The Vital Value of Understanding The Word of God (continued)
Eternal Design and Central Person
Now we must recognize that in this matter of knowing the Word of God, knowing the Scriptures and understanding what we read, there is a factor which is "extra" and "other". That comes out very clearly in the instance before us. This incident in which we have our question is "bigger than itself." In itself it provides us with all the factors that we need for our consideration. But it is representative of a far bigger situation that itself - a situation which has a very large place in the Word of God and in Christian experience. "Understand thou what thou readest?" This is a very pertinent and proper question. It really implies no lesser questions than these: "Does the Bible live to you? Is the Word of God a mighty dynamic in your life? Is it the voice of God to you? Is God all the time speaking by this to you?"
Let us look at this incident, which will itself lead us out into the larger consideration. Firstly,we will look at the man who, I think we can say, is the occasion of what is here - the Ethiopian. Then we will look at that which met his need, and then at the implications of bringing these two together.
A Man in Need
Firstly, then, the man - the Ethiopian - and his need. Let us get his full-length portrait, as far as we can. Firstly, he is a man of high position and achievement in this world. He is a man who is successful, who has attained to a place of great honor. He is a man, evidently, of no mean learning. He has been up to Jerusalem to worship, probably at one of the feasts, which implies that he understood the language used there by the Jews - Hebrew or Aramaic; and then he was also versed in Greek, because the passage which is quoted here from Isaiah is quoted from the Septuagint - the Greek translation of the Old Testament. For an Ethiopian that indicates a wide range of intelligence and a considerable degree of learning and knowledge.
Then, he was evidently a devoutly religious man, doubtless a Jewish proselyte, for we are told that he had made the long journey to Jerusalem in order to worship. But because he as a eunuch, laboring under a veto in the Old Testament, he was strictly forbidden to enter within a certain area of the Temple. I mention that, because it might well have put him off. As a proselyte of the gate, beyond a certain point he would meet a closed door. That might have discouraged him and kept him away: but such is his devotion that he undertakes the long journey to Jerusalem, in spite of the handicap and the seeming rebuff he would meet at the Temple. He goes up to worship.
Then, having taken his long journey, in his honesty and devout sincerity, he returns, clearly a disappointed man. He has been to the very head-quarters of the learning and teaching of the Scriptures, to the very center of Bible interpretation. He is returning, still in quest of something to satisfy his heart, without the real joy of having discovered. That is made perfectly clear, is it not, by the issue of this incident? There is something still eluding him, beyond his grasp, beyond his understanding.
But that is not all about him. Clearly he was a truly humble man; he was not frustrated by his own self-sufficiency - for there is nothing more frustrating to spiritual understanding than self-sufficiency. The man or the woman who "knows it all" is a frustrated person; they are not going to get through. But here is a truly humble man, conscious of his need, and ready to confess it, knowing his ignorance and having no compunction or hesitation in letting it be known that he is ignorant in this matter. "How can I, except some one shall guide me?"
Moreover, he is a man with a Bible which is a closed book. He has a Bible, though it be the Old Testament only - it might only be the Prophets - but it is still the Bible. He had his Bible open before him, and was reading it, but it was nevertheless a closed book.
Finally, he is a man prepared to obey, ready without hesitation to follow the light when it comes. That is, I think, the measure of the man, the life-size portrait.
(continued with # 21)