Thursday, December 15, 2022

Psalm 70: Dialing 911

On many mornings I enjoy having a somewhat extended (for me, anyway) time of reading the Bible. A cup of coffee, solitude, and the Scripture is a great way to start my day. But, sometimes life intrudes, cutting short or eliminating this favorite habit. Whether it’s my own lack of discipline to get up early or some emergency requiring my attention, sometimes there isn’t opportunity for that quiet time of reading, prayer, and meditation.

Or maybe in the course of the day I am suddenly faced with a serious crisis needing immediate action in which there is no time to prepare, only to react. Whether it’s the former situation or the latter, sometimes all I’m able to do is send up a flare: “God, help!

The warrior-king David had his share of times like that, too. I know he did because he wrote about them in Psalm 70. In five short verses, his prayer begins and ends with a plea: Lord, please hurry and help me! David provides reasons why he needs a 911 immediate response from God: there are enemies trying to kill him, people trying to hurt him, and some who are rejoicing in his troubles, seeking to humiliate him.

In David’s snapshot prayer, he asks that his tormentors be turned back and dishonored, and he prays that those who seek God would rejoice with gladness, and that God would be glorified by his people. His emergency request ends with a humble confession that he needs God’s deliverance, and he needs it now.

Commentators note that Psalm 40:13-17 constitutes an almost word-for-word repetition of Psalm 70, and that Psalm 71 is also very closely related to Psalm 70. Both Psalm 40 and Psalm 71 are longer than the brief cry for help that composes the short, emergency telegram of Psalm 70.

It’s a comforting lesson. In those crisis situations, when all there’s time for is “God, help!”, it’s enough: He hears and answers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Outlander Chronicles Series

Set in the future, but not futuristic, the year is 2120 when the Outlander Chronicles series begins. The global population is sliding south of eight million souls. Global warfare eighty years earlier had involved biological weapons; a near mass-extinction of the human population was the result. The diminishing, scattered population is inadequate to sustain any manufacturing, mining, electrical generation, refining, communications, or transportation. There are no governments, national or local. Separated by nearly a century from the world that was, the survivors’ knowledge of the old technologies has virtually disappeared.
Here and there, tiny knots of population—the Townies—have coalesced, people banding together for safety. Opposing them are small gangs of violent raiders (Anarchs and Slavers), who make surviving in an already-intolerable environment almost impossible.

Surrounded by the rusting ruins of the former world, a young man (Jacen Chester) decides there must be more to life than avoiding death. He determines to challenge the status quo and to found a community committed to the rediscovery and revival of art, education, and technology. Jacen encounters a mysterious stranger (Hakim Abdul al Malik), an older man who ultimately becomes Jacen’s mentor, instructor, and protector. The two join forces to pursue Jacen’s dream. But they must first survive the predations of the violent groups, and their own deep disagreements with one another.
The Outlander Chronicles series is a coming-of-age adventure in which Jacen’s most deeply held views on life, religion, and morality are severely challenged by the raw, bleeding edge of life and death. As his community grows and experiences tragedy and disastrous setbacks, Jacen’s developing leadership skills are put to the test.

Book #1, Outlander Chronicles: Phoenix, chronicles the beginning of the relationship between Jacen and Hakim, and the growing community they establish.

Book #2, Outlander Chronicles: Pegasus, traces the community and the many challenges and heartaches they face as they travel toward their chosen destination near the ruins of Denver, Colorado.

Book #3, Outlander Chronicles: Icarus, records Jacen’s and his community’s response to a horrific disaster, as well as the dangers of employing technology not fully understood.

The Outlander Chronicles series is available on Amazon in both Kindle and print formats, as well as from your local independent bookseller (through the Ingram catalog). Signed copies are available from the Doorway Press store. See all the C. H. Cobb novels at my website.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Book Review: Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway

 Review of Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway, by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully.

