Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book Review: The Message of Samuel (2004) by Mary J. Evans

The Message of Samuel: Personalities, Potential, Politics, and Power (2004)
by Mary J. Evans

This is how I study the Bible and how I use commentaries. Let say I want to study 1 Samuel 2:1-11 about Hannah's prayer, first I will: #1 If possible I read the whole 1 Samuel and/or just read chapter 1; then #2 I read chapter 2 slowly and highlight Hannah's feelings and thinking, and what she said about God, who God is to her; #3 I also will read various Bible translations to understand the text better; only then #4 I write my early outlines and draft lessons/points. In the meantime, #5 I listen to an audiobook and/or sermons (two of my favorites are David Pawson and Skip Heitzig) to help me to see and point out something that I might be missed. Only then, #6 I will use Bible commentary such as this one. Afterward, I review and finalize my lessons/points. Bible commentary, in my opinion, should be the last step in Bible Study (or, at least, it shouldn't be in the first). By the way, prayer and meditation are very important parts of the Bible Study process.

What is a Bible commentary? It is an explanation of the biblical text by someone (usually a scholar) who has immersed himself or herself in the language, context, and form of biblical texts. The Bible commentator delivers to us details that we simply don't have by the simple reading of Scripture, like archaeological discoveries, historical details, linguistic particularities, and details about geography and culture. For a serious student of the Bible, good commentaries are indispensable. I recommend wholeheartedly The Bible Speaks Today Series because it aims to expound the biblical text with accuracy, it relates to contemporary life, and very readable. The contributors to this series are convinced that "God still speaks through what he has spoken, and that nothing is more necessary for the life, health, and growth of Christians than that they should hear what the Spirit is saying to them through his ancient – yet ever modern – Word."

Okay, about this book… The Old Testament historical books of 1 and 2 Samuel (in the Hebrew Bible, 1 & 2 Samuel are actually one book, Book of Samuel) contain well-known stories about Hannah, Samuel, Saul, David, Absalom and many more, which have been fruitful sources for innumerable Sunday service sermons and Bible Studies. Here, Mary Evans engages with these books in the conviction that they are a vital part of God's Word, full of teaching that is dynamically relevant for all Christ believers. Exploring how we should interpret and respond to the stories today is both challenging and exciting. This accessible and stimulating study takes us into the narratives, creatively brings out their application and provides questions for further reflection.

Readers will come away "with an increased awareness of what the books of Samuel are ‘all about,' of their reality as the Word of God, and with a richer, more instructed love of them," writes Alec Motyer, OT editor for this series. Now I appreciate the Book of Samuel more. Wow!


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