March 14, 2020

ESV Seek and Find Bible

When Crossway kindly sent me a review copy of the ESV Seek and Find Bible for children, its many features made me regret the categorization for kids 5-9. This hardback edition of the English Standard Version is so sturdy and well-done, older kids might want to read it -- and I do too!

Consider these features listed on the inside fold of the slick, attractive cover:

The complete ESV Bible text
provides a reliable translation in a readable font.

130 full-page, full-color illustrations
depict Bible people and scenes realistically in full color.

A simplified Bible story retelling for each illustration
For example, “Deborah’s Message from God” depicts the story found in Judges 4-5, with an era-friendly illustration and the words in this excerpt:

After twenty years of living under the mean King Jabin, the people of Israel cried out to God for help. God listened to their prayers and sent them help through a judge named Deborah. Every day Deborah sat near a palm tree in the desert and helped the people of Israel with their problems.
God told Deborah exactly what to do.”

Reflection questions for each story to help kids understand and apply God’s Word
In the story “Jesus Calms the Storm” from Mark 4:35-41, “Key Questions” include:

Why were the disciples afraid when the storm was raging?
What did Jesus say, and what happened when he said it?
Why should Jesus’ miracles fill us with faith?

Related Bible readings for each of the 130 stories
For the story of Jesus’ calming the storm, readers are encouraged to look up relevant scriptures in Luke 8:22-25 and John 6:16-21.

50+ illustrated profiles of major Bible characters from Adam and Eve to Timothy
For example, a side bar in the Gospel of John introduces readers to Andrew:

“Andrew was a fisherman who listened eagerly to the teaching of John the Baptist. John told people that they must repent and get ready for the promised Messiah. When John called Jesus the Lamb of God, Andrew knew that he must now follow Jesus the Messiah. Andrew found his brother, Simon Peter, and brought him to Jesus, too. So Andrew and his brother Simon Peter became two of the 12 disciples, who were Jesus’ closest friends and helpers.”

Introductions to each book of the Bible
The Introduction to Psalms, for example, lets readers know the book, “written by different authors over a period of centuries” became the hymnal of God’s people.

“…Some psalms praise God with great joy for victory (Psalm 18); others for his acts of creation (Psalm 104) or for his provision and care ((Psalm 105). Others are laments, songs of mourning that praise God by bringing to him deep feelings of sadness (Psalm 88). Many psalms are cries for protection against persecuting enemies (Psalm 7). Other psalms confess sin and pray for forgiveness (Psalm 51). Still others express deep longings to know God better and follow him more closely (Psalm 27). The longest psalm praises the Word of God from many different perspective (Psalm 119). Several psalms look ahead to the Messiah in his sufferings (Psalm 22) and in his glory (Psalm 110). The book of Psalms is one of the best loved books of the entire Bible, having something for every believer, no matter what their specific circumstances or feelings.

Alongside that Introduction (as with all the others intros), each page briefly includes information on:

  • Author(s)
  • Date
  • People
  • Purpose
  • Central Themes
  • Memory Verses

20+ illustrated facts about Bible objects, structures, and places
including the Jerusalem Temple, its main contents, and the city at various times. As children see what these look like, the Bible text becomes more real to them. One picture, for example, is of a “Galilean Fishing Boat” with these words beside the illustration:

“Jesus and his disciples probably used a boat like this one that fishermen typically used. It could have held 15 men and was 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet high.

Key verses to memorize
has a little key drawn within a circle and placed next to verses such as this one from John 8:12:

…Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

A few pages later, the Bible story of “Jesus Heals the Blind Man” includes that verse, so the above key verse shows the page number to that event. The problem I had, however, was finding that and other pages by number – ironically because the generous illustrations and other fine features utilize the same space in this highly recommended edition of God’s Word.

Reviewed by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2020.

March 3, 2020

Conversing with God’s Word

We’ve talked about the God’s Word (GW) translation of the Bible before, but recently God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society sent me two newer editions attractively covered in flexible Duravella – one a two-tone gray and the other a two-tone burgundy and gray.

Both editions have large print, but the latter also has wide margins, which encourage us to respond to God’s Word with whatever thoughts or prayers come to mind. This “conversation” becomes a spiritual diary of sorts as we claim a Bible verse or prayer, especially if we add the date as a reminder. And, it can become a private study edition as we jot down insights and relevant notes, making this a priceless heirloom to hand down to the next generation.

