Why Do We Read and Study the Bible?

January 25, 2019

I encourage regular Bible reading and study. But our motivation will be enhanced as we think about what we should gain. I said “should” because I realize that a skeptic may read the Bible and profit little from it, although skeptics have been known to be converted by their Bible reading. I think much depends on an attitude of honest searching and enquiry. I’m reminded of Jesus’s teaching, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17, ESV). Several passages speak to the why of Bible reading.
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 provide instructions for a future king of Israel.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18–20, ESV)

The king is to have an approved copy of the law which he reads all of his life. This reading should lead to a fear of the LORD. We probably should feel terror if we are going away from God, because God is a consuming fire. But normally we think of this word “fear” in the sense of reverence and awe. Reverence leads to respect and a willingness to hear God’s word. This leads to obedience: “keeping the words” and “not turning aside … either to the right hand or the left.” The king should also learn humility before God and in dealing with others: “that his heart may not be lifted up above brothers.” One of the dangers of holding political power is that a ruler may think of himself as above the law. This is not just an ancient problem. It is a human problem that manifests itself even now, and it doesn’t have to restricted to rulers. People sometimes expect others to play by the rules from which they are very willing to exempt themselves. Finally, the king will be blessed in his reign by his meditation on God’s instructions.

I think this command to Israel’s king has instruction and application for us. Reading and meditation on God’s word may lead to reverence, obedience, humility, and blessings for us too. The blessings may differ, but God still blesses those who listen to him.

I have often pondered this command to the king, and Israel’s actual history. I suspect many of the kings failed to follow this instruction, and Israel’s history was a disaster because of it. Failure to read has consequences too. Deuteronomy 17:18-20 is a command fit for a king, but it also instructive to us who are brothers and sisters of King Jesus.


The Fear of God

June 6, 2014

I was once caught in a dreadful thunderstorm. The storm was powerful. I saw so many lightning strikes around me that it felt like being caught in an artillery barrage. I felt fear, but it was more the fear that tends towards awe, because I felt safe. I was sheltered from the storm, but I also wasn’t going to run out into the storm with lightening rod in hand to challenge it. In some small way, it teaches me about the fear of God.

For many, the fear of God is a difficult subject to grasp, and yet it is inescapable in the Bible. God is even called “the Fear of Isaac” (Genesis 31:42). Fear is obviously a word with a range of meanings. On one end of the range are meanings like awe and reverence. At the other end of the range is terror and dread. Terror and dread are appropriate responses if our relationship with God is not right. But if our relationship with God is good, reverence and awe are still fitting. God even speaks of desiring people who “tremble at my words” (Isaiah 66:2).

My reverence and awe are fitting because God’s power, glory and majesty are so much beyond me. God is other, and I am his creation. Love for God can co-exist with such feelings, because God is good. He loves and keeps covenants. He is not capricious. God is not only an almighty creator, but a wondrous redeemer. But there are some lessons that the fear of God teaches that we must learn.

  • It leads to wisdom and understanding. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7 ESV) See also Proverbs 9:10.
  • It teaches us to avoid evil. “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6 ESV)
  • It prolongs life and brings blessings. “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4 ESV) See also Proverbs 10:27, 14:27, 19:23.
  • It encourages growth in holiness. “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV)
  • It is a motive for evangelism. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” (2 Corinthians 5:10–11a ESV)
  • It leads to acceptable worship. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28–29 ESV)
  • It is one of the conditions in which the church grows. “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31 ESV)

Not a Tame Lion

May 30, 2014

Aslan is the lion in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – the central figure of the Narnia Chronicles. The name comes from the Turkish word meaning “lion.” C.S. Lewis was straightforward in claiming that this character is “a divine figure.” Aslan is a symbol of Jesus Christ.

Why choose a lion? In the great heavenly throne vision of Revelation 5, Jesus is identified as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Revelation 5:5). The lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9). Strength and conquest are in the imagery of the lion.

One instructive scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the conversation of Susan, Lucy, and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan. When Susan finds out that Aslan is the great Lion, she asks, “Is he – quite safe?” She’s afraid of being nervous when meeting him. Mrs. Beaver is not reassuring:

That you will, dearie, and no mistake … if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just silly.

Lucy then asks a follow-up question: “Then he isn’t safe?” Mrs. Beaver has a great reply:

’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.1

Lewis is illustrating the awe we should feel towards God and Christ. It’s a healthy reminder that they are in charge not us. God is the One who wields omnipotence and carries out His purposes. It’s a reminder that those who have had visions of the unseen were awestruck. Isaiah was keenly aware of his sinfulness and cried out “Woe is me.” The Apostle John “fell at his feet as though dead” when he saw the vision of Christ (Revelation 1:17).

Yet, the goodness is also present with the awesomeness. Isaiah received forgiveness, but he also received a new mission in life. John received the reassurance that Christ had conquered death. Great is God’s mercy. But the goodness is not necessarily safe, if we are thinking in terms of our own comfort. God is demanding. There is a cost to discipleship. An encounter with God should change us.

Underlying both passages is the great battle between good and evil. Isaiah’s message was repent or judgment would come. John must reassure Christians to “be faithful unto death” as they lived in a hostile environment. God is merciful, but to be outside that mercy is anything but safe.

Lewis was right. Trust in His goodness but approach with awe. He’s not a tame lion.

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1C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, p 86.