Studying the Word of Life
“For all things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.”—Rom. 15:4.
1. Through what does God speak and why is it wise to listen to him?
THROUGH the pages of the Bible your Creator speaks to you. He tells you what he has done in times past and what he has purposed to do in the future. He gives you sound counsel and wise instruction for guiding you in the way that is best for you. Since he is far wiser than any human, what he says is worthy of your closest attention. If you listen to him, his written Word can be for you a book of life. “My son, my law do not forget, and my commandments may your heart observe, because length of days and years of life and peace will be added to you.”—Prov. 3:1, 2.
2. Why do some persons fail to find the treasures in God’s Word?
2 The rewards for studying God’s Word are great, but they cannot be had without effort. Many hours of reading, along with deep concentration and meditation, are necessary. This is unpleasant to frivolously minded persons whose reading is never heavier than picture magazines, newspapers and paperback novels. Because they are unwilling to exert themselves and dig into the deep things of God’s Word they fail to find the treasures of wisdom that are there for those willing to make the effort to get them. “If, moreover, you call out for understanding itself and you give forth your voice for discernment itself, if you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it, in that case you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the very knowledge of God.” (Prov. 2:3-5) That requires study. What can happen when it is lacking and God’s Word is neglected is seen in Jehovah’s covenant people of ancient times.
3. What was required of the king of God’s covenant people in ancient times, and why was this good?
3 The king of Jehovah’s covenant people was required to have a copy of God’s law and to read it repeatedly throughout his life. By following its guidance he would be able to lead his subjects in the way that would be best for them. His regular studying of Jehovah’s law was in the national interests as well as his own. “It must occur that when he takes his seat on the throne of his kingdom, he must write in a book for himself a copy of this law from that which is in the charge of the priests, the Levites. And it must continue with him, and he must read in it all the days of his life, in order that he may learn to fear Jehovah his God so as to keep all the words of this law and these regulations by doing them.”—Deut. 17:18, 19.
4. What course did most of the kings of God’s chosen people take?
4 Most of the kings who ruled Jehovah’s chosen people ignored this command. They failed to study the divine Word and to follow the guidance of its wise counsel. Relying upon their own wisdom, they led the people in the very way God warned them not to go. They foolishly turned from the path of obedience to God and sank into the stinking mire of idolatry. “They kept walking in the statutes of the nations whom Jehovah had driven out from before the sons of Israel, and in the statutes of the kings of Israel that they had made; and the sons of Israel went searching into the things that were not right toward Jehovah their God and kept building themselves high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen clear to the fortified city; and they kept setting up for themselves sacred pillars and sacred poles upon every high hill and under every luxuriant tree; and there on all the high places they continued to make sacrificial smoke the same as the nations whom Jehovah had taken into exile because of them, and they kept doing bad things to offend Jehovah.”—2 Ki. 17:8-11.
5. What mistake did the Levitical priesthood in general make, and to what did this lead?
5 Like the many kings who did not search out the wise instructions and protective counsel of the Scriptures, the Levitical priesthood in general neglected them. Failing to feed their minds upon the spiritually nourishing truths Jehovah provided them, they became empty-headed like the dumb idols they foolishly worshiped. They saw nothing wrong with playing a double role as priests of Jehovah and priests of the despicable idols and the abominable high places. “‘For both the prophet and the priest themselves have become polluted. Also in my own house I have found their badness,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.” (Jer. 23:11) One of the few exceptions to this waywardness was in the days of Jehoshaphat.
6. Explain what wise thing the Levites did in Jehoshaphat’s time and why it was good for the nation.
6 In Jehoshaphat’s time the Levites fulfilled their obligation to study God’s Word and to instruct the people in it. King Jehoshaphat made certain that they did. At his orders they went throughout the land on regular teaching circuits. This upbuilding work strengthened the people and helped them to walk the way of obedience to God. “They began teaching in Judah, and with them there was the book of Jehovah’s law; and they kept going around through all the cities of Judah and teaching among the people.” (2 Chron. 17:9) If this constructive effort to instruct the people in God’s Word had continued during the reigns of succeeding kings, the history of that nation would be greatly different from what it proved to be. Rulers like Jehoshaphat were too few in the royal line of twenty-three Judean rulers.
