Friday, January 10, 2014
Yahweh's Book - Priceless Quest
II Timothy 2:15
Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.
If what has been shared in this teaching series has caused you to be daunted by all of the obstacles that hinder arriving at the true knowledge of the word of God, I have a word of exhortation for you. Yahweh never intended for spiritual truth to come easily to His people. It is well within Yahweh’s ability to have preserved a flawless text of the Scriptures down to this day, but He chose not to do so. Instead, He has permitted His words to be obscured by thousands of years of creeping error, the result of the fallibility of copyists and the shortcomings of translators.
The fact that no perfect copy of the Bible exists, either in the original languages, or in translations to other tongues, requires that those who love truth must work to obtain it. Those who demonstrate the most diligence, as a workman that needs not be ashamed, will be rewarded with discoveries and revelations that men of lesser ambition only dream about.
In the writing Divorced From Truth I wrote about the excuses men often give regarding Bible study. What was shared is worth repeating.
It requires patient study to rightly divide the word of God. I know Christian men who have spent hundreds, and even thousands of dollars, upon some hobby. Men who are hunting, fishing, automobile, stereo, ham radio, sports, and bicycling enthusiasts have often spent a great deal of money, devoted great amounts of time, and educated themselves to become both knowledgeable and skillful in the area of their interest. Yet these same men will often argue that they are unable to apply the same attention to the study of Scriptures.
People of God, the truth is that men will pursue that which is important to them. Our actions reveal what is in our hearts. If a man will buy a fishing boat costing thousands of dollars, a truck to pull it with, equip it with rods and reels and bait and tackle, and spend the money for licenses and fuel; if he will read the fishing magazines, and study where the fish are, when they are feeding, what they are biting; if he will find others with similar interests and spend hours conversing with them, learning new things, and increasing his knowledge and skill, but will not apply the same devotion to study of the Bible, it is not because he is incapable, or does not have the skills necessary. It is because he does not have the desire.
Christ did not go down to the local seminary, or university to choose His disciples. He chose fishermen, a tax collector, a political zealot, and other common men. These men traded a passion for other things for a passion for knowing God. This led them to apply themselves with great devotion to new interests. We read of these men:
But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
These men did not reason that they lacked the ability to study the word of God in order to teach it accurately. They did not say, “I am a fisherman, not a Bible scholar.” They became Bible scholars, devoting themselves to its study and teaching, relying upon the Spirit of Christ to instruct them as they did so, and they were able to lay a foundation upon which the church of God could be firmly established.
There is no less need in this hour for men and women to manifest a similar devotion to Christ and to the study of His word.
Solomon speaks in magnificent terms of the pursuit of wisdom and understanding. He uses analogies that evoke images of hunting for buried treasure, of passionately crying out to God to be granted that wisdom which an ardent soul fervently desires. Solomon demonstrates that the acquisition of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are the most worthy of pursuits, and should involve a man’s entire being.
My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of Yahweh, and find the knowledge of God.
Do not these words reveal that the pursuit of the knowledge of God should be embraced with an unflinching resolve that will not be turned back?
In another writing I spoke of the effort men have expended in the pursuit of gold. The obstacles overcome, and the perseverance manifested by many men as they have sought that which is highly valued in this world is legendary. Of how much greater value are the secrets of the Almighty? Following is an excerpt from the book The Divine Quest.
Chilkoot Pass, 1898
Consider how much effort man has expended in his search for gold, this perishable metal that is precious to man. Wars have been fought over gold and entire nations have given themselves to the pursuit of it. Men have risked life and limb to recover gold that was lost in ancient shipwrecks. Men and women have cast all to the wind and embarked with great rigor and under the harshest of conditions when they have merely heard a rumor of gold.
There are many incredible tales of men who have sought for gold. Vast migrations of men have ensued when gold was discovered in some remote area. It is reported that in 1897-1898 that 20,000 to 30,000 men traversed the Chilkoot Pass on their way to the Yukon gold fields of Canada. A more remote area for prospecting can hardly be imagined. The Chilkoot Pass was itself over 500 miles from the gold fields, yet its rigors are typical of the hardships men and women endured in their search for this prized metal.
