This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Josh 1:8-9).
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Rom 15:4).
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hos 4:6).
I couldn’t sleep last night. Between bad sleeping habits during spring break and the time change, I’ve been having a lot of difficulty sleeping lately. And so, since I certainly wasn’t going to be sleeping, I decided to do some Bible study.
This round of studying the Word really drove home a few points to me. The point I’d like to share with you today is this:
Having a good background knowledge of the Bible helps you immensely to interpret what is going on.
What I mean is this: that the Bible wasn’t written directly to you, a 21st century American. Rather it was written to people in a number of different times and cultures, who are generally assumed to know what came before. The original audience of the scriptures was generally expected to know the scriptures that God had revealed beforehand.
And thus it is invaluable to know the whole of the Bible, not just the parts most interesting to you. Not least because, if you know the whole of the Bible, many more parts will become more interesting to you.
This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to know exactly what is said, chapter and verse (though that would no doubt be more useful, and should probably be a goal that you work towards). Rather, a good starting point is just knowing (a) what was said and (b) the book in which it was said.
So let’s take for example my late-night excursion into the Old Testament’s historical books. I decided to just start reading 1 Samuel.
Right away, I was struck with how much Samuel is a type of Jesus. This is the theological sense of the term “type,” that is, so many things in the life of Samuel foreshadowed the coming of Jesus. Like Jesus, Samuel was a miracle baby, a gift from God. His mother, Hannah, was unable to have children, and for her faith and righteousness, God granted her a child, who would belong to God.
Further, Samuel is the leading priest, the high priest, after the death of Eli. But he is also called a prophet, one of the few people of his time who heard the Word of God. And then, he is also a judge, which was the predecessors of the kings—and it was, in fact, in response to Samuel’s old age and the unfitness of his chosen successors that the people of Israel demanded a king. So in Samuel, as in Christ, the Old Testament offices of priest, prophet, and king were united.
Even in small things, the Bible draws parallels. Compare 1 Sam 2:26 with Luke 2:52:
And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with people (1 Sam 2:26).
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 3:6).
Luke used these words, guided by the Holy Spirit, to intentionally draw that parallel between Samuel and Jesus. How did I notice this? Because it’s a somewhat distinctive phrase that I’ve read several times in Luke, and so it stuck out again when I was reading 1 Samuel. The Spirit made the connection in my mind because I had the knowledge from reading Luke.
And it wasn’t long before I came across a question that I figured was worth investigating. 1 Sam 2:12-17 details the wickedness of Eli’s sons, and it describes what they’re doing. But it assumes you know why this is wrong. Not being an expert in the Old Testament sacrificial codes, I did not know it off the top of my head.
You can read all these sections in your own Bible, so I won’t quote them in detail here. But my thoughts were: “Okay, they were doing something wrong with how they were treating the sacrifices. Where can I look up those laws? Probably Leviticus, since that’s the book that details everything that the Levites and priests had to do.” So I turned to Leviticus and started in chapter 1 and just started checking section headings.
And hey, wouldn’t you know it, the very first few chapters are all about how priests were to give offerings. And first I saw that the fat and internal organs always belonged to God. They were always burnt, and that was God’s main portion of the sacrifice. Sometimes the rest of the animal would be burnt, too, sometimes it wouldn’t, but the fat and internal organs were God’s.
And what were the sons of Eli doing? They were demanding their portion before they had even given God his portion. Before the fat had been offered to God, they sent their servants to demand some of the sacrifice. So they are literally putting themselves before God, violating their entire calling as well—making sacrifices to God for the people of Israel was literally their entire job description.
But there’s more. 1 Samuel also says something about their servants sticking a fork in boiling pots and taking stuff, and also demanding cuts of meat before anything’s been cooked. What is that about?
And there it is, in the same section of Leviticus, the part detailing how all the sacrifices are to be made. In chapter 7, there’s a section titled, in my Bible, “The Priests’ Portion.” And basically, in sacrifices that weren’t wholly burnt for God, the parts that weren’t burnt were consumed. The breast of the animal was given to the priests in general (7:31) and the right thigh of the animal was for the priest making the sacrifice (7:32), and the rest of the sacrifice was to be eaten by the people making the sacrifice.
And what were Eli’s sons doing, aside from demanding part of the sacrifice before God had been given His? They sent their servants to take food out of the pots where people were preparing their own portion, and they were demanding meat from sacrifices they had not even made.
They were stealing.
Now, these sacrifices wholly belonged to God, but God shared with His people to provide for them. In fact, the sacrifice was holy—so much so that anything that touched the sacrifice was also holy (Lev 6:27). So the sons of Eli were utterly dishonoring the sacrifice.
Now it begins to make sense that God might be upset with them. Their lives are supposed to be devoted to sacrificing to God for the people of Israel, and here they are honoring neither God nor the people nor the sacrifice.
And there is another parallel with the New Testament. In 1 Cor 11, Paul addresses a similar issue with people in Corinth not honoring the Lord’s Supper, which is when we honor the sacrifice made by Jesus for us. And Paul concludes in 1 Cor 11:27, “So, then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”
This is why it’s so important to be familiar with the Bible. The Bible has many themes God lays out throughout the course of the whole book. Sometimes a later book will reference an earlier book without saying where it’s from, such with Luke’s description of Jesus’ growing up. The author assumes you know what came before. Maybe not each word exactly, but at least know where to look it up.
It is so very useful to know these things! And the best way to learn it is to read the Bible book-by-book. Don’t just read from random sections each day; read each book in turn so you know what each book is talking about.
Learn the Word of God. Don’t let your lack of knowledge destroy your faith, but draw on the instruction of scripture for your encouragement!