David Mathis continues his excellent series of short videos on Bible study with this entry on the English Bible. He encourages us to read our English Bibles with confidence; we are not missing out on God’s word if we don’t know Greek or Hebrew.
If you’re in the market for gifts to encourage Bible study, here are my top recommendations. I’ve reviewed most of these products on this site at many times and in many ways, but here they are in one place for you.
For something you can write in with greater ease, see our recommendations.
For a snapshot of the OIA process, see this blog post.
For a little more explanation of the principles, see our free booklet.
If you’re familiar with the OIA model, and you’d like to hone your skills to perfection, consider getting Methodical Bible Study by Robert Traina. This book is dry and doesn’t tell many stories. But it’s delves the depths of the model like nothing else.
See our page with recommended commentaries that promote OIA Bible study skills. I don’t have recommendations for every Bible book yet, but I update this page as I come across helpful volumes.
The best thing you and your church can do for your children is to buy them a Bible and teach them to use it. In my household, that means we buy ESV pew Bibles (the cheapest we can find) almost by the case. These things will get beat up and need to be replaced often, so there’s no use in getting the authentic-porpoise-leather-imported-from-Mars-heirloom-editions just yet.
When children are first learning to read, I’ve found it helpful to give them the NIrV. This builds their confidence in reading the very words of God in their own language. Remember, the story Bibles are good, but God’s undiluted word is even better.
And before dipping into the supplemental resources below, perhaps you’d consider printing out a few simple devotional pages for your kids, so they can explore the Scriptures for themselves before hearing what others have to say about the Scriptures.
Read Aloud Bible Stories – Brief Bible stories that draw in young children, letting the children know these are their stories. Get it at Amazon.
The Gospel Story Bible – Retellings of 156 Bible stories, synchronized with the Gospel Story for Kids curriculum, and devotionals Long Story Short and Old Story New. The best part of these stories are that much use is made in the retelling of the actual text of Scripture. Get it at Amazon | Westminster
The Jesus Storybook Bible – Gripping gospel focus, though it sometimes seems to suggest that Bible stories are not meant to serve as examples (contrast with 1 Cor 10:6, 11, etc.). Get it at Amazon | Westminster
Mark’s Marvellous Book – I still hope this becomes more of a trend: A children’s story Bible that follows the shape and themes of a book of the Bible (rather than cherry-picking certain stories, ignoring the fact that they were written to an audience in a context). See my review. Get it at Amazon | Westminster
The Big Picture Story Bible – A marvelous overview of the Bible’s rich storyline: The people of God under the rule of God in the place God gives. Read this to your kids at ages 0-2; then have them read it to themselves at ages 5-7. Get it at Amazon | Westminster
The Radical Book for Kids – This is the kind of gift you get for your kids, but it’s also, sort of, partly, perhaps, for you. You know, like Legos, football tickets, or family room surround sound systems. It’s an engaging and delightful handbook of the Christian faith. See my review. Get it at Amazon | Westminster
I highly recommend the series of devotionals by Marty Machowski. These volumes don’t merely communicate Christian truth, as important as that is; they train children to study the Bible and find that truth for themselves. In addition, the “daily” family devotions take only 5 days/week, and they truly take only 10 minutes per day. The payoff is high, but the price of entry is low. This makes it more likely you’ll be able to stay consistent with them. Every volume in this series has the same high quality; each also has the same basic structure for each day’s devotion. See my review.
- Long Story Short – 78 weeks in the Old Testament. Get it at Amazon | Westminster
- Old Story New – 78 weeks in the New Testament. Get it at Amazon | Westminster
- Prepare Him Room – 4 weeks in Advent season. Get it at Amazon | Westminster
- Wise Up – 12 weeks in Proverbs. Get it at Amazon | Westminster
Happy gift shopping!
Disclaimer: Links in this post to Amazon, Westminster, or Logos are affiliate links, which means this blog receives a small commission when you click those links. Doing this helps us to cover our costs, enabling us to continue recommending decent resources. Thank you.
