Wallace P. Benn. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther: Restoring the Church in the Preaching the Word Commentary Series edited by R. Kent Hughes. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021.
The Preaching the Word commentary series is an interesting and helpful set of books. At the same time, this series is not intended to be the resource for in-depth analysis of the word. Instead, this series is helpful to preachers and Bible students who want to understand a book of the Bible and get a solid feel for how to communicate important truths from those books to the people of God. This newest volume in the set covering Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther is a great example of the style and intent of this encouraging series.
As a commentary that covers three significant historical books of the Old Testament from the time after the Babylonian exile, Benn’s work is full of encouragement for believers who are living in a world that is not precisely what they would want it to be. In the preface, the author writes:
“The position canonically and historically of these books written after the exile is also of particular significance to us, as I believe the church in the West is going through a time of exile or judgment because of its manifest unfaithfulness to the gospel and the Word of God. Despite many encouragements, liberal teaching has eroded confidence in the Holy Scriptures, and we are not winning generally against the huge neo-pagan secular and materialistic tide. May God have mercy on us and restore, revive, and bless his people so that our nations may once again be shaken by the power of the gospel to change hearts and transform lives.”
As a reader, I particularly enjoyed the applicational tone of this commentary. Every chapter points to the hearts of believers. Each chapter helps us to see how New Testament Christians can apply the principles Benn brought out from the chapters of Old Testament history. In his section on Ezra, Benn even included a familiar song of worship to help believers better respond to what we have seen.
In simplest form, I believe that this commentary is helpful to believers who want a book that will familiarize them with the text of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. It is better than a study Bible or Sunday School lesson, but not quite as intellectual or scholarly as many difficult commentaries. I believe that pastors can benefit from the applicational nature of this writing. Any believer can gain from using this book as an aid to personal study or devotional reading. There are great encouragements to rest in the sovereignty of God, to trust God’s ultimate goodness, and to obey his commands even in a world that appears to oppose you on every side.
What I would offer as criticisms here primarily apply in the work’s design. If you know the Preaching the Word series, you already know what you are getting when you read one of these books. But a pastor who wants something to help him truly juggle the thorny doctrinal or interpretive issues of a text may find himself wanting more. And, when Benn looks at something in a way different than you expect, there is not enough argument in the text to be convincing. As an example, at the conclusion of Esther, Benn suggests that the text may be showing us a flaw in Esther’s character, a bloodthirstiness in the response to those who would attack the Jews. I would ask if the author of the Scripture actually intends us to agree with that mindset, or is that something brought to the text from Benn’s own sensibilities and those of some other scholars? Unfortunately, the scope of this kind of work does not allow for a convincing interaction.
All-in-all, I would recommend this commentary with the understanding that we should let it be what it is. This book is simple, straight forward, and encouraging. It is helpful and a fine addition to any study notes on these Old Testament books.
** I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as part of a book reviewer program. My review is not influenced by the publisher in any way. **