If you are expecting Balancing the Sword to be just another Bible study, you'll want to think again! This set is quite literally a treasure trove of education and inspiration.
The first thing that struck me upon opening this set was just how large and beautiful these books are. Included are two oversized, high-quality hardbound books that are nearly 600 pages each! (The set also includes the Reading Planner Software, which I will discuss later.) I couldn't help but immediately browse through each book to see the gorgeous artwork, maps, and illustrations, often several to a page. I especially appreciated the way the illustrations and maps magnified my understanding of the Word. Depictions of the Ark of the Covenant, hyssop, a censer, and typical boats and sandals of the time help the student interpret the readings more accurately.
As a student who took to heart her English teacher's assertion that "If you haven't marked up a book, you haven't read it!" I fully appreciate that nearly a third of each page in the manuals consists of a lined area for note-taking. This is perfect for noting important verses or personal reflections. Another unexpected bonus is the inspirational quotes at the bottom of each page. Comments from the likes of President Woodrow Wilson, Amy Carmichael, John Wesley, John Calvin, General Robert E Lee, and Watchman Nee offer tremendous food for thought at every turn of the page. The reference section includes a page titled "Ancient Meteorology and Modern-Day Equivalents," an answer key, biographical sketches of those quoted, an index of people quoted, a bibliography of quotes, and a bibliography of images.
Initially, I was concerned because the study uses only objective, fill-in-the-blank questions. My past experience has been that those are seldom helpful or thought provoking. In this instance, I was quite pleasantly proved wrong. Mr. Wolfe explains his preference that readers first read each chapter closely before looking at the questions and trying to answer them. I was often surprised at the details I had missed. I also appreciate Mr. Wolfe's intent to avoid interpreting the Scripture for his readers, choosing rather to allow God to reveal as He sees fit. "You must know what the Bible says before you can know what it means" is a highly appropriate byline for this study.
Each question has been cross-referenced for further study and exploration. In addition, each question is completely unique. In instances where a story is told in several places in the Bible, Balancing the Sword does not duplicate questions. Working through the questions gave me a more detailed understanding of history and how the Bible fits together as a whole.
Another benefit to this program is that it can be used in a variety of ways. Personally, I am working through Volume 1, and then I will move on to Volume 2. Each volume works through the Bible. (The Volume 1 questions are slightly more fact oriented than those in Volume 2.) Another option is to study a specific book of the Bible using both volumes at the same time.
A fun bonus is the Reading Planner Software included in the set. I'm somewhat of a planner and list-maker and will admit to playing with amortization tables just for fun (amazing what a few extra early payments can do!), so this was right up my alley. I was really surprised at how versatile the software was while being downright simple to use. Simply enter a start and end date, check off the days of the week you'd like to read, note any holidays or other "reading intermissions," and select the books you'd like to read. You'll then be able to print out a detailed daily reading schedule for the chosen time frame. I, however, chose the alternative option of committing to read for a set number of minutes each day. In this case you enter your start date, how many minutes you want to read each day, and your reading speed. Now, just as I realized I didn't know my reading speed, a screen popped up asking if I'd like to take a reading test! (See, they've thought of everything!) Once I made my selections I was able to view my reading schedule and see just how long it would take me to finish the Bible. I could easily adjust my minutes a day until I came up with a time frame that worked for me.
Honestly, I am beyond impressed with this study. It is detailed, inspiring, challenging and encouraging. It's perfect for individuals, couples, families, or study groups. The $70 price simply can't be beat for what you receive. I highly recommend this program to anyone wanting a better understanding of God's Word. And that should be all of us, right?