According to the book of Proverbs, the chief difference between wisdom and folly lies in how willing a person is to listen to God’s instruction. In other words, are you teachable and open to counsel from the lips of God? I blogged my way through the first 9 chapters of Proverbs a few years ago to show this is so.
On his blog, Kevin Halloran recently summarized, in a few key principles from Proverbs, how to be teachable:
- Be humble.
- Seek wisdom and instruction as though your life depends on it.
- Learn from the right teachers.
- Receive correction as a blessing.
Halloran lists specific proverbs for each point, along with many helpful suggestions and a closing prayer for teachability. He does a great job showing us how to apply these truths from Proverbs in personal and specific ways.
Advent is right around the corner. It begins on December 3, and it will be here before you know it.
If you’ve thought of shifting your devotional life for the Christmas season, read on. Like many churches that put their sermon series aside, individual Christians can find great blessing in focusing on Jesus’s birth.
Bible Studies, Not Devotionals
There are no shortage of Advent devotional offerings, with scores of new volumes published each year. Some of these are excellent. (Some, of course are not.) But even good devotional books are no substitute for personal Bible study.
When you study the Bible on your own, you encounter God’s word directly. You’re not relying on an author or teacher to tell you what the Bible means; you’re reading and thinking and searching and praying yourself. Will that take longer? Of course! But wrestling with difficult and glorious truths on your own is worth it. The commands and promises and works of God will sink down more deeply into your soul—taking root both to form and strengthen you—if you uncover them yourself.
This is not a screed against devotional books, just a plea not to rely on them.
Four Bible Studies
If you’d like to mix up your Scripture study for Advent, I have four plans listed below. There’s nothing monumental in the plans themselves; I’ve simply listed some relevant sections of the Bible that could be covered in the listed time period.
If you’ve never studied the Bible before, let me suggest some resources before you begin. It’s our aim at Knowable Word to help ordinary people learn to study the Bible, so we’ve written much about the three primary areas of Bible study: Observation, Interpretation, and Application. Start here to see an overview of this OIA method, and read the details here. We’ve collected some worksheets that you may want to use on our Resources page.
I’ve planned each of these studies to take four weeks. (So even though Advent is not technically four weeks, these plans take you from November 27 through Christmas Eve.)
A Study in Matthew
Matthew gives two chapters to the birth and early days of Jesus.
- Week 1 (November 27 through December 3): Matthew 1:1–17
- Week 2 (December 4 through December 10): Matthew 1:18–25
- Week 3 (December 11 through December 17): Matthew 2:1–12
- Week 4 (December 18 through December 24): Matthew 2:13–23
A Study in Luke
This study takes you from the beginning of Luke’s gospel through the second chapter, when Jesus is twelve years old.
- Week 1 (November 27 through December 3): Luke 1:1–38
- Week 2 (December 4 through December 10): Luke 1:39–80
- Week 3 (December 11 through December 17): Luke 2:1–24
- Week 4 (December 18 through December 24): Luke 2:25–52
Compare the Gospels
Each gospel writer begins his book differently. Matthew and Luke include narrative about Jesus’s birth, but Mark and John do not. In this study, you’ll compare how each of the gospels begin.
- Week 1 (November 27 through December 3): Matthew 1–2
- Week 2 (December 4 through December 10): Mark 1
- Week 3 (December 11 through December 17): Luke 1:1–2:20
- Week 4 (December 18 through December 24): John 1
Read Isaiah and Luke
Here is an option to read long portions of the Bible instead of studying small portions. Isaiah is full of messages about how the coming king/servant/anointed one will redeem Israel and the world. Luke writes about how Jesus was rejected by Israel and is offered to the Gentiles. They make a great Advent pairing.
