The key to understanding the Bible is observe, observe, observe! The more you see what the text says, the easier it will be to understand.
In the passage you’re studying, ask the 5 W’s and an H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) so you can discover everything God wants you to know about it. Mark key words or phrases.
Once you finish your observations, review them. Then investigate things you don’t understand—search for their meanings. For instance, if you want to learn more about fasting or sackcloth, go to your study tools and see what you learn from the definition of the words and their uses in other places in the Bible. When you finish exploring what you can observe from the Word, go to outside helps such as Bible dictionaries and commentaries.
I can’t highlight this enough: Always thoroughly search the Word first and then consider the (hopefully scholarly) opinions of men. If you follow this pattern, you’ll be able to differentiate good from bad opinions. Your personal inductive study of the Bible is your plumb line for checking everything.
One of the most useful tools in Bible study is a concordance. A concordance alphabetically lists every word used in the Bible (from the English translation) along with all the places where that word is found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It also gives a brief definition of the word, along with the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word.
Concordances are available as computer programs as well as books. If you have a computer, I highly recommend you get a good Bible study program, or you can check a concordance or other word study tools online. For instance, links to many study tools are available at www.preceptaustin.org. Or for more written information on Bible study helps and how they work, see my book How to Study Your Bible, published by Harvest House.
The concordance is a valuable tool for cross-referencing. When you look up corresponding words in other portions of the Bible, you often gain further insight into various topics in the text. For example, when studying Jonah 3, you might also want to look up other references to fasting and sackcloth and learn what the Bible teaches on the subjects.
Finally, give yourself time to reflect on what you learn and apply it to your life. Ask yourself why God put what you just studied in His book and told you to study it. Handle the Word accurately, cutting it straight like the workman who is never ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15).
As you sit and think, faithful one, ask God to speak to you, to search your heart. Application will come—if not now, then later. Rest assured—it will come.
Discover more about understanding the Bible in Lord, Teach Me to Study the Bible in 28 Days.