Friday, April 6, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: "The Rational Bible: Exodus" by Dennis Prager

Last August, our congregation and I began studying the second book of the Torah together...the fascinating book of Exodus. I have always had a deep love for the Old Testament, and have lamented the fact that Christians by and large are ignorant of it’s content, focusing at times almost exclusively on the New Testament. This is regrettable. It’s simply impossible to understand the life and teachings of Jesus as well as the rest of the New Testament without some background in that portion of scripture that takes up three-fourths of our Christian Bible. I think everyone who has attended our study of Exodus on a regular basis has found it helpful to his or her Christian faith. At the time I am writing this (April, 2018), we just finished our twenty-sixth week in the book...and we’re only half way!

When I heard that Dennis Prager was writing a commentary on the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) starting with Exodus, my ears perked up. Mr. Prager is a talk-show host who I have been listening to for years, and a man whose views I respect. As one reviewer of his book described him:

Mr. Prager is not a “firebrand conservative” who wants to get you all excited and so that you may go out and shout others down. He is a calm, rational thinker. His mind is his weapon, his intellect is his tool, and his demeanor makes it difficult for a reasonable person to simply dismiss him, let alone dislike him.

I agree with this reviewer completely. This is why I listen to and read after Mr. Prager, as I do few others. He is becoming increasingly influential in our culture, not only through his books and radio show, but through his Prager University videos, which are watched by millions around the world every week. (If you want to get a cogent crash-course in conservative thought...which I would call common-sense thought...I would encourage you to watch any of these on YouTube. Here is a link to his latest video...”An Eye For An Eye”). I would also add that Dennis Prager is a practicing Jew.

Monday, I did something I have only done one other time...I bought a book on the day it was published. (Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to talk to him on his radio show for the first time and congratulate him on opening at #2 on Amazon!) So why would a Christian pastor buy a Jewish commentary and recommend other Christians read it? 
Here are three reasons:
  • Dennis has devoted over fifty years of his life to the study and teaching of the Torah. He speaks Hebrew as well as he speaks English (which is very well, I might add!), and has immersed himself in the Hebrew of the Bible – both its grammar and its vocabulary. As one who doesn’t have that linguistic background, I appreciate his willingness to share this skill with others like myself.
  • Exodus 18 describes the encounter of Moses in the wilderness of Sinai with his father-in-law Jethro. Jethro, who is a Midianite (pagan) priest, has a lengthy conversation with Moses, and, in the process, gives Moses advice concerning his use of his own time. Moses recognizes the wisdom of these words, and then incorporates his father-in-law’s advice, making it Jewish practice. Now, if God would take the time to include an entire chapter of Exodus about Moses’ listening to and following the advice of a pagan priest, shouldn’t I as a Christian be open to hearing advice and commentary from a Jewish man who has studied the Hebrew Bible for over half a century? I think so!
  • We are living in an age of unprecedented dialogue between Jews and Christians like none other in history. For me to participate in this God-honoring dialogue, I need to understand where my Jewish brothers and sisters are coming from. In addition, I have a great desire to share the good news of the gospel as found in the New Testament with my Jewish neighbors, as do millions of others Christians. Yet, how can I share my perspective with them if I don’t understand and respect their perspective?
I have spent some time reading this book in the last five days, and have finished the first half. I actually skipped to Mr. Prager’s commentary on chapter twenty (the chapter on the Ten Commandments...which we have currently been studying at our church) earlier in the week, as I expected there could be helpful information that I could use in my Wednesday night teaching (which there was!). I intend to continue reading the last half of the book as we progress along in our Bible study. I’m sure it will be a great resource.

So what is my take on this new commentary? And why do I recommend that you purchase and read this book?

