Basic Required Information (BRI) A Tool for Understanding a Book (31 Days to Understanding the Bible :: Day 17)

 

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In my Bible school, there was something we had to do before moving into the interpretation phase of our study, and that was to find out some basic required information (BRI). To fully observe a book (and then interpret and apply it), we need to know some essential facts such as: Who is writing the book? Who are they writing to? What circumstances led them to write this? When was it written? What was the historical background– the political, social, spiritual, cultural climate? And more. Knowing these things helps us to understand why the author wrote the book and how the original reader/hearer would have understood it. These details not only help us understand the context, they bring out spiritual truths that might otherwise be overlooked.

Here are some tips for discovering the historical background of a book:

    • Always start with internal evidence… within the book itself for information about the author, the audience, their culture, and their present situation. For example Titus 1:1 & 4 say “Paul… to Titus” so we know that Paul is the author and he is writing to Titus. Then in verse 5 he goes on to give instructions to Titus, which clues us in to why he is writing the letter.
    • Look at the cross-references in your Bible to see where names, places, or a similar situation is mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament (when reading NT letters it is especially helpful to cross reference the book of Acts) and/or Old Testament. If you do not have cross-references in your Bible, you can look them up online, or you can look up the names and places in a concordance. Investigate the audience’s culture, geographical location, and political situation.

(You can purchase Bibles with cross references in the margins– see the cross references in the right margin of my Bible below:)photo-44

    • If it is a New Testament letter, investigate the events of Paul’s visit(s) to that city or region and how it fits in to his ministry (conversion, missionary journeys, imprisonments, etc.) in order to discover where he was, what he was doing, and why he wrote the letter. Investigate Paul’s relationship with the audience. Also, if the book is an epistle (letter) to a specific church, investigate the church’s size, makeup, and length of existence.
    • If it is an Old Testament book, investigate what was happening in Israel’s history at that time.
    • If you’ve looked internally– within the Bible– and still don’t have all of the necessary facts, move to external sources to find the answers.
    • Use Bible handbooks or dictionaries to look up the specific book of the Bible.
    • Discover more about the audience’s culture, geography, and political situation by looking up their city or province in a Bible dictionary, Bible atlas, or Bible encyclopedia.
    • Discover more biographical information about people in the book by looking up their names in Bible dictionaries or encyclopedias.
    • Look up key words (ex. grace, justification) to further understand their meaning to the original readers in a Bible dictionary or Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
    • Discover more information about the culture by looking up social structures or religious systems that are mentioned (for example Judaism or slavery) in a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia.
    • Look up illustrations and cultural information (such as circumcision, yeast, or crucifixion) in a Bible encyclopedia, Bible background commentary (these two are among my favorite resource books),  and Bible customs reference.

Here are printable BRI sheets you can download for your study:

NEW TESTAMENT BRI

OLD TESTAMENT NARRATIVE BRI

PROPHETS BRI

WISDOM LITERATURE BRI

 

In the next post, I’ll talk about the second step of inductive Bible study… interpretation. (Read about step 1 here.)

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The Steps of Inductive Bible Study— Step 1: Observation (31 Days to Better Understanding the Bible Day 16)

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Friends! I’m so sorry this post has been so long in coming! My computer broke over a month ago just as we were heading into my sister’s wedding, which was followed by a camping/road trip through our state, and then the start of our homeschool year. I got my computer back from the repair shop last week so I’m finally here ready to post. I still have more literature types to cover but because those posts take longer for me to write, I am going to mix things up a bit and start telling you about the steps of the inductive method before finishing up with some of the other types of literature found in the Bible.

To start, let’s briefly review an inductive vs. deductive approach (read the full post here):

In the inductive approach: Your conclusions evolve out of what you have observed, seeking to lay aside preconceived ideas. This approach seeks to let scripture speak for itself, and it studies the Scriptures in context.

In the deductive approach: One comes to the text with a thesis and then seeks out passages to support the thesis. One is dictating to the Scriptures rather than letting the Scriptures speak. One has already, to a certain extent, drawn conclusions before reading the whole text of Scripture in context.

The three steps of inductive Bible study are:

1. OBSERVATION: What does the text say?

2. INTERPRETATION (exegesis): What did the text mean when it was written? (Meaning to the original readers or hearers.)

3. APPLICATION (hermeneutics): How does the truth of this passage/book apply to the 21st century?

These steps need to be done in order. Observation is the foundation and should be done first, followed by interpretation and ending with application. Thorough observation leads to good interpretation and good interpretation leads into life changing application— which is one of the main goals of Bible study!… To know God and to be transformed by Him working in our life— which happens as we study the Word.

This post will explain the first step— observation. Observation is simply looking at what the text says. Observation is not determining what the text means but simply looking for the facts without interpreting them.

There are two parts of observation— noticing and examining. Reading through a text you notice things, for example that a word is repeated. Then you continue to examine that repeated word and ask further questions like “How often is this word repeated?”, “How is this word used?”, “In what context is it used?” Examining will help you to thoroughly observe and analyze the text.

Observation takes time. You have to look, then look some more, and look again. Reading a passage for the first time you will notice a few things. When you read it a second time you will see more. In order to do good observation you need to LOOK until looking becomes seeing.

