A few months ago, I invited you to our own little night of the Inklings featuring a massive dining table filled with all the well-known and not-so-well-known thinkers, preachers, theologians, scholars, and revolutionaries from the Protestant Reformation—there was Theodore Beza, the French reformed pastor and professor who succeeded John Calvin as leader of the French Reformed ecclesial communities; the Dominican friar turned Reformer Martin Bucer; in the corner sat famed Martin Luther nursing a third (or perhaps fifth?) German Doppelbock; Dutch humanist and scholar Desiderius Erasmus got the evil eye several times from Luther across the room; and then there was John Calvin who was often seen in heated debates with Jacobus Arminius over predestination and divine foreknowledge.

On that particular night we were treated to a rousing discussion of Galatians & Ephesians. Well, to invite you back to another rousing conversation, this time of another sort: the Old Testament prophetic books of Ezekiel and Daniel. Like before this will be quite the party, and you’re invited to experience it through IVP’s new Reformation Commentary on Scripture  series, which I was given by IVP to review.

As I said before, this new series that’s similar in scope and vision as the highly acclaimed Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture  series. It’s like a dinner party with the greatest, most influential minds of the Reformation era all brought together to share their insights and interpretations and give their input into the ongoing exegetical and theological mission of the Church in the 21st century. And you’re invited into the party to follow along with their discussion, even joining in at times with your pushback, revisions, and extensions.

In this particular dinner party invite, Carl Beckwith brings together these well-known and lesser-known thinkers to help pastors, scholars, and students alike understand why the books of Ezekiel and Daniel were so crucial in Reformation-era thinking, preaching, and biblical interpretation. Like the one before it, this volume creates an intimate opportunity for readers to grasp the biblical, theological, and pastoral minds of the Reformation as the engage the startling and intense imagery, vision and oracles of these Hebrew prophets. So pull up a chair, grab a coffee or—depending on what time of day it is—alcoholic drink of choice in the spirit of Luther himself and drink in the Reformation ruminations around the table on our two crucial prophetic books of the evening.

As with the first offering in the new Reformation Commentary on Scripture  series, Beckwith’s commentary begins with a healthy introduction, both general introduction to the series and a specific introduction to Reformation engagement with Ezekiel and Daniel. The general introduction, written by Timothy George, the series editor, delves into an overview of the Reformation itself—which they, appropriately, begin in the late 1400’s; establishes the historical context surrounding the Reformation era—which includes the medieval legacy and resurgence of sacred philology; and engages everything Reformation, from patterns within the movement to specific interpretive schools with a final evaluation of the task and challenge of reading Scripture with the Reformers.

From this well-established introduction to the Reformation, Beckwith takes the reader through a nearly 20-page introduction of Ezekiel and Daniel. Unlike other modern commentaries, these are not introductions on the books themselves, but how they were interpreted and appropriated by the Reformers. In each introduction, the author established the historical context, with brief, one paragraph explanations of how specific Reformers interpreted and appropriated the prophetic material—including such notables as Luther, Calvin, Owen, and Bunyan, as well as non-notables like Denck, Manton, and Raupis, at least to me. The the Beckwith devotes a page to addressing the theological themes in the books themselves with an overview of interpretive issues taken to heart by the Reformers. Think of this section as an important stage-setting experience for our dinner party, introducing the major players of the evening, the context of the party, and the manner in which the conversations should ebb and flow.

Before attending to our little faux-party itself, I will also add that at the end of this Reformation commentary is an excellent appendix-like section filled with a helpful map of the Reformation period, a very helpful timeline of the major movements and movers of the Reformation itself, and well-done, breif biographical sketches of the Reformation-era figures. There’s even an author and Scripture index to full-fill your quick-look up needs.

After grounding the reader in the formalities of introductory material, we’re ready to engage the major exegetical and theological themes of discussion that float around our fictitious dinner party. It’s hard to review commentaries, though, because you neither read a commentary like a book nor engage one that way. I’m going to do what most people do when they get a new commentary—at least what I do when I get a new commentary: go to personally important pericopes to see what’s there. So we’re going to be selective with the conversations we devote our attention to this evening, beginning with Ezekiel 36 and ending with Daniel 12, with the prophecy of restoration to Israel and the end times.

Ezekiel 36 begins with a prophecy to the mountains of Israel, which stands for both the land and the people of Israel. Ezekiel explains why the people of Israel were taken into captivity and prophesies their rescue and restoration. But as Beckwith establishes in this chapter’s overview, the words spoken to Israel aren’t to be interpreted temporally connected to their return from Babylon, “but rather spiritually as pointing to the gospel of Christ. Moreover, the reason for their return from captivity is not because of their repentance in Babylon…God spares them for the sake of his holy name.” (174-175) The chapter ends with God promising to “sprinkle clean water” on them and purify them, giving them a new heart and a new spirit. As Beckwith explains, “Our commentators question what this water means. Suggestions are given that it points to the purifying waters of baptism, the blood of Christ, which cleanses us from all sin, or both.” (175)

So what says the Reformers around the table-talk concerning Ezekiel 36?

