Haggai, Zechariah & Malachi

Written by Anthony R. Petterson Reviewed By Andrew E. Hill

The commentary on the books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi by Anthony R. Petterson, who teaches Old Testament and Hebrew at Morling College in Australia, is a recent installment in the Apollos Old Testament Commentary series (AOTC). The target audience for the series includes pastors, scholar-teachers, and all serious students of the Bible. The commentaries are also designed to be accessible to the non-expert. This goal of providing rigorous biblical scholarship to all serious students of the Bible is commendable, blending academic excellence with practical application for preaching in the Christian church. The publisher is to be praised for devoting 400+ pages to the three books, as such extensive treatment of the post-exilic prophets in a single volume is not often the case.

The author’s stated aim is to provide a valuable resource for preaching and teaching the post-exilic prophets, since their message remains pertinent (p. 13). The format of the commentary is organized accordingly and includes these section headings: Translation, Notes on the Text, Form and Structure, Comment, and Explanation. In addition, the commentary provides a General Introduction to the books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, along with an Introduction to each book that offers a brief overview of setting, author and date, genre and structure, outline, text, and key themes. The informative introductory materials aptly set the text of each book in its historical and cultural context.

The series emphasizes the importance of understanding the cultural setting of the Bible for grasping the meaning of the human writers of Scripture. Petterson’s treatment of the historical and cultural context of the post-exilic prophets is concise and current. Conspicuous by its absence in the notes and bibliography, however, are references to commentaries on historical and cultural backgrounds to the OT (e.g., John H. Walton, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, 5 vols. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009]) and similar resources. Acknowledgement of such reference works could enrich the study of the cultural setting of the post-exilic prophets for some readers, as well as provide maps and images of realia from the biblical world since the commentary includes neither.

The commentary identifies the sub-genre of prophetic speech for each pericope of the postexilic prophets according to form-critical categories (e.g., Hag 2:20–23; p. 83). Yet the heavily formulaic nature of the prophetic speech in Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi is underdeveloped. This feature of the literature is important both to establishing the divine authority of the message of each prophet and demonstrating the continuity of their message with the pre-exilic prophetic tradition. This is especially true of the repetition of the messenger formula (“so said the LORD [of Hosts]”) and the divine-council motif implied by the formula. Here is a missed opportunity to explore the divine and human nature of the Bible which the AOTC series seeks to accent.

The authors of the AOTC series offer their own translations of the given OT book under discussion. Since translation is an interpretive enterprise in its own right, the reader benefits from the perspective and nuance the author of the commentary brings to the biblical text. Overall this is the case for Petterson’s translation and the helpful but not overly technical notes on the text. However, a more comprehensive statement by the author regarding the translation theory employed would be welcome, especially for the “non-expert” the AOTC series seeks to target. The formal-equivalence methodology applied in the author’s translation, including adherence to the structure of Hebrew syntax, makes for stilted reading in places (e.g., Zech 5:3, 7–8; 9:8–9) and at times the translation lacks clarity (e.g., Hag 2:15–16; Zech 2:7). The bracketing to indicate ellipses and the excessive use of hyphens are additional impediments to readability.

The reviewer assumes that women are among the “serious students of the Bible” that the AOTC series targets. Petterson does give some voice to women’s issues in the commentary, a necessary move in light of some passages in Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi that some interpreters have seen as misogynistic (e.g., Zech 5). Even so, one would like to see further affirmation of women beyond the imago Dei (p. 172) and their status in the marriage relationship (p. 352). For example, what were the implications of the rebuilding and dedication of the Second Temple for women and worship, the spiritual formation of women, and their personal spirituality (e.g., C. C. Kroeger and M. J. Evans, eds., The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002], p. 502)? Likewise, how were women affected by the call of Zechariah (7:9–10; 8:16–17) and Malachi (3:5) for the practice of social justice toward the weak (e.g., widows) in the post-exilic covenant community?

As noted in the comments section of the book, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi have much to say about the “nations” (e.g., Zech 1:18–21; pp. 124–25). Yet, the commentary gives little voice to the global Christian church and offers little by way of specific message for the Majority-World Christian. The Hebrews were refugees entering Babylonia at the time of the exile. Their descendants returned as migrants to post-exilic Judah, still under Persian rule. What do these books contribute to a biblical theology of migration? To what extent is the “day of the LORD” presented in Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi as a type of “postcolonial” theology?

Overall, the commentary on Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi achieves the goals set for the AOTC series. The volume is a most serviceable contribution to the study of these prophetic books. The author thoughtfully engages contemporary scholarship, and the commentary combines sound exposition of the biblical text with relevant application informed by a well-balanced, evangelical biblical theology. Haggai’s audience heard and obeyed the word of the LORD (Hag 1:12). The reader of this commentary will be inspired and encouraged to respond to God’s message in like manner.

Andrew E. Hill

Andrew E. Hill
Wheaton College
Wheaton, Illinois, USA

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