone!” The point, then, is that Yhwh is Israel’s only God. I have to give more thought to this.
In “A Prophet Like Moses: Another Look at Deuteronomy 18:9-22” Block argues that this passage is not Messianic but that it predicted a series of prophets that followed Moses; indeed, in “Hearing Galatians with Moses: An Examination of Paul as a Second and Seconding Moses,” Block argues that Paul stands in this line of prophets like Moses. Again, I am not entirely convinced, but Block’s arguments are to be reckoned with, and I’ve marked them down for further study.
His essay, “Convenance,” spells out in greater detail his theology of the biblical covenants. Here he argues in greater detail for the linking of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and new covenants. He recognizes that his formulation runs into some difficulties in Hebrews, and he attempts to address those problems in this essay (unsuccessfully, in my estimation).
I found myself in greater agreement with other articles. For instance, “The Fear of YHWH: The Theological Tie that Binds Deuteronomy and Proverbs” contains an excellent study of the semantic range of ירא as well as an insightful linking of Deuteronomy and Proverbs in connection with this theme.
In the essay, “All Israel Will Be Saved: An Examination of Moses’ Eschatological Vision in Deuteronomy, ” Block surveys Deuteronomy’s outline of Israel’s history—both that which precedes Deuteronomy and that which Deuteronomy predicts will follow. Block then turns to examine in detail three key eschatological passages: Deuteronomy 4:29-31; 30:1-10; and chapter 32. He then insightfully links these passages with Romans 9-11, arguing that Paul’s conclusion “all Israel will be saved” has roots in Deuteronomy’s eschatological vision. Block also argues in “Covenance” that although there is some spiritualizing of Israel in the NT (e.g., Paul calling the church “the temple of the living God”),
we should not interpret this spiritualizing and universalizing move to mean that the ethnic/national nature of the covenant was either forgotten or superseded…. On the contrary, in Rom 9-11 Paul emphatically declared that while Gentile believers have been grafted into the covenant community, a future for physical Israel remains.
Indeed, in fulfillment of Deut 30:1-10 and Jer 31:31-37, with great excitement he anticipates the day when the ideals of the original covenant will be finally realized—all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:25-32). I resist speculating under what circumstances this will transpire—whether in a millennial context or in the new heavens and the new earth, but it is difficult to imagine Moses and the prophets who followed in his train (like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) being happy with contemporary supersessionists, for whom God’s eternal commitments evaporate into irrelevance.
There were also a number of essays that I was not able to read but which look interesting: “Preaching Old Testament Law to New Testament Christians,” “All Creatures Great and Small: Recovering a Deuteronomic Theology of Animals,” “Other Religions in Old Testament Theology,” “‘A Place for My Name’: Horeb and Zion in the Mosaic Vision of Israelite Worship,” “‘O Day of Rest and Gladness’: Rediscovering the Gift of Sabbath,” “The Patricentric Vision of Family Order in Deuteronomy.” I found the essays in Triumph of Grace to be the most interesting and helpful.
Other Resources on Deuteronomy: I’ve yet to find a Deuteronomy commentary that I really love. I’ve found Edward Woods’s entry in the Tyndale series uniformly helpful when I’ve consulted it, and I wondered in the course of this year if I should have chosen it rather than Block for my Deuteronomy commentary this year. I’ve also found Christopher Wright’s contribution in the NIBC series (now Understanding the Bible) to be uniformly insightful. My main complaint with these two commentaries is that they are too brief. Allan Harman’s contribution to the Focus on the Bible series is another brief but insightful entry. For a fuller treatment, including of the Hebrew, I’ve used and benefited from McConville’s entry in the Apollos OT series. Note also his theology Grace in the End. However, I’d like someone a bit more conservative than McConville. Eugene Merrill in the NAC volume on Deuteronomy and Grisanti in the revised EBC fit the bill, and I’ve found help in both. However, I’ve also found them a bit too thin. The same can be said for Cragie in NICOT: good material, but thin for what the series has become. Bill Arnold has just come out with the first of a two-volume commentary on Deuteronomy (to replace Cragie in NICOT). Based on his discussion of authorship, I’m not sure it fits the “conservative” desiderata. Adolph Harstad’s contribution to the Concordia Commentary series may fit the bill: this series has been consistently conservative and at over 1,000 pages that include detailed treatments of the Hebrew text, this commentary is not thin. I also see that Jason DeRouchie is slated to write on Deuteronomy in the forthcoming Pillar Old Testament Commentary series, and I have high hopes for his contribution.