For the next few months, Bro. John O’Malley will be sharing with us from his book, Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles. We know that everyone can use some encouragement to stay in the Word of God on a daily basis, and we hope these articles will be a blessing to you in your walk with the Lord.
The Obstacle of History–I seem to miss the meaning of the passage I read. I think it is because I do not understand the background or history of the Bible.
God did not hand us His Word and say, “Here, you figure it out.” God gave us better than a Google/Wikipedia mash-up for the Bible. God gave us a Guide, Teacher, Counselor, and Adviser to go along with His Word. He dwells within the heart of the child of God. You may say, “I know the Holy Spirit lives within me, but I want to ask questions and get answers, immediately.”
Having a Quiet Time with God should not leave you feeling dumb when you cannot get the sense of the passage because you do not know the history or background. The Bible is not intended to make you feel inadequate because you do not have a post-graduate degree in ancient culture, language, and history. It is possible to know the history or background of the Bible.
Consider this, the One who exhaled the Scriptures into those who held a pen for God also sent you the Holy Spirit to teach you. That means you can ask the Resident Guide who lives within you. Each time you read the Bible, you are stepping into a family event. You need someone to whisper in your ear about what has happened before this event and what is going on now in light of past events. If the One, who inspired the Word of God, lives within you, you will always have a Counselor.
Agreeing to the truth that the Holy Spirit lives within you, how do you get the answers from Him? For me, it begins with prayer. Let me tell you what I say. “God, I know there are things here I am not getting. I need your Holy Spirit to teach me this. Please guide me.”
Sometimes, my answer has come shortly after that as I continued to read the verses before it and after it. I have also had my answers come months later when I read the verse again. Other times, I will read a similar thought in another passage and realize that is what the passage I got stuck on meant.
Your premise, when you begin any study of a passage, should be that the Bible is God’s Word and is the answer to every human need; it is inerrant and infallible. Remember, the passage is about real people in a real place with real needs. You know as a fact that there is something in this passage God included for you to know. (The Bible is very personal that way.) God did not put random words in the passage to confuse me. He put it there to help me. I believe God has enabled believers in every generation to explain the sense of a text. (See Nehemiah 8:8).
What should you do to overcome the feeling that you do not understand the background and history of a passage?
1. Pray: “God, I know there are things here I am not understanding. I need your Holy Spirit to teach me this. Please guide me.”
2. Pick a resource: It can be online, digital eBook, or bound.
3. Ask your pastor or Sunday School teacher: “Is there something in the background of this passage that would help me understand this section?”
You can know the background and history of a passage. I refuse to let an obstacle get in the way of me understanding what God wants me to know.
Tip #1: Remember the culture.
Culture is the system of beliefs, values, and ideas of a people in a certain time period. When you read the Bible, there was a definite culture. It is not a Western culture; it is an Eastern culture. The values of Western culture see things from a right and wrong perspective. Eastern culture will often times see things through a prism of what brings shame and what restores honor. When you read the Old Testament, you have to understand that your way of thinking cannot be projected onto their way of thinking. Furthermore, the culture of Heaven and the mind of God far outstrips any of our understanding. God and His Word are transcultural. You will be able to understand what is happening when you enter the cultural mindset of the people about whom you are reading.
Tip #2: Remember the context.
Learn to read the Bible by paragraph not just the numbered verses. This is critical in understanding the verses you are reading. You will become frustrated quickly if you isolate a verse from its context and try to bend it to what you want it to say or not say. If you ignore the context, you will miss the meaning and teaching. Reading the Bible by paragraph helps correct this. Get a good Bible that marks the paragraphs clearly or is printed in paragraphs. I always encourage people to read it grammatically or like they would read a book. If the numbers are getting in the way, get a Bible that does not have them, so that when you read Paul’s letters, they read like real letters!
Tip #3: Remember the conflicts.
The sin nature of man is in conflict with the righteousness of God. You will find man’s will takes him beyond the will and righteousness of God. Many of the accounts in Scripture describe when man’s will dominates and God brings man to a place of correction and contrition. Contrition is a Bible word that gives the sense of being crushed or humbled. God values when our hearts and spirits are contrite. When you read a passage and the culture is so different and the context is not easily grasped, remember that man’s will and desire is selfish. God will correct those who are wrong. He will forgive and restore those who confess their sin. Remember, before you boast that you might be better than another, you are a sinner saved by grace like those in the passage you are studying. Stay close to Him. Keep your heart and spirit contrite.
Tip #4: Remember your Companion.
Just before Jesus went to the cross, He told His disciples that He would leave them, but He would not leave them comfortless. He would send them a Comforter (John 14:16). One of the Comforter’s tasks is to bring all things to our remembrance. He dwells within us and guides us to truth. When I am stuck on a verse or passage of Scripture, I pray. I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me and help me to see or recall what I am not seeing. There have been times I have been stuck on a passage of Scripture for more than a year. Then one day I am reading in another section, and the Holy Spirit brings to mind what I was stuck on and shows me the connection. It is a wonderful thing to have the Holy Spirit turn the lights on in your mind.
My goal is to give you a tool to overcome the Obstacle of History, the feeling like you miss the meaning because you do not understand the background or history of the Bible. When you get stuck, review these four tips.
If these thoughts have been an encouragement to you, you can email Bro. O’Malley here to let him know. If you’d like to purchase the entire Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles book in PDF, Kindle, or iBooks format, click here.