Some aids/tips for observation (summarized from Methodical Bible Study by Robert Traina.)

  • Look both at the overall picture— observing the whole of a book, and in detail at the particulars of the book.
  • Try circling major observations— like a verse that seems to summarize the main idea of the book. (I will give you ideas of other things to observe and mark in your Bible, in a printable below.)
  • Discipline yourself to see how many different observations you can make on a given passage. Learn to spend hours in the process of observation. In my School of Biblical Studies, the staff would read a book up to 50 times during the observation phase— to really take in both the big picture and all of the details. They would spend hours, days, even weeks observing a book they were going to teach.
  • As you look at what IS in the text, think also about what “should” be found there but is not, or think about which words are not used versus what is said. “An observer will have his eyes open to notice anything which according to received theories ought not to happen, for these are the facts which serve as clues to new discoveries.” For example, Joseph’s gracious attitude toward his scheming brothers in Genesis 37-50 seems opposite of what one would expect. In Psalm 23 the Psalmist says “The Lord is MY shepherd, I shall not want.” He does not say the Lord is A Shepherd, I shall not want.”
  • Compare and contrast various passages or books (like Kings with Chronicles, parallel Gospel accounts found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.)
  • Compare and contrast different translations and their different choice of words.
  • Make rough maps of the geography you’re reading about— this can be really helpful in books like Acts as you read about Paul’s missionary journeys. This is how authors of Bible dictionaries and such piece together Paul’s missionary journies— by reading through Acts and Paul’s books and observing where he was when and with whom.
  • In observing biographical material, note the characteristics of the men involved, their concept of and attitude toward God, their actions, reactions, and motives. (This is the basis of doing a character study.)
  • Look for the concepts of God, Christ, man, sin, and redemption since these represent the primary themes of the Bible.
  • To summarize, observation calls for awareness and thoroughness. Be attentive to each term, and note carefully the relations and interrelations between terms. Observe what type of literature you are looking at (poetry? historical narrative? prophets? etc.), as well as the atmosphere or mood. Some books will have a combination of moods or there might be a change of mood which occurs throughout a book. Observe whether the passage can be characterized by despair, thanksgiving, awe, urgency, joy, humility, tenderness, etc.

It takes time to train your brain to really observe what is in a passage. Don’t stress about seeing everything at once. Try observing one thing, such as repeated words. When you feel like you’ve done a thorough job of that, read back through observing something else like contrasts. Pretty soon you’ll be able to observe many things in one reading.

How to record your observations: Use colored pencils to mark your observations in your Bible as you read through it. See mine below:

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If you look at the picture of my observations above, you’ll see that the repeated word “water” is colored in blue, the contrast (often made obvious by the word “but”) is marked with an orange X, a connective (so that) is noted with two green vertical lines surrounding it, a repeated phrase “water that I will give” is underlined in black, a key phrase “eternal life” is highlighted in pink, and so forth. You’ll want to come up with your own symbols and colors for your own study.

Here is a list of things you can look for/observe. You can print this out and come up with color coded symbols for each item. Use it as a key as you read through your Bible so you know what to look for and how to mark or color code it. Pretty soon you’ll have your color codes memorized so you’ll be able to recognize key observations that you’ve color coded in your Bible with a quick glance.

In the next post I will share one other tool that is helpful in the observation phase before moving on to the second step— interpretation.

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What About Time for Rest?

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We are on the cusp of change, whether it’s the season, swapping shorts for jeans and boots or back to school or home school; bouquets of newly sharpened pencils await many of us.

The long days of summer filled with swimming, BBQ’s and campfires will give way, or have already, to rhythms and plans; schedules that form our days. With these changes come expectations, not only from us but from many other sources as well.

I don’t know about you but as I have gotten older and my kids have gotten older I heave a sigh of relief when the days become more rhythmic and we get into a groove of inching our way through goals and dreams; Being involved in weekly or monthly life giving things that the kids and I enjoy.

The toddler years were great but they can feel like an endless sea of summer days. I have learned over the years the value of rhythm, although I wish I could say I always live my life out of that place.

Even though I look forward to fall and back to “business” I sometimes wonder what it’s all for. These schedules we fill. The lessons, the sports, community groups, church groups, bible studies and the million things you could fill in the blank with.
With each new year I look at our “doings” and think, “Are we trying to learn it all in one year? Do we think this is our only shot?” Because sometimes the calendar gets so full that there isn’t one little bit of margin.

Richard Swenson, author of the book Margin says, “Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. He says, “Today we use margin in our lives just to get by.” ….Please follow me at Momheart today

 

Understanding the Prophets Part 2 (31 Days to Better Understanding the Bible :: Day 15)

 

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In the Part 1 I talked a bit about who the prophets were. There were a few different ways in which the prophets delivered their messages:

  • Spoken messages. Sometimes the prophets spoke and gave descriptions of visions the Lord had given them. Other times, they spoke in a unique manner– they spoke in oracles. Oracles were arranged to specifically address the sins (law breaking) and consequences of each audience. (The laws and blessings and curses for keeping or breaking them were given to the people in Deuteronomy and Leviticus).  The 3 most common forms of oracles found in the prophets are:
    1. Lawsuit Oracles: God is portrayed as the plaintiff, prosecuting attorney and judge.

