James D. Nogalski, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah (NICOT)

Nogalski, James D. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. xxxv+434 pp. Hb; $54.00   Link to Eerdmans

This new volume of the NICOT series on Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah replaces Leslie Allen’s 1976 volume in the NICOT series (now an Eerdmans Classic Commentary). Nogalski is writing a separate commentary on Micah (scheduled for April 2024). James Nogalski is the W. Marshall & Lulie Craig Professor of Old Testament at Baylor University. He has written extensively on the Minor Prophets, including two Smyth & Helwys Commentaries on the Minor Prophets and two important monographs on the formation of the Book of the Twelve, Literary Precursors to the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 217), Redactional Processes in the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 218), both De Gruyter, 1993. In 2017, SBL Press published The Book of the Twelve and Beyond:  Collected Essays of James D. Nogalski.

Joel, Obadiah, Jonah

Nogalski begins his commentary by briefly introducing his views on how the Book of the Twelve was formed (p. 1-13). “The twelve writings have been edited in various ways in the light of their position and literary function within this larger corpus” (3). You’re used throughout the commentary that the Book of the Twelve was deliberately edited and arranged to be a “canonical entity.” Much of this evidence will appear in the introductions to each of the three Minor Prophets he discusses in this commentary. In this brief introduction, he surveys the scholarship on the Twelve, including his own 1993 monographs in the BZAW series, and responds to some skepticism to his views. He argues that there are important theological implications of the formation of the Book of the Twelve. The sum of the whole is greater than the parts (9). The structure of the Book of the Twelve moves the reader from the eighth century BCE to the Persian period (when the Book of the Twelve reached its final form). Michael Shepherd uses Nogalski’s work for his commentary on the Book of the Twelve in the KEL series (Kregel 2018). See my review here.

This commentary focuses on the final form of each book and how they reached that final form. However, there is no reception history. The commentary focuses on what the speech looked like when it was initially delivered. Was it delivered orally, or was it a written composition? Several times in the body of the commentary, Nogalski refers to the author as a “scribal prophet,” implying that the author gathered material from existing sources and edited them into the book as we have it today. For example, Jonah is set in the eighth century BCE but concerns the post-exilic community.

In the introduction to Joel, Nogalski observes that the background of this book is notoriously difficult to pin down because of the lack of historical context, the lack of specific kings in the first verses, and an awareness of other prophets. He suggests a date in the Persian period, written by a prophet working out of the temple. He surveys models of unity and diversity and observes a strong sense of cohesion even with significant disjunctures (27). Joel was compiled by a “scribal prophet.” Its position in the Book of the Twelve causes it to function as an early voice for understanding the whole scroll. The occasion for Joel is the economic struggles caused by harsh weather conditions in the Persian period. Nothing can be tied to a specific known event.

Joel has a “cause-and-effect” theology of judgment and mercy. Graphic images of locust plagues, drought, and military attacks are drawn from the curse language found in Deuteronomy, especially in Joel 2:1-11. Yet Yahweh promises to remove the curse, the enemy from the north, and the economic devastation. Once again, there will be bountiful harvests (38). By Joel 3, grander changes will occur “in the latter days” when God will pour out his spirit on all flesh. All people will act as prophets, and there will be a complete restoration of Judah and a judgment on the nations.

The day of the Lord can have three senses in the Book of the Twelve. First, it sometimes refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Second, it may refer to Yahweh’s punishment of the nations who have harmed Judah. And third, it may refer to a distant future when Jerusalem will serve as a place of refuge “on that day.”

A significant issue in any commentary on Joel is the writer’s use of other biblical texts. Nogalski offers a short overview of exodus typology, wilderness allusions, and his use of Amos, Zephaniah, Malachi, Obadiah, Hosea, and Isaiah. He argues that a scribal prophet combined speeches into an extended treatise on the day of Yahweh so that the book of Joel dovetails with the Book of the Twelve. He traces connections between Joel and Hosea, Joel and Amos, and other Day of the Lord texts in the Book of the Twelve. Joel, therefore, invites contemplation on God’s character, the nature of judgment and hope, and God’s relationship with his people.

