One of my all-time favorite promises for God’s people is found in Romans 8:28:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
I wonder if anyone has ever showed you how God faithfully kept this same promise to His people throughout Scripture, in history. There are so many stories I could point to, but we’ll just look at one today in the book of Ruth. (And no, I’m not ultimately talking about the love story between Ruth and Boaz—this book is about so much more than that!)
Rewind to the Beginning
Before we dive into the book of Ruth together, let me fill you in with what has been happening in the books leading up to Ruth, because the Bible is one, cohesive story.
God had formed a great nation (see Genesis through Numbers). Check.
He had brought His people into His place, the Promised Land, just as He had promised (see the book of Joshua). Check.
But God’s people weren’t living under His rule. In fact, since Moses’ death and then Caleb’s death at the end of the book of Joshua, there was no great leader to lead God’s people.
Repeat a Dark, Vicious Cycle
And things went south quick. When we open the book of Judges—the book just before Ruth—we see a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself:
God’s people turn away from Him and sin.
This makes God angry, so He gives them over to their enemies.
Once they’re good and miserable, God’s people cry out to God for help.
God sends them a deliverer, or a judge. (These “judges” didn’t wear black robes and hold gavels like we think of today. Back then, a judge was a warrior, a deliverer, a military leader.)
Once God’s people have been saved, they once again turn away from Him, and the whole cycle is repeated.
All in all, God raises up twelve judges—eleven men and one woman—to deliver His people during this time. But even many of these judges are shady characters (think Samson.) I like the way Starr Meade puts it in her survey of the Bible:
In all the stories we see that the judges were not able to unite all of Israel, or lead the people in keeping the covenant, or even faithfully keep it themselves. So all the stories remind us that God’s people need a greater deliverer than any we see in this book of great deliverers.
Feel the Desperate Need for a King
Israel needed a king. See, a king was meant to help God’s people keep God’s law. In fact, God had promised kings to Abram when He made a covenant with him:
“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you” (Gen. 17:6, emphasis added).
But there was no king on the horizon. The author of Judges gives us clues as to this problem in Judges 17:6, 18:1, and 19:1:
In those days there was no king in Israel.
The book ends highlighting this problem, just in case we missed it:
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (21:25).
Note Many Sinful Decisions
Enter the book of Ruth. It’s set during the dark time of the judges:
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi (1:1–2).
God had warned that if His people didn’t keep His covenant, He would send famine and drought. But rather than repenting of his sin and trusting God for provision, Elimelech took off for Moab—the home of Israel’s arch enemy.
Keep reading: We will see God providentially use Elimelech’s sin for good.
As if that’s not enough sin, Elimelech’s two sons decide to marry Moabite women, which was another big no-no because the Moabites did not worship the one true God. But in spite of their sin, we will see God providentially use it for good.
After Elimelech and his two sons die in the land of Moab, Naomi decides she’ll just go back to Israel to starve. Her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth insists on going with her.
See How Ruth Is Not About the Marriage; It’s About the Kiddo!
Back in Israel, Ruth goes to work to provide for her mother-in-law. She gleans in Boaz’s field, who sacrifices his financial future to play the role of “kinsman redeemer,” just as God had commanded faithful Israelites to do.
After Boaz marries Ruth, they have a baby: little Obed. As soon as his birth is announced, we fast forward through his life to the day when he gives birth to a son, to “Jesse, the father of David” (4:17).
Did you catch that?!
Bernie Elliott, an elder at the local church I attend, points out, “This is like dynamite at the end of the book. God did it! God used famine, sinful decisions, and death. Through all that He still raised up what His people needed: God provided the king.”
Watch for the Sinless King
As we read on in 1 and 2 Samuel, we see that while David was a good king, he still sinned. We still need a better king—a sinless king. And this king is coming. God promises King David in 2 Samuel 7:12–13:
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever (emphasis added).”
While some of this promise was partially fulfilled through David’s son Solomon, we know that this promise was ultimately pointing to King Jesus, because after about 400 years passed, there was no more king in Israel . . . and there hasn’t been since.
Rejoice at the Sinless King Provided
But check out the first verse of the New Testament:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (emphasis added).
King Jesus was born . . . in order to die . . . for the sins of Elimelech and his sons and King David and all who would put their trust in Him. Nowhere do we see more clearly that no human evil can prevent God’s great purposes—He used the crucifixion of His Son to save a people for Himself.