Following the Reformation theme of justification by faith alone, Matthew Mead—whose name was misspelled and missing from the biographical sketches—that popular Puritan preacher, is on his soapbox insisting that this section of the prophet speaks about God’s mercy not being earned: “Consider the subject of mercy,” he says, “a people fit to be delivered and yet in danger of being undone and ruined, utterly unworthy of redemption and yet on the very brink of destruction.” Then after a dramatic pause he charges in: “As to our fitness for such mercy, never was a people more unfit or more unworthy, but it is the way of divine goodness to act by prerogative, and that is the reason of mercy, when no other reason can be given.” After quoting Ezek 36:22, where God emphasizes his work is for his holy name’s sake, not for theirs, Mead ends with this: “When God had a purpose to show mercy, he never wants a reason in himself, though there can be none found in us why he should. The deliverances he works for his people are on the account of the covenant.” (176)

At the other end of the table, John Mayer, another Englishmen, an Anglican priest, is connecting the “sprinkling” to Christ’s cleansing away of sins. “By sprinkling with clean water he means the blood of Christ cleansing from all sin, alluding here to the sprinkling of old appointed with water made of the ashes of a red heifer and running water, the sprinkling of which cleansed from legal uncleanness.” So Mayer, like other Reformers, reads Christ into Ezekiel’s prophecy. (177)

William Greenhill, yet another Englishman, nods his head in agreement with Mayer, adding “The water they used in sprinkling was clean water running or spring water, free from all filth. So the blood of Christ is pure; he was without sin and blemish, or spot. His blood was precious and pure, and here it is called ‘clean water.'” He goes on to make the same type of typical Reformation parallel between the clean water and Christ’s blood: “This sprinkling of clean water on them is the application of the blood of Christ by the Spirit of God. As the priest was to take the blood of the red heifer with his finger and to sprinkle it, so God by the hand and finger of his Spirit does take and sprinkle the blood of Christ, that is, apply the fruit and benefit of it to the hearts of people.” (177-178) From this word one can see why his exegetical exposition of this important prophetic book is considered a massive contribution to church history!

With those final thoughts our conversation around Ezekiel 36 comes to a close and we’re off to the second one, an important one on the ends times addressed by Daniel 12.

In this closing scene to the Book of Daniel, Beckwith notes that “All are agreed that Michael is here the true Son of God, Jesus Christ, by the description of his person, his office, and his benefit…Our commentators note God’s promised preservation and protection of his people, the gathering of his people by the pure doctrine of the gospel and their salvation and final resurrection.” (405) In this conversation, the heavy-hitting Reformers are present; we’ve moved from the kiddie pool of the more unknowns to the adult-size pool of some of the major players, beginning with John Calvin himself.

Like other Reformers, Calvin wrote a whole commentary on this important prophetic book, which was a compilation of several lectures on the book. And lectures he does at our end of the table! In regards to verse 1 Calvin states, “The angel no longer relates future occurrences specially but proclaims God to be in general guardian of his church, so as to preserve it wonderfully amid many difficulties and deadfall commotions, as well as in the profound darkness of disaster and death. This is the meaning of this sentence.” He goes on to say, “The singular aid of Michael would not have been needed unless the church had been oppressed with the most disastrous distresses. We perceive, then, the angel’s meaning to be according to my explanation.” Well alright, then, Calvin! He also seems to buck the Reformation consensus that Michael is referring to Christ, rather than the archangel. But like Steve Jobs, there’s no convincing John.

Andrew Willet voices this general consensus: “Here are three things concerning Christ: 1) His person; he is called Micahel, that is God, on equal with God, a distinct person from the Father but of the same essence, power, eternity…; 2) His office is described; he is the great prince: the government is on his shoulder; the Lord of lords and the King of kings; the mighty protector and defender of this church; and 3) the benefit that we have is this—this Michael stands for his people to defend them from the rage of Satan and of his ministers…” Calvin is clearly not happy with this Anglican priest. (408)

At the other end, Philipp Melanchthon is expounding on the four consolations handed down that every believer should keep in mind: “The first is that the Church will not be completely destroyed…The second consolation that is found here concerns the future members of the Church, wherever they are found, are surrounded by the pure doctrine of the gospel…The third consolation is that when the church endures persecution it is protected by the Son of God…The fourth consolation is that hardship will not continue forever.” (410) What good comforting, consoling words indeed! He ends by saying, “Let us often speak about this hope that believers are promised a glorious deliverance and eternal joy. The godless are warned with an eternal punishment.”

Finally, Martin Luther has the last word of the night. Doesn’t he always seem to get the last word? But this last word is a good word: “We command all good Christians to read this book of Daniel. During these miserable last times, he is so comforting and helpful to them….we see here that Daniel always ends every passage and vision, however frightful they are, with joy, namely with Christ’s kingdom and future coming. For the sake of this future coming, the last and most important thing, all such passages and vision were created, interpreted, and written. So who ever wants to benefit from reading Scripture, should not get caught up or trapped in the events and stories, going no further than them, but rather should feed and comfort his heart in the promised and certain coming of our Redeemer Jesus Christ…” (417-418) I don’t always agree with Luther, but on this point I say “Amen. And Amen!”

And with that our evening folds to a close. Like our last dinner party on Galatians and Ephesians, this one must also come to an end. Thankfully, in the case of this Reformation Commentary on Ezekiel and Daniel, the conversation can still continue because the folks at IVP have done a masterful job of creating a useful, usable resource for scholars, students, and pastors alike. Obviously, this is not meant to be a foundational commentary text for exegesis, but a supplemental one—and I’d say a fine supplemental one at that. I wish more pastors—and more scholars for that matter—would engage the great thinkers of the past in their exegetical, homiletical enterprise in order to remind people of how the Church has always understood and talked about what is central to the Christian faith. This commentary will at least provide the Reformation voice, which shouldn’t trump all other voices, but shouldn’t be neglected nonetheless.