Reviewing commentaries is a tricky business – particularly for me as a generalist, and an in-publisher editor of commentaries! I tend to offer my review based on the format and content of the volume, and its utility or otherwise to preachers and pastors. Occasionally I’ll digress into particularly theological or stylistic quirks.
At the end of 2020, after the funeral of a friend, his widow let my brother in law, brother and I look though his books – he was a pastor, and had collected an interesting library. This slim volume on Job intrigued me then – while I’d heard of Katharine Dell, and the publisher, BRF (Bible Reading Fellowship), I’d not heard of this ‘The People’s Bible Commentary’ series – indeed, googling it throws us this and a series from Concordia. I’m glad I picked it up, though, because whilst this isn’t a commentary in the full sense, the strapline ‘a bible commentary for every day’ is accurate – Dell writes well, has clearly done the scholarly work in the background, and closes each pair of pages with a prayer.
If, like me, you’ve not encountered this series/format before, then it is a bit like Phil Moore’s ‘s’ series ‘Straight to the Heart’ – a step above the average daily devotional, but not a full commentary. This paperback of 256 pages contains 114 ‘chapters’, wherein over a two-page spread Dell comments on a passage of Job, with a prayer at the bottom of the second. This is a clearly devotional style of commentary, though as I noted above, Dell is a serious scholar and this is calmly and quietly in evidence. Nine pages of introduction orient the reader to Job, both book and person, with some suggestions for further reading organised under ‘Scholarly Books’, ‘Commentaries’ and ‘Devotional Books’. This volume was published in 2002, so is no doubt superseded in scholarly terms by her 2017 T&T Clark volume.
As Dell notes in the introduction, “The main theme of the book of Job is the problem of suffering” (p. 18), but it is coupled with something rather marvellous: “God allows us to protest against unfairness… even at his apparent unfairness towards us. It is all right for us to pray to him in our need, in our anger, in our suffering and in our despair” (p. 18). I agree, and think this is part of the reason that Job has such an enduring appeal, coupled with bewilderment, amongst Christians. Ultimately, a key message of Job that Dell touches on is that “The seeming reign of wickedness will be at an end” (p. 69). Another vital theme of the book of Job that Dell draws out well – and would make this a book worth picking up if preaching Job – is that of wisdom: “true wisdom is with God” (p. 95); “Wisdom takes its inspiration from the fear of God” (p. 114), and also God’s care for and mastery of creation (one aspect of wisdom is understanding this!) – “Job is being shown that human beings are not the only object of God’s concern…” (p. 239).
For such a short commentary/book, there is a lot here. But what is missing, in my view, is annoying – notably any explicit references, like endnotes or footnotes. Whilst I’m sure this was a deliberate choice on behalf of the publisher, it does mean that when Dell says something that isn’t immediately obvious in the text, the reader is left wondering ‘where is that coming from’? This doesn’t reduce the book’s utility for it’s primary readership as a devotional study aid, but does stop it being as good as it could be. I also felt that the quite forced structure occasionally broke up some of the longer speeches and narrative sections of Job in a way that was distracting. Overall, though, this is a warm-hearted, thoughtful little commentary/book on Job, which I will make use of if I ever preach on Job, and would recommend you pick up if you are, or are thinking of studying it devotionally.