When I preached through Jonah last Advent, I knew the JPS Commentary on Jonah would be helpful. What I wasn’t expecting was how often I would eagerly turn to Kevin J. Youngblood’s new Jonah volume in the recently begun Hearing the Message of Scripture commentary series. It might be the best commentary (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) written on Jonah.
Format of the Commentary
Each passage of Jonah includes the following sections:
- Main Idea of the Passage–a short, couple-sentence overview, where Youngblood helps you get oriented to the text.
- Literary Context–The author shows how the passage under consideration ties in with the rest of the book.
- Translation and Outline–the author’s original translation and visual layout of the biblical text.
- Structure and Literary Form–this looks at literary features and the rhetorical aims of Jonah. This section is especially strong.
- Explanation of the Text–the primary section of each passage, comprising the verse-by-verse commentary proper.
- Canonical and Practical Significance–though Youngblood is plenty practical throughout, this section is especially helpful for preachers, teachers, or any Bible reader wanting to know how to apply the message of the text.
For example, here is Youngblood on the main idea of Jonah 4:1-4:
He then situates the passage in its larger context:
From there he relates Jonah 4:1-4 to the patterns of the rest of the book (“Every encounter with Gentiles brings Jonah to a crisis point”), surmises why Jonah wants to die (“Jonah cannot see how YHWH could simultaneously maintain his covenant faithfulness to Israel and grant clemency to Nineveh”), explains the text in detail, and then relates it to Moses and the other prophets and their interactions with “the nations.”
Youngblood’s Insights Make the Text Come Even More Alive
Youngblood makes the literary features of the text come alive. Regarding Jonah’s short stint in the belly of a fish, Youngblood writes:
The fish, however, functions as a means of deliverance and transportation from the murky depths back to the orderly realm of dry land. In this respect, the fish is the antithesis of the ship, which carried Jonah from the orderly realm of dry land out to the chaotic deadly sea.
Correspondingly, Jonah’s disposition and activity in the fish is the antithesis of his disposition and activity on the ship. Whereas Jonah pays out of his own pocket for passage on the ship, the journey in the fish back to land and life is free, courtesy of YHWH.
He continues to unpack the “important contrast” between ship and fish to help the readers with “the peak episode of the book’s first main section.”
This sort of analysis and clear explanation is emblematic of what the reader will find in every section of the book.
Final Evaluation: Easily a Top 3 Jonah Commentary
And what’s not to love about the first paragraph of the Introduction mentioning a Bruce Springsteen song? Here it is, by the way:
To write a nearly 200-page commentary with a 20-page introduction on a 4-chapter book of the Bible is no small feat; and none of what’s here is fluff. Youngblood notes in his introduction: “An understanding of three overlapping contexts–canonical, historical, and literary–is critical to the book’s interpretation.” He helps the reader attain ample understanding of those contexts and more.
Youngblood says only that this volume “strives to advance the discussion regarding Jonah’s message.” I think it does far more. This is easily a top 3 Jonah commentary–maybe even the best one I’ve used.
Here’s a free parenting pro tip: sing the chorus of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck antiphonally with your child to help them keep their mouth open. Then you can brush their teeth and gums the way the dentist tells you to.
You say: “Thunder!”
Your child responds: “Ah-ah-ah-ahhhh-ah-ah!”
You say: “Thunder!”
Your child responds: “Ah-ah-ah-ahhhh-ah-ah!”
Repeat ad infinitum, or until your child’s teeth are clean.
It’s been working like a charm here in the K-J house all week. Here’s the song if you need a refresher.
Pentecosts reminds us that God pours out the Holy Spirit on any and all persons who would receive… and he uses unexpected persons as his conduits!
The use of “Galileans” to help usher in the era of the Spirit is also a sort of breaking of barriers. It shows that when God chooses to do something marvelous, he does not necessarily wait till a person high in earthly esteem comes along. He does use such people, of course, as we see with God’s using Paul. But he is not limited to them.
The key to usefulness is the fullness of the Spirit, and the Spirit can bring life to anyone he chooses, provided that he or she is open to this enlivening.
