Do you look at the context of a Bible verse when you read it? Often, I think we read a verse and accept it at face value. The more I write, the more I find myself digging deeper to understand the meaning behind something. When we know the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, the whole meaning can change. As I participated in a Bible Study called “That the World May Know,” by Ray Vander Laan, the context of a famous Bible passage changed my thinking. Let’s look at what I learned regarding the 23rd Psalm.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
This beautiful passage was penned by David. The poetic thoughts bring peace and comfort to many people, especially at times of significant loss. As I read it, I picture walking beside a babbling brook with lush green vegetation all around me. Life flows smoothly, and I want for nothing. But is that the message David is trying to convey to us? Does following God mean we will experience an easy life? Let’s dig a little deeper to understand the context of this message.
I want to focus on the second verse, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” First, let’s begin by looking at the landscape from these Biblical times. Just like the land where the Israelites wander for forty years, most of the area is a barren desert wilderness. Not a place you think about when you hear of green pastures. Yet, these barren hills are the very place David tended sheep as a young boy. So what does David mean by green pastures?
As Ray Vander Laan explains, springtime brings a small amount of moisture to this desert area. This allows small tufts of grass to grow up around the rocks that hold in the water. The hillside might still look barren to the naked eye, but small patches of green sprout up upon closer examination. The picture below shows a close up of these green areas. There is not an abundance of grass. But, there is enough for the herds to grab a mouth full before they move on the next clump of grass. My header photo shows a flock of sheep grazing in one of these areas. So, what does this kind of green pasture mean for our faith?
Why Dos Context Matter?
Before I learned the context behind this verse, I pictured a field covered in lush vegetation. And that image meant I had plenty of everything I needed. So if I have everything I need within my reach, do I need God? Instead, when we see David’s version of green pastures, we see God grants just enough for the moment before we move on to the next moment. David’s understanding of green fields shows us how God provides for our needs with just enough for the moment. David’s version requires us to be dependent on God to provide instead of relying on ourselves. We also learn that in a desert, we thirst for water. Likewise, God wants us to thirst for Him in the same way.Hard places in life cause us to turn to God. When we have everything we need, we push God to the side. God will provide for you. Click To Tweet
Learning the context behind Psalm 23 changed my way of thinking about these verses. In fact, the whole study by Ray Vander Laan taught me many new things. Being in the desert is a hard place for any of us. But, hard places in life cause us to turn to God. When we have everything we need, we push God to the side. So, when you think about these verses, remember the desert and how God will provide for you.
Dearest Heavenly Father. Thank you for teaching us through the Bible. Help us understand Your message instead of seeing the words the way we want them to read. Let us seek you in the desert times of our lives as well as in the good times. Lead me to Your green pastures, so I know You will provide. Thank you for the comfort of the scriptures. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Yvonne M. Morgan, author, blogger, and speaker.
Matthew 28:19 “Therefore, GO and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
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41 thoughts on “The Importance of Bible Context”
The more I read His Word, the more I learn. I am thankful God has given us His Word.
Me too. It is so important to read and study His words so we truly understand. Thanks Melissa and God bless
A thousand times yes! I once did a video Bible artist written by an Israeli shepherd that, as with you, completely changed the meaning of this famous Psalm. We can even fall into deep doctrinal error, such as The Word Faith movement, by taking verses or even chapters out of context. This is why is crucial to read the Word every day. Thanks for sharing!
You are very welcome and I hope you are feeling better. It is very important to be in the word daily and asking God to reveal the true meaning of the message. Thanks and God bless
Wow! I never knew this geographical context for Psalm 23. That is really profound. Thank you for teaching and sharing this, Yvonne. We often view scripture through our life here in the United States, where we have an abundance of food and water. If we live in a dry area, it is piped in! When we imagine living life by God’s provisions, we see how He leads us, one step at a time, to have just what we need. Then we wait for the next provision. Powerful teaching!
Having this pointed out to me really impacted me too. That is why I wanted to share about it. When we read and study the Bible, we need to pray for God to open our eyes to His teaching. Thanks Melissa and God bless.
What a neat exploration of this psalm. You are right: “God wants us to thirst for Him.”
