“What do the words cranes, dates, leaves, have in common?” asked Hugh.
Mary thought, “He has me puzzled. I can’t see any relationship at all.”
“Hugh,” pondered Tom privately, “Have you lost a French fry out of your Happy Meal? What kind of question is that? What do these random words have to do with our lesson related to Mark 1: 1-3?”
“Hmmm,” Sarah meditated on Hugh’s question. “Hugh, my train isn’t’ going down the same track as yours.”
Jim’s megaphone level voice reverberated throughout the room, “Hugh, we don’t know! Help us out, please! You are making my head hurt with this kind of thinking!”
The Sunday School class laughed, and everyone shook their head in agreement.
“Ok, I will tell you. These are Homonyms. Without proper context, these sayings can mean more than one thing. How can crane be understood? It can refer to a bird, or a construction machine, or even someone stretching her neck to see something better.”
Harriet interrupted, “And date can be a fruit, or when a boy takes a girl out, or when you were born.”
“I understand, Jim, bellowed out, “Leaves can be what kids love to play in during the fall, and I hate to rake up or referring when we exit our class in a few minutes.”
“Exactly,” Hugh said, shaking his head in the positive. “Today, we are going to focus on the background of Mark 1: 1-3. To grasp its meaning, we need to remember some of the historical contexts for these verses.
“Can someone remind us of what the common man on the streets of Jerusalem or Caesarea Maritima or Capernaum experienced most days?”
“Arnold, what do you think?”
“Hugh, it seems to me that the common Israelite in the first century were a lot like us. They went day by day, struggling to survive. John 7:49 refers to the leaders describing the common people ‘But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” (NKJV) Yet, I think most of them embraced the Jewish faith as much as they knew how. I am sure others sat on the fringe of the Jewish religion, had received a physical circumcision, but their hearts remained far from God.”
“Hugh, as I read the gospels and other letters of the New Testament, many of the people attended the synagogues and journeyed to the temple in Jerusalem on specific holidays and festival days. I think most paid the temple tax. Life must have been hard and their faith helped them survive,” said Maria.
Merle, can you help us out?” asked Hugh.
“I know that Romans were in political control. Roman soldiers patrolled Israel from the north in Galilee to the south in Judea. They could be found on the Mediterranean Coast in the west to the Jordan River Valley in the east. I am sure the people feared the Romans and their brutality. I heard that the Roman soldiers often waked into a garden, picked the fruit off trees, and eat it without paying for it. Roman soldiers were known to seize livestock without payment. The average Jewish citizen stood defenseless.”
“Hugh, can I add to that?” asked Tom. “I know that there was a high sense of Jewish nationalism, especially in Galilee because the Jewish revolt of A.D. 60-66 broke out in that region first. Some of the Jews longed for political and religious freedom. We know false messiahs, charismatic leaders, and men who wanted to take advantage of the situation constantly appeared, clamoring for a following. ”
Timothy added, “And the Pharisees controlled the day-to-day religion of the Jews with their petty law-keeping – even tithing the small leaves from the mint plants they used that day. As much as we put the Pharisees down for their ‘legalism,’ it seems the average Jew of the day respected most of the Pharisees. I think we put down those who attempt to live by a strict keeping of the Law rather than admiring their desire to please God as they understood how. How many might have held esteem for Pharisees like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea?”
“The Sadducees and the High Priest ran the temple. The High Priest collected a fortune from the coin changers and sale of “holy” sheep for sacrifices,” piped Harrison.”The Jews did not embrace these folks as a general rule. The Jews understood these leaders to be in business with the Romans.”
“Does anyone else have anything to add? You mentioned the average Jews embracing their religion, the Roman occupation, the Pharisees and Sadducees and how the Jews felt about those groups. Since no one spoke up, I want to add one thing to our conversation before we close our session for this morning,” stated Hugh.
“I read Zechariah’s speech this week in Luke 1: 73-75. I want to quote it here,
‘ The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.’
“We mentioned both the religious affirmations of the Jewish people and the political suppression they were experiencing. Zechariah’s speech reflected the Jewish blending of religious and political freedom. Many willingly laid down their lives as one false messiah claimed to be their redeemer.”
“Their political expectations alongside their religious fervor kept the average Jew’s hope alive. Of course, like Americans, our hopes fluctuate depending on where we live, how we manage to survive, and who influences us.”
