Monday, January 21, 2013

This site is a work in progress featuring material from my latest book scheduled to be released  by Baker Book House in November of 2013. Here is the beautiful cover that was recently shown to me. Check it out on Amazon.

Here are the first few paragraphs of the book and below are some random excerpts:


When King Hezekiah learns from the prophet Isaiah that he is terminally ill (with a boil) and that he ought to set his house in order, he breaks down and weeps, pleading with God to heal him.  Isaiah departs and is hardly out of earshot when the Lord speaks, telling him to inform Hezekiah not to worry—more precisely, that he has heard Hezekiah’s prayer and seen his tears and will reward him with fifteen more years of prosperous rule.  With a lump of figs, per Isaiah’s instructions, the boil is healed.  But how will Hezekiah know for certain that God really means what he says?  He is apprehensive. He needs a guarantee. (Does he have a fifteen-year planner with appointments already scheduled?)  He tells Isaiah he wants a sign.  Isaiah gives him a choice.  Either the sundial can go forward ten degrees or backward the same distance.  Hezekiah, desperate for peace of mind, is determined to put God to the hardest test.  He opts for backward.  Isaiah cries out to the Lord and the sundial goes backward.

Generations earlier the prophet Balaam has a short and rather routine conversation with his ass, leaving the reader with the distinct impression that the prophet and the ass may have conversed before.  Later on Elisha is traveling with his students to establish a satellite campus near the Jordan River.  As they are felling trees to frame out the student center, an axe head flies off the handle and lands in the river. Elisha tosses a stick into the water and the axe head swims to meet it, and the felling of trees continues.

The prophet Hosea is ordered by the Lord to marry a prostitute. Jonah, swallowed by a big fish, lives in its innards for three days and is spewed out no worse for wear.  Paul is caught up to the third heaven where he experiences such indescribable wonders that he is dumbstruck. John of Patmos tops that when he becomes more than a spectator in the most spectacular apocalyptic live production of all times.

The Bible is the most fantastic book to fall into the hands of humankind.  Its characters are alive, authentic and utterly unpredictable.  They work miracles and serve the needy as often as they succumb to Satan’s wiles; they murder and rape; they marry, mourn, and manipulate; they confess sordid sins and worship God in ways that would today gross us out.  Every predicament and emotion and enchantment found in the twenty-first century is somewhere lurking in the pages of Scripture. 

First Paragraphs of Chapter 1

The Bible begins with biography. The opening summary of creation quickly zeros in on Adam and Eve. The astronomer, the geologist, the botanist, or the zoologist looking for specialized facts finds the record wanting. But the biographer fares far better. Perhaps the most striking feature of Adam and Eve is that they have no history. They have no conversations that begin with Remember when . . . Nor do they have a context apart from the unpopulated haven in which they live. They name animals and eat from fruit stands in the Garden, but there is no chitchat about neighbors or the weather. Nor do they have aches and pains to discuss—no bickering or boasting in that perfect paradise. Life might seem mundane to a modern observer, but they know nothing else.

Before they die, however, when they are centenarians many times over (Adam, navigating his tenth century), they have a shared history. They have memories of joys and sorrows. Life has been anything but a free ride in Paradise. They have children and grandchildren (perhaps to twenty generations) and neighbors. Noah, too, has a history—an entire half millennium before his life’s calling begins. He has ancestors and neighbors, and he worries about the weather. Life is anything but mundane.

After the flood, Noah’s family of eight starts all over again. It is an opportunity for a new beginning. But hardly are they back on dry land when the sinning resumes, this time without the aid of a serpent. How different, in comparison to the Garden, is the mucky land and all its post-flood wreckage. This is surely no paradise for Noah’s family. But they soldier on and populate the earth and build cities and a magnificent Tower until once again God is pushed to the limit.

Esau: Losing a Birthright and Blessing (first paragraph on Esau)

Esau was an odd infant, perhaps appearing to resemble a furry animal as much as a human baby. He was covered in a blanket of hair, not just his head but his whole body. Whether his mother Rebekah rejected him from infancy or whether that came later is not recorded, but it is clear that as he was growing up she loved his twin Jacob far more than she loved him. To grow up rejected by a mother can have serious psychological consequences. Esau’s grand- mother Sarah had loved Isaac and spurned Ishmael, but Ishmael had his own doting mother Hagar. In this case there is only one mother to cling to, and she is turning away to gush over his brother.

First Paragraph on Rahab

She is a harlot working in the world’s oldest profession, a career considered shameful not just among the Israelites but even in the ancient pagan world. Although prostitutes sometimes gained prestige by being associated with cults, they nevertheless often found themselves on the lowest rung of society and were regarded as morally deficient. Such a stigma was attached to Rahab. She lives in a condo on the massive wall of Jericho, referred to as the “city of palms.” She is not married herself but has family—parents and siblings (no mention of children)—in town. She makes a living by of- fering sexual services and overnight accom- modations. Life is anything but boring.


Gideon’s last hurrah is most strange. He asks his soldiers for gold earrings they have taken from the Midianite enemies they have killed. They eagerly comply, donating more than forty pounds. He melts them down and makes the gold into a sacred object—an ephod—and sets it up in his hometown. Here Israelites come and kneel before it—even Gideon and his family. “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it be- came a snare to Gideon and his family.” Do the Israelites return to the actual worship of God? All that is revealed is that there follow forty years of peace.