The Chilkoot Trail stretches for 33 miles from Dyea to Lake Bennett. The Trail was rough, steep, and snow covered. The destination was Lake Bennett where the prospectors would have to build a boat to travel 550 miles down river to Dawson and the gold fields. The Canadian government knew that many hardships lay ahead for the gold seekers, and they required each person to carry a ton of goods up the pass, enough to last them approximately one year. This had the benefit of saving many lives, but it was an arduous task.
On average a man could carry about seventy pounds worth of supplies on his back, and this required that he would have to make the journey up and down the pass about thirty times. It took an average of several months for each man to carry his quota up the mountainous terrain. With all the trips back and forth along the trail, some men had to walk upwards of 2,000 miles, and half of this walk was with a heavy load on their back. All told, some gold seekers traveled nearly 5,000 miles from their homes to get to the gold fields.
The summit of the pass was reached with a final climb up 1,200 steps that were cut into the ice. These were called the “golden stairs.” The gold seeker had to leave his supplies at the top of the pass and mark his spot with a tall stake so that he could find it in the deep snow that was falling. Over seventy feet of snow was recorded in the years mentioned, and at one point the snow built up so deep along the trail that when a few warm days occurred in April a tremendous avalanche occurred that buried 63 people. As soon as the bodies were dug out and carried downhill, the trek began again.
All this time men and women were having to live in the most primitive of accommodations. They slept in tents in the frigid weather, and lived on the most basic of diets. Once the prospectors reached the lake with their supplies they had to build a boat which was a task most had never done before. Trees for miles around the lake were cut down, and each board had to be hand sawn using a whipsaw, a two man saw, and this was more back breaking labor. This was no small boat that had to be constructed, for it had to carry a ton of supplies. Many men worked in teams and were therefore transporting two tons of goods.
How were men able to bring themselves to endure such rigors? They had their eye on the prize set before them. They dreamed of gold and all that it could buy them. How much greater is the prize that lies ahead of the overcomer in Christ? It is of immeasurably greater value. Should we not be willing to endure some hardship as we pursue this faith which Yahweh so highly esteems? The apostle Paul stated that the suffering that is the portion of the saints in Christ is not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed in the ages to come.
There were those among the gold seekers who traveled the Chilkoot Pass on the way to the Yukon who became millionaires. The satisfaction that was theirs upon receiving the prize they sought was made all the sweeter as they recounted the arduous path they trod to attain it. There were also many men and women who arrived at the Pass, and upon seeing the great difficulty of it, they turned back and returned home. Those who endured had a satisfaction that could not be bought. I can imagine them telling their children and grandchildren of the struggle, the suffering, and the final victory they achieved. Yet all this was merely in pursuit of the gold that perishes.
How much do you value truth? What estimate do you place upon the apprehension of the mysteries of God? What are you willing to expend in order to uncover the treasures of darkness and to obtain the hidden wealth of secret places?
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
“I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden wealth of secret places...”
Guidebook for Klondike Gold Seekers
Even as men who seek for gold and hidden treasure have tools to use to aid in the acquisition of that which they seek, so too will the man or woman who seeks to uncover the mysteries of God hidden in His word be benefitted by making skillful use of the proper tools. In this age of computers and the Internet, there are a great many resources available to aid in the quest for learning. In my early years I did not have computer based tools available to me. The personal computer had not yet been developed. What I did have, I made ready use of.
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
One of the books that I often employed in my study of the Scriptures was Strong’s Concordance. This hefty book lists every occurrence of every Hebrew and Greek word in the Bible. In its early days, it was keyed to the King James Version of the Bible. Now you can find a Strong’s Concordance keyed to a much wider assortment of Bible translations, including the New King James Bible, New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version.