4 Main Parts to a Lawsuit Oracle:

1) Summons– The call to appear on trial before God, or God taking his place in the judge’s seat.

2) Charge– The accusation or indictment against the people.

3) Evidence– The proof (usually a list of sins).

4) Verdict– The judgement sentence.

Examples:          Is 1:2-8               Amos 2:4-5

Summons:          verse 2a               verse 4a

Charge:                2b-3                      4b

Evidence:             4-6                         4c

Verdict:                7-8                         5

2. Woe (Alas) Oracle: The Hebrew term for an announcement of distress.

3 Parts to a Woe Oracle: (and examples)

1) Announcement of Distress (Woe! or Alas!)   Is 30:1a          Amos 5:18a

2) Reason for Distress (list of sin)                        Is 30:1-2         Amos 5:18-26

3) Prediction of Doom                                              Is 30:3-5         Amos 5:27

3. Promise (Salvation or Hope) Oracle: Word of hope and promise– God’s blessings to come.

3 Parts to a Salvation Oracle

1) Future referred to: “In that day…”, “At that time…”

2) Radical change announced: a complete turnaround from the present situation.

3) Mention of blessing: Promise of restoration, peace, property, health, abundance (harvest, rebuilding, being planted).

Examples:                      Amos 9:11-15          Hosea 2:16-20

Future referred to          verse 11a                   verse 16a

Radical change               11b-12                        16b-17

Promise/blessing           13-15                          18-20

When the oracle doesn’t seem to fit any of the 3 types above, identify who it is against, look for/note sins (empty religious activity, social injustice, leadership problems– either civic or religious priests/false prophets), and any judgement and when it was possibly fulfilled. To help determine when judgement was fulfilled, look up city in question in Bible dictionaries and see when it was conquered/destroyed.

  • Enacted Symbols. Sometimes a prophet acted out his message symbolically. A few examples:
    • Isaiah went naked and barefoot for 3 years (see Isaiah 20).
    • Hosea married a prostitute– showing Israel her relationship with God was like that of an unfaithful wife to a faithful husband.
    • Ezekiel lay on his side for over a year and cooked his good over dung.

Purpose: These symbolic acts were designed to capture the attention of an audience whose hearts were hardened and who refused to listen to the prophet’s verbal messages. Symbols got more graphic as judgment approached. The people needed images to see God’s message because their hearts were hard and it took a lot to make an impact and get through to them.

  • Another way prophets communicated were through written messages– such as on a scroll.

The Language of the Prophets

  • Historical Judgement– When a prophet is speaking of a historical judgment that is coming, you will see words such as: Danger, death, defeat, deportation, destitution, destruction, disease, disgrace, drought.
  • Eschatological judgement (2nd coming)– When a prophet is speaking of the second coming, you will see words such as: anguish, darkness, distress, great day of the Lord/Great day of wrath, terror. Language that is: all-inclusive– all people, all the earth… cosmic, universal in scope, etc.
  • Physical Restoration (Judah only)– When a prophet is speaking of a physical/literal restoration that occurred for Judah, you will see words such as: Afterward (restore fortunes/land/etc.), compassion, deliverance, enemies put to shame, land– bring them again to land/heritage, remnant (will return), rescued, rest, restore, return, righteousness, justice.
  • Messianic language– When a prophet is speaking of the Messianic age (the time between Jesus’ first and second comings and beyond), you will see language such as: abundance/wealth/multitude, all people/nations– from Egypt, Assyria, aliens/foreigners, etc. (Gentiles or non-Jews), animals grazing together at peace (lamb/lion), blind– eyes opened/deaf hear/lame walk, brought home/gathered/return/restore, coastlands– east/west, covenant, ends of the earth, enemies defeated, ensign/sign, eternal/everlasting, feast, glory, highway (supernatural passage), holy mountain (mountain above all), increase/abundance of people entering/boundary extended, joy/rejoice/gladness/sorrow flee away, king/shepherd reigns, latter days/at that time/in that day, light– no more darkness/brought out of darkness, LORD dwelling in their midst, lowly, humble admitted, majestic, no more… [shame, unclean, curse, liars, false prophets, sorrow, tears, etc.], peace/no war, prisoners– open doors, set free, prosperity (material blessing), remnant, return, security/safety, sin dealt with, sing for joy, spirit– poured out, stone, water, Zion/Jerusalem.

The Test of a True Prophet

There were false prophets who “prophesied” at the same time as the true prophets, but God provided 3 criteria to determine a true prophet:

1) Theological test:  Was the prophet doctrinally sound? Deut 13:1-11

2) Practical test: Did the prophet’s words come to pass? Deut 18:20

3) Moral test: Was the prophet of godly character? Jer 23:9, 13-23

 

Some things that are helpful to remember when interpreting the Prophets:

  • Consider the historical situation. See Part 1 for an overview of the historical context. To summarize it, the world at the time of the prophets was a time of political and social upheaval. Israel and Judah were unfaithful to the Covenant, idolatry ran rampant throughout both kingdoms, and there was a general disregard for the Covenant. It was into these circumstances that God raised up the Prophets– to speak His Word into people’s lives.
  • Understand figurative language. Prophetic literature, like other Biblical poetry, is rich in figurative language. Understanding the figurative language the prophets use is imperative for good interpretation.
  • Look for the main idea instead of trying to squeeze every detail for meaning.
  • The New Testament Interprets the Old Testament. Look for NT quotes of OT passages (a Bible with cross references is helpful here). What does the NT say about this passage? How does the NT interpret it? What does the NT give as the fulfillment? (this is not always clear).
  • Consider the literary form and how the books is structured. Look for poetry, oracles, enacted symbols, the historical narrative (Isaiah is structured around 3 historical narratives), laments, visions, and figures of speech.

