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Suggestions on OT Commentary sets (Zondervan backgrounds vs Expositor's commentary set)


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If anyone of you have any suggestions, I am considering buying

either the Zondervan Illustrated Backgrounds Commentary set,

or the Expositor's Bible Commentary Set.


I am particularly wanting a good general overview of the Old Testament, rather

than the NT ( I will assemble my own commentary list for the NT).

I would like general insights into the Historical Background, Culture etc, but also

some good overall comments on the actual text as well.


I know that the Illustrated Backgrounds set will give a lot of historical, cultural background,

but what of its comments on the actual text? On the other hand, Expositor's may not

have the Historical Backgrounds as much(is it true?), but I hear the general comments

on the actual text are quite solid.


Does anyone have experience using one, or both of these sets? As a solid

foundational OT commentary set, would you recommend one over another (if I could buy only one)?

Strengths and weaknesses of either, if you know about them?

In the future, I would buy individual volumes for certain biblical books,


Thank you!



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Daniel, I dont have the sets you mention and i accept that this isnt a complete set but the more i use the jps series, the more i appreciate them. Especially for culture and background and they are currently on sale. (Im currently studying numbers, so you may consider the torah ones if you dont want them all)



its also worth getting the jps study bible if you dont have it already particularly for the introductions and essays



Edited by ukfraser
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Thanks for this recommendation. I had not heard of the JPS series, but I will look into it.


Thank you very much,


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I don't have the Expositor commentary, but I'm pretty sure that's the better candidate here (of the two you've mentioned) for what you want. The Zondervan background commentaries are great volumes and are helpful for cultural/historical/etc background, but they're not going to give you the "general overview" that you're looking for. You could also consider the IVP background commentaries, which are less extensive than the Zondervan set, but I've found them to be pretty helpful and they are substantially cheaper. 


For the price range of the two sets you've mentioned, I'd suggest instead considering the Tyndale commentary set + IVP background commentaries.


I also like the Jewish Study Bible and you could easily add that while remaining within budget. 

Edited by JonathanHuber
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I don't own the full set of Expositors (Original/Abridged or Revised) in Accordance but I do have a few volumes of the Original in another package. Zondervan's strength is in its vast collection of illustrations which was the predominate reason I purchased it. While no slouch on exposition, it is a bit light on when dealing with the minor prophets and wisdom literature (something it confines to just one volume). Also certain authors are of better quality than others (something that occurs across multiple authored sets, so not something peculiar to Zondervan). There are cheaper background study bibles and the before-mentioned IVP set that can give you overall much of the same as Zondervan set at a lower cost


The Bible Speaks Today, Mentor and Tyndale Commentary sets also offer good expository on the OT sprinkled with a fair amount of background details (though not as specific as the full fledged backgorund commentaries.


Anyhow here are some samples of ZIBBCOT and the Expositors Bible Commentary (unfortunately not on the same text) for you to compare


ZIBBCOT on Genesis 1:26


Image … likeness (1:26). Throughout the ancient Near East, an image was believed to contain the essence of that which it represented. That essence equipped the image to carry out its function.83 In Egyptian literature, there is one occurrence of people in general having been created in the image of deity in the Instructions of Merikare, dated to about 2000 B.C. (see sidebar on “Instruction of Merikare” in the introduction), but it is generally the king who is spoken of in such terms.84 The image is the source of his power and prerogative.


{Picture removed}

Tell Fekheriye statue with bilingual inscription (Aramaic on back)

Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY, courtesy of the National Museum, Damascus, Syria


In Mesopotamia there are three categories of significance. (1) As in Egypt, the king is occasionally described as being in the image of deity.85 (2) An idol contained the image of the deity.86 (3) The image of a king was present in monuments set up in territories he had conquered.87 I. Winter concludes in a study of royal images that the representations of the king did not intend to capture the features of  [Vol. 1, p. 21]  “his own historically particular physiognomy, but those aspects of his features/appearance that had been molded by the gods and that resembled (or could be attributed to) the gods, such that the ruler’s features convey qualities of ideal, divinely-sanctioned rulership, not just personhood.”88

Thus in an image, it was not physical likeness that was important, but a more abstract, idealized representation of identity relating to the office/role and the value connected to the image.89 When Assyrian king Esarhaddon is referred to as “the perfect likeness of the god,” it is his qualities and his attributes that are under discussion.90 The image of god did the god’s work on the earth.

The biblical view is similar as people are in the image of God, embodying his qualities and doing his work. They are symbols of his presence and act on his behalf as his representatives. The two words used in the text differ in nuance, with “image” referring to the something that contains the “essence” of something else, while “likeness” is more connected to “substance,” expressing a resemblance at some level. The Aramaic portion of the bilingual inscription from Tell Fekheriye uses cognates of both of these terms to indicate that the statue both contains the essence and represents the substance of Hadad-Yith’i, King of Guzan.91


Instruction of Merikare  


Well tended is mankind—god’s cattle

He made sky and earth for their sake …

He made breath for their noses to live.

They are his images, who came from his body …

He made for them plants and cattle,

Fowl and fish to feed them …

When they weep he hears …

For god knows every name.A-21


Walton, John H. “Genesis.” Pages 2-160 in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Vol. 1 of ZIBBCOT. Edited by John H. Walton. Accordance electronic edition, version 1.9. 5 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.


