This is the first of a number of articles in a series called ‘Chapter & Verse’.
It is essential that we read and study God’s word for ourselves. Knowing the chapter and verse to support what we believe is vital for every believer. This will bring great blessing. By God’s grace, I have benefited from the teaching of many godly Christians over many years. It is my desire to share what I have learned with you. We hope these notes will help you in your Christian walk.
Ezra’s reading of the scriptures had a profound effect on his hearers. Note three ways in which the word benefited them:
‘So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading’, Neh. 8. 8 NKJV.
God wants us to understand His word. The Bible was written in the everyday language of ordinary people, in Hebrew and Greek, and most of the translations we have in our language are faithful representations of the original. More than half of both Old and New Testaments contain narrative accounts of historical events. These true stories are easy to understand. The Old Testament also contains poetry and prophecy, which require a little more study but are not beyond the grasp of the average reader. The New Testament also contains doctrine, and with careful study, and a good foundation in the historical portions of scripture, most Bible doctrine is readily understandable. There are a few passages which are more difficult, but the most important doctrines are explained clearly.
We should use our heads to understand. We do not need esoteric knowledge or a theology degree. We need to read and to think, but ultimately we need wisdom from above, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to understand the text of scripture.
‘And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them’, Neh. 8. 12 NKJV.
The people’s first response when they heard the word of God was to worship, 8. 6. When that word brought conviction of sin, they were overwhelmed with sorrow and wept, v. 9. Finally, when they understood that God had accepted them, their mourning became a celebration, v. 12.
God’s word should touch our hearts. At different times it may elicit sincere worship, tears of repentance or the joy of salvation. If we never feel anything when we read the scriptures, it could indicate a spiritual coldness in our lives.
Notice that the people rejoiced when they understood the scriptures. Emotionalism without understanding suggests spiritual immaturity; such feelings soon pass. But emotion resulting from understanding God’s word is pleasing to the Lord.
‘And they found written … that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month. Then the people went out and brought [branches] … and made themselves booths’, Neh. 8. 14, 16 NKJV.
God’s word must get into our heads, but it must not stay in our heads. It should touch our hearts, but not merely so that we can have warm, fuzzy feelings. To be rounded students of the word, we need to put what we learn into practice. On hearing the Law, the people understood that they should be celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. As soon as they realized this they went out and used their hands to build shelters so that they could worship as God commanded.
We must understand first, and then do. Doing without understanding can result in doing the wrong thing. For example, we need to understand why we don’t celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles today. But understanding without doing leads to a dry intellectualism and spiritual hypocrisy. When we read, but don’t do, we only deceive ourselves, Jas. 1. 22.