REVIEW: Songs of a Suffering King, by J.V. Fesko

9781601783103I became acquainted with J.V. Fesko through his work on baptism from a Reformed perspective (Word, Water, & Spirit, Reformation Heritage Books, 2010). As I began working through that monograph, I could tell I had come across a man who was a rigorous theologian, careful biblical exegete, and a pastor at heart. Since then, I have read several of Dr. Fesko’s books and have never failed to come away edified and challenged to dig more deeply into the Holy Scriptures.

Dr. Fesko’s most recent offering is a short book on the first 8 psalms entitled, Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8 (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014). As one would expect, from the outset, the book is characterized by careful biblical exposition, a steady focus on the centrality of the person and work of Christ in biblical interpretation, and a pastoral emphasis on sanctification through savoring Christ Jesus.

After a brief introduction which covers the ordering and overall structure of the Psalter as well as a brief rationale for the Christ-centered interpretation of the Psalms, the book is divided into 8 brief chapters addressing each psalm respectively. While the chapters are brief, and read quite devotionally, they don’t fail to provide a good deal of information pertaining to historical and literary context, a clear explanation of how the Psalm relates to the person and work of Christ, and a brief, yet powerful application for the reader. The chapters also end with a metrical version of the psalm for signing and questions for further study. Given the style, structure, and substance of the book it would be an excellent resource for personal or group study (high school through adult).

As I read through Dr. Fesko’s devotional commentary on Psalms 1-8, I quickly realized that—really—I was reading a book about Jesus. The Christ-connections that Dr. Fesko made, especially in chapter 1, identifying Christ at the true Righteous Man of Psalm 1, brought a significant amount of insight and perspective to my reading of the Psalms that I had not seen before. It certainly minimized the tendency I had developed to read Psalm 1 (and others for that matter) as a mere moral imperative. In doing so, I was able to see that, just as Jesus taught in John 15:4-5, apart from resting in him as the true Righteous Man, I am hopeless to fruitfully grow in the instruction of Psalm 1.

As Dr. Fesko worked through these Psalms, I got the sense that he was not forcing a Christ-centered hermeneutic as will inevitably be the critique of some. Rather, he demonstrated that the Psalms “provide a divinely inspired window into the heart of Christ” (8). It is clear that Psalms 1-8, while echoing many of the emotions King David felt during his earthly reign, certainly fore-signify the life and ministry of Messiah.

While I could critique the book in several places, simply because I desired thoroughness a bit more, those critiques would be unfair due to the very nature of the book. As stated, this book is largely an expanded devotional study of Psalms 1-8. Yet, don’t let that dissuade you from including it on your bookshelf as a valuable pastoral commentary on Psalms 1-8. As with all of Dr. Fesko’s work, you will greatly benefit in heart and mind from his devoted study and gift of writing. I sincerely recommend it.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Book Details

123 Pages
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Publication Date: April 2014
ISBN 10: 1601783108
ISBN 13: 9781601783103

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OTHER RESOURCES FROM J.V. FESKO

What (or Who) Is the Bible Really All About?

Growing up, I can remember learning the great stories of the Bible in Sunday School. My teacher would position the artist’s renderings of each Bible character on a flannelgraph in front of the class as she retold the story to a crowd of fidgety onlookers. Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel and his friends, and others would all eventually take the stage on that fuzzy board.

No matter which character we were learning about, it always seemed to end in the same place. How can I have faith like Abraham? How can I trust God like Noah? How can I be a leader like Moses? How can I defeat the “giants” in my life like David? Could I “dare to be a Daniel”? At the end of it all, I was left with a lot of dos and don’ts, as well as what seemed to be a slew of seemingly disconnected Bible stories.

