Sunday, December 9, 2018

A whole commentary on Obadiah?

I do not recall having ever seen an academic commentary on the Old Testament book of Obadiah that wasn’t paired with one or more other prophetic books. It is the shortest book in the Old Testament, and probably the least-preached book in the whole Bible. With that in mind, why would Daniel Block, renowned evangelical scholar, and his publisher, Zondervan, dedicate a whole volume to this one, tiny book?

If we truly believe that the Bible is God’s word, we should already recognize that every word of it matters, including the 291 words found in Obadiah. We do not have every letter that Paul ever wrote. We do not hold up other ancient writings, like the Code of Hammurabi or Josephus’ Antiquities, as infallible. Since God saw fit not only to see the book of Obadiah written, but also preserved for thousands of generations, we ought to give it the consideration it deserves as part of his word to us. I must admit that prior to reading this commentary (front to back, which I rarely do with a commentary), I was content to skip or quickly read through Obadiah without giving it much thought. Block showed me how interesting this book really is and even got me excited to preach on it myself.

Block, who is probably most famous in my seminary circles for his massive volume on Judges and Ruth in the New American Commentary series, treats this book with the same dedication to detail and depth of research. He provides his own translation of the Hebrew text, and his introductory material includes rich analysis of the historical and literary background of the book. He considers a wide range of options for the identify of the original audience, which is a key component of arriving at a proper interpretation of the author’s message.

The ancient Bible translator and interpreter Jerome commented that Obadiah “is as difficult as it is brief,” and Block is dedicated to working through those difficulties (35). Throughout the book I learned many interesting things. For instance, the book of Obadiah draws on Jeremiah 49, with significant differences that help to highlight Obadiah’s own emphases. He also explains how “small” refers to status rather than population when God says, “See, I have made you small among the nations” in verse 2. His comments on Esau’s rhetorical question, “Who will bring me down to earth?” bring out some nuances I would have otherwise missed. Perhaps the main piece I would have misunderstood was the fact that God does not gloat over Esau’s downfall, rather his expression in verses 5 and 6—and indeed, the message of the book itself—shows the a sense of horror and sadness at Esau’s betrayal of his “brother” Israel and the resulting (just) punishment he experiences from God.

This book shares a theme of the responsibility of family members, specifically brothers, to love one another. This theme is present throughout the whole Bible, but is particularly manifest in the book of Genesis (Cain and Abel, Jacob (Israel) and Esau, Joseph and his brothers) and gets special attention in the book of 1 John. If you would preach those passages, you would do well to study and preach the book of Obadiah as well. And I can recommend this book to help you with that.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

On felling trees

I am not one to intentionally put myself in danger, but every now and again I do something lacking in sense. We had a terrible wind storm on Saturday night that knocked over half of a dead tree right into my yard. On Sunday I decided to bring out the trusty old chainsaw to make short work of the half that remained before it too fell over at an inopportune time. Since it was still tall enough to hit my shed, I decided to have it fall towards the woods.

A few angled cuts later and the tree started to make a cracking sound like you might hear if you were walking out on a frozen lake that wasn't as frozen as you thought (not that I've ever done something that stupid—it was a creek, not a lake, but that's another story).

In my hurry to get away from the tree I didn't forget to figure out which way the tree was falling. This is always an important part of the process of relocating one's body away from danger and closer to something akin to safety, though unless you can cover a distance of 100 yards faster than a first-round pick for running back, you can't completely ensure you can avoid danger altogether.

I was fortunate to move my body in a perpendicular direction from the way the tree was falling, but unfortunately the tree was falling about 180 degrees off the direction I wanted it to fall. When I went back to assess the damage, I discovered a large tree limb on a perfectly healthy tree had been mangled beyond recovery and the remains of the tree had landed a good five feet from my shed.

A word of advice: when a tree falls in the opposite direction you were planning it to, you might want to cease from all future tree-felling activities, at least for a half hour.

I immediately went to work on the next dead tree in my backyard. It was ginormous, but if Saturday's wind had taught me anything, it was that a dead tree poses a risk to everything around it as long as it is permitted to stand. I made doubly sure to make the right cuts lest this tree come crashing down on my house. You would have been proud. However, I may have been too cautious with my cuts. After I was sure the tree should have started tipping, it still stood, tall and proud, acting as if I hadn't even scarred its base with my chainsaw.