He surely does want us to thirst after Him. Thanks Jessica and God bless.
Context is key to fully understanding a verse or passage. I love Ray Vander Laan! 🙂 You are correct, Yvonne, when life is hard we are more apt to seek God, but when life is easy, we are likely to put him aside. In those times of blessing, we need to be more intentional with thanksgiving and praise. We can be close when life is easy, it just takes a different approach when seeking the Lord. Great post! 🙂
Thanks Marcie. We do need to be more intentional with our worship when life is good. Maybe that is part of the lesson of 2020. God bless
Fresh insight, Yvonne. Context not only changes our perspective about a passage, but also gives us a deeper meaning. This Bible study sounds amazing and liked this thought: “Instead, when we see David’s version of green pastures, we see God grants just enough for the moment before we move on to the next moment. David’s understanding of green fields shows us how God provides for our needs with just enough for the moment.”
I think David makes the words even more beautiful when you see it through his eyes. It was a really wonderful study. Thanks Karen and God bless
Such a good reminder – we need to think deeply about what the words mean, as you say. and what the setting in the Bible really was in order to get at the heart of the meaning. Then, we find ourselves truly helped.
Yes we do Pam. It is so very important to understand. We can pray before each time we study so the Lord helps us to find the true meaning. God bless.
Your post reminds me of the rule, “Context is king” when interpreting Scripture. How often are verses – and entire passages – taken out of context. For example, Phil. 4:13 is rarely if ever quoted in its original context: that of cultivating contentment!
So correct Ava. The context does make a huge difference. I pray each time I study so I can fully understand the message. Thanks and God bless.
Understanding God’s word and applying it to our lives and circumstances, helps us grow deeper in God.
Yes it does. Thanks for visiting and commenting Kristie. God bless.
I like your details on context, although l can read one verse and a keyword jumps out at me. There, then or where l am. Thanks for this post!
Yes that happens to me too. I just make sure I know the context so I am not misunderstanding. Thanks Ava and God bless
Hi, Yvonne. Thank you for this article. God will always provide for us, wherever we may be in our life. Grateful we have His words to guide us through! May we continue to understand it in His light so we can grow better. God bless!
Thanks so much Sheryl. We should never stop growing in Christ. God bless.
Loved this post! Context is key to understanding what God has said. We often make application from scripture before we even know what the verse actually has said and means. Great reminder to study deeper before deciding we know what a verse is telling us. Blessings!
Yes, we really do need to understand and study. The Bible is also much deeper than just what is found with a quick surface reading. Thanks so much Teresa and God bless.
Thank you for your passion for God’s word!
Thank you 🙏 😄. I learn so much from studying it. God bless.
What a difference between the way we imagine a green pasture and the biblical reality at the time of David! I love the point you made about God giving us what we need in the present moment which motivates us to rely solely on Him. Great insight!
Thanks so much Summer. So often, we think we need God to provide for our lifetime then we would be happy and comfortable. But, when we an abundance, we forget we need God. Thanks for commenting and God bless.
Understanding the context of God’s Word helps keep us from getting off track and believing something untrue. Thank you for this very important post for us all.
Thanks Donna and God bless
This is so important! I see verses being taken out of context and used incorrectly all the time! Thanks for sharing this!
Thanks MJ. I see it all the time too. That is why we should study the Bible instead of just reading. God bless.
I love reading the Bible in context of the traditions and times that it was written. So many things that seem to mean something one way to us reading now in 2020 are simply not at all what was meant when you look at the culture and traditions of the times. I love digging deeper this way!
Me too. God has so many wonderful nuggets buried with the pages of the Bible’s for those who go hunting. Thanks and God Bless
So beautiful! What a pleasure it is to revisit a familiar Psalm – looking at it through a different perspective! Bless you!
Thanks and God bless
Oh, I am thankful for His word.
Me too Mamie. Thanks and God bless.
Love this!! Context is so very important and helps us actually understand the Bible correctly instead of putting our own interpretation of what we wished it said. Such a great post! Thanks
I think we just want to see the pretty parts of the Bible without doing the work to find the context. Thanks for commented and God bless
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