Book Review – The Message of Kings (John Olley)

I must start by apologizing to my handful of readers for the long delay since my last post. The last few months I have been busy working on a few different projects (writing some software, and running a leadership training course), and so I had to put blogging to the side for a while. Here’s a review of a book I finished earlier this year but never got round to reviewing.

This is the most recent addition to the Bible Speaks Today series, which is now only a few volumes away from being completed. It’s a fairly substantial 374 pages, so there is good coverage of the text of the two books.

Olley describes Kings as a story of decline and complete reversal from the high point of Solomon’s peace and security. It is storytelling with a purpose: “Kings tells the story of the past so that, in light of Yahweh’s purposes and promises, people will change their lifestyles in the present.”

The introduction includes some helpful tables such as a list showing prophesies and their fulfilments (p31). “The Kings writer repeatedly reminds his hearers that it is Yahweh who is sovereign, his word is not sovereign”. Another helpful table (p36) visualises the kings of the North and the South, showing their timelines in relation to other key events.

Olley notes that although we call the book “Kings”, it is often prophets who take the lead. He makes an interesting contrast between David’s “wisdom” in 1 Kings 1 to kill his enemies, with the wisdom of God to benefit the powerless in 1 Kings 3. In 1 Kings 9, he is critical of the way Solomon focuses on gold, acting like the rulers of other nations, to earn their admiration.

Whilst he defends the historicity of the accounts, he does accept that some of the numbers are exaggerated, following the pattern of ancient Near Eastern “numerical hyperbole”.

In 1 Kings 2, he highlights a number of ways in which Elisha’s ministry foreshadows the compassionate ministry of Jesus. He has some interesting reflections on the difficult issue of violence in the name of God in 2 Kings 10 and some helpful material on idols in the section on 2 Kings 17.

As always, this BST volume will prove helpful for anyone studying or preaching their way through the book. Leithart’s commentary remains my favourite on 1 & 2 Kings, but the two are quite different in their approaches, so complement each other very well.

Book Review – 1&2 Kings (Peter Leithart)

The unique selling point of the Brazos Series (also known as the SCM series) is that the volumes are written by theologians rather than biblical exegetes. In a fascinating series preface, the editor Rusty Reno calls into question the validity of approaches that attempt to approach the text of Scripture from a “neutral” mindset in which the expositor impassively and objectively gathers linguistic and contextual evidence, in order to eventually arrive at the “most probable” meaning of a given unit of thought. Rather, he argues that the church has always interpreted the Scriptures from within a theological framework (for example the Nicene Creed), and this serves to guide us as we make interpretive decisions.

The difference in philosophy is apparent right from the start. In the introduction Leithart doesn’t spend his time discussing who wrote it, and when they wrote it, but rather makes a case for seeing Kings as “gospel”, and thus to be read in an “evangelical light”. 1-2 Kings is a prophetic narrative, making it clear that there is no salvation for Israel from within Israel: neither Wisdom, Torah or temple can save them. He also argues that Israel’s history is not only evangelical, but “ecclesial”, the history of the people of God – both Israel and Judah, though divided politically are viewed by Yahweh through the one lens of the covenant.

There is roughly one chapter of commentary per chapter of the 1-2 Kings. In his comments on the early part of 1 Kings, he draws out parallels between Solomon and Joshua, but also very compellingly shows how Kings presents Solomon as a “new Adam”, hence pointing forward to Christ. He shows how the idolatrous failures of successive kings effectively reverse the exodus and conquest, re-Caananizing the land of Israel.

Each chapter will typically contain something of an excursus as he goes off for a couple of pages exploring a subject raised indirectly by the text, sometimes theological, sometimes political, sometimes ‘ecclesial’. It makes for very lively reading, as he approaches many subjects from refreshingly different points of view.
Leithart is always looking for parallels and contrasts of the story of Kings and the story of Jesus. He ends each chapter by bringing Jesus into the picture, and thus it serves as a fine example of preaching Christ in all the Scriptures. In fact, often I would get to the end of a chapter and find myself wanting to preach a sermon on the passage – surely the mark of an excellent commentary.

Overall I would say its a great read, and definitely worth checking out if you are either preaching on 1-2 Kings, or want to be inspired to see them in a fresh light.