2013 06 20

I don't remember this happening; but somewhere along the line I ended up owning a lot of one-volume Bible commentaries. I got to thinking, "Say. I might be uniquely qualified to compare them."

So that's what I intend to do in this article. I will compare my one-volume commentaries.

Here is a list of the commentaries I intend to compare - in no particular order except the order in which I aquired them.

In Brief

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. This commentary is well researched and scholarly. Althought it is a Catholic commentary with all-Catholic writers, the resources are wide-ranging and any slant is either obvious or (more often) hard to find. The textual criticism is very modern which may offend some students. For example, the commentary recognizes that the book of Isaiah is compiled from three sources - each widely separated by time and context. The commentary separates the three sections according to their approximate Biblical order. Isaiah 1-39 is positiond between Hosea and Micah. Amos precedes Hosea (correctly). Isaiah 40-66 comes after Ezekiel. Because the order of the books after 2 Kings are in probable composition order, they are sometimes difficult to consult without checking the table of contents. This commentary includes commentaries on the apocrypha.

HarperCollins Bible Commentary. The lineup of writers in this commentary is stellar. They are celebrities in their areas of expertise. They are all members of the Society of Biblical Literature. In practice, some writers are stronger than others. Such differences are a feature of any one volume commentary written by multiple authors. This commentary includes commentaries on the apocrypha.

Asbury Bible Commentary. This commentary is a bit brief in the Old Testament. Because of it's brevity it is one of the first commentaries I consult when I am studying. It is fairly sound. It has a Wesleyan slant, which is fine by me.

Expositor's Bible Commentary: Abridged Edition. This commentary is actually two volumes; but it still satisfies the purpose of a one volume commentary (everything in a small space - especially on a shelf). It is a condensed version of a very serious set of commentaries called (not surprisingly) Expositor's Bible Commentary. That means all the stuff in a serious commentary that we usually skip (like the original translation and translation notes) are omitted; but all the quality exegesis is included. The writers are very conscientous. Sometimes the writers seem a bite overly careful to not take a clear stand on a passage that may be controversial. I really like this commentary. Of all the commentaries reviewed here, this one is probably the best value. It has good exegesis but doesn't get bogged down for pages and pages on theory.

New Interpreter's One Volume Commentary. This commentary is very good and sometimes offers insight not noticed by either myself or other commentators. The quality of commentary is nearly identical (but different authors) with the HarperCollins commentary. I expect the theology to have more of a Wesleyan slant (because it is published by Abbingdon Press) but I haven't yet noticed such a slant. The comments are, again, a bit brief for my taste. This commentary includes commentaries on the apocrypha.

Sample Comments

Comments on Isaiah 24:21-23:

Jerome: 21. the host of heaven: The sun, moon, and the stars; cf. Deut 4:29. 22. The imprisonment and later punishment of Yahweh's enemies is a recurrent theme in apocalyptic; cf. Rev 20:1-3. 23. the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed: By the glory of the divine king. Creation isrolled back: after earth disappears beneath the waters, the heavenly host is imprisoned and the brilliance of sun and moon dimmed. Only the light from the divine king shines, as at the first moment of creation. on Mt. Zion and in Jerusalem: The image of Yahweh's mountain, succeeding that of the waters into which the earth has sunk, recalls the old tradition, perhaps going back to pre-Israelite Jerusalem, that Zion's God repels the raging waters which assault the city; see [Isaiah 17:12-14]. In the flood the waters covered the highest mountains (Gen 7:19-20), and, according to Isa 30:25, the waters will again, "on the day of great slaughter." But Zion withstands the floodwaters (28:16). It will be higher than any other mountain in the future (2:2) and will be surrounded by water to protect it (33:21). elders: Since 25:6-8 will describe a banquet "on this mountain," the reference recalls the liturgical banquet of Exod 24:9-11 at which the elders of Israel feast the covenant before Yahweh on Mt. Sinai.

[Jerome seems to indicate a renewed earth eschatology.]


HarperCollins: Besides describing God's continuing confrontation with the surface of the planet ("the earth staggers," v. 20), this text reports that those who try to flee from the cities, as well as the disobedient "host of heaven," will be as prisoners in the pit. The pit is here a symbol of the dark recesses in which the shades of the dead roam with no escape. The "hosts of heaven" is a parallel expression to "the kings of the earth" and may indicate the stars that were thought to regulate humane fate. More likely (and certainly a common assumption within the history of interpretation), these divine beings are to be identified as rebellious angels (Gen. 6:1-4). In the end, a restored Jerusalem, from which God will reign, will arise (v. 23).

[So, the punishment is for pagan gods which are represented by the astral objects.]


Asbury: In 24:21- 23 a day in the future ("in that day"), God will intervene against the forces of chaos.

[Wow. That is brief! Asbury's approach, in its brevity, goes along with Jerome's comments.]


