Our King and Savior Now Draws Near—How Shall We Behold Him?

advent wreath


Keeping Advent is counter-cultural. To be sure, Advent has been integral to the culture of the Church for at least a millennium and a half. But if we used to complain about seeing Christmas displays and shopping specials before Thanksgiving, now it’s not unheard of to hear Christmas music in mid-October at Stop & Shop. Not exactly Advent-y.

In a society where Black Friday deals (and now pre-Black Friday deals) seem to outpace a few moments of meaningful reflection, how can we be faithful in preparing our hearts for Jesus? “Our King and Savior now draws near,” declares the Book of Common Prayer. We, the people of God, are expected to respond—want to respond—“Come, let us adore him!”

This King draws near when we don’t expect him, maybe when we weren’t even watching. But God’s mercy is like that—unexpected. Unpredictable. And meted out to all the wrong people.

Jonah certainly thought of God’s mercy that way. Though a prophet—whose vocation was to proclaim God’s message of deliverance—he resisted God’s call, because he was angered at the Lord’s grace toward the evil empire of Nineveh. How much more offended might he have been at the scandal of the Incarnation, and at the universal, saving power of the Cross?

Jonah is an obvious counter-example as we seek to pursue a faithful response to God’s mercy. On further examination, however, we find ourselves more like Jonah than we want to admit.

At the church where I minister, we’re keeping Advent together, a season of expectation and inward preparation. Each of four Advent Sundays I am preaching from a chapter of Jonah. My hope is that we can engage Jonah’s inner turmoil as a springboard to inwardly reflect and prepare our own hearts for the coming of God’s great mercy, as revealed to us in his incarnate Son, Jesus


Our King and Savior now draws near—how shall we behold him?



The above is adapted from a letter I wrote to my congregation in advance of Advent. Keep coming back here for more posts on reading Jonah and receiving Jesus this Advent.

New Hebrew Reader’s Bible: 50% Off at ETS, SBL/AAR

BHS Reader's Edition


Hendrickson has published a new Hebrew Reader’s Bible. (See more here.) They’ve also posted a sample pdf online, which features the book of Obadiah (good choice!).

You order now through CBD or Amazon… OR… if you want it at 50% off, you can go to Hendrickson’s booth at the upcoming ETS (booth 222) and SBL/AAR (booth 718) conferences, and find it in its two different bindings, priced at $29.97 (from $59.95 retail) and $39.97 (from $79.95).

From Scratch and Sniff Chip ‘N’ Dale to Jacob’s Travels

Scratch and Sniff feature available in iOS 9 only
Scratch and Sniff feature available in iOS 9 only


I had a “scratch and sniff” Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers Spanish-language comic book when I first learned Spanish in high school.

I know–I can’t believe I just started a post with that sentence, either.

Silly as it was, the comic was an enjoyable way for me to practice reading a new language. I kept it for way too long and only in the last couple years threw it out. (The “sniff” of the front cover had long since stopped working.)

I’ve tried to step up my efforts lately in improving my biblical Hebrew reading, especially as I preach through Genesis in church. My now seven-year-old son has at times joined me in our Hebrew-learning adventures, always at his request. Most recently we worked together to review EKS Publishing’s enjoyable and accessible First Hebrew Primer.

Og the Terrible may be the more apt Hebrew-learning comparison to my Spanish-language Chip ‘N’ Dale comic. Og appears in a series of adventures featuring Prayerbook Hebrew and a dragon. (Might the Jewish/Christian apostle Paul have said Og helped the Scripture to be fire-breathed?)

JacobsTravelsCoverI’ve not read Og (yet!), but EKS Publishing has a series of Hebrew and English children’s books revolving around biblical characters.

The one at left–Jacob’s Travels–has been on our bookshelf for some time. We return to it on a fairly regular basis, sometimes reading the Hebrew text slowly, sometimes just reading the book in its English translation.

The back cover describes the book:

Jacob’s Travels begins and ends with Jacob encountering the Divine. This retelling of the story from Genesis, told in Hebrew and English, is a reminder of God’s constant presence in our lives. At a time when he feels most alone, this realization brings Jacob great comfort, inspiring one of the most memorable lines in the Bible: “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it!”

The translation is smooth and readable, with a more “literal” translation in the back of the book for those learning Hebrew. There’s also a glossary at the back for those who want to steer clear of the English and see how well they can do with just the Hebrew.

The book is probably better geared toward older children or even Hebrew-learning adults, as there is a high text-to-picture ratio.

It’s fun to read, though, and certainly more edifying than (no offense) the Rescue Rangers.

You can find the book here (Amazon) or here (EKS Publishing). EKS’s other children’s books are here.