(Ajith Fernando, Acts: The NIV Application Commentary)
Image above via Global Christian Worship.
As I’ve been working on the Book of Acts for my last few sermons, Acts has been working right back on me. I’m still thinking about my encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. This last week, as the lectionary moved from Acts 8 and Acts 10 back to Acts 1 (for the Sunday after Ascension Day), I found myself thinking in terms of Acts 1:8 as a prequel for what had been happening so far.
Just before he ascends, Jesus tells the disciples to wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
They had wanted to know when the kingdom would be restored, but Jesus points them to a different when: the when of the Holy Spirit.
One implication of Jesus’ response, I think, is that we don’t have to know when or have life’s tensions resolved to be a witness right now to what we have seen in Jesus.
We don’t have to understand all the ins and outs of the kingdom of God–we may even think of its consummation as being a loooong ways away–to be able to make a contribution to it today, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
There’s an African proverb that says, “That which is good is never finished.”
The Book of Acts is like this. It’s not finished. If Acts 1 serves as a prequel for the whole narrative, Acts’s sequel is being written by men, women, boys, and girls who make up the church today.
He points out that Luke’s story in Luke-Acts doesn’t really end: “Paul has suffered countless vicissitudes. He has been shipwrecked. He has finally made it to Rome. He is awaiting trial before Caesar. And then—nothing!”
(This helps explain why after a recent read-through of Acts, I was at a loss to remember what happened to Paul at the end!)
Gonzalez goes on:
In telling his story and leaving it unfinished, Luke is inviting his readers to be part of it, to join the throng. ….But since the story is unfinished, it is more appropriate to conclude it with “RSVP,” like an invitation that awaits a response. This is what Luke demand from us: not satisfied curiosity about the past, but a response here and now. RSVP!
Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
We are the sequel to the two-part combo of Luke and Acts–the threequel, if you like. The story of the church in the world now becomes the third part in Luke’s trilogy. Luke-Acts-Us.
My new favorite iOS game is Alto’s Adventure. My 7- and 4-year olds love it, too.
Here are a couple of developer screenshots:
The app has cool music, great sound effects, and a really relaxing vibe. It’s a good challenge, too.
The app is on sale right now at the App Store for $0.99 (down from $2.99). You can find it here.
I’ve reviewed enough software to know over-hyped copy writing when I see it, so I was initially skeptical at the Things app’s claim to be “a delightful and easy to use task manager” (my italics).
But its aesthetic and usability really are pleasing and enjoyable. The layout is very simple and clean. It has almost a cartoonish (in a comforting way) feel to it. It looks like this:
Readers of this blog (especially patient ones) know that I’m a user of OmniFocus, but I’ve also been putting Things through its paces these last few months.
First, straight from the nearly perfect Things getting started guide, here’s the basic structure of the app:
Today is the list for to-dos that you want to start before the day ends. They’re your priorities.
Next is home for all of the to-dos you could start at any time. It’s a good place to look when putting together your Today list, or when you’ve finished everything there and you need more to do.
Scheduled is for to-dos that you’d like to start on a later date, either because there’s nothing you can do to start them yet, or you’d just rather be reminded of them on a specific day.
Someday is the place for to-dos that you might like to get to, but you’re not sure when. Regularly review what you’ve added here to decide if it’s time to act.
It all starts with the Inbox, where you can put items until you’re ready to decide when to do them. Things also allows you to organize by multi-step Projects and Areas of Responsibility, as well as make extensive use of Tags.
Things syncs instantaneously via its own cloud service across multiple devices. This makes using it on both a phone and a computer, for example, really easy—you never have to worry about an outdated notification showing up on your device. This is one of the few drawbacks of OmniFocus—if you don’t keep OF open and make sure it’s synced on all your devices, you’ll get a reminder on your iPhone to complete a task you already checked off on your computer. This is not an issue with Things, and it takes away an extra step in the task management process, so you can direct that energy to actually working through your task list.
Things is head and shoulders above other task management apps in this regard.
