Read Our Interview with Dale Ralph Davis
WTSBOOKS: What is your primary purpose in your biblical commentaries? How does this make your work unique?
Dale Ralph Davis: Well, I don’t know if it is unique or not, but I think my primary purpose has been kind of a double one. One is to try to get neglected Old Testament books - which are virtually all of them, I guess - back into the church’s practical canon...
I don’t mean that in a messianic way, as if my work will accomplish that, but I’d like to at least contribute to that sort of thing. There are certain things we just don’t have in our “usable canon” sometimes. If I can get the so-called “historical books” or “former prophets” back into usable shape and people interested in them, then my writing will have been a success.
Another purpose of the commentaries is to do it in such a way that the expositions of these texts, passages, and books nurtures and nourishes the people of God. I always felt when I was teaching in seminary that I had to deal with critical issues but that those matters should not dominate my teaching. So I tended to teach in an expository way. For seminary students, if they’re going to use the Old Testament in their preaching ministry you’ve got to demonstrate that those texts and that material nourishes and nurtures them. I tried to do that in my teaching. I think you’ve got to do that. You have to show that this stuff will feed your soul. If you’re able to demonstrate that you’ll get people hooked.
WTSBOOKS: How would you encourage your members with respect to the practical value of the Old Testament, especially OT narratives which at times may have less-than-clear connections to Jesus?
Dale Ralph Davis: I’m probably a little bit too dull to find other creative ways beyond expository preaching and teaching. Not everyone picks it up, but I do think in preaching Former Prophets and so on there are always certain people in the congregation that have their antennae up and will begin to see the way you approach such texts and material. The challenge I felt in the early pastorate was “Wow, here’s 2 Kings 6 - story about the ax-head, etc. - why on earth is this here? What is God trying to say through this?” Having to ask the question about the intention of the text is a certain kind of a challenge that drives you on to struggle and wrestle with it. I found that oftentimes if you ask that “why?” question it eventually opens up and you begin to get some answers. I guess that’s what I would try to do in demonstrating “here’s a way I try to deal with passages” but also to get people to ask the question “Why on earth is this here? What could God conceivably have in mind in this text as a way of revealing himself?” I guess just to stir curiosity that way is one way to begin them on that road of seeing the practical value of the text.
WTSBOOKS: In recent years “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament” has become much more acceptable and mainstream than ever before. Do you have any concerns about the direction this has or might be taken?
Dale Ralph Davis: If you focus on God you’re almost automatically going to be benefitting his people. And one of the assumptions I’m working with is the unity of God’s people. Oftentimes I think this is a key element of interpretation, especially as we encounter Old Testament narratives. For instance in 1 Kings 17 you have Elijah, the widow, and her son marvelously provided for. Then at the end of the chapter there is a little twist where the son of the widow becomes ill. Now, it’s not a big thing necessarily or even focused on God himself, but there’s something of the way that the people of God experience the ways in which YHWH reveals himself. There was this marvelous, daily, consistent provision in verses 2-16 and now in verses 17-18 her son dies. I don’t know how that would have affected a new Gentile convert but it seems to me she would wonder what on earth YHWH was doing and what kind of God he was. This is a valuable point to bring out of the text and rub into the pores of God’s people today. This is obviously more of an experiential type of application but it comes out of that recognition that there is a continuity of the people of God. Sometimes our exposition and application come up out of those sorts of realities.