I started Amos last week in my personal Bible study time. I could spend the rest of my days in the Gospels, but we need the whole of Scripture. Every portion—every verse—has a purpose. So about once a year, my husband and I venture back into the Old Testament. I studied Amos for a Hebrew exegesis class in seminary, but I have never walked through it in my personal quiet time.
The first couple of chapters were interesting, from a historical and geographical perspective, but I had some trouble with application. My Bible study time felt dry. What do you do when your Bible study time feels dry?
First (and I’m not even counting this one in the list) we must pray: confession because sin may be blocking our communion with the Spirit, and a request that God unleash His “rivers of living water” (John 7:38) onto our hearts and minds. But then…
Access the Study Notes
When we’re in the narratives or parts of the New Testament letters, we can often just read the text and have plenty to “chew on.” (See my post, Don’t Quit on Your Quiet Time, for more on one’s quiet time as a feast.) When we move into the dryer or more difficult-to-understand sections, however, we can glance down to the study notes in our Bibles.*
For example, I’m amused when Amos calls the women of Israel, “you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria” (Amos 4:1). That’s pretty rude! But today in my study notes, I learned that Bashan cows were “the best breed of cattle in ancient Canaan,” so some might take it as a backhanded compliment.
Being the best doesn’t mean
God is pleased with you.
My application? Being the best of what you are or the best at what you do doesn’t mean God is pleased with you.
Build a Chart or Outline
I like to do this when I get bogged-down in Paul’s super-long sentences, but it also works here in Amos. Looking for patterns in chapters 1 and 2, we could make a chart. I saw how Amos names the first few nations by their cities, like when we say Washington to represent the USA. For every new address, he says, “I will not relent.” In fact, he uses a formula, simply changing the city name for each one.
For the six Gentile nations, their sins were external—about taking slaves or killing innocent people, what we would call “crimes against humanity.” Each of those nations will suffer fires that destroy their major cities. When He gets to Judah and Israel, however, the sins are internal. He punishes them for things like rejecting the law (Amos 2:4) and for taking advantage of the oppressed (Amos 2:7).
What does this show us? God’s expectations for His people (i.e. those who represent Him) are different than for those outside the family. I’m reminded of James’ advice—a verse that keeps me on my toes:
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. –James 3:1
Chase the Cross-References
When we are slogging through a particularly dry patch of Scripture, it helps to connect to other parts of God’s Word. I like to scan the cross-references and flip over to a link in a narrative or in the opposite testament. Here’s an example.
The lion has roared—who will not fear? The Sovereign Lord has spoken—who can but prophesy? –Amos 3:8
Amos compares his prophetic compulsion to one’s natural reaction to a lion’s roar–inevitable. My cross-references led me to this verse:
As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. –Acts 4:20
That’s Peter speaking to the Sanhedrin. From the connection, we see that God’s presence will invariably lead us to proclamation, and that’s not just a post-resurrection idea.
Draw a Map or Picture
The place influences
the perspective of
the biblical author.
Every part of the Bible was written in a place, even Numbers. The place influences the perspective of the author. We can quickly find a map in our Bibles or online and sketch it out in our journals. We can research the layout of 1st-century Roman prisons (for Acts) or the typical design of a Davidic-era home (for 1 & 2 Samuel).
The first two chapters of Amos are addressed to the nations surrounding Israel. When I made a map, I realized Amos pointed in every direction, zooming in to Israel. His hearers would have cheered for the destruction of neighboring kingdoms like Damascus and Gaza, but when God shifted His sights to their cousins in Judah and then themselves, they wouldn’t have been so happy! (The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible has an entire one-page article on this geography.)
Finger-pointing: It’s easy to condemn someone else, not so easy to face conviction ourselves.
Engage Your Senses
Amos is full of imagery, so it’s easy to imagine the sights, sounds, and even tastes his imagery evokes. In other parts of the Bible, we might need to think about the place from which the author writes (e.g. Paul in jail) or the situation addressed.
I slowed down in Amos when I read,
Because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth. –Amos 1:3
Think about the sound those iron teeth would make as they hit the threshing floor, the way they would pulverize the grains of wheat rather than just removing the outer husk.
A few days later, I read,
The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks. –Amos 4:2
Suddenly, I can see myself
in Amos audience…
I had to access the study notes and chase the cross-references, but this is something they really did! The conquering army would put hooks or rings in the lower lip or nose of the captured, thread a rope through the hooks, then lead the people wherever they wanted (NIV study notes again). This was not some sort of cute lip-piercing. Can you imagine the pain? The fear of falling…or the person in front of you falling and ripping out part of your nose or lip? Suddenly, I can see myself in Amos’ audience, and I’m afraid.
I hope my A to E list of suggestions for dry days of Bible study helps you the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.
5 Things to Try When Your Bible Study Feels Dry: An alphabetic list of suggestions, with examples from Amos. My #BibleStudyTools are #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
I asked this in the introduction, and I really want to know: What do you do when your Bible study time feels dry? Please share in the comments below. Maybe we can compile a whole alphabet of suggestions!
*A study Bible is a worthwhile investment for anyone who wants to understand Bible-times culture and the connections between different parts of the Bible. See The Alphabet Soup of Bible Translations for more guidance on choosing a new Bible.