The heavens tell God’s glory, and his handiwork sky declares.
Day to day breathes utterance and night to night pronounces knowledge.
There is no utterance and there are no words, their voice is never heard. Through all the earth their voice goes out, to the world’s edge, their words.
For the sun He set up a tent in them – and he like a groom from his canopy comes, exults like a warrior running his course. From the ends of the heavens his going out and his circuit to their ends, and nothing can hide from his heat.
The Lord’s teaching is perfect, restoring to life. The Lord’s pact is steadfast, it makes the fool wise. The Lord’s precepts are upright, delighting the heart. The Lord’s command unblemished, giving light to the eyes. The Lord’s fear is pure, outlasting all time. The Lord’s judgements are truth, all of them just.
More desired than gold, than abundant fine gold, and sweeter than honey, quintessence of bees. Your servant, too, takes care with them. In keeping them – great reward. Unwitting sins who can grasp? Of unknown actions clear me. From wilful men preserve Your servant, let them not rule over me. Then shall I be blameless and clear of great crime.
Let my mouth’s utterances be pleasing and my heart’s stirring before You, Lord, my rock and redeemer.
(Psalm 19, R.Alter trans. 2007)
I am learning to read the bible… which may sound a ridiculous thing for a middle-aged woman to say, one who grew up in churches with outstanding preaching and teaching every week.
But, it is true. I learnt so much and am forever grateful to those who fed me so richly, and inspired me to persevere in faith – my debt to them is incalculable. Nevertheless, I am only now learning to read for myself, to listen to my own thoughts, to trust that as I seek and study, God will teach me; and as I learn in community with others, we can discern truth even though there is no written booklet or ‘qualified’ teacher present!
A few months ago, a group of local women began meeting together weekly, reading from the book of Job in the Hebrew scriptures, and using resources like their bible commentaries and cross-referencing systems to begin exploring the connections, themes and lessons contained in that book. Much to our own delighted surprise, we not only found enough to talk about each week, but we were continually stimulated to think deeply, to learn from one another’s traditions and approaches, to refresh our understanding and to even change our ideas! The freedom to dig into the word, to wrestle with its obscurities, to juggle the paradoxes and revere the mysteries was intoxicating. We proceeded to study Philippians, are now in Ruth, and next plan to tackle Isaiah – which is not a small book!
As we read in community, we trust God to guide us, we pray for the Spirit to lead us, and we pray for humility to listen to each voice. We have had some entertaining pursuits of red herrings, followed some devious rabbit holes and stumbled upon impenetrable mysteries. We have grown in love for one another, and more significantly, in confidence in God’s word to us and for us in 2022.
There will always be so much more to learn, but rather than letting that make us feel overwhelmed, we choose to praise God for the inexhaustible riches of his word, and for the many resources which are available to us now to support our learning together. I can testify that my delight in meditating – or struggling! – with the bible is so much deeper, more satisfying, than ever, and would hope that this makes me more responsive to God’s leading and transforming work in my life… that is for others to say.
Don’t give up reading, thinking, exploring the riches of God’s word to us. Find a community where the word is honoured, and where people will honestly face it with their doubts, willing to learn and to grow. We will never reach the end of God’s revelation, but we can choose whether to drift along on the surface, malnourished and vulnerable, or to take every opportunity to make truth our own, to stretch our minds and strengthen our confidence in the word. It is for each one of us!
May the words of our mouths, and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.