It’s time to plan a summer vacation, but I dread the question of “What to do with the dog?” When we camp, he comes, but when we travel far, he stays. And when he stays, I worry that his in-bred habit will be his fatal flaw. Given the opportunity, he’ll bolt. Finding someone to watch Trace is a delicate business.
When his caretaker reads the following directions, they CAN NOT miss the vital meaning.
Our dog runs away. If you leave the door open, then he’ll run out. His breed has the urge to hunt, so they bolt. The front door has to stay closed so he doesn’t escape. So, above all, don’t leave the door open. He’ll slip through and run away!
To be a faithful steward of our house and dog, a house sitter must catch the key words of our message: “run” (bolt/escape) and “door.”
When words are vital, they’re repeated for emphasis. In a Biblical book or passage, key words point to the text’s important meaning. To miss out on the repetition would be to let the most significant message escape. Dependable caretakers notice the “If … then” words in our directions that spell out a potential cause and effect. “So” introduces an application we want to underscore, in light of the facts. Take a look at these examples of how God repeated key words in the text of scripture for our understanding:
- The Gospel of John helps us understand who Jesus is by repeating “I am” throughout the book.
- Revelation 1-3 includes the repeated phrases: “And to the angel of the church in ____ write … I know your …” Repeatedly, John wrote the Lords words: “I know your works…” Each letter to the 7 churches ends with, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” and he specifies promises “To the one who conquers.” These are personal letters, from the heart of an all-knowing God, longing for His followers to be “conquerors” in the face of their challenges.
Look at how the meaning of a passage stands out when we focus our attention on the repeated language, the KEY WORDS. Key words are the keys to understanding.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:7-16)
John 10:1-16 uses key words like sheep, sheepfold, flock, and shepherd to explain how Jesus is the good shepherd. The key words paint a picture of the relationship the shepherd has with the sheep.
It really helps me to “see” the key words in a passage when I highlight them in the same color OR draw a simple symbol over them. The most significant ideas jump off the page at me. When I see “shepherd,” I draw a simple shepherd’s staff. “Sheep” gets a fluffy shape around it. Choose what symbol resonates in your mind to mark a key word. If you’ve been in Precept studies, you’ve done a lot of this, but you can keep it simple and make it work for you. By marking those important, repeated key words, the meaning jumps off the page and into our heart and mind.
The treasures of God’s word are too important to let them slip past us and escape our understanding. Key words are the keys to understanding. Ask God to help you discover the key words, and be a faithful steward of what He’s left in your care.
Practice looking for a key words in John 10:7-16 and uncovering the exciting truths they hold:
- Go back to verse 9 and discover the “If/then” statement.
- There are 4 verbs that “anyone” can do. What is the first verb that produces the other 3? List them.
- Look for every mention of the Shepherd. What is said about the Shepherd?
- Go back and circle the pronouns that refer to the sheep; what do they reveal about the sheep?