Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Syriac Orthodox, Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Quad Centum (Issue 400) Souvenir Edition

Volume 7 No. 400 March 1, 2017
 

Chapter 2: Reading The Bible

So Many Christians Have No Idea How to Read the Bible. Do You?

Knowing how to read the Bible is critical for all believers. Understanding how to spend time in the Word should be a lesson taught in every Christian church and a priority of every Christian leader to pass on to those whom God has given them to lead. ...

My Favorite Bible Reading Method

1. I've tried a lot of different plans over the years. They all work pretty well.
2. The best Bible reading plan is the one that works for you. ...

How to Get More Out of Your Bible

Don't let difficult passages deter you! Mark Twain said, "It's not what I don't understand about the Bible that bothers me; but what I do understand." The true test of Bible student is not how much you learn but how much you live. ...

Five Ways Daily Bible Reading Impacts Your Life

Why should we read the Bible every day? Does it make a difference? Is it just something good Christians do? Or is it a legalistic habit that's unnecessary to a healthy walk with God? ...

Approaching A Bible Study

Through the centuries the Bible has been the most widely read of all books. Yet as individuals have been prompted to read it, perhaps by curiosity, perhaps by spiritual interest, they have often found that it baffles them. ...

Biblical Symbolism

The Bible is full of imagery. It is self-proclaimed to be written in parables, riddles, symbols, similitudes, allegories and analogies, and there are good reasons for this. ...

Seven Effective Ways to Memorize Scripture

Billy Graham says one of his biggest regrets is not having memorized more scripture in his younger years when the mind could achieve that more easily. My observation is none of us will ever be younger than we are at this moment. ...

One of the Most Important Principles in Reading the Bible

Bible is full of conditions we must meet for God's blessings. But God does not leave us to meet them on our own. The first and decisive work before and in our willing is God's prior grace. ...

How to Read a Psalm

Reading a psalm in light of its threefold structure gives us a strategy to better understand a psalm's overall message. ...

 Chapter 2: Reading The Bible

So Many Christians Have No Idea How to Read the Bible. Do You?

by Kelly Givens

According to Ed Stetzer of Pastors.com, we have an epidemic of Bible illiteracy in our churches. LifeWay Research and the United Kingdom Bible Society have recently released survey findings on biblical literacy, and the results are pretty alarming. Here's a little bit of what they found:

  • Only 45% of regular church attendees read their Bible more than once a week.
  • Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible at all.
  • More than half of Evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit is a force and not a personal being.
  • In the United Kingdom, almost 1 in 3 couldn't identify the Nativity as part of the Bible
  • 27% of British parents think Superman is or might be a biblical story.

Though these statistics are alarming, LifeWay also noted that most of the Christians they surveyed desire to become more mature followers of Christ. So how can the Church begin equipping believers to have a deeper understanding of the Word, and consequently, a more intimate relationship with Christ?

To begin with, Stetzer shares 8 predictors of biblical engagement, factors he believes are key to eliminating biblical illiteracy. They are:

1. Confessing sins and wrongdoings to God and asking for forgiveness

2. Following Jesus Christ for years

3. Being willing to obey God, no matter the cost

4. Praying for the spiritual status of unbelievers

5. Reading a book about increasing spiritual growth

6. Being discipled or mentored one-on-one by a more spiritually mature Christian

7. Memorizing Bible verses

8. Attending a small group focused on Bible study

Stetzer believes this last factor, attending a small group, is key to combating biblical illiteracy. After personally conducting research on the issue, he learned that, "group attendees were much more likely than non-group members to read their Bible regularly - 67 percent compared to only 27 percent. Being involved in a small group made it more than twice as likely a Christian would be regularly reading God's Word."

He goes on to say, "On top of that, we found involvement in small groups made Christians more likely to pray for others and confess sins to God - both of which are predictors of biblical engagement. It's no wonder we concluded quite simply: groups matter."

In addition to the excellent points that Stetzer has made, I would add one more factor that is critical to biblical engagement, and that I think is missing from Stetzer's list:

9. Teaching Christians how to effectively read and interpret the Bible.

Think about the last time you opened your Bible. How did you approach reading the Word? Did you just open up to a random page and pray that God would somehow speak to you through whatever you read? Did you follow any kind of process-driven approach to reading your Bible, or did you just go about reading willy-nilly, hoping a reassuring verse would pop up to speak to whatever circumstances you are currently facing?

I think it's crucial that churches offer classes to teach their members how to read and interpret the Bible. As the research above indicates, we can't afford to assume that people know how to correctly read, interpret and apply the Word to their lives.

Author and blogger Jen Wilkin has spent much time thinking about biblical literacy. She says this about the terrifying trend in which the Body of Christ has no idea how to interact with their Bibles:

Church leaders, I fear we have made a costly and erroneous assumption about those we lead. I fear that in our enthusiasm to teach about finances, gender roles, healthy relationships, purity, culture wars, and even theology we have neglected to build foundational understanding of the Scriptures among our people. We have assumed that the time they spend in personal interaction with their Bible is accumulating for them a basic firsthand knowledge of what it says, what it means, and how it should change them. Or perhaps we have assumed that kind of knowledge isn't really that important.

So we continue to tell people this is what you should believe about marriage and this is what you need to know about doctrine and this is what your idolatry looks like. But because we never train them in the Scriptures, they have no framework to attach these exhortations to beyond their church membership or their pastor's personality or their group leader's opinion. More importantly, they have no plumb line to measure these exhortations against. It never occurs to them to disagree with what they are being taught because they cannot distinguish between our interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself, having little to no firsthand knowledge of what it says.

In her book 'Women in the Word' (and please don't let the title keep you from reading, gentlemen! This book is one of the most practical texts I've read on learning how to read your Bible), Jen unpacks several steps Christians can begin taking to purposefully engage with their Bible. Here have been my key takeaways, which have truly transformed my time reading the Word:

1. Always begin your time with prayer. Ask God to bring focus, clarity and wisdom to your time in His Word.

2. Print a copy of whatever portion of the text you want to read, with space to take notes (perhaps a chapter or two at a time). If you don't want to print the text, at least make sure you have a journal to take notes.

3. Before you begin reading, make sure you understand the background of the book, the author and historical context. Most study Bibles have introductions at the beginning of each book.