  • This book is like no commentary I have ever read...and I have read from many of them. It is not stuffy at all. Dennis chose to write it in the first person and to include personal anecdotes where appropriate. What other commentary would quote Maimonides, Abraham Lincoln,...and Woody Allen?
  • Because of Mr. Prager’s immersion in the Biblical Hebrew (as noted above), he brings out many nuances in the text which are not apparent to English readers. He also explains Hebrew terms that are almost universally misunderstood. One example that enlightened me is the phrase “a land flowing with milk and honey” (first recorded in Exodus 3:8), which refers to the Hebrews’ future home, Canaan. He quotes Jewish theologian Nahum Sarna in explaining that “a land flowing with milk (which was goat’s milk)...suggests ample pasturage and the prospect of much meat, hide, and wool. And honey here refers to the thick sweet syrup produced from dates, not to the honey produced from bees.” All of these together bring out a greater appreciation and understanding of the Biblical text.
  • Dennis frequently alludes to historical (and occasionally current) events to illustrate Bible truths. This is especially true of the history of America, which he calls the most-Bible based country ever founded (outside of Israel). An example is his commentary on chapter three verse eleven, where Moses states to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” Dennis comments, “During the American Revolution, a relatively common phrase was ‘the meekness of Moses’ which described the humility many were looking for in their prospective leaders.” He goes on to quote John Adams who wrote in 1776 that the management of the United States would require “the Meekness of Moses, the Patience of Job and the Wisdom of Solomon, added to the Valor of Daniel.”
  • Throughout the commentary, Mr. Prager sprinkles in longer essays. These by themselves are worth the price of the book. The one that stands out to me the most (so far) is found in his commentary of chapter eight verse six, entitled “The God of the Torah: The Most Important Idea in World History.” In this essay, he gives fifteen reasons why the contribution of the Torah is vastly important. Some of them include…
    • The God introduced by the Torah is the first god in history to have been entirely above and beyond nature.”
    • The God introduced by the Torah brought universal morality into the world.”
    • The moral God introduced by the Torah means morality is real. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are not merely individual or societal opinions. But objectively real.”
    • The God introduced by the Torah morally judges every human being. There had never been a concept like this. And it became a major reason for Jew-hatred.” (I had never thought of this as being a reason for anti-semitism, but it must certainly be one.)
    • The God introduced by the Torah means there is ultimate meaning to existence and to each of our lives. Without this Creator, existence is random and purposeless.”
  • In addition, here are a few quotes from this book which caught my attention:
    • The central message of the Torah is “that God is good and demands we be the only belief that will enable us to make a good world.”
    • People (today) greatly value knowledge and intelligence, but not wisdom. And the lack of wisdom—-certainly in America and the rest of the West – is directly related to the decline in biblical literacy. In the American past, virtually every home, no matter how poor, owned a Bible. It was the primary vehicle by which parents passed wisdom on to their children.”
    • The Torah is so different – morally, theologically, and in terms of wisdom – from anything else preceding it and, for that matter, from anything written since, that a reasonable person would have to conclude either moral supermen or God was responsible for it.” (I would put the entire Bible in this category, including the New Testament.)
    • Another major reason I am convinced the Torah is not man-made is it so often depicts the people of the Book, the Jews, in a negative light.”
    • On the divinity of the Torah...“When Professor (Alan) Dershowitz (a secular Jewish scholar) differs with the Torah, he thinks the Torah is wrong and he is right. When I differ with the Torah, I think the Torah is right and I am wrong.”
    • Remembering – the good others have done, the evil others have done, and one’s moral obligations – is an indispensable aspect of a good and meaningful life.”
    • Biology is not destiny; you can be the child of an evil person and be a good person.”
    • Gratitude takes effort; resentment is effortless.” (So true!)
  • The section on the Ten Commandments is detailed and thoughtful.
    • It includes a lengthy, well-written essay on the “false gods” of our modern culture. In this section, Mr. Prager singles out a number of modern-day “false gods”, in violation of the second commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Some of these “false gods” which he writes about are “education”, “art”, “love”, “reason”, and even “religion and faith”. (I would add “sports” to this list...that’s a huge idol in our culture!)
    • One essay which I found especially enlightening is on the third commandment, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain...” In this essay , entitled “The Worst Sin Is Committing Evil In God’s Name,” Mr. Prager makes the point that the Hebrew word for “take” can be translated “carry.” He states “any person (using modern-day examples of an Islamic terrorist or clergy member who molests a child) who claims to be acting in God’s name while doing the opposite of what God wants (is) evil.” I used this example in our study on this commandment based on Dennis Prager’s excellent video on the same subject (which you can watch it here).

