Build Trust in Jehovah—By Diligently Studying His Word
“Apply your hearts to all the words that I am speaking in warning to you today . . . For it is no valueless word for you, but it means your life.”—DEUTERONOMY 32:46, 47.
1, 2. (a) What prospect faced Israel as they encamped on the plains of Moab? (b) What exhortation did Moses give the nation?
THEIR long wilderness sojourn had neared its end. Only the winding Jordan now separated the nation from the long-awaited Promised Land. For the nation’s leader, Moses, however, Israel’s prospect of entering that land evoked sober contemplation. He could recall how the nation had once before stumbled because of its lack of trust in Jehovah and thus had been denied entry into Canaan.—Numbers 13:25–14:30.
2 Moses thus summoned the nation together on the rolling plains of Moab. After reviewing their national history and reiterating God’s Law, Moses presented what has been called his transcendent composition. In the language of superlative poetry, he urged Israel to trust and to obey Jehovah, “a God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” In conclusion, Moses exhorted: “Apply your hearts to all the words that I am speaking in warning to you today, that you may command your sons to take care to do all the words of this law. For it is no valueless word for you, but it means your life.”—Deuteronomy 32:4, 46, 47.
‘Applying Their Hearts’ to God’s Word
3, 4. (a) To what were the Israelites to ‘apply their hearts,’ and what did this involve? (b) How did later generations apply Moses’ counsel?
3 Moses admonished the Israelites to ‘apply their hearts’ not only to his stirring song but to all the sacred writings. They had to “pay good heed” (Knox), “be sure to obey” (Today’s English Version), or “meditate upon” (The Living Bible) God’s Law. Only by being thoroughly familiar with it could they ‘command their sons to take care to do all the words of this law.’ At Deuteronomy 6:6-8, Moses wrote: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son . . . And you must tie them as a sign upon your hand, and they must serve as a frontlet band between your eyes.”
4 Bible commentator W. H. Davey tells of how in later times, these words “were interpreted literally by the Jews, and the direction contained in them was turned to superstitious uses. Certain verses . . . were written on parchment, and worn on the arm and forehead during the time of prayer.” Elaborate scripture-containing cases, or phylacteries, were worn in Jesus’ time and are still employed by certain Jewish sects today. (Matthew 23:5) But, adds Davey: “Men in their folly satisfied themselves with carrying about with them on their persons a copy of the mere words of the law, instead of showing forth in their lives the observance of the commandment therein contained.”
5. What was the proper application of Moses’ words at Deuteronomy 6:6-8?
5 No, it was not on their literal hands or foreheads that God’s Law was to dwell but ‘on their hearts.’ By gaining not just knowledge of it but deep appreciation for it, that Law would always be kept in view, as if it were written on a tablet before their eyes or tied to their hands.
Provisions for Learning God’s Law
6, 7. (a) What provisions did Jehovah make to acquaint the Israelites with the Mosaic Law? (b) How might it also have been possible for God’s people in ancient times to become instructed in God’s Word?
6 How, though, could the Israelites learn the Law’s some 600 statutes? Copies of it were no doubt rare at first. The future king of Israel was to “write in a book for himself a copy of this law . . . , 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.” (Deuteronomy 17:18, 19) God arranged for the Law to be read every seventh year at the Festival of Booths. (Deuteronomy 31:10-13) While such an occasion was no doubt uplifting, it was too infrequent to impart in-depth knowledge.
7 Jehovah also arranged for the tribe of Levi to ‘instruct Jacob in God’s judicial decisions and Israel in God’s law.’ (Deuteronomy 33:8, 10; compare Malachi 2:7.) On some occasions, the Levites carried on teaching campaigns that served the entire nation. (2 Chronicles 17:7-9; Nehemiah 8:7-9) It appears that, in time, at least portions of God’s Word were also available to people in general.* Hence, the psalmist could write: “Happy is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night.” (Psalm 1:1, 2) Moses’ exhortation to ‘apply their hearts to God’s Word’ thus amounted to a command to make a diligent study of the Bible.
‘Applying Our Hearts’ to God’s Word Today
8. To what extent did Israel heed Moses’ exhortation, and with what results?
8 Israel failed to heed Moses’ exhortation. When the nation finally established its monarchy, evidently most of its kings failed to ‘write for themselves a copy of the law and read in it all the days of their lives.’ By the seventh century B.C.E., in the days of King Josiah, “the very book of the law” had been all but lost. (2 Kings 22:8-13) The poor example on the part of the nation’s leaders doubtless hastened the nation’s plunge into apostasy. True to Moses’ warning, national disaster occurred in 607 B.C.E.—Deuteronomy 28:15-37; 32:23-35.