My well-meaning and faithful Sunday School teacher was unintentionally teaching me that the Bible was all about me. As I read my Bible, I was to follow or avoid the examples of the main characters of Scripture. The Bible largely became simply a book of characters for me to emulate and rules for me to obey. It wasn’t until much later in life that I would learn that while the Bible does contain moral imperatives to follow, there is a much larger, more glorious purpose in the pages of Holy Scripture.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture tells of an encounter two men had with the risen Lord Jesus. As the men discussed all that had recently taken place in Jerusalem, they were perplexed by the reality of the empty tomb. Jesus then said to them:

    “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27, ESV)

Jesus was ultimately saying that had these two men read their Bibles properly, everything that had happened would have made perfect sense. They would have understood that the Bible is ultimately about Jesus from beginning to end. What the Old Testament promised God would accomplish through his Messiah had finally come to pass!

You see, the Bible is one grand story of God’s acts in history to rescue and redeem rebellious sinners through the person and work of his Son, Messiah Jesus. The stories of Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, and so on, are not merely moralistic tales, but shadowy representations of redemptive qualities ultimately fulfilled in Christ. Stating it simply, the Bible is less about what “I’m supposed to do for God” and much, much, much more about what God has done in Christ to graciously save his people.

May we be those who give ourselves continually to the reading of Scripture, so that we would become more deeply acquainted with the One to whom all of Scripture bears witness; the One whom to know is life eternal!

For Further Reading…

The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, by Edmund P. Clowney

Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament, by David Murray

Is Jesus in the Old Testament?, by Iain M. Duguid

REVIEW | “Great Doctrines of the Bible”, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

9781433538797Since being introduced to systematic theology in my days as an undergraduate student in Bible school, when I come across a good volume in this field, I receive it with excitement and enthusiasm; and reference it quite frequently. By “systematic theology” meaning of course the orderly presentation, by topic, of what the whole Bible teaches on a given theological matter. And, off hand, I can think of a handful of standard systematics that I would recommend should a person inquire. Among that group, though, there is one that sticks out as unique. Where many systematics are quite predictable in the manner in which the material is presented, I have found one that communicates with a different style and tone, and is intensely practical. In that, this systematic is really simply a collection of recorded sermons on various topics within classic systematic theology. Simply, it is systematic theology preached.

From 1952 to 1955, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones presented a series of sermons/lectures on Friday evenings in one of the halls of Westminster Chapel in London. Addressing, by request of the people, various matters of doctrine, the good Doctor, would expound upon the topic in his classic engaging, reverent, and wonderfully practical manner of preaching. These talks became so well attended that they had to move into the main Chapel itself.

Lloyd-Jones is recorded as saying, “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” In Crossway Books’ republication of 3 classic Lloyd-Jones volumes in one, we find this sentiment demonstrated. Great Doctrines of the Bible is a recent reprint of God the Father, God the Son; God the Holy Spirit; and The Church and the Last Things, in one bound paperback volume. Though lengthy, the content within is intensely edifying.

In terms of the book’s contents, the book retains its three-volume structure. Lloyd-Jones begins with matters of prolegomena. He deals with his method, and the perspective from which he views God’s Holy Word. He then moves through bibliology, theology proper, anthropology, angels and demons, soteriology, covenant and redemption, and Christology. The latter two volumes address exactly what their titles would suggest.

For me, this work gives some of the clearest exposition of the nature of God’s redemptive work, from a covenantal perspective, which I have ever read. Here we find that systematic theology is no way needs to be confined to the bookshelf, but can be passionately preached from the pulpit. As a teacher and preacher Lloyd-Jones work will not only serve to edify in personal study, but may also be a model of how these great doctrines may be clearly and concisely expounded.

Another advantage of this work is the Scripture index in the back of the book. After all, what is a work of theology without an index of Scripture?

Overall, what we have here is classic Lloyd-Jones. There are no surprises, only a solid, straightforward, passionate and reverent presentation of the truths of Scripture. It is a volume that will edify both the new Christian and the seasoned student of theology. It is a volume that will train the pastor and layperson in how to communicate systematic theological truth in a plain manner. I highly recommend it.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Book Details

928 Pages
Publisher: Crossway/Good News Publishers
Publication Date: October 2012
ISBN 10: 1433538792
ISBN 13: 9781433538797

Purchase at WTSBooks.com | $23.69 (32% off – $35.00)*

*Prices subject to change without notice.