FINDING THE BOOK OF THE LAW
7, 8. (a) What were some of the noteworthy things Josiah did during his reign? (b) Why did the temple need repairing?
7 The rule of Josiah was one of the most remarkable in the history of the Judean kingdom. What largely contributed to this was the written Word of God. Like Jehoshaphat, who ruled more than 250 years before him, Josiah had deep respect for that divine guide. Desiring to walk in the way of obedience to Jehovah, he instituted an intensive campaign to stamp out the abominable practice of idolatry that had eaten into the vitals of the nation during the reigns of his father and grandfather, Amon and Manasseh. Images were pulverized, the bones of Baal priests were burned on their altars and the altars pulled down. The sacred pole was pulled out of the temple and destroyed, as well as the chariots of the sun that had been used in sun worship. No longer would he permit the horses that were dedicated to the sun to enter the temple and defile it. Even the valley of Hinnom was made unusable for idolatrous practices by being made into a city dump.—2 Chron. 34:3-7; 2 Ki. 23:6, 10, 11.
8 In the eighteenth year of his reign when he was only twenty-five years of age Josiah ordered the temple of Jehovah to be repaired. Apparently major repairs had not been done on the temple since the days of Jehoash, over 200 years before the days of Josiah. During the fifty-five years that Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh, reigned and the two years that his father, Amon, ruled, the upkeep of the temple had been neglected, although it was used in the practice of idolatry for much of that period. It appears that some of the chambers or outer buildings of the temple had been ruined by idolatrous kings and needed to be rebuilt.—2 Chron. 34:8-11.
9. What important find was made during the repair work on the temple and what possible reason is there for the original hiding of the thing found?
9 During the course of the repair work Hilkiah, the high priest, found the book of the Law that had been written by Moses. This was apparently the original copy that had been kept beside the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy of the temple. It may have been hidden during the time when idolatrous Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, was desecrating the temple with idols and persecuting the servants of Jehovah. According to Josephus, Manasseh killed many righteous men, including prophets. So intense was his wicked campaign that he is said to have filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. “There was also innocent blood that Manasseh shed in very great quantity, until he had filled Jerusalem from end to end.” (2 Ki. 21:16) In view of this fanatical persecution, it seems reasonable to conclude that a faithful high priest took the law of God from its customary place beside the ark of the covenant and hid it for its own protection.
10, 11. (a) How did Josiah react to the reading of the book? (b) What does the book appear to have been? Why?
10 Hilkiah recognized the scroll as the law of God and considered his find of such great importance that he had Shaphan, the secretary of the house of Jehovah, take the manuscript to the king. What Josiah heard when Shaphan read the sacred book to him left him shocked and frightened. “It came about that as soon as the king heard the words of the book of the law, he immediately ripped his garments apart.”—2 Ki. 22:8-11.
11 The scroll probably was the book of Deuteronomy, because that book contains dire warnings of what would happen to God’s covenant people if they failed to obey the law of God. The warnings are in such striking detail that they could easily shock good King Josiah, especially when he was well aware of the idolatrous course the nation had taken. National disaster was a frightening prospect.
12-14. Give a possible explanation why Josiah acted as if what he heard was read to him for the first time, although the king was supposed to keep a copy of God’s Word and read it.
12 Since the law of God required the king to read the Word of God, you may wonder why Josiah was shocked by the reading of the warnings in this sacred book as if he were hearing them for the first time. It is very possible that he was. He may not have had a copy of God’s Word to read. In view of the great number of Judean rulers who had been idolatrous, some fanatically so, such as Ahaz, Athaliah and Manasseh, it may well be that kings had left off the practice of having a personal copy of the law of God for regular reading. What Josiah knew about the law of God probably came to him by oral instruction from the Levites, who undoubtedly had copies in their possession. When at the age of fifteen “he started to search for the God of David his forefather,” he must have gone to faithful Levites for instruction about the God of David. It is not likely that those who had been close to his idolatrous father, Amon, in the royal court could have taught him.—2 Chron. 34:3.
