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Monday, December 28, 2015

"Devotions on the Hebrew Bible" (Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields)

TITLE: Devotions on the Hebrew Bible: 54 Reflections to Inspire and Instruct
AUTHOR: Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (192 pages).

After the "Devotions from the Greek New Testament" was published, there have been calls to publish a similar one from the Old Testament. One of these calls resulted in this book, excitedly put together by editors Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields, both biblical scholars and professors of Old Testament from William Paterson University and Mid-Atlantic Christian University respectively. Together with 36 other scholars and theologians from Universities from Canada, USA, Israel, South Africa, publishing houses, and mission agencies around the world, they have put together 53 reflections on the 39 books of the Old Testament. All of them pay special attention to exegesis of the Hebrew language. All of them want to encourage more students and pastors to continue learning Hebrew even after seminary studies. All of them urge the study of the Hebrew text and demonstrate in this book not only the beauty of Hebrew but the profound wisdom contained in the ancient texts. All the contributors hold a doctorate degree and are evangelical in their theological orientation. They begin each devotion from a recommended English translation and gradually try to do their own translation of the selected passages.

Right from the onset, Randall Buth contrasts Genesis 15:6 with the New Testament faith. Pointing out the open ended tense of "and he was believing" in Hebrew, Buth shows us that faith is very much an active process that is continuing even to this day. Milton Eng draws in his knowledge of Chinese as he looks at Exodus 20:4, and makes a case for the Ten Commandments addressed to "you-singular" rather than "you-plural." This is quite surprising at first, but Eng shows us how important the Decalogue is to personal ethics, and that this need to be passed down from one generation to another. Helene Dallaire compares the two different Hebrew words for Blessed (Deut 7:14 and Ps 128:1), and demonstrates to us that blessings are less about things received but the condition of the heart. Even the difficult book of Judges can be read devotionally, as demonstrated by Miles V. Van Pelt. Pelt reminds us to distinguish between the instrument used and God who uses the instruments to do his work. Robert B. Chisholm Jr. shows us the special Hebrew repetition used to emphasize intensity of an action, in particular, David horrendous sin (2 Sam 11:15). Paul Wegner uses the Hebrew words to draw out the emotional intensity of the two mothers fighting over one baby (1 Kings 3:25-26). Verlyn Verbrugge, Barbara Leung Lai, John Beckman, and Jennifer Noonan select passages from Isaiah in the devotions. Verbrugge shows us the desire of God to love Israel right from the start (Isaiah 5:7), and punishment is not something he wants to do in the first place.  Lai shows us from Isaiah 21:11-12 the dialogical relationship between the prophet and the watchman, showing us the dual responsibility to be watchful as well as to be prayerful. Beckman looks at Isaiah 30:18 and hones in on the waiting game of faith. Noonan reflects on the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:3-5 and zooms in directly on Jesus, fully embodying the Isaiah depiction of the one who suffered.  Chloe Sun studies Jeremiah 1:5 to help us see calling as a gift rather than a chore. Daniel Block demonstrates from Obadiah 21 for us that the significance of Obadiah is the fulfilling not just of some but ALL of God's promises to Israel. Bruce Waltke in "A Penitential Devotional" gazes at Psalm 51:1-2 to highlight three stances of a repentant heart. Tremper Longman III helps us understand from the Hebrew text the wisdom of Proverbs 1:1-7, that fear seen from the perspective of righteousness that recognizes the center of all is God, not us. Kevin Chau chooses Proverbs 30:24-28 how godly wisdom alone can be so superior over all the wisdom of the world.  Even the Song of Songs can be read devotionally. According to Miles Van Pelt, commitment and pleasure go hand in hand.

All the devotions are brief, ranging from 2 to 3 pages at the most. That means this book can be used like a daily devotional for 53 days straight. For scholars, we learn from these 38 contributors how to do devotions from the Hebrew texts together with our English translations. Reading devotionally is not the same as analyzing the texts with loads of commentaries or biblical resources. It means learning to nibble at something and think of the context of the word or phrase. Without becoming to fixated on analyzing chunks of Scripture, the passages are gently perused with awareness of the Hebrew nuances of the words. At that point, many possible trajectories can be made. Care must be taken to ensure that the devotional movements circle back to what the Word is saying, not what we want the Word to say. This requires us to set aside our personal preferences or prejudices and to let the Word have the final say.

As one who had studied Hebrew before, I appreciate a volume of devotions like this. During my years at seminary, my Hebrew teacher would sometimes do a brief devotion to help us enter into the ancient language. At that time, I was wowed as the teacher skillfully brings out the grammatical uniqueness and how the words are intentionally used to highlight specific emotions, directiveness, and hidden nuances not easily perceived in English. I sure wish that a book of this nature had existed then. Having said that, it is never too late to go back to the Hebrew text and to let God's Word lead us. This book certainly fills in the gap for those of us conversant with English and desire to know more Hebrew. While this book will not make us experts, it shows us the way to handle the Word of God. Carefully, competently, and consciously submitting ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to teach us.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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