If you have been saved by this King, God will do the same in your life, no matter what wrongs have been done by or to you. He will ensure that all the sinful, awful decisions and acts ultimately work together for good, accomplishing His grand designs. Of this you can be sure.
When I graduated from high school, someone slipped me a slim, purple book full of promises from God’s Word for the new graduate. What I didn’t understand when I placed that book in my college dorm room was that God’s Word isn’t just a big flip-and-locate-different-promises-to-claim-for-your-life sort of book. All of Scripture is one giant promise kept!
Here, let me show you what I mean.
All of Scripture is one giant promise kept!
Open your Bible to the first page, and it won’t take you long at all to find mankind’s rebellion against God. On the first and second pages, we see God creating all things. Mankind is the pinnacle of His creation, made in God’s image to reflect Him and reign over all He had made. But on only page three of my Bible, Adam and Eve rebel against God (Gen. 3:1–7), passing their sin nature on to all who would come after.
Catch That First, Cryptic Promise
The same day of their rebellion, God doles out their punishment, as He is holy and must judge all sin. But even as He hands out judgment, He also extends grace. We catch the first glimmer of God’s promise to send Jesus to undo the damage we’d done in Genesis 3:15. God says to the serpent:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
It sounds rather cryptic to our ears, so let me call in fellow writer Starr Meade to help explain:
Genesis 3:15 gives us the first promise of Christ in the Bible. Jesus Christ is the one who would be born of a woman and who would undo what the Serpent had done. It would cost Christ a great deal. He would have to take the judgment God’s people deserved for their sin by dying in their place. In this way, Satan would “bruise” Jesus’ “heel,” but Jesus would bruise the Serpent’s head by restoring God’s relationship with his people.
Turn a few more pages, and you’ll see God reaffirming and expanding on this promise to a man named Abram.
Hear God Reaffirm His Promise to an Old, Childless Man
In Genesis 17, among other things, God promises to:
Give Abram’s offspring land (think the Promised Land).
Make of Abram a great nation (think the nation of Israel).
Bless all the families of the earth through Abram (think through his descendant, Jesus).
All Scripture shows God keeping these promises in spite of great obstacles.
All Scripture shows God keeping these promises in spite of great obstacles. Take the second promise, for example. God promised to make Abram and his old, childless wife Sarah a great nation. At the time it sounded laughable, but when Abram was 100 years old, God miraculously gave this couple a son, Isaac. Slowly we see this family grow. Isaac gives birth to Jacob. Jacob has twelve sons. One of these boys is Joseph.
If you’re like me, you tend to read Joseph’s story as if it’s all about . . . Joseph. But this story is not ultimately about Joseph. Watch how God uses Joseph to fulfill His promise to Abram to make him into a great nation.
Watch and See
You can read Joseph’s fascinating story in Genesis 37–50. To recap, as his father’s favorite son, he is hated and abused by his brothers. They sell him into slavery and then breathe a deep sigh of relief. They’ll never have to see Joseph again, or so they think.
But years later, due to a harsh famine, these brothers travel all the way to Egypt for food and find themselves bowing before . . . Joseph. They don’t know it’s him at first (he’s grown up, he speaks Egyptian, he dresses Egyptian, he walks like an Egyptian, and he’s the second most powerful man in all the land of Egypt).
But after a couple dramatic interactions, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers:
“I am Joseph! Is my father still alive? . . . Come near to me, please. . . . I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. . . . God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors (45:3–7, emphasis added).
Did you catch that? If God had not providentially allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery and then rise to power, this little, incubating family would have been wiped out. God’s promise to Abram would have failed. But instead they are saved, and they continue to grow.
Observe This Little Family Grow into a Great Nation
Joseph’s family (Abram’s descendants) move to Egypt, survive the famine, and at the end of the book—while they are not yet a great nation—they’ve grown to nearly 100 people.
Turn the page (Exodus is just a continuation of the first book of the Bible), and what do you see?
The people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them (1:7).
In fact, by the time we turn to Numbers 1:46, we’re told there were over half a million males at this point. God did it! In spite of obstacle after obstacle, He made a great nation from one, lone man—a nation through which the whole world would be blessed . . . through Jesus. The New Testament begins this way:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1, emphasis added).
God always keeps His promises. If you tracked with me this far, you saw how God was faithful to make of one man a little family, and then to make from this little family a great nation. He did this in spite of many obstacles, because nothing is too hard for God.
The next time you open your Bible, remember that the whole story is one giant promise kept. It was written so you might know and trust this God who makes promises and always keeps them.