Nogalski’s introduction to Obadiah begins with a sketch of Edom’s history and its role in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction. Despite its brevity, Obadiah may be a collection of prophetic sayings. The book includes verses from Jeremiah 49, and Nogalski examines the structural and rhetorical markers connecting Obadiah 1-5 with Amos 9:1-4. The commentary takes seriously the final form of the text. Although the book may contain material from more than one hand, a scribal prophet combined and edited this material into a unit that thematically parallels Amos 9 (204).

The identity of this scribal prophet is unknown, and the book does not include a king or hometown in verse one. Concerning date, the book could be written as early as the 6th century. Obadiah is an eyewitness of the fall of Edom, so this could extend into the Hellenistic. He argues for a fifth-century BCE date based on the use of Jeremiah. He detects evidence of an advanced stage of Jeremiah’s composition in the sixth century (211). Over there is a prophetic and theological reflection on the fate of Edom 215. By placing Obadiah next to Amos 9, the editor of Book of the Twelve invites attention to the similarities between Israel’s fate and Edom’s.

“The message of Obadiah is not for the faint of heart” (286). The book discusses the judgment of Edom and the violent character of God in the Old Testament. In this, it is much like an imprecatory Psalm. But God’s judgment is followed by restoration. Israel, Edom, and the nations will be restored. But Obadiah’s vision does not come to pass in a literal sense (286). Persia, Greece, and then Rome controlled the region. Although Jerusalem grew during those years, its territory never reached the size described in Obadiah 19-21.

Nogalski begins his introduction to Jonah by observing that this book is much different because it tells a story rather than collects and edits speeches and sayings. The prophet Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, but most consider the story a fiction using the prophet to represent a theological position from the writer’s time. “The story is told with humor and panache,” and the “audience who heard or read this tale would have chuckled” (291). Throughout his commentary, he argues the story has a satirical edge.

For Nogalski, the author lived in the Persian or Hellenistic period and was answering (or ridiculing) theological exclusivity. Could a foreign nation repent? At the time the book was written, foreign nations ruled over Judah. How could Judah’s leaders work under foreign rule? The writer is poking fun at religious leaders who cannot accept divine grace for others even while demanding it for themselves” (293).

A major problem most commentaries on Jonah address is the genre of the book. He surveys several suggestions and points out these suggested genres usually miss the book’s humor (301). If one fails to reckon with the humorous elements of Jonah, then one sees disjunctions as signs of sloppy editing rather than the core elements of the comedic presentation of an author with a keen sense of humor (298).

As with the other prophets in this commentary, Nogalski argues Jonah has been placed in the Book of the Twelve intentionally. Jonah 4:2 is the key verse of the book. He argues that this verse takes up Joel’s citation of Exodus 34:6 (380). He argues the details in an excursus (382-85).

As with other NICOT volumes, Nogalski works through the text of each prophet based on the Hebrew test, although all Hebrew is transliterated, so readers without Hebrew can follow the commentary. His comments are generally on the English text with details in the footnotes. Each unit begins with a new translation with textual notes coveting syntactical elements and textual problems. He then works through a section verse-by-verse. Footnotes interact with secondary literature.

Conclusion. Like other recent new volumes in the NICOT series, Nogalski’s commentary on these three books is a worthy successor to Leslie Allen’s earlier volume. Although thoroughly researched and full of the details one expects in a major commentary, the prose is enjoyable to read and will serve students and scholars well as they study these three Minor Prophets. Whether one is convinced of Nogalski’s view on the overall formation of the Book of the Twelve, this commentary is well worth consulting.


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

Other Commentaries in the NICOT Series:

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 the application of these three minor prophets to the contemporary church.

Phillips, Obadiah, Jonah & MIcahIn 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 be 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 details of the story 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 mica surveys historical, rhetorical, literary, and theological factors which 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.


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.