 

 

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Understanding the Prophets Part 1 (31 Days to Better Understanding the Bible :: Day 14)

 

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Another genre found in the Old Testament is Prophecy. There are 4 major prophets— Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, and 12 minor prophets— which are the last 12 books of the Old Testament. The terms “major” and “minor” are given according to the length of the books and have nothing to do with level of significance. They all are of equal importance! Prophetic books were written between approximately 760 and 460 BC. They mainly record the words of the prophet (given to the prophet by God), and some give us glimpses of the prophet’s life history.

What does prophecy mean?

Prophecy does involve predicting future events, but this was only a small aspect of prophecy, and not the prophet’s main purpose. Prophecy, in its broadest sense, is simply the message of a prophet.

Who Were the Prophets?

The prophets were enforcers of the Covenant— they exhorted God’s people to remain faithful to the Covenant, and so be blessed, and to warn them of the punishment if they did not. Much of the prophet’s work was to repeat the blessings and curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. The prophet acted as a spokesman from God to His people, to speak God’s word of:

  • Judgement on the ungodly (sword, famine, disease), calling for true heart repentance— religiosity was not enough. 
  • A promise of future hope to the faithful remnant. The promise was: 1) physical restoration after exile and 2) spiritual restoration when the Messiah came.

One trait characterized all of the prophets: a faithful proclamation of God’s Word and not their own. (Jer 23:16, Ezk 13:2.)

A prophet received his call directly from God. Their ministry was not inherited or passed through family lines, but they were appointed to the ministry by God. Prophets included: shepherds and farmers (Elisha and Amos), youth (Jeremiah), priests (Ezekiel), and women (Huldah).

Nature and Function of the Prophets:

  • Enforcers of the Covenant— Their main job was calling people back to the Covenant. A true prophet affirms the Law of God.
  • God’s spokesmen—  They brought God’s Word to their contemporary situation. A repeated phrase through the Prophets is “Thus says the LORD” or “says the LORD.” The prophets’ message was not their own, but God’s message to the people.
  • Teaching— Teaching with the goal of moral reformation. Their message was not a new one but a cry to remember the Covenant. They called the people to repentance. There is a major theme repeated throughout the prophets— it is a cycle of 1) sin 2) judgement 3) restoration . The prophets also spoke of Israel’s past (what God had done for them throughout history), present (their idolatry and hearts far from God, social injustice, corruption, trusting other nations instead of God) and future (coming judgement because of sin and hope and restoration that would follow— because of God’s goodness and mercy).
  • Predictive— a statement about the future that is beyond the power of human knowledge to discern, calculate, or bring to pass. Predictions for the future were not to satisfy the curiosity of the people but to serve as leverage to bring people to repentance— back to the covenant (Jer 22:1-7). Predictions also offered hope to the true believers as the prophets spoke of future restoration and blessing. There were short-term prophecies that were fulfilled in the lifetime of the original audience (such as prophecies about Israel and Judah’s exile) and long-range prophecies— which normally looked to the Messianic age where spiritual restoration would come. This includes the time between Jesus’ first and second coming and the age to come (the now and not yet). (I have an article from the School of Biblical Studies that I attended, called Wrestling With Eschatological Prophecy, which you can download and read here. It is a must read for interpreting prophecy that deals with the Messianic age!)

How Should We Interpret the Prophecies?

Many Christians today mainly look to the prophets for predictions about what is still to happen in our future. Interpretations will vary by denomination, tradition, or opinion, but this is one view (from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth), that shows how dangerous this approach might be:

  • Less than 2% of Old Testament prophecy is Messianic (about Jesus).
  • Less than 5% specifically describes the New Covenant age.
  • Less than 1% concerns events yet to come.

According to this view— which I tend to take, most of the prophesies have already been fulfilled. We shouldn’t necessarily look at the prophets as predicting our current events (they are not to be used as a side by side commentary with our newspapers!),  ”yet some of the prophecies of the (original audience’s) near future were set against the background of the eschatological (regarding the end times) future, and sometimes they seem to blend. The Bible regularly sees God’s acts in temporal history in light of his overall plan for all of human history.” So generally speaking the predictions were specific for the original audience but at times such prophecies revealed or alluded to a bigger, future reality that came with Christ’s first coming or will come with His second coming.

We must look at the Prophets in their historical context, knowing what state Israel or Judah was in politically, economically, and spiritually. Remember that they were words from God into a specific historical situation in the nation of Israel or the surrounding nations, and can only be understood in that context.

