Study Smarter

It’s crazy to me that we’re finishing up our dwelling on Psalm 107. In case you missed one of the last few Fridays, we looked at different ways to read this particular passage. Here they are again:

A redemptive reading

A systematic reading

A contemplative reading

An experiential reading

And now for the final approach: a historical-grammatical reading. (It sounds smart, right? It makes you feel smart, too, so that’s a plus. Also, the last bit is already done by now! We’ll see that in a minute.)

The historical-grammatical method uses three points: observation, interpretation, and application.

Observing a text first means asking and answering good questions. Who wrote it? To whom? Why? When? Where? Study Bibles are fantastic for this part. Flipping to that particular book’s introduction will get you tons of helpful information for understanding the background. After you’ve got a handle on the historical context, look at the wording. Are there key terms or phrases you need to define? Is anything repeated? What conclusions are made?

This hymn of thanksgiving is written to the Jewish nation, God’s chosen people, by an anonymous author after their return from exile. Its purpose is to inspire gratitude for what God has done and praise for His heart toward His children. A key phrase to define is ‘steadfast love.’ This concept, chesed in Hebrew, is the patient, enduring love required of a parent with special needs kids. It’s a powerful, stubborn, determined kind of love that wakes up day after day and acts in the best interest of the beloved. “Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man!” is repeated in verses 8, 15, 21, and 31.

Interpretation moves us into figuring out what a passage means. This isn’t a personal thing. Rather than asking, “What does this text mean to me?,” ask, “What did this text mean to the original author and audience?” Commentaries are super handy for this step. You can find an assortment of free ones online here and here.

This psalm encouraged God’s people to remember His goodness both publicly and privately. Every hearer would have known they had been rescued from destruction and exile—and isn’t that our story, too? I love what my study Bible says of verses 33-43: “This section moves on to reflect more generally about the reversals that God accomplishes in order to display His own righteousness … This psalm celebrates how God has fulfilled this pattern in restoring Judah after the exile.” Essentially, the interpretation is this: the Lord has done glorious things for us because of His enduring love. We can depend on His faithful goodness in the future. What believer, past or present, doesn’t need to hear that?

The last part is application, putting feet to the message. It’s not enough to understand what God says—we’re meant to put it into action. And guess what? We spent a lot of the experiential approach deciphering the specifics here. Now we just do it.

There you go! Using all five of these methods regularly will help round out your study time, no matter which text you’re dwelling on. I personally gravitate toward the ‘headier’ systematic and historical-grammatical approaches, so I have to push myself more both in the ‘heart’ department by digging into the redemptive and contemplative methods and the ‘hands’ aspect by reading experientially. (It’s pretty easy to see how your study time can get lopsided by only practicing one or two of these five approaches.) Taking a different method each weekday is a great strategy to really wrap your whole being around one text a week. Need a fun layout to experiment with?

Mindful Mondays (contemplative)

Tactical Tuesdays (experiential)

Wordy Wednesdays (historical-grammatical)

Thematic Thursdays (systematic)

Farseeing Fridays (redemptive)

Let’s study smarter, using the brains God gave us to dig deep so we can better “thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man!”

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