By Jeff Dominguez
How do you read and study the Bible?
There’s no arguing that God commands us to read the Bible every day. In the Old Testament, He commanded the Israelites to meditate on it day and night (Joshua 1:8). In the New Testament, Jesus quoted a line from the Torah which states that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). This verse teaches us that if our physical body needs to eat every day, then so is our spiritual body. We do that by reading God’s words every day.
So again, how do you read and study the Bible?
If you are struggling in this spiritual discipline, or if you are not getting the most out of it, then good news! I am here to help you. In this article, I will present to you the Bible’s recommended method on how to study the Bible effectively. It is inspired from the Bible study habit of one of the authors of the Bible, Ezra. And we call his study method as the Ezra Principle.
Who is Ezra?
We can learn about who Ezra is in the Book of Ezra chapters 7 to 10. From there we learn that he was a “scribe skilled in the Law of Moses” (7:6) and that he came from the lineage of Aaron, the chief priest (which means Ezra is also a priest) (7:1-5). But perhaps the most important characteristic of Ezra was the one mentioned in 7:11 where it states that he is a “man learned in matters of the commandments of the LORD and His statutes for Israel.” Ezra 7:10 also reveals that Ezra is a godly man who was very committed in studying and teaching God’s words. This is probably the reason why King Artaxerxes of Persia chose him for the task that he had for Jerusalem.
As a quick historical background, the events of the Book of Ezra and Nehemiah happened during the post-exile from Babylon. God touched the heart of King Cyrus of Persia to set the Israelites free and allow them to return to Jerusalem. From this, the period of Israel’s restoration began. The Book of Ezra-Nehemiah provided an account of these restorations which are divided into 3 major movements: the restoration of the temple (Ezra 1-6), the restoration of the community and their relationship with God (Ezra 7-10), and the restoration of Jerusalem’s walls (Neh. 1-7). Governor Zerubbabel was in charge for the restoration of the temple (Ezra 5:2) while King Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah’s request to be in charge for the restoration of Jerusalem’s walls (Neh. 2:1-8). On the other hand, the rebuilding the spiritual condition of the Israelites poses a greater challenge than rebuilding walls or temples. Being held captive in a foreign nation for 70 years, most of the Israelites have forgotten about God and their covenant relationship with Him. Therefore, the one in charge for their spiritual restoration must be someone who knows the words of God very well and can teach it properly to them. This is why King Artaxerxes chose Ezra.
So What is the Ezra Principle?
Just like Ezra, the Ezra Principle is a mind-set where one sets his heart to study, do, and teach God’s words.
“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”Ezra 7:10
To clarify, this is not like the normal daily Bible reading that Christians do every day (also known as personal quiet time). This principle is more intentional and purposeful. To understand why, we need to learn the meaning of the four main verbs of the Ezra Principle. These are SET, STUDY, DO, and TEACH.
SET (his Heart)
In the common English dictionary, to set means to be fixed in a specific place or situation. Mentally speaking, to set one’s mind is to fix it to respond or do something for a specific situation or purpose. This is not far from the meaning of the original word. The Hebrew word used for set was Kun which means to be firm, be stable, or be established. Now, in the context of Ezra 7:10, we also need to learn the meaning of the word “heart” for it is his heart that Ezra had set.
Obviously, the heart being referred here is not the human organ. The Hebrew word that was used for heart was Lebab which refers to the inner man. This is the person’s will, mind, and understanding. So if we put these words together, to set one’s heart is to make a firm and consistent commitment. In simpler sense, it’s like a pledge. Ezra made a “personal commitment” to study, do, and teach God’s words.
For study, the original Hebrew word is Darash. It means to seek or sought after. Now this is different from how we understand the word study. In the common understanding, to study means to learn or to gain information. If your school teacher told you to study the human anatomy, what you’ll usually do is to read about the human anatomy and memorize the many body parts. Darash is different. It is a strong effort to unravel the truth behind what is being studied. In the case of Ezra, he studied the word of God not just to know what it says, but to understand what it truly means. In Pastoral terms, this called “Exegesis.”
This is the reason why the Ezra Principle is different from the normal Bible reading; it’s a serious study of the word of God. To provide an example, what we’re doing now to Ezra 7:10 is an application of the Ezra Principle itself. This article is an exegesis of Ezra 7:10. We’re studying it deeply to understand what it truly means. As you can see, this is only one verse yet we came up with a very long article. Without bragging, this article in itself is an example of how to study God’s words.
For do, the original Hebrew word is Asah, which means to do, work, produce, or to accomplish. But of all these words, I believe that the author was specifically referring to the word, produce. Throughout the Bible, God consistently demands that we do what He says, not simply hear it. For example, in the Old Testament, Moses said to the Israelites, “This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 26:16). In the New Testament, the Apostle James famously said, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
And of course, Jesus reiterated this as well. In John 13:17 He said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Aside from this, He even gave a thought-provoking question. He asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).
Clearly, doing and applying God’s words is a command. Having studied the word of God thoroughly, Ezra knew this very well which is why he also committed himself to obey the word of God.
