Series Introduction: I live in a small house. I work in a small office in a small church. For those reasons and others I will never have a huge library. When I add a book I almost always remove a book, a practice that allows me to focus on quality over quantity. Over the past couple of years I have focused on building a collection of commentaries that will include only the best volumes on each book of the Bible. I know when I’m in way over my head, so before I began I collected every good resource I could find that rated and reviewed commentaries. I studied them and then began my collection on the basis of what the experts told me. Since I did all of that work, and since I continue to keep up with the project, I thought it might be helpful to share the recommendations.
My focus is on newer commentaries (at least in part because most of the classics are now freely or cheaply available) and I am offering approximately 5 recommendations for each book of the Bible, alternating between the Old Testament and the New. Today I’ll share what I learned about Numbers.
I am quite sure I have never had the privilege of hearing a verse-by-verse treatment of Numbers. My guess is that very few preachers ever get to the book and that it may well be among the least-preached books of the Pentateuch and possibly of the whole Bible. Nevertheless, if a preacher does choose to preach through it, it appears that there are some good commentaries to help guide him.
Gordon Wenham - Numbers (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries). Once again, as with both Genesis and Leviticus, Gordon Wenham finds himself right at the top of the list. Keith Mathison says Wenham is “among the best contemporary writers of commentaries,” a judgment that seems to fit the evidence. The experts agree that his commentary is theologically sound and that, though limited by the constraints of the TOTC series, it is a must-have for anyone who intends to study or preach Numbers. At $10 is seems quite the bargain (Amazon, Westminster Books).
R. Dennis Cole — Numbers (The New American Commentary). As with several previous books of the Bible, the first choice is quite clear while others are a little more difficult to figure out. Still, the experts regard Cole as an excellent option after Wenham. It is one of the few volumes that receives Tremper Longman’s 5-star rating. He calls it a “substantial, well-written commentary that navigates the scholarly literature well, incorporating what is good and rejecting what is bad, while still keeping its individual contribution.” He says its greatest strength is “in its sensitive theological reading.” That is high praise! (Amazon)
Timothy R. Ashley - The Book of Numbers (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament). Timothy Ashley’s volume receives accolades from most of the experts. Keith Mathison compares Wenham with Ashley and says, “For those seeking a more thorough evangelical commentary on Numbers than the Tyndale format will allow, Ashley’s work is a great place to turn. He very helpfully explores the important theological themes within the book.” Depending on who you consult, you could go with either this or Cole as the volume to follow Wenham (Amazon, Westminster Books).
Raymond Brown - The Message of Numbers: Journey to the Promised Land (Bible Speaks Today). Longman gets to the heart of this one in his brief comments. He says, “A readable and informed study of this often-neglected book. In keeping with the series, Brown emphasizes the theological meaning and the contemporary significance of the book.” I assume this means it would be a suitable choice (along with Wenham) for the more casual reader as opposed to the preacher or scholar (Amazon, Westminster Books).
Jacob Milgrom - Numbers (The JPS Torah Commentary). This is this series’ first exposure to the JPS Torah Commentary series which is written by Jewish scholars. Nevertheless, it receives high commendation from most of the experts with Tremper Longman saying that it is “a masterpiece of erudition.” Of course I wouldn’t expect this volume to help with references to New Testament fulfillments of Old Covenant shadows and types (Amazon, Westminster Books).
While I could find few reviews of Iain Duguid’s contribution to the Preaching the Word series, I greatly enjoy both the series and Duguid’s work (whether in that series or others) so expect it would provide an excellent sermon-based volume (Amazon, Westminster Books). Likewise, I did not find reviews of Currid’s volume on Numbers but at the very least would expect it to be helpful and theologically-sound (Amazon, Westminster Books).
Let me close with a few questions: Have you ever preached through Numbers? What are your preferred commentaries on the book? Are there some you’ve found particularly helpful?