Book Review: Duane Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Garrett, Duane A. A Commentary on Exodus. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 741 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel, including a sample PDF of the first 50 pages of the introduction.

Duane Garret’s commentary on Exodus is the latest installment in the Kregel Exegetical Library (Alan Ross on Psalms, Robert Chisholm on Judges and Ruth). Garrett is well-known for his work in Wisdom Literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs in the NAC series, Song of Songs / Lamentations in the WBC, and a forthcoming commentary on Job in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series from Logos) as well as the Hosea and Joel volume in the NAC series. He has contributed a textbook Classical Hebrew (B&H).

Garrett ExodusIn his introduction, Garrett identifies several features of his commentary. First, he attempts to give readers short introduction to Egyptian history culture language and geography. While this appears primarily in the introduction, the commentary itself often sets the text in a historical context. Second, he attempts to state the “evidence and arguments over crucial questions.” Obviously these will include things like the date of the Exodus and the location of Sinai. His goal is to “walk readers through the complexities involved.” Although he reaffirms the reliability of the text, he does not distort the evidence in order to produce a “conservative answer.”

Third, Garrett analyzes Hebrew prose on a clause-by-clause basis. This is truly an exegetical commentary on the Hebrew text of Exodus. In this respect, the commentary is challenging to read for those with limited Hebrew language skills. Fourth, Garrett tries to argue the book of Exodus contains a series of poems in addition to the Song of the Sea (Exod 15). Fifth, Garrett attempts to make this commentary useful for pastors and Bible teachers. He does not want to neglect what he calls “thorny problems,” but often relegates the details of his arguments to the footnotes. Last, Garrett reads Exodus is as a Christian theologian. He pays attention to the New Testament and Christian doctrine knowing the commentary will be used by Christian ministers, pastors, and Sunday school teachers as they prepare sermons and lessons based on this important Old Testament book.

The commentary is worth purchasing for the 145 page introduction to the book of Exodus. If I were teaching a class on Exodus (or even the Pentateuch) I would assign this section as a textbook since it summarizes many of the key problems for interpreters of Exodus in a very readable format.

First, the introduction discusses the sources and composition of the book of Exodus. While he does briefly treat the documentary hypothesis, he is more interested in recent studies in the “Book of the Covenant (Joe Sprinkle) or T. D. Alexander’s study of the unity of Exodus 19:1-24:11. If someone attempts to study the sources of Exodus, there are more up-to-date methods to explore than “continually flogging the dead horse of the documentary hypothesis” (20).

Second Garrett deals with the Hebrew text of Exodus and the translation method used in the commentary. For prose, he translates each clause separately, for poetry he attempts to make use of the cantillation system for translating lines of Hebrew text.

Third, Garrett been offers a lengthy discussion of Egyptian History, including brief summaries of the reigns of key Pharaohs in the New Kingdom since this is the period in which the Exodus occurred. He follows Kenneth Kitchen closely with respect to chronology.

The fourth section of the introduction is perhaps the most important. In reading a commentary on Exodus, most readers will immediately turn to the section on date of the Exodus. In this sixty-page section, Garrett discusses a range of options for the date of the Exodus. This introduction covers both the early and late dates for the date of the Exodus, but also “very early” and very late” dates. Garrett even includes several “eccentric positions.” This is one of the best essays I have read on the date of the Exodus! Garret points out each one of these positions have support from Scripture when interpreted in a literal, “most obvious” sense and each has at least some archaeological support. None of these positions should be described as the “liberal” or “conservative” view.

He concludes: “the exodus, we may be sure, did happen as described in the Bible. On the other hand, we must be humble about our ability to assign it to a specific date” (101). He recommends that a Bible teacher for Pastor should simply avoid specifying the exodus took place during the reign of any specific pharaoh. The book of Exodus is simply called him “the pharaoh.” Having surveyed several eccentric views, Garrett also warns readers to avoid any revisionist Egyptian history. As he says “the Internet is awash in a weird theories of who the Pharaoh of the Exodus was together with major revisions of Biblical chronology that supposedly solve all the problems” (102). Despite the fact that Garrett does not specify a particular date or pharaoh for the Exodus he says that “I see nothing the causes me to distrust the Biblical account” (103). This sort of faith commitment to Scripture and agnosticism towards history may frustrate some less-conservative readers of the commentary. His dismissal of eccentric views will certainly anger readers who are committed to these fringe views. Yet I find Garrett’s comments appropriate and measured considering our lack of knowledge for the details of this period of Israel’s history.

Another major issue users of a commentary on Exodus are interested in is the location of the Red Sea (yam suph) and Mount Sinai. He summarizes a “southern Sinai Peninsula theory” supported by Hoffmeier and a “NorthwestArabia theory” offered by Colin  Humphreys, a physicist from Cambridge University. A third view begins with Paul’s statement in Galatians 4:25 that Sinai is in Arabia. Garrett asks, which Arabia would Paul refer to? It is entirely possible that Transjordan and the region of the east of the Dead Sea could be described fairly as Arabia when Paul wrote. Garrett concludes that Humphreys’s solution is the best available and that the Red Sea is the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba (134).

