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Lessons in Limited Bible Reading

August 11, 2016 | by: Mike Law | 0 Comments

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Lord willing, on August 27th I’ll be gathering with the leaders of the women’s small groups to reflect on 1 Samuel. This is in preparation for their study through the second half of the book over the course of the next year stretching from the Fall of 2016 to the Spring of 2017. In preparation for this teaching, I’ve been reading through 1 Samuel again. The last time I was with the women’s small group leaders in this setting (about this time last year), I made a point about limited reading and I thought that it could be useful to share that with you here.

“Limited reading” is reading that does not extend beyond the section of Scripture you are purposing to study. It is often helpful to read beyond the bounds of the text that you are purposing to study. In other words, it is helpful to read what came before and what came after. Say you woke up this morning and decided to read 1 Samuel 8. That’s the chapter where Israel demands a king. How does limited reading limit your understanding? Or conversely, how does reading what came before and what comes after enlarge your understanding?

If you just read 1 Samuel 8, you would grasp that it was bad that Israel demanded a king, but if you read 1 Samuel 4-7, then you’ll get an even deeper appreciation why Israel’s demand for a king was an appalling request in the sight of God. 1 Samuel 4-7 are known among scholars as “The Ark Narratives.” But what happens in those narratives? In short, the Philistines capture the Ark (they capture the Lord’s earthly throne), and then the Lord goes throughout the Philistine territory and he defeats Israel’s enemies. He fights for Israel. He is their Savior and Defender, Yahweh is their King. He even robs the Philistines blind. When they return the Ark, they send it back with a bunch of gold. And he’s done that kind of thing before! When the people of Israel came up out of Egypt, what happened? The Egyptians gave them all of their gold as they departed. What God has done before, he does yet again. The Ark narratives captured in 1 Samuel 4-7 are the lead up to what happens in 1 Samuel 8. The ark comes to a rest in 1 Samuel 7, Samuel is then declared to be Israel’s judge. He is ruling over the people of Israel as God’s appointed judge, so through him God is reigning as king.

Then what happens in 1 Samuel 8? Israel asks for a king, when she already has a king in Yahweh. A wider reading of the Ark narratives help us to feel the force of Israel’s demand for a king as we ought and why it is wrong. The Lord tells Samuel that Israel is rejecting him (the Lord), and that is true. This what the Lord says in 1 Samuel 8:7-8,

7 And the LORD said to Samuel, "Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you.

Notice the connection with Egypt. And notice the reference to other gods. Yahweh has just defeated Dagon, who easily falls into the category of “other gods.” Now fast forward to verses 19 and 20 in chapter 8. Here is 1 Samuel 8:19-20,

19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, "No! But there shall be a king over us, 20that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles."

What have we just learned in the Ark Narratives (1 Samuel 4-7)? We have learned that the Lord went out before his people and fought their battles! Israel really is rejecting him as their king, and doing so right in the face of him proving that he is a more than adequate king. They want a king like the rest of the nations and they’ll get a king like the rest of the nations, but what they should really want is a king who is not like the kings of the rest of the nations – they should really want Yahweh as their king.

All this is to say, let me encourage you to read beyond the bounds of the text that you have purposed to study, as I think it will enrich your understanding of God’s Word and thus your appreciation of God’s love, grace, and patience with his people. Happy reading!

Warmly in Christ,

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