REVIEW| The Gospel Call & True Conversion, by Paul Washer

Gospel_Call_04021.1371217419.1280.1280__97993.1372356176.1280.1280

When a particular work is accurate in the way it explains the truth, there is something refreshing, something sturdy, something even exhilarating about that particular work. Rather than attempting to win the ears of men through overworked “creativity”, a simple, straightforward, and crystal clear explanation of the gospel in all its weight and glory can edify the soul of a man quite unlike anything else. Without fear of overstatement, I can say that the aforementioned descriptions are true of Paul Washer’s “Recovering the Gospel” series, and in particular, his recent book The Gospel Call and True Conversion (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).

Washer is a man who understands so well the urgency with which the gospel must be preached that he has no desire to waste his hearer’s time with that which would not further his proclamation of the Good News. In that proclamation, there shines through the heart of a man who is truly a pastor, truly a missionary. Washer has served as a missionary in some exceedingly hostile environments, knowing full well that his life is not his own and that he has been called to proclaim the gospel to the uttermost regions of the earth.

In terms of content, the passion with which Washer communicates rich grace and yet lovingly warns of the reality of false conversion and watered down truth cuts against the grain of many evangelists today. Washer, in his sermons now edited for publication, is concerned that his discourse may be used by God to produce real and lasting fruit, not simply a large following. In reading it, you will encounter a prophetic boldness that is uncommon of many writers today.

The book, divided into three sections, examines:

  • The Gospel Call
  • New Hearts and the Nature of True Conversion
  • New People and the Nature of True Conversion

In each section, and in fact on every page, the reader will find footnotes loaded with Scriptural references that have not been cited as mere prooftexts, but have carefully been selected because of the way in which they support each assertion after careful examination. I find in Washer a rare mix of rigorous textual study and the ability to communicate in profoundly clear terms.

Whether you are a new believer or someone who has walked with the Lord for many years, you will be discipled through the writings of Washer. You will be stirred with passion for the grace of God displayed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, you will be graciously convicted toward holiness to the praise of God’s glorious grace. That being said, I not only strongly recommend The Gospel Call and True Conversion, but all of Paul Washer’s work as well.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Purchase The Gospel Call & True Conversion | Amazon.com | Reformation Heritage Books

REVIEW| Judges for You, by Timothy Keller

9781908762900Surging interest in biblical theology, with a particular emphasis a Christ-centered hermeneutical approach to the Old Testament, has brought upon evangelicalism a wealth of excellent resources for personal study. Many of these resources are written with the goal of helping the student of Scripture understand the grand storyline of the Bible, how a particular book fits into that storyline, and how the gospel is communicated through that particular book. One such series that bears these characteristics is entitled, “…For You” by Timothy Keller, published by The Good Book Company (2013).

The series, and this volume in particular, seeks to accomplish 3 tasks for the reader:

Read: Pointing you to God’s greatest rescue.

Feed: Helping you to meditate on God’s Word day by day.

Lead: Equipping you to teach the Bible to others.

In Judges for You, Keller takes a somewhat familiar Old Testament book, at least by name, and unpacks it under the heading that there is one ultimate hero evident in the book of Judges, and that is God himself.  God’s faithfulness to Israel displayed in the time of the Judges points to his ultimate act of faithfulness in the sending of his Son to redeem his people.

In terms of familiar interpretative approaches, Keller does view the book in light of the commonly understood “cycles” pattern, which is helpfully illustrated, in one of the books appendices. In terms of appendices, Keller also includes a helpful response to the difficult issue of “holy war” and how one may effectively answer the erroneous charge that Judges, or the Old Testament in sum, advocates ethnic cleansing/holy war. I found this 5-page response to be very helpful. To note, Keller employs Meredith Kline’s “intrusion ethic” as a way of understanding the judgment that takes place upon the peoples who are driven out of the land.

The strength of the book lies in Keller’s incredibly clear writing style and his ability to understand the human condition and apply a well-exegeted text for the purpose of heart/life transformation. Because Keller is so easy to read, without sacrificing substantial content, the reader will thoroughly grow in their knowledge of this difficult book and how it fits into the rest of the story of redemptive history.

