God’s people

Review: Esther

Esther: Born for Her Time
by James A. Aderman

Esther knows that the moment she enters the king’s throne room, his guards will slay her. They are trained to kill any who approach the king, no matter who it is. And yet Esther moves forward, lump in her throat, determined to speak to her husband the king or die trying. And so begins the story of Esther in this volume of God’s People.

I have loved the story of Esther since I first encountered it as a radio drama on Adventures in Odyssey (a two-parter!). Ever since then, I’ve enjoyed retellings. There’s this fun Purim song (sung by the Maccabeats!). There’s a neat retelling set in modern day.

And now there’s this.

Aderman aims for a faithful retelling of the biblical narrative, and he does a fantastic job. There’s a bit more telling than showing than I prefer, but what he tells fills in gaps that I was unaware of – for instance, we find out where in Persia’s history Esther lies and how it compares to Persia’s conflicts with Greece. I’d never known that! (And now I imagine 300 going on in the background of Esther and it fits right in!)

Aderman makes a conscious choice (and makes it explicit) to leave mentions of God out of the story. After all, the biblical book Esther doesn’t mention God once! Yet he’s around in the background, and Aderman does a great job giving “hints” in how he writes.

Basically, this is one of my favorite stories, and this retelling is faithful to the original. I recommend it.

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Review: Moses

Moses: God’s Deliverance
by Mark R. Bitter

God used him to deliver Israel from Egypt. That part of his story has been told in countless movies (not always well). What does the Bible say about him? What about the rest of his life? What was it all about? Mark Bitter writes this short book to show us that Moses was all about pointing to Jesus.

This book breathes Gospel, and I appreciated it so much. Bitter shows many ways that Moses points ahead to Jesus, who wouldn’t be born for about another 1500 years. Bitter talks about Passover, the cloud of the Glory of the Lord, the bronze serpent, and many other instances in Moses’ life that illustrated how God would ultimately save his people. He brings in New Testament verses to show how Jesus and the New Testament writers valued Moses.

But it’s not just the theology that’s strong here. The prologue made me nervous that this volume would read like a textbook. Nope! Just the prologue! The chapters make good use of storytelling to make different aspects of the story come alive. I greatly appreciated how much Bitter used this teaching tactic.

However, Moses’s story takes up four books of the Bible. This book is only about forty pages long. And that means some things are left on the cutting room floor. I’d love for Bitter to be able to write a full-length account of Moses’s life, but this little book ain’t it. All of Exodus is brought down to less than ten pages. I understand the length requirements, and in this case Bitter did very well with the space given. I suppose if I’m hungry for more, that’s an indication that he wrote well.

I wonder if the compression would leave someone with less knowledge of Moses more confused than not, though. Bitter doesn’t seem to assume knowledge; it’s just that compression means you have to leave off details, you know?

Previous volumes in this series (God’s People) have made use of sidebars; not every one made good use of them. This volume, however, makes some connections in the sidebars I never had before. For example, there’s one sidebar on the cloud of the Glory of the Lord and how it appears in Scripture. I appreciated that list, and will be making use of it in the future!

Overall, this is another successful addition to the God’s People series and well, well worth your time to read.

Review: Joseph

Joseph: Forgiving Brother
by Lyle L. Luchterhand

Joseph’s story is one of the most arresting in Scripture. He’s been the focus of movies and musicals and not a few kids’ specials. Who was Joseph? What did he do? This book tells the story of his life, from his earliest days all the way until his bones were buried in the Promised Land hundreds of years after his death.

This is another book in the God’s People series that I’ve generally enjoyed. And this volume in the set has some great choices. For instance, it starts when Joseph is a boy and his father is preparing to leave his grandfather. I enjoyed setting up Joseph’s life from that beginning point instead of picking up when they were settled back in Canaan. I also greatly enjoyed the presentation of the promises that Joseph had been taught; what God had promised his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. That has been a strength of this entire set, pointing out how the people of the Old Testament trusted God’s promises and looked forward.

There were some… interesting choices made as well. For instance, the book rightly presents Joseph as seventeen years old when he is betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave. He wasn’t a little boy, as often presented in story books. However, the book revers to this seventeen-year-old as a “little boy.” I… don’t get it.

While all the information is correct, the book stumbles a bit narratively. Certain passages feel more like a history report than a story or a dynamic retelling of actual events. Much of that could have been avoided by making things “present tense” rather than occurring in flashback. For instance, a chapter begins with Joseph thrown in jail, and them the cause for his jailing is told in flashback, “He had done X” instead of just telling the story.

Which means thus far, this is the weakest book of the series. Despite that, it’s still well worth the time for grounding Joseph within the story of salvation, tightly connecting him to his father Jacob as well as trusting in the promises of the Savior yet to come. If you’ve enjoyed the others in the set, don’t skip this one.