4. Read the portion of the text several times, even out loud if it helps you absorb it better.

5. Go line by line and begin looking up verses listed in the cross-references of your Bible (the small, abbreviated notes in the margins). If you don't have a Bible with cross-references, buy or borrow one. If you don't know how to use your cross-references, ask someone to teach you.

6. On your print out, freely jot down cross-referenced verses, questions you have, and key themes you see emerging. I also like to write down what the passage tells me about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

7. Use a dictionary to define words you don't know.

8. Highlight repeated words – these often point to key themes or theological concepts that the author wants you to understand.

9. Consult the commentaries in your Bible or online only after you've begun to absorb the meaning of the text yourself. Relying too much on commentaries cripples your ability to make and draw your own conclusions about the passage.

Knowing how to read the Bible is critical for all believers. Understanding how to spend time in the Word should be a lesson taught in every Christian church and a priority of every Christian leader to pass on to those whom God has given them to lead.

Want to learn more? Relevant writer Bronwyn Lea shares 5 essential tips that everyone should follow when reading the Bible. Biblestudytools.com also has a tips page with articles to help you learn how to get the most out of your quiet time, including this popular Inductive Study Method by Kay Arthur.

What is your favorite method for studying the Bible? What can churches do to help more Christians learn to read the Bible effectively?

About The Author:

Kelly Givens in the editor of iBelieve.com.

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

My Favorite Bible Reading Method

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Two points right up front:

1. I've tried a lot of different plans over the years. They all work pretty well.
2. The best Bible reading plan is the one that works for you.

That said, I'd like to mention my favorite Bible reading plan, which happens to be the one I'm currently using. It's really about Bible listening, which right away sets it apart.

A Bible listening plan is one where instead of simply (or only) reading the biblical text, you actually listen to it at the same time. I've been using this method for a year now, and I think it's the most beneficial Bible reading I've ever done.

To make it work right, you'll need a smartphone (iPhone or Android) or an iPad (or some other tablet computer). It will work on a laptop, but it works much better on a portable computer system.

Start by downloading two apps: YouVersion and Bible.is. Both are free. I use YouVersion for reading the text and Bible.is for listening to the text being read. Bible.is offers you various choices, including dramatized versions of several popular translations.

I've been listening to the dramatized version of the New Revised Standard Version (although you could listen to dramatized versions of the ESV and the KJV). Personally I like the dramatized versions because they add background music, different voices for the different speakers, and various sound effects. Then I read along using the YouVersion app, usually in the ESV. By listening to one version and reading in another, I'm forced to pay more attention to the text and to think about the places where the translations are not the same.

Listening to the Bible slows me down. If the dramatized version takes 7 minutes to go through a chapter, then that's how long I sit and listen and read along at the same time. This year I've been through quite a bit of the Bible this way, and I have found it fascinating and spiritually profitable to do some “Bible listening” along with my Bible reading.

To be clear about it, I haven't gone through the whole Bible in one year, but that was never my goal. I do a chapter or two a day and find it invigorating to slow down and listen to the Bible and to think about why verses are phrased a certain way.

I've gone through Hebrews and John and Psalms and Proverbs and Lamentations and Ephesians and Daniel and Deuteronomy and a few others books also. I really enjoyed Leviticus and felt like I understood it for the first time. Listening to the Song of Solomon will cause you to see the book as it was meant to be–a love poem in honor of marriage. Right now I'm almost to the end of Luke.

What I'm proposing here is a Bible reading method, not a Bible reading plan. You still have to decide where you will begin reading. Maybe 2017 will be the year when you jazz up your devotional life by doing some Bible listening as well.

It certainly worked for me.

Source: Keep Believing Ministries

How to Get More Out of Your Bible

by Dr. Roger Barrier

Warren Wiersbe, the long-time pastor of the Moody Bible Church in Chicago, once preached a sermon entitled: "How To Get More Out Of Your Bible." I transcribed it (as fast as I could) while he spoke. He was giving a simple lesson in Biblical hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation) that was designed to be helpful to Christians of any age. I took the sermon and added some touches and principles of my own and have given this Bible lessons to Christians all over the world.

We've all heard someone say: "You can interpret every verse in Bible many different ways!" Not so! There is only one correct interpretation for every verse - and that is, "What did the Bible writer have in mind when he wrote what he wrote."

Before I share the principles of interpretation, let me remind you that our attitude in approaching the Bible is critically important.

We must be Christians.

Paul wrote that an unsaved cannot understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). The Bible was basically written for the heart. The Bible was written not just to make us smart; it was written to make us like Jesus.

We need humble hearts.

It's when we're humble that God speaks to us (James 4:6). After all, He calls us lambs--not giraffes, elephants or lions. Much of the Bible was written out of deep suffering. We dare not approach it with a proud and arrogant heart. We can't come to Bible to learn and then obey just what we want (John 7:17)!

Our Bible study must be consistent (Psalm 119:97 and Acts 17:11).

A high I.Q. is no guarantee to understanding the Bible; this is a spiritual matter.

The Holy Spirit is God's provision for comprehending God's Word.

He is our spiritual teacher. After all, He is the one who wrote the Book (John 14:26 and 2 Timothy 3:16).

We need to be on close, intimate terms with the Holy Spirit.

One of greatest problems with Christians today is that we are too busy. "It's in quietness that we find strength," says Isaiah.

"It's better to come apart and rest awhile before you come apart."

The "ABC" Principles Help Us to Interpret the Bible Properly

"A": THE ACCURACY PRINCIPLE:

BE SURE THAT ALL PERSONS, PLACES, OBJECTS AND EVENTS ARE ACCURATELY IDENTIFIED AND DEFINED BEFORE INTERPRETING A PASSAGE.

A lady said: "I can't believe that the Bible is true because it's impossible to carry Noah's Ark around in wilderness for forty years." She had the wrong ark!

Be careful about identifying people and places. There are ten different Simons in New Testament; four men named John; and three named James. In Acts 12 James has his head cut off. Days later Peter is miraculously released from prison. He says, "Now go tell James I'm out of prison." Hadn't James had his head cut off? The first James is the Apostle. The second is James the half-brother of Christ.

The Herod who tried Jesus Christ and the Herod who murdered the babies were two different Herods.

