Admit it. You’ve done it, too.
You pick up the Bible at 11PM at night and see “Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites….” and your eyes glaze over and you decide a one-minute devotional with a happy Proverb will have to do.
I totally get it. And Our Daily Bread has its place.
But we try to pick up the Bible to read it because we want to! We want to know what God has for us in His written words, but sometimes they’re just DRY. And sometimes the stories seem so harsh and disconnected and irrelevant.
Like I said, I get it. But I have learned that there isn’t any passage of Scripture without relevance. Sometimes we can’t always see it right away, but something is there that we can learn from.
Let me give you an example.
Consider the quote “Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites….”, which is from II Chronicles 8. That chapter explains that these various people-groups of hard-to-pronounce names were living in the same land as the Israelites during King Solomon’s reign, the “golden age” of Israel.
The passage goes on to say that Solomon forced these people into slavery – a slavery that continued on to the “current era”, which was likely at least 450 years later, during the time of the Persian empire. (II Chron 8:7-8)
So then, slave labor built the Temple to the God of the Israelites (II Chron 8:16), the palaces for Solomon’s wife, the Egyptian princess (II Chron. 8:11), and numerous trading cities and fortresses (II Chron 8:2-6).
At the same time Solomon made the Israelites into his soldiers, generals and government officials (II Chron 8:9-10), establishing a clear class distinction along racial lines.
So the greatest age of the Israelites was a time of racial and class disparity set in place by a King whose wisdom impressed the ancient world??
Now THAT’S interesting.
Can’t you just picture it?
A brilliant king, using tax revenues from the upper-class citizens of his own race plus free slave-labor from an under-class, builds architecturally impressive centers of worship, homes for the nobility, trading centers, and military bases, all while being admired from all over the world. (hmmm…. sounds like history has repeated this story more than once.)
He enjoyed all that life’s wealth and power could offer – at the expense of others. And in the process he unwittingly built a culture of racism and hatred that lasted at least 400 years.
Ah. So this IS relevant to current issues.
Even ignoring that complex questions raised by Deuteronomy 20:17, which says the fact that these people groups even still existed was due to disobedience, I am intrigued. And I start to wonder about the implications to today. Clearly, racial tensions spanned generations and centuries then, just as they do now all over the world.
So… if Solomon had offered them paid jobs instead of generational servitude, sure, he might have had to build a few less cities, but would the whole history of Israel have changed for the better? Would the Hittites and other people have grown to love God for his mercy?
Would the face of the Middle East be any different today if Solomon had made better – kinder – choices?
We simply don’t know, but that leads me to the convicting thought…
Might I be making choices today that could introduce prejudice into the minds of my children? Their children? generations to come? How do I need to revisit my choices, which may seem so wise today, in order to teach more Godly values?
As an example of personal application, perhaps after reading this passage and considering it’s implications for my family, I might decide that my children need to move out of their lovely, rural, and very white area, to come to a crowded metropolitan area with a wide variety of cultures and races living side-by-side, where they share the swimming pool with women in full-body swimsuits (I think these are awesome, by the way. maybe I should get one!) and have to learn not to stare just because of clothing or skin-tone differences.
Oh – wait I did that. But that’s another story.
The point is…
The story went from snooze-fest,
to personally applicable,
just by noticing the details and reading the whole context.
A quick Internet search helped along the way, too. And if I had taken the time to examine the additional context of Solomon’s life in I Kings I might have gotten even more out of it.
So here is what I do
to read the Old Testament without falling asleep. Actually, I do this with the New Testament, too, though it tends to be less dry to begin with.
1) Read the Bible.
At least one whole chapter at a time. Because context is critical.
Not just a devotional thought with a single verse of inspiration from some pocket-sized book (those have their place, but again, a topic for another post), but the Bible itself.
2) And then look for pieces that are interesting and examine them more closely.
3) ask questions about the historical context
4) consider the parallels to modern history or current events
5) reflect on personal relevance
I know, I know – sounds TIME CONSUMING!
Don’t worry, it really isn’t that bad.
This is not a pattern for in-depth Bible study – it’s a pattern for personal life application, and that takes less time, though when done right it makes you hunger for those awesome studies. Save those for a nice block of downtime, like a Sunday afternoon when the kids are asleep (haha!)
If you are the average English reader, it will take you less than 5 minutes to read II Chronicles 8 twice.
That leaves you with another 5-10 minutes to ask questions about the story and maybe look up a point or two online. 15 minutes, and you have a story, its context, and a fact or two.
You can do this in the morning. Or at lunch.
Then mull it over all day. 4 to 8 hours later you will have found that life application, if it didn’t jump off the page at you while reading.
That’s it. 15 minutes of reading, light research, and curious probing. Then a day of holding that story in the back of your mind, turning it over in your quiet moments, and asking God what He wants you to see in it.