2 Exceptional Jewish Commentaries on Genesis, Part 2: The Torah: A Modern Commentary

This fall I’m preaching through Genesis. Two Jewish commentaries have been exceedingly helpful and illuminating as I prepare each week. Yesterday I praised Nahum M. Sarna’s Genesis (JPS Torah Commentary). Here I highlight another commentary I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading.


2. The Torah: A Modern Commentary


Torah Modern CommentaryLike the JPS Torah Commentary, the Modern Commentary includes the Hebrew text (with pointed vowels and cantillation marks) and English translation. Most of the Torah is in the new Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation (with updates for gender-sensitivity), but the English translation of Genesis is the work of the late Rabbi Chaim Stern.

Most noticeable in Stern’s translation is his use of “the Eternal” to translate the tetragrammaton (YHVH). The Preface to the Revised Edition explains:

The root meaning of the divine name in Hebrew is “to be,” and the name “Eternal” renders that name according to its meaning rather than its sound. That is, it conveys the overtones that an ancient Israelite would have heard when encountering YHVH as a name.

Between introductions, verse-by-verse Commentary, Essays, and Gleanings (insights from rabbinic commentaries and modern-day interpreters), there’s a wealth of useful information here.

For example, last Sunday I began to wonder whether the story of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) was, among other things, an anti-empire polemic. Moving through the “Gleanings” in the Modern Commentary, I found the following early sources:

As the tower grew in height it took one year to get bricks from the base to the upper stories. Thus, bricks became more precious than human life. When a brick slipped and fell the people wept, but when a worker fell and died no one paid attention.


They drove forth multitudes of both men and women to make bricks; among whom, a woman making bricks was not allowed to be released in the hour of childbirth, but brought forth while she was making bricks, and carried her child in her apron, and continued to make bricks.

The commentary nicely blends cultural background, sensitivity to the history of Jewish interpretation, and application-ready insights, as here in the comment on Genesis 12:1-9:

For while Abram’s story must be read as the biography of an individual, he (and this applies to the other patriarchs as well) is more than an individual. The Torah sees the patriarch as the archetype who represents his descendants and their fate.

I especially appreciate how Accordance Bible Software lays out the commentary and all its sections; I’ve been using it in that medium (click to enlarge).


Torah Modern Commentary


The publisher offers quite a generous (70 or so pages) .pdf sample of the Torah Modern Commentary, which you can read here.

You can find The Torah: A Modern Commentary here at the publisher’s page or here at Amazon.

2 Exceptional Jewish Commentaries on Genesis, Part 1: The JPS Torah Commentary

This fall I’m preaching through Genesis. Two Jewish commentaries have been exceedingly helpful and illuminating as I prepare each week. In a short series of two brief posts, I highlight each.


1. The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis


JPS Torah GenesisI’m a sucker for beautifully constructed books, and this is one. Nahum M. Sarna’s Genesis has the full Hebrew text of Genesis (with vowel points and cantillation marks), an English translation (the Jewish Publication Society’s New JPS translation), incisive commentary, and 30 Excursuses at the back of the book.

Already at Genesis 1:2 I found the commentary quoteworthy enough to cite it in a sermon. It notes that the Hebrew term create is used only of God:

It signifies that the product is absolutely novel and unexampled, depends solely on God for its coming into existence, and is beyond the human capacity to reproduce.

There’s this gem on Cain and Abel, where Cain’s sacrifice points to “a recurrent theme in the Bible–namely, the corruption of religion.” Sarna tersely (yet effectively) comments:

An act of piety can degenerate into bloodshed.

And in Genesis 6, where the reader struggles to understand how a loving God could all but eradicate his creation, the introductory essay to “Noah and the Flood” reads:

The moral pollution is so great that the limits of divine tolerance have been breached. The world must be purged of its corruption.

He goes on:

The totality of the evil in which the world has engulfed itself makes the totality of the catastrophe inevitable.

Every passage of the commentary I read is like this–the perfect blend of lexical analysis and devotional implication. Sarna makes good use of ancient Jewish sources, so the reader gets the sense that she or he is really being exposed to thousands of years of Jewish interpretation.

This has often been the first commentary to which I turn after reading the text.

You can find it here at the publisher’s page or here at Amazon. I waited a long time to purchase this volume, since it’s not cheap. This summer I found it on ebay, and have been grateful to own it since!


Next post, I’ll highlight the second of two Jewish commentaries on Genesis that I’ve been enjoying–The Torah: A Modern Commentary. UPDATE 10/16/14: See that review (part 2) here.

