The Need for Bible Study
Why Must I do Bible Study
After the Lord God created the world, He did not have to tell Adam and Eve what He had done. Yet He did. After the fall into sin, when the curse of God reached into every area of human existence, the Lord did not have to come with His plan of salvation, nor did He have to tell anyone about it. Yet He did. That He spoke to man and revealed His plan is His mercy.
Again, after the Lord had revealed Himself to Adam and Eve, and told them too of the salvation He would work through the Seed of the woman, He did not have to cause all following generations to know of His word to Adam. But He did. The Church confesses her delight at God’s mercy like this: “in His special care for us and our salvation, God commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit His revealed Word to writing” (Belgic Confession, Article 3). It’s because of “His special care for us” that we today know what God said to Adam – and to Abraham and to Moses and to David and to Jeremiah and to Paul and to Peter…. He had (among other generations and peoples) also us in mind when He caused His Word to be written down and preserved over the centuries. How marvelous this God is!
God’s action in giving His Word requires a response. Those who believe that the Bible actually is God’s holy revelation could respond by paging through that Word form time to time, and leave delighting in it for others to do. That, though, is hardly a response befitting anyone who marvels at the fact that God actually spoke to men. To be more precise, the Lord requires a radically different response. That better response is what I want to elaborate on today.
The King of Israel
In days long before computers were invented, or even Gutenberg’s printing press, the God who had revealed much about Himself already to Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Israel, gave a most peculiar command. Through Moses He told Israel that any man who would become king in Israel must “write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law” (Dt 17:18). Note well: there was yet no such thing as a BIC pen or a piece of paper. With primitive tools the (new) king had to write out in full a personal copy of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. (And as the Scriptures expanded, the amount the king had to write out increased accordingly.) The king’s personal, hand-written copy of the Word of God was not to be a display piece; rather (said God), “it is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life” (vs 19). Those two phrases make plain that the king of Israel was not to leave his Bible home when he went on a field trip to see the troops or when he went to visit a neighboring king or when he entered a cabinet meeting. His personal copy of the Bible was to “be with him”, and he was to read it faithfully.
The Lord also explained the reason for this command. “All the days of his life” the king was to read his personal copy of God’s Word “so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees” (vs 19). A king in Israel necessarily was king under God, and so had to rule as God would rule His people. No king could do so unless He knew God well. That’s why any king in Israel had to have his personal copy of holy Scripture and read it faithfully.
The Command Understood
We would say: Genesis and the first part of Exodus and parts of Numbers may be exciting enough to read and read again and again (though after a while those stories get so well known), but all those laws of Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy: they’re tedious! If the king has to read those laws “all the days of his life,” he’s going to get bored out of his brain reading those pages so often; he’ll soon know them inside out and backwards, and they won’t mean anything to him anymore….
How striking, then, that Israel’s second king spoke so highly of the Word of God! As a man after God’s heart, David will have written out his personal copy of the Bible, and read it day by day. Says David about that Word: “Oh, how I love your law!” (Ps 119:97) and “I delight in Your commands because I love them” (vs 47). David kept himself busy with God’s Word day after day. He says, “I meditate on [Your law] all day long” (vs 97). The word translated here as ‘meditate’ describes the notion of reflecting on, thinking on that law. That is: in the course of the day David’s mind was busy mulling over the Scripture. And no, we’re not to conclude that David was present in body only during cabinet meetings, that his thoughts were far removed from his work; rather, as he was considering kingly questions of taxation or where to send soldiers or how to defeat that enemy, he was busy in his mind with what the will of God was on those questions of taxation or military strategy. The word of God was a lamp to David’s feet as he walked the road to his enemy’s city, and it was a light on his path as he contemplated issues of taxation (vs 105). The close connection David saw between the Bible and the questions of his daily life was precisely what God wanted: the God who controls all of life (Lord’s Day 10) gave His Word to guide His people in the specific questions that invariably arise as God leads them down paths of His choosing.
