1 & 2 Kings: A Pastoral and Contextual Commentary

Written by Jesudason Baskar Jeyaraj Reviewed By Martin H. Paterson and Peter H. W. Lau

Historical narrative has undergone something of a renaissance on the preaching calendars of many churches in Scotland and elsewhere. Certainly, the wonderful stories are compelling and engaging. However, we suspect that an increasing awareness of the instability characterizing much of the world right now has led some to relearn God’s orchestration of history in books such as 1 and 2 Kings. This is something Jeyaraj notes at the outset of the latest volume in the Asia Bible Commentary (ABC) series. He recognizes that the stories of 1 and 2 Kings provide “insights into the socio-political and religious context of Asia today, particularly India” (p. ix), the context out of which he writes this commentary. While this volume is a helpful aid, there are areas it could be developed to assist the reader grasp the narrative flow of Kings.

Jeyaraj begins the commentary with an introductory chapter including details such as book outline, date, and authorship, which he attributes to the Deuteronomist (p. 5). One of the most helpful elements of this introduction is the overview of the various prophets and prophecies which punctuate the narrative of Kings. Although brief, these overviews provide helpful signposts for the reader.

As with other volumes in the series, the author seeks to deal sensitively with the text of Scripture and apply it with nuance and insight from his Asian cultural context. Rather than following a verse-by-verse structure, the commentary proceeds section-by-section. Preceding each section is a brief summation of what is to follow, orientating a reader before they engage with the passage itself. Although at points looking at larger sections can seem hurried, the benefit to the reader is an appreciation of the wider narrative flow.

Many of the spiritual practices of the surrounding nations which are addressed in 1 and 2 Kings seem alien in a secular context. Something Jeyaraj does well is bridge the world of the text to similar practices found across the Indian sub-continent (e.g., fertility cults, pp. 117–18). With the increasing movement of peoples across the world, and the establishment of diaspora communities, these practices also travel. As pastors, church leaders and theologians seek to communicate the gospel of Christ into multi-cultural, pluralistic societies, this will require the acumen of reading OT books such as Kings with an awareness of such practices and their contemporary relevance.

A feature of the ABC series is the short asides, which discuss pastoral or technical details arising from the text. Concerning the healing of Naaman (2 Kgs 5:1–27), Jeyaraj pauses to address the matter of “secret Christians” (p. 206). He notes that in many contexts across Asia, following Christ presents the real possibility of open persecution. Since this is just a brief excursus in a commentary on the book of Kings, a lot more can be said. However, we commend the author for not only raising this issue, but also seeking to provide a balanced pastoral response that takes seriously the need to identify with Christ and his church. This is not a distant issue that we can sidestep if we choose to. Coming to a mind about how we disciple and serve contemporary Naamans is a challenge for the church in every corner of the world.

A significant area of weakness we encountered with this work is the lack of engagement with biblical theology. Kings contains several key themes central to the narrative of Scripture, developed and expanded in the NT. For example, the theme of kingship is identified in the introduction (pp. 14–16) but is not fully developed in the commentary proper. Given the prominence of the kingdom of God in Scripture—detailing God’s rule, his people’s rebellion, and Christ’s redemption—it should be an essential component for interpreting and applying the message of Kings. However, this wider perspective incorporating the role of the kingdom of God does not receive developed consideration. Take, for instance, the final scene of 2 Kings, the release of Jehoiachin (2 Kgs 25:27–30). It would seem to be an odd detail to drop in at the end of the narrative if it is not significant for what is to come. Read canonically, this odd turn of events points to God’s sovereignty over his people. However, this is not explicitly developed in the commentary (p. 305). Greater consideration of the difference Christ makes in interpreting and applying these narratives would enhance this work.

While there are details in this commentary that could be developed or expanded, this volume once again highlights the growing wealth of scholars writing from the Asian context. Jeyaraj’s work on the book of Kings is concise and readable. The inclusion of anecdotes and illustrations from the Indian sub-continent provide helpful contours in reading the text. Pastors, Bible teachers, and seminary students will benefit from incorporating this work into their study and preparation.

Martin H. Paterson and Peter H. W. Lau

Martin H. Paterson and Peter H. W. Lau
OMF International
Glasgow, Scotland, UK and Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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