New Hebrew Reader’s Bible This Fall

BHS Reader's EditionThis fall Hendrickson will publish a new Hebrew Reader’s Bible.

Hendrickson says it is:

A helpful language reference tool for students, pastors, and scholars. The BHS Reader’s Edition is for those who have a basic understanding of Biblical Hebrew and desire to read and study the Hebrew Bible. With this book alone (and a year’s study of Hebrew), students are able to read the Hebrew Bible in its entirety.

Zondervan already has such a Bible, which is the first Hebrew Bible from which I ever read (cue strings). But BHS Reader’s Edition has vocabulary helps for even more words, as well as verb parsings.

Here are the main features, in the words of the publisher:

  • Complete text of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, checked against the Leningrad Codex
  • All words that occur fewer than 70 times are parsed and contextually defined in the apparatus
  • Glossary listing of all other words
  • Improved layout of poetic text
  • All weak verb forms are parsed
  • High quality paper does not bleed through

UPDATE: One of the authors (not Moses, though) notes that it includes full Hebrew paradigms, too. Looks like it will really be a one-stop shop for Hebrew Bible reading!

You can pre-order now through CBD or Amazon (affiliate link that helps support Words on the Word).

Once I get a look, I’ll report back!

A First-Year Textbook that Gets You Reading Hebrew A.S.A.P.

First Hebrew Primer“But when do we get to start reading Hebrew?”

The question was a near-refrain in my first semester of Hebrew class at seminary. After months of memorizing verbal paradigm charts and individual vocabulary words, I wondered he same thing.

I don’t mind a memorization-based or paradigm-based model for second language acquisition. I did fairly well in first learning Hebrew from the Pratico and Van Pelt Basics of Biblical Hebrew (see here and here).

But as I noted in my Pratico/Van Pelt reviews:

Some people disagree that paradigm memorization outside the context of a text or conversation is ideal pedagogy for language learning. … Even dead or ancient languages should be taught as “living languages,” proponents say. So some Hebrew textbooks encourage instead a text-based inductive approach.


Getting to Read Hebrew A.S.A.P.


The First Hebrew Primer (Third Edition, EKS Publishing) takes more of a reading-based inductive approach:

The goal of the Primer is to teach students to read and understand Biblical Hebrew as quickly as possible; therefore, the lessons emphasize recognition and translation – not memorization.

It succeeds well in this aim. Indeed, as soon as chapter 10 (out of 30), the student will be excited to begin her or his guided reading of Ruth:

Congratulations! You have learned enough Hebrew to begin reading the Bible—revised for your reading level. We have chosen Ruth because it is short, simple, and beautiful. In the beginning, the Hebrew text will be simplified, but as we progress, the text will approach the original. Before we finish the Book of Ruth, you will be reading the actual biblical text.

As soon as the Primer teaches the alphabet, it offers a host of a exercises for out-loud reading practice. The “Tall Tales” (folk tales) readings give students yet another chance to put into a reading context what they have learned. All the expected charts for nouns and verbs, vocabulary lists (with occurrence of 200x or more in the Hebrew Bible), and exercise sets are present throughout the book. But I especially appreciated its emphasis on reading early.


Updates to the Third Edition


What’s different in the Third Edition? Primarily, there is more grammatical detail offered.

This revised third edition introduces several new terms and clarifies grammatical points, but will look the same to long-time Primer readers. The key change we have made is the inclusion of new explanatory endnotes. Many readers have expressed a desire to deepen their knowledge of Biblical Hebrew, but have unanimously endorsed the clear, uncomplicated tone of the Primer. We have responded by adding these optional supplementary notes. Students may read the notes to enrich their understanding of Hebrew grammar or concentrate solely on the main text. Either way, the Primer provides a sound foundation for more advanced studies in the Hebrew Bible.

One gets the feeling that in the absence of those clarifying notes, some of the grammatical concepts are oversimplified. So the additional nuances expressed in the endnotes are imperative for laying a good foundation for later Hebrew learning. EKS Publishing uses its own name for some grammatical terms (“Word Pair” instead of “construct chain” and “regular infinitive” instead of “infinitive construct”).

I can see this being something a student would need to re-learn if she or her goes further in learning Hebrew grammar; I’m not sure the level of simplification here is always helpful or necessary. (And the lack of an index makes it difficult to trace discussion throughout the book of a given concept.) All the same, page 368 provides a “Guide to Grammatical Terms” with a table of “Our Name” and the “Traditional Name” for key concepts.


The Primer for Kids?


