The Bible can be quite intimidating. It clearly hails from a different time and echoes cultures that can feel strange to us. It is long and can be dense reading—especially for the uninitiated.
That’s where the Handbook comes in. Now in its fifth edition, it’s a treasure trove of information relevant to those who not only want to read the Bible but engage with it more deeply and in a readable format. It offers a useful guide to all the books of the Bible and contains numerous maps and charts (68 maps and 20 charts to be precise). Sixty-seven international scholars contributed 127 additional articles, such as “A Story Through Women’s Eyes (Ruth),” “The Qur’an and the Bible,” or “A Way of life—the Ten Commandments.” What really distinguishes it, however, are the more than 700 superb color photos and illustrations that offer a visual window into the world of the Bible.
Bible readers should invest the time to work through the first 80 pages of the Handbook, where we find our introduction to the Bible. It starts from the very basic (What is the Bible? How can I read the Bible?) to the more advanced concepts of the Bible and its physical, cultural, and historical settings, and also focuses on the Bible’s transmission history.
It also poses relevant questions that contemporary readers, often unchurched, are asking: What cultural perspectives of the Bible are relevant for me? How do I relate to Jesus and His stories in a pluralistic society? How does the Bible relate to other religions? How can women or scientists look at the Bible? Every page includes more than just words. Apart from its excellent images, readers can find useful sidebars, factoids, or didactically color-coded timelines.
Following the introductory section, the editors guide readers through the Bible book by book. All the coverage is not equal in length, and reflects some of the editorial choices regarding importance and (perhaps?) relevance. Leviticus is covered in 13 pages; Genesis gets 43 pages; Isaiah is dealt with in 22 pages; Matthew is given 28 pages. Predictably, comments in such books as Daniel or Revelation are less extensive and avoid some of the more challenging topics.
All in all, the Alexanders have done a marvelous job of updating a well-loved resource and maintaining its relevance. For those who have a soft spot for books that can be touched and carried, the Handbook is a great and accessible resource. While I am not aware of any plans to make this compelling content available in digital format, the publisher may consider this, as it would offer a great way to connect to younger readers who prefer to live in the digital reach of their smartphones.
If you’re longing for fresh vibrancy in your walk with God; if you’re yearning for a renewed love of God’s Word and for practical tools to go deeper in your personal prayer and Bible study, Longing for God may be just the book you’ve been waiting for. Rather than being merely another Bible reading guide with check marks to cross off each day, or a prayer journal with a few inspirational thoughts and wide-open spaces for notes, Longing for God combines the best of all Bible-reading-and-prayer-journal worlds. In fact, readers may have a hard time putting this book down, as it is a treasure chest of inspirational bite-sized nuggets and prayer thoughts.
Longing for God is unique in that it constantly draws readers to the true focus of prayer and Bible study: to know God more intimately, and to worship Him more purposefully. Throughout the book God and His Word are seen as the foundation for all true growth in our relationship with Him. Laid out in an attractive format and easy-to-follow Bible reading style, the 352-page journal walks readers through the entire 66 books of Scripture in one year (focusing on both the Old and New Testament or Psalms simultaneously).
However, while the journal is formatted to follow the calendar year, the readings can be started at any time and can be completed at one’s own pace. Each Bible reading assignment offers short journal entry spaces where one can record special Bible promises or brief spiritual insights from that day’s reading. There’s also a place to record daily praises, thanksgiving, and/or prayers, as desired. Hasel reminds readers that these disciplines are not rigid requirements or recipes to success, but are all aimed at helping one avoid spiritual forgetfulness.
Since the spirit with which we open God’s Word often affects the outcome of our study, right from the beginning Hasel encourages readers to cultivate attitudes that are conducive to productive Bible study and spiritual growth. Readers are challenged to continually ask thought-provoking questions and to read God’s Word with open eyes and heart, making personal application from what is learned. Each month also includes an inspirational section on prayer, with practical tips and suggestions to help readers understand God’s nature more clearly, to be more focused in their prayer time, and to learn how to pray more effectively for others.
Hasel addresses difficult questions relating to prayer, such as: What does it mean to pray in a way that truly pleases God? What does it mean to fast and pray? How do I overcome bitterness? What happens when my prayers are not answered as I’d hoped?
This book is not just an inspirational or intellectual exercise. Hasel shares part of his personal journey including the tragic loss of his wife to cancer in 2009. When he speaks of praising God, finding reasons to be grateful, and praying while waiting for answers, he’s speaking from deep personal experience. This journey has deepened Hasel’s own longing for God, and it is this longing in turn that compels him to share with others.