light sea dawn landscape indicating a journey awaiting to be begun

Learning to follow in His Word where He leads.

The most amazing thing about the Bible is that it is not just one story, one verse, one moment, but rather a conglomeration of many that are interconnected in some sort or fashion. Much of life runs the same way. As a society, we have rules and regulations that generally apply as a standard that we must and should observe. But do those rules apply all the time with no exceptions? Or are there moments and circumstances, when and where we are afforded more grace, understanding and compassion regarding those seemingly absolutes?

For example, our society does not allow individuals to kill one another. Murder is a crime that happens when someone takes someone else’s life whether purposefully or by mere negligence. In fact, we compensate for those levels of intent, or lack thereof, by defining varying degrees of criminality. And as a society, we have learned that there are moments, albeit rare, when a murder may not have actually occurred despite someone having been killed.

Let us posit that another person is attacked with a deadly weapon or with deadly force. The law recognizes an individual’s right to defend themselves with the same measure of force that is used against them. While the legal system does not take that defense lightly, we do accord the accused the right to prove themselves innocent of that crime, rather than holding them to the unyielding absolute that they have killed someone and are worthy of the maximum punishment.

Why is a discussion of absolutes and grace relevant here?

When looking at God’s Word, it is important to understand not only the generalities, as they are often used as absolutes, but also the greater range of its entirety. Reading the Bible from front to back can be helpful, but there are additional ways to learn its scope. In many Bibles, there are annotations, references, and foot notes to help you explore further the context behind a particular verse.

As you begin to explore those references, you will be taken to other parts of the Bible where something similar may have been quoted, originated from, or expounded upon. Sometimes there may be just one or two references to follow. In an actual study Bible, you will often find a whole list of adjoining or relevant verses that hold the potential to magnify your understanding of the verse you started with. Through that digging, you will begin to see the lay of the land, so to speak. It is also where you will learn that God’s Word, both New Testament and Old Testament, is inexplicably and necessarily intertwined.

While your understanding of right and wrong, God’s grace and His justice, and things that of that nature will grow, you will also discover that there is a greater need to carefully determine when and how those standards are applied as they often need to be coupled with grace, humility, and truth. Exploring His Word, through the useful tools that many Bibles provide, will help you draw less self-serving conclusions, grow in trusting His Word, and be more accurate in applying biblical principles.

“‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice…'”

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread–which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t your read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and are yet innocent?”


Here God is openly inviting us to dig deeper into His Word to find out not only about the specific verse and story we are reading, but also when it is truly applicable in life. Jesus, Himself, implores us to take a closer look and stop being so superficial in reading His Words. He invites–and instructs–us to excavate the origin of the concept He is speaking of here. He knew exactly what the Pharisees were referring to, and He was clear that they lacked true understanding for when and where those principles were meant to be applied. He was leading those willing to consider a deeper, fuller understanding of His Scripture, and He asks no less of us.

Let’s dig deeper to illustrate how to follow His Words further

The key to digging deeper in the Word is willingness. Being willing does not mean that you have to unfold everything right at that moment. You can begin the journey with whatever time you have, and then return to it when able. Again, the key is wanting to return, being willing to continue on until you have explored what you are able. It may take 30 minutes, an hour or a couple of weeks. It all depends upon what you discover and where it leads next.

opened notepad near netbook keyboard and mobile phone on white table

Let us begin!

The big picture

Matthew 12--understanding mercy better

This is a photo of Matthew 12 in the Life Application Study Bible, New International Version. Let’s say you opened your Bible to this page. This is what you would see.

The spacing between Chapter 11 and 12 signals a break. It is often helpful to read before and after the verses you focused on. Doing so will help provide more context, as well as a better understanding for what was occurring in the timeframe nearest to this event.

Coming in a little closer

When reading Scripture it is important to pay attention to anything that catches your notice. It helps to take an initial read, and then read again as you may have not noticed the references and notations.

Begin to think about what makes sense and what does not? Make a mental note of whether you have heard of the other events being referred to, and consider making note of where the stories are located.

noticing the tools provided

Now in this photo, it is a close up of the beginning of Matthew 12. The text contains tools to help you dig deeper. The little alphabetical references that fall within the sentences are connected to the column of references highlighted in yellow. The column is numbered in relation to the actual verses within the Scripture itself. Matthew 12:3 is related to the third sentence in chapter 12.