Hebrew Learning


Though the book is for “adult beginners,” my six-year-old son, whose Hebrew-learning adventures I have chronicled here, took an interest in The First Hebrew Primer once he saw it on the shelf. Chapter 3 (“The Sheva, Odd Vowels, and the Dagesh”) was particularly helpful, as the sheva had been giving him trouble. The Primer explains how to pronounce the sheva depending on where in a word it is:

  • Sheva at the beginning of a word: “always pronounced with a short, slurred sound”
  • Sheva at the end of a word: “always a silent vowel, and it is not pronounced at all”
  • Sheva in the middle of a word: “When a sheva appears alone in the middle of a word, it usually falls at the end of a syllable and is not pronounced.” (An endnote at this point offers additional illuminating detail.)

My son did astutely ask, “How do I correct myself if I get something wrong?” So I’ve gone through the Primer with him, rather than letting him use the Primer much on his own (even though he can read just fine). There is a companion audio CD available, which has to be purchased separately; self-guided learners will need it to be able to take full advantage of the oral exercises in the Primer.


Concluding Evaluation


The Hebrew font in The First Hebrew Primer is clear and easy to read. The exercises strike a nice balance between appropriateness for each lesson and being challenging. For example, in chapter 7 (“The Perfect Tense”), there is this:

EKS First Hebrew Primer

If you prefer an interactive, digital edition, Accordance Bible Software has a Primer package available for purchase here. The Accordance edition includes the primer, the answer key (otherwise a separate purchase), and more than an hour’s worth of accompanying audio. In other words, Accordance puts everything needed in one integrated and easy-to-use place.

Would I use The First Hebrew Primer as a textbook for a first-year Hebrew student? Definitely–despite the occasional lack of nuance in the grammatical explanations, its emphasis on oral practice, its engaging exercises, its inclusions of basic paradigms, and especially its introduction of reading early on make it a solid option for a first-year Hebrew text. As an added bonus, there are plenty of English to Hebrew exercises (and even an English-Hebrew Glossary), which will go a long way to help the student solidify Hebrew comprehension.


Thanks to EKS Publishing for the review copy of the Primer and answer key, offered for the purposes of this review, but with no expectation as to my review’s content. The publisher’s book page is here (answer key here). It’s also on Amazon (affiliate link) here (answer key here).

Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) Update: “State of the Edition”

The Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) will supercede the current scholarly edition of the Hebrew Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS).

I reviewed the BHS module in Accordance Bible Software here, and posted at length about the BHQ here, if you want a primer. Short version: Emanuel Tov says it is “much richer in data, more mature, judicious and cautious than its predecessors. It heralds a very important step forward in the BH series,” though he notes that its notations are “more complex” and “less user-friendly for the non-expert.”

Here is BHQ on Amazon; here it is at Hendrickson Publishers’ site.

Hendrickson sent out an update today with the BHQ publishing schedule as it currently stands. Most volumes are “in preparation,” but the schedule (available here) notes that Ezekiel (ed. by Johan Lust) is coming in 2016 and Numbers (ed. by Martin Rösel) is coming in 2017.

Hearing the Message of Scripture: Obadiah, Reviewed

HMS Obadiah by Block

At less than 400 Hebrew words, Obadiah is shorter than many Words on the Word blog posts, including this one. But its literary and rhetorical sophistication is by no means lessened by its length. Obadiah is the prophetical incarnation of the axiom, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Or, in Obadiah’s case, “Brevity is the soul of calling out Edom and declaring God’s restoration of Jacob.”

Earlier this year Zondervan published the first two volumes of a new Old Testament commentary series, Hearing the Message of Scripture (HMS). If you want a brief overview of the series, I’ve posted about it here. Daniel I. Block is author of Obadiah: The Kingship Belongs to YHWH, as well as the general editor of HMS. I’ve had a chance to carefully work my way through the inaugural Obadiah volume, and review it in this post.

Block’s Introduction to Obadiah

The Introduction consists of three primary parts:

  1. Historical Background to Obadiah’s Prophecies–outlining some options for dating the book’s composition, as well as describing the historical setting of Obadiah’s oracles.
  2. Obadiah’s Rhetorical Aims and Strategy–the largest section in the introduction, with an excellent definition of “prophet,” as well as the idea that “Obadiah’s rhetorical aim was to rebuild his audience’s hope in the eternal promises of God.”
  3. The Structure of Obadiahhere Block outlines the book, the “climax” of which is highlighted by the “marked structure” of verse 17a (“But on Mount Zion there shall be an escape…”).

Block later summarizes Obadiah’s style as “terse elevated prose, the style being chosen for maximum rhetorical effect.” After “the climax” of verse 17, the final verse 21 “brings his proclamation to a triumphant conclusion.”