“How do you move a mountain?” the Chinese proverb asks. “One spoonful of dirt at a time.” Women of the Wordby Jen Wilkin is a book about moving mountains—mountains of biblical ignorance.
You might not think you have a mountain of biblical ignorance to move. When Jen was a teen, she didn’t think she had a mountainous problem either. After all, she was a regular church attender, had a “quiet time,” memorized Bible verses, read devotional books, and attended Bible studies.
But when she was asked to lead a Bible study as a senior in college, Jen suddenly realized she had a problem: a problem of biblical ignorance. She writes,
I carried a secret not uncommon to people with my background: I didn’t know my Bible. Sure, I knew parts of it—I remembered stories from vacation Bible school and I could quote verses from all over the New Testament and Psalms—but I didn’t know how the parts that I knew fit with each other, much less how they fit with the parts I didn’t know yet.
So what did she do? She took the “spoon” someone handed her and began to dig and move that mountain “one spoonful at a time.” Listen to her tenacity:
I intend to go to my grave with dirt beneath my nails and a spoon clutched in my fist. I am determined that no mountain of biblical ignorance will keep me from seeing him [God] as clearly as my seventy or eighty years on this earth will allow.
Did you catch that? Her goal is not to master this Book so she can feel good about all she knows. Her goal is to see God, to know God, to enjoy God. In her words,
Our study of the Bible is only beneficial insofar as it increases our love for the God it proclaims.
As her subtitle indicates, this book is about learning how to study the Bible with both our hearts and our minds. Because, as Jen writes,
If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about Him. The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.
I want to know Jesus more and pursue Him, especially during this time of singleness. Would you mind sharing some thoughts on what pursuing Christ looks like? Does it go deeper than just praying, reading the Bible, fasting, and so on?
What a fantastic, practical question!
While it might not feel like a glamorous answer, the hands-down, number-one way to pursue Christ is to study your Bible.
If you’re anything like me, there’s a big disconnect there. I want to know a living Person . . . and you’re telling me to pick up a book?
Yep. One day soon—if all your hope for acceptance by God lies in Christ—you will interact in person with God. Not just that, you will live with Him (Rev. 21:3)! But in the meantime, God has left us a Book telling us what He’s like. That’s how He’s chosen to reveal Himself.
So in order to make sure you’re getting to know God as He actually is—and not as you want Him to be—you need to meticulously pour over this Book to learn about Him.
If that sounds too impersonal and intellectual to you, know this: just ’cause you’re using your head doesn’t mean you won’t be engaging your heart. Quite the opposite, actually.
What a Yale Study Has to Teach Us About Loving God
I learned about Paul Bloom’s “pleasure research” throughthis blog post by Jen Wilkin. Mr. Bloom, a Yale professor, set out to discover how we find pleasure in things, and this is what he learned: Pleasure doesn’t just automatically happen by doing something over and over; it develops as we learn more about it.
For example, the more you learn about Star Wars, the more pleasure you’ll experience from it (just ask my husband!). Similarly, “If we want to feel deeply about God,” Jen Wilkin writes, “we must learn to think deeply about Him. The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.”
May I give you a recent example of this from my own life?
My husband and I are studying a doozy of a book called The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod. As I’ve stretched my brain and thought about the “pre-existence of Christ” (meaning that Jesus existed with God, as God, before He was born to a virgin in Bethlehem), I’ve been blown away. Check out this paragraph by Mr. Macleod to see what I mean:
“There was a unique bond between the Father and the Son, arising from the fact that the Son was uniquely lovable and the Father was uniquely affectionate. God could not have made a greater sacrifice. His love is astonishing precisely because at this point he put the world before his Son. The statement ‘God gave the world for his Son’ would evoke no wonder. The statement, ‘God gave his Son for the world’ borders on the incredible. Conversely, the Son could not have suffered a greater loss. To have “lost” the Father, as he did in the dereliction (Mark 15:34), was the greatest of all possible pains.”
There are right ways and there are wrong ways we handle the Word.
But it’s true. And as an author, I should know better. I don’t want others reading my book and taking away whatever meaning they want; I wrote Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl with a very specific intent in mind.
“The Bible is not magical or mystical; it is a book. We should treat it with at least the respect we would give to a common textbook. You would not flip to an Algebra book page and say, ‘How does this apply to my life today?’ and expect to pass Algebra. Am I reading historical narrative? Poetry? Prophecy? Wisdom literature?
