Have you ever felt frustrated by your personal Bible study time, wondering how to reconcile obscure and unfamiliar old Testament passages with your modern-day life and needs? In this article, Shannon Leibold shares how a simple perspective shift helped transform her time in God’s Word and gives three examples of how we can glimpse details about His character and purposes on every page. You may never look at the Scriptures the same way again.
I tossed my Bible aside in frustration. What on earth did Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa, Nadab, and a series of other kings whose names I couldn’t pronounce have to do with me?
It was the year I set a goal to read through the entire Bible chronologically. I had sailed through Genesis, trudged through the temple construction in Exodus, and powered through the endless laws for worship and cleansing in Leviticus. But my perseverance was drying up in 1 Kings. There were so many evil kings who did evil things leading an evil nation in a time and place I didn’t understand. All I wanted was a warm word to make me smile and tuck in my pocket for the day—something about God’s endless love for me, perhaps?
This feeling of disappointment or frustration in personal Bible study is all too common even among good Bible-believing, church-going, Jesus-fish-toting Christians. Since the Bible was written in an ancient era for ancient people, it can seem far removed from our 21st century, technology-saturated age. We struggle to make connections between their world and ours. And to be frank, don’t we all just want a word of direction or comfort or inspiration?
A SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE
It has been many years since the day I tossed my Bible. Many years spent persevering in a personal Bible study plan, faithfully opening my Bible day after day and seeking to know God and understand His Word.
I know now what I didn’t know then. The Bible is not a book about me.
This undeniable truth might be as startling to you as it was to me. But it is true. In fact, the proof is in the first four words of the holy Scriptures. “In the beginning God …” It does not say, “In the beginning _________” (insert your name here).
Far too often we approach the Bible for what it says about us. What does it say about ‘my’ relationship with God? What does it say about this decision ‘I’ need to make? How can it encourage ‘me’ today? But while the Bible does address these things, it is not primarily a book about us. It is a book about God.
Seeking to Know the Author
So instead of approaching our Bible reading time from a self-focused perspective, we would do better to begin searching its pages for what it has to say about God. And the beautiful reality is, when we seek to know the Author of the book, we will naturally understand ourselves better. Clarity around our place in God’s kingdom narrative comes when we seek the Kingdom first.
This approach to personal Bible reading, formally known as theocentric reading, will transform the way you interact with the Scriptures. When we open God’s Word looking for what it has to say about Him—His character and His ways—our Bible study time is transformed. Our eyes are opened to the majesty and glory of the Creator of the universe. Our minds are stretched to fathom all He is and all He has done. And our hearts are expanded with love for Him.
SEEKING GOD IN THE SCRIPTURES
Theocentric reading of the Bible comes more naturally in poetic books like the Psalms or gospel-focused books like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But what about Joel or Jeremiah or 1 Kings? Where do we find God in those books?
To begin training our eyes to search for glimpses of God on every page, let’s look at a few obscure passages to see what they might teach us about the character and ways of God.
A Death (1 Kings 14:7-13)
King Jeroboam’s son Abijah had fallen ill, and his parents were terribly worried. Jeroboam told his wife to go to the prophet to learn what might happen to the child. Jeroboam’s wife disguised herself and went. But hearing from the Lord about who was coming to visit him, the prophet knew immediately this desperate woman was the wife of the king. The prophet had a difficult word for them. Because Jeroboam had led Israel into sin and idolatry, the child was destined to die. And then the passage gives us this curious sentence. “All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good” (1 Kings 14:13, NIV).
What do we learn about the character of God from this story? God took the life of the one who pleased Him—Jeroboam’s son. In death, those who belong to God come Home to Him. This child pleased God. And God wanted Him Home with Him. God has a far different view of the death of His righteous ones than we do. We mourn a loss but God joyfully welcomes a child into eternity. What a kind and loving God we worship!
A Plague (Joel 1-2)
The book of Joel opens with a destructive locust plague. An army of insects marched throughout the land devouring everything green in their path. The land was left stripped bare and desolate. And the people who relied on abundant harvests were left fighting to survive. I imagine those of us who get our veggies from the grocery store struggle to imagine the utter desolation of such a plague.
But we do learn about the character of God in this passage. Joel 2:25 says this. “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you.” Here we see that God is able to redeem lost years. No doubt we all have some years “eaten by locusts.” But God can take those unproductive, rebellious, and idolatrous years and redeem them. He can use them redemptively in His Kingdom to bring an abundant harvest in your life and in the lives of others. What a good and sovereign God we serve!
An Invitation (Jeremiah 33)
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. He prophesied to the nation of Judah just before and during their exile to Babylon. Jeremiah saw the captivity coming. And it moved him to tears as he begged his fellow countrymen to repent. Even though Jeremiah was obedient to speak the difficult words of the Lord, God didn’t spare him from hardship. He spent several nights knee-deep in the mud of an empty cistern. And he was also imprisoned in the court of the guard. It was on this occasion that the word of the Lord came to him again. “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3).
I bet none of us have been lowered into the murky depths of a cistern nor been imprisoned in the court of the guard. But the way in which God reveals Himself in this passage is as much an invitation for us today as it was in Jeremiah’s time. Our gracious God invites us to call on Him and to talk to Him. And when we do, He promises to tell us unimaginable secrets. Good secrets. Secrets about His nature and His plan for the world. God longs to confide in His kids. He has a heart to share who He is with us. What a gracious and merciful God we belong to!
TRANSFORM YOUR PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY
Now you can see how three obscure passages—ones that seemingly have very little to do with our fast-paced, media-saturated world—can teach us about the character and ways of God. Reading the Bible is a treasure hunt. When we search for the Treasure, who is the Author Himself, we come away enriched and overflowing with worship.
I encourage you to be on the lookout for a glimpse of God every time you open your Bible. Make lists of what you learn about His character and how He interacts with His people. It will completely transform your personal Bible study time. Instead of tossing it aside in frustration, you’ll fall to your knees, hugging this treasured book tightly in awe and wonder at our awesome God.
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