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How Understanding History Makes All the Difference

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A Modern Girl’s Guide to Bible Study
Ch. 7: How Understanding Relevant History Makes All the Difference (Pg. 113-129)

I remember as a little girl, I had an awful habit of entering adult conversations.  My mom would be having lively discourse with her girlfriends and me – being the precocious child I was – always had to give my two cents because I had to show just how smart I was.

I knew little about nothing but wanted to prove I knew lots about something.

This reasoning never worked.  I did not understand the context of which they were referring and had no backstory, but felt that my limited insight of the content would add to the conversation.

Many times we can find ourselves in the same conundrum as 7-year-old Kim when coming to the Scriptures; looking for palatable encouragement and affirmation that we err greatly in our intent and miss the whole point of the passage.  We quote and repeat verses that may be vastly out of context.

But no fear, as an expert in causing my share of embarrassment, let me spare you the much unwanted drama.

Don’t be like me.  Seek to find the context before entering any spoken or written story.

Scripture of the Week

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  (Romans 15:4)

Context Before Content

In the wise words of our girl Jen, “You cannot underestimate the importance of knowing a little history. Relevant background frames the present and helps you understand what you’re dealing with.”

If we take time to learn a bit of the history and framework of the story, the words which we read seem to come alive with a bit more vibrancy, richness and greater insight.

Let’s put a famous verse to the test and seek to understand it in its context.  Jeremiah 29:11:

[alert]“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you
and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’

It helps to do a bit of research on the writer and his/her work.  For this exercise:

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  • Read the first few pages (intro) to the book in your study Bible
  • Grab a commentary (MacArthur’s Commentary or a Bible dictionary) and research both the author and the book of the Bible you wish to investigate
  • Grab a pad and pencil for taking notes
  • Check out cool resources like: www.bible.org, www.biblica.com, www.biblestudytools.com, or www.biblegateway.com
[/half][half]Finding Context - A Modern Girl's Guide to Bible Study - www.imperfectvessel.com/winter-2016[/half]

Questions to consider while reading

  • Who is the author?
    Jeremiah which means ‘Yahweh throws or hurls’ (yikes), was the the son of Hilkiah.  His assistant Baruch assisted him in writing what is known as a prophetic book to the people of Israel.
  • What is his background and occupation?
    Jeremiah came from a lineage of priests and prophets.  He was a major prophet who began his ministry about the age of 20 that began during the reign of King Josiah and ended during the reign of Zedekiah.  The Lord commanded Jeremiah not to marry and raise children because the impending divine judgment on Judah would sweep away the next generation…harsh!
  • What is his personality like?
    He was known as the weeping prophet – lots of emotional baggage.  Can you say, “the prophet of doom and gloom”?

    • According the reputable source- www.biblica.com[Jeremiah was] given to self-analysis and self-criticism, [The book of] Jeremiah has revealed a great deal about himself.  Although timid by nature, he received the Lord’s assurance that he would become strong and courageous.  In his “confessions” he laid bare the deep struggles of his inmost being, sometimes making startling statements about his feelings toward God.
  • To whom is he writing and why?
    Jeremiah is writing to the Jews in Babylonian captivity who have been forced into exile. This is a direct result of God’s judgment against them due to their disobedience to His laws.  The leadership and its people were wicked.  They revered other gods over the only true God of Israel and persecuted Jeremiah for his prophecies against them.
    Jeremiah is clear in pointing out that there is always a consequence for sin and the Jews being exiled for a total of 70 years was a clear example of such.  He cautioned them against believing false prophets who will tell them only what they wanted to hear.  God’s redemption and restoration although not immediate would come eventually.

So let’s read this excerpt from Jeremiah 29 in context now that we know an idea of what’s going on.

Jeremiah 29:4-14 (NIV)  A letter to the Exiles

4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

So read and re-read in context now that you have a snapshot of Judah’s history and reason for captivity.

The AHA! moment

God’s promise of a future and hope in Jeremiah 29:11 goes beyond immediate relief when read in context. Even in hardship, God’s plan still stands.  It is so easy to want to pray away our present circumstances/ consequences but God’s intent as seen in Jeremiah’s words of Judgement is that we grow through it as we go through it no matter how long it takes.

He is able to prosper us wherever he plants us. The absence of comfort does not mean that God is absent.  Even in God’s judgment, God bestows mercy to those who turn their hearts back to Him.

“If you decide to give a history a little attention as you study the Word, the Bible will never be the same to you.” – Jen Hatmaker

Weekly Challenge

Ladies, I challenge you to research the author, theme, and history of the book where your favorite verse is found.  Does it give greater meaning to your initial understanding?

Share your experiences on your favorite social media platforms with our hashtags #intentionalfilling and #moderngirlbiblestudy.

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Join the Discussion

Take a few minutes this week to comment, letting us know how you would answer the questions below.

[row-start][two-thirds]Questions for Understanding Relevant History Makes All the Difference // Online Book Study - A Modern Girl's Guide to Bible Study - hosted by www.imperfectvessel.com[/two-thirds] [one-third] This is a great opportunity for you to personally consider how understanding of the context and historical background of Scripture makes an impact on your faith and knowledge of God.

By sharing you may help to contribute thoughts or ideas that others may not have previously considered; ultimately helping to further expand their knowledge on this subject.[/one-third] [row-end] [divider type=”solid” color=”black”] [row-start] [three-fourths]

Kimberly Bolden is a 30 somethin’-year-old islander living in Atlanta, GA with her husband and two furbabies. Together, she and Wesley, lead Tri-Cities Church.

Kim can be found parked at http://kimspeaksup.com where she shares encouragement for purpose-filled living.  You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.


[one-fourth]Kimberly Bolden, contributor to The Intentional Filling blog.[/one-fourth] [row-end]

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  1. This post was very enlightening. I have to admit that many times I have read things out of context and it can change the whole meaning, when reading the verses before and after. I have (for the first time) read the how to’s of my study Bible at the front. So that I know exactly what is inside. I have on occasion read the information in front of the book of the Bible I am reading, but I again have to admit not often enough. I have started to research the book, themes and author of the what I am reading. It is very informative. Some information of course I knew, but to read things like when the book was written, why and to whom. I will continue to do this with each book this year.

  2. – I’m not totally sure that I have but given my limited knowledge of the Bible, I would say that it’s more than likely I have whether I knew it or not.
    – Yes, it completely has changed my interpretation/understanding. As stated by many, it’s a scripture that is often quoted but the meaning is so much deeper than what’s on the surface. When reviewing the blog today and other interpretations in the past, I’ve come to understand a bit better the “layers” or context that the scripture was stated in.
    – A couple words stuck out to me when I looked up prosper in an online thesaurus, bloom and enriched. I think it does change my perspective of the meaning a bit as its like he’s saying I have plans to enrich your life and for you to bloom, which to me, mean something a little different than prosper. It’s was kinda rad, for lack of a better word at the moment, to try this tool.

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