Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Review: Scouting the Divine

Scouting the Divine cover

Scouting the Divine
by Margaret Feinberg

Hardback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy provided by publisher.

Back Cover Description:
Ancient Truths. Modern Life.

While some dismiss the Bible as a dusty old book, author Margaret Feinberg view its pages as portals to adventure: Not only is it chockfull of clever plots and compelling stories, it’s also laced with historical insights and literary beauty. Yet, lately, I can’t help but notice the gap between the ancient world and my own.

What does it mean to know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd when the only places I’ve encountered sheep are at petting zoos? How can I understand the promise of a land overflowing with honey when I buy mine in a bear-shaped bottle? Can I grasp the urgency of Jesus’ invitation to abide in the vine when I shop for grapes at a local grocery store?

Join Margaret on a spiritual adventure that moves from reading the Bible to entering stories that can be touched, tasted, heard, seen, smelled, and savored--and, in the process, discover for yourself the beauty and wonder of Scripture all over again.

Scouting the Divine is Scripture-focused and a fast, enjoyable read. About half of the book was spent describing (in a "as it happened" style) how she found the expert, arriving and getting to know the expert, and what the author's day with them was like. She then would ask the shepherd/farmer/beekeeper/vintner questions about verses in the Bible that related to sheep and shepherding, farming, beekeeping, and growing grapes. They would answer, and she'd then apply what she learned to bring out insights about the Bible.

Though I've read books on these topics before, the author still brought new insights to the subject. The sheep and vineyard sections were especially good. I'm a farmer, and I felt that the farm section could have been more insightful. I also didn't entirely agree with the farmers' take on one parable (about the tares), though the lesson they derived was Bible-based. The honey section didn't have much of a Bible-application section since there's not much about honey in the Bible, but what was there was interesting.

Though the author was asking these questions of a modern shepherd, etc., she did research the ancient practices and brought up the differences where she knew about them. Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants further insight into the parables, metaphors, and events of the Bible.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from pages 50-51, 52
I knew that the spotless sheep was representative of the flawless sacrifice--the Son of God--who was to come. But when God asked for the sheep without blemish, spot, or defect, he was asking the people not just to hand over their best, but also to sacrifice something they had worked years to develop.

I imagined shepherds struggling, season after season and year after year, to create what was, in essence, the perfect sheep. Then, they sacrificed the animal. For me, it would be like spending months working on the perfect prose, then lighting a match and burning it. The act places me in a posture of depending on God to create through me again. For the common shepherd, sacrifice meant trusting that another strong, perfect sheep would come along and contribute to the flock's long-term survival. I now understand why the temptation to hold back or offer a less-than-perfect sheep at the altar was so great.

And God didn't just ask for the perfect sheep; he also wanted its wool. Deuteronomy 18:4 instructs shepherds to give the first shearing of the sheep as an offering to God. Above the crackling warmth radiating from the stove, I read the verse aloud to Lynne.

"Is a first shearing a once-in-a-lifetime offering?" I asked.

"Yes, everybody wants the first shearing, especially if it's from one of your best lambs. The first shearing is the finest fleece that's used for the best clothes. First fleece is the wool that's neither itchy nor scratchy, the wool everyone wants next to their skin. It's also the smallest shearing, because of the size of the sheep. To ask for that is a real sacrifice!"

That meant each sheep's best wool comes only from its first-ever haircut, with every subsequent sheering decreasing in value. I was intrigued by the idea that God asked for the first virgin wool, a shearing that could never be recovered.

....For the first time in a long while, maybe ever, I had felt with my own hands what God desired from sacrifice. It was nothing like what I had expected. All too often when I think about giving my best to God, I think about giving big. But in asking for the first fleece, God isn't asking for the biggest. He wants the smallest and the softest.

He doesn't want more--he wants the best.

Read the introduction and chapter one.

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