Unfolding Covenant History: An Exposition of the Old Testament, Volume 6: From Samuel to Solomon, by David J. Engelsma. Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2020. Pp. 197. $28.95 (hardcover). ISBN-13: 978-1944555634. [Reviewed by H. David Schuringa.]
Unfolding Covenant History is a multi-volume commentary on the Old Testament initiated by Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema (volumes 1-4), and taken up by Prof. David J. Engelsma. Following his completion of volume 5 on the period of the Judges, is now released volume 6, covering Samuel through Solomon.
To get a good whiff of the pleasant aroma in these volumes, one would do well to reread the introduction to the series in Volume 1 where we learn that OT history is not on a parallel track with world history. Rather, it is the very center of history, with church history and general or world history as orbiting outer rings in a meaningful, organic relationship (xix). Such a perspective makes all the difference in the world, and is the only way correctly to understand history in all three dimensions and rightly divide the truth of sacred history that is the basis for all time from beginning to end.
Engelsma displays such as he ushers us forward in the unfolding of covenant history to understand what is going on in Scripture, the church and the world—yesterday, today and tomorrow. His commentary is unique in that instead of a verse-by-verse exposition, he gifts us with an enlightening episode-by-episode interpretation of this period of salvation history.
But be forewarned. Engelsma’s exposition has a way to make you squirm in your seat and shout hallelujah! at the same time. Never has this reviewer come across a commentary quite like this. And it has arrived in the nick of time.
What has happened is, with no small help from German Higher Criticism, the Old Testament in the hands of “scholars” has lost its cohesiveness. Their mishandling of the text as a somewhat randomly selected and assembled collection of ancient, errant documents comes up with contradictory messages, if any at all, for life today.
And even where maintaining a measure of literary cohesiveness is in vogue, the historicity of the events portrayed is all but denied. And to suggest at academic venues that the “Hebrew Scriptures” (N.B. the nomenclature) have anything to say about Jesus and His church in the NT, well, is simply rejected out of hand with a polite but dismissive, degree-studded chuckle.
So, thanks to the “experts,” what is left behind on their littered and dusty trail for the church is a book of sometimes inspiring fairytales couched in creative poetry from which one might possibly strain some moral lessons, since this is still somehow the Word of God. But such is a mirage since there is no true point of reference for interpreting the accounts that had been “cobbled” together. Besides, the often dubious lives of its human characters appear less than edifying even as negative examples, unless one cherry-picks Sunday School stories from David and Goliath, Ruth and Boaz or Daniel in the lion’s den.
It comes as no surprise, then, that pastors busy at their workbenches, researching for their sermons, can crack open a dozen commentaries and still come up empty. And parishioners are left scratching their heads when seeking to study the Word for themselves with “helps” from the bargain bins.
In this sixth volume of a marvelous set in the making, Prof. David J. Engelsma manages as a systematic theologian with superb exegetical skills to give the Old Testament (Samuel to Solomon) back to the church in all its richness and fulness.
Engelsma operates on the basis of the sound presupposition that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for instruction and training in righteousness. That means the Bible from Genesis to Revelation was penned ultimately by one author, the Holy Spirit. So we know that everything in God’s Word is true. He mines the gold of the text itself, his headlamp the system of doctrine revealed in all of Scripture. And in the treasure chest of every passage he discovers Jesus Christ, the Messiah, about whom, and from whom, the unfolding history of the covenant sounds a certain trumpet for the army of God.
Keeping safe distance from “moralism,” Engelsma is generous with practical application for believers and the church today. In fact, his exegesis pulsates with relevancy and makes the Bible come alive. Or rather, it shows how Scripture is alive and pertinent for our salvation, the renewing of our minds, and living our daily lives.
What is his basic hermeneutical method?
The chief tools the eminent theologian employs are the covenant and the kingdom (10, 52, 61, etc.). The former he defines as the relationship of God’s sovereign friendship with His own, and the latter as the rule of that Covenant Friend for His people in all of their lives. So, it is a relationship of enormous and eternal proportions, generating within the bride of Christ deep esteem overflowing with awe, gratitude, and heartfelt love.
With this pair of implements in hand, there is nothing in the stories to paper-over, be it Samuel’s failure to confront his wicked sons, Israel’s sinful desire for a reprobate king, or even David’s fiascos oozing with sorry aftermath. Truth is, the professor shakes us up as he shows from his exposition how God punishes the reprobate and chastises the elect—sometimes both looking similar, but with very different ends from the sovereign point of view (135-6, etc.).
For the sheep have a Friend who would die for them. So while these dark times stand out as grave warnings for the flock, the Good News shines so brightly that you have to squint as the Good Shepherd speaks His faithful Word through the prophet Samuel, strong-arms Israel into longing for a faithful king, and establishes the throne forever for the Son of David. Yes, through a shepherd-boy named, David, saved-sinner, whom God molds after His own heart and through whose illegitimate offspring springs forth a victorious, anticipatory Solomonic Golden Age for the Seed of the Woman—all for the glory of God’s great name (161, 170, 188).
Indeed, astounding, incomprensible, amazing grace. One cannot even begin to figure it out, until he looks in the mirror.
Recommendation: Are you planning to study, teach or preach from this particular portion in the history of the unfolding covenant? You would do well to begin by nosing around in Engelsma’s competent, constructive, yet concise coverage of these historic, transformational events. Here proclaims the blessed gospel— our sovereign God in Christ on the way to Bethlehem and Golgotha.