From the Preacher’s Pen…
The first time we read the Bible we get it. After all, we only read other books one time to understand them. Of course, anyone taking a course in literature and tried to claim such an absurd thing would find themselves failing the course. Reality check: We seldom, if ever, fully appreciate and understand something the first time we see it!
Most of us are mature enough to understand that fact in life. And most Christians are able to see, like many of the people in the Bible, how rich are the ongoing lessons we learn about God and His will.
It should be a ritual with us to not just read God’s word but to think about it, to constantly inquire about what it says and how to appreciate and understand it.
Consider something as simple as the compass directions and let’s remind ourselves of how easy it is to miss so much.
The Biblical Compass
A great lesson for Bible study comes from an old illustration: To read the Bible always and only in translation is like listening to Bach, always and only played on the harmonica. You certainly get the tune, but you will miss pretty much everything else.
Now, if you are comfortable with hearing Classical music only played on the harmonica and think there’s nothing to be gained by listening to a great orchestra… well, you probably have no problem with lazy, effortless Bible study.
Yes, I realize just how hard it is to learn another language but I’ve also learned just how much can be gained by consulting someone that truly knows that language. In fact, many times we will actually learn more by taking the time to ask questions of those that know the language rather than just learning to speak or read a few words! (This is what makes the many books dealing with Biblical word studies so valuable if you don’t read the original languages.)
Let’s start with the compass and basic directions: north, south, east and west. Just like reading the Bible one time, we can understand those directions and at least get ourselves headed in the right direction. But does God have a little more to the lesson? Let’s check.
In Genesis 13:14 we read, The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward.”
These four directions are technical navigation terms in English, and, even if you simply read them in Hebrew you would normally get the same idea. (The pronunciations are tsafonah for north, negbah for south, kedmah for east and yamah for west.) It’s only when you do a bit more serious digging that you learn that those words used by God were filled with even more meaning for Abraham.
North (tsafonah) is connected to Mount Tsaphon (or Zaphon) in modern Syria (cf. Isaiah 14:13). This was the Canaanite version of Olympus as the “mount of assembly” where the gods’ met and thus a prominent landmark.
South (negbah), as you might guess, is the Negev desert or wilderness area south of the land of Israel. This was the area where Abraham traveled back and forth to Egypt and centuries later the nation of Israel would wander there for 40 years because of their lack of faith.
West (yamah) means “to the sea” as the Mediterranean Sea formed that huge barrier in that direction.
East (kedmah), of course, brings to mind the idea of where it all began. Abraham had traveled far from his old life and land in the east to this new land of promise. And even earlier in mankind’s history, the Garden of Eden was planted to the east (Genesis 2:8).
Much like a jigsaw puzzle, when we piece together God’s words they become a picture of all that surrounded Abraham, his life and the Biblical story to that point in history. And in those four words filled with so much meaning, is God teaching us an important lesson, too?
In the years to come God would use another phrase, “wherever you go” as a reminder of the same lesson. First, to Joshua that the Lord would be with His people to deliver them even in the Promised Land (cf. Joshua 1:7, 9). And then second, to the nation during the time of the Judges as a reminder that without God no place would be safe (cf. Judges 2:14-15).
Does God do the same for us today? If we are faithful to Him will he not give us safety and blessings from deserts to oceans? Does He keep us safe from pagan and false gods and the old ways of life?
There is a rich history in God’s promises to give His blessings to His faithful people. Perhaps the ultimate reminder comes as Jesus gives the Great Commission and concludes that, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
With such great promises and with a God that gives us such great directions, what kind of lives should we live this week and always?
— Lester P. Bagley