Review: Jacob

Jacob: He Wrestled with God
by Michael A. Woldt

Jacob enters Pharaoh’s court, a cloud of dust following him. His son has briefed him on how to approach the most powerful man in the world. And as Jacob draws near to the great king of Egypt, he reflects on his life, and how God’s faithfulness has saved him so many times before.

Jacob is another book in the God’s People series (I’ve previously reviewed Noah and Abraham). Just like the other two, this is a bite-size book that doesn’t seek to write historical fiction, but to show us God’s faithfulness to his people in a narrative way. This particular book focuses on the trickster Jacob.

I greatly appreciated author Michael Woldt’s way of making each person come alive. Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, has more of a personality than I think I’ve ever seen before. He shows her telling Jacob the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah, and Jacob learning of God’s promises and his faithfulness. Jacob’s reasons for tricking his brother and running, and his guilt, all come to life. Woldt stays loyal to scripture even while showing us the grand scope of Jacob’s story.

Unlike previous entries in the series, though, I found the sidebars to be less useful. They certainly weren’t bad – for instance, one sidebar on Edom showed where Esau’s descendants settled – but I just didn’t feel they were as necessary as they were for Noah’s or Abraham’s entries in the series.

I also really enjoyed how Woldt began his telling of the story at the end of Jacob’s life. It not only placed things in context well, but made me consider Jacob’s life from a different perspective. Usually Jacob’s arrival in Egypt is told from his son Joseph’s perspective; not in this book! Opening there helped me set aside what I knew and enjoy the story of God’s people anew.

Like the other two entries I’ve read in the series, I highly recommend this. The entire series is shaping up to be a great addition to my library!

Review: Abraham

Abraham: Faithful Patriarch
by Roger H. Knepprath

He was the father of nations, but who was Abraham? What did he do? If you were confused by the family lines or how a many of such great faith could still sin in such big ways, this book lays out Abraham’s life as a story, loyal to Scriptures, but telling what happened in an adult narrative manner.

Like Noah, which I reviewed previously, this book keeps to the Scriptures. It is not historical fiction like you might find in many Christian bookstores. Instead, author Knepprath keeps to the Bible and helps connect some narrative dots so we get to follow along.

I really appreciated that he kept the narrative focused on Abraham. Some of the accounts that take place in that section of scripture, such as the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham didn’t witness directly. The narrative here reflects that; we get to see Abraham praying about the cities, and then he sees the destruction the next day.

Knepprath also anchors Abraham’s faith in what he knew about God. Abraham knew the promises. He was able to trust those promises of a Savior to come.

An aspect I enjoyed was how Kenpprath made Sarah, Abraham’s wife, come alive. So often she’s a back-up player, almost shrewish in many depictions I’ve seen. This author took scripture’s exhortations to be like Sarah to heart, though, showing her to be a caring wife who, like her husband, struggled with sin.

And here is where the book shines. Not only does it show Law and Gospel clearly, but it avoids turning Abraham into an action hero of faith. So often the Old Testament people are raised up as gleaming examples, but here we see Abraham as both sinner and saint. In fact, the book opens with a passage that makes it very, very clear: “When writing about Abraham, the temptation is to make him out to have been more than he actually was. This would, in turn, make Abraham’s God to be less than he actually is” (v).

Because the book fights to make sure it doesn’t add to Scripture through imagination, it’s a pretty short book – I polished it off in about half an hour. That said, I think it’s well worth your time, and well worth getting into the hands of someone who’s curious about who this Abraham guy was. Go ahead and check it out!

Not Mourning, But Love, Breaks the Heart

“I’ll pray for your dad.”

“Your dad’s in my prayers – and you, too.”

“I’ll pray God blesses your trip.”

Person after person, hand shake after hug after concerned smile, they came.

I announced after church today that I wouldn’t be sticking around for Bible study – probably the first time a pastor has said something like that here. “My father suffered an unexplained paralysis. He’s getting better, but the doctors still don’t know what happened. There’s other complications. So that we get the chance to see him today, I’ll be leaving as soon as we finish shaking hands.”

I paused, looking over the congregation. “But if Dad dies… I know I’ll see him in undying lands under a sky that’s always bright. I can’t say that about the people in our neighborhood. Instead of Bible study, since I can’t be here to lead it, one of our members will lead discussion on reaching out through our neighborhood cookout next month. We want to share Jesus.”

And on the way out, so many of our members and not a few of the regular visitors expressed prayers and blessings on my family. Some of them have met my father; many haven’t ever laid eyes on him. But someone their pastor cared for was hurting; that was enough for them.

And I felt so small. (more…)