- Week 1 (November 27 through December 3): Isaiah 1–17, Luke 1–6
- Week 2 (December 4 through December 10): Isaiah 18–33, Luke 7–12
- Week 3 (December 11 through December 17): Isaiah 34–50, Luke 13–18
- Week 4 (December 18 through December 24): Isaiah 51–66, Luke 19–24
Whether or not you use one of these plans—whether or not you change your devotions for Advent at all—I hope your celebration of the Savior’s birth is full of joy and wonder. As you ponder the One who gave his life to bring sinners to God, give yourself to reading and studying the Bible. This is how we see the magnitude of our need and the fullness of God’s provision. This is how we fight against sin, how we repent and believe. This is the revelation of God, and this is life.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
John saw fit to introduce his portrait of Jesus in this way, and you might be among those blessed for believing it, without having personally seen it (John 20:29). But do you know what this means? Do you? It means you are ceremonially pure and holy, without trace of defilement from your past choices. It means you were not irrevocably disqualified by the abuse you suffered. It means God remembers you daily and singles you out for particular affection. It means you shine with his glory, your nakedness has been adequately clothed, and your life is never really in question.
But how can this be so?
John’s Introduction of Moses’ Tabernacle
In the prologue to his Gospel, John clearly has two things in mind: the creation of the world and the tabernacle of Moses. I’ll come back to the creation in a bit, but let me list the evidence for my latter claim:
- He mentions the giving of the law through Moses in John 1:17. And though Moses was given the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20-23) with its ethical instruction (Ex 24:7), the longer work of “law” he was handed on Mt. Sinai was the blueprint for the tabernacle (Ex 25-31, especially Ex 31:18).
- “We have seen his glory” (John 1:14). Moses asked to see God’s glory (Ex 33:18), in between the tabernacle instructions (Ex 25-31) and the tabernacle construction (Ex 35-39).
- “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). “Grace and truth” summarizes the “name” God revealed to Moses on that mountain (Ex 34:6), again between the tabernacle instruction and construction.
- “We have seen his glory” (John 1:14). “Glory” is what was visible on top of the mountain (Ex 24:17) and came to dwell within the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-35).
- Greek scholars regularly note that the word for “dwelt” (John 1:14) is the verb form of the word for “tabernacle.” Some go as far as to translate John 1:14 as “and tabernacled among us.”
So John clearly has Moses’ tabernacle in mind from the start, at least in the paragraph of John 1:14-18.
John’s Development of Moses’ Tabernacle
John doesn’t stop alluding to the tabernacle after that intro paragraph. Not only does he make explicit reference to Jesus’ body as a new temple (John 2:19-21), but he also develops many themes from the tabernacle description in Exodus. I’ve been working through the book of Exodus with some sample Bible studies. Now that I’ve gotten to the end of the tabernacle instructions, it’s a good time to reflect on how John uses this material for his purposes.
Many have taken note of the seven “I am” statements throughout John’s Gospel. But have you ever noticed their connection to Moses’ tabernacle, at least for the first few?
- I am the bread of life (John 6:35), like the bread of the Presence set on God’s tables regularly (Ex 25:30).
- I am the light of the world (John 8:12), like the lamps that cast their light on the holy space (Ex 25:37) and must burn every evening (Ex 27:20-21).
- I am the door (John 10:9), like the only entrance to the courtyard (Ex 27:16) or to the tent itself (Ex 26:36-37).
- I am the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11), a composite image showing Jesus to be both priest (Ex 28:31-35, 42-43) and sacrificial substitute (Ex 29:10-14).
I confess the connection is either absent or much less clear with “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26), “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and “the true vine” (John 15:1). But the Exodus/tabernacle imagery never really goes away in the narrative.
- Jesus speaks with an authority greater than that of Moses, speaking of God’s commandment, which is eternal life (John 12:49-50).
- His presence with them leads him to give a new commandment (John 13:33-35).
- Jesus prepares a place in his Father’s house, where there are many rooms (John 14:1).
- Jesus acts like a high priest when he prays for his people (John 17).
- Like Yahweh in the burning bush, Jesus terrifies people by speaking his name, “I AM” (John 18:5-6).
- Jesus times the very hour of his conviction to the timing of the Passover festival (John 19:14).
And then, at the story’s climax, John paints a picture of a new Holy of Holies, with a new mercy seat—the place where Jesus’ body had lain—all decked out with two angels, one on one side, and one on the other (John 20:12). Don’t miss the allusion to the ark of the covenant! Full access has now been granted to God’s people. Not to a high priest on a high holy day, but to a woman who loved her lord (and to the rest of us who likewise love him). We have now truly seen his glory, full of grace and truth.
