Mining God's Word
BAHH! BAHH! BAHH! BAHH! You sling your arm across your body to silence the horn that has pulled you from your rest; its 5:30am again. Although you would like to go back to sleep something pulls you from your warm bed. What could possess you to wake up this early on a Saturday morning? Reading your Bible.
The past several weeks has taught you a valuable lesson about Bible reading. Bible reading is rewarding and challenging. Each time you turn the page you feel your soul being nourished; you feel yourself drawing closer to God. You also notice something else. Some passages are difficult to understand. And today’s passage is no exception because you are reading from the book of Judges about a man named Jephthah and his daughter.
In this story, Jephthah rises to deliver the Israelites from Ammonite oppression. He makes a vow before the Lord that ends in horrific tragedy. Jephthah vowed to the LORD, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30). As you begin to celebrate Jephthah’s victory, your joy is suddenly transformed to horror when Jephthah’s daughter emerges from the door of the house.
Jephthah’s tragic vow, in Judges 11:29-40, is just one of several hard to understand passages of the Bible. When we read passages like this, we are reminded that the world of the Bible is remarkably different than our own. The time period is different. The geographical location is different. The culture is unlike ours. The language is sometimes strange. Miraculous events happen that we can only dream about. Even God seems to act differently than he does now. What can we do or where can we turn to help us gain a better understanding of the Bible’s world?
First, read from both testaments regularly. The Old testament and the New testament compliment each other. Reading from just one testament, or from just one part of one testament, is like only eating from one food group. You get some good stuff, but you’re missing out on other important nutrients. If you only read from select portions you will limit your understanding.
Second, use a good translation. We speak a different language than the authors of the Bible. A good translation helps us to bridge that gap so we can be satisfied that we are reading an accurate message. Three good English translations are the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Bible, and the Christian Standard Bible.
Third, use maps. Many of today’s Bible’s have maps in the back, and a good study Bible may have several maps showing terrain and distances of different important journeys that were recorded in the Bible. Gaining a better understanding of the landscape helps the Bible come alive as you read it.
Fourth, acquire some good commentaries and reference works that can help you better understand the historical setting and the culture. The best place to start is with your pastor. Ask him if he has a good commentary or reference work he would recommend and maybe let you borrow (this saves you a little money). Two good commentary resources are the New American Commentary Series or the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary Series. I would also recommend the New Manners and Customs of the Bible Times.
Fifth, purchase a quality study Bible. Study Bibles will usually have helpful footnotes and articles on specific topics. Just remember, even though the footnotes appear below the Biblical text, they are not inspired.
Finally, spend time with other Christians talking about the Bible. God gives you other Christians to help you understand His word better. You will find talking with another Christian about God’s word is infinitely valuable, especially if you’re a talking with an older Believer.
God’s Word is “more desirable than gold” (Psalm 19:10). Gold must be mined; obtaining it requires some sweat equity. Mine the depths of God’s Word and don’t give up when you hit a vain (a passage) that presents a little challenge. May God bless you as you study His Word.