Expositors Bible Commentary on Isaiah 7:1-9


I. The Sign of Shear-Jashub (7:1–9)


The section of Isaiah’s prophecies that runs from 7:1 through 9:7 has a certain unity, not only in its historical background, but also on account of the children with symbolic names who feature so prominently in it. The “day of Midian’s defeat” (9:4), which occurs near its close, perhaps reveals the significance of the whole section. The day of Midian was God’s great victory over a mighty horde through a weak human leader commanding a tiny force of soldiers who did not even use proper weapons (Judg 6–7). They were forced to “trust and obey,” for there was “no other way” that victory was possible in such a situation. The same lesson of trust in the face of superior foes is taught in these chapters in Isaiah. Through things that are not, God brings to nothing the things that are, so that no flesh may glory in his presence (cf. 1 Cor 1:25–31).

1 For the historical background, see the Introduction. It is clear from 2 Kings 15:37 that the alliance of the two northern kings against Judah began before Jotham died. The challenge to the faith of Ahaz, therefore, came early in his reign and, given a different response from his, could have established him in a relationship of dependent trust on the Lord from the very beginning.

The reference to Uzziah may be purely conventional; or it could form a studied link with 6:1, hinting at the undoubted spiritual connection between the two chapters (see comment at 6:9–10). God’s supreme kingship exalts him as sovereign, not only over Judah in the days of its earthly king’s demise, but over Rezin, Pekah, and the great Assyrian monarch himself. Chapter 6 predicts unbelief; chapter 7 records its historical manifestation.

2 The designation of Ahaz as “the house of David” (cf. v.13) is most unusual. This phrase perhaps underlines the sin inherent in his fear and in his failure to believe; for the security of David’s house, to which he belonged, was guaranteed by the divine word (2 Sam 7). There could be just a hint of the same thought in the picture of the trees shaken by the wind; for forest trees, as distinct from isolated individuals or small clumps, would feel the wind’s power without being in serious danger. King and people were alike in their attitude.

3 The name Shear-Jashub is, of course, symbolic, as the NIV margin makes clear (viz., “a remnant will return”). We do not know the age of the boy. If his name was given at birth, its choice may have been determined by the disclosure of the future given to the prophet at his call (6:13). There is a double ambiguity in it. It can suggest either warning or hope and also either physical return from exile or spiritual return to God. Perhaps this ambiguity at both levels was intentional, for all four ideas can be justified from one or more passages in the book. Without doubt the element of warning is prominent in the present context.

The meeting place of prophet and king is precisely located; but, unlike the original readers, we cannot now place it with certainty. The reason for its choice is much clearer. An adequate water supply is imperative for a city under siege. The king was probably satisfying himself as to this or making arrangements for its improvement. He was therefore engaged in an activity directly related to the situation described in v.1 and which provided the setting for God’s test of his faith and obedience.

4 How emphatic is Isaiah’s exhortation! A verb commanding attention—“be careful”—is followed by three others counseling trust instead of fear. This is further reinforced by the description of the two kings. Their anger may have been fierce, but there was little real fire left in them—they were virtually impotent.

5–6 There is a touch of contempt in the way the personal name of the usurper-elect is omitted (cf. “son of Remaliah” in vv.4–5). “The son of Tabeel” (v.6) cannot be identified with certainty, though, in view of the reference to “the house of David” (v.2), it seems most unlikely that he belonged to the authentic royal line of Judah.

7–9 The message of reassurance in v.7 is clear, and the NIV has brought out the sense by its insertion of the word “only” (not in the Hebrew) in vv.8–9. The rulers of the two small kingdoms to the north were but human beings; they could not stand against the decree of the sovereign Lord (v.7). The parenthetical statement of v.8b has been variously interpreted. It is probably best to view the prophecy as fulfilled in a series of events that included Tiglath-pileser’s imminent invasion, the Fall of Samaria to Sargon II, and eventually the racial mixture introduced to Ephraim by yet another Assyrian emperor, Esar-haddon, just about sixty-five years after this oracle. See Young (Book of Isaiah, in loc.) for a fuller discussion of the time reference here.

The verbs translated “stand firm in your faith” and “stand” are closely related in Hebrew. The assonance of these two words makes Isaiah’s closing words both striking and memorable. They would have stayed in the mind of Ahaz as a somber summary of the message he had received and rejected (cf. vv.12–13, 17).



2 נוּחַ (nûaḥ, “to rest”; NIV, “allied with”) is a favorite with this prophet. It occurs in v.19 (“settle”) and pictures foreign soldiers descending on the land like swarms of insects. The marginal rendering (“has set up camp in”) may convey the intended sense. The prophet was probably saying that Aram’s army had established bases in Israel in the combined advance on Jerusalem.

3 There is a full discussion of the topography of this verse in M. Burrows, “The Conduit of the Upper Pool,” ZAW 70 (1958) p. 221–27. See also ZPEB, 5:434–37, and comment at 8:6.

6 טָבְאַל (ṭābeʾal, “Tabeel”) may be Aramean, the LXX spelling, (ṭābeʾal, lending support to this. In this case he was probably the nominee of Rezin. The name, as spelled by Isaiah, could be an intentional corruption of his real name to produce the mocking sense “Good for Nothing” instead of “God is Good.” Such intentional corruption was not uncommon; a modern parallel might be Winston Churchill’s drawled pronunciation of “Nazi” to make it approximate to “Nasty”! For documentation, see Clements (Isaiah 1–39 in loc.).


Geoffrey W. Grogan, “Isaiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 59–61.

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Thank you very much for the comments. They are very helpful to me as to which I might get!



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