Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. Vol. 20 of The New American Commentary

By Kenneth L. Barker and Waylon Bailey
Nashville, TN : Broadman & Holman (1998). 528 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
12.1 (Spring 2001) : 98-100

“Based on my experience as a Bible translator . . . , I have often said, ‘If you want to discover how little you really know, become involved in translating all the books of the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into English or any other language.’ The same applies to writing a commentary (7).”

With these words Barker introduces his masterfully written and eminently readable commentary on the Book of Micah (21-136). Every page drips with exegetical insights drawn from the original Hebrew text. Every section includes clear and practical applications for the modern Christian reader (69, 81-82, 115). The breadth of information is impressive: everything from hymns (134, 135) and historical anecdotes (82, 113, 131) to detailed grammatical and textual analyses of the Hebrew. Bailey’s more extensive contribution (commentaries on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, 137-500) is equally impressive, informative, and readable.

Barker and Bailey direct the reader to a wealth of resources by means of extensive footnotes. When pertinent to the reader’s understanding of the text, the commentators identify significant views and related arguments. Anyone studying these four minor prophets will benefit from this volume.

Early in his commentary on Micah, Barker reveals that he adheres to the highest theological standards of evangelicalism in his approach to difficulties in the text. Responding to critical scholars who dispute the integrity of Micah’s prophecies, he declares, “If one’s presuppositions or preunderstandings recognize the reality and validity of supernatural revelation, divine inspiration, miracles, and predictive prophecy (including long-range predictions), most of the ‘problems’ evaporate” (29).

An impressive characteristic of this volume is its translational focus. It begins with Barker’s opening declaration (7) and continues with insightful discussions of translation problems (e.g., 87, 102, 120 n. 40, 181, 205 n. 42, 207 n. 50, 218, 239 n. 92). Bailey even refers to Longman’s reminders “about the problems of how to translate facial expressions of emotions from and into different cultures” (211 n. 69). He repeatedly (32 times) integrates the contributions of veteran Bible translators such as David J. Clark and Howard A. Hatton in A Handbook on the Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (UBS, 1989) in the Helps for Translators series (185, 199; cf. 130, Barker’s single citation of the handbook on Obadiah and Micah [UBS, 1982] by Clark, Norm Mundhenk, Bryn F. Price, and Eugene Nida).

Bailey’s portion of the volume is noteworthy for its informative charts helping the reader understand the themes and structures of the biblical text (146-47, 150, 262, 264, 266-67, 270-72). He presents a superb summary of Habakkuk’s propositional truths about the nature of God (284-85). Unfortunately, his discussion of the psalm in Habakkuk 3 does not mention its key role in Thirtle’s theory of psalm inscriptions (cf. James William Thirtle, The Titles of the Psalms: Their Nature and Meaning Explained [London: Henry Frowde, 1904] 11-16).

Barker’s comments about the interpretation of Micah’s prophecies indicate his sympathies with Progressive Dispensationalism:

“The approach followed in this commentary includes the principle of progressive fulfillment. What that means is that certain prophecies are of such a nature that they are progressively fulfilled (i.e., in stages). . . . [T]he fulfillment of one part is part of the fulfillment of the whole—a guarantee that the remaining events will definitely follow. Each stage becomes typological of the later stage[s], (i.e., of the fulfillment[s] yet to come) (41; cf. 70, 86, 92-93, 99-100, 129).”

This association is confirmed when Barker directs the reader (70 n. 81) to his own essay in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, edited by C. A. Blaising and D. L. Bock (Zondervan, 1992). On the other hand, Bailey makes no mention of progressive fulfillment in his commentaries.

Two grammatical features of the Hebrew text receive inadequate treatment. Both Barker and Bailey recite the traditional exaggeration of the prophetic perfect’s exegetical significance by explaining that the action “is so certain that the Hebrew prophetic perfect is used. . . . It is as good as done” (61; cf. 199). The perfect “does not emphasize the completedness of a situation. Earlier researchers commonly erred in characterizing the suffix conjugation as indicating completed action, instead of indicating a complete situation” (Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax [Eisenbrauns, 1990] 480). Bailey consistently attributes continuous action to the Hebrew participle rather than recognizing that in certain contexts it indicates characteristic action involving repeated or intermittent action as opposed to continuous action (167, 179, 191 n. 172, 221; cf. 122).

It is unfortunate that there are several errors in the typesetting of the book. An inadvertent paragraph break is inserted in the middle of a sentence (128), sections in the introduction to Nahum are misnumbered (137, 139, 142, 144, 152), and running heads for Zeph 3:2 read “Nahum 3:2” (475-76). Irritating typos also occur (93 n. 75, 114, 193, 227 n. 39, 270, 282, 300 n. 60).

Kenneth L. Barker (Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and Ph.D. from Dropsie College) has served as executive director of the NIV Translation Center, academic dean of Capital Bible Seminary, and professor of Old Testament at three theological seminaries. He is a prolific writer as well as deacon and teacher at First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Texas. Waylon Bailey is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington, Louisiana. H e has served as professor of Old Testament at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (the institution from which he received both his Th.M. and T h.D.).