However, for those looking for a technical commentary on the book of Judges, this will fall short. That is not the purpose of this volume, though. For sure, this would be an excellent resource for those preaching through the book or a study group that seeks to have a guide that is heavily substantial and practical. Judges for You is exactly that: substantial and practical.

I will be consulting this book frequently in my study of Judges and wholeheartedly commend it to your reading and personal study.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Book Details

224 Pages (Click Here for Preview)
Publisher: Good Book Company
Publication Date: August 2013
ISBN 10: 190876290X
ISBN 13: 9781908762900

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REVIEW | Saving Eutychus, by Millar & Campbell

9781922206251When it comes to the task of preaching God’s Word, methodological perspectives are legion. From the overtly pragmatic and often distracting utilization of movie clips/themes and props, to the classroom-lecture-style reading-in-monotone of a manuscript verbatim, the methods abound. Even within that spectrum we encounter those who preach word-by-word/verse-by-verse, or those who seek to provide illustrations that, in their understanding, effectively illuminate the main point and application of a text. With such a wide variety of perspectives and opinions, it can be difficult to find well-written, clear, and useful instruction.

Pastors Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, in their book Saving Eutychus: How to preach God’s word and keep people awake, have given pastors a readable, reliable, and richly biblical guide for effective gospel preaching.

Based on the episode in Acts 20 where Paul preaches late into the night, the book seeks to help preachers grow in style and substance in such a way that their listeners would not end up like Eutychus, who, falling asleep, fell from a 3rd-story window and was killed (though he was later raised from the dead).

The book is structured in such a way that the authors take turns writing their respective chapters. Both are gifted in style and their instruction and tone are both clear and easily followed. The honesty with which the author’s admit their continued need for growth and where they struggle is refreshing and encouraging.

While the book does contain thoroughly helpful examples and instruction for preparation and evaluation, I found the most encouraging aspect to be the permeating conviction that God’s Word is inherently clear and powerful when it is simply and plainly expounded. The aim of the preacher, as they grow, should be to communicate, not more impressively, but more clearly. Thus the authors provide direction that will help preachers gain clarity in their understanding of the text so that they may, in turn, communicate their interpretation and application more accurately and responsibly (without being dull!).

"Delivery Sphere" (p. 104)

“Delivery Sphere” (p. 104)

In assessing the style of one’s delivery, the authors provide the preacher with a helpful diagram, called the “delivery sphere” which allows one to map the trajectory of their overall manner of delivery in terms of volume, pitch, and pace. This was a particularly helpful illustration, in light of the fact that many preachers (including myself) spend so much time considering what they are going to say that they often fail to consider how they are going to say it.

Overall, I consider Saving Eutychus to be an excellent resource for pastors who are looking for a quick read that is trustworthy and teeming with practical instruction. Rest assured that it is both of these without loosing a high view of Scripture and an aim at preaching the gospel from the entire counsel of God’s Word. I heartily recommend it.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review.  I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

BOOK DETAILS|

172 Pages
Publisher: Matthias Media USA
Publication Date: April 2013
ISBN 10: 1922206253
ISBN 13: 9781922206251

BUY NOW at WTSbooks.com: $15.29 (10% off – Reg. $16.99)

REVIEW | “Prepared by Grace, For Grace” by Beeke and Smalley

9781601782342__69274.1369337565.1280.1280I appreciate books that seek to clarify misunderstanding and misconception. So often, in the biblical-theological world and otherwise, the proverbial pendulum is swung to the far right or left and a valuable topic and/or perspective is terribly misconstrued, or even lost, in the process. The matter of “preparatory grace” is no stranger to the aforementioned. In their new volume, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013), Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley offer a thorough look at this important subject among an array of Reformed and Puritan theologians.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Question of Preparationism