In fact, David explains for us something of how he is busy with God’s word. David says in Ps 1 that the man is blessed who takes “delight in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night” (vs 2). The term ‘meditates’ in this psalm translates a different word than David used in Ps 119. In Ps 1 the term ‘meditates’ translates a term that actually describes making a low sound, as the moaning of a dove (Is 38:14) or the growling of a lion over its prey (Is 31:4). Used in relation to Scripture, the point appears to be that someone is reading the Bible half out loud. He’s getting the message of Scripture in his head (again) not just through his eyes but also through his ears – didactically very sound. That reading: it’s the evidence of taking “delight in the law of the LORD.” In fact, he delights so much in that Word – and in David’s days that’s at most the Bible books from Genesis to Ruth – that he reads those eight books half out loud “day and night”. No, not all day and all night (for there’s more for a righteous man to do), but each day and each night. He’s busy with God’s word, continually, in the big and little questions of daily living. We realize: David was engaged daily in personal Bible study.
Our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament office of king. The Scriptures do not relate anywhere whether Jesus wrote out for Himself a copy of the Bible as it existed in His day – the entire Old Testament. The Holy Spirit has made plain, though, that the Lord Jesus was most familiar with the revelation of God in Scripture. At the tender age of 12 already, Jesus had such command of God’s Word that He could ask questions and give answers that stunned His hearers (Luke 2:46,47). Day and night Jesus was busy with the things of His Father (Luke 2:49*). So He also came to know the will of God for Him, including that He ‘must’ suffer and die. God’s Word was not something that Jesus kept at arm’s length from the questions of His daily living, but He knew that Word to be a light on His path and so He sought God’s will for Him in that Word. In the words of Ps 1: Jesus delighted in the law of the LORD, and read it and reflected on it day and night.
* Numerous translations have Jesus saying that He had to be “in My Father’s house.” The original says: in My Father’s things. That includes being busy with Father’s Word.
Why have I drawn out God’s command to the kings of Israel? Simply, dear reader, because God’s people today are kings. The apostle Peter describes those redeemed by Jesus’ blood as “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). The Church echoes God’s Word on the point in Lord’s Day 12, with the confession that we are anointed to be kings. But if we are kings, the principle of Deut 17 –though the passage is fulfilled in Christ, the perfect King – is valid for each of us today. No, not that we need to write out for ourselves a complete copy of the Word of God; now that Bibles are as cheap and as readily available as they are, we can spare ourselves and our children that mammoth task. But being busy with Scripture is imperative for every king in God’s creation today – and that’s you and me! God’s Word is so much larger today than it was in David’s day, so much so, even, that no one can claim to know it perfectly. Those 66 books of God’s Old and New Testament revelation must be the delight of today’s kings as much as it was the delight of Israel’s king David. We are kings in our homes and kings in the office, kings at school and in the factory; how to take care of God’s world and tackle the questions God puts on our path requires that we’re daily busy in reading and thought with the revealed will of the King of kings.
Then one might say: the Bible is so dusty, it speaks of events of so long ago, and of people of different culture and race than we today. The Bible is out of touch with modern people, and modern problems…..
But who, pray tell, is the Author of the Bible? Is the Author not the same God who controls history? He was able to have Abraham live in the computer age. He was able to have a cell phone available for the apostle Paul. But He didn’t direct things that way. He caused them to live in their culture, and us in our culture. He revealed Himself to them as well as to us, so that they in their culture and we in ours might know the same God. Despite all the changes God has allowed in the development of the world since Noah’s days, He has not changed. He remains King, who controls all. The Word He gave is about Him, and through what He said long ago the kings of today get to know Him in the midst of life’s questions.
Is Bible study necessary? The fact that the Bible is God’s Word makes the need for Bible study self evident for all who take God seriously. Kings-under-God in God’s world cannot leave the revelation of the King of kings on the shelf.
How about Family Bible Study
In a previous installment I drew out the necessity for God’s people today to be busy with daily Bible study. As persons ordained by God the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit to be kings (Lord’s Day 12), the principle of Deuteronomy 17:18,19 is valid for us today still.
That conclusion raises another question. It’s this: how shall the younger generation learn the art of being busy with the Scriptures in the midst of life’s questions? They certainly will not learn it without guidance from someone. But who must give the guidance? And how?
In first place it must be said here that we may and must be thankful for the blessings the Lord gives in the Bible-centered education our children receive in our Christian schools. That observation, however, takes nothing away from the fact that parents fail in their task when they (think to) leave the education of their children to the teachers. Nowhere in the Bible do we find any passage that lets us conclude that the Lord has entrusted His children-by-covenant to the care of teachers. Instead, we find ample evidence in Scripture that the Lord has entrusted His children-by-covenant to the care of parents.
Let me attempt to be clear. The Lord God is almighty, and so able to place people on earth today in the same way as He put Adam on earth: gathering soil together into the form of a man and breathing into him the breathe of life (Gen 2:7). Today He doesn’t create people that way anymore. Instead, He ordained that man and woman should be fruitful and multiply. That is: one generation brings forth the next generation. That is the means God uses to bring people into His world.
More: God is mighty to make mature believers out of discarded rocks. That’s what Jesus said; God is mighty to raise up children for Abraham from the stones of the field (Mt 3:9). God, though, doesn’t do it that way. Instead, He has ordained that godly parents should train up their children to know their God. That is God’s ordinance: believing parents are to cause their children to know their God so well that they learn to answer life’s questions God’s way.
On the basis of this two-fold principle (God uses parents both to bring more people into this world as well as to train up the next generation to know their God) – on the basis of this two-fold principle, the Lord God caused Moses to stress the role of parents in Israel. Said Moses to the people before they crossed the Jordan to inherit the Promised Land: “only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Dt 4:9). Those words are obviously spoken specifically to the people in their role as parents. What were the things their eyes had seen? They’d seen forty years of the Lord’s care for them in the desert, with manna each morning and water when they needed it. More, those people to whom Moses spoke had seen their parents die, every last one of them; 40 years ago God had punished the people with a sentence of death for all older than 20. And it happened; God was holy. The older of the generation to whom Moses spoke could vividly recall the fearful display of God’s majesty at Mt Sinai when He came in fire and smoke, they could recall the tension at Pi-Hahiroth when Egypt’s armies closed in on them and God opened the sea so that they could walk between two walls of water, they could remember the plagues on Egypt and the slavery before the plagues. In a word: the things written in the Bibles they had –specifically Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers they knew from personal experience. God’s command was: make sure you don’t forget the things your eyes have seen, the things recorded in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. More: teach those things to your children and to their children after them. (Note here the task God gives to grandparents!) These parents of Israel, then, had to make a point of teaching the Bible to their offspring!
That task of the parents is repeated two chapters later. “These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me [Moses] to teach you [Israel] to observe in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live” (Dt 6:1,2). It shall not go well with the children if they do not fear the Lord, and the children shall not know the Lord if their parents do not instill God’s commands, decrees and laws in them. That is why the Lord adds: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (vss 6,7). Those commands included instruction about what foods were clean and which were unclean (Lev 11). As Dad and the boys went hunting and slaughtered their catch, Dad was to teach the children to discern what they could eat, and why. Those commands included instruction about uncleanness as a result of childbirth or periods. As they sat in the house (on this chair and not on that one), mother and father were to teach the children about the effect of the fall into sin on childbirth, and the redemption God would work through a Savior (Lev 15). Parental instruction from the Word of God was to touch every area of life; always parents in Israel were to impress God’s commands upon their children. We’d say today: parents need to speak with their children of the will of God when they sit in front of the TV and when they drive home from hockey, when they labor in the garden and when they fish in the river. There’s not a moment of life when parents are freed from the obligation to speak with their children about the way and will of the Lord God.
It’s something Solomon understood. Time and again he gathered his children around him and taught them. Consider the refrain that recurs throughout the book of Proverbs: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction” (1:8). “My son,” said Solomon to Rehoboam and his other children gathered before him, “if sinners entice you, do not give in to them” (1:10). “My son,” he continued (perhaps on another day), “if you accept my words and store up my commands with you…” (2:1). Again: “My son, do not forget my teaching…” (3:1). Here was Solomon the father making a point of impressing upon his son the commands and ordinances of the Lord his God. And sure: Solomon’s words were not directed to his son alone; this wisest of kings wrote it all down for the sake of the people as a whole (and God put this book in the Bible for our instruction). But none of that takes away from the fact that in the book of Proverbs Solomon was carrying out his God-given role of father, seeking to impress God’s Word on his child(ren).
