Book Review: REBC Exodus (Walter Kaiser)

I have reviewed various other commentaries in this series (find them here) so I won’t repeat my comments on the layout of the series, which is very good.

226 pages are devoted to this volume on Exodus, which is bound with Sailhamer on Genesis and Hess on Leviticus. The introduction is brief. Kaiser says that Exodus was never intended to exist separately from the rest of the Pentateuch. He accepts Mosaic authorship and defends the historicity of the book:

we are left with no explanation for Israel’s appearance on the historical canvas at all when we try to explain the emergence of this nation and this time without the presence of a Moses or an Aaron.

Exodus is a book full of foundational theology – containing God’s revelation of his person, his redemption, his law and his worship. He broadly structures the book as follows:

  1. God’s plan for deliverance (chs 1-19)
  2. God’s plan for morality (chs 20-24)
  3. God’s plan for worship (chs 25-40)

His commentary on the first of those sections was I felt the best material. His analysis of the three-fold promise of Ex 6:6-8 is good, and he provides a helpful chart giving an overview of the plagues. His interest in linking the plagues to known natural phenomena of the time is fascinating (e.g. deducing what particular disease the cattle died of), but perhaps not altogether what I was looking for from this commentary. However, despite his willingness to see God working through non-miraculous means for many of the plagues, he is not anti-supernaturalist, and accepts several other miracles features in the account (e.g. the manna, after ruling out various naturalistic explanations).

Kaiser shows an Arminian bias in his comments on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, explaining God’s announcement in Ex 7:3 as the “occasion” but not the “cause” of his hardening. He makes an interesting point on Ex 12:3-11 and Ex 19:5-6, that God’s original intention was for the whole nation (i.e. not just the Levites) to be a nation of priests. Rather curiously this leads him to suggest that the “priests” of Ex 19:22 means everyone. He considers the “pillar of fire” to be the same as the “angel of the Lord”, which is also to be identified with the “shekinah glory”, which is Christ himself.

He sees the tabernacle as embodying the theology of worship – it signifies that God has come to dwell in the midst of Israel as he would one day come in the incarnation and will again in the second advent. He offers a few brief and tentative suggestions as to the symbolic significance of various items in the tabernacle. The commentary on this latter part of the book seems to speed up, to the point where chapters 36-39 are handled in one brief chunk, which mainly refers you back to his comments on the same topics earlier.

Since this commentary series has limited space, it is only reasonable to recognise that not every exegetical, historical and theological issue can be covered. But Kaiser’s interest in certain historical matters, such as whether crocodiles are to be found in the Nile, or what similarities the law might have with the Eshnunna Law, often meant that more pressing matters for expositors (which is who this series is aimed at) were left untouched. For example, preachers will probably want to wrestle with why some of the laws can seem unfair to us. Sadly, he opts to refer us to other works he has written on OT ethics without summarising his conclusions.

Overall then, I would say that this commentary on Exodus, while having some interesting insights here and there, didn’t quite scratch where I was itching, and I don’t think it fulfils the goal of being a commentary ideally suited to “expositors” (unless they are willing to supplement it with further reading). I’m going to try out Enns (NIVAC) or Stuart (NAC) next time I go through Exodus, as both those commentaries seem to be highly regarded.

1 thought on “Book Review: REBC Exodus (Walter Kaiser)

  1. I have not read either Enns or Stuart, but have heard that both are solid. I would also suggest Philip Ryken’s massive “commentary” in the “Preaching the Word” series. Although it’s a little different than your typical “technical” commentary–more a collection of expository sermons–I have always benefited from this man’s writings. I like his Christocentric approach; he does not overstretch the text to conform it to Christ, but he does have a nice way of finding Him in the text.

    Thanks for another helpful review!

    Blessings,

    Simple Mann

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