Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Prophet on the Run

Prophet on the Run:  A Devotional Commentary on the Book of Jonah, written by Baruch Maoz, is "designed to convey an understanding of the biblical text, intimate some of its practical implications, and engage the reader in examining his heart and life in light of what he has learned.  It is meant for Mr. and Mrs. Anybody, at just about any age."  Mr. Maoz clearly indicates that this book is not meant to be a study or technical commentary, and he includes his own translation of the Hebrew "so as to more clearly convey a sense of its poetry, its imagery and its flow so that the reader will be enabled to get at the author's intent without having to deal with technicalities."

In the Introduction, Mr. Maoz stresses the fact that the Book of Jonah is a historical narrative and gives helpful historical background of the time period in which Jonah lived and information about the prophet himself.  He also states that the purpose of the Book of Jonah is to show God's kindness, patience, and sovereignty, the impossibility of resisting God, personal responsibility, and true repentance, but in doing so, he misses what the New Testament tells us about Jonah:  "For as Jonas [Jonah] was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation," (Luke 11:30).  Therefore, Jonah is a type of Christ.  Jonah was a prophet, called and anointed to preach to the Ninevites, which points us ultimately to Jesus Christ who was called and anointed to rescue God's elect.  The author discusses many of the practical purposes of Book of Jonah, but unfortunately, he neglects the foreshadowing of Christ.

Mr. Maoz has an engaging writing style, and I enjoyed reading through his book.  In Chapter 1, he correctly states that all of mankind are bound by God's law and will be judged by it; therefore, a man will only understand the need of a Savior, when he recognizes his sin in contrast to God's holiness.  However, he fails to identify this Savior as Jesus Christ until the chapter summary.  There is a short Gospel presentation in Chapter 2 (Kindle location 354), but since this commentary was written to Mr. & Mrs. Anybody at any age, then I think a clear Gospel presentation should have been included earlier in the book.  It is important for any Old Testament commentary to point out Jesus Christ in the text, and when it does not clearly and adequately do this, the commentary does not give sufficient weight to the Gospel.

I appreciated the summary statements listed at the end of each chapter, and I also liked the application questions scattered throughout the chapters.  However, I did not find the Questions for Discussions at the end of each chapter very helpful.  The questions were usually very broad and in the form of "What have you learned?" or "Why is it important?", which is an open-ended format that is very generic.  The application questions within the chapters prompted more thought and introspection.  For example, in Chapter 6 Mr. Maoz talks about the repentant response of the king of Nineveh to Jonah's preaching and then asks how the reader responds to criticism and how quickly he examines himself.  It was a great reminder to see every criticism as an opportunity for self-examination and growth.

Even though I found the book enjoyable to read, I do have some reservations in recommending it.  First, Mr. Maoz decided to include his personal translation of the Book of Jonah, which I do not think is biblical, (see 2 Peter 1:20); therefore, I read the Scripture references for each chapter from my Bible and then read the author's commentary.  He also states his opinion as fact as he captivates the reader with his embellishments to the biblical narrative.  Specifically in Chapter 2, Mr. Maoz provides a far greater description of the storm than what is in the Bible.  He also reveals what he thinks are the thoughts & motives of the sailors in the storm.  These elaborations are stated without any indication that they are not part of the biblical text.

Additionally, even though he states that the Book of Jonah is a historical narrative, at times Mr. Maoz treats the text as prescriptive.  For example, in Chapter 1 he states that Jonah's sins endangered the ship's sailors and passengers, and then goes on to warn parents that their sins can have damaging consequences on their children (Kindle location 427).  This may or may not be the case, but we should not read ourselves into biblical texts; we are not Jonah.  As the New Testament shows us, the Book of Jonah points us to Jesus Christ who came to rescue and redeem His elect just like Jonah was sent to rescue and redeem the people of Nineveh by the hand of the Lord.

In conclusion, I recommend this book with the caveat that the reader should be mindful of Mr. Maoz's literary liberty with the scriptural text and be discerning of his prescriptive suggestions made from a narrative passage.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.