What is the Bible? An Exhilarating Journey into the Wonder, Mystery and Redemption of the Sacred Book. The New Blog Series...
I was first introduced to the Bible as a child when my Nana gave me a copy of the King James Version as a present when I was about eight years old. My lasting impression is of a book that had lots of very thin pages interspersed with the occasional picture of a biblical character like Moses, Daniel and of course, Jesus. It had gold gilt edges and was leather bound with a navy ribbon as a bookmark. I remember taking it to church and flicking though the pages to kill time whilst the Pastor was preaching – outside of this I had little interaction with the Sacred book.
Recently, I was walking through the foyer of the Hope Centre I could hear someone reading from a passage of the Bible. We had left several copies close to the door to be available to the congregation and this person had picked one up, opened it and started to read it randomly to a friend. This is the passage she read from in Jeremiah chapter 48.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says:
‘Woe to Nebo, for it will be ruined.
Kiriathaim will be disgraced and captured;
the stronghold[a] will be disgraced and shattered.
2 Moab will be praised no more;
in Heshbon[b] people will plot her downfall:
“Come, let us put an end to that nation.”
You, the people of Madmen,[c] will also be silenced;
the sword will pursue you.
3 Cries of anguish arise from Horonaim,
cries of great havoc and destruction.
4 Moab will be broken;
her little ones will cry out.[d]
5 They go up the hill to Luhith,
weeping bitterly as they go;
on the road down to Horonaim
anguished cries over the destruction are heard.
6 Flee! Run for your lives;
become like a bush[e] in the desert.
7 Since you trust in your deeds and riches,
you too will be taken captive,
and Chemosh will go into exile,
together with his priests and officials.
8 The destroyer will come against every town,
and not a town will escape.
The valley will be ruined
and the plateau destroyed,
because the Lord has spoken.
9 Put salt on Moab,
for she will be laid waste;[f]
her towns will become desolate,
with no one to live in them.
10 ‘A curse on anyone who is lax in doing the Lord’s work!
A curse on anyone who keeps their sword from bloodshed!
If you are going to start reading the Bible – there are probably easier places!!
How would she ever know that the Moabites were descendants of Lot and inherited land to the north of Judah which became something of a trade route. Or, that the command to “put salt on Moab” refers to a practice of scattering salt on the ruins of a defeated city as a curse that nothing would ever live or grow in that place again (cf. Judges 9:45).
Verse 10 is considered by many to be an editorial insertion pronouncing a curse on anyone who would be lax in doing the Lord’s work, specifically those who would hesitate to shed enemy blood. The object of the curse is not indicated, but it may have been directed to Babylon as a warning not to draw back from destroying Moab. That’s right an insertion added later to make a point that was specific in the mind of the editor at the time. As we said, its not the easiest of passages.
But then as someone said; ‘It’s not the passages of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me – it’s the passages I do understand!’ Perhaps like this one called the Beatitudes from Matthew chapter 5.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Bible is an amazing book – but it’s not without its challenges. And because of this it’s important we approach the Bible in the right way – appreciating it for what it is – and recognising what it isn’t. Pastor and Author, Brian Zahnd speaks of this importance in his poem called, Reading the Bible Right.
It’s a STORY
We’re telling news here
Keeping alive an ancient epic
The grand narrative of paradise lost and paradise regained
The greatest “Once upon a time” tale ever told
The beautiful story which moves relentlessly toward--
“They lived happily ever after”
Never, never, NEVER forget that before its anything else it’s a story
So let the Story live and breathe, enthral and enchant
Don’t rip out its guts and leave it lifeless on the dissecting table
Don’t make it something it’s really not--
A catalogue of wished-for promises
An encyclopaedia of God-facts
A law journal of divine edicts
A how-to manual for do-it-yourselfers
Find the promises, learn the facts, heed the laws, live the lessons
But don’t forget the Story
Learn to read the Book for what it is--
God’s great big wild and wonderful surprise ending love story
Let there be wonder
Let there be mystery
Let there be tragedy
Let there be heartbreak
Let there be suspense
Let there be surprise
Let it be earthy and human
Let it be celestial and divine
Let it be what it is and don’t try to make it perfect where it’s not
This fantastic story of--
With its cast of thousands, more Tolstoy novel than thousand page sermon
It’s a Story because we are not saved by ideas but by events!
