On many occasions, I have remarked that the Bible’s first readers would not have seen the chapter and verse divisions that we see in our Bibles today. The first manuscripts were scrolls with continuous lines that make the text, thoughts, and ideas run together. The scribes who copied these scrolls and those who read them had to be experts in the word to locate the areas of the manuscript they wanted to read and expound.
When Jesus stood in the synagogue to read from the scroll of Isaiah, the prophecy He read was well-known and neither had He trouble finding it nor were those who heard unfamiliar. Today, if you see a scroll of Isaiah such as the one in the Dead Sea Scrolls Museum in Israel, you would be amazed at how capable these people needed to be to find anything.
I point this out because when we read Isaiah 53 and then go into 54, the chapter break makes us think the thoughts are not continuous. In the end of the 53rd chapter, the death of Christ is the subject, and then immediately chapter 54 begins with singing. The singing is oddly connected with Christ’s death. Why? Because the death of Christ was not His end. The ministry of Christ did not end for His death would bring forth the salvation of many more than He saw come to Him during His life.
When Christ was crucified, there were few in Israel that believed. Many miracles were done but when Acts 2 begins after the ascension, there were only 120 disciples gathered on the Day of Pentecost. Proof of the resurrection was attested by more than 500 people, but the 120 gathered might indicate that most who saw Christ after His death were scattered with fear the whole experience would yield very little. How wrong they were! The Holy Spirit descended, and Peter preached. Three thousand souls came to Christ in one day. More were added to the church in the following weeks than were added during the three years of Christ’s ministry. Soon, the Jerusalem church was bursting at the seams as thousands more heard the gospel and believed.
Do you see the connection to the work of Christ on the cross? He was wounded for our transgressions. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. He was numbered with transgressors and then He died. What did it yield? His death is cause for rejoicing, for out of His death we read in chapter 54, “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine inhabitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes…” The salvation of millions is the result of the death of the cross. Tent stakes must be pulled up. The fabric must be enlarged; the cords of the tie downs must be lengthened to accommodate the burgeoning numbers of the redeemed under the canopy of God’s tent.
As you read the Bible, keep it together. The divisions may throw you at times and you won’t catch the continuity intended by the old manuscripts read by the ancients. We need the divisions to find what we want because we are not the Bible students they were. From preacher to the pew, we know less than we should.
Can we do better? Yes. Personal study and presence at the sermons and Bible studies is needed. The word of God comes alive, if only you know how to read it!
Pastor V. Mark Smith