Fifteen Years of Manual Labor: How Much Is Your Bible Worth?

In Genesis, Moses records the way that Jacob spent fourteen years winning (read: paying for) the love of his life, Rachel.  In those days, it cost men a pretty penny to win the hand of their brides.  Yet, because of his love for Rachel, Genesis 29:20 says that the first seven years “seemed to him but a few days.” Likewise, Jacob agreed to the next seven years of manual labor, even after they were deceptively thrown upon him.

How long would you be willing to serve for the love of your life?  Or to turn the question from marriage to God’s mercy, how long would you work in order to have in your hands a copy of God’s word?

The Inestimable Value of God’s Word

This is a question that the English-speaking world cannot even begin to understand.  We pawn off Bibles at Goodwill’s and have no fear or remorse when a Bible is lost or left in the rain.  I know that the Bible in its inscripturated form is not sacrosanct, but I do think the commonality of the Bible blinds us to the ravishing truth of Psalm 19:10-11.

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

God’s word is priceless.  It is more valuable than the crown jewels; it is an infinite investment whose value never plummets and always promises to deliver. Yet, existentially, we still struggle to feel this value because the pages of God’s word are everywhere. Where can we go for help?

How Missionary History Reappraises Our Value of the Bible

One place we can find help for properly valuing the Bible is church history and the stories of missionaries bringing the Bible into foreign lands who do not have the priceless word of God.  This week I came across such a story in John Paton’s autobiography, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides.

I hope you will take the time to read the following anecdote and marvel at the how the people of Aneityum (in the South Pacific) labored fifteen years to raise the necessary funds for the Bible.  Surely, these earnest men and women were spurred on by the same joy and anticipation that gripped Jacob.  In that time, many who endeavored to see the Bible printed in their languaged perished in the pursuit, but oh the joy for those who labored for a decade and a half to get the Bible in their own hands.

These poor Aneityumese, having glimpses of this Word of God, determined to have a Holy Bible in their own mother tongue, wherein before no book or page ever had been written in the history of their race. The consecrated brain and hand of the Missionaries kept toiling day and night in translating the book of God; and the willing hands and feet of the Natives kept toiling through fifteen long but unwearying years, planting and preparing arrowroot to pay the £1,200 required to be laid out in the printing and publishing of the book.

Year after year the arrowroot, too sacred to be used for their daily food, was set apart as the Lord’s portion; the Missionaries sent it to Australia and Scotland, where it was sold by private friends, and the whole proceeds consecrated to this purpose. On the completion of the great undertaking by the Bible Society, it was found that the Natives had earned so much as to pay every penny of the outlay; and their first Bibles went out to them, purchased with the consecrated toils of fifteen years!

Some of our friends may think that the sum was large; but I know, from experience, that if such a difficult job had been carried through the press and so bound by any other printing establishment, the expense would have been greater far. One book of Scripture, printed by me in Melbourne for the Aniwans at a later day, under the auspices of the Bible Society too, cost eight shillings per leaf, and that was the cheapest style; and this the Aniwans also paid for by dedicating their arrowroot to God.

Fifteen years.  Utterly astounding.  It should inspire us to reconsider the value of our Bibles.  Here is Paton’s pastoral charge:

Let those who lightly esteem their Bibles think on those things. Eight shillings for every leaf, or the labour and proceeds of fifteen years for the Bible entire, did not appear to these poor converted Savages too much to pay for that Word of God, which had sent to them the Missionaries, which had revealed to them the grace of God in Christ, and which had opened their eyes to the wonders and glories of redeeming love! (77-78)

Father, may we who are surrounded by your word never forget how priceless each page is.  May we invest our lives in the Scriptures and labor to make them know to the ends of the earth, so that those who do not have them would not have to wait decades before receiving them.  God gives us heart that love your word more than life itself (Ps 63:3).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss