“I Didn’t Know What I Was Reading.”

Scan the book titles in many preachers’ libraries, and you are likely to run across a commentary by Homer Hailey. Hailey taught at Abilene Christian College (1934-43, 1948-51) and Flordia College (1951-1972). His commentary on the minor prophets was published by Baker Book House in 1972. Christianity Today heralded it as one of 25 most significant books published that year. Hailey also wrote commentaries on Revelation, Isaiah, and the gospel of John.

A biography of Homer Hailey tells his story. Although his family had Restoration Movement roots, he grew up without religious training or going to church. His mother, Mamie, was a baptized believer, but was in a painful marriage. His father, Robert, had problems with drinking and gambling. After his father’s death, Hailey and his brother became the family’s financial support. Still a teenager, he too became involved in smoking, drinking, and gambling. In fact getting beat up one night, while slightly under the influence of White Mule bootleg liquor was one factor that started him in the path of reform.

Mrs. Huffman, wife of Hailey’s employer, had been correcting him and trying to encourage him for the good. Under her influence, he attended church and was later baptized at a “protracted meeting.” Hailey took his new founded faith seriously. He set out to read the Bible on evenings and Sundays. Hailey’s comment about his early Bible reading is the reason for telling the story. Reflecting back on the experience, he said, “I didn’t know what I was reading, but I read it through.”1

Hailey’s early experience with reading the Bible is common. I think it is important for the beginning Bible reader to hear about the early experiences of an advanced student of the Bible. We may have the mistaken impression that we just aren’t smart enough when we experience difficulties in understanding. We may think that other people understand it easily the first time through. We may get discouraged. The truth is that it takes time. The Bible is a library of books that spans thousands of years of history. We have to take small steps in getting familiar with the names, places, events, and themes.

I felt the same way early in my Bible reading. But even my earliest readings of the Bible registered something. I found moral principles by which to live. It has taken more time to contemplate grace, the holiness of God, and the need for Christ’s death. The deepening of appreciation and understanding never ends. I can assure you that the accumulation of many small steps can take you on a grand journey—a journey of faith. Persistence will pay spiritual dividends. The cry – “I don’t know what I’m reading” – is just the first step.

1David Edwin Harrell, Jr., The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century: Homer Hailey’s Personal Journey of Faith. (The University of Alabama Press, 2000) p. 32.

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