Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
At that time the Lord said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also make a wooden chest. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the chest.”
So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. The Lord wrote on these tablets what he had written before, the Ten Commandments he had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the Lord commanded me, and they are there now (Deuteronomy 10:1-5).
“The Bible is just a book with a bunch of old, worn-out rules that nobody can ever hope to keep.” This is true, isn’t it? Looking at it from a law-based perspective, it is. Think of it, the first part of the Old Testament is the laying down of the law, this is followed by examples of Kings and how they do or don’t follow said law, followed by a bunch of prophets getting angry because people can’t follow the law. Then the New Testament comes along and is largely based on the importance or lack thereof of said law. The law is a touchy subject for Christians, both lay people and clergy alike.
So what do we do with the Law of Moses? Paul tells us that,
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith” (Galatians 3:10-11).
Yet, Paul also tells us that, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). So if the whole Bible is God-breathed, then surely we must listen when Moses tells us,
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
So Moses tells us we must always be thinking about the rules given by God, and Paul says that by trying to follow those rules we’re under a curse. Are you confused yet? Well, there’s more; you can’t just think about the law-oh no- James bluntly tells us, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). So, therefore, we must know the law and obey it, thus cursing ourselves. Wait…what?
Before trying to understand exactly where we stand with the law and how it applies to us and what we are to do with in what many call a “lawless generation,” let us first look at the good and bad associated with God’s laws given in the Bible.
First, let’s look at what good things the rules of God have given us. Psalm 119 discusses the law at length. Its opening words reveal the first benefit,
Blessed are they whose ways are blameless,
Who walk according to the law of the Lord.
Blessed are they who keep his statutes
And seek him with all their heart (Psalms 119:1-2)
Obedience to God’s law brings blessings. There is great debate among Christians over what is called the “Prosperity Gospel.” What the concept states is that by following the law, praying, and overall doing your best as a Christian, you will prosper in all you do. The reason why it’s a hot topic is that many fear it gives Christians a false hope. Obviously a pastor doesn’t want his congregation to suddenly feel liked to when trouble comes, for Jesus says himself, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). Jesus warns us in this passage and others that the Christian walk is not easy. However, we need to understand that these troubles must come. Often times for a Christian, the Lord is behind the troubles for the betterment of the believer. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, and locked in prison many years for a crime he didn’t commit, Joseph (not Jesus’ dad) became the second most powerful man in Egypt. He explains to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for the good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Job, after losing everything due to the devil’s testing refused to stop obeying God, and by his obedience allowed God to bless him even more once his trials were over. Be sure, life is full of trials in this fallen world in which we live, but by obeying the Law of God you will be blessed. For it is written,
Blessed is the man
Who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
Or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in season
And whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers (Psalms 1:1-3).
Call it what you will, the Bible says that obedience brings blessing.
Psalms 119:9 gives us our next positive associated with the law: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.” The law can set helpful boundaries for children while they are growing up. Moses told us earlier to teach the law to our children. Solomon also understood this concept. He writes,
My son, do not forget my teaching,
But keep my commands in your heart,
For they will prolong your life many years
And bring you prosperity.
Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
In the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord will all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him,
And he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:1-6)
Solomon knew that the law provides instruction on how to live a good life, and so it was imperative to tell his children about it. In this passage, not only does he reference the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, but also calls back to Moses’ final speech to the Israelites in which he says, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Solomon knows that by impressing the law onto his children he can lead them and protect them. For example he later writes,
My son, keep my words
And store up my commands within you.
Keep my commands and you will live;
Guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.
Bind them on your fingers;
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
And call understanding your kinsman;
They will keep you from the adulteress,
From the wayward wife with her seductive words (Proverbs 7:1-5)
Solomon gives a good example of how understanding the law creates wisdom and discernment, protecting a young man from unnecessary troubles in life. So, we can be sure then that by teaching the law to our children, we can impart wisdom and save them from unneeded pain.
In Psalm 119 (as you may be able to tell by now, a love letter to the law) we learn even more about what the law can do for our lives. It reads, “Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands” (Psalms 119:66). The law of the Lord not only creates good boundaries, and helps young people to stay on the right track, but it also imparts wisdom and discernment to anyone who is willing to meditate on it. Solomon writes of the law, giving it the persona of “Lady Wisdom,” and she has this to say,
Listen, for I have worthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
My mouth speaks what is true,
For my lips detest wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are just;
None of them is crooked or perverse.