The question arises: from where did Solomon get all the wisdom he caught in the book of Proverbs (and Ecclesiastes, for that matter, and the Song of Solomon)? From where did he gather the material he needed to teach his children? One could refer to the promise of the Lord in 1 Kings 3, where the Lord promised to give Solomon “a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you” (vs 12). At the same time, though, one must be aware that God did not promise to inject Solomon with wisdom and discernment without any effort on Solomon’s part. The Lord gives His blessings through the avenue of man’s obedience. Solomon could receive wisdom and discernment only by means of his faithfully obeying the command of Dt 17. That is: Solomon would get his wisdom through being daily busy with the Scriptures. When, then, he taught his children the wisdom recorded in Proverbs, his children were benefiting from the diligent efforts of their father’s persistent meditation on the Word of God in the midst of life’s tough questions.
So we see a pattern. Individual Bible study leads to family Bible study. Parental obedience to the command of God to kings (and we all are kings!) leads to parents making a point of speaking with their children of the way and will of the Lord in all sorts of situations. It leads to families living around an open Bible.
If this is the will of the Lord for parents –teach His children by covenant the will of the Lord in all life’s questions; so, family Bible study it follows that the elders have a task here. Elders are to “keep watch over [themselves] and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made [them] overseers” (Acts 20:28). In the context of the subject at hand, the command to keep watch over themselves requires that elders to be busy with the Word of God day and night; their office, after all, is kingly! But more: elders are responsible for “all the flock”, including both parents and children. In their role as overseers over the lambs of God’s flock, the elders must see to it that parents are carrying out their God-given role in the families, including that role of teaching their children (and their grandchildren) the ways and deeds and will of the Lord God. Each home visit to parents (and grandparents) must include reference to the means God uses to teach His little ones; each home visit must inquire about whether parents are in fact busy with the Scriptures themselves and whether they are teaching it to their children in the context of any and all the nuts and bolts of daily living.
In fact, this task of the parents needs extra attention in our contemporary culture. There are so many questions for which children seek and need answers. Society tells us that specialists are best equipped to answer children’s questions and give them the guidance they seek. Life is so busy that parents scarcely have the time to listen to children’s questions, let alone be busy with the Scriptures “day and night” to come up with good answers. The inevitable result of such trends is that the children get neglected in that most basic of parental tasks; they no longer hear answers-with-depth from the people closest to them of what it means to live close to the Lord. The consequence in turn is that the children are not trained sufficiently in Bible knowledge, and not trained sufficiently either in the art of thinking through life’s questions with an open Bible. That lack invariably impoverishes the next generation – to the detriment of society as a whole, and the generation after them. To encourage parents in the wonderful responsibility they’ve received in parenting God’s little ones, elders need to raise the topic and discuss the struggles the parents encounter here.
I am aware that this task God has given to parents can seem – and be! – very daunting. For that reason I take the opportunity yet to refer to the promise the Lord has given in Romans 8. “If God is for us,” Paul writes to saints in Rome beleaguered by the challenges of living as weak sinners in a sin-filled world – “if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” If the Lord God gave up His only Son to ransom parents and children from bondage to the devil, will this God now fail to supply the needs of the children? He is pleased to have His children-by-covenant trained through the labors of Godly parents; then He will certainly supply parents with the strength they need! That is His unchanging promise.
So, parents, in faith carry out your God-given task. Take the Word of God with you into every corner of your life, and always meditate on that Word. Then use the insights gained from your personal Bible study to enrich your family Bible study. More, cause your children to learn how to live this modern life with an open Bible. Your God looks after His little ones through you as parents (and grandparents). And He does not fail to supply the strength and wisdom you need.
19 September 2005