Important Historical Background

If you want a thorough understanding of the historical background/context of the prophets, read Kings and Chronicles, articles in Bible dictionaries (look up names of prophets, books, surrounding nations such as Assyria), the introduction to commentaries, and Bible handbooks. Here’s a quick overview that will help you understand the context of the prophets:

  • After Joshua conquered the land the Lord had promised to give them, the Israelites settled and the land was divided up by families or tribes, based on the sons/ancestors of Jacob. It was divided into 12 portions. (Joseph’s ancestors actually got a double portion in Manasseh and Ephraim.)
  • God said He alone would be Israel’s king but Israel wanted to be like their surrounding nations so they complained to God, requesting a man they could see for a king, so God allowed them kings.
  • The people of Israel (all the tribes) became united as one kingdom for 150 years. Kings under the united kingdom were Saul, David, and Solomon.
  • At the end of Solomon’s rule, the kingdom became divided. It was divided for about 400 years. Ten tribes joined together in the north and became known as Israel. The tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi (Levites didn’t have their own land portion because they were the priests who lived and ministered among all of the tribes, but during the divided kingdom they became more attributed with the south), joined together and became collectively known as Judah. Israel had a succession of 19 kings, none of whom were good/godly. Judah had a succession of 20 kings, 8 of whom were good. Israel and Judah were at constant war with one another.
  • Some prophets spoke/were prophets to Israel, and others to Judah (and a couple actually spoke to surrounding nations— like Jonah).
  • One warning you see throughout the prophets is that of impending exile. The prophets basically told the people, shape up or you’ll be carried off.
  • These warnings were fulfilled. Assyria came in and conquered and scattered Israel. Israel did not remain in tact and the people basically assimilated into the surrounding nations.  Some time later, Babylonia conquered Assyria and exiled Judah— they were carried off to Babylon but remained in tact as a people. During this time, Jerusalem— and the temple— were burned down. Then Persia conquered Babylon and under Persia’s rule the remnant— those remaining from Judah, were allowed to return to their land to rebuild walls, their temple (which had been destroyed during the conquests and exiles) and their identity as a nation. (Side note— the books of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah take place under this period of time.)

Here’s a visual timeline of all of the prophets— showing who they prophesied to (on top of each column) and what time period they were a part of (this is printable if you click on the image):

 
I think I will end here for today since this post is getting pretty long! The prophets are one of the harder genres to understand and I have a lot more information I can share so I will do that in another post. I will try to post Part 2 in the next couple of days.

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Wisdom Literature Part 2 (31 Days to Better Understanding the Bible) Day 13

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In Part 1 I talked about the wisdom book of Proverbs. Proverbs are short pity sayings that offer practical wisdom. They essentially ask the questions what or how? Each Proverb does not give the whole picture, as the proverbs were written to be memorized and the same subjects are covered again and again, each time with a slightly different slant.

Job and Ecclesiastes are two other wisdom literature books but they differ in that they are less practical in application. They are considered speculative wisdom because they deal with the big questions in life—questions of why? The perplexities of human existence are contemplated at a deeper level, where the popular generalizations of Proverbs fall short of giving adequate answers. More difficult questions are asked about the meaning of life or the problem of suffering.

Regarding Job:

“The big idea that the book of Job communicates is that although God is in control, not everything that happens in this life is his doing or according to his will. The world is fallen, corrupted by sin, and under the domination of Satan”  (see also John 12:31 or this sermon that explores that reality). This book is a long argument about suffering. The “friends” of Job state that he is suffering because he must have sinned. Job says he has not sinned; but he doesn’t know why he’s suffering. In the end God honors Job’s honesty and condemns the friends’ platitudes. There are many lessons to learn on how to be alongside someone who is suffering. As I mentioned in Part 1, this book needs to be read in context. If you can, try to read it in one sitting so that you follow the dialogue that is taking place. (Quote taken from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.)

Something to know about Job is that he likely lived and the events written about took place around the same time as Genesis 11-12 (about 4,000 years ago!). There are several indicators that point to that time as the setting of Job (such as his lifespan must have been close to 200 years (Job 42:16) which fits the period of the patriarchs when people lived longer, his wealth was measured in terms of livestock instead of gold and silver (Job 1:3, 42:12), and more. You can look up Job in a Bible dictionary or handbook for a thorough explanation). It is not known who wrote the book or when it was written— whether Job himself wrote the book or whether it was written by Moses, Solomon, or someone else. By the way— most of the books of the Bible were written after the events actually took place, so there will usually be two dates to consider— 1) when the events written about occurred and 2) when they were actually recorded. So in this case, it is likely the events occurred somewhere around 2,000 BC but the book could have been written around 1450 BC or 950 BC. I know that reality reveals or implies an oral tradition—  which skeptics use to justify their disbelief in the authority of Scripture. Critics think it cannot be the inspired Word of God since it was passed down verbally through generations before being recorded. I love what Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, says about this: “On its human side, I assume that it (the Bible) was produced and preserved by competent human beings who were at least as intelligent and devout as we are today. I assume that they were quite capable of accurately interpreting their own experience and of objectively presenting what they heard and experienced in the language of their historical community, which we today can understand with due diligence. On the divine side, I assume that God has been willing and competent to arrange for the Bible, including its record of Jesus, to emerge and be preserved in ways that will secure his purposes for it among human beings worldwide. Those who actually believe in God will be untroubled by this.”

