Sunday, December 7, 2008

Book Review: Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication

Our Life Group at church recently completed, as a Bible study, Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication by Charles R Swindoll, 1998, Insight For Living, ISBN 1-57972-097-8. This is a Bible study guide, prepared from Swindoll's outlines and sermon transcripts by Jason Shepherd. The book is a companion to a larger book of the same name. For our study, we had only the Bible study guide and the Bible itself.

The guide is organized into twenty-two chapters covering the full range of Moses' life and activities. All but two chapters focus on Moses; those two are on the Israelites and the law given through Moses. Each chapter includes a section of Living Insights--exercises to challenge the adult student to apply the scripture to life. Some of the chapters include a section Digging Deeper, written to propel the student to really analyze the scriptures. The book includes a map and a handful of tables/charts to clarify sequential or parallel events. An appendix lists books for further study.

Moses' life should be familiar to most who have walked with Christ for more than a few years. This puts a burden on the writer of the study: how to take the familiar material and cast it in a way to keep the student's interest? You need more than clever phrasing. Deep doctrinal discussion won't go very far either. To hold the student, you need to do a number of things that Swindoll has done.

- Excellent writing. This should go without saying for any published book, but I have read a number of published books which are not well written; or which have the seed of a good idea but have not had the right editorial attention. Good writing will be marked by: brevity that gets the points across without wordiness; avoiding excess moderators; ample vocabulary that is not loaded with obscure words that show off the writer's intelligence without elucidating the reader any more than common words would; organization of sentences and paragraphs into an easy to read format, yet not sacrificing meaning for ease of reading. Swindoll and Shepherd have done this. I cannot point to a single place in the study guide where the writing was anything but excellent.

- Point out something different. Different, that is, from what every other Bible teacher points out. I won't list them here, but a number of times Swindoll pointed out matters of significance that I never thought of before. That's good teaching.

- Pull out the key passages; supplement with lesser known passages. We have all read the story of the burning bush, the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. But much more happened in those forty eventful years. Swindoll gives us the well-known, as well as some of the lesser-known, and builds lessons around them.

- Place in context of the times. I always try to think of how the original readers of the Bible would have understood these words. Or, how those who participated in the events interpreted those events. When the Israelites watched Moses strike the rock at Rephidim, what did they actually see, and what did they think? When Moses stood face to face with God atop Mount Sinai and plead for God not to destroy the Israelites, what did the scene actually look like? Swindoll helps us with the context, through a series of dramatic narratives (slightly fictionalized descriptions of what might have been going on), as well as through description of the times and places involved in the biblical account.

- Stimulate he student to additional study. This worked for me. As I read Swindoll's book, and read the applicable Bible passages, I found myself drawn to other places in the Bible to check on things. How much of this was Swindoll's organization of the material and the writing, and how much was my own recent interest I'm not sure. Before our Life Group picked this for study, I was working on an outline of this material for my own series--though focusing more in Israel than on Moses. For whatever reason, it worked for me. I'm still studying in Numbers.

If your small group (Sunday school class, life group, spiritual formation group, etc.) is looking for a study, consider this one. I do not believe you will be disappointed.

2 comments:

Jim said...

Most of God’s works come through nature – his creation. For an exciting explanation of the Shekinah Glory – the burning bush, cloud over the Tabernacle in the wilderness – see

www.eloquentbooks.com/ManAndHisPlanet.html

David A. Todd said...

Jim:

Thanks for coming by and reading and posting.

Dave Todd