The alphabetical reference letters will be placed nearest the words they are referring to. You can see that the letter “m”, circled in blue at top of Matthew 12, is mid-sentence near the words “heads of grain”. Most likely the scriptural reference to Deuteronomy 23:25 will relate to grain. Do not make the mistake of dismissing that, because this particular verse actually gave the disciples permission to take the heads of grain to eat. It is, indeed, an important part of understanding what Jesus is trying to teach here.

a list of places to explore

In the center of the page, circled in blue, is literally a list of Scripture that might be relevant in your search for greater understanding. It is helpful to take a second glance at the verses to determine whether to dig deeper into that aspect or put some of them into an ancillary column to return to at a later date. As you begin this process, it might be helpful to pick two-four key references, and if you move through those well, then add more. As time and practice continues, you will progress through those suggestions at a more efficient pace.

In the list of verses shared in the reference column, we see the letter “n”. Looking back at the previous photo, we can see “n” at the end of “Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” This means that most of these scriptural references will be relating to or exemplifying the concept of what is and is not unlawful. What you will find when you explore these verses is that God has a lot to say about people missing the actual meanings and reasons for His Words in their willingness to condemn others with unfair applications of His law. The letter “o” is at the end of verse three and references where the story of David eating the consecrated bread lies: 1 Samuel 21:6.

onto the next page…
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As the words of Jesus continue onto the next page, we can see more useful information arising. There are additional references listed in the center column, but you will also see small letters (“s” and “t”) situated in verse six and verse seven. Notice these are in bold and different from the other alphabetical letters. Seeing them in bold helps to distinguish where they are located for more information.

You will find bolded letters below the scriptural text. They can contain all sorts of information. Sometimes, they will note is there is a disagreement in texts or translation. In this example, we see both “q” and “t” indicate that verse seven is quoted from Hosea 6:6. Often when seeing a reference verse noted twice, it is important to search for that reference Scripture. Here, both of those references point to the origin of the verse Jesus quoted. It should be a definite “must” on the list of verses to explore.

The value of Bible Notes
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In this picture, we are looking at the Bible commentary notes listed below the Scriptural text. Highlighted in yellow are the verses to which these notes refer to. Both notes to verses five and six give us plenty to think on as we contemplate Matthew 12 and how it might apply to our own lives. Looking at both the Scripture and the commentary will allow you to gain insight on how to think about that particular verse.

In the note for verse seven, as highlighted by the red check marks, we are given more Scripture to consider and examine. In the note for verse five, you can expect Exodus 20 to contain the Ten Commandments. In the note for verse seven, it is clear that these verses will relate to developing the proper heart attitude.

food wood people tea

Narrowing down the search

After reading through the Scripture and checking out all of the references, we will have composed a strong list of Scripture to visit. The next thing to consider are the key lessons being taught. In these set of verses, we can start with:

  • Wrong motivations lead to wrongly applying God’s Word
  • The meaning of words are important to understand. What is mercy? Sacrifice? Condemnation? How do they relate to the examples God listed?
  • Condemnation of the innocent seems to come from wrong heart attitudes

Depending upon the length of time that you have, you may be able to go through each verse. However, if you do not have time to consider them all, assess what each verse might relate to. Then prioritize based upon a common theme that arises, or even just a nudge in your heart asking you to consider a reference further. A quick glance at each Scripture will also help you determine which ones to start with and which ones to return to later. Here is what a list might look like:

  • Deuteronomy 23:25
  • Matthew 12:10
  • Luke 13:4; 14:3
  • John 5:10, 9:16
  • 1 Samuel 21:6
  • Numbers 28:9, 10
  • Exodus 20:8-11
  • 1 Samuel 15:22, 23
  • Psalm 40:6-8
  • Isaiah 1:11-17
  • Jeremiah 7:21-23
  • Hosea 6:6
  • Deut. 23:25 (discussion of reasonable food sharing guidelines–God actually laid out when it was okay to take food from a field that was not your own)
  • Matthew 12:10 (doing good to animals on the Sabbath transcends to doing good to humans)
  • Luke 13:4; John 5:10 (being careful about making rules “absolutes”, issuing condemnation, and lacking mercy–wanting to see others as sinners when they may not be truly sinning)
  • 1 Samuel 21:6 (the story of David eating the consecrated bread)
  • Jeremiah 7:21-23; 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Psalm 40:6-8; Is. 1:11-17; Hosea 6:6 (illustrating that there is more to God’s ways than simple rule following exemplified by offerings and sacrifices; our inner heart attitudes are truly what is most important to Him)

Now that you have begun to wander through Scripture, what is next?

As you move through each Scripture, or the ones you have narrowed down, you will want to have somewhere to write down the verses that stick out to you, the commentaries that bring certain realizations to mind, and record what you are learning. Let us now take some time to reflect on how to document our observations.

Session One’s Assignment

  • Read Resolving and Observing
  • Consider Matthew 12:1-8
  • Explore biblical references and make note of what speaks to you
  • Begin taking notes on relevant Scripture before moving onto Session Two, which will be available next week