Read in Light of Psalm 25:14
The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
One doesn’t need to read very far in Scripture to discover puzzling things. Angels wave a flaming sword to drive away sinners. An oven and fiery torch float through the air among pieces of dead animals. A man wrestles with an angel through the night, and the man never walks without a limp again. A beloved son is taken from his family for decades. This is just a sampling, and just from Genesis, of the sorts of puzzling things that Bible readers encounter.
Many people are undoubtedly mystified by the Bible, and there are probably all sorts of potential responses to that puzzlement. Ungodly people might decide that they can make of the Bible anything they want, so they concoct their own ideas about what it all means. I remember hearing one person interpret Jacob’s wrestling with the angel as Jacob being a tough fighter, not quitting, and gaining the Lord’s respect! Others might give up in disgust trying to understand the Bible, thinking, It’s impossible. But even godly people might feel a sense of frustration—they want to know God, but it seems he has deliberately made it hard for them to do so.
God doesn’t want you to be confused about him. He gave the Bible to give understanding to his people, not confusion. Light, not darkness. And yet people struggle, and it is hard to rejoice always (Phil 4:4) when you feel that you are having difficulty understanding the person who is supposed to give you joy. In fact, if you cannot understand a person, you will undoubtedly feel unable to relate to that person, perhaps unable to trust; and certainly you will feel like there are roadblocks to progress in your relationship. No one likes walls between loved ones.
What do you do when you feel this way about God’s Word? Your read your Bible and then go, What was that all about? Or, That was weird. Or, How confusing! Try reading Ezekiel, for example, and see how many enigmas you discover. The very first chapter has living wheels with eyes all over them! A little later, Ezekiel eats scrolls and gets a stomachache, and then later God abandons his own temple—apparently for good.
So if God doesn’t want me to be confused, why are there so many head-scratchers in the Bible?
The answer is actually a bit profound and yet simple. God put the enigmas there for you to overcome. As someone once put it, “God doesn’t spill his guts to the casual observer.” The puzzles are in the Bible because people who seek God earnestly will seek and find. They will knock and the door will opened. God put puzzling things in the Bible for the same reason that Jesus spoke in parables: to enlighten his people and harden the wicked.
The process of encountering a puzzle, being mystified, praying about it, ransacking Scripture for more understanding, and then gaining insight by God’s illuminating grace—this process actually ingrains truth. In other words, it doesn’t hinder knowing God; it helps you know God better! The person who fears God, who trusts him and seeks him despite head-scratchers, who even seeks harder because of head-scratchers—that person will find. God will reveal his secrets to them.
In fact Psalm 25:14’s statement, “The friendship of the Lord is with those who fear him,” refers to the intimate counsel of the Lord. It could even be translated “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him.” God reveals his innermost thoughts to the godly. "It is between the closest friends that the most is shared" (James & Joel Beeke, Developing a Healthy Prayer Life, 11). "The man that feareth God shall know more of God's mind than others shall" (David Dickson, Psalms, 133). The enigmatic parts of the Bible are actually invitations to come closer.
What does this mean for our Bible reading? Don’t be discouraged by the puzzling things. Read them as God’s invitation to dig deeper rather than as a put-off. There will be some things you’ll never get to the bottom of, but God does make known many of his secret counsels (Psa. 25:14). There are things in the Word that are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). But God invites us to call to him so that he can reveal to us things we do not presently understand: “Call to me, and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things you do not know” (Jer. 33:3).
Too many people read the Word to get something quick and easy. Thankfully, there are plenty of things like that in Scripture, and God describes himself as carrying lambs—so there is no rebuke to people of weak capacity, or those who are sick, or in a phase of life that makes intense study difficult. Yet there are deep things in Scripture, and God wants his people to seek him and plumb those many deep places. Rather than fainting at the hard work, we should gird up the loins of our minds, preparing them for action (1 Pet. 1:13). We should let the mysterious or difficult parts invite us to work harder and pray harder for understanding.
A lot of people don’t want to work hard at reading their Bibles because more work sounds like no fun. But actually the opposite is the case. When a person depends on the Spirit and works hard at understanding Scripture, it adds depth to our knowledge of the Bible and ultimately of God, who speaks in it. Adding this depth will actually foster greater, deeper, and more lasting joy. It will foster tough joy, joy that endures hard work and even thrives in hardship. It is joy that is grounded in intimate acquaintance with the Lord. To put it most simply, it is joy that really knows God! And it laughs at the days to come (Prov. 31) and smiles at all its foes.
Read your whole Bible with this in mind—God has put enigmas in it to call his children to work harder at knowing him. That way, when they’ve strengthened their spiritual muscles by some intense seeking, their joy can be fuller and stronger.