13 That several copies of God’s Word did exist among the Levites at one time is indicated by the fact that in the days of Jehoshaphat the Levites took copies of the Law with them when going about the land on their teaching circuits. It is most unlikely that the wicked kings would have succeeded in destroying all existing copies. The very fact that Hilkiah recognized the book he found as the law of God indicates that he was familiar with God’s Word, and this undoubtedly was due to the Levites of his day being possessors of a copy. What made Hilkiah’s find so noteworthy in his mind was most likely due to the manuscript’s being the original book by the hand of Moses.
14 Since Josiah’s knowledge of the Word of God may not have come from personal study of the law of God but from what he was taught by the Levites, it is possible that what Shaphan read to him was heard by him for the first time. The frightful curses mentioned in the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy coupled with the fact that they were read from the original manuscript would certainly impress Josiah with their importance. By ripping his garments he revealed to what extent he was shaken by what he heard.
15. How did Josiah confirm what was read to him from God’s Word?
15 Josiah realized that Jehovah’s anger was great against the nation for having ignored the divine Word and for disobediently doing everything God had told them not to do. Showing his great concern, he promptly dispatched a delegation of five persons to inquire of Jehovah through the prophetess Huldah. “Go, inquire of Jehovah in my own behalf and in behalf of the people and in behalf of all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is Jehovah’s rage that has been set afire against us over the fact that our forefathers did not listen to the words of this book by doing according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Ki. 22:13) Through the prophetess, Jehovah confirmed everything that was written in the book. “This is what Jehovah has said, ‘Here I am bringing calamity upon this place and upon its inhabitants, even all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read.’”—2 Ki. 22:16.
16. (a) Describe how the curses in the book were fulfilled. (b) Why did they come upon God’s covenant people?
16 Because Josiah had manifested a good heart condition toward Jehovah and had done his utmost to follow the good guidance of Jehovah’s Word, the curses of the book did not come in his day. It was more than twenty years after his death when they became a reality for that stiffnecked nation. Babylonian armies marched through the land of Judah pillaging and destroying. The beautiful temple Solomon had built and the city of Jerusalem were demolished, leaving them a heap of rubble. Most of the people who survived were marched away to distant Babylon as captives, just as the book of Deuteronomy foretold: “Jehovah will march you and your king whom you will set up over you to a nation whom you have not known, neither you nor your forefathers.” (Deut. 28:36) All this came upon them because they had failed to study God’s Word and follow its instructions.
IN THE DAYS OF THE APOSTLES
17. What attitude did the apostles have toward the Scriptures?
17 How vitally necessary the study of God’s Word is to human welfare was keenly appreciated by the Christian apostles. At no time did they cast doubt on its dependability and thus contribute to undermining public confidence in it, as some religious leaders have done in the twentieth century. They always manifested deep respect for it, doing their utmost to build up faith in it and appreciation for it. When the Jews of the city of Beroea in Macedonia went to the Scriptures to see if Paul’s teachings measured up to them, Paul did not condemn them. He did not institute an inquisition against them as the Roman Catholic Church has done at times against those who sought to measure her teachings by the Bible. Instead, he spoke highly of those Jews, saying they were nobleminded. He approved of their desire to study the Scriptures and to use them as a measuring rod of faith and truth.—Acts 17:11.
18. Why can the failure of the Israelites to study the Scriptures be considered as a warning?
18 If the nation of Israel had shown the willingness of the Beroeans to study God’s Word and to be guided by it, they would not have suffered the curses foretold in the book of Deuteronomy. The record of what happened to them stands as a warning for other generations. It is a warning to those who neglect study of the Scriptures today. What the apostle Paul said regarding the disobedient Israelites in the wilderness can be applied to their disobedient descendants under the rule of the nation’s kings. “Now these things,” Paul said, “went on befalling them as examples, and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.” (1 Cor. 10:11) By noting what those people did wrong and what they failed to do, we today can avoid the divine disapproval that came upon them with its disastrous consequences.
