From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew by Robert B. Chisholm Jr. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker 1998)
Robert Chisholm is Professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Designed as a textbook for second year students of Hebrew, his book could well prove useful to those who, after learning Hebrew at college, have since allowed it to slip from their grasp and have given up trying to use it as part of their ministry.
This is not an introductory grammar, although it does include a concise survey of the essentials of Hebrew syntax keyed to GKC and the now difficult to obtain Waltke-O’Connor. The focus, however, is not on grammar but on exegesis. Thankfully, Chisholm does not expect the busy pastor to have hundreds of Hebrew roots mastered and memorized, but takes us slowly and carefully through the basic translational, lexical, and grammatical tools available. Unfortunately, as he himself recognizes, these can be prohibitively expensive.
The chapter on textual criticism briefly gives some basic operating procedures followed by eight worked examples from the Old Testament. The chapter on “words” is clearly explained and contains lots of examples from the Bible and from modern English (as illustrative of basic principles), as well as a good section on “semantic sins.” In keeping with the practical nature of the book, Chisholm includes a worked example of an inductive word-usage survey and four examples of how to determine the meaning of hapax legomena. This very useful chapter is rounded off with a series of 15 questions designed to give the reader some practice in lexical analysis.
There are excellent chapters on the structure of Biblical narrative and poetry, and the literary approach to the Old Testament, both with several thoroughly worked-through examples. A new world is opened up, and here one begins to feel that Hebrew really is useful for getting to grips with the biblical text. A basic exegetical method is outlined and different methods of “bridging the gap” between exegesis and exposition are explored. Some of the “contemporary” language used in the sample expositions opens up new “Atlantic-sized” gaps, but this does not obscure the basic principles at work. There are so many good examples here that it is hard not to get the idea. Chapter 10 is entitled, “Why not give it a try?” and by then the preacher in every reader will be crying out to do just that. There is plenty of choice in the exercises for hands-on practice, although working through every step as Chisholm insists can be a little tedious.
There are a few unfortunate glitches in the type-setting. There are spelling mistakes (such as rfb bsr instead of rkb bkr in Genesis 31:34 on page 125) and word-wrap errors (in the examples from Judges 3 on page 122 and Genesis 28 on page 126) where the use of Hebrew and English fonts together has created problems for the printers. The un-pointed Hebrew text looks good but even with an English translation underneath it would perhaps have been less intimidating for intermediate students (and better for proof-readers?) if the pointing had been included. These quibbles, however, should not be allowed to detract from the high quality of this book. To get the most out of it requires a great deal of effort and concentration, but could pay great dividends if the Hebrew Old Testament were to live again in accurate, faithful, and invigoratingly contemporary preaching.
This review was first published in Churchman 114/4 (2000).