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Monday, July 14, 2008

Why Read Isaiah?

In Acts chapter 8 there is a story of a man, an "Ethiopian Eunuch," who is reading the book of Isaiah and is supernaturally visited by Philip, who explains to him that the passages are about Jesus. Recently I was listening to this chapter in audio form and I wondered something. Why was this guy reading Isaiah in the first place? He said himself that he didn't have any idea what it meant:
...Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”
Not only was the Ethiopian reading Isaiah, he was reading it out loud. Now, most Christians I know don't do much muddling around in the Old Testament. I imagine I've spent more time there than most, but even I don't just sit and read Biblical prophecy out loud to myself when I don't understand it at all. And yet here's a guy who is reading Biblical prophecy, to himself, out loud, without knowing what it meant, and knowing that he could not understand it unless someone explained it!

Why would someone do that? I can't say that I can read the Ethiopian's mind, but I can hazard a couple of guesses:
  1. The text was beautiful to read. Some sections of prophecy are, I understand, written in poetry in the original languages, and even in English, Isaiah 53 (the chapter he was reading) is quite beautiful to read. Maybe he was a lover of poetry.
  2. Maybe he actually understood more than the book of Acts lets on. This passage is widely understood to be about Messiah, and was even then. Maybe the Ethiopian knew it was about Messiah but couldn't understand what it meant about Messiah.
  3. Maybe the Ethiopian was a believer in God and had such a desire to know about God that he was just plowing through, hoping that something would stick for him, even though most of it was just looking like black words on a white page.
My money is on #1 and #3, but #1 specifically because otherwise why would he read it out loud? I think he was enjoying the beauty of the passage. Is it bad to read the Word for aesthetics's sake? I don't think so. The Word is "food" for a believer, yes, but when we eat, we enjoy the flavor of our food, don't we? If God wanted it to be only about meaning and never about beauty, He would not have inspired guys like David to write pages and pages of poetry, and Jesus would probably have not delivered a lot of his teaching in entertaining story format (A LOG in someone's EYE??? hehe!!) I appreciate my ESV so much partly because the translators worked hard to balance fidelity to the originals with beauty in English... or, rather, they sought to preserve the beauty and character present in original languages when they brought it across into English.

Read your Bible today. And don't just read it for meaning alone. Read it for meaning, but while you're getting the meaning that God is speaking to you through the text, enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, stop by a bookstore and look into an ESV or some other translation that makes it a joy for you to read. Make it part of your life, like the Ethiopian was doing. God has provided it for you to enjoy!