I have inherited two books that I consider priceless. One is an old, black, leather bound King James’ Bible embossed on the front cover with the name Margaret Egstad. On the presentation page it notes that it was given to her by “Mom J.” My Great-Grandmother Johnson gave this Bible to my Grandma Egstad long before I was born. The other is a book that is far less impressive on first sight. It was obviously rebound by a practical yet amateur book binder in order to keep it in one piece. It is my Grandfather Jay Bjerkaas’ well used pocket New Testament and Psalms.
For many years now, old family Bibles have become increasingly valuable sources of information for the growing interest in genealogical research. They often have pages in the front that list family births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths. To many people, these inherited books help us to look backwards. They show us who has come before us and tell us brute facts about when some major events transpired in their lives. Too many people mine this information from the first pages of their old family Bibles and then donate them to Goodwill or give them to a local used book store. Sadly, the really valuable information in these priceless books goes unnoticed.
My Grandmother did not write in her Bible. But my Great-Grandmother wrote her a note on the backside of the presentation page. It reads as follows:
A Christian life is like a good watch – An open face, busy hands, pure gold, well regulated & filled with good works. Phil. 4:19 – But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
My Great-Grandmother’s God was able to supply the righteousness we need for a good life – the open face, pure gold, busy hands… – through Christ Jesus! Our sanctification, that process by which we are made holy, is one in which God himself is engaged working in us those graces we need if we would have an open face and lives with good works. And my Grandma Egstad was just like that “good watch!”
Unlike my Grandma, Grandpa Bjerkaas wrote all over his New Testament. And when he marked something he intended for it to be noticed! Bible verses are surrounded with heavy lead or ink lines and the margins are annotated with a spidery script that draws attention to key events, topics, or doctrines that interested him. Heavy arrows cut from the corners and tops of pages to draw your attention to particular verses that he wanted to be able to find in a hurry. The blank pages at the end are covered with handwritten text running both horizontally and vertically to use all of the space. He was a farmer, and his last personal note on the last page of his New Testament is a collection of four Old Testament references under the word “GRAPES” written out in his large, capital, block letters. If he was intrigued by a topic, whether it was the second coming of Christ or the life of Paul, he would write out a list of the scriptures he found helpful in understanding what the Bible taught about it.
What I love most about both of these old books is that anyone who picked either of them up would instantly realize that both books were extremely well used. The pages are feathered at the edges and dog-eared at the corners from years of turning. The bindings fall flat to any page. The books are not just broken in, they are worn out.
This is the real value in these books. Both Ezekiel (Ezek. 3:3) and John (Rev. 10:10) are commanded to “eat” God’s word – to take it into themselves – to internalize it – to digest it. In Psalm 119: 103, we read, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” And just a few verses later, in vs. 111: “Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.” There is no heritage more precious than that of a taste for God’s word and a life that demonstrates it – which is the best proof of a chewed up and digested Bible.
What have you received from your Grandparents? What will you pass on to your Grandchildren? May our lives and our Bibles demonstrate a love for God and for his Word! And about old family Bibles? Let’s use them to look upwards, not backwards.