We must be careful to know the correct meanings of words. In the King James Bible Hebrews 13:5 is translated: "Let your conversation be without covetousness." That seems simple enough to interpret. It obviously means, "Don't talk about money." But when this passage was written, the word "conversation" meant lifestyle, or behavior. The proper interpretation of this verse is, "Let your lifestyle be without greed."

In the same version, 1 Peter 3:1 is translated, "Let the husband be won by the conversation of his wife." Most men will never be won to Christ by the talking of their wives. But, they well be won by observing the Godly lifestyles of their wives.

You Say, "Well How Can I Know All Of This? I've Never Been To Seminary Or A Bible Class?"

The best way is to buy some good Bible tools, dictionaries, translations, and commentaries. If you want to fix a car, you need tools. If you want to build a house, you need tools. If you want to properly study the Bible, you need tools.

I'm not saying that you can't get a spiritual blessing from the Bible without books. I am saying that you'll get a greater spiritual blessing from the Bible with books.

Of course, you don't have to buy all of these tools as books anymore, most of the answers you need are easily found on the internet.

In prison in Rome Paul wrote to Timothy, "It's cold; bring my coat before winter, and bring my books, and especially the parchments." Paul wanted his books.

If we fail to make proper observations with accuracy regarding people and places, then we can rest assured that our Biblical interpretations will usually be inaccurate.

I think you'll appreciate a little essay by a ten-year-old boy which illustrates what can happen when we violate the Accuracy Principle.

The cow is a mammal. It has six sides, right, left, and upper and below. At the back it has a tail on which hangs a brush. With it, it sends the flies away so that they do not fall into the milk. The head is for the purpose of growing horns, and so that the mouth can be somewhere. The horns are to butt with. The mouth is to moo with. Under the cow hangs the milk. It is arranged for milking. When people milk, the milk comes and there is never an end to the supply. How the cow does it I have not yet realized. But it makes more and more. The man cow is called an ox. It is not a mammal. The cow does not eat much but what it eats it eats twice so that it gets enough."

"B": THE BACKGROUND PRINCIPLE:

Be sure to understand the context and the background of the passage before interpreting any THING.

Enemies of the Bible say, "You can prove anything by the Bible!" Now, that's true if you take things out of their context. Psalm 14:1 says, "There is no God!" But the whole verse says, "The fool says in his heart there is no God."

It's a very serious offense to take verses out of the Bible and twist them and turn them. We study every verse in light of the whole chapter; every chapter in light of the entire book, the book in light of entire Bible. Martin Luther said, The Bible is like a tree. See whole tree, not just leaf. Don't read the Bible by verses, read it by paragraphs, books and chapters.

We can take some verses out of context from the Book of James and say that we must work to earn our salvation: "Faith without works is dead." But, before we latch onto that interpretation we had better read whole chapter. The theme of James is that there is no saving faith unless it changes your life.

Nothing is sacred about the verses. The Bible was written in paragraphs. The verses were put in by a French printer named Stephanus who was fleeing persecution in Paris to safety in Lyons. It is said that every time the wagon hit a bump Stephanus marked a verse. For example Acts 21 ends with a comma.

Be certain to identify who's speaking to whom. The Bible says, "All that a man has will he give to save his life." God never said that. The devil said that!

Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." To whom is Paul speaking? Saints? Sinners? Gentiles? the Church? Christians? Non-Christians? How we answer this question makes all the difference in the world in interpreting this passage.

Commands in one culture don't necessarily carry over to another culture. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that women should not have short hair. Is that a command for women today. I think not. This is a cultural issue. Prostitutes in that culture wore short hair for advertising. There is a culturally relevant principle here for any age or culture: abstain from all appearances of evil.

Commands to individuals are not the will of God for us. God told Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. He doesn't tell us to do that.

Not all the promises in the Bible are for everyone. Some promises are universal: "Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved" (John 3:16). Some are personal: God promised to protect Paul in his journey from Athens. He doesn't promise that to missionaries. God told Hezekiah that he heard his prayer and extended his life for fifteen years. He didn't promise that to you or me! Some promises are conditional: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."

The Bible is not a book of divination. We can get into trouble by taking verses out of context and using them to try to find personal messages for guidance and decision making (divination). A man was trying to find God's will. He decided to open his Bible and place his finger on a verse and do whatever it said. He shut eyes. Opened his Bible and placed his finger on a verse and read: "Judas went out and hanged himself." He decided to try again. He shut eyes, placed a finger, opened his eyes and read: "Go and do thou likewise."

I know of a man who tried the same thing. He placed his finger at random in the Bible and landed in the Book of Jonah: "Jonah went down to the sea and got into a boat." The young man joined the navy

Try to get a blessing out of 1 Chronicles 26:18: "At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar (KJV).

Use your cross references. The best commentaries on Mark are Matthew, Luke and John. The best commentary on Hebrews is Leviticus. The best commentary on Ephesians is Colossians.

After feeding the 5,000, Matthew tells us that Jesus made His disciples get into a boat and leave! Why? Matthew doesn't tell us. But John 6 does. They were trying to make Him King.

C: THE COMMON SENSE PRINCIPLE:

USE YOUR SANCTIFIED COMMON SENSE WHEN YOU READ BIBLE AND LOOK FOR PLAIN MEANING FIRST.

The Bible is a piece of literature. Read prose as prose and poetry as poetry. Psalm 60:8: "Moab is my wash pot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe." No one takes this literally. Does this mean that God washes His face and has shoes? No! A good interpretation is, "Just as a slave cares for shoes and washes pots, so will Edom be reduced to menial tasks.

Psalm 91:4: "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge." Does God have feathers and wings? No, it is a picture of God's protection.

When Jesus says, "I am the Door," use your good sense. He's not made out of wood.

The A.B.C. Principles are remarkably simple, easy to use and remember.

Let me illustrate the need for the ABC principles with one of my favorite stories.

Once upon a time, there was a preacher who boasted that he could preach on any text with only five minutes of preparation.

One Sunday morning he asked for a verse. A woman in the front row raised her hand and said, "I want you to preach on the verse in Genesis: "And eight did Milcah bear."

He'd was unfamiliar with that verse and asked her to repeat it. She did. So, he called for a hymn and while the congregation sang, he worked in his head on a sermon.

