Review by Rev. William J. Mazey

  • November 20, 2009


by Rev. William J. Mazey

Walton, John H., general editor. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, vol. 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2009. 529.


Do we really need another set of commentaries on the Old Testament? I have to admit that I was asking myself that question when I read about the contest on the Koinonia blog. But I entered the contest anyway, not thinking that I would win. But I was one of the people chosen to receive one volume of the five volume set. My responsibility for winning this free volume was to review it and post the review on a blog.

I chose to receive and review volume 3, which covers 1 Kings through Esther. My first reason for choosing this volume is that Nehemiah is one of my favorite Old Testament books. My second reason is that I am preparing to preach through Ezra followed by Nehemiah after the first of the year. Third, I figured I cannot have too many commentaries on Ezra/Nehemiah. My reasoning for entering the contest may have been flawed, but I won and received the commentary. Then I began to go through it.


The look of the commentary is actually quite impressive. The book itself is larger than most commentaries. The type of paper used and the text type make it very easy to read. There are many pictures and illustrations included to help the reader with insight into the Biblical setting. The pictures and illustrations are literally quite impressive. Most readers will be surprised at the number and quality of the pictures.

The general editor gives opening remarks on the methodology used in preparing the commentary. These are both interesting and helpful. The General Bibliography is also helpful. Each book ends with a Bibliography and Chapter Notes. There are a very large number of references cited. Each individual author did a lot of work in preparing their commentary. The commentaries could be considered both academic and practical.

Critical Evaluation

I glanced over the sections of 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles and Esther. They seem to be very good and well constructed. They should prove to be valuable assets to my library. Since I am preparing to preach through Ezra and Nehemiah I spent more time on going through each of these sections. They have already proved their worth to me in as I do my sermon preparation.

I would like to give one example from both Ezra and Nehemiah as to their benefit to my study. The following is an excerpt from pages 418-419. The People’s Response (10:1-4). Weeping and throwing himself down 10:1. Weeping, not silently but aloud, like laughing is contagious. The people also wept bitterly…….. Ezra kept on throwing himself down on the ground. He had been kneeling before. The prophets and other leaders sometimes used object lessons, even bizarre actions, to attract people’s attention… Kidner comments, “Instead of whipping a reluctant people into action, Ezra has pricked their conscience to the point at which they urge him to act.” To me, Ezra was modeling what the people needed to do. They needed to repent with all honesty and urgency before God. Ezra and the people are in this together.

The second example comes from page 441 and the comments are from the familiar passage of Nehemiah 8:10. “The joy” occurs only here and in 1 Chronicles 16:27. Most commentators interpret this joy as having the Lord as its object. In other words, our joy in the Lord as we eat as we eat and labor before him will sustain us…. However, arguing from the fact that “strength” means “stronghold, fortress”…..Wong has argued for “the joy of the Lord” as a subjective genitive, that is the Lord’s joy in us, as that makes more sense. He suggests, “In other words, it is Yahweh’s joy over his people that is the basis for the hope that they will be saved or protected from his anger. Thinking practically doesn’t it make you feel both secure and strong knowing that Almighty God has joy in you?

Both of these books are covered well by the author. He presents a good addition to the Ezra/Nehemiah library of commentaries. There are 329 Chapter Notes on these two books, not counting the Sidebar and Chart Notes. It appears to be a thorough study of Ezra/Nehemiah.


This volume has proved valuable to me in my sermon preparation. It is a good size and easy to read. I did receive volume 3 for free, but I was not paid for this review. If the other volumes in the five volume set are as good as this one, I would recommend this set to any pastor to purchase and use. This commentary set would also be a good addition to any church that has a library. The bottom line is it is good! Get it and use for the glory of God.

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