At this week’s FEB Central Regional Conference, Mike Bullmore gave an exposition of the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119. His teaching did what all good teaching should do: move me to look closer at the Bible. The result was four questions to help get more out of Bible reading. Reading the Bible is not only one of the most important things a Christian can do to grow, it’s also for many one of the most difficult things to do. Psalm 119 provides some help.
I’m not a Jew. But I do love the Jewish Scriptures. And I believe they contain a compelling reason to read what Christians call the New Testament, and it’s a reason that’s often overlooked.
If you want to avoid becoming self-righteous, you need to read the Bible through two lenses.
For the last twenty weeks, we’ve been going through the e100 Bible reading challenge from Scripture Union. Many people have shared that it’s helped them to get into God’s Word and grow in their faith. The book is great, but having finished the book, I don’t think people need another book. In my mind, there are three ingredients that make the e100 challenge so powerful and it’s those three ingredients that I would commend to people for a lifetime of Bible reading.
Psalms is quoted in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament book. Obviously, it has much to offer. Have you ever thought about how it’s put together? With 150 psalms, you could be forgiven for not being aware of the structure of the book. Have you ever noticed, for example, that the Book of Psalms is actually made up of five books (Psalms 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150) that most scholars believe are related to the five book of Moses? So just as we have five books of Moses to read, we have five books of Psalms to pray and sing. This is minor, though. Missing the forest for the trees in the Psalms is far more problematic in other ways because it teaches some crucial lessons about how to approach life and what to expect from it.
Sometimes, it feels like the people in biblical times had an inside scoop on faith and spirituality. We imagine that walking with Jesus and witnessing the events of his life, firsthand, would make us feel closer to Him. Yet often those people we envy are anything but models of faith. The disciples, for instance, astound us with their confusion, resistance, and lack of trust. There’s an important reason why. We need revelation more than we need experience. Take the episode of Jesus walking on the water. If we were there, it would have been memorable. But we may not have heard everything. We may not have understood everything. And even if we saw and heard everything, we may not have known what to make of it. We have something better than a view of this event, sitting by the 1st c. Sea of Galilee. We have revelation. God has given us in the gospels perfect accounts, not only recording the necessary historical details but giving us an authoritative interpretation of what we’re supposed to learn from them. Understanding this helps us to know how to read them.
In Luke 24:27, Jesus appeared to his disciples after His resurrection, and it says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” For years, I struggled to understand verses like this. Jesus spoke these words to Jewish followers who only had the Old Testament. Jesus was saying that the Old Testament Scriptures bore witness to Him, somehow, but I wasn’t sure how. There were some obvious prophecies, but it seemed as if the Bible mostly told stories about people like Adam, Noah, Moses, David and in today’s e100 reading, Daniel. How could they also be speaking of Jesus? I came to learn that one of the ways that the Old Testament points to Jesus is by laying down patterns and categories that foreshadow Jesus in a way that could hardly be coincidental. Reading the account of Daniel in the lion’s den, for instance, whets people’s appetite for someone greater than Daniel.
Many people love to read the psalms. They say that the psalms are their favourite part of the Bible. I couldn’t relate. I was someone who avoided the psalms. I couldn’t figure out what to do with them. They don’t contain great stories like the narrative parts of the Bible. They don’t contain many commands, principles or warnings like Paul’s letters, for example. And there’s lots of repetition and emotion that feels like it gets in the way while you’re reading. Because of that, I was intrigued when I first read an old Christianity Today article entitled, “How I Learned to Stop Hating and Start Loving the Psalms.” It got me started on that journey but it would take several more books to actually get me there. Now I can say that I love the psalms. Let me share three things that helped me along the way.
Reading about the temple in the Bible often causes one of two problems. Either people assume it’s just a church in the Old Testament and essentially the same as the building that we go to on Sunday or they think it’s so foreign to their experience that they can’t relate to it at all. The temple is the focus of today’s e100 reading, but it’s such a prominent theme, having a sense of what it means and why it’s so significant helps in understanding the Bible's message.
Almost everybody has heard of the story of David and Goliath. It’s so well-known that it’s become part of the English vocabulary and a sophisticated way of referring to any showdown involving an underdog facing insurmountable odds. But what is the story about? What does it mean? And how are we to apply its message? Getting these questions right can help open up our understanding of many other parts of Scripture. Let’s consider the message as it’s told in 1 Samuel 17.