“One writer describes this period, ‘The average first-century Jews in the land of Israel had zeal without full knowledge, hope without understanding, religious practice without clear theology.”
“New revelation from God had not appeared since Malachi of the Old Testament. These Jewish people longed to hear from God. They prayed for political and religious freedom. They prayed and hoped for their Messiah to arrive. We are ready to move into Mark 1:1-3 next week. How does Mark’s gospel connect to the Jewish nationalistic hope for a Messiah?”
A warm smile flashed across Hugh’s face as he entered the Sunday School classroom. Hands around the room were clapping with a joyful beat like that of a victorious college football or basketball team arriving at home. Cheers filled the room.
Until this moment, Hugh hadn’t realized his absence over the last couple of months had impacted the lives of these people in the room. His mother’s sudden illness and the Christmas holidays interrupted his plans to teach the class how to study God’s Word.
“Thank you, so much! I am humbled by your applause. Thank you for the emails, the cards, the text messages, and prayers. Each act of love meant so much to us. Mom is recovering from her illness. I pray your Christmas and New Years brought joy and peace to you and your families.”
“Now, let’s return to where we left off. We are learning to use a Chapter annotation or outline as we begin to study a text. This will allow us to get a clearer literary context for our focal passage.”
“Someone tell me, where is the proper place to begin our Bible study?”
“Correct, Lynn. Step one is Prayer. We always acknowledge our need for the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds to God’s revealed truth. Let us pray.”
The second step leads us to read the chapter at least 5 times. We might want to read it in 2-3 or more translations as well. Why might we do this?
“Indeed, Harry. We are able to see how different words might be understood in our passage. We can see a range of meanings. We might begin to make notes as we read of items that jump out at us as we read.”
“Our third step is to create a catchy title. Be as descriptive and memorable as possible. One to three words is best. For example, 1 Corinthians 13 might be called, ‘The Love Chapter.’ or 1 Corinthians 15, ‘The Resurrection Chapter.'”
“One writer offers the title for John 4 which tells about Jesus and the woman at the well and the nobleman’s son who was healed, “Well-Well!” What might we title Mark 1? What are your suggestions?”
“My title for Mark 1 is, ‘Jesus, the Noise-Maker!” What do you think?”
Our fourth step is where we gain the title for our exercise. We need to summarize or annotate the contents of the chapter. Our Chapter is Mark 1. You might find it helpful to use an outline format, or a list format of the major points/ parts of the chapter or even a bullet list. “
“Remember: You are not seeking to interpret anything yet. Your goal is to record what Mark tells us. Just the facts here. Your outline might look like this:”
“Mark 1: 1-8 – John the Baptist heralds the coming Messiah before Jesus arrives on the scene. “
“Mark 1:9-13 – John the Baptist baptizes Jesus and God, the Father, affirms Jesus’ identity as the Holy Spirit first appears.”
“Mark 1: 14-20 – Jesus raises his voice to call his first disciples to follow Him by faith.”
“Mark 1: 21-34 – Jesus teaches and does miracles. “
“Mark 1: 35-39 – Jesus sets the example and shares His mission with His disciples.”
“Mark 1: 40-45 – Jesus shows who He is with the dominion that He has as the stage is set for the rest of His ministry.”
“Step 5 causes us to read through Mark 1 again. Who are the chief people involved in the chapter? You might list them along with what is said about them or what they might do. What is significant about each of them? Look for pronouns (he, she, they, it, we). Ask yourself, to whom is each pronoun referring? Why are some more important and others so not important in the chapter?”
“Step 6 proves to be one of my favorite steps. You read through the chapter and select the one or two verses that best summarize the contents of the chapter. Did the author state his purpose for writing? What single verse or two verses could you build application from?”
“Step 7 leads us to read through the chapter again. This time watch for comments that tells us about God, the Father, Jesus, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. What do we learn about their attributes? Is Jesus seen as powerful, holy? Does the Holy Spirit do anything?”
“Ask yourself, what do I learn about christology? pneumatology? soteriology? ecclesiology? angelology? anthropology? eschatology? or the Christian life?”
“Step 8 – The central lesson and application. This is where you write down what you learned from the previous steps. What insights have you gained from this survey of the chapter?”
“First of all – is personal application – Ask yourself, ‘what major principles or truths do I see that God wants to teach me from this chapter? What is the writer trying to communicate? What changes do I need to make myself? Conclude with these 2 questions, “How do these truths apply to me personally?” and “What specifically am I going to do about these truths?”