Expositor's: [I made slight edits so the scripture references would hot-link.] The vision of judgment that has already included the whole earth becomes yet wider, for it is seen to encompass "the powers in the heavens" as well as "the kings on the earth." The term "powers" is sometimes used of the heavenly bodies (Isaiah 34:4; 40:26; 45:12) and sometimes of the angelic armies (1 Kings 22:19; 2 Chronicles 18:18). Since the prophet is speaking about punishment-- despite the reference to other heavenly bodies in v. 23-- we take "powers" to apply to fallen angels (cf. Eph 6:12). The two sets of powers-- in heaven and on earth-- are at one in the fact of their rebellion but also in the possession of authority. Rebellion by a subordinate authority is serious, for such a being may well drag others down with him. Isaiah 14 pictures the great king of Babylon descending to Sheol. Here it seems that both the heavenly and the earthly rebels are confined in some kind of prison (cf. 2 Pe 2:4; Jude 6; Rev 20:1-3).

Some suggest that "after many days" (v. 22) refers to the Millennium, which harmonizes with a premillennial interpretation of Revelation, in which the spiritual powers of evil are bound in prison during the reign of Christ on earth, after which they-- along with the unsaved dead-- suffer eternal punishment in the lake of fire. "After many days" suggests that the imprisonment referred to in v. 22 is an anticipation of God's final punishment. The sun and the moon were created by God "to govern" the day and the night (Gen 1:16-17). This expression, with its implication of authority, suggests that the term "host" can apply to both heavenly bodies and angelic beings (see comment on v. 21) because there is in fact a relationship between them, with parts of the visible universe representing the spheres of authority of unseen heavenly beings. Whether or not this is true, the prophet pictures the two great heavenly bodies hiding their lights in shame when the Lord exercises direct rule in Jerusalem. All other glory is simply a reflection of his glory, and one day it will be seen that it can be no rival to him (cf. Rev 21:23). The language of locality in v. 23 may be literal or symbolic, in the latter case forming a link with the New Jerusalem of Revelation. The vision of Revelation also shows twenty- four elders, probably representing the redeemed under the old and new covenants, before the throne of God (Rev 4:4).

[That's good commentary; but if this is your sole source and you don't have some pretty good personal theological grounding you can sure get confused. The writer takes the "fallen angels and kings" position while also presenting the premillennial view as an alternative. Also, the idea is fresh that the shame of the sun and moon is because their glory is less than the glory of the one who first gave them their glory.]


New Interpreters: The second vision of total devastation briefly recapitulates the first one (vv. 17-20), then adds another dimension (vv. 21-23). Whereas the first confined itself to this world and emphasized how the calamity affected all sorts of people, the second adds reference to "the host of heaven" and "the kings of earth." The former stand over against "the LORD of hosts" and the latter stand over against the idea of Yahweh "reigning" (v. 23; in Hebrew "king" is melekh, "reign" is malakh). This perspective offers a different way of describing the world's sin. "Transgression" is here pesha', which denotes rebelling against authority. The prophet sees the world's sin as lying in the way entities that were supposed to accept Yahweh's authority rebelled against it. There are such entities on earth; the passage assumes that there are similar heavenly powers. The reference to the sun and the moon perhaps reflects astrological religions' belief in the authority of heavenly powers, exercised via the stars and planets. There seems to be something demonic (we might say) about the way human authorities behave. Wittingly or unwittingly, they seem to be related to something bigger than themselves. But Yahweh will punish them as well. And thus Jerusalem will become the place from which Yahweh reigns (cf. Isaiah 2:2-4).

[So, these astral objects affect people in an evil way - that is, either the entities that are represented by the astral objects, or whatever influence people think the objects have on people is always for the negative and demonic. That's interesting and very likely a correct understanding of the passage.]


Honorable Mention:

HarperCollins Study Bible notes:

24. 21-23 The judgment embraces the pagan gods as well as their human worshipers
24. 21 Host of heaven, astral deities (Jer 19.13; Zeph 1.5)
24. 22 Pit, the underworld, where God's enemies are imprisoned until the final judgment (Is 14.15; Rev 20.1-3)
24. 23 The moon... abashed, the sun ashamed, two of the astral deities (Deut 17.3) responding to God's rebuke. Elders. See Ex 24.9-11.


Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary

Believers may be driven into the uttermost parts of the earth; but they are singing, not sighing. Here is terror to sinners; the prophet laments the miseries he saw breaking in like a torrent; and the small number of believers. He foresees that sin would abound. The meaning is plain, that evil pursues sinners. Unsteady, uncertain are all these things. Worldly men think to dwell in the earth as in a palace, as in a castle; but it shall be removed like a cottage, like a lodge put up for the night. It shall fall and not rise again; but there shall be new heavens and a new earth, in which shall dwell nothing but righteousness. Sin is a burden to the whole creation; it is a heavy burden, under which it groans now, and will sink at last. The high ones, that are puffed up with their grandeur, that think themselves out of the reach of danger, God will visit for their pride and cruelty. Let us judge nothing before the time, though some shall be visited. None in this world should be secure, though their condition be ever so prosperous; nor need any despair, though their condition be ever so deplorable. God will be glorified in all this. But the mystery of Providence is not yet finished. The ruin of the Redeemer's enemies must make way for his kingdom, and then the Sun of Righteousness will appear in full glory. Happy are those who take warning by the sentence against others; every impenitent sinner will sink under his transgression, and rise no more, while believers enjoy everlasting bliss.