“Before we can talk about what the text means to us, we have to ask what the text means. There is an objective meaning that has been placed in the text. Meaning is determined by the author, and it is discovered by the reader—not assigned by the reader. Your job is to ask, ‘What did the author want me to know from what he wrote here?’”
In His kindness, God has given me a husband and brought me to a local church who are both serious about seeking out and understanding the original author’s meaning in the text.
And slowly I am learning that Bible study methods are not rules meant to stifle my creativity and squelch my fun; they are tools to help me get to know the living God as He really is.
So this new year I’m ditching the lie that reading the Bible should be as easy as skimming a novel. As Jen Wilkin says, “Disciples are called to be disciplined,” and “Everyone works diligently about what they care about.”
Here are the tools I’m currently using to study God’s Word. I got these from one of my local church elders. There are several other tools you could use to slow down and dig into the meaning of a passage, but I’m currently finding these super helpful.
The Five Bible Study Tools I Use
First, I write the date and the passage of Scripture I’m reading at the top of my journal:
January 10, 2016
(I try not to bite off a longer section than I can handle.) Then I write five headings in my journal:
Relationships between words and phrases
Now it’s time to get to work.
You rely on tone every day in order to understand meaning. Take, for instance, this sentence:
I don’t like Barry.
Now, let’s add in a little tone:
I don’t like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
Here’s what that might mean:
I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: Someone else does like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: I strongly dislike Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: I love Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: I like someone else.
Tone is just as important in written communication as it is in verbal communication. Is the tone of this passage encouraging? Sarcastic? Urgent? Harsh? Uplifting? Sober? Does it include a promise or a call to repent?
After I’ve identified the tone of a passage, I move on to repeated words and phrases.
If you call your friend and she mentions “Stephen” fifteen times in five minutes, it’s pretty obvious what’s on her mind. If your younger brother yells multiple times, “Stop it!” you know you’d better back off. Write down the repeated words and phrases you find and why they’re there.
Relationships Between Words and Phrases
Think of yourself as a detective, and watch for small clues like F.A.N.B.O.Y.S. (“for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” “so”). These words clue you in to connections between words and phrases that you won’t want to miss! What do these words teach you?
Throwback to English class, anyone? What is the main subject of this section of Scripture?
Don’t try to get creative—just stick to the words used in the passage. Be specific. What is the author communicating? (Don’t worry if this is hard at first—practice makes perfect!)
I’m trying to discipline myself to get into the habit of doing this detective work before I jump to what this passage means for me today. Because it’s not going to mean something for me that it doesn’t mean for all believers. So now that I’m done with the fact-checking, I can apply it to my life.
Is there a promise I need to believe? A command I need to obey? An aspect of God’s character to prompt worship?
Now that I’ve shared one way to study the Bible with you, what’s holding you back? Do you think that seeking God should come easily? What makes you think that?
I balked when Erin Davis (LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com blog manager) asked me to write a post about why I read the Bible. Sounds simple enough, right? But my mind went blank. Utterly empty.
I knew why I used to read the Bible:
All good Christians I knew read the Bible.
I was told I should.
I thought God would be happy with me if I did.
I felt closer to God when I did something “spiritual” (reading my Bible being at the top of the list).
It was tradition.
But now I understand that Christianity isn’t about what I do but about what Christ has done on my behalf. So why do I read the Bible now? I wasn’t sure.
I thought about it for a few weeks, and slowly I began to realize why I read the Bible.
How can I become conformed to an image that I never behold?
I read the Bible to catch a glimpse of God’s beauty, because that’s where God has revealed Himself. Then, as I get to know God, I try to imitate Him, and He begins to make me beautiful like Him.
Here’s how this looked this past week.
Someone close to me hurt me. I knew in my head that their sin wasn’t a personal attack against me, but it sure felt that way. I wanted to lash out at them with hurtful words, but instead, I grabbed my Bible, journal, and pen. The Lord quickly showed me Himself in John 8:3–7,
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Am I without sin? (No!)
I saw how the religious leaders insisted that others keep the law perfectly, but Jesus (who kept the law perfectly on our behalf!) extended grace to this woman. It reminded me of John 1:17,
The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
If Jesus extends grace, and if I am full of Jesus (Col. 2:10), than how can I be anything but gracious?
So now I know. This is why I read the Bible: to gaze on God’s beauty, and to become beautiful like Him.
Why do you read the Bible?
PS: I have to thank Jen Wilkin for helping me see this more clearly. Here’s just a snippet from her excellent book Women of the Word. You should read it!
