Let us randomly grab HOW DO I STUDY THE BIBLE?
Leviticusa book of the Old Testament to illustrate our point… Leviticus, a book not known for being at the top of our “favorite books” list. Here’s how we would recommend approaching a study of this book.
First, consider the historical context. Leviticus 1:1 begins by saying that the Lord spoke to Moses from the tent of meeting. This verse tells us a few things. First, Moses is the recipient and the transmitter of this message from God. Leviticus forms a part of the broader “law of Moses” so that he is the author of the book. That indicates to us that Moses wrote Leviticus while the Israelites were assembled around Mt. Sinai, if not during the 40 years of wondering in the wilderness.
The book as a whole was written to and for the whole nation of Israel. That suggests this point: even as the tribe of Levi was to teach the nation of Israel the law, the nation of Israel was to hold the priests accountable for fulfilling their responsibility as well.
Secondly, decide on the limits of your chosen passage. Most modern translations break the text into smaller “bite-sized” paragraphs. My NASV, for example, has Leviticus 23 divided into 11 smaller paragraphs. If you were studying Leviticus at home, by yourself, then you will have (likely) started with 1:1 and worked your way to this point. That is the best way to study.
But, let’s suppose that we are here in Leviticus 23 and we have arrived at 23:23-25. This paragraph is an isolated paragraph, to some degree, because it begins with “Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,” and then verse 26 also begins: “The Lord spoke to Moses saying…” That shows that 23:23-25 is a separate idea. While we will interpret every paragraph within the overall context, we can study this individual paragraph by itself.
Become thoroughly acquainted with the paragraph. Read it and reread it and read it again, in several translations and in different languages if you have the ability. You are listening to the Holy Spirit speak. It will benefit us to see what God expected out of Israel and ask ourselves how those principles could make us a stronger Christian.
Analyze the sentence structure and the flow of the passage. In our chosen text, we see that in verse 23, Moses writes that God speaks to Moses. In verse 24, Moses is commanded (for surely that is the force of the verb “Speak;” it is, in fact an imperative in the Hebrew), to speak to Israel and share the following information.
A time frame is given in verse 24: “in the seventh month, on the first day of the month…” Here is one place where your Bible study helps can be beneficial. What was the Israelite calendar? That is, what else was going on during the seventh month? You can do your own research by looking up “seventh month” in your concordance. You could also look up in a Bible encyclopedia (like the ISBE) an article on the Israelite/Jewish calendar.
By the same token, we have the word “rest” in verse 24. My marginal rendering has “lit. sabbath rest.” What do other translations have? This gives you potentially another word to study in your concordance or encyclopedia.
God says this assembly is a “holy convocation,” announced to the nation of Israel by the blowing of trumpets. What type of trumpet was this? Do some research and imagine in your mind what is happening when the Israelites fulfill these regulations. It can help make the events more real and memorable in your mind.
Verse 25 also has an imperative: “You shall not do any laborious work.” As you read and study on the “sabbath rest,” you will come to better understand what “laborious work” referred to. Verse 25 has another imperative in it as well: “you shall present (lit.) a fire to the Lord,” that is, “an offering by fire.”
Fifthly, analyze the grammar. I have pretty much done that already in looking at the commands in the text. Here, you are asking yourself what the verbs in the text are; what the subject of the verb is and the objects of the verb and perhaps indirect objects. How does the sentence fit together? We are not wanting to study grammar for the sake of grammar but in order to better understand the intention of the original author.
Analyze significant words. I have also already hinted at this point. In our passage, some of the words we might want to do some deeper studies on might be: “rest,” “holy convocation,” or even “sabbath.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words is a good source of information for those who cannot do studies in the original languages or William Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
Seventh, research the historical and cultural background through the use of encyclopedias and so forth.
Eighth, what are the broad theological themes presented? In our text, we have the idea of inspiration: The Lord spoke to Moses. Revelation – Moses speaks the message to the people. Obedience to divine commands. The idea of rest. The idea of worship. The idea of an assembly, a “holy convocation.” The idea of work. Those are some of the ideas that we have touched on in this particular paragraph.
Ninth, consult commentaries to see if you have missed anything. Notice how far down the list is consulting the works of other men! You are wanting to learn from your own study and not rely on what other men have said. There is a place for commentaries and they can be quite beneficial. But, you will be better enriched and your studies will be remembered longer if you do the bulk of your research for yourself.
Tenth, in this step, you ask yourself what the message meant for the original audience. When you can answer that question, then you know what the message is, in principle, for us today.
For example, in broad terms, we are looking at these three questions:
a. What does the text want us to know?
b. What does the text invite us to feel?
c. What does the text call on us to do?
I have gone through this text with my own family and asked my two teenage daughters to make a list of some lessons they learned, as NT Christians, from Leviticus 23. Here are their answers:
1. The OT laws were specific rules required by God, in order to be pleasing to Him. The same is true with us.
2. Holiness of the people of Israel was important. They were told to “afflict” themselves.
3. These rituals were to be done “perpetually.” They could not be done once and then forgotten. They must be continually practiced.
4. Remember what He has done.
5. Take care of others.
6. Take a break. Pause and reflect on God. We should have times to set aside from work to focus on God.
7. Some might go even further and do more. There were a lot of days to celebrate one’s relationship with God.