“The second area of application is corporate – Ask yourself, how should I understand this chapter’s truths in light of my Sunday School class? my church? my small group? my family? my circle of friends?” What do we need to do as a group?”
BE SPECIFIC with each application statement.
“Our homework for next week is to review steps 5, 6, 7 and 8. Then read through Mark 1. Complete each of the steps 5, 6, 7, and 8. We will discuss these together to see what we each came up with and compare them. We might even vote on which one we feel best answers each step.”
“Study to prove yourself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.”
Tweetable comments. You might consider tweeting these statements:
While teaching at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College from 1990 to 2018, I invited many students to join me in walking across the beautiful campus located in the Appalachian Mountains in south-eastern Kentucky. Only a few brave souls dared take me up on this walk – up the hills and across the level areas. The trek stretched to about 3 miles.
Many students provided excuse after excuse as to why he or she couldn’t walk. “I don’t have time!” “I am so fatigued.” “It’s freezing outside!” “The heat is scorching!” or “Walking makes my body hurt!”
Might it surprise you that walking is mentioned 203 times in the King James Bible and 210 times in the New American Standard Bible. Every reference mentioning “walking” does not refer to a literal walk. Some refer to walking in the law (Ex 16:4).
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the prophet Micah mentioned walking, “Though all peoples walk each in the name of his god, yet we walk in the name of our LORD our God forever and ever,” (Micah 4:5).
When it comes to reading the Bible, many Christians become creative with excuse making. “I don’t have time.” “I am so busy.” “I have work, family, and church as well as civic clubs and little league.” I’m sure no Christian would say, “I don’t need to read the Bible.”
Why should a Christian desire to walk through the Word in 2020? Why should you entertain the idea of walking through the Bible in 2020? Let me offer several reasons. Perhaps you can offer more?
First, We need to walk through the Bible because it is God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16). It is God’s method of communicating with his children. The Bible is God’s method to feed us, to instruct us, to share His love towards us. The Bible is God’s offering so we can know His will for our lives. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4).
Second, we need to walk through the Bible because its contents are always true and reliable. Hundreds of prophecies beg to be examined and proven fulfilled. Historical records demonstrate the veracity of many of the words of the Bible – the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem and the death of Christ on the cross are only two of such prophecies.
Third, since nothing is new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), God’s holiness and man’s fallenness do not change with the passage of time. Man craves deep relationships which only God can provide. If you desire to find peace and wholeness, then you must seek to know God, which is made possible by reading the Word. The Bible shines its holy light on our sin and illumines God’s only method for riding us of our sin problem – Jesus Christ.
Fourth, the abundance of false teaching provides another reason why the Christian needs to read the Bible. False teaching leads to false living and wrong worship. The Bible encourages us to meditate on its words day and night (Psalm 1). The Bible is light for our walk and can make us wise (Psalm 32:8). The Bible reminds us of God’s love for us (John 3:16). We read the Bible so we can apply it. The Bible reflects our fallen image so we can repent and strive to live holy lives.
Fifth, many of us have heard about the Bible all our lives from our parents, grandparents, friends, and others. But 2020 is the year to read it for yourself.
Another reason to read the Bible is it is the best seller. The Spanish novel Don Quixote has been published since the 1600s. Estimate says that it has sold more the 500 million. C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is estimated to have sold 85 million copies.
“I am so glad to be home!” exclaimed Hugh. He tugged at the green sweater he wore, struggling to remove it before he began to teach his Sunday School class.
have you been, Hugh?” asked Thomas. “Johnny did a fine job teaching our class
the last couple of Sundays, but we
missed you being with us.”
experienced an adventure of a lifetime the last three weeks, Johnny. I visited
Israel for twelve days and then flew to Greece for a five-day tour.”
sounds exciting,” replied David,
plane landed in Athens without any problem. The driver who was to pick me up,
was waiting as my tour company promised. My fears were greatly relieved.”
did you stay?” posed Maryanne.
stayed in Athens at a hotel with the Greek name, ‘Rooster.’ It had a beautifully
etched rooster on the glass in the front of the hotel. My hotel was near the
Syntagma Square where various groups demonstrate. Twice, I had to exit my bus
two or three blocks from my hotel after
being on tour all day because of demonstrations. Once the communist party
demonstrated against a longer work week.”
sounds like an interesting week, for sure,” piped in Sally.
that wasn’t the real adventure. My tour bus and guide arrived on time in front
of the hotel on the first afternoon I arrived in Greece. We headed to Cape Sunion to tour the Temple
of Poseidon. We passed beautiful scenes of the Greek coastline, viewed the
Saronic Gulf and some of its islands, along with scanning a few steep cliffs
and crystal blue water.”
was the Temple of Poseidon like?” asked Maryanne.
