T. J. Betts
Nehemiah: A Pastoral & Exegetical Commentary.
Reviewed by Andrew Judd (Associate Lecturer in Old Testament, Ridley College, Melbourne)
Nehemiah has suffered some neglect in Christian preaching so it is encouraging to see this new volume focused on a Christian reading of the book’s pastoral implications.
The commentary opens with a concise nine pages of introduction, focused on the historical background of the text and its relationship to the book of Deuteronomy. This will serve lay people well, but graduate students will need to consult a more technical commentary to get a grasp on critical and literary discussions about the work (there is, for example, no discussion of the book’s relationship with the other half of the Ezra–Nehemiah double act).
The next fourteen chapters then address a chapter or so of the book. The titles reflect the devotional nature of the application: ‘Waiting for an Open Door’, ‘A Godly Leader’s Concern’, ‘Priorities in Ministry’, ‘How to Ask God for Help’, and so on. A brief introduction is followed by a structural breakdown, summary of the passage, an outline, and then an exposition and application of each unit. A conclusion is followed by five questions for personal reflection. This format lends itself to an ethical approach to applying the text as Christian Scripture, often using Nehemiah and friends as case studies in godly leadership.
At 235 pages, the commentary is succinct and easy to digest for a wide audience. It avoids getting bogged down in technical exegetical and methodological discussions. Some readers may find they need further resources — for example, there is only a brief discussion of the difficult passages where the text denounces interracial marriage (10:31) and Nehemiah pulls out their hair for marrying women from other nations (13:23-31). I don’t know whether this issue is a stumbling block for Betts’ students at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but it is certainly is a live discussion in many contexts, especially where postcolonial sensitivities are high.
I would also have loved to hear more from Betts on the challenges of applying the text as Christian scripture. Should we be imitating Nehemiah at all? What do we make of his hair-pulling? Is there a typological significance to the disappointing fulfilment of prophetic expectations by chapter 13? Maybe this is too much to ask in a short book — so I hope to see more books like this on reading Ezra–Nehemiah as Christian Scripture.