Four hundred years before Israel ever had a king, God gave Moses a spiritual practice that would transform the life of the king and the people he served. The practice is described in Deuteronomy 17:18-20, a passage you might not have paid much attention to:
When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
Did you catch it? God, in order to keep the kings of Israel devoted to him, his Word, and his people, mandated that each king make his own handwritten copy of the law, keep it with him at all times, and read it all of his life. The king was to do this so that he would learn to honor God, follow his commands, and stay humble. God promised that if the king did these things, he and his descendants would prosper. Isn’t that the kind of spiritual leader you want to be?
Isn’t that a surprising passage? God ordered the leaders of Israel to personally make their own hand copy of the God’s law. A king could have easily had someone else make him a copy, but the law says that he was to do it himself.
Hand copying Scripture is simply writing passages by hand word for word. Why would you do this when you probably own a number of copies of the Bible and can even easily access Scripture digitally? The purpose of hand copying Scripture is not to have another copy of the Bible. Instead, this form of Scripture engagement offers you the unique opportunity to slow down the process of reading and experience a more reflective engagement with God’s Word.
It is so easy to read the Bible quickly and forget what was read within a few minutes. Hand copying helps combat quick, surface-level reading. The goal of Scripture engagement is to meet God in his Word, and this method of Scripture engagement—writing passages of the Bible out by hand—gives you more time to think about what is written and to dwell on the meaning and implications of a passage. Hand copying is a focusing activity.
Hand copying is also an aid to memory. You probably would agree that writing information down helps you recall that information later. Hand copying Scripture can be a great help when you’re trying to memorize verses or passages of the Bible.
Hand copying will also help you to perceive details in a passage that you might have overlooked. As your hand writes words and phrases multiple times (often a sign of emphasis in the Bible), your attention will be drawn to those words and phrases as being important, which will help you comprehend the passage.
It might be inspiring to remember that for thousands of years, God’s people had scribes whose job it was to pass on God’s Word by making written copies (we owe this long line of people a great spiritual debt). In the Old Testament, scribes such as Ezra were revered for their knowledge of Scripture that he developed through copying it. Throughout church history, monks transcribed the Bible, devoting their entire lives to studying and living out God’s Word. As you hand copy the Bible, you will mirror the practices of these scribes and monks and gain the same spiritual benefits that others have gained.
God’s establishment of the practice of hand copying Scripture for kings should be a testament to its value and effectiveness, as well as a worthwhile exercise of Scripture engagement for any Christian leader.
Dr. Phil Collins serves as the General Editor for The Abide Bible. He is Co-executive Director of the Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement where he has been a full-time Christian Ministries professor since 1999. Dr. Collins earned a B.A. in Bible Literature and Christian Education from Taylor University, an M.A. in Christian Education from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Purdue University. In addition to his academic work, Dr. Collins was formerly on staff with Youth for Christ and has served as a church youth pastor.