“I don’t want to waste too much time on this, but it had a single row of columns around the edge of the temple. It had six columns at the end and thirteen along the side for a total of 34 columns. I counted sixteen columns standing. Four northern columns were reconstructed in the 1950’s said our guide. The columns were of Doric order. Each column stood about 20 feet tall and about 3 feet in diameter. What is unusual are the 16 flutes around the columns rather than the usual 20 flutes. The major building material was marble. Scholars claim the marble came from a nearby area, Agrileza.”
know how you like history and archeology. That must have been exciting for you
to see,” exclaimed Thomas.
was, but that was not my big adventure. As I viewed the remains of this ancient
temple, and walked around the grounds, I remembered the tour guide instructingl
us to meet at the bus at 5:15 pm to head back to Athens. So, about 5:00 pm, I
began my walk to the bus parking lot.
And when I arrived, guess what?”
chimed in Thomas.
had already left. I was left behind.”
did you do?” asked Sally.
to myself, ‘Big boy, this is not the time to begin to cry. You must be adult
about this. So, I walked over to 2 Greek bus drivers, praying they spoke
“Do either of you speak English?”
looked at each other, said something in Greek. I am sure one of them said, “We
have another American who can’t tell time. Then, one of them answered in
perfect English, “Yes, we do. Did you miss your bus?”
did, it appears.”
The bus drivers laughed again. The second bus driver said, “This happens all the time. We take care of all the passengers. Do you see that big, purple bus across the parking lot? Get on it when the others start loading. Just tell me the name of your hotel and we will drop you off.”
that is amazing! Left behind at the Temple of Poseidon. You ought to write a
book and make a movie about that!” laughed Sherry.
laughed and said, “Might do it. Let’s get started with our lesson for today.”
I want us to start learning how to do what I call chapter annotations. I will
begin to lay out some general rules for these chapter annotations and will eventually
provide you with a sample annotation.”
“Of course, when we begin any Bible study, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit. We desire to learn and apply God’s Word. Psalms 119:18 sums our desire best, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things our of your law.” Bible study ought to be a wondrous adventure as we get to know our Savior and His ways better.
119:22 reminds us to hide God’s Word in our heart so we won’t sin against
God. Verse 28 of the same Psalm exhorts
us to gain spiritual strength from God’s Word. Added to those from Psalm 119
comes verse 50 that teaches us the Bible contains promises for us to trust
while verse 60 exhorts us to be quick to obey God’s commands.”
sin corrupts our minds. We possess human, carnal, and fallen minds. The Bible
is God-breathed (inspired – 2 Tim 3:16-17). We carry the baggage of preunderstandings
and presuppositions which need to be checked by the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 2:14 teaches without the Holy Spirit, men do not accept the truths from God but considers them foolishness. The SPIRITUAL truths of Scripture can only be understood by the aid of the Holy Spirit.
Once we have prayed for guidance from the Holy Spirit, we need to read the biblical passage several times. I prefer to read the passage at least 5 time and maybe more, if it is a difficult pasage: twice from my favorite translation and one time from three different translations. I don’t look for anything specific. I merely read to get the content of the chapter into my mind. You might want to listen to a recording of the chapter for more details.
have read the chapter several times, I seek to summarize the chapter into one
short, succinct caption. I attempt to limit it to seven words or fewer if
possible. The shorter, the easier to remember. I also want the title to be catchy or
So, let’s stop and practice what we have discussed. I know we haven’t covered much material, but these are important steps. Let’s read through Mark chapter 1 five times. What titles would you give to Mark 1? Share those in the response box, please. Then we can discuss them. Titles I might use: “Great Beginnings!” “Strong Starts!” “”Introductions Please!”
Consider Completing the following statement:
My title for Mark 1 might be:
Ask yourself, “Does it cover the content of Mark chapter 1?”
