Friday, November 18, 2011

Dale Ralph Davis

I've just finished reading Dale Ralph Davis' book, The Wisdom and the Folly - an exposition of the Book of First Kings, for what must be the third time, I think (and it only came out in 2002).   I've got all of his set of commentaries on the history books in the Bible: they run through from Joshua to 2nd Chronicles. 

What I like about his commentaries is that there a wonderful mix of real exposition and application, solid background, good storytelling that relates to the original texts, and humour.   Yes, humour - something most commentaries lack.  

Davis is no lightweight - as one of the reviewers quoted on the back cover notes: The range of scholarship is extraordinary (is there any learned book or paper on First Kings that this writer has not winkled out?).  And that's the thing.  Davis can stand in the ring and box with the best of them.  He never disagrees with another writer completely; in one footnote he will castigate the writer for ignoring the text itself and reconstructing it (he has a particular concern about those commentators who claim to be able to read which 'later Deuteronimist' added which verse or line, or rearragned the text), in another he will note that the same writer has made a valuable contribution to our understanding.   He will note that 'many writers' believe that such and such a biblical town was located here or there; Davis will have a good reason for saying that they're wrong...

You can have confidence in Davis, I believe.  He's certainly done his homework.   But beyond this he's concerned to bring out the reason why the Biblical writer has written what he's written; why he's left out details that might be of interest; why he focuses on one action in the life of a king and not another.  And overall Davis does this very well. 

Furthermore, Davis has a wonderful fund of relevant stories: he retells incidents from the American Civil War and from both the World Wars, stories relating to baseball and other sports, and anecdotes from the lives of great preachers and saints.  What's the relevance?   The war stories reflect the foolish behaviour of the kings and their warfare in First Kings, and reinforce the message; the sports stories reflect the management, intution, and craftiness of coaches and players and connect that to the way the kings and prophets and others behave in the Scriptural text; the anecdotes remind us that God doesn't change and his saints both need to remember this, and be reminded of it.

I'd love to quote something of Davis' humour, but it's difficult to pick out a line without providing the context in which the (punch)line works.  His wit and self-effacing humour pervade the books. 

If you've found other commentaries tedious, or obscure, or heavygoing, try out Davis. 

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