Humility and Bible Reading 

 

-    " The pride that apes humility" says all that is necessary. We can appear to be humble, and by doing so actually express our pride. The point has been made elsewhere that a brother may say to a sister full of praise for his Bible study: " It was nothing really, no, not that good" . But if another sister says to him: " I thought your Bible study was nothing really, not much good at all" ; how does he react? Did he really mean his 'humble' words to his admirer? Ahaz is one of many Biblical examples of this kind of false humility. He refused to ask a sign of Yahweh, when invited to, lest he be like apostate Israel in the wilderness, and tempt Yahweh (Is. 7:12 cp. Dt. 6:16). But this was actually a 'wearying' of God, and he was given a sign relating to his condemnation (Is. 7:12,13).

-    It makes a good exercise to go through Isaiah 2 and look at all the times when words like ‘bow down’ and ‘lift up’ are used. Judah are condemned for ‘bowing down’ before the idols, when in fact they were ‘lifted up’ in pride (Is. 2:9,11).

-    Nebuchadnezzar was made to eat grass like an animal until he learnt that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (4:17). But earlier he had learnt this lesson and accepted it, at least momentarily, when Daniel explained the image of chapter 2 to him.

Bible Reading

- Our Bible reading can be so easily performed on a merely surface level, skimming over words without letting their real import be felt at all. Fred Barling truly observed: “Through long familiarity we have come to read [the Gospels] with a phlegm and impassivity which are in sharp contrast to the amazement felt by those who came into actual contact with Jesus, and by those who first read these accounts” (1). Philip realized this when he quizzed the eunuch, with a play on words in the Greek: " Understandest thou what thou readest?" (Acts 8:31): ginoskeis ha anaginoskeis? 'Do you really understand, experientially, what you are understanding by reading?'. James 1:22 plainly states how easy it is to hear the word, and deceive ourselves into thinking that this very process justifies us. But if we are not doers of the word, we only “seem to be religious...(deceiving our) own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26). We are invited to see a parallel between the process of hearing God’s word, and seeming to be religious. The Pharisees, who read the Bible daily, letter by letter, were rebuked that: "Have you not read even this..."? (Lk. 6:3 RV). We can read, but not really read. Just as the Pharisees did.

- We can fail to personalize God’s word, in the sense of realizing that it speaks to us personally. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar what would happen to him unless he repented; and he wouldn’t listen. When his judgment came, God told him: “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken: The kingdom is departed from thee” (Dan. 4:31).

- The good soil is characterized by understanding (Mt.), receiving (Mk.) and keeping the word (Lk.). We can hear the Bible explained and at that point understand intellectually. But this is something different to real understanding; for if we truly apprehend the message, we will receive it deep within us and keep that understanding ever present in our subsequent actions. We are to hear and give ear to God's word (Jer. 13:15). We can hear on a surface level, but not give the ear of our heart to God's voice.

- The Hebrew word for ‘hear’ is also translated ‘obey’ (Gen. 22:18; Ex. 19:5; Dt. 30:8,20; Ps. 95:7). We can hear God’s word and not obey it. But if we really  hear it as we are intended to, we will obey it. If we truly believe God’s word to be His voice personally speaking to us (see The Power Of Basics), then we will by the very fact of hearing, obey. The message itself, if heard properly and not just on a surface level, will compel action. We can delight to know God’s laws and pray daily to Him, when at the same time we are forsaking Him and His laws; if we are truly obedient, then we will delight in God’s law (Is. 58:2 cp. 14). We have a tendency to have a  love of and delight in God’s law only on the surface. John especially often uses ‘hearing’ to mean ‘believing’ (e.g. Jn. 10:4,26,27). And yet the Jews ‘heard’ but didn’t believe. We must, we really must ask ourselves: whether we merely hear, or hear and believe. For we can hear, but not really hear. 