Someone asked me recently if I was a God-worshipper or a Bible worshipper. . . . My answer was simple: I want to be conformed to the image of God. How can I become conformed to an image that I never behold?
I am not a Bible-worshipper, but I cannot truly be a God-worshipper without loving the Bible deeply and reverently. Otherwise, I worship an unknown god. A Bible-worshipper loves an object. A God-worshipper loves a person.
Yesterday I shared how as a teen I pulled verses from God’s Word about my crooked legs without looking at their context. I encouraged you to begin the hard work of searching for the author’s actual meaning by digging into the surrounding verses.
Today I want to give you a chance to practice with three verses. Read their context, and then choose which option (“a” or “b”) the author meant. (I know this is hard work, but the more we practice, the easier it gets.) And this is important!
Ready, set, read it like it is!
“She has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:2b).Does this mean she’s received:a) Bad from the LORD
b) Good from the LORD
Read the context below, and then record your answer in the comments section:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:1–2).
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Prov. 4:23).Does this mean:a) Guard your emotions by not getting too close to a guy
b) Guard yourself from all forms of evil
Read the context below, and then record your answer in the comments section:
“My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” (Prov. 4:20–27).
“I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).Does this mean:a) God will bless you with a happy, easy life
b) God would bring the nation of Judah out of captivity in 70 years
Read the context below, and then record your answer in the comments section:
“This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile'” (Jer. 29:8–14).
The correct answer is “b.” God’s people had committed all sorts of sins against Him, but He was still wooing her back to Him. This verse doesn’t mean that God punished Israel doubly for her sins, but that God had made a way for her sins to be paid for in full. He had already planned to send Jesus into the world for this very reason.
The correct answer is “b.” The context is clear—this isn’t a verse specifically about relationships. This is an urgent plea from a father to his son to live carefully and to fight sin wholeheartedly.
The correct answer is “b.” In context, this is a specific promise to a specific nation, the nation of Judah. In seventy years, God would free His people from slavery to the Babylonians. God never promises us an easy life here and now, but He does promise forgiveness of sins, a restored relationship with God, and so much more to those who put their full trust in Him.
When I was your age, there was almost nothing I wanted more than straight legs. Okay, maybe a boyfriend. But straight legs were sure to help me get one, or so I thought.
See, I was born bowlegged. Apparently it runs in my family, and I was the one lucky enough to catch that gene. I was almost constantly aware of and insecure about the way my legs bent out at an unnatural angle from my knees down.
That’s why my heart absolutely sunk years ago when I read this verse in God’s Word:
Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? (Ecc. 7:13, emphasis added)
But then, another day, I read Luke 3:5, and my heart leapt. So there was hope for my legs!
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways (emphasis added).
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that these verses had nothing to do with my legs! I was simply reading Scripture out of context. I had no idea how important it was to know what came before and after a verse, so I could figure out what the author actually intended to communicate.
Take Luke 3:5, for example. Here’s the surrounding context:
“The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
In the ancient Near East, there was this custom that when a king would be coming to visit his people who lived in the outlying areas, he would send a forerunner in advance to announce that the king was coming to visit his people. That messenger, the herald, would prepare the way for the king’s entourage. It would be like we say today, “Rolling out the red carpet.”
The problem was in those days public roads were almost unknown. In many areas there were hardly roads at all. So the king would send a forerunner to clear away the obstacles, to make a highway, a thoroughfare for the king to come and visit his people.
[Luke] quotes directly from the book of Isaiah saying this prophecy is now being fulfilled with John the Baptist coming to prepare the people for the Lord to visit. The message of John the Baptist was a message of repentance. In preparation for King Jesus coming to this earth, God’s people were to remove every obstacle, to prepare a road in their hearts for His arrival.
Turns out, Luke 3:5 was never intended to give me hope that somehow my bowlegged legs would be straightened. Luke 3:5 was intended to give me hope that a Savior had come—not to straighten my crooked legs, but to straighten my crooked heart!
How about you? Have you been pulling verses from God’s Word without looking at their surrounding context? If so, I encourage you to begin the hard work today of searching for the author’s actual meaning by digging into the surrounding verses. God’s Word is filled with the good news of a specific message—let’s not miss it!
Oh, I still read it nearly every day. I even make sure it’s on top of my stack of books, out of reverence for it (or is it just habit now?).
But my hunger and reverence for it has waned. There are a myriad of reasons for that, but here’s a big one.
