Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An EP Study Commentary, by Iain M. Duguid, Carlisle, PA: EP Books USA. 255 pages (hardbound). Reviewed by Mark H. Hoeksema.
It is my conviction that whenever I encounter a new book, it is both necessary and helpful for me to know something about the author. It seems appropriate to know who he is, in order to determine the background, mindset, and perspective of what he writes. After all, no one writes in a vacuum. Everyone has a theological predisposition for better or for worse, and a viewpoint from which he approaches the Scriptures. To give a comprehensive and fair review, it is essential to know the predilections of the writer.
Iain Duguid holds a doctorate in Old Testament from the University of Cambridge, which the level of his knowledge amply demonstrates. He is a former teacher of Old Testament at Westminster West in Escondido, CA. Currently he is Professor of Old Testament at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church. He is the author of several previous books, notably commentaries on Numbers, Esther and Ruth, Ezekiel, as well as several more works. It is clear that in his background and writings he holds to the Presbyterian tradition, and is therefore our cousin in the Reformed faith.
In his brief introduction the author gives his rationale for his writing on the three books that comprise this volume. Correctly calling these a “neglected trio of books,” he states:
The last three books of the Old Testament have not always received the attention they have deserved from the church. This is in some ways surprising, since the Gospel writers quote
more often than any other biblical source in explaining Christ’s sufferings and death…. Part of the reason lies in the difficulty of thematerial: the visions that are shown to us are complex, and the oracles often seem obscure.
He goes on to state:
Another ‘problem’ with these books lies in the fact that that they come sometime after the exile, when all that was left of God’s people was a small remnant living in poverty in Judah. They address a community that was living in a day of small things
with little glory and no great triumphs to show off to a watching world.
In light of these very true observations, Duguid observes:
In a day like ours, which puts such a premium on charismatic leaders whose ministries exude glory and success, these books may be seen as something of an embarrassment. But if, like the apostle Paul, we are content to be broken vessels without glory in ourselves so that the glory of Christ crucified may be all the more plainly displayed, then we shall find much blessings in these books. In them, we shall read of the comfort and challenge that come from the presence of the living God in our midst, even when his glory is not on public display. In them we shall also read of the anticipation of the day when the glory of God would come to earth in the person of Christ and bring about the long-anticipated salvation of his people.
Duguid’s assessments are correct on every count. When was the last time that you heard a sermon based on the book of Haggai? What do you know about the writings of the post-exilic prophets, of which these three are primary? What do you know of the restoration of the Jewish people (and with them the covenant of God and the preservation of the line of David, culminating in Christ), who after their exile in Babylon faced the difficult task of rebuilding both their temple and their culture following a holocaust rivaling that of WW II? All of these issues and more the author explains by way of introduction to each section, often with practical application.
He does so by taking one section of these prophecies at a time. After a brief introduction to each chapter, he exegetes the various oracles and visions verse by verse and phrase by phrase, emphasizing key ideas by putting them in bold print to call attention to their meaning. At the end of the chapter, the author makes application not only to the church of the Old Testament, but also to the fulfillment of these prophetic words to the church of the New Testament. His applications are usually well done, and even profound. He thus gives good clarity to visions and prophecies that are often difficult and obscure.
A novel feature of this book is that the author gives his own translation of the original Hebrew. Often, but not always, his translation parallels the King James Version, although Duguid’s is much more free. This method is recommended. How many times do not our ministers correct, clarify, and explain the meaning of the original text? By making his own translation, Duguid uses an economy of explanation in the rendition especially of the more difficult passages.
The author stresses the historical background of these prophecies, noting that “knowing that context helps us avoid reading the prophets’ words as disembodied timeless truths” (p. 13). This emphasis is important and is well done, both with regard to world rulers and events, and concerning people and occurrences within Judah.
In a section called “Theological themes” that he intends to develop, he mentions God’s presence, the Messiah, the final victory of God, and connections to the New Testament. In general he fulfills his intention to develop these themes; he delineates and explains them; and he is careful to apply them to the New Testament, especially in the “application” portion of each chapter. In addition, he connects the various oracles and visions not only sequentially and in relation to external events, but also internally, uniting them as to their content. Some unusual and difficult concepts could on occasion have been more fully explained, and a stronger and more definitive Reformed emphasis would have been preferable.
Speaking of Reformed, the covenant is mentioned often. Unfortunately, the author never defines it or specifies exactly how he understands it, which is not helpful. However, to the extent that it is possible to determine such matters, it appears likely from the language he uses and the context in which he uses it, that he views the covenant as a relation between God and His people—to his credit. Again, a bit more precision would be desirable.
Positively, Duguid is strong on the Reformed idea of corporate responsibility, which he calls a “corporate dimension” (pp. 177, 178). He is also strong on double predestination (pp. 192-198). He uses the term “rejection” in lieu of “reprobation,” but his meaning is obvious.
He stumbles, however, regarding the matter of divorce in Malachi 2:15, 16 (see pp. 219, 220). After mentioning the difficulty of the Hebrew in verse 16, he modifies the translation so that the Lord is not the subject of the hating of divorce. He makes the text read, “‘If [a person] hates and divorces [his wife],’ says the Lord God of Israel, ‘he covers his clothing with violence.'” The subject of the hating and divorcing is then clearly an unspecified person, not God. He bolsters his position with God’s permission of divorce in Deuteronomy 24 and Ezra 9-10. He goes on to say (correctly) that hate is “a covenantal term that describes a rejection of relationship that naturally issues in sending the wife away through divorce.” But then he inexplicably and illogically draws the conclusion that “this passage does not present a blanket condemnation of all divorce, but only of certain kinds of divorce as being contrary to God’s Word.” In his application of this passage, he states: “Yet even while divorce should be unthinkable under most circumstances for believers, it is not the unforgivable sin.” Thus he defends the teaching of the Westminster confession and weakens the biblical doctrine of marriage and divorce.
A couple of formal comments are also in order. In the prefatory material the author includes a helpful outline of the book. Though each chapter has a title, there are no chapter numbers, the inclusion of which would have been helpful for organizational reasons. The author also uses endnotes rather than footnotes. Although the current trend in publishing is toward endnotes, I despise them because they force the reader to flip back and forth in the book either to determine documentation or to obtain further information. Footnotes are preferable.
This book is recommended. It contains good basic exegesis and application, although it does not always draw as straight and distinctive a Reformed line as we might like. It does not always speak language completely familiar to us, but its ideas are basically sound. It will be helpful to ministers in sermon preparation, beneficial especially for society study, and suitable for reading by anyone desiring an increase of knowledge regarding these three prophets.