  1. Preparation and Modern Scholarship
  2. Precedents to Puritan Preparation: Augustine to Calvin
  3. Preparation and Early English Puritans: Perkins, Sibbes, and Preston
  4. Preparation for Conversion: William Ames
  5. Preparation in Early New England (I): Thomas Hooker
  6. Preparation in Early New England (II): Shepard and Pemble
  7. Preparation and the Antinomian Controversy: John Cotton
  8. Preparation at the Pinnacle of Puritanism: Westminster, Burroughs, and Guthrie
  9. Preparation under a Scholastic Lens: Norton
  10. Preparation and Later Puritan Critiques: Goodwin and Firmin
  11. Later Puritan Preparation: Flavel and Bunyan
  12. Jonathan Edwards and Seeking God
  13. Continental Reformed Perspectives: Zwingli to Witsius
  14. The Grace of Preparation for Faith

Appendix: William Ames’s Theological Disputation on Preparation

I must say at the outset that which is duly noted by Sinclair Ferguson in the foreword, that the authors examining the topic at hand may be characterized as both meticulous scholar and gifted pastor.  Thus their writing is not only academically thorough, but also readable and edifying.

In terms of the book’s content and structure, Beeke and Smalley begin with a chapter entitled “The Question of Preparation.” This chapter lays the groundwork of defining terms and paving the way for the remainder of the book. In their foundational chapter, the authors note that their study will be conducted from the perspective of those that believe firmly that “a righteous and holy God saves sinners “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8)” (p. 1). Thus, the book is designed to address the question of “how God ordinarily brings sinners to the point of trusting in Christ alone for salvation” (p. 1).  Being a work that examines God’s work in saving sinners, the authors are careful to avoid the terms of “preparationism” or “preparationist” so as to not confuse their subject with those that would argue for the notion that the human being prepares himself for God’s saving activity.

The book then moves through Puritan history making mention of a handful of Puritans who both advocated and critiqued certain aspects of “preparatory grace”.  Notably, the authors deal with Augustine and Calvin who held a high view of God’s sovereignty in salvation and how they understood preparatory grace. Additionally, in terms of the Puritan figures who posited a sort of separation from sin via human effort, prior to salvation, the authors expose their errors.

For me, while this book is thoroughly readable, for many, much of the content may be quite tedious to work through. The highlights would be the chapters on Calvin/Augustine and particularly “Jonathan Edwards and Seeking God”.  The final chapter that summarizes the book’s findings is immensely helpful as well.  The authors note 8 ways in which the doctrine of Puritan preparation is helpful for the believer to consider:

1.) Puritan preparation assists the free offer of the gospel.

2.) Puritan preparation is thoroughly Reformed, not Roman Catholic or Arminian.

3.) Puritan preparation highlights the common work of the Holy Spirit.

4.) Puritan preparation engages sinners with the law but not legalism.

5.) Puritan preparation respects the mystery of regeneration in its timing.

6.) Puritan preparation honors God as Creator and Savior.

7.) Puritan preparation reveals the sufficiency of Christ.

8.) Puritan preparation is biblical.

In sum, the Puritans were those who sought to know the Lord with great fervor. Their desire to understand the way in which a holy God saves sinners was far from casual. Studying the way the Puritans understood God’s saving activity ought to lead the believer to a greater sense of God’s rich grace, a great humility, and a response of praise and worship for God’s immense kindness in revealing His Son to underserving sinners. Whenever I read a book by Joel Beeke, I come away with a greater desire to know God in Christ Jesus with the same depth, ardor and sincerity as the Puritans did. Encountering this book was no exception. I recommend it!

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review.  I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

REVIEW | Bible Study: A Student’s Guide, by Jon Nielson

9781596386372

BIBLE STUDY: A STUDENT’S GUIDE IS ON SALE AT WTSBOOKS.COM –
$6.00/copy (54%off) or $5.00/copy when you buy 5. Click here for more information.