When a reader first opens a copy of Strong’s Concordance, understanding how to use it may appear difficult, but it is actually quite simple with a little coaching. Strong’s Concordance is divided into two main sections. The first section is the concordance. The second section consists of Hebrew and Greek dictionaries. Following is a page image from the concordance section.
Suppose you were reading through the King James Bible and you came across the word “sorcerers” in Revelation 21:8. If you wanted to know what word was used in the original Bible manuscripts you would look up the word in the concordance where all words found in the KJV Bible are listed alphabetically. Note in the expanded shot that there are six occurrences of the word “sorcerers in the KJV Bible. They are listed in the order in which they appear. The concordance provides a snippet of each verse where the word is found, as well as the book, chapter, and verse reference.
To the far right is a number that identifies the word listing in the Hebrew or Greek dictionary at the back of the Strong’s Concordance. The Bible student using this reference needs to be aware that the Hebrew and Greek dictionaries both start with the number 1 and advance from there. If for example you see the number 5332, as is observed next to the Revelation 21:8 reference above, you would need to determine if this word is in the Hebrew dictionary, or the Greek dictionary. As long as you understand that the Old Testament books were written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek, and you know which books belong to each testament, you should have no problem.
As a child growing up I remember attending children’s church where we were taught a song that recited all 66 books of Bible in the order in which they appear. Because I was taught this song, I can still recite the books of the Bible in order to this day. This made it quite easy for me to recognize which books belonged to the Old Testament, and which ones were in the New Testament. In children’s church we frequently held Bible drills where the teacher would call out a Bible reference and the first child who could find the passage in their Bible would stand up and read it. I was very competitive as a child, and practiced looking up passages in the Bible. Some children had an advantage by having Bibles with tabs to indicate where the various books of the Bible were, but I did not need them as I could find the books very quickly.
As a youth, I did occasionally get confused when doing Bible studies, and would look up a word number in the wrong dictionary in Strong’s Concordance. This could lead to confusing results. For example, if I were to look up the number 5332 in the Hebrew Dictionary section of Strong’s Concordance I would find the following listing:
netsach (nay'-tsakh); probably identical with OT:5331, through the idea of brilliancy of color; juice of the grape (as blood red):
KJV - blood, strength.
This definition has nothing to do with sorcery. In order to find the proper definition I would first have to recognize that the book of Revelation is in the New Testament. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, I should look for the number 5332 in the Greek dictionary, not in the Hebrew dictionary. Upon doing so, I would find the following entry.
pharmakeus (far-mak-yoos'); from pharmakon (a drug, i.e. spell-giving potion); a druggist ("pharmacist") or poisoner, i.e. (by extension) a magician:
KJV - sorcerer.
It is easy to see what a powerful Bible study tool this reference book can be. Much revelation can be gleaned from observing the Greek word that is translated into English as “sorcerers.” It is the same word that the Greeks used to describe a pharmacist, or druggist. Hmmm..... Discoveries such as this can lead to much insight, both into ancient times, as well as the present.
It should be noted that EVERY word in the King James Bible is found in Strong’s Concordance. That is why it is called an “Exhaustive” concordance. If you had a mind to do so, you could look up every occurrence of the English words “a,” “the,” “if,” or “and.” There are thousands of listings for each word which would make it quite tedious to look them all up.
A more practical use of Strong’s Concordance might be to look up the original words translated as “God almighty” that are found in Genesis 48:3.
And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me...
As a youth, this was the type of thing that captured my interest. I wanted to know the names of God and what they mean. By looking up the words “God,” and “Almighty” in the concordance section of Strong’s reference work, I would be informed that these are the Hebrew words 410 and 7706.
'el (ale); shortened from OT:352; strength; as adjective, mighty; especially the Almighty (but used also of any deity):
KJV - God (god), goodly, great, idol, might (-y one), power, strong. Compare names in "-el."
Shadday (shad-dah'-ee); from OT:7703; the Almighty:
KJV - Almighty.
