Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
It used to be that when I would read the Old Testament, I would be disappointed, stressed, and confused. Quite honestly, a basic knowledge of the Old Testament could be powerful ammunition for an atheist against a new Christian. I say this because the Old Testament seems to completely contradict the Gospel.
Over and over in the Old Testament, God calls people to obey. In Deuteronomy 12:28, the Lord (through Moses), tells us to,
Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God.
This statement not only promises things going well if we follow all of God’s commands, but also implies that if we don’t things will not go so well with us. But, then I turn to the New Testament and read, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:9). So I learn that it is impossible for me to be without sin. Heck, I can’t even get away with just not acting badly. According to Jesus, even thinking bad thoughts is sin! We can read about this in his famous sermon on the mountain,
You have heard it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5:21-22).
You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).
Well I can’t act badly or I’m sinning, and I can’t think bad thoughts or I’m sinning. Ok, so I can just sit in a corner and do nothing and not think about anything without sinning, right? Wrong! James 4:17 tells us, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Come on God! And it doesn’t stop there! There are loads of regulations about sacrifice and other odd laws in the Bible that we don’t follow either. No wonder Paul screams in Romans 7:24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
But it gets worse too, Ezekiel 18:27 says, “But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life.” Now this sounds like a breath of fresh air, if I stop sinning I’ll be totally forgiven…that is, until we read what happens if we slip up in Ezekiel 18:24,
But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.
Whoa, whoa, hold on a second here God. Did you just say that if I sin, all of the good I’ve ever done is just as quickly forgotten? WHAT?!
Therefore, I am with Paul, who explains in Galatians 5:17,
For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
The Spirit of God compels me to do good, however it is always at odds with my flesh, which compels me to sin, so no matter what I am doing, I am not doing what I want to do. In Romans 7:14-15, Paul again sits down with us and ponders this predicament we are all in, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” So even though I want everything to go well for me by following all of the Lord’s commands, I cannot.
So here we are, totally screwed. God accepts nothing less than perfection and perfect I am not. Enter Jesus. Romans 5:8 tells us the first part of His divine plan, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s right, out of his love for us, his wretched people, God sent his son Jesus to die for us. Hebrews 9:13-14 explain how Jesus’ death on a cross not only cleansed us, but also fulfilled the whole sacrificial system,
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
And the Lord made it so that even us, who were not alive yet during the time of Christ can be cleansed by his blood. Jesus explains, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). That’s all it takes, just believe in our Lord Jesus and his sacrificial death on the cross, and your sins are wiped away. Zechariah 3:3-5 actually gives us a visual representation of what happens when we accept Christ,
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.”
Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.
Just like Joshua, before we are saved, we are filthy before the Lord. However, after Jesus comes into our lives, we are clothed in his righteousness (and his is pretty impressive: perfection) therefore we become not only acceptable to God, but shine before him.
So now that we are clean before the Lord, the Law takes on a new purpose. Instead of being the way to be allowed into God’s presence (which is impossible for anyone but Jesus to follow anyway) it becomes a guide to our lives that brings wisdom and blessings. James explains that we should not just read the law and then forget about it, but instead try to apply it to our lives,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it- he will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25).
In this we find that the Lord’s words in Deuteronomy that we read earlier are still preserved, but without the implication that by not following the law we are doomed. Jesus Christ has turned the tides in our lives from helplessly lost to totally redeemed.
Today I only talked about how we can relieve ourselves from the personal curses that are found in the Old Testament, however, there are plenty of national curses for wicked countries in the Bible too (in fact there’s a few pages of them in Deuteronomy 28). What do we do about them? Spread the gospel, bring more people to Christ and turn our countries from sin to righteousness and turn the tide there too. Nothing is impossible with our Lord, so as long as you’re with him, there’s nothing to fear.
Rock on Jesus!