We’ve had several tips in a row, taking a closer look at Scripture each week. As promised, today we’ll look at just one verse and see how rich just a small portion of God’s word can be. In Isaiah 38:17 it reads, “Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” This verse is part of a prayed offered just after God heals the good king Hezekiah. I chose it as an example because I figured it wasn’t especially familiar.
Now, doing a super-close examination takes some time. Don’t panic thinking you have to give every verse this treatment. Try it on one or two key verses, then next time you have a few hours to study you can walk through a whole chapter this way… Just kidding. Sort of.
The secret to this kind of study is to slow down, and spend some time in one single verse. Try with a memory verse, or the key verse in your next Bible study. Keep your dictionary (or concordance) close by, and ask a bunch of questions. Notice what God is doing and what the human subject is doing. It may be the speaker or it could be someone he’s talking about. Look for hows, whys and so whats. Here’s how I broke down our example verse.
Check the transitions words to get a structure. We have: [this] BUT [this] FOR [this]. So something, then contrast, then a reason. However, in that first little section we get more.
Indeed- that’s a word of agreement or acknowledgment. ‘It was for my own peace’, answers ‘why?’, gives us a reason. What happened? “I had great bitterness.” The Hebrew word gives us grieved and provoked as synonyms, and it’s translated hard times, troubles, anguish in other versions. So in applying that- Have I ever had great bitterness (or hard times, troubles or anguish)? Yes. Did I come through them acknowledging to God that it was for my own benefit, peace, welfare that those things came into my life? Not always.
“…but You lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption…” That bitterness was a pit of corruption. Checking the synonyms again, corruption also means destruction, and a pit can also mean a dungeon. The implication is that Hezekiah recognizes he was powerless to rescue himself from the bitterness that would destroy him. God was more than capable, though. And notice, God does it lovingly, not dutifully, not begrudgingly, but in love. His love for us causes God to act on our behalf. God, in love, delivers our souls from ultimate corruption in salvation, but He also delivers us from life situations in that same love and grace.
“…for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” For is a “why” or “how” word, so let’s see what questions can we answer here. Why does God intervene? He sees us as worthy of rescue. Why? Because He no longer sees our sins. Why? (And this is the good part) He personally cast every last one of them out of His sight. In the past. It’s already done.
So sum it all up- The bitter hard times that Hezekiah went through, that God delivered him from were an object lesson. The experience taught him how God has rescued him from a much greater, eternal bitterness of soul. It also showed him that God didn’t just save him, but that God is involved in the daily trials he faced. That knowledge and assurance was so sweet, it was worth learning it in a difficult way.