Samuel: Judge and Prophet

He is a little boy on his first big trip away from home, perhaps running ahead of his parents and grabbing a pebble from the dusty road and tossing it up in the air. Has his mother attempted to explain to him that he will never come home again? Has she told him about the old man who will be his new father? If she had, how could he have possibly understood?

How would a mother prepare for such a separation? Would she push him out of the house and send him off to a cousin in another village to live for weeks on end? Or would she cling to him, knowing that their days together are numbered? There is no way to prepare a child for such an outcome, and little Samuel must have felt confused and utterly abandoned when his parents returned home without him. To complicate matters, he has just been weaned, a sometimes-stressful time for a child.

The little boy’s reaction is not disclosed in the text—only the description of the environment in which he is left: the utterly dysfunctional family of the old priest Eli. His sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are wicked men. They make a sacrilege of the temple worship rites, demanding the best steaks before they’re even offered as a sacrifice. Worse yet, they are making God’s temple nothing less than a whore- house, demanding sex from the female helpers. Eli begs them to reform their ways. They ignore him, and he is powerless to stop them. This is the atmosphere in which Samuel, a solemn little boy, is reared.

Elijah and Elisha (Introductory paragraphs of Chapter 13)

Elijah and Elisha, twin prophets from Sunday-school days—one easily confused with the other. No other prophets are so tightly paired together. And for good reason. Elisha took up the mantle that Elijah left behind as the chariot and fiery horses swung low in the midst of a whirlwind comin’ for to carry him home. What an ending. What a way to go. But for Elisha, this spectacular event was alarming. He did not even have a chance to say goodbye. He cried out in anguish, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.”  Then he tore his clothes in grief.

Now Elisha is on his own. Both of these E-prophets pronounced the wrath of God on those who worshiped false gods, and both worked miracles. But as is so often true, the disciple does not surpass the master. In this case, the youthful successor can never quite reach the heroic stature of the elder statesman. Indeed, no prophet soars to such a lofty summit as does Elijah when he takes down the prophets of Baal. Ending his life in a chariot ride only enhances his legendary star power—star power so great that his anticipated return is heralded centuries later.

Indeed, the Old Testament ends with Malachi prophesying the coming of the Messiah. How will the people know the Messiah has come? God will send a forerunner: “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” Some four hundred years later the angel Gabriel says of John the Baptist: “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.” He even looks like Elijah, a wild man of the desert.

Perhaps the most extraordinary event that would mark Elijah’s high standing in Scripture is his appearance alongside Jesus and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John are stunned, and as they are walking back down the mountain with Jesus, they ask why teachers of the law have been saying that Elijah must return before the Messiah does. Jesus responds: “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”

Jesus is forewarning them of his own anguishing death on a cross, having just stood alongside the man who took a joyride to heaven, never having experienced death.

That Elijah’s earthly life ends in such a dramatic fashion is not the only reason he far surpasses Elisha as a biblical character. Elijah is presented with a more well-developed personality. Religious seekers through the centuries have resonated with his bipolar tendencies. He’s on the mountain top of euphoria, only to sink into the valley of deep despair. The still small voice of God that whispers on the wind echoes through history in the lonely caverns of the soul.

Elisha will always play second fiddle to Elijah. Although his faithfulness to God and his record of miracles rank alongside or above those of his mentor, when it comes to biblical scholarship, biographical writings, music, art, and popular culture, Elijah wins hands down.

The Major Prophets

If they were active in ministry today, the Major Prophets, with the possible exception of Daniel, would be regarded as seriously demented. They were not merely those who appear at outdoor festivals with placards declaring The End is Near! Such activity would have been far too tame. Isaiah walked around naked for three years. The weeping Jeremiah wore a yoke around his neck and broke clay jars and was mocked and ridiculed day and night. Ezekiel lay on his side for more than a year (and that is the least of his apparent antics). Indeed, were they making their rounds today, the prophets would be deemed certifiable.

They hear the voice of God and comply with the directives no matter how bizarre they appear to be. And for all the indignity they endure, their reward is mockery. God in past times had often made strange demands on the patriarchs and judges and kings, but they witnessed the results in military victories and eye-popping miracles. Such was not typically the case with these prophets. Zealous in their faithfulness to God, they fueled their engines on high-octane humiliation.

Hosea: A Cuckolded Prophet

There is a first time for everything. The first time a prophet hears the voice of God is no doubt memorable. For Hosea the message is astonishing—not the kind of message he would expect if he were anticipating a word from God. But from out of the blue, as sure as the sun rises in the morning dawn, the command comes loud and clear: “Find a whore and marry her.” Huh? That’s the only response Hosea could have offered. But the voice continues: “Make this whore the mother of your children.”

This is no prank. Israel had long been whoring after other gods, and Hosea is chosen to act out the metaphorical object lesson. God has utilized object lessons before, as when Isaiah was told to walk naked through the streets for three years. Now God wants to demonstrate the distress of marrying a trashy woman and then continuing to live with her when she becomes an unfaithful wife (as Israel is). Hosea is the man for the job.

More excerpts to come. . . .