When the song slowed to a close he stood and shouted, "And eight did Milkah bear. What a passage this is for Christian encouragement!"

"Eight!" he shouted! "Look at the Christian Cooperation. Not one or two! Eight of them all working together!

"Milk!" he shouted! Look at the Christian Consecration. These Christians are going all out! They're not just leading that bear around the corral. They are milking it!

"Finally, "Bear! Look at that Christian courage! This is no goat or Bossy the cow we are talking about. They are milking a bear."

Later at home after Sunday lunch he opened his Bible to Genesis 22:23: "And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham's brother (KJB).

In other words, eight (children), did the woman whose name was Milcah, bear (give birth to).

If he had followed the Accuracy Principle he would have known that Milcah was a mother--not a verb.

If he had followed the Background Principle he would have known that the passage was about a mother and her children - not milking bears.

If he had followed the Common Sense Principle he would have known that no one milks bears.

May I share a final word or two? Don't let difficult passages deter you! Mark Twain said, "It's not what I don't understand about the Bible that bothers me; but what I do understand." The true test of Bible student is not how much you learn but how much you live.

Luke 24:32: "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

The proof that you learn from the Bible is not a big head but a burning heart.

About The Author:

In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Dr. Roger Barrier has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, 'Listening to the Voice of God', published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, 'Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer', from Xulon Press.

Source: Live It Devotional

Five Ways Daily Bible Reading Impacts Your Life

by Kelly Needham, kellyneedham.com

Why should we read the Bible every day? Does it make a difference? Is it just something good Christians do? Or is it a legalistic habit that's unnecessary to a healthy walk with God? If we don't understand why it matters, we likely won't make it a priority. Here are five analogies to bring to life the purposes of a consistent, daily study of God's Word.

1. A House: Getting to Know God

Visiting my home would tell you a lot about me. A 1,000-piece puzzle rests unfinished on my dining room table, toys are scattered throughout the living room, and the hallway is crowded with guitar cases and CD boxes. You would rightly conclude that a musician lives here, there are children in this house, and someone likes puzzles.

Reading the Bible is like stepping into God's house. Everything is there because He desires for it to be there. If it is in the Word of God, which lasts forever, then it must be important to Him. As I read Leviticus, I am confronted with the reality that there is a whole book dedicated to different types of sin and their corresponding offerings. If it was important to God for this to be in His Word, I must conclude that our sin really, really, really bothers Him and that all sin, no matter how small, must be paid for.

The passages in the Bible that are the most confusing and most surprising actually tell me a lot about God. Instead of skipping or avoiding things you don't understand, ask God why that particular passage is important to Him. Ask what it tells you about His character. Grow to love Him for who He is, not who you want Him to be.

2. An Anchor: Renewing Your Mind

Have you ever played in the ocean at waist level? It's amazing how you can be convinced that you've been standing in one place, yet turning to see your umbrella a quarter mile away will quickly prove your error. The current was so subtle you weren't even aware you were drifting. This is what it's like living in a fallen world. We're caught up in a current. Materialism, selfishness, immorality, and mindless entertainment daily nudge us away from God. Add our self-centered flesh and our enemy, Satan, and there's a lot of strength to that current.

The Word of God is like an anchor. Each time you read it, you are putting your anchor in the ground and holding on. It keeps you from drifting. But without daily grabbing on to this anchor, you may be miles away before you realize what happened. This is why frequent study and meditation of the Word of God is crucial. As Romans 12:2 says, we should daily "be transformed by the renewal" of our minds through His Word.

3. Glasses: Giving Clarity

The first thing I reach for in the morning are my glasses, because they are help me do everything. To look at a room through blurred vision is confusing. Is that an apple or tomato? Is she angry or happy? Putting my glasses on is a simple step that helps me correctly respond to things that come my way because I can accurately see what they are.

Without a consistent dose of the Word, a stressful situation can feel confusing and overwhelming (in other words, blurry). Why am I frustrated? Am I angry at my children, or am I taking other worries out on them? But when I have a steady dose of truth in my life, I can quickly perceive my circumstances and my heart's responses. Like putting on glasses, it brings clarity, helping me accurately discern the events of the day and my own responses. When my anger is related to self-sufficiency (assuming my life holds together by my own effort), I can repent and relinquish control to God again.

Ironically, many people say they don't have time for studying the Word. But I would argue there's nothing that saves you more time than reading the Word and praying. This time grants fresh vision for what truly matters in each day, what you can let go of, and helps you quickly and accurately assess unexpected situations.

4. Chemo: Killing Sin

Imagine you have cancer and doctors suggested it can be cured through regular chemotherapy treatments. You begin your treatment, but do not feel different after the first treatment. Or the second. Or even after the third. So why keep going? Just because you don't feel anything doesn't mean it's not working. Over time, it will slowly kill off the sickness in you.

This is what a steady intake of the Word of God is like. When read as an act of faith in Christ, it slowly cures our pride, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, our apathy. Reading the Word of God is often enjoyable. But other times, you will close your Bible feeling the same as when you sat down. This doesn't mean your time wasn't effective! Every time the Word enters our mind, it is accomplishing something. God assures us, "So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (Isa. 55:11).

A regular, steady, and substantial diet of the Word of God kills the pride in our hearts that leads to all other sin. Be committed no matter how you feel.

5. Vocab: Fuel for a Living Relationship

Anyone learning a second language knows that vocab is key. Sure, you can learn every verb and all the tenses. But once you hit the streets in a foreign country, verbs alone can't help you find a bathroom or get a cab. You need vocabulary! The more words you know, the more conversation you can have.

The Bible is vocabulary in our relationship with God. We don't read the Bible just to read our Bibles. We read with the goal to commune with God. So, you may ask, why spend the effort? Yes, our God is bigger than the pages of the Bible (John 5:39). He can meet us anywhere, and can speak to us in many ways. But He is very clear that He does not change and that His Word is eternal (Isa. 40:8; Mal. 3:6). This means that without a rich vocabulary of God's Word, our interaction with Him is limited.

As I grow in knowledge of the Bible, I quickly recognize His voice in my day-to-day life. Sometimes circumstances will remind me of a passage I read. As I consider how to respond to someone, a story from the Old Testament will come into view. The more I read, the more living and active my relationship with God becomes. I am learning His language and engaging with Him better every day. Isn't this what we all long for? A living, breathing, tangible relationship with the eternal and living God?