Things has a really nice tagging system. No GTD-style “contexts,” per se, though you could certainly use your tags as contexts if you wanted to. You can even assign sub-tags to your tags, a feature I really like. So I can tag a task under the category “Blog,” but also assign sub-tags such as “Future post” and “Learn apps.” I used this tagging system to track thank-you notes last Christmas—writing down presents (and who they were from) as we opened them, and then sorting by tag (giver) so that I knew what all I was thanking someone for when I came to their note! Handy, indeed.
The desktop app is feature-rich. As you might expect, in addition to seamless sync with the mobile apps, the desktop version of Things (pictured above) is fuller-bodied than the iOS apps. There is the Quick Entry feature, where a keyboard shortcut (no matter what app you’re using in the foreground, so long as Things is open somewhere) will let you enter a task before you forget. There is a really smooth way of accessing, displaying, and adjusting all your tags (where Things really shines). Editing a task is fast. And it looks good.
The iOS apps have a useful Today widget. Some Today widgets are better than others, and this one is good. You can view items due today, check them off (both without ever opening the app), and tap on New To-Do to be taken to the Things app to make a new entry.
Siri and Things work together (quite nicely). You can set up Things so that reminders you voice dictate to Siri go right into that app as tasks. So that you can use Things safely while driving. As OmniFocus is my task management app of choice, a comparison again is inevitable: to get Siri-generated reminders to show in OF, you have to actually open OF and let it sync. Not so in Things: the reminder goes to your Things Inbox for processing immediately.
There are some things that Things can’t do, which I had hoped it could.
There is no way (whether in iOS or OSX) to attach photos or files to an item. I find this a noteworthy lack. In OmniFocus and Evernote you can take a photo of something and immediately set it up with a to-do reminder. Sometimes life’s “inputs” come as visuals, and taking a picture and setting a due date is easiest. That’s not doable in Things. (You can link to actual files on a desktop, but that’s not the same as attaching the file itself, and the file doesn’t show up on an iPad.) There is a “Notes” field that attaches to your to-do, which is essential, though that field just accepts text entry.
The cosmos (or just your co-workers and bosses) also like to give to-do items via email. There’s no way to automate moving from an email into a task in Things. In OmniFocus you can just forward an email to your special OmniFocus email address, and it automatically becomes a task in your inbox. Todoist, like Outlook, can let you turn an email into a task in just a click, without even having to forward it anywhere. Evernote even lets you send an email as a Note to a specific Notebook with Tags, if you phrase your subject line right. Things may add this email-in-to-Inbox feature in the future, but for now, you have to take the extra step of copy-pasting an email into a new task yourself. Not as automated as I’d have liked.
You can get to a new task via the + button on the bottom right screen on iOS—so entering a new task right away is easy—but there is not the “Save +” option that other apps offer… so you have to add an extra tap when doing a rapid-fire brain dump. (This is not as much an issue on the desktop version of the app.)
You can set up repeating tasks, but not easily. This process was not as immediately intuitive as the rest of the app is. Things’s support page (which is awesome) details how you can do it from iOS and OSX. But, wow, did I spend a lot of time figuring out the very specific way in which this must be done in Things—and a couple of methods that you’d think would get you there… don’t.
So many reviews of task management apps affirm that there’s a personal element to what app works best for you. One user’s “intuitive” is another user’s, “Huh?” I’ve bought into the OmniFocus methodology and layout (mostly), which is intuitive enough but not easy out of the box. Things, on the other hand, is easy to figure out how to use right away without using a manual. The “Today” part of the app functions as a sort of daily review, though I prefer OmniFocus’s Forecast and actual Review perspectives. But you might be totally different on that!
In terms of complexity and capability, I’d put Things somewhere between Reminders and OmniFocus. It’s far more robust than Reminders, but not quite the souped-up to-do app some users might need. (Although one could just use the robust tagging system to customize Things for higher levels of complexity.)
Things is well-designed, looks great, and the seamless sync is a huge plus. Try it for yourself here (download link) with a free trial.