The Tabernacle and the Creation of the World
I write these things not to amaze you with elusive mysteries or secret knowledge. I do it simply because we’re usually not familiar enough with the tabernacle narratives to catch the allusions.
And let me take it one more step. Through my study of Exodus, I’ve been arguing that the tabernacle is pictured as a re-creation of the world, a starting over of God’s people in relationship with their Father. If we were already familiar with this idea from Exodus, we would quickly see John trace out the same connection.
John is concerned from chapter 1 with not only the tabernacle but also the creation.
- He starts right where Genesis 1 starts: “In the beginning” (Gen 1:1, John 1:1).
- He calls Jesus the Word, just as God “spoke” creation into existence (Gen 1:3, John 1:1).
- He identifies Jesus as the Creator God (John 1:3).
- Just as the creation in Genesis begins with light (Gen 1:3), leading to life (Gen 1:20, 21, 24, 25, 30, etc.), so also Jesus brings light and life in John (John 1:4-5).
- In Genesis, God creates the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). In John Jesus comes from heaven to earth to reveal God (John 1:9, 3:31, 6:41, etc.).
- Just as God creates the world in seven days (Gen 1:1-2:3), John now shows Jesus beginning his work over the course of seven days (John 1:28, 29, 35, 43; 2:1).
So when we reach the story’s climax, we have not only a new Holy of Holies (John 20:12), but also a new Man and a new Woman in a Garden, drawing near to God and preparing to rule and subdue the earth (John 20:15-18).
Please let these things motivate you when you hit the hard parts of the Bible, such as the tabernacle instructions. They’re here for a reason, and, if you have eyes to see, they will explain marvelous things about the person and work of Christ. When you read that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, make sure to step back and get a clear handle on what it really means.
When I first learned how to study the Bible, I heard the story of Professor Agassiz, telling his student to look, look, and look again at a fish. The story tells of the wonder and amazement that comes from simply learning how to observe. And it shows how difficult it is to overcome our assumption of familiarity which prevents us from observing as we ought.
It’s a classic illustration, and John Piper tells it beautifully in this short video from Desiring God.
Let this spur you to keep looking at the Scripture. You might think you already know it, but you’ll be amazed at how much more there is to see of the beauty and glory of Christ. Check it out!
HT: Andy Cimbala
When our Bible study focuses intently on each passage, one after another, we may find it difficult to step back and see how they fit together. But we must remember the Bible is a work of literature. It was not written to be scrutinized in bites; it was written to be devoured in gobbles. We should remember to read the Bible as we’d read any other book: moving through it at a reasonable pace and recognizing ongoing themes, climax, resolution, and character development. When we hit milestones in the text, we should take the opportunity to survey where we’ve been and how it fits together.
So, now that we’ve heard all the Lord’s detailed instructions for his dwelling place among the Israelites, it’s a good time to catch our breath. From this point in Exodus, we’ll see what happens when a righteous God tries to live among a sinful people. But where have we been so far?
Let me list the main points I’ve proposed for each passage in this section:
- Exodus 25:1-40: For God to dwell with his people, mercy must cover the law, bread must be provided, and light must shine.
- Exodus 26:1-37: When God dwells with his people, it’s a paradise better than Eden.
- Exodus 27:1-19: The mountain where God meets his people—the place where heaven comes to earth—requires a place for sacrifice and has only one entrance.
- Exodus 27:20-28:43: For God to dwell with his people, there must be an authorized person to perpetually represent these people before him.
- Exodus 29:1-46: The price of a ticket to paradise is approved men in approved garments, eating approved food in an approved place.
- Exodus 30:1-38: Yahweh provides every resource required to take his show on the road: purifying both people and priest, so he can be united with them day after day.
- Exodus 31:1-18: For God’s new creation dwelling place with his people, the climax comes when the right people join the work and trust in the unique ability of God to get them through.
