Amos. Concordia Commentary

By R. Reed Lessing
Saint Louis : Concordia (2009). xlviii + 691 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
21.1 (Spring 2010) : 119-121

This work by Lessing is part of a joint effort in the Concordia Commentary series to help pastors, missionaries, and teachers to a clearer understanding and greater faithfulness in handling the Scriptures.

The author of this volume is professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, where he also directs the graduate school. He also pastored two churches for fourteen years before joining the faculty of Concordia.

For an overview of the features shared by each of the commentaries in this series, see above the review of the volume on Joshua by Harstad. Here are a few features of this volume that differ from the other Concordia Commentaries reviewed in this issue of MSJ. As with Wilch’s commentary on Ruth, Lessing has almost seven hundred pages to devote to explaining the nine chapters of Amos compared with Harstad’s almost one thousand pages to discuss twenty-four chapters of Joshua. Unlike Harstad, but like Wilch, Lessing does not provide an outline of the entire book that shows the flow of argument. He divides the book into major sections and at the beginning of each large section identifies each pericope. Like Harstad and unlike Wilch, Lessing intersperses several helpful excurses throughout the volume. His final excursus is “Preaching Like Amos.”

Lessing broadly categorizes other studies of Amos as utilizing three different approaches. “Behind the text” includes considering the impact of archaeology and ANE history on the book of Amos. Unfortunately, many studies of Amos draw on anthropology and sociology to misread the text and use Amos’ message for some unbiblical agenda. “Within the text” focuses on what is written in the extant, finished text of Amos. “In front of the text” focuses on strategies for applying the text of Amos to the modern day. Lessing seeks to avoid the abuses of all three, but makes use of all three approaches to Amos (and does a fine job at it). At the end of his introduction, Lessing summarizes three specific methods of interpreting Amos: form criticism, redaction criticism, and rhetorical analysis. On the one hand, Lessing rejects the speculative and subjective conclusions offered by form and redaction criticism (although he manifests an awareness of prophetic genres). On the other hand, he makes good use of the rhetorical structure of Amos.

After commenting on Amos 1:1-2, Lessing provides two excurses on Hebrew poetry and the land. In his treatment of the “land,” Lessing correctly recognizes the important role this motif plays in the message of the OT. However, Lessing concludes that Israel will never be restored to the land of promise. In the final restoration of the new Israel in the new heaven and earth, the Lord will regather his landless people to Himself. Then Lessing uses nine truths to show the “spiritual” manifestation of the OT function of land in the NT. Finally, he summarizes and rejects the dispensational belief that God will fulfill His promises to national Israel, in part, by restoring the nation of Israel to the land of promise. Unfortunately, Lessing does not cite the best scholarly representatives of dispensationalism (besides Ryrie) and incorrectly describes dispensationalists as believing in two ways of salvation. Of course, his theology significantly impacts his explanation of Amos 9:11-15 and its use in the Book of Acts (596-600). There again, the only dispensationalists cited by Lessing are Scofield and LaHaye and Jenkins, rather than some of the many modern dispensationalist articles and books that interact with the Amos 9 and Acts 15 issue.

Notwithstanding the above issue, Lessing provides his readers with a marvelous exegesis and exposition of the Book of Amos. He interacts with word plays and recognizes important aspects of the structure of various prophetic oracles in Amos. His commentary is a great contribution to the scores of studies already written on this important prophetic book.