The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66. In The New International Commentary on the Old Testament

By John N. Oswalt
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1998). xviii + 755 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 256-258

This volume is the companion to Oswalt’s The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39 (also in NICOT; Eerdmans, 1986). The author is Ralph Waldo Emerson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. These two volumes on Isaiah insure Oswalt a place in Old Testament scholarship. The work is especially welcome in that he takes a clear stand in defense of the unity of the Book of Isaiah. It is a pleasure to read these volumes with their constant references to the mountain of evidence supporting one Isaiah (e.g., 3-6, 8, 16, 47, 48, 61 n. 53, 72, 131, 136 n. 8, 139-40 n. 16, 279 n. 76, 491).

The introduction is brief (3-19) and is followed by a fairly extensive “Supplemental Bibliography” (20-39). Nineteen bibliographic entries are very recent (1990-96). Additional specialized and select bibliographies are included as excursuses on the Servant (113-15) and on 52:13–53:12 (408-10). The format of the commentary proper is utilitarian. The footnoting of the author’s translation is commendable for the ease with which the reader can consult the notes without turning pages (a frustrating feature in both the WBC series and the new ICC series since they do not utilize the footnote format). It is unfortunate that the work makes no distinction between “Lord” (= Adonai) and “Lord” (= Yahweh) in the typesetting. Such a difference would enable the reader to understand better both the translation and the comments. In addition to the two excursuses already mentioned above, it has excursuses on “God and the Gods” (106), “Isaiah 48:6-11 and the Date of the Writing of Isaiah 40–55" (270-72), “The Structure of Chapters 56–66" (461- 65), and “The Historical Setting of 63:15-19" (616-17). “Special Notes” appear also on 44:24-28 regarding predictive prophecy (192) and 50:4-9 regarding the identification of the Servant (322-23). Four excellent indexes close the volume (subjects, 694-701; authors, 702-8; Scriptures, 709-41; Hebrew words, 742-55).

Oswalt is to be commended for his reluctance to resort to emendation in order to resolve apparent textual difficulties (e.g., 64 n. 63, 65 n. 70, 87 n. 45, 128 n. 59, 163 n. 4). He does not always opt for the MT reading, however (e.g., 97 n. 86, 199 n. 13, 296-97 n. 45).

The volume contains a number of interpretative gems. Oswalt presents “dependability” as the appropriate meaning of hesed in 40:6 (44 n. 8, 53). He provides a viable explanation for the sequence of verb tenses in 40:19-20 (63-64). An insightful response to the translation of sedeq as “victory” or “victor” is provided in the discussion of 41:2 (81-82). Oswalt’s extensive comments supporting the Messianic identity of the Servant in appropriate contexts make significant contributions to the Christology of the OT (e.g., 108-12, 116-19). Unfortunately, the volume contains no reference whatsoever to any of the studies by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., or E. W. Hengstenberg on Messianic prophecy. Oswalt misses the opportunity to mention the Hosea 11:1/Matthew 2:15 interpretative problem in his very relevant identification of the Servant as ideal Israel (291).

Exegetes dealing with 44:3 should read the author’s arguments in support of its reference to the NT day of Pentecost (166-67). The author handles the theological implications of 45:7 briefly but clearly (204-5). Oswalt’s discussion of the origin of evil could have been strengthened with some well-chosen references to pertinent works of theology. Students of prophecy will find an invigorating discussion of prophetic understanding and misunderstanding in the excursus on 48:6-11 (271-72). The author also provides a brief but positive discussion regarding Israel’s missionary mandate (283-84). Every exegete dealing with 52:13–53:12 will need to consult this commentary’s excellent treatment of the pericope (373-410). It is not thorough, however, since Oswalt offers no comment regarding the plural form in the phrase “in his death” (53:9) and fails to define clearly the meaning of “light” in the phrase “he will see light” (53:11). He also omits any reference to two significant studies of this pericope: David Baron, The Servant of Jehovah: The Sufferings of the Messiah and the Glory That Should Follow (1978 reprint, Minneapolis: James Family, n.d.), and Robert D. Culver, The Sufferings and the Glory of the Lord’s Righteous Servant (Moline, Ill.: Christian Service Foundation, 1958).

The commentary lacks specificity in dealing with many of the details of eschatological passages such as 40:4 (52; no mention of possible geological changes in the millennial kingdom), 60:7 (542; no mention of the possibility of a millennial temple), 63:1-6 (594-99; no discussion of the potential identification with the events of Obadiah 18-21). In fact, Oswalt’s treatment of eschatological passages tends to follow a hermeneutic of multiple or telescopic fulfillments (141, 539-40, 675). In spite of an occasional lack of clarity in his discussion of eschatological issues, Oswalt declares that the promises to Israel have not been nullified by the salvation of Gentiles (225 n. 83). He accepts the reality of a future millennial kingdom (656), but omits any reference to the kingdom studies of evangelical theologians like Robert D. Culver, Charles C. Ryrie, Charles L. Feinberg, and Alva J. McClain. The absence of such references makes the commentary’s treatment of prophetic interpretative issues incomplete.

Although Oswalt’s observation that 43:2 should not be related to the doctrine of eternal security is exegetically sound, his follow-up comment leaves the reader wondering if he actually rejects the existence of such a doctrine anywhere in Scripture (136 n. 10). No discussion was offered for any possible relationship of 43:2 to the fiery furnace incident in Daniel 3. The “further discussion” (297 n. 45) regarding the “Sinim/Syene” problem in 49:12 is disappointingly inadequate (299- 300).

This volume makes a significant contribution to the exegetical study of Isaiah 40–66. It deserves to be placed alongside Edward J. Young’s 3-volume work that was the original Isaiah commentary in NICOT.