Jun 13, 2013

An Interview with Dr. Robert Chisholm on 1-2 Samuel

A new commentary in the Teach the Text series on 1 and 2 Samuel recently came out. Its author Dr. Robert Chisholm Jr. is professor of Old Testament and chair of the department at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is the author of Handbook on the Prophets, A Workbook for Intermediate Hebrew, and From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew. Dr. Chisholm graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the commentary:

Question: How did you get involved with the Teach the Text series?

I was invited by the Old Testament editor, John Walton, to participate in the series. Initially he asked if I’d be interested in writing the commentary on 1-2 Chronicles. I told him that I had not done a great deal of work on Chronicles, but that I would be very interested in writing on 1-2 Samuel, since I had done quite a bit of research on it. Since 1-2 Samuel was also unassigned at the time, John invited me to write on it and I gladly accepted the offer.

Question: What do you see as some of the challenges of preaching and teaching 1–2 Samuel?

1-2 Samuel, like the entire Old Testament, originated in a time and culture far removed from our own. While people often find the stories contained in 1-2 Samuel, especially those pertaining to David, to be interesting, they sometimes fail to see the relevance of the material to their own situation as a Christian living in the modern world. So the challenge for the interpreter is to bring the underlying theological and spiritual principles of the ancient text to the surface and to help a modern audience see their relevance.

A more specific challenge for interpreters of 1-2 Samuel is the fact that the primary literary theme of the story does not seem relevant for us today. It’s obvious that the ancient narrator(s), writing under the control of the Spirit of God, had a pro-David, anti-Saul agenda. All of the material in 1-2 Samuel, even the accounts of David’s failure, contributes to this theme. It may have been very relevant in ancient Israel, but most people in the pews of our churches don’t see why it is important. While it is important to show that David’s credentials as rightful king are foundational to Jesus’s credentials as rightful king as the son of David, one cannot keep drumming on this point as one teaches/preaches through 1-2 Samuel. To do so would empty the classroom or sanctuary and reduce one’s messages to a mere history lesson.

But 1-2 Samuel should not be viewed in isolation—it is part of a larger history that ends with the exile. It must be read in that context. Now the exiles would have been concerned about this issue—they needed to know that a Davidic king would be the ruler of the revived postexilic covenant community. But in this larger context 1-2 Samuel is not just a Davidic apology. It’s a story of how God made his people into a nation, but then the nation failed, primarily because of failed leadership. The leaders represent the people. So as one reads 1-2 Samuel, one must ask, What was the point of all of this for the exilic community? The story explains why they are in exile. It gives behavior to avoid and behavior to follow. It also gives insight into who God is, what he desires from his covenant community, and how he relates to them, especially when they fail. Those themes are very relevant for God’s people today.

Question: How do you see your commentary providing specific help to preachers and teachers who are trying to do exposition?

The Teach the Text series is very user-friendly for pastors and teachers; the format allows them to get at the main point of the narratives quickly. My commentary, like the others in the series, is not a reference work that provides exhaustive analysis of the text. There are plenty of these works available, many of which are cited in the footnotes and bibliography of the commentary. The purpose of my commentary is to identify the major themes of each literary unit, to show how the text itself develops them, and to suggest how teachers can relevantly and accurately apply those themes to a modern audience. I focus on the text’s thematic and theological dimensions, which are of primary interest to teachers and preachers. Since the text’s theological themes are often bound together with its literary features, this commentary is sensitive to the text’s literary dimension, especially intertextual connections within the Former Prophets and within 1-2 Samuel. Oddly enough, this literary dimension has been sorely neglected for the most part in the reference commentaries.

Question: What commentaries or other resources have you found particularly helpful in shaping your own thinking on 1–2 Samuel?

I found Bill Arnold’s NIVAC commentary quite insightful. Various literary studies were especially helpful, particularly the commentaries by Keith Bodner and David Firth, and monographs by Diana Edelman and V. Philips Long, all of which are listed in the bibliography.

Question: What do you hope to accomplish through this commentary?

The preface states the commentary’s purpose as follows: “to provide a ready reference for the exposition of the biblical text, giving easy access to information that a pastor needs to communicate the text effectively.” More specifically, my desire is to help teachers and preachers see the literary

contours of the text as a basis for discovering its theological themes. These in turn become the foundation for relevant application to a modern audience. As always in my research and writing, I seek to serve in some small way the Church, especially those whom God has gifted and prepared to teach his people.

You can preview a section of 1 and 2 Samuel here.

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