Hugh: “A carefully selected card with the right wording serves as an improvement over modern attempts – emails, memes, text messages – to communicate one’s love for another. To me, writing your own feelings and thoughts for another reaches its peak with a handwritten letter. “
“I recently ran across a love letter by the formidable Napoleon Bonaparte to his Josephine Bonaparte. This general known for military genius and the large empire he gathered after the French Revolution, wrote to the woman who held his heart. Below is a sample expression of his love for his Josephine:
A few days ago I thought I loved you; but since I last saw you I feel I love you a thousand times more. All the time I have known you, I adore you more each day; that just shows how wrong was La Bruyere’s maxim that love comes all at once. Everything in nature has its own life and different stages of growth. I beg you, let me see some of your faults: be less beautiful, less graceful, less kind, less good…”
“If we are going to properly interpret God’s love letter to man, His Word, we need to embrace work – hard work. I imagine Josephine may have kept Napoleon’s letter’s close and read them over and over as she thought about him while at war. Every word proved precious.”
“The Bible, God’s Word, to us, ought to be just as treasured as Josephine did Napoleon’s words. Every word ought to seize our attention. Most of us read the Bible too fast. We think we are in a speed reading class and want to be able to say, “I finished my scripture reading for today! Give me a gold star!”
“Now class, the key to deep Bible study is to be observant. We need to see what the details God has placed in His Word. Our goal is to observe everything we can see. We ask questions and keep asking questions like professor Agassiz required his student to do. Refer to the previous blog. Keep looking and looking until you see the whole passage in all its marvelous beauty.”
“Observation is taking a good hard look at what is in the text.” He continues, “Learn to read intelligently, intentionally, and interactively. Observation requires concentration. It is not a difficult procedure. It is not a complicated process. It can be mastered with practice and diligence.”
“Akins suggests, “Learn to read as for the first time (the advantage of reading the text in the original language). Learn to read as a love letter (personal).” Finally, Akins offers six questions to ask when we read the Bible:”
“WHO? – is the author of the book? To whom is the book written? Who are the characters in the book? Who is speaking? To whom is he speaking?”
“WHAT? – What is the atmosphere of the book or passage? Friendly? Chastening? Loving? What is the author’s general topic? What is he saying about the topic? What is the CONTEXT? What are the key words? What do they mean? What? What? What?”
“WHEN? When was the book written? When did this even happen in relation to other events? When was this prophecy fulfilled or has it been? “When” questions are important to ask especially in narrative literature such as the Gospels. This will help give you the ‘time’ perspective.”
“WHERE? Where was the book written? Where were the recipients of the book living? Can you locate the places mentioned on a map? Where else does this topic appear in Scripture?”
“WHY? Why was the book written? Why does he include this material and not other things? Why does the author give so much space to that topic and so little to another?”
“HOW? How many? How many times does the author use the same word in this book, chapter, passage, verse? How long? How much? How does he do this? Say this? How does this relate to the preceding statement? To the succeeding statement?”
Since we are running out of time, I have made a couple of videos to help us with out study of Mark’s Gospel. I will introduce you to the concept of observing the text. Let me encourage you to go from what I briefly offer and see how many more observations you can make from Mark 1: 1-3.
The first video walks you through several categories to help you mark Sentences and Paragraphs. These come from J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd edition. The second video models how to mark and record your observations. May you find them helpful as we begin our study of Mark’s Gospel.
How have you made such observations from the Bible text? What method did you use?
Do you have any suggestions for myself and others who want to read the text carefully?
Sam was born April 13, 1837 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Charles, and his mother, Sarah, raised Charles in a strict Christian home. Sam attended the Boston Latin School.
At the ripe age of sixteen years, Sam matriculated in William College (1853). Two of his professors were naturalist Paul Chadbourne and geologist Ebenezer Emmons. These men guided young Sam to develop an interest in natural history. His favorite area of study was entomology.
Upon reaching nineteen years of age, Sam dedicated himself to a lifetime career of studying insects. Finally in 1847 Sam graduated from Williams at the head of his class.
Sam enrolled in the Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School in order to study under Louis Agassiz. Sam knew that Professor Agassiz was the most influential scientist in American at the time.
Sam studied under Professor Agassiz for four years and graduated with a B.S. degree in 1862. He worked for his favorite professor for another two years. Sadly, Sam fell under the influence of a new theory of its day, Darwinism.
Now, you might say, Hugh why are you taking class time to tell us about Sam? I wanted you to meet Sam Scudder. Sam Scudder wrote 180 papers during his lifetime – – on grasshoppers.
