Victor P. Hamilton, Exodus. An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.
Victor Hamilton is well known for his 2-part commentary on Genesis in the New International Commentary of the Old Testament series, his Handbook on the Pentateuch, and his Handbook on the Historical Books. He taught for 35 years at Ashbury University, and now in his retirement has been appointed as “Scholar in residence” at the aforementioned school. He has taken advantage of his retirement to devote himself full-time to research and writing, and this commentary is the first fruit of that labor.
The commentary seems to build on his commentary on Genesis, which had a 75-page introduction, while the introduction to the present commentary is limited to 29 pages, which includes all the normal preface material: preface, abbreviations, table of content, bibliography, etc. The actual introduction only deals with the Narrative and Theology of the book of Exodus, which lasts a total of 9 pages. No statement on authorship questions, composition, canonicity etc. Very likely, I guess, Hamilton feels that these questions were covered in the Genesis commentary.
The commentary is broken up in pericopes which are grouped together under 7 major headings-sub sections of the book as whole. Each pericope contains a translation, grammatical and lexical notes, and commentary section. At the end of the book, there is a more extensive bibliography section, of all the works he has cited in the book.
In the translation section, Hamilton provides his own translation of the text.
In the grammatical and lexical notes, references to the Hebrew text are given in transliteration and Hebrew is used liberally. Many references to grammar and other texts with similar syntactical or lexical entries are given. References to other translations, other ancient Versions and other Ancient Near Eastern languages are used. The reader is made attentive in this section of various figures of speech being used in the text, and the notes and comments of the leading commentaries on the book of Exodus.
The commentary section is used to provide more historical background, more in-depth comparisons with other translations, and to draw out applications for the New Testament believer. This commentary is an unabashed Christian commentary. At over 700 pages, this is an extensive and important contribution to the study of the book of Exodus.
Still, there are a few things that I have missed in this study. I missed a more in-depth introduction to the book that one would normally find at the beginning of a commentary of this type. There are also certain important historical questions that Hamilton has side stepped: (a) the date of the Exodus; (b) any possible suggestions as to the Pharaoh of the Exodus; (c) some discussion of the identity of the store cities mentioned in Exodus 1, etc. The last two questions are addressed in less than half a page, simply mentioning some scholars who have dealt with this question in the past. As to the first question, the only treatment we receive on this topic is a short paragraph that mentions that some scholars date the Exodus to the 15th century and others to the 13th century (top of page 10).
Since I am still in the griping stage of this review, let me also state the uneven nature of the translation section: sometimes it provides a smooth translation, close to what we expect to label as a dynamic equivalent, and sometimes he goes way over, using colloquialisms which are jarring given that they are so out of character with the rest of the translation. (See for example Exod. 5:11 “As for you, get straw for yourselves wherever you may find it because your heavy labor will not be reduced one iota,” or Exod. 6:11 “Go, speak to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, that he send away Israel’s sons from his turf,” or Exod. 9:23 “Just as Moses extended his staff over the heavens, the Lord uncorked thunder and hail, …”.) At other times, he translates very woodenly, to point of almost being unintelligible (Exod. 8:26[in Hebrew it is verse 22]: “And Moses said, “It would be proper to do thus, for then the abomination of Egypt we would sacrifice to the Lord our God. Since we would sacrifice the abomination of Egypt before their very eyes, would they not stone us?”; Exod. 10:19 “The Lord turned around a sea wind, very strong.”). The translation of the word combination הָאֱלֹהִים is sometimes translated as ‘the Divinity’ and sometimes as ‘the Godhead’, which is a bit odd (see Exod. 3:11 and 12). Sometimes his commentary section is not really commentary but pure reflection on how the text applies to a Christian, valuable, but not really a true commentary on the text of the pericope (see for example Exod. 5:10-21, in which the commentary is really just application).
On the positive side, and there is much to be positive about, Hamilton brings often a wealth of information into his Grammatical and Lexical Notes. One thing my Hebrew students will often complain about is the seemingly unintelligible language thst Hebrew reference grammars are written in. Especially, in a time when grammar is hardly taught in high school and few students understand English grammar, concepts like nominative, genitive, or predicate are meaningless to a lot of seminary students, and eventually also to a lot of pastors. This is where Hamilton’s commentary really shines. He has done the work of exegeting the text, distills what the grammars have stated for a particular grammatical construction, and presents it in his grammatical section in clear, understandable English. Furthermore, as you read through the notes, you come to realize that Hamilton provides many parallels from the book of Genesis. It is of course a great benefit to have a scholar, who has written an in-depth commentary on Genesis, now comment on the second book of the Pentateuch. The Grammatical and Lexical sections gives a wealth of information on word combinations, grammatical insights, pointed text critical evaluations and many other tidbits of insights that would have escaped us if Hamilton hadn’t brought it up.
I especially appreciated his treatment on the covenant code. I don’t always agree with him, but Hamilton demonstrates that he is well-informed, has looked at the major views in each section, and then has presented a nice overview with application for the reader.
As already mentioned, in the commentary section, one can find great applications to the text for the Christian life. Hamilton is not shy to bring it back to what it means for us now. His insights are often heart penetrating and insightful. I enjoyed reading his reflections and feel richer for it, stimulated and challenged at times.
I warmly recommend this commentary as a must have if you are going to preach through the book of Exodus. We can only hope that the Lord will give Victor Hamilton many more years to write more commentaries on His Word.
[Many thanks to Baker Academic for providing us with a review copy of this book.]