9. How is the situation of Christians today similar to that of the ancient Israelites?
9 Like the ancient Israelites, Christians today stand on the border of a promised land—God’s righteous new world. (2 Peter 3:13) Startling events loom on the horizon: the declaration of “peace and security,” the fall of “Babylon the Great,” the attack of ‘Gog of Magog.’ These events will put our trust in Jehovah to the test. It is urgent, then, that we ‘apply our hearts to God’s word’ now!—1 Thessalonians 5:3; Revelation, chapter 18; Ezekiel, chapter 38.
10. Why may some slack off in personal study?
10 Doing so, however, can be a real challenge in these “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Secular employment, child rearing, school, and congregation responsibilities can all make heavy demands on our time. As a result, we may tend to excuse ourselves and slack off in our Bible study, reasoning that ‘I’m doing enough to get by.’ Yet, the Bible exhorts Christians: “Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them.” (1 Timothy 4:15, 16) Let us consider now some powerful reasons for doing so.
Strengthening Our Relationship With God
11, 12. (a) How did gaining a more intimate knowledge of God affect Job? (b) Why can our vision of God be clearer than in Job’s day?
11 Job was one “fearing God and turning aside from bad.” But after Jehovah further revealed himself in a windstorm, Job could say: “In hearsay I have heard about you, but now my own eye does see you.” (Job 1:1; 42:5) Can we today “see” God, that is, go beyond mere acquaintance, intimately know the many facets of his personality? Indeed we can! Through the pages of the Bible, Jehovah has revealed more of himself than was known even to Job.
12 We have a clearer view of the depth of God’s love, knowing that he “loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son.” (John 3:16) Through Bible prophecies, we have an outline of God’s activities—clear to the end of the Millennium! (Revelation, chapters 18-22) We have the record of God’s dealings with the Christian congregation: his bringing in of Gentiles, his appointing of a “faithful and discreet slave” to nourish his people, his calling forth “a great crowd” with hope of living forever in Paradise on earth. (Matthew 24:45; Revelation 7:9, 14-17; Ephesians 3:3-6) After peering into the deep things of God and contemplating his marvelous works in our behalf, we cannot help but exclaim: “O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge!”—Romans 11:33.
13. How can we ‘search for God,’ and what are the benefits of doing so?
13 The psalmist said: “With my whole heart I have searched for you.” We can do the same by making a daily consideration of Scriptural material; it does much to strengthen our bond with Jehovah. Earnest study also helps make our way become ‘firmly established to keep God’s regulations.’—Psalm 119:5, 10.
Study Helps Us Defend Our Faith
14. Illustrate the value of being ‘ready to make a defense’ of our Christian hope.
14 “I do not want you Witnesses in my house!” said one Ghanaian man to two who called at his home. He further berated the Witnesses for “not accepting blood transfusions and not saluting the national flag.” Such objections are commonly encountered in the field ministry. What a reproach—and a humiliation—it would be if we were unable “to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you”! (1 Peter 3:15) Fortunately, these Witnesses were able to use the Bible effectively to explain the proper view of blood and how a Christian balances respect for national symbols with avoidance of idolatry. The result? The man was impressed with their straightforward answers. Today, both he and his wife are baptized Witnesses.
15. How does personal study equip us for our ministry?
15 Paul urges: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” Personal study will help us not only to stay on the path of life ourselves but also to “be fully competent, completely equipped” to help others do so.—2 Timothy 2:15; 3:17.
Resisting Satan’s Snares
16. What are some snares of Satan that confront Jehovah’s people?
16 Today, advertising assails us with appeals to “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life.” (1 John 2:16) Sexual immorality is glorified by the media and is often actively promoted by workmates and schoolmates. Inflammatory apostate literature may be sent unsolicited to our homes. Their curiosity piqued, some brothers have read such defiling material—to the ruin of their faith. There is also the selfish, fleshly “spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” How easy it is to become infected by it and to develop a negative, critical spirit!—Ephesians 2:2.
17, 18. How can personal study prevent us from ‘drifting away’?