19. How did Paul stress the value of Bible study, and to what conclusion must we come when we consider his words?
19 In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul stressed the value of Bible study by saying: “All scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) How can the Bible teach you if you ignore its instruction? How can it reprove you if you turn a deaf ear to it? How can it set things straight for you regarding true beliefs if you fail to follow it as a guide? How can it discipline you in righteousness if you never study it? Do not be like the unhappy Israelites who failed to benefit from the Scriptures because they failed to study them and apply what is written in them. “Happy are those hearing the word of God and keeping it!”—Luke 11:28.
MAKE BIBLE STUDY PART OF YOUR LIFE
20. Why do we need the Bible today?
20 As God’s Word was essential to the welfare of the Israelites so is it essential to your welfare. At this time when mass insanity is driving the nations toward a nuclear holocaust, you need the calming influence of the Bible. You need its wisdom for straight thinking. You need its hope-inspiring prophecies to give you a sense of security. You need to make Bible study a part of your life.
21, 22. (a) Explain what Joshua meant by what he told the Israelites regarding God’s Word. (b) How can you have God’s words in your mouth?
21 What Jehovah said to Joshua before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land is advice you would do well to follow today. “This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful and then you will act wisely.” (Josh. 1:8) Studying it day and night does not mean literally reading it continuously. The expression is stressing the point that the study of God’s Word should be a regular thing throughout your life and not something that is started and then neglected.
22 If you keep the truths and principles of the Scriptures in mind by continually reviewing them through study, they will not depart from you. When you speak they will influence your tongue so that what you say will be upbuilding to others. Your words will reflect its wisdom and your actions will reflect its good principles. When you talk about the things in God’s Word, you have his words in your mouth. They are clean and sweet, making your speech edifying and wholesome. “How smooth to my palate your sayings have been, more so than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103) To neglect regular study of the Bible can cause God’s Word to depart from your mouth so that its truths no longer are the things about which you talk.
23. What is suggested by reading the Bible in an undertone?
23 Reading the Bible in an undertone means to meditate as you read. Saying each word slows down your reading, but it allows the thought content to sink in so you can meditate upon it, turning the thought over and over in your mind. The Bible is unlike many books that are full of words but empty in thought. It has no wasted words. In the parts that are not historical narrative, the meaningful sentences require you to slow down in your reading and to meditate.
24. How is the Bible a guiding light for us today?
24 By obeying what is written in the Bible, it will act as a guiding light that will lead you along the path of life to eternal life. In the midst of international confusion and perplexity, with the frightened people of the world not knowing which way to go, you can walk calmly along the straight path revealed by God’s Word. You can know where you are headed, and you can be certain of getting there. It is by studying and obeying it that you can make your way successful and be able to act wisely.—Ps. 119:105; Matt. 7:13, 14.
25. How much effort should be put forth to learn what is in the Scriptures?
25 As the person who seeks precious silver or other material treasures devotes much time and energy to finding them, so the wisdom and knowledge in God’s Word should be sought with diligence. Finding them is of far greater importance to your happiness and eternal welfare than any amount of material treasures. “Happy is the man that has found wisdom, and the man that gets discernment, for having it as gain is better than having silver as gain and having it as produce than gold itself. It is a tree of life to those taking hold of it, and those keeping fast hold of it are to be called happy.”—Prov. 3:13, 14, 18.
26. What will you do if you value God’s Word?
26 If you value what God caused to be written in his Word, you will not make the mistake the Israelites did by neglecting it. Appreciate it and study it. Like Josiah, have deep concern for God’s laws and an intense desire to do according to all that has been written in the Scriptures. Let them instruct you and guide you in the way to life as they did the apostles. Cherish them, keeping their truths fresh in mind by regular study. Realize that “all the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.”—Rom. 15:4.
[Picture on page 523]
King Josiah hearing the Word of God