In 1862 his first paper identified 105 species of grasshoppers. By the end of his career, he had described 106 genera and 630 species of grasshoppers. Again you ask, “So what, Hugh?”
It fascinates me that a man could see that many differences in grasshoppers. After all, a grasshopper by any other name is still a grasshopper! Right? Where did Sam Scudder gain his skills to see so many differences?
Let me share another story that some think Sam H. Scudder wrote and then I will make application with it as we prepare to begin to study Mark’s Gospel in detail next week.
“This is how Sam’ story begins, “It was more than fifteen years ago that I entered the laboratory of Professor Agassiz, and told him I had enrolled my name in the scientific school as a student of natural history.
He asked me a few questions about my object in coming, my antecedents generally, the mode in which I afterwards proposed to use the knowledge I might acquire, and finally, whether I wished to study any special branch. To the latter I replied that while I wished to be well grounded in all departments of zoology, I purposed to devote myself specially to insects.
“When do you wish to begin?” he asked. “Now,” I replied.
This seemed to please him, and with an energetic “Very well,” he reached from a shelf a huge jar of specimens in yellow alcohol. “Take this fish,” he said, “and look at it; we call it a Haemulon; by and by I will ask what you have seen.”
With that he left me, but in a moment returned with explicit instructions as to the care of the object entrusted to me. “No man is fit to be a naturalist,” said he, “who does not know how to take care of specimens.”
I was to keep the fish before me in a tin tray, and occasionally moisten the surface with alcohol from the jar, always taking care to replace the stopper tightly. Those were not the days of ground glass stoppers, and elegantly shaped exhibition jars; all the old students will recall the huge, neckless glass bottles with their leaky, wax-besmeared corks, half-eaten by insects and begrimed with cellar dust. Entomology was a cleaner science than ichthyology, but the example of the professor who had unhesitatingly plunged to the bottom of the jar to produce the fish was infectious; and though this alcohol had “a very ancient and fish-like smell,”
I really dared not show any aversion within these sacred precincts, and treated the alcohol as though it were pure water. Still I was conscious of a passing feeling of disappointment, for gazing at a fish did not commend itself to an ardent entomologist. My friends at home, too, were annoyed, when they discovered that no amount of eau de cologne would drown the perfume which haunted me like a shadow.
In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen in that fish, and started in search of the professor, who had, however, left the museum; and when I returned, after lingering over some of the odd animals stored in the upper apartment, my specimen was dry all over. I dashed the fluid over the fish as if to resuscitate it from a fainting-fit, and looked with anxiety for a return of a normal, sloppy appearance.
This little excitement over, nothing was to be done but return to a steadfast gaze at my mute companion. Half an hour passed, an hour, another hour; the fish began to look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face — ghastly; from behind, beneath, above, sideways, at a three-quarters view — just as ghastly. I was in despair; at an early hour, I concluded that lunch was necessary; so with infinite relief, the fish was carefully replaced in the jar, and for an hour I was free.
On my return, I learned that Professor Agassiz had been at the museum, but had gone and would not return for several hours. My fellow students were too busy to be disturbed by continued conversation. Slowly I drew forth that hideous fish, and with a feeling of desperation again looked at it. I might not use a magnifying glass; instruments of all kinds were interdicted. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish; it seemed a most limited field.
I pushed my fingers down its throat to see how sharp its teeth were. I began to count the scales in the different rows until I was convinced that that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me — I would draw the fish; and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature. Just then the professor returned.
“Well, what is it like?” He listened attentively to my brief rehearsal of the structure of parts whose names were still unknown to me; the fringed gill-arches and movable operculum; the pores of the head, fleshly lips, and lidless eyes; the lateral line, the spinous fin, and forked tail; the compressed and arched body. When I had finished, he waited as if expecting more, and then, with an air of disappointment:
“You have not looked very carefully; why,” he continued, more earnestly, “you haven’t seen one of the most conspicuous features of the animal, which is as plainly before your eyes as the fish itself. Look again; look again!” And he left me to my misery.
I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish? But now I set myself to the task with a will, and discovered one new thing after another, until I saw how just the professor’s criticism had been. The afternoon passed quickly, and when, towards its close, the professor inquired,
“Do you see it, yet?
“No,” I replied. “I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before.”
“That is next best,” said he earnestly, “but I won’t hear you now; put away your fish and go home; perhaps you will be ready with a better answer in the morning. I will examine you before you look at the fish.”
