ESV Expository Commentary: 1 Samuel—2 Chronicles (volume 3)

ESV Expository Commentary: 1 Samuel—2 Chronicles
, Volume 3 (Crossway, 2019).

This volume is the third OT entry in the ESV Expository Commentary series. It features an exposition of 1–2 Samuel by John Mackay, 1–2 Kings by J. Gary Millar, and 1–2 Chronicles by John Olley. Because it covers three major OT narratives, this particular volume is quite large (1,344 pages!) and prohibitively heavy for handheld reading. Nevertheless, while unwieldy as a physical book, the combination of these three biblical books means that this volume serves as a helpful orienting resource to the theological message of the history of Israel from Samuel's anointing of Saul to the exile of the Northern and Southern kingdoms.

Oftentimes, commentaries and studies of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles gets bogged down in historical reconstructions and near constant reference to background information to explain the circumstances and setting of parts of the story. Because of the constructive constraints of the commentary series, these entries have a helpful focus on the flow of the narrative action and the major theological themes that are developed in these books. This noted, each commentator does in his own way deal with the historical context and the various challenges posed by the synoptic portions of these books, especially Kings and Chronicles (see the discussion and charts at 30–33, 494–98, 920–21).  

Mackay emphasizes the theological purpose of these narratives. They do not "provide an exhaustive chronicle of the period they cover, nor do they seek to explain the events they describe in terms of political or social factors." Rather, their focus is on demonstrating how God works out his purpose by directing and shaping human affairs, particularly those of his chosen people, and the incidents these books record are selected with that end in view." Consequently, "these books are an exercise in tracing God's hand in the events of this world through the guidance of an inspired writer, who provides direct insight into both God's purpose and human motives and indirect insight through the literary form of his presentation" (22–23). In this vein, Mackay identifies divine kingship, covenant kingship, and the Davidic covenant as major themes of Samuel and highlights the importance of a nuanced application of typology to reading the narrative (see 26–30, 331–342). 

A helpful feature of Millar's treatment of Kings is his attention to literary features that shape the lengthy narrative. He notes the "regnal formulas," the special function of speeches and prayers, and the arrangement of narrative material (e.g., the textual space given to one king over another). He also notes the "dark humor" of some of the depicted scenes (e.g., the blunt interactions in the Elijah and Elisha narratives). Millar comments that these features of the story "make for uncomfortable reading and often turn our expectations on their heads in a way that leaves us unsure whether to laugh or to cry" (500). The author of Kings uses these narrative elements to portray some of the "unexpected twists in the unfolding experience of God's people" (501). 

Millar also includes some helpful guidance for preaching Kings (and any other lengthy biblical narrative) that include the importance of "getting to the end before everyone has forgotten the beginning" (i.e., preach larger blocks of text), "maintaining people's interest along the way" and "avoiding endlessly repeating oneself" (as many narrative themes repeat), and importantly, "avoiding moralism and legalism, while also encouraging God's people to live for Christ" (509ff). Finally, Millar provides a brief poscript on the message of 1–2 Kings as a whole (this feature would have been helpful to have for Samuel & Chronicles as well).

His comments on the wide-ranging narrative of Kings serves as a helpful note on biblical narrative in general as well: "In the kindness and mercy of God, 1–2 Kings was not simply written for the benefit of those who watched these events unfold before them . . . The book is also intended for those 'on whom the end of the ages has come'—those who by faith have been united with the Lord Jesus Christ. This book is, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, written for us" (895). In the end, "for the Christian believer," the book of Kings "breathes the air of the promises we know have been fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only one who rules forever . . . To him alone belong glory, honor, and praise" (897–98). 

This volume of commentaries would serve as a helpful complement to your preaching resources on these carefully crafted OT narratives. 
Some Notes:

Book Review
May 6, 2024


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