Another word of advice: when you think a tree should fall over, but it doesn't, you might want to cease from your tree-felling activities long enough to figure out what the tree remains erect.

I decided my cut must not have been deep enough, so I cut a little more... and a little more... and then my chainsaw got stuck in the tree. It seems that when a tree starts to tip, the weight of the top part of the tree can pin a metal chainsaw blade to the bottom part of the tree with thousands of pounds of force. Somehow I managed to dislodge it, but I failed to realize the tree had begun to tip, albeit ever so slightly. I continued cutting away at the tree until only a sliver of wood connected the top to the bottom, and it didn't move.

It was about this time that I realized the tree was not tipping because its upper branches were caught in the arms of its neighbors. The other trees must have liked him because they would not let him go. One more cut and the tree slid right off the trunk, and I feared that it was coming right for the house. I wasn't terribly worried about the house as much as the man who was standing between the tree and the house—me! I darted to the left, putting some small trees between me and the angry giant I had just angered and covered a distance roughly equivalent to 100 yards. If only an NFL scout could have seen me.

When I gathered my bearings, I realized the tree was still standing where I had left it, about two feet away from the stump and still holding on to his friends up above. It took about ten minutes for my heart rate to drop back down to normal, and in that time I decided to call in a professional.

A few days and $450 dollars later the tree (and a couple others) were down. The mammoth tree I had tried to cut down wasn't any more cooperative for the tree service guys who came out. They had to tie the tree off and then cut the base off five more times before it came crashing to the ground. They also cleared off the broken branches my first tree had made on its trip past the shed.

Today I spent an hour and a half with the chainsaw cutting up the remains of my trees. Once they're on the ground, the cutting work is a lot more simple. I'm sure there's a sermon illustration in here somewhere.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

On needing a vacation after your vacation

I went back to work the day after arriving home from a five-day vacation. A coworker asked me how it was and what we did, then commented that I probably needed a vacation after my vacation. I have heard that concept expressed so many times that I imagine it's a common refrain in workplaces across the country.

"I need a vacation after my vacation."
"You look like you could use a second vacation."

We often end up more tired after our vacations than we were before we left. It doesn't take much effort to figure out why. Our vacations cram in more activities in a few days than we typically do in a couple weeks. We create daily itineraries for our vacations to maximize the use of our time. Rarely do we include enough rest time. Rarely do we anticipate how much our sleep schedules will be interrupted by later-than-usual nights, kids waking up early, and just being in an unfamiliar environment. Then when we get home we have bags to unpack, laundry to wash, and a whole assortment of activities to take care of before we head off back to work.

Many times we can't help it. If we take longer vacations we can build in plenty of rest time both during and after a trip. But longer vacations often mean fewer vacations and more time spent going without a change in scenery and away from family.

I sometimes plan random "at home" vacations of just one day where I can be with my family, do very little work, and actually get the rest we need. With longer vacations I try to plan for rest periods or, at least, periods where we have nothing planned. I also mentally prepare myself by knowing what kind of vacation I'm taking. When I have a day off with the kids, I know that I'm going to have fun, but we're going to have down time and not get a lot done. When we go sightseeing and spend a couple days at the water park, I know that I'm am vacationing from work, not activity.

As I reflect on what's left for the rest of the year, I'm excited about what vacation days remain. Thanksgiving will be a good time to relax at home.  Christmas will have some busy activities, but enough time on the back end to relax before returning to the busyness of work and normal life.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Something new after 9 years of seminary

88 credit hours. No wonder it's been 9 years, and I'm still not done. Chipping away at my Master of Divinity has been a long, slow, and often difficult ride. I took Greek with a newborn. I did Hebrew with two kids. This semester I'm doing something new and probably just as challenging.

I am taking my first Spanish-language M.Div course. I have been serving in a Spanish-language church for about a decade. Since I can take Spanish-language classes that count toward my degree (and at a significant discount, let's not forget that), it makes sense to enroll now. Especially since I am taking La PredicaciĆ³n Expositiva or Expository Preaching. I have already preached more times in Spanish than I can count, whereas my English-language sermons probably fall below 10.

