Elaine Phillips, Obadiah, Jonah & Micah (AOTC)

Phillips, Elaine. Obadiah, Jonah & Micah. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. London: Apollos, 2022. xxi+393 pp. Hb. $32.99   Link to IVP UK  

Before her recent retirement, Phillips was Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies at Gordon College in Boston. She wrote the Esther commentary in the revised edition of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 2010), The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary on Exodus (Baker, 2015), and An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts (Hendrickson, 2017). Her commentary combines exegesis and a pastoral heart for applying these three minor prophets to the contemporary church.

Phillips, Obadiah, Jonah & MIcah

In the brief general introduction to the commentary, Phillips makes several general observations regarding hermeneutical issues and general principles. Her method is “rigorously critical and unabashedly confessional,” yet maintaining the historical integrity, literary artistry, and theological importance of these books. She is clear, these books are the word of God written to people facing real trauma. They are a word of hope for God’s people.

Regarding method, she begins with a careful translation of the Hebrew text, with an awareness of the features of Hebrew poetry. The introduction summarizes common features of Hebrew poetry (following Kugel, as everyone else does). The general introduction also includes a brief discussion of the Book of the Twelve. Was there an intentional shaping of the twelve minor prophets? Was there a final redaction? For example, Obadiah 1-14 may be a commentary on Joel 4:19 [ET 3:19]; Obadiah 15-21 may be a commentary on Amos 9:12 (as initially suggested by Wolff in his Hermeneia commentary). Phillips suggests several reasons for the arrangement of Obadiah-Jonah-Micah. She concludes, “The three perspectives jostle against each other, echoing a turbulent century in geopolitics” (8). She suggests some caution since the Masoretic text order differs from the Septuagint, and even at Qumran, the order of the minor prophets is still fluid.

In the fourteen-page introduction to Obadiah, Phillips discusses the history of the troubled relationship between Israel and Edom in the Hebrew Bible, followed by a geopolitical discussion of Edom in history and archaeology, up to the Nabataean takeover of Bozrah in 312 BC. She discusses several literary considerations, such as structure unity, prophetical rhetoric, and vivid descriptions found in this short prophetic book.

When did Obadiah speak? And is that different from the written book? Readers would be literate and competent to appreciate echoes of authoritative texts, such as Leviticus 26:31-45 or Deuteronomy 32:7-9. She also suggests Obadiah makes use of Ezekiel. It is well-known Obadiah uses Jeremiah 49, although it is possible both passages look back derived from an earlier source. She cites favorably Daniel Block’s suggestion that Obadiah refined Jeremiah 49 but does not come to a definitive conclusion.

There are three possible historical contexts for Obadiah. First, some suggest Obadiah reflects the second half of the ninth century and Joram’s conflict with Edom (2 Kings 8:20-22). Second, the book may come after the Syrian-Ephraimite war under Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:16-21). Third, the widely held view (reflected in this commentary) is Obadiah was written after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, even though the book does not specifically mention Babylon or Nebuchadnezzar. Regardless of the date, the defining principle of Yahweh’s justice is lex talonis, a judgment is appropriate to the crime (25). Yahweh will repay Edom for her deeds.

In her introduction to Jonah, she asserts Jonah is the authoritative word of God, but this does not mean only one hermeneutical approach. She assumes a doctrine of inspiration and revelation but also develops the literary artistry of the book. She rejects the skepticism of the nineteenth century, which questioned whether the book had any historical value. The ancient Near Eastern world accepted divine intervention as described in the book of Jonah. “We must allow Jonah to reflect the volatility of emotion that is human and not subject him to scrutiny as ‘a failed prophet of Yahweh’… in sum, I offer a sympathetic reading of Jonah” (69).

The historical context for Jonah is 2 Kings 14:23-27. This puts the historical context of the story in the court of Samaria. She, therefore, reviews the geopolitics of the ninth and early eighth century in both Israel and Assyria. Even if this is the historical context, the book could have been written any time before 200 BC since Sirach mentions Jonah. Phillips reflects briefly on possible compositional contexts. If the book was written early, how does this help our interpretation?

The introduction also describes the literary artistry of the author. This includes macrostructures, narrative features, and poetry, especially the Psalm of Thanksgiving in Jonah 2. She also traces intertextual considerations, such as connections with 2 Kings 14:23-27, but also to Genesis (the doom of Nineveh echoes the doom of Sodom), echoes of the Elijah narrative (who also fled to Phoenicia), as well as the character of Yahweh from Exodus 34:6-7).