I hope these analogies encourage you and create desire in you to get into the Word! Which one of these pictures speaks to you the most? Were any of them new ideas to you? I'd love to hear from you!

About The Author:

Kelly Needham hopes to persuade as many people as possible that nothing compares to simply knowing Jesus. She is married to Christian singer/songwriter, Jimmy Needham, whose ministry of sharing the gospel through song takes him all over the world. After spending many years traveling with her husband as his road manager and violinist, Kelly came off the road to be a full-time mom to their two young daughters.

This article originally appeared on ReviveOurHearts.com. Used with permission.

Approaching A Bible Study

by Scofield Study Bible

THROUGH the centuries the Bible has been the most widely read of all books. Yet as individuals have been prompted to read it, perhaps by curiosity, perhaps by spiritual interest, they have often found that it baffles them. In many instances even those who do not believe that it has any claims on their lives feel, and rightly so, that it is unintelligent to remain in ignorance of the most famous of writings. Still they, along with many sincere believers, all too soon shrink from any serious effort to master the contents of the sacred text. The main reason for not understanding the message of Scripture lies in the failure to see its overall plan and purpose.

The plan of the Bible can be compared to a mosaic. Each word, chapter and book form components that are necessary, yet incomplete in themselves. They can never be viewed in isolation, just as a mosaic is only meaningful as a unified whole. To profit from the Bible the reader must be able to work with the individual parts as well as the overall themes and purposes.

It is a virtue of this study Bible that it attempts to set forth the entire plan of the written revelation. And it seeks to relate this global perspective to the details of Scripture, which can be gathered together into summary statements and descriptions of God's unified purposes and acts in and beyond time.

In presenting God's written Word as a whole, the New Scofield Study Bible (NIV) stresses several unifying characteristics:

  • (1) the nature of Scripture as embodying progressive revelation,
  • (2) the purposeful division of the total canon of sixty-six books into related subsections,
  • (3) the presence of recurring themes throughout the Bible,
  • (4) the relation of the acts of God to the continuing flow of human history, including specific goals as He deals with humankind, and
  • (5) the connection of individual details of Scripture with God's overall plan, as far as it can be discerned, for humanity and angelic beings.

In a very real sense this Study Bible offers the reader a lifetime of study opportunities. It is designed to help an individual analyze separate parts of Scripture and to put them together. Since the Bible's depths can never be fully plumbed by any finite mind - there is always more to learn - several features are designed to help the reader delve further into the text, discovering details and relating them to each other.

The overall plan of the Bible

There are several prominent characteristics of the Bible that are indispensable keys for study.

1. The Bible is one book. Several telling signs attest to this unity.

(1) From Genesis onward the Bible bears witness to one God. Wherever He speaks or acts He is consistent with Himself, and with the total revelation concerning Him.

(2) The Bible forms one continuous story - the account of God's dealings with the human race.

(3) The Bible advances the most unlikely predictions concerning the future, and then gives the record of their fulfillment at the appropriate time.

(4) The Bible is a progressive unfolding of truth. God does not give all the information He will give on a subject at one particular point. (It is also important to remember that God has not told us all there is to know about Himself and His purposes with men and women, only what we need to know.) To stimulate our interest and to thwart the casual, God has given His revelation in parts over time. A helpful statement of this principle is found in Hebrews 1:1-2: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets in many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. . . ."

(5) The Bible presents a single way of access to God. All of biblical history up to the Cross anticipates the great act of God to provide a way for sinners to come into His presence. The remainder of the New Testament records views that act in retrospect, delineating the account of those subsequently living under it. The means of access to God (substitutionary death of a sacrifice) and the sole channel for obtaining that access (faith) are presented uniformly in Scripture, without a suggestion of any other possible way.

(6) From beginning to end the Bible has one great theme: the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. All Scripture is rightly related initially to Him. Revelation 19:10 reminds us of this when it states: "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." The predictive words of the Old and New Testaments have Jesus Christ as their focus: they are testimonies about Him.

(7) The doctrines of the Bible are harmonious, even though they were penned by some forty-four writers over more than sixteen centuries. The constant quotation of the Old Testament by writers of the New Testament attests to this. For example, the fact that Paul could adduce Gen. 2:24 to advance his argument in Eph. 5:31 shows that he believed his words were in keeping with those of Moses.

2. The Bible is a book composed of books.

Each of the sixty-six books is complete in itself and has its own theme and analysis. In the New Scofield Study Bible (NIV) the features of the book are shown in the introduction to that book, which includes an outline of the text, and in paragraph headings, which build on and expand the outline. It is of great importance that each book be studied in the light of its distinctive themes. Genesis, for instance, is the book of beginnings - the seed-plot of the whole Bible. Matthew is the Gospel book that portrays the Lord Jesus Christ as the King presented to Israel, as opposed, for instance, to John, which stresses His acts as the Son of God, that is, as Deity.

3. The books of the Bible can be assigned to groups.

It is possible to see in the Scriptures five great divisions, each of which can be associated with a key word pointing to Christ's incarnation (cp. Lk. 24:25-27):

PREPARATION - the Old Testament
MANIFESTATION - the Gospels
PUBLICATION - Acts
EXPLANATION - the Epistles
CONSUMMATION - Revelation

The entire Old Testament is a preparation for Christ (Lk. 24:27). The four Gospels present His life and ministry as the incarnate second Person of the Trinity. The book of Acts records the early publication of the evangelion, the Gospel, the Good News concerning Him. The Epistles furnish interpretation and explanation of that life, ministry and death. And the book of Revelation portrays the culmination of God's purposes in Christ in and beyond human history on earth.

One can see further significant subdivisions among the books. The Old Testament can be shown to have four well-defined parts:

THE LAW

Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy

HISTORY
Joshua   1 and 2 Chronicles
Judges   Ezra
Ruth   Nehemiah
1 and 2 Samuel   Esther
1 and 2 Kings    

 POETRY AND WISDOM BOOKS

Job
Psalms
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs

PROPHECY

 
Isaiah   Jonah
Jeremiah   Micah
Lamentations   Nahum
Ezekiel   Habakkuk
Daniel    Zephaniah
Hosea   Haggai
Joel   Zechariah
Amos   Malachi
Obadiah    

Within these groups each book makes a distinctive contribution. While redemption is the general theme, for example, of the Pentateuch, relating the story of the redemption of Israel out of bondage and into "a good and spacious land," each of the five books has its own particular part in the whole. Genesis describes God's calling of a particular people, Israel, to be the special object of His dealings; Exodus recounts the deliverance of Israel; Leviticus portrays the worship of Israel as a delivered people; Numbers recounts the wanderings and failures of that delivered people; and Deuteronomy warns and instructs them in view of their approaching entrance into their inheritance.