To the discerning all of them are right;
They are faultless to those who have knowledge.
Choose my instruction instead of silver,
Knowledge rather than choice gold,
For wisdom is more precious than rubies,
And nothing you desire can compare with her (Proverbs 8:6-11).
Wisdom will protect us just as listening to God’s commands can protect our children, it will guide us down the road of life. Solomon writes, “Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure” (Ecclesiastes 8:5). For it is said in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” The law also gives us an edge over others to overcome all obstacles. The Bible explains,
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
For they are ever with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
For I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
For I obey your precepts (Psalms 119:98-100).
So if you want to be smarter than those around you, read the word and meditate on God’s law.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the law can be found in verse 165 of Psalm 119, “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” By meditating on and obeying the law you can find peace in your life, even during these busy times. Remember, by going against the law you are siding with God’s enemy, the devil. Jesus reminds us about him saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). With the wisdom of the law comes peace, even in adversity. He who takes comfort in the law will continue to flourish, as the Bible says, “for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity” (Proverbs 24:16).
So the law is great, right? Then why is Paul so up in arms about it? Well, the first reason is probably the most important: The Law cannot save you. Any pastor that tells you otherwise is misguided himself. We know that we are saved not by following the law, because Paul tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). So it is only by the gift of Christ and faith in that gift that we may be saved.
Now we come to the reason for “Mount Sinai being featured this post’s title. For those of you who have not read the Bible, the Law of God was given by the Lord to Moses on Mount Sinai. Well, Paul wants to make sure that believers don’t get stuck on the wrong mountain. He writes in Galatians 4:21-24,
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: this is Hagar.
According to Paul, those who try to follow the Law of Moses are brought into a new kind of slavery. Being enslaved by the rules, we are not to be considered saved, and moreover we are being held captive on some desert mountain (figuratively speaking).
Paul goes one step further with this as he writes, “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4). So, by trying to keep the law- as it is an act of our own power- not only cannot save us, but it actually keeps us even further from Christ’s saving grace. This is like when the Israelites made the golden calf, not only were they worshipping what their own hands had done, but they also were pulling away from God. Even the prophet Isaiah, who lived long before Jesus was born, saw this trend and prophesied,
The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
And honor me with their lips,
But their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
Is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).
This kind of rule worship actually made the Lord very upset at Israel, as the people sought the rules only to show their own ability to others and not to find the wisdom and love of God through his Law. Jesus explained to those in Israel that following the law isn’t as simple as not breaking the commandments, for the law goes to a man’s heart, not just his actions. He gives an example in Matthew 5:21-22,
You have heard that 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.
A few verses later he gives another example, “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). If this is indeed the case, then nobody, unless perfect in actions and heart their entire life may enter the kingdom of heaven. If this is true then we are all going to hell. Because, as it says in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” This is why the Lord crucified himself in the form of his son that he may bring the grace of atonement to us for all of our sins (pending we believe and trust that these things actually happened). In his anger about how the Israelites ignored the heart of god and instead ran after rules to justify themselves, the Lord pronounced through Isaiah,
Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,
To whom he said,
“This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
And, “This is the place of repose”-
But they would not listen.
So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
Do and do, do and do,
Rule on rule, rule on rule;
A little here, a little there-
So that they will go and fall backward,
Be injured and snared and captured (Isaiah 28:11-13).
By putting rules before the grace of God (even the rules given by God himself), we deny him and he allows us to be captured, enslaved, and brought down to the pit. Those of you, who think you can be saved by your deeds, be warned: you are rejecting the very creator by your heart.
Something that is synonymous with “legalism” (putting law over grace) is judgment. It only makes sense, for if somebody is putting all of their energy into following the law, of course everybody else should too. A great example of the progression of judging others is the book of Job. Job lost almost everything short of his life within a very short period of time. The Lord allowed his stuff to be taken, his children killed, and finally his health brought to the edge of death with suffering. However, “In all of this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22). Job had three friends, and although most Christians who know the story would scoff, his friends genuinely wanted to help their friend Job. In fact, in Job 2:11-13 they show this,
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
So to be sure, these three were very good friends of Job, and wanted to do their best for him. Finally, Job speaks and a rather long discourse begins. Eliphaz is the first of Job’s friends who tries to comfort him, and it’s clear right away how legal everyone’s minds are,
If someone ventures a word with you,
Will you be impatient?
