The beauty of Scripture is that even though the Bible was written thousands of years ago, the words are still powerfully relevant to our lives today. The transcendence of even the most specific situations or verses found in God’s Word can practically impact the way we live and think thousands of years later—no extra commentaries or study notes necessary.
With that being said, the original authors that God used to create the various books of the Bible lived in a time and place that is very different from ours today. Stories, prophecies, and parables, in many situations, have much deeper meanings that the reader will miss if they do not understand the original historical context. In certain cases, the verse may have a completely different meaning in the ancient world as opposed to how we might interpret it today.
In order to better understand the rich meaning of God’s Word, here are three areas of study that you can engage in to uncover new insights from Scripture. Also provided are examples of these areas of study from the new CSB Holy Land Illustrated Bible to better grasp the value of studying the Bible in context.
Understand the geographical context of ancient Israel
It is safe to say that a large portion of the Bible, if not the majority of God’s Word, takes place in what we would call modern-day Israel and Palestine. The geography and climate of Israel had a major impact on what cities were built, the technology that was leveraged, and the continuous conflict the Israelites face in Scripture.
Understanding the geography of Israel gives insight into the hardship these people faced along with the actions they had to take just to survive. Below is a quick excerpt explaining the lack of water in Canaan, which would be the same piece of land the Israelites would conquer in the Book of Joshua:
Although the annual rainfall in the Negev is insufficient to sustain much agriculture, it rains enough to allow people to maintain small flocks and to provide cultivation of basic crop plants.
The arid areas of Canaan created a challenge to human settlement and to economic development. The natural water supply was too scarce to meet the demands of settled communities. The arid zones of Canaan experienced occasional dry spells, and the lack of rain extended into long-term droughts (Job 12:15). During these droughts, people suffered, crops failed, and flocks perished (Jeremiah 14:1–3; Haggai 1:11).Claude F. Mariottini, “‘…and Not a Drop to Drink’: Water’s Effect on Civilization Development,” CSB Holy Land Illustrated Bible (Nashville TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), 46.
When you understand the lack of water as presented in this article, you get much better insight into the importance of the wells that the patriarch battles back and forth for in the Book of Genesis. They didn’t have the luxury of going to a water faucet and simply turning the knob.
Understand the countries surrounding Israel
Throughout the Bible, the Israelites were constantly in contact or conflict with surrounding countries. These nations had a huge impact on the Israelites’ culture and moral failures. In many cases, the Lord used these countries to discipline Israel. Understanding the cultures of these surrounding nations can shed light on the temptations the people of Israel faced along with the opportunities that they had to be an example of righteousness to the nations.
In the New Testament, many of the Apostles’ travels and letters were outside of Israel. Learning more about the various countries in the Roman Empire can give a deeper insight into the challenges of being a Christian in the ancient world, along with the reasons for the particular usage of words and styles of writing utilized in certain letters in the New Testament.
Here is a brief excerpt explaining the city of Rome:
Along with its wealth, impressive architectural features, and immorality, imperial Rome was also a center of urban filth and degradation. By the end of the first century, the city’s population was estimated to be more than one million. Many of these were unemployed or underemployed and had to live in dirty, poorly maintained tenement housing. Because its sewers emptied raw sewage into the Tiber, the river was heavily polluted.
Thus in many ways, Rome in the first century was a city ready for the good news of Jesus Christ.Martha S. Bergen, “Rome: The Growth of the Eternal City,” CSB Holy Land Illustrated Bible, 1605.
Paul could have chosen to travel anywhere to spread the gospel, but these few sentences give clarity as to why Paul was so adamant about going to Rome.
Understand the culture of Israel
God’s chosen people had a lifestyle and culture that was unique to the context in which they lived. Obviously it is very different than the one we have in the 21st century. Many of Jesus’ parables relate to the agrarian culture and many of the stories in the Old Testament contain customs unfamiliar to us. Below you will find a brief explanation of the importance of the firstborn in the Old Testament:
The firstborn son enjoyed a place of honor and privilege in the family, but he also shouldered a number of responsibilities. As the eldest male, he would inherit a double portion of the estate and the leadership of the household. In a patriarchal society, this meant he would assume complete responsibility for the family’s property and prosperity. If necessary, he would represent his family in court and exercise judgment over members of his family.
If he became head of the family while his parents were still alive, he assumed responsibility for their physical care and that of his sisters until each sister married.Susan Booth, “Firstborn in the Old Testament,” CSB Holy Land Illustrated Bible, 51.
Considering the importance of the firstborn in the Old Testament, we see the powerful sovereignty of God at work when individuals like Jacob, David, and Solomon rose to power over their elder brothers.
If you are interested in learning more about the historical context of God’s Word, check out the CSB Holy Land Illustrated Bible. This new Bible is full of articles and photos that allow you to peer into the real world of the Bible and help study the original intent of Scripture through context.
In fact, we are giving away three copies to three winners. Just sign up through the link below to be eligible to win! Entry is open through September 30, 2020, and winners will be contacted within 24 hours.