4. The Bible tells the human story.

Beginning, logically, with the creation of the earth and of the first human being, the story of our race which sprang from the first human pair continues through the first eleven chapters of Genesis. In the twelfth chapter begins the history of Abraham and of the nation of which Abraham was the ancestor. It is that nation, Israel, with which the subsequent Bible narrative is chiefly concerned, from the eleventh chapter of Genesis to the second chapter of Acts. The Gentiles are mentioned, but only in connection with Israel. It is made increasingly clear that Israel so fills the scene only because this nation was entrusted with the accomplishment of great worldwide purposes (Dt. 7:7).

The appointed mission of Israel was:

(1) to be a witness to the unity of God in the midst of universal idolatry (Dt. 6:4; Isa. 43:10);

(2) to illustrate to the nations the greater blessedness of serving the one true God (Dt. 33:26-29; 1 Chr. 17:20,21; Ps. 102:15);

(3) to receive and preserve the divine revelation (Rom. 3:1-2); and

(4) to produce the Messiah, humanity's Savior and Lord (Rom. 9:4-5). The prophets foretell a glorious future for Israel under His reign.

The biblical story of Israel - past, present and future - falls into seven distinct periods:

  • (1) from the call of Abram (Gen. 12) to the Exodus (Ex. 1-20);
  • (2) from the Exodus to the death of Joshua (Ex. 21 to Josh.. 24);
  • (3) from the death of Joshua to the establishment of the Hebrew monarchy under Saul;
  • (4) the period of the kings from Saul to the captivities;
  • (5) the period of the captivities;
  • (6) the restored commonwealth (from the end of the Babylonian captivity of Judah to the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70); and
  • (7) the present dispersion and subsequent return to the land of Israel.

The Gospels record the appearance of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, in human history and within the Hebrew nation, and tell the wonderful story of His manifestation to Israel, His rejection by that people, His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.

The book of Acts records the descent of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of a new entity in human history, the Church. The division of the race now becomes threefold - the Jew, the Gentile and the Church of God (1 Cor. 10:32). Just as Israel is in the foreground from the call of Abram to the resurrection of Christ, so now the church fills the scene from the second chapter of Acts to the fourth chapter of Revelation. The remaining chapters of that book complete the story of humanity and the final triumph of Christ.

5. The Central Theme of the Bible is Christ.

It is this manifestation of Jesus Christ, His person as God revealed in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16), His sacrificial death and His resurrection, that constitute the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4). All preceding Scripture leads to this; all following Scripture proceeds from this.

The Gospel is preached in Acts and explained in the Epistles. The topic of Christ, Son of God, Son of man, Son of Abraham, Son of David thus binds the many books into one Book.

As seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), He is the ultimate destroyer of Satan and his works;
As seed of Abraham, He is the benefactor of the world;
As seed of David, He is Israel's King, "the desired of all nations" (Hag. 2:7).

Exalted to the right hand of God, He is Head overall to the Church, which is His body; while to Israel and the nations the promise of His return forms the one and only rational expectation that humanity will yet fulfill itself. Meanwhile the Church looks momentarily for the fulfillment of His special promise, " I will come back and take you to be with me" (Jn. 14:3).

It is to him that the Holy Spirit throughout this Church Age bears testimony.

The last book of all, the consummation book, is "The revelation of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:1).

Biblical Symbolism

by Staff, Forerunner

Many people in the "Christian" world feel they understand the Bible. Tens of thousands of books, major commentaries, Bible dictionaries and prophetic writings explain and re-explain it, by thesis and exegesis. How much of this is real understanding?

If the Bible is so easy to understand, why are there so many varying opinions? Why do equally brilliant scholars come up with diametrically opposed explanations? Denominations have innumerable disagreements on virtually every part of God's Word.

The Bible is full of imagery. It is self-proclaimed to be written in parables, riddles, symbols, similitudes, allegories and analogies, and there are good reasons for this. To probe these depths, Forerunner will devote several studies to understanding the Bible's language and imagery.

1. What is a parable? Matthew 13:34-35.

Comment: "Parable" (Gk. parabole, Strong's #3850 from #3846) is a "similitude, i.e. (symbol.) fictitious narrative (of common life conveying a moral), apothegm or adage." In the KJV this Greek word is rendered "comparison," "figure," "parable," and "proverb." Thus, a parable is not a straightforward description of an event just as it occurred or will occur. It is intended to be similar to a real event, a comparison that has to be interpreted to reveal the true meaning.

2. Why are parables used?

Why not "just the facts"? Matthew 13:9-17; Isaiah 28:9-13; Mark 4:11-13; Proverbs 26:7; Romans 11:32-33.

Comment: Christ did not speak in parables to make the meaning clear to just any reader! From the very beginning, God has supervised the writing of the Bible so that it cannot be understood without outside help. Even prophets and righteous men of old did not understand, nor did the multitudes who heard the parables of Christ. According to Romans 11, the meaning is veiled from most of mankind until the day God offers them salvation. They are relegated to unbelief until a later time (i.e. the Millennium or Great White Throne Judgment), lest they rebel and must be destroyed.

3. Who, then, can understand?

John 6:44; 14:26; Luke 8:9-10; 12:30-32; I Corinthians 1:25-29; Matthew 11:25; Romans 10:13-17.

Comment: God has set up a system to call, convert and educate a people for Himself. They are a minority, very few in number. They are not mighty, noble and learned, but the weak of the world. God calls them and gives them His Spirit and teachers to help them understand. Of all people on earth, only they have a chance to understand the Bible.

4. Another word for parable is "similitude."

How does the Bible define this word? How should we view similitudes? Deuteronomy 4:16; Psalm 106:20; James 3:9; Romans 5:14; I Corinthians 10:11; Hosea 12:10; Galatians 6:16.