Any commentary on Jonah must struggle with the genre of the book. Is Jonah a satire? Parody? Midrash? Legend? Novella? Tragedy? Didactic fiction? Allegory? Parable? All these have been suggested, but she observes the favored fallback alternative to Jonah being a historical narrative is that it is a parable. This avoids fuzzy categories like allegory or the negative connotations of fiction. A Hebrew mashal has a much wider range of connotations than a New Testament parable. She raises the common objection that if Jesus alludes to the story of Jonah, it cannot be a parable. Although many scholars do not think Jesus’s point suffers if Jonah is a fictional story or a parable, Phillips disagrees. She argues this does not fit with a proper understanding of a sign. She defines a “sign” as “divine interventions in a given historical context” so that “the forthcoming event is equally lodged in history” (83). If this is the case, then Jonah cannot be fictional, whether it is a parable or not. Since the story’s details fit the eighth century BC, this does not suggest the story is a parable constructed much later to make a theological point. Phillips concludes for Jesus, and centuries of interpreters, Jonah is a historical figure. With respect to the purpose of Jonah, scholars have suggested the book is a polemic against Jewish exclusivism, a commentary on the prophetic role, relationship with Yahweh (whether Jonah’s or Israel’s), or a commentary on God’s justice and mercy.

Introduction to Micah surveys historical, rhetorical, literary, and theological factors that are interwoven into this sometimes overlooked minor prophet. Phillips says her reading of Micah was affected by a course of study she took in Israel. For this reason, geographical considerations of the western foothills of the Shephelah are important for her reading of Micah. She sets Micah into the context of the late eighth century BC, during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, and tracks the Assyrian aggression under Sennacherib in 701 BC. An editor brought together well over a dozen units that alternate between judgment and hope (183). But when were the oracles spoken and compiled? From a conservative perspective, Micah is responsible for all the discourse units, and she refers readers to Waltke’s 2007 commentary for a summary of scholarly views on date and authorship. Regarding the literary relationship between Isaiah 2:2-5 and Micah 4:1-5, she argues the verses fit well into an eighth-century BC context, so they are unlikely to be a later insertion. Phillips concludes the verses are “more at home in Micah” (187).

Phillips divides the body of the commentary into several sections. She begins with a new translation of the section, accompanied by notes on the text. These notes compare the Masoretic text to variants found in the Septuagint, Targums, Syriac, and Latin Vulgate. For a book like Micah, there are often significant variants. She also includes Qumran manuscripts where available. Technical terms appearing in the glossary are printed in bold.

Following the translation, the commentary proceeds verse by verse. Phillips’s exegesis is on the Hebrew text, and she often refers to Hebrew grammar and syntax. Readers who have not had Hebrew may struggle with this, but since all Hebrew appears in transliteration, this is not overwhelming. All secondary literature is cited with in-text citations; there are no footnotes. The commentary interprets the Hebrew text in the historical and literary context of the eighth century BC and includes references to historical figures and the literary features of the Hebrew text.

Following the commentary, Phillips offers a section entitled Explanation. These are brief summaries, often setting the pericope into a canonical context. For example, commenting on Jonah 2, she suggests Jonah experienced a “baptism in the sea,” and she cites 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 where Paul develops a similar typology. She also suggests a canonical connection between the three days in Jonah and the resurrection. Commenting on Micah 3, she looks back to the appointment of elders in Exodus 18:13-17 and draws attention to several texts in both the law and prophets, calling on judges to be fair and just. She points out other occurrences of the cooking metaphor in Micah three, such as Ezekiel 11:27-11. She includes some contemporary comments. On the violent metaphors describing injustice in Micah 3, she concludes, “lest we think our sophisticated culture is far advanced beyond such things, we must pause… our hermeneutical compass may need to be adjusted to face our own contemporary realities” (251).

Conclusion. Phillips’ work on Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah is a solid exegetical commentary written from a conservative perspective. Her commitment to reading these books as the word of God to God’s people is clear throughout the commentary, and often, her pastor’s heart shows through in her comments. This is an excellent, readable exegesis of the Hebrew text and will be of great value for pastors and teachers as they study these important prophetic books.

Other Reviewed Commentaries in this series:

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

Daniel C. Timmer, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (TOTC)

Timmer, Daniel C. Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xxxvi+229 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the 1988 volume by David Baker (Obadiah), Desmond Alexander (Jonah) and Bruce Waltke (Micah). Daniel Timmer is Professor of Biblical Studies for the PhD program at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Among his many publications, he contributed a commentary on Nahum (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary) and “A Compassionate and Gracious God”: Mission, Salvation, and Spirituality in Jonah (NSBT 26; IVP Academic, 2011).