Regarding Ecclesiastes:

This book, in the form of a monologue, is about a man looking for meaning to life. He tries just about everything and nothing satisfies his longing for fulfillment. The climax of the book sums up the search for the meaning of life: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13). Theologians have two different theories about how to interpret this book. One side “understands Ecclesiastes to be an expression of cynical wisdom, which serves as a kind of “foil” regarding an outlook on life that should be avoided. The aim of the book, by this understanding, is to represent the sort of “wisdom” that Solomon could produce after he had degenerated from orthodoxy (1 Kings 11:1-13), a view of life that is supposed to leave you cold because it is so fatalistic and discouraging— and therefore make you long for the alternative of a real covenant relationship with the living God. The other side understands the book more positively, as an expression of how one should enjoy life under God in a world in which all will die in the end. This view says that “even if the only real certainty about this present life is the certainty of the grave, one should still live life, as it is, a gift from God. Joy in this life does not come ultimately from “getting” but in the journey itself, the life that God has given.” (How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.)

 The Song of Solomon

Another wisdom book is the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs—some don’t think Solomon could have written the book since it is a book about a monogamous relationship and Solomon had many wives). This book is considered lyric wisdom—it is a poetic, lengthy love song. Its purpose is to teach wisdom regarding marriage and sexual fidelity. It celebrates human love in a monogamous relationship as God’s good gift. Early Christians were uncomfortable with its “explicit exultation of marital sexual love” so they decided they would interpret it as an allegory— though it clearly is not written as such. Even young Jews were prohibited from reading this book until they were older because of its sexual content and nature. This books uses lots of poetic language—  symbols, similes, euphemisms, etc. — and it is explicit (for example see Song of Songs 2:3)— but with the purpose of teaching us that sex is good and beautiful and should be celebrated in the context for which God designed it— marriage. (The wedding procession in the book occurs in 3:6-11 and the marriage is consummated in 4:16-5:1. Preceding the wedding is the courtship, the bride’s longing for affection, expressions of mutual love, and the bride’s dream of separation. After the wedding the bride has another dream of separation, and they grow in their love.)

The confusing thing about this book is that, like Job, it can be hard to figure out who is speaking. This is the likely arrangement:

The bride: 1:2-4, 5-7, 12-14, 16-17; 2:1, 3-6, 8-17; 3:1-4; 4:16; 5:2-8, 10-16; 6:2-3, 11-12; 7:9-13; 8:1-3, 6-7, 10-12, 14.

The groom: 1:8-10, 15; 2:2, 7; 3:5; 4:1-15; 5:1; 6:4-10, 13; 7:1-9; 8:4-5, 13.

The chorus: 1:4, 11; 3:6-11; 5:9; 6:1, 13; 8:5, 8-9.

A helpful tip: In my own Bible I color coded along the sides—  pink when the bride is speaking, green when the groom is speaking, and plain pencil when it’s the choir, in order to quickly differentiate who is speaking. See below:

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If you are married, this would be a great book to study with your spouse. This book offers a warning to “catch the little foxes that  ruin the vineyard.” In other words— what negative attitudes or actions are you allowing into your marriage? These— like little foxes, will bring destruction, so be quick to catch them and get rid of them, and through God’s grace and strength, don’t allow them in.  :-) If you are single, the book offers this advice: “Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!” And, be “a garden locked”. If you have failed, the good news is that Jesus makes all things new. He heals, cleanses, and restores. You are forgiven and free from shame and condemnation in Christ. The enemy wants nothing more than to devalue you and make you feel like damaged goods and ashamed— but that is not who you are in Christ. I’ve seen friends go into marriage carrying shame over sexual mistakes from their past— and it always ends up affecting their sex life in marriage. If  that is you, I want to encourage you to start speaking truth over yourself (You are: in Christ, forgiven, made new, as white as snow), and to ask the Lord to help you see sex in marriage as He sees it and created it to be— beautiful and celebrated.

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Made for Beauty

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Genesis 2: 5  Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it…

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” …

21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

 

When I read the creation account—and specifically when God made Adam and Eve, I find the order of events to be very significant…

There was only dirt—no plants—and God formed Adam out of the dust. That’s where Adam’s life began. Then God created Eden—a lush garden—to be Adam’s new home. After moving Adam into Eden, God then created Eve.  Eve’s life began in the beautiful garden. It seems so providential— part of God’s perfect design—  that He would give women our beginning in Eden instead of in the dust. Perhaps this is symbolic of the unique way in which he designed us women to be bearers of beauty to the world.

It seems that from the beginning, God created women with an inherent inclination for beauty. We are the ones who gather others to feast around the table, who value creating an inviting and festive atmosphere, we decorate, create centerpieces and place settings, cultivate lush gardens, light candles, and are the civilizers of society…

Read the rest at Mom Heart.

 

Why Beauty Matters

I watched this one hour documentary last week on Why Beauty Matters. It is a philosophical look at art and beauty. It is excellent so I wanted to share. If you have an hour to spare, check it out:

 

If you watch it, I would love to hear your thoughts!
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Understanding Wisdom Literature ~ Proverbs (31 Days to Better Understanding the Bible :: Day 12)

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Wisdom Literature in the Bible

The three main books in the category of wisdom literature are Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, though wisdom literature is found in other books— such as in Song of Songs, Psalms, and Habakkuk. Wisdom literature is mostly written in poetic form and therefore many figures of speech are used.

