Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther

By Knute Larson and Kathy Dahlen
Nashville : Broadman & Holman (2005). xiii + 381 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
18.1 (Spring 2007) : 127-129

The Holman Old Testament Commentary is a projected 20-volume set designed as a counterpart to the 12-volume Holman NT Commentary that is already complete. All 32 volumes are under the general editorship of Max Anders, Senior Pastor of Castleview Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. This commentary series was created with the pastor or Bible teacher/student in mind. The editorial preface states, “Today’s church hungers for Bible teaching, and Bible teachers hunger for resources to guide them in teaching God’s Word. The Holman [Bible] Commentary provides the church with food to feed the spiritually hungry in an easily digestible format” (ix). Each volume is based on the NIV and follows the same eight-point outline for each chapter in the commentary.

In the commentary by Larson and Dahlen, volume 9 in the OT series, most chapters represent a corresponding chapter in the biblical text. Every chapter begins with an introductory quote and a summary description of the chapter. This is followed by (1) an introduction to the sermon/lesson to be delivered from the biblical text, (2) an outlined verse-by-verse commentary including the “main idea” for the whole as well as the “supporting idea” for each individual point, (3) a conclusion that includes both a narrative and bullet-pointed principles and applications from the chapter, (4) a life application designed to bridge biblical truth to life, (5) a suggested prayer tying the chapter to life with God, (6) “deeper discoveries” that seek to enrich the biblical exposition with historical, geographical, and grammatical facts, (7) a teaching/preaching outline that summarizes the material presented in steps 1-3, and (8) issues for discussion that zero in on the points of the chapter on daily life.

Knute Larson, Senior Pastor of The Chapel in Akron, Ohio, wrote the commentary sections dealing with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in this volume. He is particularly effective in providing the “main ideas” for each chapter, sometimes giving a descriptive statement and at other times providing a principled one, outlining the biblical chapters, and stating application points arising from the commentary on the biblical texts. Particularly noteworthy are his discussions of biblical interpretation and application (121-23), OT historicity (138), pain and trouble (200), and justice and judgment (275-76).

However, Larson’s interpretation of the chronology of the biblical text departs at a number of points from that espoused by the majority of commentators in the evangelical tradition. First, he dates the events in Ezra 3 to 522-520 B.C. (32, 44, 62) after “several waves of exiles returned to Palestine” (39), even though Ezra 3:8 states they occurred “in the second year of their [the returnees listed in Ezra 2] coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month,” about 536 B.C. Second, Larson also dates the reading/explaining of the law by Ezra to the people and leaders recorded in Nehemiah 8 as occurring in 458 B.C. between the events described in Ezra 7–8 and 9–10 (104, 215-16); the preferred date is 445 B.C. after the building of the wall by Nehemiah. Third, the author wavers on whether the events recorded in Neh 9:1-37 took place between Ezra 10:15-16 (which would be 457 B.C.) or after Nehemiah 8 (which would be 458 B.C. on his reckoning) (228). The preferred interpretation is the latter, but with a 445 B.C. date. Finally, Larson thinks it probable that Neh 9:38–10:39 actually occurred after Nehemiah 13, when Nehemiah returned for his second governorship and confronted the abuses of the law that he found (242). The majority interpretation is that these events took place in Nehemiah’s first governorship in 445 B.C. Two excellent commentaries on Ezra and Nehemiah, those by F. Charles Fensham (NICOT) and Derek Kidner (TO TC), are missing from this volume’s bibliography. Larson should have consulted them on these issues.

Kathy Dahlen, former Director of Communications at The Chapel and present free-lance writer, penned the commentary on Esther. Her perspective on the providence of God seen in the book is in keeping with the majority interpretation. She views Esther as a woman who trusted in her God and was respectful and submissive to the men in her life. In the end, the Lord rewarded her faithfulness to Him. In the bibliography, commentaries by Barry Davis (Christian Focus,1995) and John Whitcomb (Moody,1979) that would question Dahlen’s viewpoint concerning Esther as a godly model are not listed.

Bible expositors and teachers would be better served beginning with another Broadman & Holman volume, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (NAC) by Marvin Breneman, as a primary resource as they prepare to preach and teach these biblical books. With the firmer interpretive foundation laid by Breneman, the applicational insights provided by Larson and Dahlen can be incorporated. Bible expositors should be aware of a number of especially valuable volumes in The Holman Old Testament Commentary. Judges, Ruth (vol. 5) by W. Gary Phillips, Job (vol. 10), Psalms 1–72 (vol. 11), Psalms 73–150 (vol. 12) by Steven J. Lawson, and Ezekiel (vol. 17) by Mark F. Rooker are good additions to the expositor’s library.