I enjoy military history, especially when it’s wrapped around the events and happenings of World War 2. Usually, the author is trying to tell the story in a way both accurate and compelling, explaining and exploring command decisions and engagements, and the manner in which the battlefield itself, the action of individual units, and the vagaries of combat shaped the outcomes.

But Shattered Sword is in a class by itself. The writers have an agenda much larger than most—they intend to correct the received narrative of the battle of Midway, an erroneous narrative that has held sway for half a century. Their comprehensive research, which relies heavily on Japanese primary sources, has proven that most, if not all, of the popular accounts of the battle are significantly flawed, especially as regards the ultimate question of why the American naval forces won.

The book was a delight to read. The authors begin by delving deeply into the backgrounds of each of the principal characters, as well as the cultural ethos of the Imperial Japanese Navy. They explore the merits and demerits of each of the Japanese carriers and carrier aircraft. They expose the mind-numbing and initiative-stealing complexity of the overall Japanese battle plan for Midway. The entire process of preparing and arming the planes and spotting the flight deck for a strike is analyzed, down to the length of time a Zero’s powerplant needs to be warmed up in order to prevent damage to the engine upon launch.

I found the parts on Japanese naval doctrine, carrier operations, damage control, and air defense to be fascinating. Spoiler: the study of Japanese carrier operations became a major piece of evidence in substantiating the authors’ claims regarding the flaws in the received narrative, evidence that is buttressed by photographs taken during the battle.

The American side of the battle is also explored extensively, so the reader gets a sense for the simultaneity of the actions on the bridges and flight decks of ships on both sides of the conflict, as well as the strike and opposing defense aircraft. The reader is given precise timestamps (down to the minute) when the various decisions, communications, and actions were taken.

The book includes charts and drawings showing the relative dispositions of the carriers and their escorts, and once the attacks begin the direction of approach of the enemy aircraft. Eleven appendices detail the names of the personnel, the order of battle, technical details of the carriers, and a host of other matters that will be a goldmine for any writers or researchers that come after Parshall and Tully.

The book is fascinating, even gripping in places, exhaustively researched, and extensively documented. The authors successfully attain their agenda of correcting the record—conclusively in my opinion. Shattered Sword is the definitive resource for accurate information about the battle of Midway. Five stars, highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Book Review: Three views on The Millennium and Beyond

This is an excellent book on what is fundamentally a very narrow question: is there an intermediate kingdom (a millennium) between the present age and the eternal state? The contributors chosen to represent their position (Kenneth Gentry for postmillennialism; Robert Strimple for amillennialism; Craig Blaising for premillennialism) are excellent scholars and skilled ambassadors of their particular take on the subject.

Each contributor outlines his position on the issue, followed by responses from the other two scholars. The postmill view goes first (along with the responses), the amill view is second, and the premill view (the longest section by far) wraps up the consideration. The overall tone is irenic and gracious--the book contributes light on the topic rather than heat--something I really appreciate.

Darrell Bock, the editor, writes an outstanding summary essay identifying the major interpretive issues that appeared repeatedly in the writing of the three contributors. This summary is excellent in its own right. In fact, I recommend reading the summary first, especially for those readers who are not very familiar with the debate. Bock does a good job of laying the issues out on the table and explaining their implications in a simple-to-understand format.

A recommendation: don't speedread this book. Read it slowly and carefully, looking up and thinking carefully about the Scriptures the writers cite. I forced myself to slow down and study the book carefully--as a result, I have gained a great deal more understanding about all three positions. And this even though I was already familiar with the issues, have studied the Bible for over 40 years, and have a graduate degree in Bible. Five stars, heartily recommended no matter what your starting position might be on the millennial question.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Book Review: Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial

Excellent book. Foner traces the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's views regarding slavery, emancipation, black suffrage, colonization (meaning, the opinion during his day that blacks should be relocated out of the country), and the civil and social equality of the negro.

