A Baptist minister’s bookshelf is sacred. It has weathered and worn classics, passed down or purchased secondhand because of their timeless value to preachers he has known. It has old books that he purchased in his seminary days. It has new books based on authors’ or publishers’ reputations, a particular subject covered, or just plain curiosity on the preacher’s part.
The oldest book (not a reprint) in my growing collection is Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander, printed in 1844. I have a set of Broadman and Holman commentaries from my grandfather. I’m adding new books all the time.
A Baptist minister often relies on the recommendations of others when deciding what books to add to his library. That’s why I’ve decided to do periodic book reviews of new titles I’ve added to my library from the standpoint of being a Baptist in the SBC.
Recently, I contacted the good folks up at Zondervan about their new Hearing the Message of Scripture commentary series, and they were kind enough to send me the inaugural volume on Jonah by Kevin J. Youngblood. I read it, and I highly recommend it.
Jonah: God’s Scandalous Mercy
Both Youngblood and Daniel Block, the General Editor, have strong ties to the SBC. Youngblood got his PhD at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Block used to be a professor there. Block’s commentary on Judges and Ruth in the New American Commentary (NAC) series has been recommended to me by virtually every Baptist minister I know. Youngblood’s inaugural volume in this series shows that he too is a capable scholar.
Most people don’t read commentaries from cover to cover because, as a reference works, they are typically too detailed, too dry, and too long to read straight through. I couldn’t put this one down. For one, the commentary’s scope is limited to the book of Jonah. By comparison, the New American Commentary, NIV Application Commentary, New International Commentary on the Old Testament, and other popular commentary series cover Jonah along with 2, 3, or 4 other minor prophets in one volume. Limiting the scope makes for a better commentary.
The format of the commentary makes it easily navigable and an easy to use tool for sermon preparation. The book of Jonah is divided up into six passages, each of which could easily be turned into a separate sermon that follows the commentary or grouped for a shorter sermon series. In each passage, Youngblood first gives the main idea in one or two sentences. The main idea is clear, accurate, and consistent with what follows in his explanation of the text. Each passage is considered against the context of the book as a whole, and Youngblood shows how the structure of the passage helps communicate the author’s intended message. At the end of his explanation, Youngblood then highlights relevant passages in both the Old and New Testaments and offers salient points that could easily be used to create a sermon outline. Each passage in the commentary is so cohesive that I couldn’t put it down. It’s like one of those 3-foot long Fruit by the Foot ribbon candies I had as a kid; you stick one end in your mouth and keep eating until you get to the end of the wrapper.
The commentary had some features I really enjoyed. The author gives his own translation of the book and explains his word choices, highlights links between specific Hebrew words and their uses in other passages, and shows how the author exploits the range of meaning of some Hebrew words to make comparisons and draw attention to key parts of the plot. In fact, his analysis of the Hebrew is the main reason you should get this book, and his writing is always engaging and never feels stuffy or dry.
My only complaint is that I would have preferred actual Hebrew script when discussing Hebrew words rather than a transliteration. If you know Hebrew, it’s easier to see it in Hebrew script, and if you don’t know Hebrew, the transliteration only serves as a temptation to say, “In the Hebrew…” when you preach.
Jonah is the Philippians of the Old Testament: its short, familiar, and easy to preach from for a new or young pastor. You might be tempted to think that you don’t need a commentary on it. Youngblood’s volume in the Hearing the Message of Scripture series is so overwhelmingly good that, once you get your hands on it, you won’t feel like you wasted your time or your money. I don’t plan on reading too many commentaries all the way through. I did on this one. And I’ll probably read it through again.
If you have any questions about this commentary, or if you’d like to share your thoughts on your favorite commentary on Jonah, there’s space in the comments for you.
P.S. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy, you can find it on Amazon for about $22.