Have you eaten your Bible today?
The Bible uses many word pictures to describe itself. It is (among other things) God’s law, which tells us what he expects of us; his precepts, which guide us to prosperity; and his counsels, which teach us wisdom. A particularly common metaphor describes the word of God as food. This imagery sheds some important light on how we engage with it.
This topic is too large for a single post. In this one, we’ll look at summarize passages where the Bible calls itself food. Later posts will discuss the “shepherd” vocabulary that describes teachers in assemblies of the saints, how this metaphor explains the meaning of the phrase “sound doctrine,” and the “spiritual physiology” by which spiritual food leads to spiritual growth.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament describe the word of God as food.
Passages in the Old Testament use this metaphor to emphasize two characteristics of the word of God.
First, it is necessary for nourishment, and its absence has consequences as serious as famine:
Amo 8:11 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
Job 23:12 (“I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food”) is probably another instance of the same metaphor, though the word translated “necessary food” can be understood in other ways as well.
Second, it is pleasant to the taste:
Psa 19:7-10 the law of the Lord … the testimony of the Lord … the statutes of the Lord … the commandment of the Lord … the fear of the Lord … the judgments of the Lord … [are] sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Psa 119:103 How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Jer 15:16 Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.
The New Testament develops this word-picture further. It teaches that the Word of God enables the believer to grow:
1Pe 2:2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
Scripture as food comes in different forms, appropriate to different levels of maturity:
1Co 3:1-2 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
This last passage emphasizes the role of the teacher in providing the believer with the right level of food. We see this same responsibility in Hebrews:
Heb 5:11-14 Of whom [Melchizedek, mentioned in Gen 14:18] we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
The Big Idea
This metaphor emphasizes a distinctive purpose of Bible teaching. Secular teaching of a subject emphasizes the communication of content: we learn the elements and types of bonds in chemistry class, vocabulary and grammar in Greek class, and how to integrate a transcendental function in calculus class. Viewed as law, as precept, and as counsel, there is much in the Bible that teachers should seek to communicate and students should seek to remember, but the food metaphor emphasizes that our engagement with the Word of God goes beyond what we remember in our minds. The most important response to a meal is not to be able to remember the menu a year later. It is to be nourished, to grow, to derive strength and maintain health. Whenever we meditate on the word of God, either privately or by interacting with someone else, we are nourished spiritually. It is a source of strength, comfort, and guidance in our immediate situation. This kind of benefit takes place whenever the believer interacts with the word of God under the direction of the Spirit. What is retained is not just a head knowledge of the Scriptures, but the health of the spiritual organism–both the individual, and (when we interact corporately with the Word) the body of Christ. I don’t remember what I ate for supper a year ago today, but if I hadn’t taken that meal (and thousands of others over the past years), I wouldn’t be enjoying good health today.
How is your spiritual diet? Have you eaten your Bible today?