Timmer, Obadiah, Jonah, and MicahObadiah is naturally the shortest section of the book at only twenty-nine pages, including seven pages of introduction. Timmer is not interested in any redaction history or sources for the book and grounds the prophet’s words in the events of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

Jonah (fifty-two pages, including twelve pages of introduction) is a carefully constructed, wonderfully simple, and theologically powerful work (p. 31). But since it is a book about a prophet, rather than the words of a prophet, it is difficult to establish either a date for the book or the relationship to the prophet. Timmer favors a date before the exile. He suggests the book is inseparable from the neo-Assyrian empire, and he observes “the punch of Jonah’s story would be felt most keenly by an audience familiar with the neo-Assyrian empire” (p. 34). Regarding genre, he considers the book a historical narrative he devotes four pages of the introduction describing the neo-Assyrian empire. Because of the brevity of the commentary, he does not have space to discuss the wide range of suggested genres for the book of Jonah.

The commentary on Micah is 144 pages, about 60% of the book. In his seven-page introduction, Timmer accepts an eight century B.C. context based on the four kings listed in Micah 1:1 and he devotes four pages outlining that history. Micah has a wide range of genre, and once again he is not interested in the often-complicated compositional theories associated with this prophet. Unlike the other two prophets covered in this commentary, he provides his own annotated translation for Micah. There is nothing in the introduction on intertextuality in Micah, although he provides a chart comparing Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and Micah 6:8.

The body of the commentary is based on the English text, although Timmer uses his own translation. The commentary itself has three sections. First, under the heading context he offers a brief paragraph placing the unit into the overall outline of the book. The second section is entitled Comment. He proceeds verse by verse through the text. On rare occasions when he refers to the original language, Hebrew words appear in transliteration. Although he occasionally deals with matters of Hebrew syntax, the commentary is not overly burdened with technical details and will be accessible for readers without training in the Hebrew language. Most interaction with secondary literature and technical details appear in the footnotes.

The third section of the commentary is a concluding paragraph entitled meaning. Under this heading he summarizes the unit with a focus on biblical theology and occasionally New Testament connections. For example, commenting on Obadiah 21 Timmer says, “With sinners removed from his temple-like kingdom, which is characterized by holiness, YHWH’s reign is fully established over his purified and multi-ethnic people (Rom. 2:28-29), who inherit, as Abraham’s seed, the kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 11:10; 12:28)” (p. 29). He only briefly discusses is the use of Micah 5:2 in the New Testament. The commentary is not overly interested in larger canonical connections.

Like other contributions to the Tyndale Old Testament commentary series, the commentary does not have indices. Timmer provides twenty-page bibliography subdivided for each prophet.

Conclusion. Timmer’s brief commentary is exegetically sound and is a worthy successor to the 1988 volume. The commentary provides the necessary background for reading these three eighth-century prophets with clarity. This clearly written commentary i should be accessible to laypeople, pastors and teachers. Although more scholarly readers will look for more details in the introduction to each book, Timmer has provided what is necessary within the strictures of the Tyndale series.


Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:


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

Book Review: JoAnna M. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, Micah

Hoyt, JoAnna M. Amos, Jonah, & Micah. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 850 pp.; Hb.; $54.99. Link to Lexham Press

JoAnna Hoyt is visiting professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and an adjunct professor at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics. This new exegetical commentary on Amos, Jonah and Micah is a major contribution to the study of these three minor prophets.

Joanna Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, MicahIn the twenty-eight-page introduction to Amos, Hoyt offers a standard overview of the authorship, date, setting and audience of the book. The introduction includes about 20 pages on intertextual issues, including possible allusions to Amos in in Joel and Jeremiah and a brief comment on the quotation of Amos in Acts 15. After a summary of the theology of Amos she turns to the style in genres used by the book. There is nothing particularly controversial in this summary. However, in her section on the unity of Amos she summarizes various redactional theories, especially Hans Walter Wolff’s complex theory found in his Hermenia commentary on Amos (Fortress, 1977). Hoyt concludes, “The proposal that portions of Amos are late additions is based on criteria that cannot be substantiated” (23). The introduction concludes with a lengthy discussion of various suggested outlines for the book of Amos, and exegetical outline, and selected bibliography. A more detailed bibliography appears at the end of each commentary section.

