Many years ago, when our four children were ages four to then, I decided we should embark on a year of reading through the Bible. I chose the One Year Chronological Bible in the New Living Translation, hoping that the simpler language would help our children understand the reading. Leviticus is notoriously challenging, even for adult readers. One night, we were in Leviticus 18, and after the fifth or sixth repeated command, “Do not have sexual relations with…[your daughter, granddaughter, uncle, etc.]” (Leviticus 18:6-18), our ten-year-old son burst out, “Do we have to keep reading this?” I had to admit, it was a good question.
Should we read the whole Bible? Do we really need to make our way through all the begets and begats and the barely comprehensible Levitical laws? While there are many good arguments for reading the entire Bible, I’m going to focus on one here, and then offer some tips for doing it, along with several plans to consider.
A Really Good Reason to Read the Whole Bible
Why read the entire Bible? Because it is the one true overarching story (meta-narrative) that defines the life of a Christian. Authored by God himself, it introduces us to the complexities of his character and grows our wonder and worship of him. Not only that, but through the work of his Holy Spirit, the Bible transforms us into the character of Christ—every single word of it. Let’s consider how knowing the overarching story of Scripture helps us to live as glory-giving creatures of God.
When we read Genesis 1 and 2 and see how marvelously and majestically God designed everything in the cosmos, we are awed at the Creator. We also reclaim our sense of self, our own God-shaped beauty and purpose, since we were created in his glorious image (Genesis 1:26-27).
As we move on to Genesis 3 and read of Satan’s seduction of Adam and Eve, we recognize our own temptation to doubt God and to do things our own way; that is, to sin. The “fall” addresses our questions about the brokenness we see in our own lives and in the world around us. It also grows our gratitude for God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness of sins.
Even plodding through the laws of Leviticus and the headcounts of Numbers reveals something about God and something about us: he is a covenantal King who counts his people as precious. Moving on through history and the prophets, we continue to see our King’s faithfulness to an unfaithful people….
Some of my most treasured childhood memories are of the post-dinner stories my grandfather told. Most of the time he was a man of few words, but without fail, after he finished eating, his pushed his chair back, linked his fingers together, and rested his hands on top of his post-retirement pot belly. As a smile spread across his face, he looked at us and asked, “Did I ever tell you about the time . . .”
Through his stories, he transported us back to 1940s Jackson Square, to the French Quarter beignet shop where men in tuxes and women in ballgowns dropped white sugar all over their carnival attire. He took us on grand adventures such as sleeping under picnic tables while hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon and working odd jobs on the home front while older family and friends fought across Europe and the Pacific.
It’s been fifteen years since I heard him tell a story or seen his full-bellied laugh, but I can remember those precious moments like they were yesterday. Those stories taught me my family history, and later in life his stories helped me understand parts of who I am.
Knowing Ourselves by Knowing God
“Who am I?” Is there a question more central or universal to the human experience? These three little words, this tiny question, can take a lifetime to unravel. For generations, poets, songwriters, sociologists, and anthropologists (just to name a few) have attempted to romanticize or research their way to a deeper understanding of human and personal identity. For those of us who are Christians, the question is also warranted. God invites His people to freely ask identity questions, knowing in His kindness He already gave us the answers in His Word.
As we study God’s Word, as we begin to digest God’s divinity, His story and promises, we are invited to understand the fundamental truth: there is no real knowledge of self without a knowledge of God. And at the core we cannot truly answer the question “Who am I?” until we have answered, “Who is He?”…
Words matter. As a counselor, I know the power of the spoken word, how certain words can break a relationship, while others can heal it. As a writer, I know the importance of selecting the right word to use in a sentence. Sometimes, just one word can be the difference between confusion and clarity.
Words matter in the Bible as well. God created the world through just the power of his word; he merely spoke and light appeared. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is The Word incarnate, God’s word to us made flesh. Unlike the words we write or speak, God’s word is active and alive; it changes and transforms. It is truth which sanctifies.
As we prepare to return to Bible studies with the women in our churches this fall, it is appropriate to look at the significance of words in Scripture, for every word carries meaning and significance. When we study a passage or chapter in the Bible, it is important to make note of the words used, the meanings of those words, and how they are used. It makes a world of difference as we seek to understand, learn, and be transformed by the very word of God.
As you study this semester, consider some of these words:
Names of People and Places: The meanings of names carry great weight in the Bible. Whenever we come across a name, whether of a person or place, we ought to look up its meaning. Unlike modern times, in the Bible, a person’s name often indicated something about who they were and what they would become (Gen 17:5). Sometimes God instructed prophets to name their children names that spoke to what was happening at that time in Israel or signified what would happen in the future (Hosea 1:6). Often the names of places tell us something about who God is and what he has done.
Repeated Words: Consider how often a teacher or parent repeats the same instructions to children. They often feel like a record set on repeat. In the Bible, when a word is repeated, it’s not accidental. It’s done so to enforce something, to highlight something, to make a point. The author is saying, “Listen up! This is uber-important!” When we come across repeated words or phrases, we ought to stop and take notice. A good example of this is when Isaiah hears the seraphim call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (6:3)
Transition Words: Many bible study students have heard a pastor..
So, she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing, for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
Hagar and the angel of the Lord in the wilderness are an important piece to the relational gospel story between God and His people. It is a story for those who feel weak, used, abused, abandoned, those who are aliens, and those who long to be seen. El Roi is the God who sees us. This name of God is revealed in Genesis 16. Hagar refers to God as El Roi in verse 13, but to understand the importance of this name we have to see the name in the context of the entire story.
In Genesis 16 we see Sarai desperately wanting to push God’s covenant promise along in her own human effort, control, and plans. In the text of Genesis 16 we see she suggests to Abram that he take her maidservant to be his wife. Neither Abram nor Sarai refer to Hagar by name in this entire account recorded by Moses in Genesis 16. She is a maidservant, an Egyptian in slavery in a foreign land, and she is used as an object by Abram and Sarai—unseen to them as the named woman, by the personal name Hagar—to Abram and Sarai, she is servant or just a pronoun.
After Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarai deals harshly with her and Hagar flees. Hagar is pregnant, an alien in a foreign land, and up until this point has not been referred to by her personal name. She flees to a place on the way to Shur—a place that is so far from where Abram and Sarai lived that she must have traveled a very long way on foot to escape the mistress who mistreated her, never called her by her personal name, and dealt with her harshly.
In the desert, the angel of the Lord speaks to her and calls her by her personal name for the first time in the text of Genesis 16. In Hagar’s response to the angel of the Lord, we see for the first time in Scripture, the recorded name of the God who sees, El Roi—the God who sees me…