In addition, my overview of the whole book led me to this overall main point:
Who is Yahweh, and why should you obey him? He is the God who 1) demolishes the house of slavery (Ex 1-15), 2) prepares to rebuild (Ex 16-18), and 3) builds his house in the midst of his people (Ex 19-40).
The main idea of Act I (Ex 1:1-15:21) was that Yahweh demolishes the house of slavery. He does this in two parts:
- He trains up a qualified mediator to deliver (Ex 1:1-7:7).
- He delivers his people from their enemies into a frightful joy (Ex 7:8-15:21).
The main idea of Act II (Ex 15:22-18:27) was that Yahweh prepares the house of his people by showing them they need his law to know him.
And Part 1 (Ex 19:1-24:18) of this third act shows us God preparing the conditions for a perfect paradise with his people, where they can draw near to him through the blood of a substitute.
Pull It Together
Now what do these things show us about the flow of thought in chapters 25-31? We are in between the making of the covenant and the breaking of it. In giving the tabernacle instructions, how does God build his house?
- Act I describes God’s deliverance of his people. Act II shows how God prepares them for a covenant relationship with him. Act III now constructs that covenant relationship.
- Part 1: Exodus 19-24 open the gates of paradise by drawing the people close through the blood of a substitute and endowing them with a utopian vision.
- Part 2: Exodus 25-31
- Exodus 25:1-27:19 describes a place where God and people can live together, because it’s filled with mercy, life, light, and substitute judgment.
- Exodus 27:20-29:46 promises authorized people who keep the peace between God and people.
- Exodus 30:1-31:18 resources this project in both the short- and long-term.
These chapters are presented in a series of 7 speeches, linking the tabernacle instructions to the creation of the world. I’ll put the clearest connections in bold text.
- Speech #1: Ex 25:1-30:10 – basic structure, furniture, and priests
- Speech #2: Ex 30:11-16 – census ransom to pay for the people’s lives
- Speech #3: Ex 30:17-21 – water basin for washing
- Speech #4: Ex 30:22-33 – anointing oil to mark off special people and places
- Speech #5: Ex 30:34-38 – incense
- Speech #6: Ex 31:1-11 – Spirit-filled people to do the work
- Speech #7: Ex 31:12-17 – Sabbath rest
In building this tabernacle, the Israelites will recreate the world in God’s image. It represents a fresh start, a new relationship. The closeness with God we’ve always wanted. And it all begins with these extensive words spoken from the mouth of Yahweh.
Act I: Yahweh demolishes the house of slavery (Ex 1-15).
Introduction: Nobody can prevent Yahweh from keeping his promises, but we’re not sure how he’ll do it (Ex 1).
Part 1: Yahweh appoints a mediator and ensures he is fully qualified and trained for the task of deliverance (Ex 2:1-7:7).
Part 2: Yahweh delivers a deserved destruction to his enemies and a frightful joy to his people (Ex 7:8-15:21).
Act II: Yahweh prepares to rebuild by exposing how deeply his people need his law to know him (Ex 16-18).
Act III: Yahweh builds his house in the midst of his people (Ex 19-40).
Part 1: God architects a perfect paradise for the community of his people, so he can bring them near through the blood of a substitute (Ex 19-24).
Part 2: God explains how his people can re-create this paradise on earth (Ex 25-31).
Gaze Upon Jesus
Of course, the main thing here is not the tabernacle itself, but what it represents. God wants to dwell with his people, and he will surely do it. Therefore Jesus, the Word, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). “They shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)” (Matt 1:23). His parting word was “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). And we now live, not in a cloth tabernacle in the wilderness, but in the New Jerusalem. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev 21:3).
John’s Gospel is saturated with showing us how Jesus is the full and final tabernacle of Yahweh. I will dedicate next week’s post to tracing this out.
Head: Don’t glaze over when you hit the detailed architectural stuff in Exodus. Consider how many pieces must fall into place for a righteous God to dwell among his sinful people!
Heart: Do you long for any other paradise, besides drawing near to the Father through Christ?
Hands: Be the tabernacle. As an individual, be a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:15-20), with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5). As a community of believers, be a special place for God, unlike any other place on earth (2 Cor 6:16-7:1).