My major in undergraduate school was “Youth Ministry”. Many of the books that I was assigned to read for class made me feel more like a junior high school student than a student in college. Maybe it was the fact that a majority of these textbooks were published in the late ‘90s, when clip art was mistakenly understood as both a cool and an essential visual aid? Sadly, I walked away from many of those books disappointed. Sure, there were certainly elements that could be positively received and applied. However, a majority of the content I was exposed to left me wanting more…and certain that “more” could be had. This desire for greater substance and clarity not only occurred in the books that served as my classroom texts, but also of the books that were written specifically for students as well.

In the years since my undergraduate days, I have still been hard-pressed to find a book, targeted at students, that was not primarily filled with “fluff” and a disproportionate amount of personal illustration (not to mention, clip art). That is, until now…

Bible Study: A Student’s Guide (P&R, 2013), by Jon Nielson, is a seriously practical book about Bible study for students who are serious about their faith. On a side, Jon presently serves as the college pastor at College Church, in Wheaton, Illinois. Before he became a pastor to college students, Jon served in both youth and sports ministry. Jon’s experience with students, along with his gift as both writer and teacher, and a sincere love for the Scriptures are unmistakable in this book.

As noted by the publisher, Bible Study: A Student’s Guide, “confirms that real, meaningful Bible study in not only possible for students, but important.” Students can read, study, interpret, and apply the Bible responsibly. And, I believe, when a student begins to do this regularly, their energy for personal study will be exponentially increased. So, how does Bible Study get a student moving in that direction? In order to set the student in motion, Neilson begins by addressing and explaining several core convictions about the Scriptures:

  • The Bible Is God Speaking
  • The Bible Is Powerful
  • The Bible Is Understandable
  • The Bible Is a Literary Work

From there, Nielson moves on to some key hermeneutical issues, including genre, the unity of the Bible’s story line, technique and approach, and he addresses several possible pitfalls along the way.

I can say, by far, that Bible Study: A Student’s Guide is the single best book (for students) that I have ever encountered, in terms of learning how to effectively study God’s Word. It communicates a high view of Scripture by clearly articulating, in terms a student can digest, the authority, inerrancy, and perspicuity of God’s Word. It takes an unashamed Christ-centered approach to all of Scripture. It handles the necessary discussion of biblical genre very well. Nielson, as well, provides a wonderful balance between a grammatical-historical and redemptive-historical hermeneutical approach. Even as one with a couple degrees in theology, I was energized as I read it because it was taking elements of Bible study that I hold dear and consider essential, and in turn instructing me on how I may articulate these things in terms that students can understand. Really, the remarkable thing about this book is that it would be an excellent primer for anyone, student-thru-adult, on responsible and intelligent Bible study.  Perhaps that’s why D.A. Carson noted, “If you are a high schooler, read this book carefully and thoughtfully, and then loan it to your parents.”

In sum, I have no question that, in terms of student ministry, this will be my “go-to” book to use, recommend, and give away on the topic of Bible study. It will be my starting point for training and setting a foundation for thoughtful and substantive Bible study in student ministry small groups. And, it will be a resource I consult often as a guide to explaining, in profoundly clear terms, the theological and methodological necessities of Christ-exalting Bible study.

Coming away from this text, students (and, perhaps, parents!) will no longer be stuck in the ambiguous world of “What does this passage mean to me…?”, and will now be energized by the ability to approach God’s Word asking and answering the more important question, “What does this passage mean?” From there, the heart-transforming truth of the Scriptures may be effectively applied.

I enthusiastically recommend this book!

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review.  I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

BOOK DETAILS:

224 Pages
Publisher: P and R Publishing Company
Publication Date: April 2013
ISBN 10: 1596386371
ISBN 13: 9781596386372

BUY NOW at WTSBOOKS.COM – $6.00 (54% 0ff) or $5.00 when you buy 5 or more copies.*

*Limited time offer. Subject to change without notice.

