When I was growing up, my parents had a set of Matthew Henry’s commentaries on the Bible. Maybe they still do. Every once in a while, if a family member was confused by a passage from our devotions, my dad would get a volume down and read Matthew Henry’s explanation. I don’t remember much about those commentaries except a general impression that they were dull and difficult to understand. When I saw that one of the books for the #vtReadingChallenge was a commentary on a book of the Bible, I was less than thrilled.
Thankfully, there’s a group on Goodreads for the reading challenge, so I went there to find some suggestions. It turns out there are other styles of commentaries that don’t take the exhaustive (exhausting?) verse-by-verse approach of Matthew Henry. (Sure, my impressions of Matthew Henry are from a child’s perspective–it’s probably not anywhere close to as bad as I make it out to be–but still!) Thanks to the Goodreads group, I found an online source that ranks the quality of various Bible commentaries and lists their style (devotional, pastoral, technical, etc.). A devotional or pastoral style commentary seemed to be the most logical choice for my purposes.
I also had to figure out which book of the Bible I wanted to study. I didn’t want something extremely long (the first volume of the NIV Application Commentary on Psalms, for example, is over a thousand pages) or about a book I knew really well (Ruth, for example). Daniel was a good mix of not-too-long and something I need help understanding, while also having some really familiar stories in it. Even after making that choice, though, the list of possible commentaries was overwhelming. I turned to Tim Challies for help, and decided to take his top pick for Daniel, a volume written by Iain Duguid from the Reformed Expository Commentary. Thankfully, it was less than 250 pages long.
Last but not least, I had to actually get a copy of the book. I didn’t want to buy it for reasons like minimalism and saving for home renovations (maybe I’ll write about those some day), so I decided to check the local libraries. Of course the public libraries didn’t have it, but I put in a request. I didn’t think I would actually be able to borrow it. I was so surprised when I received an email stating that the book I had requested had been loaned from a Christian college a couple of hours away.
I approached reading Daniel as a sort of school assignment. I wasn’t excited about it, but figured it would be good for me and, anyway, it was something I had committed to. But, like any good student, I procrastinated. Then when I did try to read it, I kept falling asleep. (So much like my college days! But at least now I have the excuse of a baby who keeps me nice and tired.) I finally forced myself to read, even if it was only a few pages a day, and after a little while, I realized that it really was interesting. In fact, I started to enjoy it, and even look forward to reading it. Unfortunately, I had procrastinated for too long, and because of the baby’s teething and sleep regression, reading time more often than not turned into mommy’s nap time. At the end of three weeks I had only gotten two thirds of the way through the book and had to return it unfinished to the library.
Reading Iain Duguid’s commentary on Daniel was a good experience for me. Although I was already very familiar with the beginning chapters of Daniel, the commentary helped to highlight ideas I hadn’t picked out before. In addition, switching to the commentary at the end of each Bible passage helped to keep my mind engaged, so I didn’t mentally check out. (Try as I might, this happens to me a lot–whether it’s because I know the passage really well, I just can’t seem to understand the dreams or prophecies, or the obscure Old Testament laws just seem, well, boring.)
One of the major points that struck me while reading Daniel was the emphasis on God’s control over human government. Several times throughout the book, we read that “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17, ESV). This truth is evidenced time after time through the personal experiences of individuals such as Daniel, his friends, and King Nebuchadnezzar; the dreams and visions recounted in the book; and the world events that took place at that time. The reminder of God’s control over human political systems was a great encouragement to me in light of the upcoming presidential election. Although I don’t see any likely positive outcome from this election, the story of Daniel has helped me to trust God instead of being anxious.
Part of the reason I chose Daniel is that I don’t have a very good understanding of Biblical Apocalyptic literature (i.e., Daniel and Revelation), especially with regard to the interpretation of visions. In fact, I’m rather intimidated by it all. I really appreciated Duguid’s emphasis on the overarching themes, such as God’s sovereignty, rather than trying to figure out exactly how history and/or current events map onto the symbolism of the visions. And in the cases where that mapping is clear, I appreciated his exposition of the historical events. I also appreciated the respect and humility with which he treats viewpoints that differ from his own. Both his interpretations and his attitude are uplifting.
I’m glad I was challenged to read a commentary. It was very spiritually enriching and brought a lot of life to my devotions. I would love to do it again sometime, and when I do, I will definitely look for another commentary by Iain Duguid. I was quite sad when I had to return my book unfinished to the library, but I’m happy to say I’ve requested it through inter-library loan again and hope to be able to pick it up soon.