This was disconcerting; not only must I think of my fish all night, studying, without the object before me, what this unknown but most visible feature might be, but also, without reviewing my new discoveries, I must give an exact account of them the next day. I had a bad memory; so I walked home by Charles River in a distracted state, with my two perplexities.
The cordial greeting from the professor the next morning was reassuring; here was a man who seemed to be quite as anxious as I that I should see for myself what he saw.
“Do you perhaps mean,” I asked, “that the fish has symmetrical sides with paired organs?”
His thoroughly pleased, “Of course, of course!” repaid the wakeful hours of the previous night. After he had discoursed most happily and enthusiastically — as he always did — upon the importance of this point, I ventured to ask what I should do next.
“Oh, look at your fish!” he said, and left me again to my own devices. In a little more than an hour he returned and heard my new catalogue.
“That is good, that is good!” he repeated, “but that is not all; go on.” And so for three long days, he placed that fish before my eyes, forbidding me to look at anything else, or to use any artificial aid. “Look, look, look,” was his repeated injunction.
This was the best entomological lesson I ever had — a lesson whose influence was extended to the details of every subsequent study; a legacy the professor has left to me, as he left it to many others, of inestimable value, which we could not buy, with which we cannot part.
A year afterwards, some of us were amusing ourselves with chalking outlandish beasts upon the blackboard. We drew prancing star-fishes; frogs in mortal combat; hydro-headed worms; stately craw-fishes, standing on their tails, bearing aloft umbrellas; and grotesque fishes, with gaping mouths and staring eyes. The professor came in shortly after, and was as much amused as any at our experiments. He looked at the fishes.
“Haemulons, every one of them,” he said; “Mr. ____________ drew them.”
True; and to this day, if I attempt a fish, I can draw nothing but Haemulons.
The fourth day a second fish of the same group was placed beside the first, and I was bidden to point out the resemblances and differences between the two; another and another followed, until the entire family lay before me, and a whole legion of jars covered the table and surrounding shelves; the odor had become a pleasant perfume; and even now, the sight of an old six-inch worm-eaten cork brings fragrant memories!
The whole group of Haemulons was thus brought into review; and whether engaged upon the dissection of the internal organs, preparation and examination of the bony framework, or the description of the various parts, Agassiz’s training in the method of observing facts in their orderly arrangement, was ever accompanied by the urgent exhortation not to be content with them.
At the end of eight months, it was almost with reluctance that I left these friends and turned to insects; but what I gained by this outside experience has been of greater value than years of later investigation in my favorite groups.”
— from American Poems (3rd ed.; Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1879): pp. 450-54.
“Class, what is the point of Sam Scudder’s story, “The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz? David, what do you think?”
“Hugh, I think we rarely look at God’s Word with much depth and detail until we are like the student. We think we have seen all there is to see and so we quit. Hugh, we need a professor to teach us to look and see what God has written. May we be as dedicated to read, study, examine closely God’s Word as much as Sam Scudder was this fish.”
“David, you are correct. We will soon be taking a passage from Mark’s Gospel and examine it in detail. Why would we let scientists show us up in such detailed observations? See you next week!”
This is Dr. Lucas, If you are following this blog, please read Mark 1: 1-8 several times this next week. We will begin to examine these verses in detail. Read it 2-4 times per day each week. Make a few notes of what you see each day that you failed to see the day(s) before your current reading.
Dr. Lucas is an author, retired pastor and retired Professor of Bible from Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Kentucky. Dr. Roy Lucas lives in the Appalachian Mountains in Harlan, Kentucky with his wife, Veda, also a writer.
He has articles in LifeWay’s Biblical Illustrator, Deacon Magazine, Senior Adult Bible Studies for Life, Lighthouse Bible Studies Refresh Magazine, CBN devotion, and the Revised Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (2015). “Why are You Afraid?” appears in Food for Your Soul, Compilation 1 published by Lighthouse Bible Studies (June 2019). His weekly blog is Truth-Travelers.com.
He preaches, teaches, and serves as interim pastor. His doctorate is in New Testament studies. He excavated in the Tel Gezer Project and served with the Tel Gezer Survey Project. He leads tours to Israel.
He and Dr. John Ditty, Old Testament Professor of Bible at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Kentucky are leading a tour to Israel in March 2020. If you are interested, contact Dr. Lucas at his email address.