The introduction to Jonah is much more extensive (about seventy-five pages). Authorship is problematic for the book of Jonah; Hoyt herself consider is it at least possible Jonah wrote the book himself, but it is more likely the author is an anonymous third-party who lived “during Jonah’s lifetime or at some later point” (339). She provides two pages setting Jonah into the context of 1 Kings 14 and deals in detail with the problem of when the story was actually written. Here she follows John Walton and dismisses Aramaisms as requiring a late date. Intertextual connections with Joel may be more important, but it must be admitted the date of Joel is not certain either. After providing several pages on the historical setting of the book of Jonah and the end of the Assyrian empire, she surveys several doubts scholars have about the historicity of Jonah. Most of these doubts center on the city of Nineveh, and why God would send an Israelite prophet like Jonah to Nineveh in the first place. These doubts also include the problem of three nights in a fish.

She cites approvingly Douglas Stewart who concluded “it is important to note that there is ample evidence to support the historicity of the book, and surprisingly a little to undermine it” (364). But of course, a fictional story could be set into a proper historical context, and the story could still be true. This leads to the very difficult problem of genre. Hoyt surveys and critiques suggestions including historical narrative, novella, parable, allegory, and midrash. The increasingly popular view of Wolff that Jonah is a parody or satire. A few have considered the book to be a fairy tale or a fable. Even the psalm in Jonah 2 has been identified as either a thanksgiving or lament, and possibly also satire. Ultimately, Hoyt concludes the book should be read as a historical narrative with satirical elements (377).

In the thirty-two-page introduction to Micah, Hoyt places Micah in the eighth century, responding to the last years of the northern kingdom and kings Ahaz and Hezekiah in Judah. The main context of the book is the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. and the Assyrian Invasion in 701 B.C. As with Amos, there are several suggestions to explain the so-called hope oracles scattered through the book. For some, the presence of hope-oracles presence shows either a late date for the entire book or a later revision of the book during the exile.

Each section in the commentary’s body begins with an introduction followed by an outline. She then provides a fresh translation with textual notes, followed by a verse-by-verse commentary. Hebrew appears in the text of the commentary without transliteration. Matters of technical Hebrew grammar and syntax are found in the footnotes. Each unit ends with a selected bibliography of journal articles or other resources pertaining to the unit. If there is a difficult syntactical or lexical problem in the unit, she will include an excursus, “Additional Exegetical Comment.” Readers without Hebrew can skip these sections without too much loss. Chapter units in with very short Biblical Theology comments, followed by Application and Devotional Implications.

Each commentary ends with an excursus. For Jonah, Hoyt examines Jesus’ mention of the Ninevites in Matthew 12:41/Luke 11:32. In Micah, she has a two-page excursus on high places and three pages on Migdal-eder, the Birth of the Messiah and Christian Myth in Micah 4:8. This is the belief that near Bethlehem there was a special flock of sheep set aside for cultic use at the temple. Pastors often try this special flock of sheep to the shepherds in Luke 2. Although this makes for a great sermon illustration at Christmas time, it is not based on facts. It probably entered popular preaching through Alfred Edersheim’s Life of Jesus the Messiah (1896).

Hoyt interacts with a wide range of secondary literature and commentary on Amos, Jonah and Micah; each unit of the commentary includes a short bibliography. As expected by the use of evangelical in the commentary series title, her conclusions are more conservative, although she fully interacts with major English commentaries and monographs on these three prophets.

As with other volumes of this series, Lexham published the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on Amos, Jonah and Micah simultaneously in print and in the Logos Bible Software. The Logos book takes advantage of all the resources of the software, including tagging cross references and links to other resources when available. To date, there are thirteen commentaries in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary available to Logos users, with a total of forty-four volumes planned. The series has been redesigned with new covers and Andreas Köstenberger is now the editor of the New Testament. Purchase all thirteen volumes at 20% off through the Lexham website or subscribe to the series and receive new volumes as they are published.


Review of other commentaries in this series:


NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book, both in print and Logos format. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Stephen G. Dempster, Micah

Dempster, Stephen G. Micah. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. 292 pp. Pb; $30.   Link to Eerdmans

In fifty-six page the introduction to the commentary, Dempster covers the usual material expected in an Old Testament commentary. He uses Micah’s name (“Who is like Yahweh?) as an entry point into the book. The book is about the incomparable Yahweh who will remove sin because of his great loving kindness (חֶסֶד). But Dempster suggests the name is not a question but a “cry of desperation” of lament because here are so few in Judah who are “like Yahweh” (3-4). Its leaders are corrupt and do not practice justice or loving kindness. Judah has already become a failed state like modern Somalia, prompting Micah’s lament.