- Am. 5:18 and Mal. 3:1,2 warn that just desiring the coming of the Lord isn’t enough; for what end will it be, if we don’t truly love His appearing? Yet Amos goes on to say that Israel “put far away” the reality of the day of the Lord, in their minds (Am. 6:3). And yet they desired it. We can study prophecy, but not really love His appearing in seriously preparing ourselves for that day. Indeed, we can subconsciously put it far from us. When we grasp for a fleeting moment how very near is the second coming for us; can we dwell upon it, retain that intensity? Or would we rather put it “far away”? This is surely why the Lord brings the list of signs of His coming to a close with some chilling parables concerning the need for personal watchfulness. It’s as if He could foresee generations of believers straining to interpret His words carefully, correctly matching them with trends in the world...and yet missing the essential point: that we must watch and prepare ourselves for His coming, whenever it may be for us. Having given so many indicators of His soon appearing, the Lord then says that His coming will be unexpected by the believers (Mt. 24:36,44). He wasn’t saying ‘Well, you’ll never properly interpret what I’ve just said’. He meant rather: ‘OK you’ll know, more or less, when my return is imminent; but all the same, in reality it will be terribly unexpected for most of you unless you prepare yourselves. You need to make personal changes, and be watchful of yourselves; otherwise all the correct prophetic interpretation in the world is meaningless’. Those described in Rom. 1:32 know the judgment of God; they know it will come. But they have a mind “void of [an awareness of] judgment” (Rom. 1:28 AVmg.). We can know, know it all. But live with a mind and heart void of it. Tit. 1:16 AVmg. uses the same word to describe those who “profess that they know God” but are “void of judgment”. We can know Him, but have no real personal sense of judgment to come. These are sobering thoughts.

- In Lk. 10:25-27, the Lord recited some simple, well known facts of Biblical history: it was to a Gentile, not to anybody in Israel, that Elisha was sent to cure leprosy. But the Lord’s doing so raised such a howl of protest that the people thrust Him out of the city and tried to do the Son of God to death there and then. The point is, meditating upon well known facts can really cut us to the quick, and powerfully motivate us. Yet like those people until that moment, we can know these facts and do nothing about them, not feeling anything.

- Solomon had the wisdom of God. And yet Ecclesiastes has two contradictory layers of thought- Divine wisdom, and yet a philosophy of life “under the sun” that disregards that wisdom as irrelevant and pointless. I reconcile these by concluding that Solomon knew God’s truth and preached it, and yet at the end of his life he concluded it was all just so much theory. When he was younger, as a good king of Israel, he had copied out the portions of Deuteronomy concerning how a king should behave, not making links with Egypt, not loving horses, silver, gold or many ways. And yet early in his reign he flouted these principles on a grander scale than anyone else. He warned “my son” in his Proverbs of the dangers of the Gentile (“strange”) woman, but at the same time married them himself, writing an unashamed series of love poems about one of them (in the Song of Solomon). He knew, but simply failed to personally apply all the wisdom to himself. The very sensation of having the wisdom and preaching it world-wide as he did must have lulled him into a sense of numbness to the personal reality of it all. And the greater and deeper goes the Biblical research of our community, the wider we preach, the more the Truth we preach brings joy and salvation to others, the more prone we are to sink into the Solomon syndrome. On a lower level, this, perhaps, is why lung cancer specialists and sportsmen smoke (albeit on the quiet), why skilled and experienced pilots take incomprehensible risks and crash... The possession of knowledge and truth, when mixed with the perversity and untruth of human nature, can tempt us personally to do the very opposite of that which we know we should do.

- God prophesied that those to whom Ezekiel witnessed would not hear His words (Ez. 3:11). And yet they came and sat before him, desiring to hear God’s word (Ez. 33:30-32). They wanted to hear, they heard, and yet they didn’t really hear.

- The man who hears and does not appears to be building- he has the sensation of going some place in his spiritual life. He did dig a foundation- in sand, where it is easy to dig. But the Lord said that he built “without a foundation” (Lk. 6:49). Are we really hearing and doing- or just going through the motion of it, experiencing the sensation of appearing to do it?


Notes

(1) W.F. Barling, Jesus: Healer And Teacher (notes of the Central London Study Class, 1952), p. 3.