Lastly, the original Hebrew word for teach is Lamad. It means exactly that, to teach or train. In essence, the real purpose of teaching is to pass on what we know to others, particularly the next generation. Teaching the word of God to others is a command from God and it’s a very important one. A bad example to demonstrate this was the failure of the Israelites in the Book of Judges. Before entering the Promised Land, Moses gave a very explicit commandment which says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:6-7). But after they conquered and settled at Canaan, the Promised Land, they magnificently failed to do this. In Judges 2:10 it says, “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.” If you already read the Book of Judges, you know how things went down after this verse. In the New Testament, Jesus reminded us again that we need to teach God’s words to others. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations, and to teach them to observe all that He commanded us (Matt. 28: 19-20). Like with doing God’s words, Ezra also knew of the importance of teaching others. In fact, this was King Artaxerxes’ very purpose why he sent him to the Israelites (Ezra 7:25). And true enough, Ezra accomplished this task with the public marathon reading of the Torah as the highlight (Nehemiah 8).
As you see, the Ezra Principle is not just Bible reading. It is a heart-attitude where one is committed to learn and live by God’s words. A person who applies the Ezra Principle is not contented with just reading the word of God. He desires to understand it thoroughly, apply it in his life, and then teach it to others. This is how God wants us to approach His words.
Let’s Explore it Further
In this section, we’ll understand the importance of the Ezra Principle more by exploring the possible outcomes if one of the main verbs are missing. After that, we’ll explore why the order of the verbs are important.
MISSING VERB SCENARIOS
- Set – No Study – Do – Teach
- If you don’t study the word of God, then you’ll end up with a wrong application of God’s words. Worst, if you teach it to others, you’ll end up teaching heresy (wrong doctrines). So sorry to say, but you become a heretic.
- Set – Study – No Do – Teach
- In this case, you study the word of God and teach it to others but don’t obey the word of God or apply it in your life. Well, in this case, you become a hypocrite. You become exactly like the Pharisees that knows the words of God very well, teach others to obey it, but they themselves do not. Jesus reprimanded them for this. Matthew 23 records Jesus’ “Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees” where Jesus accused them seven times of being hypocrites along with other words such as blind guides and brood of vipers. So not doing what we study and teach is very bad and dangerous.
- Set – Study – Do – No Teach
- Just studying and doing God’s words may seem good already. But not teaching God’s words is also problematic. Sorry for the word, but a Christian who doesn’t teach the word of God to others is a burden to the Church. In Hebrews 5:11-14, the author reprimanded the believers who had been Christians for a long time already but does not help in teaching the new believers. By reading his words alone, you can feel his frustration to these people. It is clear that he was expecting them to help in teaching others. One may argue that there is this “gift of teaching” mentioned in Romans 12:7 and that if one doesn’t have it, he shouldn’t be forced to teach. To clarify, it doesn’t mean that if you don’t have the gift of teaching, you are completely devoid of any teaching ability. Everyone can teach. It’s just that those who have been given the gift of teaching can do it better. So the lack of the gift of teaching is not a valid excuse to not teach at all. God is not demanding us to become excellent teachers, He is asking us to become faithful teachers. The skills and abilities to do a task, as well as the eventual result, is all from Him and up to Him. God will supply the skills and resources. All He demands from us to be obedient and faithful to what He is commanding us to do.
- No SET – Study – Do – Teach
- Ultimately, studying, doing, and teaching the word of God won’t last if one is not committed to doing it. Out of all these verbs, I personally believe that set is the most important one. As a seasoned Discipler, I’ve noticed that being committed to spiritual disciplines is what many Christians struggle with the most. Many of them are sincere and passionate at first, but after a few months, their enthusiasm will start to dwindle down. I understand this completely though, for I know that we are still carnal beings who possess our old sinful natures. However, that is still not an excuse. God gave us the Holy Spirit to empower us to do what He wants us to do. This is why in Romans 8, the Apostle Paul commanded us to not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. If we submit to the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, we can certainly do what God wants us to do.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ORDER OF THE VERBS
Now, let’s learn why the order of the verbs are important.
At this point, I want to clarify that the order of the verbs presented in Ezra 7:10 is how it should be: SET-STUDY-DO-TEACH.
Just as I’ve said earlier, Set is the most important of these verbs and must be the first one. Studying, doing, and teaching won’t last if one is not firmly committed to it first. So if one wants to study, do, and teach God’s words, he must first commit firmly to his heart that he will be faithful and consistent in doing this.
The next step is to study. As emphasized earlier, one must first study the word of God before he applies it to his life and attempt to teach it to others. If one will skip the study part and proceed immediately to teach (because many skip both study and do), there’s a very high chance for him to teach wrong doctrines which is very dangerous for the church. A responsible Christian leader is one who understands the importance of studying the word of God first before teaching it to others. After study is do. And between do and teach, do must always come first. No one, I repeat, NO ONE, should teach without doing it first. A person who teaches what he does not practice is a hypocrite, and we know that Jesus is so against hypocrisy. The most effective teachers are those who study the word of God carefully and apply it in their lives. Why? Because the best teaching method is Modeling. Jesus is the greatest teacher because everything that He taught, He demonstrated first. This is why we become most effective teachers when people can see in us what we teach them to do.
In conclusion, a person who wishes to apply the Ezra Principle should also observe the order of the verbs. The Ezra Principle will only work if one does all of the main verbs and observe the order in which they were set.
I will end this article by citing an inspiring story. There’s this very successful computer programmer who was interviewed and asked as to how he was able to succeed in a field where many fail. His answer was simple but profound. He said, “During my college days, everyone in our class receives the same amount of programming projects and reading assignments. It was very hard. But the reason I succeeded is this: After a few failed tries, my classmates already quitted; but I persevered.”
It’s the same case with reading the Bible. A lot of Christians also quit immediately when they find it hard to understand or learn. But just like Ezra, we must also set our hearts to persevere on it. It’s really hard at first, but remember, the reward is always at the end.