Language-wise, this will be challenging. This is a graduate-level course, after all. My language skills are sharp, but I have never tried anything this academically rigorous before. I have four books to read, book reviews to write, lectures to watch, quizzes to take...

[Deep breath]

I am excited about this. Let's do it.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Dinner for Dinos

One of the best things you can do with your children is read to them. I picked up the recently-released book Dinner for Dinos for my 2-year-old daughter. It tells the story of a group of dinosaurs who decided to have a picnic. They go shopping at the grocery store, learn about the importance of eating their vegetables, practice setting the table, pray, and enjoy. The lessons are simple, which is just what you need for a toddler. Forks on the left, spoons on the right.

The book uses rhyming couplets to keep the rhythm, and the drawings are cartoonish. The point isn't to teach your children anything about dinosaurs anymore than Arthur is meant to teach them about aardvarks. It's all just fun.

I enjoyed the quick read, given my daughter's (and sometimes my) short attention span. My five-year-old son also enjoyed the pictures, but the story is a little below his level.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

How the biblical writers interpreted Scripture

Many people, myself included, have had difficulty understanding why the New Testament authors quote and reference the Old Testament the way that they do. I have heard many people say that the New Testament writers were unique, inspired by God, and we should not attempt to imitate them. That never set right with me. Enter Abner Chou. His recently published book, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles, argues the opposite.

The basic premise of the book is that the New Testament authors adopted the interpretive method of the Old Testament prophets when reading the Scriptures. Chou demonstrates that the Old Testament prophets themselves interacted with earlier texts, interpreting them and drawing out applications both for their present day as well as future fulfillment by a coming Messiah. By the time we encounter these New Testament citations, they come with a whole background of interpretation and application that modern readers must recognize.

Chou works through multiple examples, such as Matthew’s quotation of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” He shows how Hosea used earlier Scriptures, looking to God for a new exodus, hope in a new Davidic king who acts as a representative of the nation. Seen in context, Matthew’s quotation makes a lot of sense.

Ultimately, I enjoyed reading this book because it helped me see better that “the prophets wrote better than we give them credit for” (95). The New Testament writers were not misusing Scripture, rather they were using and applying Old Testament passages with intricate connections to other passages. These connections must be traced out to fully understand what the New Testament authors were trying to communicate.

I highly recommend this book, although I must say it reads much like a dissertation. “Skim reading“ will suffice most readers. The sections dealing with specific instances of the New Testament quoting the Old are worth reading in their entirety, as are the introduction and conclusion of each chapter.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Spurgeon on the Christian Life

I am becoming a bit of a Charles Spurgeon aficionado. When offered the chance to receive a review copy of Spurgeon on the Christian Life from Crossway books, I couldn't say no. I've read and watched biographies of Spurgeon's life, read books, and recently added two volumes of his Lost Sermons to my library. What sets this book apart is its focus on the central themes of Spurgeon's ministry and his thinking about the Christian life.

Michael Reeves organizes the book into four sections: a look at the man himself, the centrality of Christ in his teaching, his emphasis on the new birth, and his thoughts on the new life of a believer. Chapters address his preaching, grace, suffering, the final glory, and more. Reeves also looks into the influence of the Puritans on him, particularly John Bunyan and his classic works Pilgrim's Progress and The Holy War. Throughout the book Spurgeon's own words take center stage and readers are treated to the man's thoughts just as he shared them with readers and congregations in the mid- to late-1800s.

Reeves writes in a way that shows his admiration of Spurgeon while still acknowledging Spurgeon's struggles. Had Reeves not mentioned up front that he is a member of the Church of England, I would have taken him for a Baptist given the way he speaks of Spurgeon. And that's the point. Spurgeon is a man to be admired, regardless of your personal convictions about believer's baptism. As Reeves put it, "He offers a robustly biblical and thoroughly rounded theology of the Christian life that deserves to be read by all—and all the more for the sheer zing with which he says it."

I'm glad to recommend this book to all who would seek to learn a little more about the Christian life and this extraordinary man who lived it.