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Friday, May 18, 2018

"Along the Road" (John A. Beck)

TITLE: Along the Road: How Jesus Used Geography to Tell God's Story
AUTHOR: John A. Beck
PUBLISHER:Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2018, (192 pages).

How does one read the Bible? One can read it literally, word for word, from the lens of our contemporary backgrounds. Bibles like the NASB and the KJV would be great companions. While we honour the Word in its original syntax, we lack the cultural contexts to truly understand how the ancient audiences heard. One can read it chronologically, but it would take an experienced historian and theologian to guide us through the many centuries of events, periods, and political upheavals to appreciate the flow of the biblical story. Resources such as the chronological Bibles in which the books of the Bible are placed it according to time of occurrence. Then there are also those who try to understand the Bible archaeologically, which led to the publishing of the Archaeological Bible. There are also those who organize the Bible theologically, or topically. This enables readers to look for common themes through the Bible to have a better understanding of the biblical perspective of important matters of concern. What about understanding the Bible geographically? Though this book is not a Bible, it draws lots of biblical references to piece together what it means to walk with Jesus through the ancient lands of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine. What is it like to walk where Jesus walked? A lot, says author and Adjunct Professor John A. Beck.

Beck takes us on a journey through different roads and terrains. He links three things together: The geography, the people, and the theology. In geography, he leads us through lands mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments. In people, he connects the geography with the people who lived there, for the people accompanying him. In theology, he brings in the biblical insights and links the present locations with events through biblical history. Most beautiful of all is how he tells a story with each. In fact, Beck tells the story in many forms. He retells the stories of the Bible as he navigates the terrains, giving us a glimpse of the past through the lens of the Bible narrative. Sometimes, the place has more than one stories from the past. For instance, Bethlehem provides the setting not only of Jesus' birthplace but also the place of Naomi and Ruth, and how Ruth eventually married Boaz. This same place also ignites memories of how young David tends to the sheep near Bethlehem. Egypt is a place of enigmas. On the one hand, it is a place which provided food during the famine for Israel. On the other hand, it is a place most remembered for enslaving the nation of Israel. It is not the promised land but many still thought they could find their future there. It is a place that pits man's desire for worldly comfort against trusting God for providing for the future in the promised land. Apart from cities and towns, Beck also considers rivers, temples, mountains, and the wilderness. The River Jordan brings back reminders about Israel entering the promised land by crossing it. It is where Jesus was baptized. It is also the place that Israel gathered prior to conquering Jericho. The wilderness is a place filled with dangers. Think of how Jesus was not only tempted spiritually and physiologically, he was also threatened by physical dangers. Interestingly, Beck parallels the temptations of Adam and Eve with the temptation of Jesus. We all know who passed and who failed the test. We gain not just this insight but five!

By linking the places traveled to the Person of Jesus, we see the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. We connect the dots in biblical prophecies to the fulfilment in Christ. We learn to see geography and prophecy as a common story. We appreciate Jesus' humanness and how his travels through the lands explain his empathy of our human condition. We also see how spiritual warfare is fought in physical spaces. At the same time, we also see Jesus revealing himself through various divine titles. He reveals Himself as the Messiah when at Sychar; the prophet at Mount Moreh; the King at Gihon Spring; the judge at the Kidron Valley; etc. Gradually, the book concludes with questions about our mission. Like a multi-dimensional prism, readers get to gaze at how a single place could refract so many things, so many divine references of God in Jesus, and so many different perspectives of spirituality.

Three Thoughts
First, this book gives readers a remote look into unfamiliar lands. Thanks to Beck, we are able to catch a glimpse of the place through various lenses such as Old Testament prophecy, New Testament fulfilment, its relation to Jesus and the prophets, and many more. Many of us have not visited these places. Even then, without an experienced guide, we may not know what to look and what each site means. Moreover, biblical history is often multi-layered with complex histories and events intersecting one another. This book would enable readers to understand the background of a place better.

Second, there is more to the place than what Beck had written about. For all the best intentions, there will still be lots of perspectives left out. I would even venture to say that given the chance to re-write the book, Beck might have different insights and perspectives. Who knows, he might even write a totally different second book! The point is, there is so much more to a place than a mere book. Thus, appreciate this book for what it says but remember that every person brings along a different experience and point of view. Like the proverbial blind men trying to describe what an elephant looks like, our best interpretation depends on our background and personal knowledge and experience of the place. Plus, every town, city, place, or wilderness have different places. It is impossible to stereotype every place because of the complexity of culture and living conditions. We can at best draw a snapshot of a particular place, at a particular time, and at a particular snapshot of history.

Third, one can treat this book as a way to refresh Bible events. For example, Beck's "Gospel Harmony and Location List" helps us to reference present day geography with ancient history and biblical narratives. Hopefully, it can spur us to read the Bible even more. If so, we would have benefitted greatly from the reading of this book.

If we are unable to visit the Holy Land or any of the biblical places in person, perhaps, this book is the next best thing we can do.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Discovery House Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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