Because this book is written by a religious Jew who rejects the deity of Christ (albeit one who respects Christians and defends them frequently), there are many things in the text of Exodus that are obvious to me and other Christians which are not obvious to Mr. Prager and other Jewish teachers. The whole concept of redemption in Exodus, which Mr. Prager deals with as only redemption from Egypt, is sprinkled throughout the book. I believe that redemption in Exodus finds it’s fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This “greater meaning” of Exodus is found in it’s foreshadowing of Christ, who most notably is pre-figured as the Passover lamb (Exodus 12). Jesus, who as “the Lamb of God” who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29), was crucified on Passover as a fulfillment of the Exodus Passover story. As the Hebrews of the Exodus were to apply the blood of the lamb to the doorposts and lentil of the homes in order to escape the death of the firstborn, we are given the opportunity through faith in Christ to apply the blood of “Christ our Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7) to our own hearts in order to escape “the wrath to come.” I and other Christians see many other allusions to Christ in the book of Exodus...which are of course missing from Mr. Prager’s book as well as his theology.

That being said, I believe there is great value to this work...even to believing Christians like myself. Paul in 2 Corinthians calls our New Testament understanding of God “the ministry of the Spirit”. Compared to the Old Testament understanding of God, Paul says this New Covenant is “more glorious” than the teachings of the Old Covenant as revealed in the Torah. Yet, even in this passage, Paul describes the Old Testament teachings (as were taught by observant Jews then and now) as “glorious.” In this same spirit, I would describe Dennis Prager’s commentary on Exodus (especially compared to the drivel which assaults our bookshelves each week) as a glorious work!

Want to read more?  Here are a few recent blog posts from this site you might find interesting...

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018


A nice desk recently came into my possession which I have been refinishing. Since I've never done this kind of work, I asked several people for advice on how to do it...and watched a few YouTube videos as well. There seems to be about as many ways to refinish a piece of furniture as there are people who do it!

Nevertheless, I’m learning by experience. It’s by no means a perfect job, but it’s coming along. When I bought this desk (only $45!), it was a real mess. I knew that it was well-made just from the weight of it (it was a beast to move!), but the top had all kinds of splotches and imperfections. One section of the top had candlewax on it, and it had several places with water damage. But the wood was in fine shape.

The top before I sanded it...

I went to work on it last week, hand-sanding the top and some parts of the exterior of the desk. I wasn’t trying to remove all the finish...except for the top, the exterior was pretty good...but much of it had to go. I actually had to start with a knife...which I used to scrape the candlewax off. Upon the advice I was given, I started with 100-grit sandpaper (pretty rough stuff) and then went to 150-grit (not as rough but still pretty gritty). After I sanded down the top, I wiped it down, applied stain and let it dry. I went back later and resanded with 400-grit sandpaper (fo

more delicate sanding), finally putting a polyurethane gloss on. Even after that, I wasn’t satisfied, but used the 400-grit paper again, lightly sanding and reapplying the gloss. It’s far from a perfect job, and I’m sure a professional could see right away that it is the job of an amateur, but I’m pretty happy with it.

This whole little project made me think of the discipline of the Lord. I’m sure if my desk had a will of it’s own, it would have rather me not sanded it at all...and would definitely have cried out, “Don’t scrape me with a knife! Just leave me be!” It might have said something like, “Just put a little gloss on me...don’t worry about the sandpaper!”

We don’t like sandpaper…
After sanding and apply polyurethane

As Christians, we rejoice in the fact that “we are bought with a price.” We know that we “were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold...but with precious blood...the blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18, 19). We like the fact that we are bound for heaven because he paid for our sins with His own precious blood...but we’d rather not think about the fact that we are redeemed to serve Him and glorify Him. We are redeemed to become disciples...and disciples have to be disciplined. When we come to Christ, we are pretty rough stuff...much rougher than the desk I acquired. He simply is not going to use us much in His kingdom until we’ve been sanded down...made fit for the master’s use.