This type of literature and instruction was common in the ancient East. Wisdom was always taught primarily in the home, but certain individuals—  “wise men”—  were sought out for instruction in wise living and thinking. Such wise men were always more practical than theoretical.

Biblical wisdom is unique in that it teaches that the very first step in gaining wisdom is knowing and fearing (not in the sense of being afraid of but more of a revering) God. Biblical wisdom has nothing to do with being smart or clever, it is not a matter of age. Instead it is “a matter of orientation to God, out of which comes the ability to please him. Wisdom is the ability to make godly choices in life which is achieved by applying God’s truth to your life.” James 1:5 says that God will give wisdom to those who ask for it.

Something to try… Since James 1:5 promises that God will help us become more godly in our choices (he will give us wisdom) *if* we ask him, think about where you’d like to grow in making godly choices. Start asking God to help you make godly choices in your marriage, parenting, job, homemaking, finances, schooling, relationships, lifestyle choices, habits, etc.


The main guidelines for reading wisdom literature are:

1) They are meant to be read in context. You must read the whole book to get the overall message that is being communicated. When people read these books in bits and pieces, they will not usually follow the line of argument— which will lead to confusion or misinterpretation. People end up citing as biblical truth what was intended as an incorrect understanding of life.” For example, Job 15:20 says: All their days the wicked suffer torment, the ruthless through all the years stored up for them. “Would you take this to be an inspired teaching that evil people cannot really be happy? Job did not! He energetically refuted it! This verse is part of a speech by Job’s self-appointed “comforter” Eliphaz, who is trying to convince Job that the reason he is suffering so much is that he has been evil. Later in the book God vindicates the words of Job and condemns the words of Eliphaz (Job 42:7-8). But unless you follow the whole discourse of Job, you cannot know this.” You can see how reading one verse out of context will lead you to a very different and wrong conclusion than what was intended.

2) Remember to consider figures of speech and literary styles.

A Closer Look at the Wisdom Books 

First we will start with Proverbs.

Proverbs are a unique literary style of writing. Proverbs are short pithy sayings that give observations or practical guidelines for successful every-day living. Proverbs are observations of life, not promises of prosperity and health. The setting of the book is a father giving advice to his son, encouraging him to seek wisdom rather than folly. You can see wisdom and folly contrasted throughout the book. Proverbs were written to be catchy and memorable expressions of truth. They were/are not intended to be taken as exact precise statements. For example, an English proverb says “look before you leap.” This is in inexact but memorable statement. “It does not say where or how to look, what to look for, or how soon to leap after looking. It is not even intended to apply literally to jumping.” It is a brief and memorable way to say something along the lines of “in advance of committing yourself to a course of action, consider your circumstances and options.” The former (brief expression) is the way in which the Hebrew authors wrote the Proverbs. In the original language many of the proverbs have some sort of rhythm, sound repetition or vocabulary qualities that make them easy to learn. (This is a total tangent and although I have no desire to get into controversial subjects on this blog, I will mention that understanding the literary context of Proverbs has reshaped my views on spanking in child discipline. I have moved away from spanking after understanding that Proverbs are not meant to be precise literal commands. I take Proverbs 13:24 “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” to mean that if you neglect to discipline your child when needed, you do them a huge disservice, but if want the best for them you should be consistent and intentional about training them. I look for the principle that is being communicated instead of scrupulously dissecting every word (like I might do when reading New Testament Pauline theology). In addition, wisdom literature is meant to be read in context of the entire passage or book in order to get the whole message. So I see discipline to mean instruction, training, walking alongside, correcting when needed, etc. It is multi-faceted according to the picture Proverbs gives us.)

As I mentioned above, wisdom literature uses lots of figurative language, so be aware of the many figures of speech as you read Proverbs and don’t take things literal that are meant to be figurative.

Here are a few tips for reading and understanding Proverbs (this and all above quotes from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth):

1. Proverbs are often parabolic (they are figurative, alluding to something more).

2. Proverbs are intensely practical, not theoretically theological.

3. Proverbs are worded to be memorable, not technically precise.

4. Proverbs are not designed to support selfish behavior— just the opposite.

5. Proverbs strongly reflecting ancient culture may need sensible “translation” so as not to lose their meaning. For example Proverbs 25:24 talks says “better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” In Bible times, roofs were flat so lodging on a roof was both possible and common.

6. Proverbs are not guarantees from God but poetic guidelines for good living.

7. Proverbs may use exaggeration (hyperbole), euphemism, or any of a variety of literary techniques to make their point.

8. Proverbs give good advice for wise approaches to certain aspects of life, but are not exhaustive in their coverage.

9. Wrongly used, proverbs may justify a crass, materialistic lifestyle. Rightly used, proverbs will provide practical advice for daily living.

 

Because this post is getting long I will split it in two parts and will talk about other wisdom books in the next post. I’m getting ready to attend a Walk Thru the Bible Instructor Training course in less than two weeks (which I’ve had to prepare and study for), we have family coming into town, and my sister is getting married this month. My goal is to keep posting 1-2 times a week but if I’m not here you’ll know why. :-) Thanks for reading and following along. Peace.

