Revelation 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
We tend to forget that when the Bible was written, the printing press hadn’t been invented yet. On top of that, much if not most of the population was illiterate, so they couldn’t read anyway. Moses was one of probably very few Israelites in his day who could read and write. That’s why “scribe” was a very legitimate occupation, and a fairly honored one, because scribes could read and write, and they were paid to do so. Since people didn’t have physical records of things and events, they used their memories, and by today’s standards were pretty phenomenal at it. Today we would tend to consider “oral history” to be unreliable, but they were very good at it. As technology progresses, older techniques fall by the wayside, as is evident today in the decline in cursive writing. The latest demonstration of that is the young people who fail to see the value in learning facts at all, since anything can be looked up on their phones. All of that makes us fail to grasp any number of statements in the Bible, such as “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11) The writer, though literate, didn’t have a copy of the Torah to carry around with him, much less something that would fit in a pocket, so he had to store God’s Word up in his memory, his heart. Back to this verse in Revelation, the books even of the New Testament were expected to be read aloud. (The Japanese in this verse specifies that, which is what caught my eye.) That’s why James said, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22) Few people had the opportunity to read it for themselves, much less own their own copy. And all of that brings up the point that familiarity breeds contempt; we tend not to value that which is readily available. This particular verse was perhaps written by John, but more likely by a later scribe when it was being copied. In any case, it is very true: the blessing comes from taking it to heart. We miss so much when we read the Bible casually! We need to read it, and hear it, as God speaking to us, and respond accordingly.
I am greatly blessed to be part of a line of people who loved the Word of God. My seminary professor grandfather regularly asked his students how big their Bible was. He wasn’t talking about printed matter, but what was in their heart. I have tended to rebel against rote memorization, and as a result don’t have nearly as much “chapter and verse” information on tap as I would like, but I have absorbed a lot of the content in terms of ideas. I’m very grateful for Bible software that enables me to find chapter and verse for passages that come up in my heart and memory. Another factor for me is that growing up in Japan, with a father who taught Biblical Greek and Hebrew (to Japanese) and was always interested in new translations, I was exposed to the Bible in many different translations. I would learn one verse in one translation and another in another! That may be unconventional, but I am grateful, because it allows me to focus on what is really being said, rather than on specific words. And experience has taught me that memory alone doesn’t do the trick; I’ve got to put the Word into practice. I sometimes think James 1:22, quoted above, was written just for me! I delight to teach the Word, and my goal must always be for it to be implanted in my hearers and readers, for them to “take it to heart” and so receive the full blessing.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that the Bible is so readily available today. Help us not take it for granted, but really absorb it and make it part of us, to put it into practice and see it be fulfilled, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!