Comment: A similitude is a similarity, a comparison, a likeness, a shadow - essentially the same as a parable. Paul says all the Old Testament accounts are written for our understanding today. Hosea writes that the prophets spoke to us in similitudes or similarities. Thus, what happened to Israel and Judah in the prophecies applies in principle to the church today, the New Testament "Israel of God." Further, what is occurring in the church today is similar to what is occurring and prophesied to occur in the physical nations of Israel. It may not unfold in exactly the same detail, but very similarly. What understanding this concept opens up to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear!

5. What is an allegory?

Does it further solidify and underscore the relevance of physical-spiritual types? Galatians 4:19-31.

Comment: Webster's Dictionary defines allegory as "to speak figuratively, a symbolic representation." Unger's Bible Dictionary defines it as expressing or explaining one thing under the image of another and showing a second and deeper meaning than would seem apparent. Again, it is similar to a parable.

Paul - addressing the New Testament church, which he calls "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16) - shows that the Old Covenant points to and helps explain the New. He writes that Jerusalem is a figure, forerunner, type and present-day symbol of the New Covenant and church today (see also Hebrews 12:22-23, Romans 9:1-8; I Peter 2:9). We can then read both the history and prophecy regarding Jerusalem, the physical capital of Israel, and apply it to the church, the spiritual "Jerusalem, . . . mother of us all."

6. The use of the word "key" is another proof that much biblical understanding is locked away from all but a few who have access to the key or keys.

What is a "key"? Luke 11:52; Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7; Matthew 16:19; Psalm 51.

Comment: A key is "that which opens." Men can lock away understanding through their own selfishness and deception. The keys to open understanding are contained in Christ. He gives those keys to whom He will. He gave them to Peter and the apostles and also to the Philadelphia era of the New Testament church.

The church today must use the "key of David" to unlock the secrets of proper administration, unity and understanding. After several years as king, David began to administer the kind of government the Gentiles were famous for abusing. He raised himself above the law and killed his enemies, like Uriah, with no conscience. The last half of Psalm 51 shows a repentant man with an entirely changed attitude and approach to others, an administration God could use to unify Israel and "build the walls of Jerusalem." That ministers and members alike grasp this "key of [a converted] David" is vital to building a united, peaceful church today, which will be done (Haggai 2:9).

God, having hidden the meaning of the mystery of the ages from this world, has revealed it to us. The Bible's symbolic language greatly enhances our understanding of the wonderful Kingdom of God!

Source: Forerunner, "Bible Study," April 1999 © 1999 CGG

Seven Effective Ways to Memorize Scripture

by Dr. Joe McKeever

"And upon that law does he meditate day and night." (Psalm 1:2).

"Thy word have I hid in my heart..." (Psalm 119:11)

To meditate on the word of the Lord in the middle of the night requires one to know it. So, someone-the writer of the first Psalm-has been memorizing Scripture.

Since people in biblical days had no books as we do, when they heard the Word read, they seized upon it eagerly and worked to remember as much as they could. No doubt that, more than anything else, accounts for the way Scripture is quoted throughout the Bible: never verbatim. They were going by memory.

You and I have Bibles all over the house and rarely give a thought to memorizing it.

Perhaps we're like Einstein. According to the story, which may be apocryphal, when asked for his phone number, the great man went to the phone directory and looked it up. His visitor was incredulous. "You don't even know your own phone number?" Einstein said, "I refuse to clutter my mind with information that is easily accessible elsewhere."

I suppose that's why we don't memorize the Word. All we have to do is open our phones or laptops or pull down the volume from a shelf, and it's all there. But if this is our plan, it overlooks a major factor: Christians need the Word inside us, not just alongside us.

I started memorizing Scripture as a child. And kept it up as a pastor.

Most of what I preach these days in my retirement ministry is scripture I've long known and loved and "hid in my heart." (Or, as we used to say, "I know it by heart.")

The host pastor heard me preach throughout the week. One day he asked, "Do you memorize the scripture for all your sermons?" I teasingly answered, "No, I just preach the parts I've memorized."

Okay. This is the point where I would ordinarily brag about what scriptures I know, what entire chapters I can recite for you, and such. But I think I'll pass and cut straight to the point:

How to memorize the Word.

There are two primary answers to the question, as least in my own experience.

1. Indirect:

Don't try to memorize texts. Just read them again and again and again. Eventually, you've memorized them.

2. Direct:

Make a conscious effort to memorize a passage using whatever devices you can come up with.

First, the indirect approach.

By repetition, primarily. You read it again and again. You read it out loud. You reflect on it. Eventually , it's yours.

Yes, it's that simple.

And then, the more intensive, direct approach.

One: Write it out. By longhand, even.

Two: Write a few verses on one page, in large print so you can read it easily.

Three: Post that page in two or three primary places. On the dashboard of the car, near the bathroom mirror, and on your desk, are places the come to mind. (By suggesting you post this in the car, I'm not suggesting you read it while driving. But at traffic lights, you glance at it and refresh your memory. Passengers might read it to you and even listen as you attempt to recite it.)

When Dr. James Dobson was a child, he watched as his parents did this very thing in the car. His father would ask Mrs. Dobson to "Check me on this," and he would recite a passage of Scripture. The small boy in the back seat was forever impressed by the example of his parents.

Four: Read it repeatedly. Aloud, when you can.

Five: Think of what you are reading. Reflect on what it's saying. Discuss it.

Six: Come up with devices to help you keep lists in order, to remind you of transitions from one verse to another.

Here are some ways I've done that.

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress? Persecution or famine, nakedness, danger or sword?" (Romans 8:35) Here's how I memorized that list…

I imagined scoring a TOUCHDOWN wearing my PF flyers (tennis shoes) for my high school IN DOUBLE SPRINGS, Alabama. (PF Flyers were a well-known sneaker when I was a kid.) From that I got TD and then PF and then DS. Get it? TD = tribulation, distress. PF = persecution, famine. N = nakedness. DS = danger, sword.

"I am convinced that neither death nor life, angels nor principalities nor powers, things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

So, I thought of DAT (New Orleans Saints fans call out "Who Dat?") for death…angels…things present. I thought of a PHD, for powers, height, and depth. And I thought of ACT, Any other Created Thing.