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Understanding Figures of Speech in the Bible (31 Days to Better Understanding the Bible) {Day 11}

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I have more posts to write regarding the types of literature found in the Bible …I still need to cover wisdom literature including a possible separate post on Proverbs, prophecy, gospels, parables, epistles, apocalyptic literature (such as Revelation), and eschatology (regarding the end times), but I figured we’d take a little interlude here to talk about Figures of Speech since the last posts were on poetry— and poetry is full of figures of speech. In order to better understand the Bible, readers need to be able to identify and interpret figurative language… figures of speech.

Literary devices or figures of speech such as metaphor, simile, paradox, types, rhetorical questions, personification, and hyperbole, are found throughout the Bible. These all are by nature poetical, but the thing about the Bible is figures of speech are found everywhere (not just in the poetical books).

It is important to be familiar with some of the common literary devices that are used in the Bible because knowing how they work will spare us from misinterpretations. “For example, exaggeration in a story that purports to be factual history (such as the stories found in historical narratives) would be a form of untruth, while that same type of exaggeration in lyric poetry is called hyperbole and is a standard way of expressing emotional truth.” (From How to Read the Bible as Literature by Ryken.)

A verse that trips up a lot of Christians and non-Christians alike is Luke 14:26, where Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” This is an example of hyperbole— an exaggeration with the intent of making a point. If you’ve read the rest of the Gospels you would know that to interpret that literally would contradict Jesus’ other teachings to love and serve others. He does not mean we ought to literally hate our family members— instead he’s saying that to be his disciple one has to be willing to give up their life to follow him and that our love for God should be first and foremost— with all other loves paling in comparison. It is figurative (not literal) language, but readers who do not know how to identify and interpret hyperbole will be confused by this verse and will likely misinterpret it.

So here are some of the figures of speech (a figure of speech is a literary mode of expression in which words are used out of their literal sense to suggest a picture or image) frequently seen in the Bible:

~Simile: A direct comparison of two things that are essentially different. Characterized by use of: like, as, and so. Examples are James 1:10-11, Song of Solomon 2:2-3, Matthew 23:27.

~Metaphor: An indirect comparison of two things. Asserts that one thing is another. Substitution of the name of one thing for another. Like a simile but the connectives of like, as, and so are left out. Examples are Galatians 2:9 “pillars”, Proverbs 23:27, Matthew 3:7 “you brood of vipers”.

~Allegory: An extended metaphor that has the form of a story. Example is Galatians 4:21-31. Examples from literature are Pilgrim’s Progress and Screwtape Letters.

~Irony: Implies something different, even the opposite of what was stated. Used for the effect of humor or sarcasm. Examples are 1 Corinthians 4:8 and 6:5.

~Personification: The attribution of life or human qualities to inanimate objects. Examples are Genesis 4:10-11Proverbs 9:1-3, Proverbs 8.

~Apostrophe: Addressing or speaking to things, abstract ideas or imaginary objects. Example is 1 Corinthians 15:55 “O death, where is your sting?”

~Hyperbole: Exaggeration, not with the intent to deceive but to emphasize and intensify an impression. Examples are Galatians 4:15 “you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me”, Mark 9:43 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…”.

~Rhetorical Questions: These are questions posed for which the author doesn’t expect an answer (often because the author already knows the answer. They are said to make a point— often times in sarcasm). Examples are 1 Corinthians 1:13 “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?…”, Matthew 7:16.

~Litotes: The use of understatement. It is the opposite of hyperbole and is often used as irony. Example is Acts 15:2 “no small debate”.

~Metonomy: The substitution of one term for another. Example is Romans 3:30 “Circumcised” for “Jews”, Galatians 3:19 “offspring” for “Jesus”.

~Synecdoche: Part of something is mentioned but the whole is meant. Example is: Galatians 1:16.

~ Euphemism: The substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for a harsh, blunt one. Euphemisms are used to indirectly discuss such topics as bodily functions, anatomy, or unpleasant topics. Examples are Genesis 4:1, Isaiah 7:20.

~Anthropomorphism: The practice of describing God in human terms as if he has hands, feet, a face, etc. Examples are Exodus 24:10, John 10:29.

~Types: A type foreshadows (prefigures)  something or someone to come. A prefiguring symbol such as an Old Testament event prefiguring an event in the New Testament: the Passover foreshadows Christ’s sacrificial death (1 Corinthians 5:7). Often types are explicitly mentioned in the New Testament. Examples are Romans 5:14, 1 Corinthians 15:45, John 3:14-15.

~Symbols: Something that stands for another meaning in addition to its ordinary meaning. It is usually a visual image that represents an invisible concept. In interpreting symbols one is not free to impose his own interpretation but he must discover the author’s intention by taking into consideration the culture, principles of interpretation, the overall message of the book and in many cases the author’s own specific definition. Example are Revelation 1:12 & 20.

~Paradox: A statement that seems absurd, self-contradictory, or contrary to logical thought, but with an underlying truth. Example is Matthew 16:25: “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.”

To get the most out of our faith journeys we truly need to learn to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Familiarizing yourself with these literary devices will definitely help you better understand the Bible, and it is one small way to exercise your mind, to the glory of God.name