If you’re not a pastor or a theologian, you might feel that biblical commentaries are off-limits to you in some respect. We see the words “pastoral” and “exegetical” on the front cover, and come to the conclusion that its contents are reserved for the clergy.
Even those who work in ministry often limit a biblical commentary’s function to its utility in preaching and doing ministry; rarely do we use commentaries such as this one in our personal Bible studies.
If there’s another word I feel would be appropriate to add to T.J. Betts’ new commentary on Nehemiah, it would be “devotional.” I decided to employ this book to use during my devotional times. I would read the passage being addressed, pray through it, think through it, then go to Betts’ volume for his insights, to help sharpen or correct my own observations
Yes, it is thoroughly pastoral and exegetical — but it is also written in such a way that laity and clergy alike can behind from its devotional tone. That in no way takes away from its theological precision, or its pastoral power. But the real strength of Betts’ Nehemiah is that it truly is a helpful, simple companion to a thorough study of the book of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah is straightforward in structure and style, including a helpful “Final Thoughts” section at the end of each chapter for further reflection. In the sections where Betts was developing his commentary, I always walked away from those sections feeling like I had gathered more historical insight, and that I had been challenged at the level of application. I’ve heard from multiple people how much they have appreciated Betts’ teaching at SBTS, and after reading this work, I see what they mean.
Anyone familiar with Nehemiah knows that it is the kind of book that we pay a lot of attention to in some areas, and in other areas, we’re uncertain what to make of it. For instance, most of us probably are familiar with the story of Nehemiah being a man of prayer as he approached the king in the book’s opening. But what do we make of the repopulation of Jerusalem and its long list of names in chapter 11? Betts not only gives such chapters similar attention, but offers good perspective on why such passages are worth being thankful for, and what they mean for us.
I hope that commentaries such as this one can be embraced by Bible students as we seek to better learn the Scriptures. They are wonderful aides to our time in God’s Word. There is no reason to be intimidated by them. In our prayer-less, prideful, leadership-vacuum world, we need a word from the Lord like Nehemiah, and we need books like this one to help us unpack all of its glorious truths. If you plan to preach through or study Nehemiah in any capacity, make sure you pick this one up.
*Thanks to Lexham Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review