As you probably know, Christians disagree about how we hear from God today. I have Gospel-believing friends on both sides of the fence—some who claim to be led by God’s Spirit as they listen to Him throughout their day, and other Gospel-believing friends who claim that the Word of God is the only way God speaks to His people today.
As a communicator, I’ve had to learn how to carefully nuance how I talk about hearing from God. That, for a girl who’s naturally more of a feeler than a thinker, and more gray than black and white, has felt stifling and rigid at times.
It has been confusing, too. Which is it? Is it the Spirit who leads us . . . or is it the Word?
This past Sunday, my pastor preached on the Word of God. This stood out,
The further I move from the written Word of God, the less confidence I can have that I’ve heard a word from God.
After his sermon, I went back over my notes and looked up all the Scriptures (one of my favorite Sunday “rhythms”), and I stumbled on 2 Peter 1:21 where we’re told how the Book was written,
No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Oh, yea! I was reminded that the Word IS the Spirit’s personally-breathed-out words. Oh to treasure and revere it more.
Then this morning, my ears perked up when Nancy Guthrie unpacked Nehemiah 8:1,
All the people [50,000 of them] gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.
Picture Times Square on New Years Eve, except this crowd was gathered to hear a book read rather than to watch a ball drop. We don’t know for sure, but maybe one piped up, “Bring out the Book!” And another and then another pitched in until the whole crowd cried, “Bring out the Book! Bring out the Book!”
Oh, that God might raise up women in our day who are hungry for the book,” Nancy said.
Yes, Lord. I want to return to the Book. I want to be a woman of the Book. Not a rigid, puffed up woman, but a God-knowing, God-fearing, God-hearing woman.
I still don’t have all the answers, but this I do know. The Spirit still speaks today through His personal, living words in that Book.
I admit it. When I saw the theme of this year’s Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, I wasn’t overly enthused. Nehemiah? And I care because . . .? (Okay, I didn’t consciously think that, but I might as well have!)
And I Care Because . . .?
Despite being raised on the Bible and attending Bible college, I struggled to remember anything significant about Nehemiah.
So once I’d cleaned the house (Dad taught me well: it’s always worth it to come home to a clean house!), emptied the fridge, set up my “Out of office” messages, washed my laundry, packed my suitcase, and made it through security with minutes to spare, I bypassed my borrowed copy of Grapes of Wrath and dusted off the ancient book of Nehemiah instead.
After re-familiarizing myself with his story, I began to get excited. Still, I was skeptical. Would the speakers really be able to show us the gospel through this old book? I prayed they would.
Kathy Keller was up first, and . . . she did it! I wish I could share more, but let me give you an oh-so-brief synopsis:
I Care Because . . .
The book begins with Nehemiah receiving horrible news:
The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Neh. 1:3).
Whoop-de-do, you say. But it was more than just a longing for his national homeland that made Nehemiah weep and mourn for days. Nehemiah understood what this really meant. What was really at stake.
Without a secure wall to defend themselves, there would be no permanent restoration of Israelite culture. They would be assimilated into other cultures, and there would be no more Israelite nation to bring forth God’s promised Messiah.
Nehemiah understood God’s Word. He knew the restoration of Jerusalem would one day climax in the Messiah prophesied since Genesis 3.
So, because of his understanding of and confidence in God’s Word, he took radical action.
After four months of prayer (yes, months!), He risked his own position—and even his life–by asking his employer (King Artexerxes) to reverse his decision to halt the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah decided to leave the world he’d known, the privilege and security of serving in the king’s palace, and head out on an uncomfortable, dangerous, opposed mission. But he did it based on God’s redemptive promises and plans.
If Nehemiah hadn’t left the privilege and safety of the palace for back-breaking labor, Jerusalem wouldn’t have been rebuilt. Nehemiah was God’s instrument at this period in history, but his story is submerged in the greater story.
Jesus is the greater Nehemiah who left the right hand of the King to join the blue-collar labor force as a carpenter, a builder. He came not just at the risk of death, but at the certainty of it. If he hadn’t done it, your salvation and my salvation would not have been accomplished.
So please don’t hold it against me. Turns out I do care! I care about Nehemiah, not ’cause it’s about Nehemiah, but because it’s ultimately about God’s grand redemptive plan.
Nehemiah understood God’s Word, and he acted in confidence based on God’s Word, in spite of the dismal state of current affairs. I wonder . . . Do you and I know God’s Word in such a way that we will act boldly and confidently—even when it looks like God’s purposes have been thwarted?