I started my study of Jeremiah with a combination of two methods I described in earlier posts: The ESV Study Bible Notebook Study and taking notes in my Cambridge ESV Wide Margin. The combination of the two creates a slow reading process during which I make notes according to my own reading of the text and the words that strike my heart, while consulting the study Bible notes for passages that I struggle to understand or for contextual information on timelines, kings etc. The process keeps me from charging ahead and reading too quickly and combines inductive study with thorough, but not overwhelming, study aids.
The ESV Study Bible's introduction to Jeremiah is lengthy and it should be. Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible and perhaps the most textually difficult and complex. The uniqueness of the book cannot be overstated.
Adding study aids to your Bible reading can have both positive and negative attributes. The addition of an outside source of information can add a crutch which, when overwhelmed by the potential vastness and complexity of the Bible, can block personal interaction with the words. With the abundance of Bible teaching in modern culture it would be easy to let others interpret the Bible for us, but God desires that we hide the word in our own hearts and maintain a relationship with His word that stems from our relationship with Him and our desire to know Him. At its best, study aids can provide information that leads to revelation. Knowledge can be an integral part of gaining wisdom as facts become networked and interpreted into truth. The Holy Spirit can inspire us, lead us and guide us into new understanding of the word with and without study aids, but our desire to understand the scripture should create a desire to use all sources available to understand God's word. I believe that the information readily available in this generation is part of God's progressive revelation of His word and can become part of our personal revelation. They should not replace our Bible study or overwhelm our personal pursuit of understanding, but should supplement our knowledge in the hope that the Holy Spirit will rework that knowledge into wisdom regarding the word and work of God the Father.
Jeremiah 23:33 is one small example of information instigating revelation. The false prophets of Jeremiah's time ask for an oracle from Jeremiah or a divine utterance from God for guidance. God's answer to Jeremiah is that the false prophets are the "burden" that God will cast off and punish. The study notes reveal that the word "burden" and "oracle" are actually the same Hebrew word that changes according to context. So when the prophets ask Jeremiah, "What is the burden of the Lord?" they are asking for a prophetic word from God. At the same time when we ask for God's direction or a prophetic word in any context, we are asking to know the burden of God's heart. This reveals an intimate connection between the heart of God and the word of God. God's heart is connected to His word in a powerful way. His word contains his heart, and as we seek his heart for the lost and the dying, for the brokenness of our own lives and simply to know Him more, we seek a prophetic word, a divine utterance. There is no oracle without burden. There is no burden without oracle. When we find God's heart, His word follows. When we interact with His word, we begin to discern His heart. As He shares his heart with us, He sends His word to us in a very real way that enables us to feel the anguish of Christ for those around us while receiving faith to minister in the passion of God's desires.
We should be careful in how we use study aids. They aren't a primary way of learning. They're tools that we spread on the table before God, asking Him to illuminate His word to us through all avenues of understanding. A simple fact about a Hebrew word can reveal the process of Jeremiah's prophetic walk as he shared in God's heart while receiving and speaking God's word. He prophesied oracles from the burden of God. He prophesied burdens from the oracle of God. He found God's heart and spoke from it.