Daniel Block on “The Shema” & NIVAC Kindle Sale

9780310492016One of the most well-known texts of Scripture in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is Deuteronomy 6:4, “The Shema”.  Though it is certainly familiar, it is by no means immune to difficulty in the translation process.  Daniel Block, Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School, in his recent (NIVAC) commentary on Deuteronomy, offers what I feel is both a helpful interpretation and clarification of the text.  He writes:

“THE SHEMA IS ONE of the most important symbols of Judaism. To this day, orthodox Jews recite verses 4–5 twice daily as part of their prayers (cf. v. 7). Despite its importance in Jewish and Christian tradition, the Shema is enigmatic. The sense of the first two words is clear. But the construction of the remainder is unparalleled in the entire Old Testament, so any interpretation, including our own, should be deemed provisional. On the surface the four words appear to be arranged in an ABAB parallelistic order, translated literally:

Chart taken from the Kindle edition of "Deuteronomy" (NIVAC), Zondervan, 2012.

Chart taken from the Kindle edition of “Deuteronomy” (NIVAC), Zondervan, 2012.

The first line could be interpreted either as a sentence, “Yahweh is our God,” or appositionally, “Yahweh our God,” though the latter creates problems for interpreting the second line. The critical word in the second part is obviously [echad], which in the overwhelming number of occurrences represents the cardinal number “one.” However, in a half dozen instances, the word functions as an equivalent to lebaddô, “unique, only, alone.” Within the immediate and the broader contexts the purpose of this statement is not to answer the question, “How many is God?” but “Who is the God of Israel?” To this question the Israelites were to respond in unison and without compromise or equivocation, “Our God is Yahweh, Yahweh alone!”

Moses’ concern here is whether God’s people would remain devoted exclusively to Yahweh or be seduced by the gods of Canaan. His exposition of the Shema in the remainder of 6: 5–19 confirms this interpretation. Answering to the Supreme Command, by uttering the Shema the Israelites were declaring their complete, undivided, and unqualified devotion to Yahweh. This is not strictly a monotheistic confession (cf. 4: 35, 39) but a cry of allegiance, an affirmation of covenant commitment that defines the boundaries of the covenant community. It consists of those who claim this utterance as a verbal badge of identity and who demonstrate this identity with uncompromising covenant commitment”[1]

All NIVAC Volumes on Sale! (Kindle Editions)

For a limited time, Zondervan Academic has discounted the entire set of the NIVAC Commentary Series to $4.99 or less (Kindle ed. only).  For purchase information on Dr. Block’s commentary, click here.  The following are links to each individual volume. GenesisLeviticus, Numbers;DeuteronomyJoshuaJudges and Ruth1 & 2 Kings1 & 2 Chronicles;EstherJobEcclesiastes, Song of SongsIsaiahJeremiah, Lamentations;EzekielDanielJoel, Obadiah, Malachi;Hosea, Amos, MicahJonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah;Haggai, ZechariahMatthewMarkLukeJohnActs;Romans1CorinthiansGalatiansEphesiansPhilippians;Colossians & Philemon1 & 2 Thessalonians1 & 2 Timothy & TitusHebrewsJames1 Peter2 Peter & Jude1, 2, & 3 JohnRevelation.


[1] Block, Daniel I. (2012-08-21). Deuteronomy (NIV Application Commentary, The) (pp. 181-182). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Biblical Foundations Giveaway

Andreas Kostenberger (follow on Twitter) is hosting a giveaway of his recent volume Invitation to Biblical Interpretation at his blog, Biblical Foundations.  If you’re looking for a solid book on hermeneutics, this appears to be a sure bet!  I have not worked through this particular volume, but am well acquainted with Kostenberger’s scholarship and can confidently say that his work will prove to be a blessing to you and serve you well.  CLICK HERE to be redirected to the giveaway.  Be sure to bookmark the site as well!

Here is a brief description of the the book: 

Bible scholars Andreas Kostenberger (NT) and Richard Patterson (OT) provide a textbook utilizing the “hermeneutical triad” method. This approach to interpretation is based on giving due consideration to both the historical setting and the literary context, as well the theological message.

Working through the major genres of Scripture and showing how their method applies to each one, they provide interpretive examples to guide the student in proper exegesis. In addition to the examples, each chapter concludes with exercises and assignments. Also included is a helpful “Building a Biblical Studies Library” appendix along with a four-page summary chart, presentation slides, test bank, syllabus, and illustrations.