Several things stand out about this book. Foner unveils the gross and malicious racism of not only the southern states, but even the northern states. The Republicans were distinctly uncomfortable with the contradiction between the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the actual experience of the black population, but many were willing to live with that contradiction. The Democrats were fighting to preserve that contradiction, in many cases arguing that the blacks were either subhuman or too inferior to handle freedom (the growing popularity of Darwinism was used to buttress their argument, by the way).

Foner teases out the factions (radical abolitionists, conservative Republicans, moderate Democrats, Unionists, etc) with great skill and copious documentation. He also makes clear the complexity and tension of the competing priorities of ending slavery while preserving the Union, keeping the border states from seceding, all the while defending the Constitution. Reading Foner provides a much clearer picture of the difficulties the country faced than does the modern progressive evaluation of American slavery.

Once the gross sin of slavery was introduced into the colonies, the die was cast for a bloody reckoning in the future, a reckoning that the Declaration would exacerbate--because that document demonstrated that men knew what was right even if they chose not to do it.

Reading Foner's The Fiery Trial is a worthwhile education as to the morals and mood of mid nineteenth century America. Not only does it display the dark, sinful underbelly of our history, it also demonstrates that within the seeds of the American experiment were the tools of correction, the ability to right a gross injustice.

Five stars--well worth the read.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Book Review: Kidner's commentary on Jeremiah

There are times that Kidner's words in this brief commentary rise beyond mere explanations to profound observations. I was repeatedly delighted with his applications of biblical truth.

If you're looking for a technical commentary, this one isn't it. If you are a busy individual looking for a popular level commentary, something concise to keep you on the guardrails of responsible, orthodox interpretation, Kidner's commentary is what you need. The book of Jeremiah is fifty-two chapters long: an academic treatment would run to over 600 pages. Kidner does an excellent job with the text in 176 pages.

For the layman, the turbulent period of Jeremiah's ministry can be very difficult to untangle from a historical perspective, a task made more difficult because the swinging door of Judah's throne is complicated by the use of multiple names for the same monarch (e.g. Jehoiachin is Coniah is Jeconiah; Shallum is Jehoahaz is Joahaz). The organization of the Hebrew text of Jeremiah's prophecy reflects that tangled sense. Kidner does a great job helping the reader to sort things out and place them in the proper historical context.

Sometimes commentaries lose the big picture of the movement of the text, getting lost in arcane details. Kidner does an excellent job of tracking the overall direction of the text, never losing sight of its main thrusts, and pointing the reader to ultimate fulfillments in Christ. Five stars, highly recommended.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Writing Update for Outlander Chronicles: Icarus, book three of the series

Three years ago next month (October, 2018) I started writing Outlander Chronicles: Icarus. Within two months I gave up--the story just was not coming. A year or so later I gave it another brief shot, only to give up again. The story just wasn't working and I wasn't happy with what I had written. I pretty much gave up on a book 3 of the Outlander series.

After several years off from working on the Outlander series, finally this past January I picked up the tale again, pretty much starting from scratch, (although I was able to use some scenes from my earlier attempts with significant re-writing).

Now I am a little over 1/3 of the way to my target word count of 100K, and I am excited about the tale--it's developing into a great story.

I'm also a little nervous. Normally I know how I want the tale to end before I even start writing it. Not so with Icarus. This is the first novel I've written without being sure exactly how I'm going to "land the plane."

I've often said that, as an author, I don't find out what's happening next in my tales until I actually write the scene. If you've read Outlander Chronicles: Phoenix, you're aware of a pretty shocking event near the end of the book (no spoilers, please) (and by the way, some of my readers STILL haven't forgiven me!!). I did not know that event was going to happen until I was actually typing the words. It was unplanned.

Not true with respect to the endings of my books. I know the ending when I'm writing the opening scene (although I haven't the foggiest notion of how I will get from 'A' to 'B').

Right now, the ending of Icarus in my mind is a blank page. Guess I'll find out when I get there...

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Book Review of Jim Newheiser's Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage is a terrific book to use as a reference, or to read cover-to-cover.