Here’s a plotline for you: Death, Burial, and Resurrection
Yes, it’s a story — not a plan, not ology or ism, but a story
And it’s an amalgamated patchwork story told in mixed medium
Narration, history, genealogy
Prophecy, poetry, parable
Psalm, song, sermon
Dream and vision
Memoir and letter
So understand the medium and don’t try so hard to miss the point
Try to learn what matters and what doesn’t
It’s not where and when Job lived
But what Job learned
In his painful odyssey and poetic theodicy
It’s not how many cubits of water you need to put Everest under a flood
But why the world was so dirty that it needed such a big bath
Trying to find Noah’s ark
Instead of trying to rid the world of violence
Really is an exercise in missing the point
Speaking of missing the point--
It’s not did a snake talk?
But what the damn thing said!
Because even though I’ve never met a talking snake
I’ve sure had serpentine thoughts crawl through my head
Literalism is a kind of escapism
By which you move out of the crosshairs of the probing question
But parable and metaphor have a way of knocking us to the floor
Prose flattened literalism makes the story small, time confined and irrelevant
But poetry and allegory travel through time and space to get in our face
Inert facts are easy enough to set on the shelf
But the Story well told will haunt you
Ah, the Story well told
That’s what is needed
It’s time for the Story to bust out of the cage and take the stage
And demand a hearing once again
It’s a STORY, I tell you!
And If you allow the Story to seep into your life
So that THE STORY begins to weave into your story
That’s when, at last, my friend, you’re reading the Bible right.
What is the Bible – An Exhilarating Journey into the Wonder, Mystery and Redemption of the Sacred Book first started as a series I taught at Hope which I’m now turning into a blog series adding to the content previously given. This is a place to read, think, comment and share. The Bible is an amazing book which has shaped the lives and actions of millions of people over the centuries and now, with the advent of improved techniques and translation; the discovery of fascinating insights through archaeology; and the interaction of this ancient text in a modern world comes to breath new life to age old questions of meaning, purpose and destiny. Its unique voice speaks of a world forged by love and justice, it carries a message of forgiveness, hope and grace. Should we read all the Bible in the same way? No. Does it all apply to today, No. Are some passages more important than others – absolutely. One of the greatest and most fascinating challenges we have with the Bible is interpretation – you can’t just read the scriptures, you have to interpret them, which is where the joy, mystery and challenge really lies.
So welcome to – What is the Bible? I hope you enjoy the series and enter into the heart of what the question really means. Please feel free to comment as the series develops as we look at this most important of questions.
Next time What is the Bible: Gems, Lamps and the Honey Pots.
I’ve been trying to understand the word 'Populism' recently. It's a term that has entered my consciousness of late and I'd struggled to grasp its meaning. Apparently, so have others because it can have a broad frame of reference. However, in its simplest form it refers to 'a range of approaches which emphasise the role of "the people" and often juxtapose this group against "the elite". [However] There is no single definition of the term, which developed in the 19th century and has been used to mean various things since that time.' Thank you, Wikipedia. Why’s this important, you ask? Because populism has woven itself as a word into politics to such a degree that it can’t be ignored and therefore must be understood.
Understanding is the key to learning - which is very different to simply reading. Like me you've probably sat down to read a chapter from a book, or an online article only to get part way through to realise you have no idea what you've just read. Either your mind wandered - or you simply didn't understand it. That's why introductions matter. Introductions set the context for all that follows. If you're about to learn a new subject - read the introductions first. An introduction is an overview of the topic. An introduction to Genesis is a first step and much better than trying to jump in at a passage and make sense of it. Reading the introduction to: psychology, sociology, physics, the history of the Great War - or indeed whatever it might be is of great importance because it positions you grasp the subject as a whole. Think of it as a foundation - get that right and everything else in your learning will take shape. Overlook it - and you will struggle. Most of us can learn new things if we approach it in the right way - and that means not trying to run before you can walk. You can grow in confidence if you take the right steps - you can blow your confidence if you don't.
It's important to start well with any new learning experience. Don't assume you know more than you do - and if you do then reading the introduction will simply confirm this and further cement your knowledge. Taking shortcuts is not the answer to accumulating good knowledge - and good knowledge is the real key to personal growth, career development and flourishing in your chosen field. It will also stop you being arrogant and save you from coming across as naive and immature. If someone has consistently delivered in their chosen field - there is a reason for this, Otherwise (in the majority of cases) they will have fallen through the cracks - because sooner or later the cracks will appear. And you want to avoid this.
So, avoid jumping straight in. There is more to learn than your initial enthusiastic drive is showing you - harness that enthusiasm to enable you to make a proper start, it’s going to reward you tenfold five years from now. Be patient - it’s a virtue you need to succeed, and your success will be truly rewarding when you know you've paid the price for it. Forget celebrity - it over promises and under delivers. Work hard, rest well - and start at the beginning if you want to go the distance and have a great ending.