You will note that in many occurrences, the KJV Bible translators rendered a single Hebrew or Greek word with a great variety of English words. The Hebrew word “el,” aside from being translated as “God,” was also translated as “god (lower case),” “goodly,” “great,” “idol,” “might,” “mighty one,” “power,” and “strong.” The Hebrew word “Shadday,” however, was translated with only one English word.
By looking up the words “God” and “Almighty” in Strong’s Concordance I can see that Jacob told his son Joseph that “El Shadday” appeared to him. That discovery could form the basis for further study. I may want to look up every place that the Hebrew word “Shadday” appears to see if I can glean some further insight into its usage and meaning. What I would discover is that this word appears 48 times in the Old Testament, and in every instance it is used as a reference to Yahweh. No one else in the Bible is called “Shadday.”
As wonderful as Strong’s Concordance is, it can be somewhat lacking in the word definition department. The Bible student in many instances will wish that he had a more robust definition of a Hebrew or Greek word. To look for further insight a Bible student could look at Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible.
Young’s Concordance is very similar to Strong’s, but his word definitions provide shades of meaning that at times vary from Strong’s reference work. I was not aware of Young’s Concordance when I was a youth, and never had access to one. I discovered it existed when I came across an old copy some years back. This book was published in 1879 by the same man who produced Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible, itself a wonderful study resource. Young’s concordance predates Strong’s which was first published in 1890.
For even more expansive definitions of Hebrew and Greek words that appear in the Bible, a dedicated Bible Dictionary is helpful. There are a great many of these available. As a youth, the one I used was Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. This book was authored by William Edwy Vine and first published as a four volume set in 1940. The word “expository” means “to expound, or explain.” Vine only produced a New Testament dictionary as he was a Greek scholar. Vine’s Dictionary is sold today with both Old Testament and New Testament words, but the Old Testament definitions are the work of other men.
To get an idea of how much fuller the word definitions are in Vine’s Expository Dictionary, following is the entry for the Greek word “pharmakia,” which is translated into English as “sorcery.”
(Eng., "pharmacy," etc.) primarily signified "the use of medicine, drugs, spells;" then, "poisoning;" then, "sorcery," Galatians 5:20, RV, "sorcery" (AV, "witchcraft"), mentioned as one of "the works of the flesh." See also Revelation 9:21; 18:23. In the Septuagint., Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7, 18; Isaiah 47:9, 12. In "sorcery," the use of drugs, whether simple or potent, was generally accompanied by incantations and appeals to occult powers, with the provision of various charms, amulets, etc., professedly designed to keep the applicant or patient from the attention and power of demons, but actually to impress the applicant with the mysterious resources and powers of the sorcerer.
An additional tool I used from the time of my teenage years was Halley’s Bible Handbook. This book provides a wealth of historical and contextual information about the Bible. It is also highly illustrated, containing maps and color photos of various places and objects named in the Scriptures. Dr. Henry H. Halley was an author, minister, and Bible lecturer. He was first ordained to ministry in 1898 and had a penchant for memorizing passages of Scripture. Dr. Halley could recite from memory entire books of the Bible. He was often called upon to provide recitations. He would begin by sharing background information about a book of the Bible, and then proceed to recite the book from memory. This introductory information formed the basis for his Bible handbook.
Another Bible study resource I found to be indispensable in my youth was Nave’s Topical Bible. Orville James Nave lived from 1841-1917. He served as a chaplain in the United States Army for many years. He spent fourteen years seeking to classify everything found in the Bible. His book contains 20,000 topic headings that list everything from “salvation” to “ropes.” I prefer to do topical studies of the Bible, and found a work like this immensely helpful.
These resources are still available today as printed books. I recommend them highly to anyone wanting to study the Scriptures. Beyond these Bible study tools there exists a wealth of additional resource works.
It is no longer necessary for me to carry around a stack of massive books when I want to study the Scriptures. All of these resources, and many more, can be found in one place by purchasing Bible study software, or by downloading some of the excellent free resources available online. The subject of computer based Bible study will be addressed in the next chapter.
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