The most important feature of the GW translation, however, is its readability. In an accompanying brochure, the “Word Choice” column says: “The translation team chose words that were natural in context and as easily understood as possible without sacrificing accuracy or faithfulness to the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible.”

When it comes to “Gender References,” the brochure explains that “GW avoids using words like man and he if the Hebrew of Greek is speaking about people regardless of gender.” If, however, the text refers to a specific group such as the Jewish council, which consisted exclusively of men, the text will reflect that.

As a poet and writer, I particularly appreciate GW's “Translation Philosophy,” which does not “attempt to make all books or passages function on the same level. The more difficult books of the Bible are translated to the same level of difficulty as the original languages. In addition, abstract concepts in Greek and Hebrew are translated into abstract concepts in English, and concrete concepts remain concrete in translation.

Both of these editions include an A to Z topical reference to scriptures on “The Teachings of Jesus,” providing an excellent resource for Bible study. Both also contain A to Z topics with their biblical references for “Life Applications.”

If you consider the Lenten season leading up to Easter as a time of intense reflection, you might turn to Psalm 51 as a memory-booster prior to corporate or private confession. Many churches refer to that psalm during Lent, but one of my favorite guides into reflection or meditation is The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, which helps to align our attitudes with the ones the Lord wants us to have. Thanks to the high readable GW translation, the Beatitudes become even more accessible:

Blessed are those who recognize they are
spiritually helpless.

The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Blesses are those who mourn.
They will be comforted.

Blessed are those who are gentle.
They will inherit the earth.

Blesses are those who hunger and thirst for
God’s approval.
They will be satisfied.

Blessed are those who show mercy.
They will be treated mercifully.

Blessed are those whose thoughts are pure.
They will see God.

Blessed are those who make peace.
They will be called God’s children.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing
what God approves of.
The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Blessed are you when people insult you,
persecute you,
lie, and say all kinds of evil things about you
because of me.
Rejoice and be glad because you have a great reward
in heaven!
The prophets who lived before you were persecuted
in these ways,” (Matthew 5:3-12.)

May God help us to take God’s Word to heart, soul, mind, and spirit in Jesus’ Name.

Mary Sayler, ©2020

February 10, 2020

My Favorite Study Bibles

Whenever I prepare for the Bible discussion groups I lead, I turn to the footnotes and articles from several study editions lining my desk, especially:

Amplified Study Bible from Zondervan
The NIV Study Bible from Zondervan
NKJV Study Bible published by Thomas Nelson
ESV Study Bible published by Crossway
Thompson Chain Reference Bible from Kirkbride

However, I'm sad to say I gave away the HCSB Study Bible from Holman to another Bible discussion leader, who needed one reliable resource instead of the many I prefer.

Each of those excellent editions gives a broad understanding of Bible people and their religious views, cultures, and geographical locations. But almost every time, I discover a little something more in my all-time favorite Bible - The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), which I just learned has been released in a 5th edition in a leather cover currently on Amazon at half-price! 

Mary Sayler, ©2020

January 28, 2020

The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel

When Koren Publishers Jerusalem kindly sent me a review copy of The Susan & Roger Hertog Edition of Exodus, entitled The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel, I wondered if they had printed it wrong! Unlike the right-to-left books we’re used to, this one opens left to right. So it took me a second to remember that’s the Hebrew way to read. Since this book includes passages of scripture in both Hebrew and English, the choice is not only appropriate but a great conversation opener!

Upon its release in February 2020, this large, attractive hardback will certainly dress up a coffee table. Besides the artistically rendered cover, the interior presents an abundance of colorful photographs on thick, slick paper. These ample illustrations help us to see the land of Israel and the people who lived there in sweeping vistas and up-close detail. However, you’ll want to actually read this beautifully produced book as it combines art with an in-depth study of Exodus. As the inside flap of the book jacket tells us:

The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel is the first work of its kind in English to use contemporary 21st century biblical scholarship with traditional Jewish perspectives."

For those who might not know “What is the Tanakh?”, the Introduction to the Series responds to that very question:

“The word Tanakh is an acronym comprised of the Hebrew letters t n kh, referring to the fundamental collection of writings on which Judaism is based: Torah (the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (the Prophets), and Ketuvim (the Writings). The Tanakh is a literary collection composed over the course of a millennium.”

