I was reading Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer, this weekend, and ran across an interesting phrase, belly botany.
As I understand it, belly botany is when you get right down to ground level, on your belly, and carefully observe what you see in your immediate area—maybe only a 2-foot square. Look at the plant life, the animals, the insects, the tracks of the insects in the dust, the pattern of insect activity on the leaves, the moss growing on the rocks,… Pretty much anything you see in that small area is part of your study. Look at the top of the items, but also look at the bottom. Observe the differences—e.g., color, moisture—between areas exposed to sun, and areas protected from the sun.
Now, Yancey was thinking in terms of prayer (obviously!), but what it brought to my mind was Bible study. Here’s how to practice belly botany Bible Study.
Take a single verse, or a very short passage.
Read it carefully. Read it again. Read it again.
Read it again in different translations. (If you don’t have Bibles in different translations, check out biblehub.com or biblegateway.com.)
If you have access, check out the Greek or Hebrew words to find different nuances to the words. (One excellent free resource is studylight.org.)
Check in with your Advisor (pray!) to see if He has any suggestions for how you should understand what you have read.
What questions do you have about this verse or about your observations? Write them down so you can explore more later.
Now, lift yourself up a bit and check the immediate context of the verse. Does the context answer any of your questions? From your own knowledge, do your observations conform to the greater message in the Bible? If not, recheck your observations!
Belly botany Bible study is not easy. It is time consuming, and it will strain your brain. But the knowledge gained about yourself, about your God, about the world around you will be invaluable.
One final step. Remember that it’s not enough to study the Bible. In the end, it needs to influence your life. What do you need to change? To stop doing? To start doing?
Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (James 1:22)
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Appendix: Want to practice “belly botany Bible study”? Here’s a verse to practice on. I’ve used Studylight.org and Biblehub.com to find these alternate translations and alternate meanings for the Hebrew words.
Just to be clear: You aren’t looking for some new and novel interpretation. Rather, you are taking a fresh look at an often too familiar verse and digging deeper to find out how this verse can inform and enrich YOUR life in Christ—doer, not just hearer.
Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God”
|“Be still”||In other translations NASB – cease strivingCSB – stop your fightingCEV – calm downISB – be in aweAramaic Bible in Plain English – returnGod’s Word – let goYoung’s Literal Translation– desist||(Heb. Raphah) to sinkto idleto relaxto sink downto let dropto let goto refrainlet aloneto be quietto be disheartenedto withdrawto show oneself slack|
|“know”||in other translations CEV – learnNET – recognizeDouay-Rheims – see||(Heb. Yada) to know, learn to knowto perceiveto perceive and see, find out and discernto discriminate, distinguishto know by experienceto recognize, admit, acknowledge, confessto consider|
|“God”||in other translations Aramaic Bible in Plain English – I AM GOD||(Heb. Elohiym) rulers, judgesdivine onesangelsgodswords or special possessions of Godthe (true) God|