The first step of our Bible study method is Observation. Before we’ve even crossed the line of scrimmage, however, familiarity is right there to knock us down. When we think we know something, we stop paying attention to it.
For example, how many stairs are there in your house? What color are your father’s eyes? What is your license plate number? Name three left-handed people in your acquaintance.
As Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “You see, but you do not observe.”
Let me give an example. I recently taught on Genesis 31, the story where Jacob runs away from Laban without telling him. My initial thought was, “I know what happens. Why does the story have to take up 55 verses, and how am I going to teach on it?”
So I dug deeper. I stared at the text and kept reading it over and over. Things started popping out.
For example, I observed that every other verse in Gen 31:4-16 makes reference to God. Up until now, Jacob hasn’t really mentioned God a whole lot.
Then I observed that the narrator calls Laban “the Aramean” (Gen 31:20, 24). That’s funny, because he used to call him Jacob’s “mother’s brother” (for example, see Gen 29:10 where he’s called that 3 times). So the narrator doesn’t consider Laban family anymore….
Then I observed that Laban calls God to witness their agreement (Gen 31:53), but do you see which god it is? “The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” The true God called Abraham to leave the household (and gods) of his fathers (Gen 12:1). Jacob knows this, but Laban doesn’t get it. Jacob swears by the true God, the Fear of his father Isaac (Gen 31:53).
I could go on. My point is not that any single observation is the silver bullet that unlocks a Bible passage. Instead, I’m suggesting that the way forward is always to keep observing. We must be willing to stare at a text until we don’t just see, but we observe.
I’ll give one more big example. One of the most famous passages in the whole Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. It’s the great Love Chapter. We’re so familiar with it, though, that we generally miss the point.
Read it again, one verse at a time, and ask yourself, “what is he saying here?” Observe carefully, and I think you’ll see that it’s neither romantic nor encouraging. It’s actually a stinging rebuke directed toward those who don’t know how to love their neighbor.
Let’s not just see. Let’s observe.