Christians refer to these books as the Old Testament, which is not intended to give offense but to indicate the vital placement of the Tanakh before the books known as the New Testament – and vital, it is. The more Christians study the Tanakh, the clearer the life and times of Jesus become, which can greatly alter the misinformation, suppositions, and contemporary perspectives often brought to scripture reading.

Regarding the particular scriptures used for this book, the highly respected Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks served as the primary translator of the Hebrew and Aramaic texts in a new translation of Exodus into English. Portions of both the Hebrew and the English text appear on each page, along with short articles and insights highlighted by these categories:

  • Archaeology  - notes on archaeological objects relating to the adjacent text
  • Near East – backgrounds on the ancient civilizations who interacted or affected God’s people
  • Language – insights into the languages of the times
  • Flora and Fauna – identification of plants and animals mentioned in the Bible
  • Egyptology – comments on the culture, religions, and powers in Egyptian society
  • Mishkan – descriptions of the Tabernacle
  • Geography – information on biblical places  
  • Halakha – textual links to Jewish rituals and contemporary practices

For example, the opening text begins with the Hebrew “names of the sons of Yisrael (Israel) who came to Egypt with Yaakov(Jacob), each with his household: Reuven (Reuben), Shimon (Simeon), Levi and Yehuda (Judah); Yissakhar (Issachar) Zevulun (Zebulun) and Binyamin (Benjamin); Dan and Naftali (Naphtali); Gad and Asher. The descendants of Yaakov were seventy in all, and Yosef (Joseph) was already in Egypt.”

Above that English translation is the Hebrew passage, and below is the sidebar on the Near East, which says:

“The numbers 7, 10, 12, 40, 60, 70, 300, and their multiples appear many times in the Torah. Rather than representing an exact or historical quantity, these numbers have allegorical and typological meaning. The family of Yaakov consists of 70 souls who immigrate to Egypt. The Israelite nation has 70 elders (Ex. 24), Gideon and Ahab had 70 sons (Judge 8:30; 11 Kings 10:1), and Adoni-Bezek rules over 70 kinds (Judges 1:7).”

The note ends by saying:

“In the ancient Near Eastern texts, the number 70 has referred to gods, kings, and more…. in the ancient Near East, the number 70 represented totality.”

Then, in reference to verse seven, the note on Archaeology briefly discusses the “Semites in Egypt” and explains:

“Water in the Middle East is always an issue. In ancient times the Canaanite shepherds brought herds to the Nile delta in times of famine, because the Nile provided a steady supply of water that supported agriculture and fertile grazing pastures even when rain was scarce. The Egyptian government blocked infiltrators when it was strong, but when the central administration was weak, shepherds from Canaan would bring their herds to graze there.”

As Exodus 2 begins the story of Moshe (Moses), a note appears on “The daughter of Pharoah” under the heading “Egyptology” and offers this insight:

“…the Egyptian princesses were very precious to their fathers. In the time of the New Kingdom, when foreign princesses were sent as diplomatic gifts to the king of Egypt, no Egyptian princess was ever sent in return to a foreign ruler.”

Alongside the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3, the note on Flora and Fauna tells us:

“The traditional commentaries unanimously identify the seneh, or thorn-bush, as what is now called the holy bramble, Rubus sanguineus – a bush that grows in proximity to springs and streams.”

By chapter 15, God’s people have left Egypt, crossed the Sea of Reeds, and  entered the “Shur Desert, toward Beershaba,” which is discussed under the heading “Geography” and says:

The main route across the desert would have been a relatively straight, level journey from the Isthmus of Suez, to Beersheba, an approximately 180-kilometer trek that would take around a week on foot.”

 Hopefully, those examples give you a good idea of what you’ll find in the text and commentaries, but this highly recommended biblical resource also includes a Timeline, Maps, and Introductions to the book, ancient Egypt, the plagues, and more. If, however,you never get to read every elegant page, the color photographs and captions will give you a broad and, sometimes, detailed view of the times, places, and people along with the artifacts and items of worship that enriched their lives – and ours.

Reviewed by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2020.

January 17, 2020

Bible Gateway: opening the gate to God’s Word

Bible Gateway has been my “go to” Internet resource for years, so it finally occurred to me to review the site that includes blog posts, podcasts, study notes, articles, and more. Most impressive, though,  is its being, as it says, “A searchable online Bible in over 150 versions and 50 languages.” 

Since I regularly receive review copies of new editions of God’s Word, my bookshelves are piled high with Bibles, but I certainly don’t have all 150 versions! So I often click onto the Bible Gateway site to compare translations and, especially, to research a biblical topic.