Newheiser's writing style is very accessible and clear. I'm tempted to use the first part of the book ("Part 1: Marriage") as a tool for pre-marital counseling.

The book is comprehensive. It's hard to imagine situations arising which have not been somehow 
dealt with in this volume. As such it is a go-to reference for Bible-believing pastors and counselors.

Newheiser is also relentlessly biblical, and makes it clear when he's just offering an opinion as opposed to a clear biblical principle. He is very even-handed and gracious to those scholars who disagree with his interpretations of the texts. For instance, when it comes to the exception clause, he very faithfully represents and interacts with the arguments of those who see no exception at all.

The book is organized in two major sections broken into seven segments:

Part 1: Marriage

A. The Foundations of Marriage
B. Entering into Marriage
C. Having a Successful Marriage
D. Challenges in Marriage

Part 2: Divorce and Remarriage
A. The Foundations of Divorce and Remarriage
B. Divorce and Remarriage Controversies
C. Practical Questions

Each of the forty chapters are titled in the form of a question (for example, chapter 12 is entitled, "What are the responsibilities of a husband"). This format enables Newheiser to deal very concisely with the particular issue. In my opinion, the expectations raised by the chapter titles are fulfilled by the content.

Newheiser has made an outstanding and important contribution to the biblical counseling movement with this book. Five stars, highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Psalm 44, and a prayer for Afghani believers

On first glance, Psalm 44 seems to have a conflicting message. It begins with praise for God’s work of delivering Canaan into the hand of Israel (vv 1-3) followed by a confession that the psalmist does not trust in himself, but in God for deliverance (vv. 4-8).

But then the psalm takes a difficult twist in verses 9-19, as the psalmist complains that God has nonetheless rejected them (v 9), saying “You sell Your people cheaply” (v 12). God’s actions towards them seem to contrast with their continued faithfulness to Him (vv 17-18).

In the final section (vv 20-26) the psalmist asserts their faithfulness (vv 20-21), even while “for Your sake we are killed all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (v 22). The psalm ends with a desperate plea, “Arouse Yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever” (v 23), followed by the petition, “Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness” (v 26).

This is not what we expect to see. Why does God treat His people so, when they are seeking to be faithful? Derek Kidner’s comments on this seemingly conflicted psalm are excellent

“The psalm is exploring the baffling fluctuations that have their counterpart in Christian history: periods of blessings and barrenness, advance and retreat, which may correspond to no apparent changes of men’s loyalty or methods. Although its picture of the sleeping Lord may seem naive to us, it was acted out in the New Testament, to teach a lesson which we still find relevant: cf. verse 23 with Mark 4:38.
But the crux is in verse 22, with the phrase for thy sake. The psalm does not develop it, but it implies the revolutionary thought that suffering may be a battle-scar rather than a punishment: the price of loyalty in a world which is at war with God. If this is so, a reverse as well as a victory may be a sign of fellowship with him, not of alienation.” [Kidner, Psalms 1-72, Intervarsity Press, 2008, p.187. Emphasis mine.]
Paul cites Psalm 44:22 in Romans 8:36 and brings the psalmist’s complaint to its biblical theological conclusion, revealing God’s deeper purposes: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35–39)

God was pleased to crush His own suffering Son on the cross (Isaiah 53:10), despite Jesus’ absolute faithfulness to His Father. Jesus Christ was led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7), to pay for the sins of His people (Isaiah 53:4-6). But that was not the end of the story. By His death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ overwhelmingly conquered death and hell in order to save His precious people. And because of His victory, God’s people likewise overwhelmingly conquer, even in the face of death and intense persecution.

May our faithful God grant to the precious Afghani believers protection, shelter, and safety from raging lion who walks about, seeking to devour them. And when God in His wise and faithful providence determines not to grant temporal protection, may He give His people courage, strength, endurance, grace, mercy, and comfort as they faithfully bear their honorable battle-scars for His name’s sake. He will wipe away every tear.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)