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.
Every Wednesday, I encourage you to check out something on the web (not on this site) to show that we’re not the only ones talking about or employing the OIA Bible study method. In particular, I’m eager to show you that I didn’t invent this method, and that I’m not the only one using it with great profit.
This week I am delighted to refer you to the keynote messages from our recent DiscipleMakers Fall Conference. (DiscipleMakers is the campus ministry organization I serve with.)
In these messages, the main speakers walked through John’s account of the last few days of Jesus’ passion week. We aimed to observe the text, interpret what John meant to communicate, and apply it practically and specifically. These men have been some of the most influential teachers in my life, and I’m eager to commend their messages to you.
Mark Fodale on the arrest of Jesus:
Brian Parker on the trial of Jesus:
Rhys John on the crucifixion of Jesus:
And I closed the conference with the resurrection of Jesus. In this talk you’ll notice many themes from my recent studies in Exodus. John has much to say in applying tabernacle imagery to the work of Christ:
If you’d like to see more such teaching, getting more models of OIA Bible study in action, you can find our library on the DiscipleMakers website. Check it out!
The digital Bible is a game changer.
When I was in college in the late 1990s, I was thrilled to receive a NASB concordance one year for Christmas. I hit the jackpot—there was no Bible study obstacle I couldn’t overcome.
This behemoth weighed about 35 pounds and was roughly the size of a Dodge Neon.
The world of Bible lookup is drastically different now, with the landscape shifting techtonically by the widespread use of digital search.
It’s so easy—open up e-Sword or Logos, go to Bible Gateway, or use any one of dozens of Bible mobile apps, and you can search the Bible in seconds. We have enormous power at our fingertips, power that our spiritual ancestors of even 30 years ago couldn’t have imagined.
There are so many benefits to digital search! You can locate that passage that’s been sticking in your brain by punching in a few keywords. You can find all the occurrences of the names Gideon or Melchizedek with a click. You can jump right to the crucifixion passages.
But, like most good tools, there are misuses we must avoid. And I’ll warn you—they’re mighty tempting.
The Danger of Search
The careless “word study” is one of the most common mistakes made with a Bible search tool. If you haven’t been part of a study like this, you’ve heard about it. A leader or teacher decides to explore “the real meaning” of a single word in the Bible—like “hope,” “peace,” or “lord.” Then he dashes through the first 15 hits on Bible Gateway for that word and draws a once-for-all conclusion.
I’m not here to shoot down all word studies. I think they can be done well. But they are so, so easy to do poorly! And the results of a poor word study can be disastrous. Christians are left skimming the surface, missing out on rich, deep truths in the Bible. And even worse—those surface-level “facts” might just be wrong.
What’s the Problem?
The main problem with bad word studies is that they mishandle the Scriptures specifically and language in general.
If you’re an English speaker, consider the words “hold,” “watch,” or “run.” Each of these words can be used as multiple parts of speech and has several possible meanings in each case. You’d never take a book, collect the search hits for “run,” and claim to know the meaning of the word by this grab bag approach.
But this describes bad word studies in a nutshell.
What’s the Safeguard?
The safeguard against bad word studies is interpreting the Bible in context. Do the hard work of understanding a passage before you connect it to different chapters, books, or authors. The process of connecting disparate parts of the Bible is called correlation.
When putting different parts of the Bible together, it’s best to connect ideas instead of just words. If you know what the original author meant, you can fit that idea together with the main point from a different passage.
My advice boils down to this. Start small (understanding individual passages) and then go big instead of the other way around. Let the Bible itself—not the results from a search engine—form the basis of your small group study.
This week we complete the instructions for the tabernacle. Only two short speeches (out of seven total) remain.
Observation of Exodus 31:1-18
Most repeated words: all (8 times), Sabbath (6x), work (6), day (5), Lord (5), holy (4), people (4), son (4)
- this list of words highlights the many connections between these speeches and the creation of the world in Genesis 1-2.