But...we don’t like sandpaper…

The writer of Hebrews quotes from Proverbs when he states…

...My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”
(Hebrews 12:5b, 6)

He goes on to say, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” (NIV) (Unfortunately, this could not be written this way in our day. Very few children are disciplined appropriately by their fathers in our age). So he is saying, when hardship comes our way, respond to it as a blessing from God. Instead of fearing these times, we should rejoice in hardship and trials!
This brings to mind the words of James:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

I can hear someone saying about now...”Consider it all joy? Really?”
  • “When my child becomes sick with a terminal illness?”
  • “When my spouse leaves me?”
  • “When I lose my job?”
  • “When my health is taken from me?”
“How am I to rejoice in these circumstances?”

There is only one way really. We have to believe...we have to know...really KNOW...that God ALWAYS disciplines us for our good. He never causes or allows trials to happen to His redeemed children that He doesn’t have a greater purpose in mind…

...the testing of your faith produces endurance...” What does he mean by that?

The Greek word translated “endurance” (in some versions it is translated “patience” or “steadfastness”) literally means “abiding under.” Strong’s definition is “cheerful (or hopeful) endurance; constancy.” Thayer’s has the definition “a patient, steadfast waiting for.” And also this…

In the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”

When I read this, I picture an endurance runner. No one starts out one day to run a marathon with no preparation. You have to train for it...often for months. Like a runner building up stamina to run a long race, the way you get this kind of faith (“that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”) is through trials...through difficulties…


There is one big difference between the process of sanding my desk and what we are called to go through as Christians. The difference is this: my desk has no will of its it had no power to resist the sandpaper…but we do.

If we resist Him, we will never receive the benefit of the trial. If, instead of "considering it all joy”, we complain and grumble (my Facebook feed is sometimes full of grumbling and complaining people who have to describe their latest trial in vivid detail!), we halt what God is trying to do in our lives. A good Old Testament illustration is found in Exodus, wherethe Israelites, after being redeemed from Egypt, have to wander in the wilderness for a period of time. Repeatedly, God tests them with various trials and...repeatedly...they grumble and complain. One time they have no food for a short time, another time they have no water, another time they find water but it is bitter. In each case, their reaction is the same. They grumble to Moses and to God. (You can read about this in Exodus 15:22 – 17:7) When I looked at the Hebrew meaning of the word which is translated “to grumble” or “to murmur”, I found something very interesting. It literally means “to stop.” It was used by those traveling on a journey who stopped at an inn or elsewhere to take rest. This really spoke to me. When we murmur or complain at our difficult situations, all spiritual growth is stopped cold. Complaining stops growth. Think about that the next time you are tempted to grumble about your lot in life! I do!

While I was writing this, I got a call from one of our church members named Bec. We have a church prayer chain, and she asked me to put her little two-year-old grandson on this line, which I was glad to do. (We don’t think it’s serious, but he has a swollen thumb and a fever and is going to see a doctor this morning.) After she shared the prayer request with me, she shared this with me: “You know, something like this used to floor me. Even a little thing would knock me flat. But, since I’ve been in the word and in prayer every day, they don’t get to me nearly like they used to. When I concentrate on Him, He helps me with my emotions!” Praise God! This is exactly what this article is about. When we see these things as coming from the hand of a loving God, one who even sent His only Son to die for us, and who would never do anything harmful to us, we build up “spiritual stamina”, as Bec has surely done. We see the sandpaper in our lives as just preparation for the gloss that is surely to come. If it never comes in this life, it will surely come in the life to come.

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)
I must add one more thing here. Ultimately, “the peaceful fruit of righteousness”, “the gloss” if you will, is not even for ourselves. It is for His kingdom...for His glory. When we receive comfort and strength after suffering trials, we can use that comfort and strength to minister to others who are going through trials (that’s the real gloss!) And, in the end, Our glorification (which in it’s fullness will only be when we reach our heavenly home) is merely a reflection of His glory. When we get to the place where we see IT IS ALL FOR HIS GLORY, we’ve come to a good place.
So...when we encounter various trials...the sandpaper of this life...let’s learn to embrace them. It is ALWAYS for our good, NEVER for our destruction, and ULTIMATELY for the glory of His kingdom.

So...Bring on the sandpaper!

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