[In my opinion, not very helpful here.]


Geneva Bible study notes:

There is no power so high or mighty, but God will visit him with his rods. Not with his rods as in Isa 24:21 but will be comforted. When God restores his Church, the glory of it will so shine, and his ministers (who are called his ancient men) that the sun and the moon will be dark in comparison to it.

[That's actually pretty helpful.]


Jamieson Fausset Brown:

21. host of... high ones-the heavenly host, that is, either the visible host of heaven (the present economy of nature, affected by the sun, moon, and stars, the objects of idolatry, being abolished, Isa 65:17; 60:19, simultaneously with the corrupt polity of men); or rather, "the invisible rulers of the darkness of this world," as the antithesis to "kings of the earth" shows. Angels, moreover, preside, as it were, over kingdoms of the world (Da 10:13, 20, 21).
22. in the pit-rather, "for the pit" [HORSLEY]. "In the dungeon" [MAURER]. Image from captives thrust together into a dungeon.
prison that is, as in a prison. This sheds light on the disputed passage, 1 Pe 3:19, where also the prison is figurative: The "shutting up" of the Jews in Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar, and again under Titus, was to be followed by a visitation of mercy "after many days"-seventy years in the case of the former-the time is not yet elapsed in the case of the latter. HORSLEY takes "visited" in a bad sense, namely, in wrath, as in Isa 26:14; compare Isa 29:6; the punishment being the heavier in the fact of the delay. Probably a double visitation is intended, deliverance to the elect, wrath to hardened unbelievers; as Isa 24:23 plainly contemplates judgments on proud sinners, symbolized by the "sun" and "moon."
23. (Jer 3:17). Still future: of which Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst hosannas was a pledge.
his ancients-the elders of His people; or in general, His ancient people, the Jews. After the overthrow of the world kingdoms. Jehovah's shall be set up with a splendor exceeding the light of the sun and moon under the previous order of things (Isa 60:19, 20).


Adam Clarke:

Verse 21. On high-upon the earth.] That is, the ecclesiastical and civil polity of the Jews, which shall be destroyed. The nation shall continue in a state of depression and dereliction for a long time. The image seems to be taken from the practice of the great monarchs of that time; who, when they had thrown their wretched captives into a dungeon, never gave themselves the trouble of inquiring about them; but let them lie a long time in that miserable condition, wholly destitute of relief, and disregarded. God shall at length revisit and restore his people in the last age: and then the kingdom of God shall be established in such perfection, as wholly to obscure and eclipse the glory of the temporary, typical, preparative kingdom now subsisting.
Verse 23. Before his ancients gloriously] In the sigt of their olde men he schal ben glorified. Old MS. BIBLE. "The figurative language of the prophets is taken from the analogy between the world natural and an empire or kingdom considered as a world politic. Accordingly the whole world natural, consisting of heaven and earth, signifies the whole world politic, consisting of thrones and people; or so much of it as is considered in prophecy: and the things in that world signify the analogous things in this. For the heavens and the things therein signify thrones and dignities, and those who enjoy them; and the earth with the things thereon, the inferior people; and the lowest parts of the earth, called hades or hell, the lowest or most miserable part of them. Great earthquakes, and the shaking of heaven and earth, are put for the shaking of kingdoms, so as to distract and overthrow them; the creating a new heaven and earth, and the passing away of an old one, or the beginning and end of a world, for the rise and ruin of a body politic signified thereby. The sun, for the whole species and race of kings, in the kingdoms of the world politic; the moon, for the body of the common people, considered as the king's wife; the stars, for subordinate princes and great men; or for bishops and rulers of the people of God, when the sun is Christ: setting of the sun, moon, and stars, darkening the sun, turning the moon into blood, and falling of the stars, for the ceasing of a kingdom." Sir I. Newton's Observations on the Prophecies, Part I., chap. 2.

[I always struggle reading Clarke. Tagging all that italics was tedius.]


Do you get better commentary with a bigger commentary?

Sometimes; but not always. Sometimes you just get more words. For example, Edward J. Young's respected three volume commentary on the book of Isaiah, besides having his own original translation with notes, says much of the same thing as the above commentaries; but he spends a lot more space saying it. Young connects these passages with Ephesians 6:12; John 12:31 and Colossians 2:15. He observes that the kings of the earth suffer in this judgment - showing that their high positions imply their high responsibility. He suggests that the pit (v. 22) might be eternal torment. It also might be the kind of imprisonment experienced by the Demons right now and the actual punishment comes later (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Matthew 8:29). The sun's and moon's shame is personification - feeling that way because God is so much more glorious. This is the Christian age and Mount Zion is the figure of the "seat of the eternal kingdom." Young spends a whole page explaining why no mention of the Messiah does not mean he has no work in this order.