Book Notice: John Goldingay on Numbers and Deuteronomy

John Goldingay
Numbers and Deuteronomy for Everyone
London: SPCK, 2015.
Available at Amazon.com

By Felicity Clyft

It is a bold claim to say that a book can be ‘for everyone’. From a literary point of view we might wonder if this is even possible. What would such a book look like? John Goldingay’s Numbers and Deuteronomy for Everyone (London: SPCK, 2015) is a good attempt. In his study, tailored for individual reading, Goldingay manages to offer a guide that, in moderately plain language, introduces two of the more overlooked books of the Bible while also offering more detailed exegetical insights for the critically determined reader. As he does this, he clearly presents God as the key player in the story: Sovereign, active, unchanged in purpose from then to now. Furthermore, Goldingay consistently applies the content of Numbers and Deuteronomy to today’s reader, importantly drawing links between the Old Testament and the New, and directly to Jesus Christ. The result is a study guide on Numbers and Deuteronomy that exhibits the riches of God and his covenant plan as it was worked out in the community of Israel under the leadership of Moses.

While starting at the very beginning is not essential, as Maria Von Trapp suggests, in this study it is a very good place to start. Although the crowded table of contents gives the impression of a heavy read to follow, Goldingay writes lightly and moves through the books concisely. A good foundation is established in the introduction, which Goldingay then builds on through the rest of the book. For example, within the introduction he offers insights on authorship and dating, gives a potted history of the Old Testament and of Israel within it, and summarises Numbers and Deuteronomy. Then, in the study, he helpfully and briefly lays out the timeline and geography of the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, removing some of the obscurity caused by the superabundance of writing. His allusions to various underlying exegetical methods attests to the efforts behind this relatively small read, yet his succinct explanation of sections of the scriptures allows the significance of the story to impact the reader without getting bogged down in the intricacies of exegesis. This may be seen as a drawback by those wanting details on how his conclusions are reached, however the seeds for further investigation are planted whilst the reading remains simple. Given the series is ‘for everyone’ this seems appropriate.

Goldingay’s editorial decision to cover a large amount of Scripture in a brief way leads him to summarise multiple chapters at a time of the biblical text. This, and the engaging, honest, and personal manner of his reflection makes his study familiar, more easily transferable to our own situation, and encourages continued reading despite his somewhat wordy translation. Goldingay offers testimonies and opinions with a lightheartedness that is far from flippant and which doesn’t shy away from difficult themes or passages. He discusses marital jealousy and unfaithful wives (Numbers 5.5-31) as comfortably as he does the story ‘of several Asses’ (Num. 22.1-23.4). I also found Goldingay’s description of the laying on of hands (p.23), the recurring reflections on God directing people (p.35), and his discussion on unanswered prayers as triggered by Deuteronomy 1.46 – 3.29 to highlight the ongoing practical and relational nature of Numbers and Deuteronomy, and help to bring the Israelite community to life in my mind. The abrupt manner in which Goldingay finishes the study may be excused when considering the project before him. Presenting the entire Old Testament in a study format ‘for everyone’ is no small task. I found Goldingay’s reflections in Numbers and Deuteronomy for Everyone helped remind me of the value of these Scriptures, which are easily overlooked for being confusing or seemingly contradictory. In the process, Goldingay’s offerings help to reveal a Sovereign God with a grand plan who is responsive to and desires relationship with his covenant people.

Flyck Clift studies theology at Ridley College in Melbourne alongside working as a nurse in her local hospital. She is currently involved in leading a home group at church and enjoys encouraging people in integrating their belief in God with their daily living. 

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