During the course of the Lord’s ministry, He had many confrontations with the leaders of the Jews. Some of these were so intense that some today are uncomfortable even thinking about them. In Jn. 8:31-59, for example, the Lord spoke very plainly and strongly against these leaders. He openly challenged their conduct, saying that they were “of your father the devil” (v. 44).
In other instances, however, the Lord was more subtle in His criticism of these men. On five occasions in which these leaders criticized the Lord or His disciples, or in which they asked an insincere question, the Lord prefaced His response with a question that hit them like a sledge hammer. He asked, “Have you not read . . . ?”
The first instance was when the Pharisees criticized the disciples for picking heads of grain as they walked through a field on the Sabbath day (Mt. 12:1-2). The second was when some Pharisees asked a question about divorce (Mt. 19:3ff). When children were praising the Lord after He drove the sellers out of the temple grounds, the chief priests and scribes confronted Him about it. He began His response on that occasion with this same question (Mt. 21:16). At the end of the parable of the landowner, the Lord again asked this question of these men (Mt. 21:42). The final incident in which the Lord asked this question was when the Sadducees asked their silly question about seven brothers who had been married to the same woman (Mt. 22:31).
Many times as we read of these incidents we just skip over the manner of the Lord’s response. We rightly focus on the answer He gave on each occasion, and on the lesson from it that we can apply to our lives. However, we may be overlooking an important and timeless principle that is couched in the Lord’s subtle criticism of the Jewish leaders.
When the Lord asked, “Have you not read?”, He was telling them that they didn’t know the Law as well as they thought. He was telling them that they had become ignorant of God’s word. He was indicating that this ignorance was the reason why they had strayed so far from God’s will. This was an insult of a magnitude that we can hardly imagine. These were doctors of the law and the Lord’s question placed them in the category of novices. It is likely that they got the message, and this put-down no doubt increased their hatred of the Lord.
The timeless principle that may drawn from the Lord’s question is simple. We must not neglect reading God’s word. From cover to cover the scriptures call on us to know God’s will and obey it in order to please Him. In Deut. 6: 1-9 Moses commanded Israel to teach God’s will to their children in every circumstance of life so their lives would be prolonged on the land that God was giving them. In Jn. 8:31-32 the Lord told some Jews who believed on Him to continue in His word so they would be true disciples and would know the truth that sets them free. In 2 Tim. 2:15 Paul urged Timothy to be diligent and to accurately handle the word of truth. In Jas. 1:21 James called on his readers to receive “the word implanted, which is able to save your souls”. Peter reminded his readers that God had granted to them “everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3).
The bottom line is this: The scriptures are everything we need to know in order to please God so we may live with Him for eternity. However, we cannot obey what we do not know and we cannot know that which we do not read/study. Therefore, we must take up God’s word daily and make it a living part of our hearts and minds. If we do so, at judgment the Lord will not ask us, “Have you not read?”