Dempster’s goal in the commentary is to understand the original historical context of the oracles before examining their literary context (17). For this reason the introduction has a solid section placing Micah into the history of Judah in the late eighth century, especially in Assyrian invasion of 701 B.C. Dempster realizes the view that Micah is largely responsible for the original oracles is a minority view in contemporary scholarship (30), but he argues this allows him to view the book as a unified whole rather than a collection a oracles from various, unknown prophets who are dislodged from a real historical context.

This recognizes the individual speeches of the book of Micah were given in a specific historical context, but also that they were placed into a literary context at some point after the events. For example, Micah 1:6 refers to the fall of Samaria as a future event from Micah’s perspective. For the original audience, Samaria still existed, but for the primary audience of the book, Samaria had already fallen. Dempster argues an act of communication requires a recipient of the message. For Micah, the original audience is not always clear. Perhaps Micah 2:1-5 was written before Sennacherib’s invasion of 701 B.C., but it is difficult to know this with certainty (37). Because of this, it is not necessary for Dempster to know the exact historical context to do theological interpretation. As he says, “to know the historical situation behind Micah 2:1-5 coming away with a revulsion of the evil described is to lose one’s exegetical and theological soul” (38).

But there is a wider context yet. Eventually Micah was placed in the collection of the Book of the Twelve (the Minor Prophets). Dempster things Micah’s placement at the center of the collection is intentional. Micah 3:9-12 is the first announcement of the destruction of Jerusalem, the exact midpoint of the Book of the Twelve (21, 51-56). For Dempster, the final editors of the Twelve were making a statement about the death of Jerusalem, but also its future resurrection of Jerusalem as the mountain of the Lord (Micah 4:1-5). It is certain the Book of the Twelve reached its final form in the post-exilic period (52), a time when hopes for restoration ran high.

The body of the commentary (pp. 57-192) proceeds through major sections of the book. For each unit, Dempster comments on the structure and literary features before moving on to “key words and expressions.” This section is the exegetical commentary proper, commenting on virtually every phrase of the Hebrew text of Micah. Hebrew appears in the exegetical sections of the commentary but it is always transliterated so those without Hebrew training will still be able to use the commentary.

Following the exegetical comments, Dempster makes two sets of theological comments, “Micah’s Word Then” and “Micah’s Word Now.” In the first set of comments, Dempster tries to tease out how the oracle relates to the original audience who heard Micah’s oracle as well as the primary audience who read the words of Micah prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. For example, commenting on Micah 2:1-11 Dempster argues the lower members of an agrarian society such as ancient Judah did indeed endure the injustice of foreclosure and confiscation of land. The ones committing this injustice thought they were safe from the Lord’s judgment because the prophets spoke well of them. But Micah says they will be stripped and driven from their homes, foreshadowing the fall of Jerusalem. Dempster then turns to “Micah’s Word Now” in order to bridge the gap from the late eighth century B. C. to modern western world. Here Dempster makes his own prophetic speech condemning wealth and consumerism in the west. “The attitude of the Christian church,” Dempster says, should be “to speak the truth in love, presenting Christ as the answer to such covetousness, criticizing injustice and rebuking evil…” (98-99).

The theological conclusion to the book (pp. 194-237) follows the same pattern as the interpretation sections in the commentary. Dempster briefly summarizes a series of theological themes in the book of Micah, including Micah’s vision of God, God and the nations, Justice, Land, Temple, Messiah, Worship and several others. These brief reflections connect the content of Micah to the larger interests of the Hebrew Bible. The second section draws implications from Micah to the “present day issues.” Some of these topics are expected (Justice; Idolatry, Covetousness and Injustice) but others are surprising (“Modern Ministry and the Role of the Spiritual Leader” and ‘Cheap Grace”). In the commentary Dempster pointed out Micah’s struggle against the “cheap grace” of his day, the belief of those who controlled Jerusalem and the Temple that they were somehow exempt from responding to the voice of the prophet and doing justice towards the poor. He draws the uncomfortable analogy to the modern church and its “barcode Christianity” that demands loyalty to a doctrinal statement without any attempt at loving mercy, doing justice, or walking humbly with God (250).

Conclusion. Although Dempster currently teaches at Crandall University in New Brunswick, Canada, he wrote the majority of this commentary in Cameroon. As he says in the introduction, spending time with Micah in Cameroon was “a tonic for my soul but a goad to my conscience” (vii). Anyone who takes the time to carefully read the eighth century Hebrew Prophets will be struck by the obvious parallels between the abuse of the poor in Micah’s day and modern injustice in the affluent west. While Dempster is faithful to the text of the Hebrew Bible, he offers a challenge to readers of Micah who ignore the plight of the poor while perusing wealth and prestige.

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