Particularly useful in the introduction was this diagram of the arc of the book, to which I frequently found myself referring:

Block's Plot Summary of Obadiah
Block’s Plot Summary of Obadiah

The Commentary Proper

Hearing the Message of Scripture intends to help its readers “to hear the message of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard.” Obadiah is typeset and laid out quite a lot like Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series (which I’ve reviewed–several volumes–here). Each passage of Obadiah includes this treatment:

  1. Main Idea of the Passage–a short paragraph overview, good for getting bearings on what the prophet is trying to do.
  2. Literary Context–Block explains the overall flow of Obadiah here and how the passage under consideration fits within the book. This might be the best section in the commentary.
  3. Translation and Outline–the author’s original translation and spacing of the text.
  4. Structure and Literary Form–this looks especially at the rhetorical aims of Obadiah in a given passage.
  5. Explanation of the Text–the longest section of each passage, and the bulk of the commentary.

Block divides the commentary into five “chapters” (8-14 pages each) that follow the five sections of his structural outline.

A good example of the kind of rhetorical analysis Block does appears in his comment on the first verse of Obadiah:

Obadiah’s preference for the name Esau reflects his rhetorical concern. As noted, he is not interested in the political history of Edom or Edom’s economic standing among the nations. To him Edom is a person, the brother of Jacob (vv. 10b, 12a), who shares a common ancestry in the first two patriarchs, Abraham and Isaac, but whose history of violence against his twin brother will finally be answered.

And again, on verse 5:

Obadiah’s penchant for cutting of a thought by inserting an erratic mid-sentence is also evident in v. 5c, “How you have been destroyed!”

One thing I really appreciated about the commentary is Block’s sense of the larger literary context of Scripture. He keeps the parallel Jeremiah 49 in view throughout the commentary, as well as other prophetical literature like Ezekiel and Daniel. Block helps the reader see how Obadiah fits into the larger sweep of the Hebrew Bible. Especially noteworthy is his elaboration of what other prophets in the Hebrew Bible had to say about Edom. As I read the commentary, in other words, I was able to reflect on and learn about much more than just Obadiah.

At the end of the commentary, there is a section called “Canonical and Practical Significance,” in which Block, having worked carefully through Obadiah, draws out some theological implications of the book.

Evaluation of Block’s Obadiah

A few observations, by way of evaluation:

The footnotes serve as an excellent source of references for a given word’s use elsewhere in the Old Testament. Footnotes also keep other versions such as the Vulgate and Septuagint in view.

I found the transliterated Hebrew throughout the book to be distracting. The ZECNT, which in many ways is the NT counterpart to this HMS series, does not transliterate its Greek. It also includes the full Greek text of the New Testament book under consideration, verse-by-verse, so it would have been nice to have had the full Hebrew text of Obadiah reproduced here, as well.The Series Introduction does note that “electronic versions of this commentary series will also include the Hebrew font.”

One intangible I appreciated–the margins are nice and roomy for notes. (I made quite a few to help me process Obadiah as I read.)

In an excellent commentary that is hard to fault for much else, it has an unusually large amount of typos. Many of these occur when the same verses from Obadiah are not consistently translated when they occur in multiple spots in the commentary. I heartily recommend this volume, but would suggest that those interested perhaps wait until the second printing, when corrections can be made.

Though this series aims to focus more on the rhetorical features of Obadiah, there is a good focus throughout Obadiah on the Hebrew syntax. My grammatical knowledge of Hebrew increased just by reading this commentary.

I didn’t fully agree with Block’s interpretation at every turn, but even in such instances I generally found his arguments to be reasonable and well-argued.

Bottom line: this is a really good commentary, and I like this series a lot so far. Even with its lexical, grammatical, and rhetorical details, Hearing the Message of Scripture: Obadiah is an engaging and page-turning read. Block explains the challenging book of Obadiah well at every turn. There are other good commentaries on Obadiah already in print, but pastors especially should start here, and academicians, too, will want to make sure to pick this book up.

You can look at the volume yourself–a sample PDF of Obadiah is here.

I am grateful to Zondervan for the gratis review copy of this commentary, which was offered for an unbiased review. You can find the book on Amazon here. The Zondervan product page is here.

Free in Logos: Brueggemann on the Psalms

Free Brueggemann on Psalms

I was checking to see what Fortress Press books Logos was offering, when I saw–to my very pleasant surprise–that they are offering Walter Brueggemann’s Spirituality of the Psalms for free. You can get it by clicking the image above.

I’ll be preaching through some Psalms this summer, so will be glad to have this short volume at hand. I’ll also be reviewing it from a print edition from Fortress, so keep an eye out for that in the coming months, too.