After all of this historical detail Garrett concludes the introduction to the commentary with a brief eight page summary of the message of Exodus. This section places Exodus is within the overall narrative of Old Testament theology. Particularly useful is the section on the nature of Yahweh. He also offers a few comments on the presentation of Moses in the book. Garret devotes about a page on “Egypt as a symbol of worldly power.” Since there is a great deal of theology of liberation based on God’s rescue of his suffering, poor people from the oppressive government of Egypt, I would have expected a longer section here.

The body of the commentary breaks the book of Exodus into sections. Each section begins with a phrase by phrase translation. In sections Garrett finds poetry, he includes the phrase-by-phrase translation along with the Hebrew portion and an indication of syllable count. This will help the reader to follow the flow of the Hebrew poetry. Garrett deals with Hebrew grammatical matters in footnotes. These notes deal primarily with matters of Hebrew syntax although occasionally he will discuss lexical issues.

Each section structured into an outline prior to the commentary proper. Within the commentary Garrett occasionally refers to the Hebrew or Greek text without transliteration. For the most part Garrett does not interact a great deal with other commentaries, but occasionally there are a few footnotes pointing to key articles for positions in other commentaries. After the commentary section Garrett offers a few theological summaries by way of bullet points. These are simple observations based on the commentary and will be very useful for pastors and teachers working through Exodus. There are a few excursus scattered through the commentary.

Conclusion. I find this commentary to be one of the best that I have read in the Kregel Exegetical Library so far. The introductory material is superlative and worth the price of the book alone. Garrett writes as a believer, yet as a scholar who is intimately aware of the historical complexities of the book of Exodus. His comments on the Hebrew text are excellent and reflect an expert knowledge of Hebrew syntax and grammar. While these features may challenge some readers this commentary is nevertheless an excellent resource for pastors and teachers hoping to preach the book of Exodus.


Review of other commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.





John 6:16-24 – What was the Point of Walking on the Water?

Taken with the feeding of the 5000, Jesus’s “walking on the water” miracle is an allusion to the Exodus. There are a number of elements found in John 6 which may be understood as using Exodus language. The fact that this miracle takes place around the time of Passover brings the events of the Exodus to the foreground. In the immediate context, the provision of food in the wilderness clearly evokes the wilderness traditions. Jesus organizes the people into groups and gives them food, just as Moses did in the wilderness. This is the main point of the lengthy discussion between Jesus and the people in John 6.

Jesus Walking on the WaterThe churning waters of the storm are an allusion to the chaos of the sea in the Exodus. Jesus walks on the water as if it is dry land and leads his disciples through the waters to the other side of the sea. In Mark 6:48, Jesus is passing by them, similar to God passing before Moses and revealing his glory (Exod 33:18-34:6). The same verb is use din Mark 6:48 and LXX Exod 33:19. When God causes his glory to pass by Moses, the Lord declares his sacred name and character (Exod 34:6). God reveals his name at Sinai, he is “I am,” here in John 6:20 Jesus says “I am” using the same words as LXX Exodus 3:14-15.

It is possible the phrase “do not be afraid” alludes to the Exodus as well, although the words are common in a theophany or when an angel appears. The aorist passive form of the verb φοβέω appears in LXX Exod 14:10, when Israel saw the army of Pharaoh the were greatly afraid, Moses tells the people to not be afraid, although the word in LXX Exod 14:20 is θαρρέω, not φοβέω. The Hebrew verb is the same (ary).

What is the point of Jesus enacting the Exodus and Wilderness events as a part of his ministry? Jesus is creating a new Israel, leading them on a New Exodus through the wilderness at the end of the Exile. If Jesus is announcing the end of the Exile in his ministry, then his disciples ought to have anticipating the coming of the new covenant as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit as a sign of the dawning of the new age.

The miracle also confirms that Jesus is in fact God. God trampling the chaotic waters of the sea is a classic element of the divine warrior metaphor in the Hebrew Bible. In Psalm 77:16-19 God is described as walking through the seas as the rage around him (cf., Job 9:8, Hab 3:15). In Psalm 77 the writer has a moment of despair, thinking that God has abandoned him. In Psalm 77:8-9, for example, the writer wonders if God has forgotten to be gracious. Someone might wonder if God has become so angry he has canceled out his compassion for Israel.

It is only when the writer begins to meditate on the might acts of God which he has already done that he realizes that God will act one again on behalf of his people. In Psalm 77:11-12 the writer says that he will “ponder on the works of God” and “meditate on his mighty deeds.”

In Psalm 77:16-19 the Lord himself treads on the waters, and it is the waters who are afraid and flee before the Lord. The Lord led his people through a path in the sea into the wilderness like a flock (verse 20). In fact, the Psalm ends enigmatically with a reference to Israel being led like flocks by Moses and Aaron. They were led into the wilderness where God provided them food and water and enacted his Covenant with them at Sinai.

By walking on the water and leading his twelve disciples through the storm to the other side, Jesus is consciously evoking the Exodus and Wilderness traditions being celebrated at Passover, but he places himself in the center of the story. Just as God led Israel in the past, now Jesus leads Israel at the end of the exile.

What are other elements of this memorable miracle which reveal something about Jesus’s relationship with the God of the Hebrew Bible?