Book Review: I Will Make of Thee a Great Nation

May 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Book and Movie Reviews

Written By Val D. Greenwood 
Reviewed By Donald James Parker 

I'm embarrassed to make this confession, but I believe that honesty is the only policy. I have never read the Old Testament from beginning to end. I couldn't even tell you what I haven't read. I really love Proverbs and have studied it. I've gone through the Pentateuch (first five books). I read some of the short books such as Ruth, Job, and Esther because we had a series of lessons on them at church. But the rest is pretty much hit and miss with miss probably being the more prevalent condition. Frankly, I haven't found great joy in reading about God's people of yesteryear, despite the fact that I was a history major in college and used to read history books for entertainment as a youth. When Mr. Greenwood asked me to review an advanced reader copy of his book, my first impulse due to lack of time was to quote Nancy Reagan (just say no). However, the knowledge that I'd have a chance to alleviate some of my guilt and ignorance dealing with the OT diverted my negative response to a positive one. Here was my opportunity to read about the heroes and villains of the Old Testament and gain a historic perspective of the journey of God's people upon the planet without having to wade through the archaic language, diverse genealogies, and substantiated rumors of wars which don't seem significant to me at this point in time.

Obviously, Mr. Greenwood is a scholar. He has a love for scriptures and an attention to detail. His book not only has the retelling of various passages from the history of the Jewish nation before Christ, but also contains a wealth of footnotes that explain terms, motivation, and relationships. The back of the book contains maps, a pronunciation chart (every pastor needs something like this), and a name index that describes the significance of the various people who influenced the world in those days.  And a subject index is also included for those who want to jump right to a topic. From the title we see that the scope of the work is not the entire Old Testament but rather a focus on the nation of Judah. My understanding of the nation of Judah as compared to the nation of Israel was almost zilch. The relationship between these two nations (with Judah being paired with the tribe of Benjamin) was one of the biggest advances in my knowledge gap.  

Mr. Greenwood's writing is invisible. That sounds like an indictment, but actually that comment is meant as a compliment. I mean I didn't notice whether the writing is good or bad, because I was flowing with the idea the writing is supposed to convey. If the writing was bad, I'd notice and be distracted from the content. If the writing was salient, I would have been distracted by my stopping to admire the phraseology or perhaps to decipher a phrase that was overly complex in nature. Either way I would be distracted and my absorption of the material would be impacted. The author's goal here is not to impress us with his literary prowess. He's trying to deliver the word of God in a more digestible and condensed format. I think he succeeded admirably. Since this is just a retelling of material that already exists, there is no major element of creativity involved here to critique. The author's major challenge is to determine what to include and what to omit. After the decision on what to include, he had to determine what to focus on and what to mention briefly. This is an area that some might criticize. For example, some might want to see more about King Jehoshaphat and less about King Saul. I don't know enough to be critical or laudatory here. I know I learned a lot, but I have no clue about what should have been included or stressed in this work but wasn't. This type of analysis really requires a Biblical scholar.

The book itself is beautiful with a cover that impressed me greatly when I opened the package. One issue with it, in my eyes, is the size. There are only 309 pages of actual stories with a total of 367 pages including the various appendices. That is hardly intimidating for a work of this proportion, but the physical layout of the book is eight by ten inches, making it a little cumbersome to handle. This is not a book you can take to the gym and read as you walk around the track or workout on a cardiac machine. Since that is my favorite way to read, so I can assassinate a pair of birds with one rock, I found it mildly frustrating to deal with the increased size, but some people might consider this to be advantageous. The price of the book is also on the hefty side – $29.95. This is not a book that you read once and deploy it as a dust collector on your shelf. You'll want to use this as a research tool. If you do so, you should get your money's worth. This is a great resource, not intended to replace the Old Testament but to augment it. Thus I now need to get my Bible out and begin to read through it from start to finish, so I can reinforce what I've learned from this book and pick up those things which were omitted from it.  

About the reviewer: Donald James Parker is a novelist and computer programmer who resides in Madison, South Dakota.  Check out his website at www.donaldjamesparker.com?tcp

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