Speech #6: Spirit-filled men will create the tent complex according to Yahweh’s plan – Ex 31:1-11
- correspondence to Day 6 of creation, where God breathes his Spirit into the first humans, so they can image him in ruling and filling the earth
- the men and their Spirit-given abilities – Ex 31:1-6
- catalogue of items to be created – Ex 31:7-11
- tent structure
- furniture (from inside to outside)
- garments for priests
- anointing oil and fragrant incense
- the catalogue follows the same order as the instructions were given, except that the altar of incense is moved earlier to be with the other items located in the same room.
- all is to be done just as Yahweh commanded – Ex 31:11
Speech #7: Keeping the Sabbath day of rest – Ex 31:12-17
- correspondence to Day 7 of creation, where God rests and sets apart the Sabbath as a special day
- this speech’s structure is a chiasm, where the second half is a mirror image of the first half
- A Keep my Sabbaths, a sign that Yahweh sanctifies you – Ex 31:13
- B Keep the Sabbath; it is holy – Ex 31:14a
- C Profaners shall be put to death; workers shall be cut off – Ex 31:14b
- D Work six days; rest one – Ex 31:15a
- C’ Workers shall be put to death – Ex 31:15b
- C Profaners shall be put to death; workers shall be cut off – Ex 31:14b
- B’ Keep the Sabbath as a covenant forever – Ex 31:16
- B Keep the Sabbath; it is holy – Ex 31:14a
- A’ It is a sign that Yahweh made heaven and earth in 6 days, resting on the 7th – Ex 31:17
- A Keep my Sabbaths, a sign that Yahweh sanctifies you – Ex 31:13
- The chiasm’s center (Ex 31:15a) defines what the Sabbath is and what makes it special.
- The chiasm’s end (Ex 31:17) makes the link between the tabernacle construction and the creation of the world explicit.
Ex 31:18 is the conclusion to all the instructions of Ex 25-31
- When Yahweh is finished speaking, he gives Moses two stone tablets, with the instructions written with his own finger
Interpretation of Exodus 31:1-18
Some possible questions:
- Why do the tabernacle instructions end with these topics for the final two speeches?
- Why is the penalty for Sabbath-breaking so severe?
- So what should we do with Sabbath-breakers today?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- These last two topics bring even greater to the connections between the tabernacle instructions and the creation of the world. This leads us to see the tabernacle as a new paradise in a new creation, an opportunity for the people of God to start over in close relationship with God.
- Yahweh explains what the Sabbath signifies: his unique role as both their sanctifier (Ex 31:13) and the creator of all things (Ex 31:17). Apparently the Lord takes these things very seriously. If the people building this tabernacle don’t take one day off each week, they are communicating that 1) Yahweh did not create everything, they did; and 2) Yahweh isn’t making them special, they are doing that for themselves. The Sabbath is all about resting in another and not ourselves.
- We’ve been given much more revelation from God about the Sabbath than the Israelites had. We understand the purpose of the Sabbath-keeping was to picture faith in and utter dependence on Christ (Heb 3:16-4:3). I’ll save any further application for another study on another passage.
Train of thought:
- Get the right Spirit-filled people for the creative work.
- Treat one day each week as a special day, to show your trust in Yahweh and not your own efforts for this project of mutual dwelling.
Main point: For God’s new creation dwelling place with his people, the climax comes when the right people join the work and demonstrate the unique ability of God to get them through.
Connection to Christ: Jesus is the faithful Son, the builder of God’s house. He trusted his Father fully so we who tend to trust ourselves could become his family.
My Application of Exodus 31:1-18
When it’s time for me to get busy doing the work of God on behalf of the people of God (preaching, leading Bible studies, writing, discipling, parenting, etc.), it’s so easy for me to trust in my effort to carry the day. But this passage helps me to understand God’s glorious paradox: he appoints and uses me for his purposes, and I can trust him to do the heavy lifting. In other words, I work with all my strength, and I trust in God to make it happen. I can plant and water, but only God can cause the growth.
This paradox is at the heart of all faithful kingdom work. We work as though it were all up to us. Then we pray and trust as though it’s all up to him. In God’s universe, we shouldn’t choose one or the other. We do both.
“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess 5:24).
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.