Is this silly? Only to someone else. But never to the one doing it.

Jerry Lucas, NBA Hall of Famer, wrote a book once on how to memorize massive sections of Scripture. We had him speak in our church and talk about this very thing, creating word pictures to help you remember word associations, lists, transitions between scenes, etc. I will admit that most people found his system cumbersome. I sure did. However…

I recommend using it a little. Whenever we are having difficulty memorizing a tough passage or a long list of items, this may be just the ticket.

Seven: After you have memorized a passage, you must repeat it often. Otherwise, like every other unused thing in your brain, it goes away.

At one point, many years ago, I decided to memorize the entire New Testament book of Hebrews. And I got as far as the 7th chapter. The problem is that reciting all 7 chapters would take 45 minutes, and that became a burden. I was not enjoying it, but having to make myself do it. And that, I decided, was to defeat the purpose. So, I let it lapse.

How to decide what to memorize…

The Holy Spirit has drawn you to a passage or a verse. It rings your bell, calls your name, has your number. Maybe you're not even sure why, but you know your spirit resonates to those words. Then, that's for you.

Memorize it. Hide it in your heart. Add it to your life.

Twenty years ago, while serving on an associational committee for collegiate ministry in New Orleans, we had our quarterly meeting in a Sunday School classroom of one of our larger churches. I was struck by a verse of Scripture professionally written across the walls, all around the room: "The Lord God is a sun and a shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly." Psalm 84:11.

Having the verse displayed in such huge letters made it so striking that my spirit fell in love with those words. I quickly set about memorizing it, and have kept it as a mainstay in my spiritual arsenal ever since.

After all, if we are to "meditate day and night," as Psalm 1 enjoins, we'd better have God's words in our heart and mind, always ready to feast on their riches and enjoy their insights.

Billy Graham says one of his biggest regrets is not having memorized more scripture in his younger years when the mind could achieve that more easily. My observation is none of us will ever be younger than we are at this moment.

So, let's get on with it now.

About The Author:

Dr. Joe McKeever says he has written dozens of books, but has published none. That refers to the 1,000+ articles on various topics he has written. Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.

One of the Most Important Principles in Reading the Bible

by John Piper

Sometimes readers of the Bible see the conditions that God lays down for his blessing and they conclude from these conditions that our action is first and decisive, then God responds to bless us.

That is not right.

There are indeed real conditions that God often commands. We must meet them for the promised blessing to come. But that does not mean that we are left to ourselves to meet the conditions or that our action is first and decisive.

Here is one example to show what I mean.

In Jeremiah 29:13 God says to the exiles in Babylon, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." So there is a condition: When you seek me with all your heart, then you will find me. So we must seek the Lord. That is the condition of finding him.

True.

But does that mean that we are left to ourselves to seek the Lord? Does it mean that our action of seeking him is first and decisive? Does it mean that God only acts after our seeking?

No.

Listen to what God says in Jeremiah 24:7 to those same exiles in Babylon: "I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart."

So the people will meet the condition of returning to God with their whole heart. God will respond by being their God in the fullest blessing. But the reason they returned with their whole heart is that God gave them a heart to know him. His action was first and decisive.

So now connect that with Jeremiah 29:13. The condition there was that they seek the Lord with their whole heart. Then God will be found by them. But now we see that the promise in Jeremiah 24:7 is that God himself will give them such a heart so that they will return to him with their whole heart.

This is one of the most basic things people need to see about the Bible. It is full of conditions we must meet for God's blessings. But God does not leave us to meet them on our own. The first and decisive work before and in our willing is God's prior grace. Without this insight, hundreds of conditional statements in the Bible will lead us astray.

Let this be the key to all Biblical conditions and commands: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13). Yes, we work. But our work is not first or decisive. God's is. "I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).

© Desiring God. desiringGod.org.

How to Read a Psalm

Theologically Driven

When I have preached on a psalm in a church, some people have mentioned to me that they were familiar with a verse from the psalm but they had not thought about the passage's overall message. I have often wondered if believers have a good reading strategy for getting the most out of a psalm. With this post, I will point out a reading strategy that focuses on the three-part structure of a psalm (this post is adapted from Ryken's Words of Delight, 197–201).

First, the subject is generally contained in the first few verses of a psalm. A psalmist may be responding to a thought, emotion, or a situation. The theme may be stated in different ways. In Psalm 1 the theme is found in the first two verses. The psalmist presents his thoughts from the Law about the blessedness of a godly man. In Psalm 23:1 David's theme is his theological thoughts about God's rich provisions for him. In Psalm 11:1–2 David's theme involves a situation where his trust in the LORD helped him through an apparent assassination attempt. In Psalm 124:1–2 the psalmist presents a situation reflecting God's deliverance of Israel from an enemy. The controlling themes in lyric poems are found in the early verses.

Second, the development of the subject is the major part of the poem's structure. The various authors of the psalms generally develop their subject in four ways. The first way is by using contrast. In Psalm 1 the psalmist sets up a contrast between the righteous and the wicked. This contrast emphasizes the blessedness of the godly. David's trust in the LORD to handle his trial in Psalm 11 is contrasted with the advice to flee from Jerusalem. The second method of developing the subject is through listing items that are associated with the subject. Praise hymns generally catalog God's characteristics and actions. Another example of this is found in a psalm of confidence, Psalm 23. In this familiar example, David's subject of God's rich provisions for him (v. 1) is itemized by a number of God's provisions such as rest, restoration, moral direction, and protection (vv. 2–6). The third manner is by the use of relationship. The subject in Psalm 19 is the majesty of God (v. 1). David initially shows how nature reflects God's majesty and then moves to a related item, God's majesty as reflected in His Word (vv. 7–14). The fourth way is through repetition. The theme in Psalm 133 is the blessedness of Israelites who are united in worship. The psalmist uses various images to develop his theme.

Third, a psalm is rounded off by its conclusion. This may be in the form of a summation as in Psalm 1:6, "For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction." It may also be in the form of prayer as in Psalm 19:14 or an exhortation as in Psalm 32:11.

Reading a psalm in light of its threefold structure gives us a strategy to better understand a psalm's overall message. And, as we comprehend each psalm's overall message, may God grant that they guide us in our worship of him.

Source: Today's Topical Bible Study

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