Book Review: Jeremiah & Lamentations (TOTC), Hetty Lalleman

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Jeremiah Lamentations Hetty Lalleman book review

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-de Winkel 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.

Content

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.

Recommended?

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.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Book 21)
  • Author: Hetty Lalleman
  • Paperback: 373 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 1, 2013)
  • Read a sample here

Buy it on Amazon

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.

Review: Proverbs (TOTC)

Proverbs

Derek Kidner was a brilliant British Old Testament scholar who taught at Oak Hill Theological College before becoming Warden of Tyndale House. The book of Proverbs (TOTC) is just one of the many commentaries Kidner has written (see here for the full list).

The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (TOTC) series is almost complete (we’re still waiting for Boda’s Ezra-Nehemiah volume), while the TNTC series has been completed. In general, the volumes in the series are kept at a moderate length, and there are comments to encourage devotional thought. Still it should be said that these volumes are exegetical in nature, and, as Kidner writes, “the meaning of the text must be even a short commentary’s first concern” (9).

Outline

Kidner begins his commentary in Part One with a brief study of the Book of Proverbs and the Wisdom of Israel. Wisdom literature was important to Israel (and should be important to us) because “there are details of character small enough to escape the mesh of law and the broadsides of the prophets, and yet [are] decisive in personal dealings” (13). You wife may be beautiful, but is she a brawler (Prov 25.24; 27.15)? Your man might make your sides hurt with laughter, but is he wiser in his own eyes than seven men with good sense (26.16)?

Second comes Wisdom in the Ancient World. The authors of Proverbs likely used both original and material from their Mesopotamian neighbors. Yet the book of Proverbs is set within the context of YHWH who reveals himself to his people. Unlike the ‘Babylonian Job,’ Israel’s Job (and Israel themselves) knew the things that were pleasing to their God. “Egyptian jewels, as at the Exodus, have been re-set to their advantage by Israelite workmen and put to finer use” (24).

Kidner finishes Part One with a survey of the structure, authorship, date, and text of Proverbs.

In Part Two, Kidner shows us a glimmer of Israel’s jewels in a series of 8 subject-studies, reoccurring themes in Proverbs:

  • God and Man
  • Wisdom
  • The Fool
  • The Sluggard
  • The Friend
  • Words
  • The Family
  • Life and Death

These 24 pages were by far the favorite section for Mari and I. “You have to be good to be wise” and “you have to be wise to be really good” (30). Even more so,

you have to be godly to be wise; and this is not because godliness pays, but because the only wisdom by which you can handle everyday things in conformity with their nature is the wisdom by which they were divinely made and ordered” (30).

To not be wise is to be the fool who has “no idea of a patient search for wisdom” and his mind is closed to God. It is to be the sluggard, the figure of the tragi-comedy.  He will not begin, finish, nor face things. Because the sluggard learns not from God-given examples (e.g. the ant), it is far too late for him to learn when he is confronted his own wasted life. The wise person takes note and does not imitate the sluggard. Ever.

In the next section Kidner divides Proverbs into 7 main sections. He looks at the meaning and usage of words, where they are found throughout Proverbs and other OT books, and how a word or phrase might be better translated.

The volume ends with a short concordance 10 pages in length “that helps locate lost sayings (in territory notoriously hard to search) and encourages further subject studies” (9).

The (Brief) Chocolate Milk

Kidner is both clever and concise with his words. Rather than getting a 1,000 page commentary of dense syntactical, grammatical, textual details, one gets a brief comment on almost every verse of Proverbs. This makes the commentary easy to use for devotional reading, as each chapter on Proverbs doesn’t require you to read 30+ pages. Instead, most of Kidner’s chapters run about 5 pages each.

But something must be said about this brevity, a disappointment found by both Mari and I. 

The Spoiled Milk

While Kidner writes that “the meaning of the text must be even a short commentary’s first concern” (9), I must defer to John Frame who wrote,

Imagine someone saying that he understands the meaning of a passage of Scripture but doesn’t know at all how to apply it. Taking that claim literally would mean that he could answer no questions about the text, recommend no translations into other languages, draw no implications from it, or explain none of its terms in his own words. Could we seriously accept such a claim? When one lacks knowledge of how to ‘apply’ a text, his claim to know the ‘meaning’ becomes and empty—meaningless—claim. Knowing the meaning, then, is knowing how to apply. The meaning of Scripture is its application. (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 67).

While I’m sure Kidner would know how to apply the truths of Proverbs, the application is often left on the cutting room floor. To give but one example, on Proverbs 18.8 (“Tidbits of Gossip”) Kidner comments,

Delicious morsels (RSV) is a more likely translation than AV’s wounds; modern scholars agree in deriving it from a verb ‘to swallow greedily’. See subject-study: Words 1 (1), p. 43. The proverb is exactly repeated in 26:22 (121). 

When it comes to actual devotional use, this commentary is hit and miss. Sometimes it works, and others times it isn’t. I would like to have seen more of Kidner’s wordsmithing in this commentary, particularly how Christ is the Wisdom of God and how Christian are to use this godly wisdom in their life.

Recommended?

Like apples of gold in a setting of silver, Kidner words are fitly spoken. Yet I wouldn’t recommend this as your first Proverbs commentary. For the same price you could get Duane Garrett’s NAC volume Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs or Eric Lane’s Proverbs volume in the Focus on the Bible series. Kidner will prove helpful on the subject-studies, the outline of Proverbs, and some critical-textual matters. If you want to go even deeper, head over to Longman and Waltke.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Derek Kidner
  • Series: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Book 17)
  • Paperback: 189 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (February 13, 2009)

Buy it on Amazon or from IVP!

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.