1 and 2 Samuel (NIBC Commentary) by Mary J. Evans (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000)
Mary Evans, Lecturer in Old Testament at London Bible College, focuses on three major areas of interest in the books of Samuel (following Brueggemann): the socio-historical, personal, and theological concerns of the writers. This threefold cord (better expressed as “politics, people, and preaching”!) is held together in her opinion by the integrating perspective of “the nature, accession, use, and abuse of power.” She finds that “within the text there is both a description of the power struggles within Israel and a critique of the attitudes that view power as so important” (pages 9-10). The possible political agenda of the book is examined, but not in unnecessary detail; the ambivalent portraits of the various main characters are investigated and occasionally well expounded; and the theological reflections and concerns of the authors are drawn out.
The emphasis laid on “power” from a socio-psychological angle is perhaps overplayed at the expense of the more crucial redemptive-historical perspective of the books within the canon of Scripture. Reflections on the use and abuse of power can be found throughout the Bible, of course, but here the big issue is not merely the power struggles of the great, but the promises of God. The continuity of the promise to Abraham and the focusing of those promises onto David and his descendents is of the utmost importance for understanding these books and their purpose within the Bible. The institution of the kingship, the emergence of the prophets, and the centrality of Jerusalem are also vital components, with massive theological implications. Evans’ focus on power in politics, people, and preaching may be a useful handle on some of these key aspects of the books, but it does not encapsulate its whole message.
The attempt to discover a “melodic line” through the books is, however, a laudable one and although the theme of “power” may not be as all-embracing as Evans tries to make it, that does not stop this commentary from being useful. There are some insightful comments made on the David and Bathsheba story, and particularly on the “appendix” of 2 Samuel 21-24 and the function of the psalm in 2 Samuel 22 as an inclusio with Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2. The motif of power is related in the introduction to the New Testament’s emphasis on “power in weakness” and interestingly Jonathan, not just David, is seen as a possible type of Christ, since he “did not consider the power of his father something to be grasped (cf. Phil. 2:6).”
The chapters are quite short (about 4 pages each on average) and could serve as Quiet Time notes for more serious Bible readers (although application is rarely made to the Christian today). Textual criticism (normally a great concern in commentaries on these books due to the nature of the Hebrew text) does not feature highly in the notes, which makes the book much easier to read but not as useful as a reference work (although parallels with Chronicles are carefully noted). Overall, this is an introductory commentary with some value, but the preacher will require more help with both the big picture and the application of the text.
This review was first published in Churchman 115/1 (2001).