For example, when I felt urged to see what the Bible says about love, I readily found over 600 references simply by typing the word “love” in the Search box provided at the top of the main page. Then I added brief devotionals and published the book by that name.

That same Search box let me type in the Bible book, chapter, and verse(s) of the actual prayers in the Bible then compare numerous translations before paraphrasing them for the prayer book I've always wanted, the Book of Bible Prayers. Shortly thereafter, I published the Book of KJV Prayers with the same scriptures but from the King James Version only.

Instead of having to retype each prayer for the latter, I was able to copy/paste the KJV text directly from the Bible Gateway site into a word processing file then remove verse numbers and break lines into a more contemporary rhythm of speaking.

The site’s features also work wonderfully well in preparing sermons and Bible lessons. Not only does it take less time to look up topics and key scriptures, the site offers a wealth of translations for comparison. A quick click onto the version in place lets you immediately change to another.

If you look up a single verse, you can also see numerous versions of that same verse on a single page. By comparing the words chosen to translate the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts into English, we get a broader perspective of biblical truths, and we see that God’s Word truly is living, constantly speaking to us, and moving us closer and closer to the Lord.

January 3, 2020

The Enduring Word Bible: ESV

The Enduring Word Bible, which Concordia kindly sent me to review, makes a blessed beginning for the New Year or any time. 

This edition of the highly acclaimed ESV (English Standard Version) of the Bible invites you to make God’s Word your own as you color memory verses and pencil in prayers, insights, and other responses in the wide margins provided alongside the readable 9.5-point text.

Besides the 350 line-art illustrations in the margins of the book, this edition includes ten full-page illustrations for you to color, preferably with colored pencils or other medium that won’t smear or bleed through the thin pages.

Since the idea is to encourage you to meditate on God’s Word and use the margins to remind yourself of those close encounters with the Lord, you might want to add a date each time you jot down whatever comes to mind. Those reminders can continue to be a blessing in years to come as you recall your unique relationship with the Lord and pass along to loved ones this ongoing evidence of faith  and devotion to God.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2020, poet-writer, reviewer

December 17, 2019

Portals of Prayer Devotional Bible

The Portals of Prayer Devotional Bible, which Concordia Publishing House kindly sent me to review, makes a wonderful Christmas gift (if ordered right now!) However, in its attractive gift case, this hardback edition makes a thoughtful gift any time for anyone, especially since it uses a 10.5 font size that most of us can easily read.

In addition to the accurate and clear English Standard Version, this Bible includes over 700 devotions relevant to the text. For example, the heading “Delight In God” quotes Job 27:10, “Will he take delight in the Almighty? Will he call upon God at all times?  In the devotional that follows, “Job asked if the godless would take delight in the Almighty and call upon Him. The obvious answer is no. Why would they? But do we delight in God?” If so, then….

How do we reveal our delight in God? One way that Job indicated is to ‘call upon God at all times,’ especially in thanksgiving and praise. But how can we do this when we go through suffering as Job did? Our delight in God does not depend on our outward circumstances, but on who God is, on what He has done and continues to do for us.

For another example, the prophetic word of Hosea 6:2 tells us, “On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” Then the devotional entitled “For A Little While” reminds us:

Though we suffer now, we have an eternal perspective. For a little while, the Lord says, we will suffer the woes of the sinful flesh. But the third day is coming – the third day of resurrection.

“Easter morn meant that no suffering, disease, or death could touch Jesus again. It was also God’s promise to us of our resurrection day to come….”

With Christmas presently only a few days away, we’re reminded of Luke 2:20 when, “…the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” 

The devotional “The Night of Hope” follows that scripture of the Nativity then goes on to say:

As you read the Christmas story anew, focus on Jesus. Focus on God’s love for you in the babe of Bethlehem, born of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. There He is in an animal shelter, having come to be your Savior. Don’t focus on your losses, failing health, tragic disappointments, or wretched sins. Focus instead on that glorious One who came to remove the stain of your sins and fill your heart with hope. This hope is for you and all humanity.

As occurs in each devotional in this edition, those faith-building words end with a pertinent prayer:

We praise You, Lord Jesus, begotten of the Father’s love from all eternity, and born to be who You truly are – the Prince of Peace. Amen.”

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2019, poet-writer, reviewer

Portals of Prayer Devotional Bible, ESV, hardback, gift case