Far and away, The Sacred Bridge is the best Bible atlas–and one of the most impressive books–I’ve ever used. Now Carta is beginning to publish bite-sized adaptations from that massive and beautiful work. In the Master’s Steps: The Gospels in the Land is Volume 1 of The Carta New Testament Atlas, to be released in four total volumes. In the Master’s Steps is “partially excerpted” from The Sacred Bridge (TSB). (EDIT/UPDATE: Volume 2 will not be an excerpt from TSB–it’s a new work.)
The hope of the book, author R. Steven Notley writes, “is that a better understanding of the physical setting and events that framed the life of Jesus can assist us to hear more clearly the message he proclaimed.” Or, as St. Jerome puts it (quoted in this book):
Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.
Those of us who have not yet had occasion to travel to Israel will have to settle for books such as Notley’s. However, as one makes her or his way through Notley’s careful writing, the vivid images, and the flawlessly rendered maps–one realizes there is no settling with this book. It’s the next best thing until such a day as one can make it to the Holy Land.
This book does not differ very much from its corresponding TSB sections, though this one is intended for a wider, more popular audience. Owners of TSB do not need to buy this volume, which does, however, carry with it the advantage of being portable, affordable, and concisely addressing the life of Jesus. If you don’t have TSB and are interested in geography and the New Testament, definitely pick up this work.
A few highlights in review:
Like all Carta books I’ve put my hands on, this one is of high quality. It’s paperback, but the thick, semi-glossy paper helps the full-color images really pop, and is perfect for making marginal notes in pencil.
As with The Sacred Bridge there is an index of place names, but not an index of Scripture references. Notley includes plenty of references, especially at the multiple points where he seeks to explain what could be, in fact, a harmony of apparently divergent gospel accounts when it comes to certain geographical details. Or if no harmonization is possible, Notley at least offers side-by-side comparisons.
The content of In the Master’s Steps is culled from chapter 22 of The Sacred Bridge, which, as it turns out, is the chapter I chose to profile most in-depth in my TSB review. Rather than repeat myself here, I simply refer you to my section 4 (“Case Study: The Sacred Bridge on The Holy Gospels”) here. Most, if not all, of what I say about the content there would apply to this book under review.
Here are the chapters of In the Master’s Steps:
- The Birth of Jesus and the Flight into Egypt
- The Ministry of John and the Baptism of Jesus
- The Travels of Jesus
- The Sea of Galilee: Development of an Early Christian Toponym
- The First-century Environs of the Sea of Galilee
- The Last Days of Jesus
- Jesus and the Myth of an Essene Quarter in Jerusalem
- The Arrest and Death of Jesus
- From the Empty Tomb to the Road to Emmaus
Okay, I will quote this one helpful paragraph that leads off chapter 5 of In The Master’s Steps:
Events recorded in the ministry of Jesus outside of Jerusalem are primarily located in the region around the Sea of Galilee, specifically in the north and northwest area of the lake. The Gospels are an important historical witness for Jewish settlement in this region. Scholarship seldom notes that for many of these settlements, their first mention in the literary witnesses is in the New Testament. After a confrontation in the synagogue in Nazareth, his boyhood home, Jesus relocated to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee (Mt 4:13; Mk 1:21; Lk 4:31). This village would become the center of his ministry in the region. We now turn our attention to settlements around the Sea of Galilee that find mention in the New Testament.
Here is a sample of the graphics and maps to be enjoyed (click on each image to enlarge):
To book’s hope, to revisit it again, “is that a better understanding of the physical setting and events that framed the life of Jesus can assist us to hear more clearly the message he proclaimed.” Reading through In the Master’s Steps will certainly offer such an understanding for the teacher, student, reader, or person of faith who picks up the book. The connections between geography and theological applications are not often made explicit here, but the reader will have more than enough historical background and imagery to begin to make those associations for herself or himself.
Many thanks to the good folks at Carta for sending the book. They didn’t ask for a review, so I write this of my own volition! I think they are one of the finest publishers in the business today. Check out their site here, and go here to see their works via Hendrickson, their U.S. distributor.