17 Few, of course, set out to be ensnared by Satan. Rather, by neglecting personal study, like a boat loosed from its moorings, they slowly “drift away” and become prime targets for attack by Satan. (Hebrews 2:1) One young brother, for example, became immorally involved with a young girl at school. “I discovered,” he recalls, “that the main cause for this was the fact that I was starving spiritually. I did no personal study. That is why I could not stand the temptation.” A program of personal study, however, helped the brother to become spiritually strong.
18 Satan is determined to destroy as many of God’s people as he can. By feeding our mind constantly with good things that come from God’s Word and his faithful steward, we can avoid being ensnared. (Philippians 4:8) Reminders to avoid materialism, sexual immorality, apostate thinking, and a negative spirit abound both in the Bible and in the publications of the Watch Tower Society. If we do indeed pay more than the usual attention, we will never drift away.
Provisions From Jehovah’s Organization to Help Us
19. The Ethiopian eunuch illustrates what about our need for spiritual guidance?
19 Study is hard work. We can therefore be grateful that Jehovah’s organization grants us much assistance. In recent years some have claimed that individuals should be allowed to interpret the Bible themselves. The Ethiopian eunuch, however, openly acknowledged his need for spiritual guidance. As a circumcised proselyte, he no doubt already had a considerable knowledge of the Bible. The very fact that he would attempt to study something as deep as the prophecy of Isaiah 53 indicates this. Yet, when asked if he understood what he was reading, he admitted: “Really, how could I ever do so, unless someone guided me?”—Acts 8:26-33.
20. (a) What are some of the provisions Jehovah’s organization has made to help us in our personal study of the Bible? (b) How do you feel about such provisions?
20 Jehovah’s people today similarly need spiritual guidance. Desiring to “speak in agreement” when it comes to spiritual matters, they welcome the help offered by Jehovah’s organization—and what a grand help that is! (1 Corinthians 1:10) We have a constant flow of information through the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. We have numerous books and brochures covering a wide range of Bible topics. English-speaking readers are particularly blessed to have the Watch Tower Publications Index 1930-1985, a tool that can help a person ‘keep seeking for wisdom as for silver and as for hid treasure.’—Proverbs 2:2-4.
21. (a) How did the apostle Paul manifest an interest in personal study? (b) What are some suggestions for facilitating personal study?
21 Are you taking full advantage of the Society’s publications by using them for study and research? Or do such publications serve as little more than shelf ornaments? Interestingly, the apostle Paul once instructed Timothy to “bring . . . the scrolls, especially the parchments” to him at Rome; evidently, Paul was referring to portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. (2 Timothy 4:13) He no doubt wanted them on hand in order to facilitate study and research. If you have not done so already, why not start accumulating your own library of theocratic publications so that you too can do research? Keep such publications accessible, in order, neat, and clean. Set aside a place to study that is quiet and well lit. Schedule regular times for personal study.
22. Why is ‘applying our hearts to God’s word’ more important today than ever?
22 Like the Israelites encamped on the fertile plains of Moab, we stand at the brink of the new world. More than ever before, we need to study God’s Word diligently and ‘buy out the opportune time’ for study, perhaps sacrificing other interests, such as watching television. (Ephesians 5:16) “Form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word,” exhorts Peter, “that through it you may grow” not just to maturity but “to salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2; compare Hebrews 5:12-14.) Our very lives are involved. So resist any tendency to slack off in personal study. Use it as a means of deepening your love for God and your trust in him; it is also a way to heighten your appreciation for the organization he is using to assist us. Yes, ‘apply your heart’ to God’s Word, diligently, regularly. “It is no valueless word for you, but it means your life.”
Broken pieces of pottery, or ostraca, were commonly used in Bible times as an inexpensive writing surface. Says The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1986): “Ostraca could be used even by the poorest classes, who could not afford anything else to write on.” To what extent ostraca were used by ancient Israelites for jotting down Bible texts is unknown. Interestingly, though, seventh-century C.E. ostraca bearing Bible texts have been discovered in Egypt, suggesting one means by which common people had access to portions of the Bible.
Points for Review
□ Why did Moses exhort the Israelites to ‘apply their hearts to God’s Word,’ and how were they to do so?
□ How does personal study strengthen our relationship with God and help us defend our faith?
□ What role does personal study play in our resisting Satan’s snares?
□ Jehovah’s organization has made what provisions to facilitate our study of God’s Word?
[Picture on page 11]
Instead of writing God’s Law on their hearts, Jews tied on scripture-containing cases