But who can keep from speaking?
Think of how you have instructed many,
How you have strengthened feeble hands.
Your words have supported those who stumbled;
You have strengthened faltering knees.
But now trouble comes to you,
And you are discouraged;
It strikes you, and you are dismayed.
Should not your piety be your confidence
And your blameless ways your hope?” (Job 4:2-6)
So Job’s friend stats with, “Hey, you’re a great guy, what are you so down about?” He reminds Job that he’s been a good man, therefore he has hope. He goes on,
But if it were I, I would appeal to God;
I would lay my cause before him.
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
Miracles that cannot be counted (Job 5:8-9).
These are comforting words for a believer. So what is the problem? Well, we already know that Eliphaz believes that being good will equal automatic blessings, so something is amiss in his mind that Job is in such hardship. Then he slips in something that many of us read in the New Testament too,
Blessed is the man whom God corrects;
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he also binds up;
He injures, but his hands also heal (Job 5:17-18).
What’s wrong with this maxim? Nothing. In fact, in Hebrews 12:5-6 it says,
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
And do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
Because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
And he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
You see, the problem isn’t the statement; it is what is behind it. Bildad is a bit more straightforward, “When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin” (Job 8:4). Are you following their train of thought? Zophar, trying to help, just lays it right out,
If you put away the sin that is in your hand
And allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
Then you will lift up your face without shame;
You will stand firm and without fear (Job 11:14-15).
This is the legalist mind, if there is something wrong in Job’s life, surely it is because god is displeased with Job.
Jesus’ disciples also had the mindset that suffering is exclusively a product of sin. We read in John 9:1-2, “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parent, that he was born blind?’” Even today people assume that if somebody’s life is falling apart that they must have done something wrong. However, anyone who reads Job knows that Job was a blameless man, God testifies about it himself, “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears god and shuns evil’” (Job 1:8). And at the end of the story, god is angry with Job’s friends for being so quick to judge.
We cannot judge others when we have little knowledge of their lives. People generally assume the worst of those who are homeless, but we don’t know their hearts, nor do we know their actions. That is God’s business, not yours. Instead, we must show mercy to those who need it. Well, that is all well and good, but what about when we know somebody has been up to no good? Jesus made a point not to judge the sick, the poor, or even those with bad reputations. However, the Pharisees realized that Jesus never seemed to deal with the issue of a sinful person directly, so they decided to test him,
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:3-5)
This was a trap to show Jesus as either being unlawful or as being unmerciful. But Jesus teaches them a valuable lesson: The law applies to everyone. He explains in Matthew 7:2 this principle, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” This is a sharp warning, because there is no perfect person. James explains further, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). John continues to explain by saying, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). And Paul rounds out the lesson by explaining,
You therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things (Romans 2:1).
So, since none are without sin and in god’s eyes all sin is equal, by wanting to stone this woman, the teachers of the law are condemning themselves to death as well. Knowing God’s heart and the wicked hearts of these men, Jesus pronounced his judgment, “When they kept on kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’” (John 8:7). At this, the Spirit of God weighed on the crowd’s hearts that not a one was completely innocent, so they left. After this,
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no on condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:10-11).
Not only did Jesus know the crowd’s heart, he also knew hers, which was repentant and only needed a little push in the right direction. So he forgave her.
If we have no right to judge, then shall we let others go on sinning? No! Jesus tells us the correct procedure of how to rebuke a fellow believer in Matthew 18:15-17,
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
This is the Bible’s approved way to correct a believer who is in sin. First, address the issue face to face. Notice, I said, the sin itself, not the person’s motivations/intent, for only God knows a person’s heart. Make sure you do it kindly, lest you fall into sin by your own behavior. Paul explains this in Galatians 6:1-2,
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, gives a great example of this in play. He is with the evil king of Israel, Ahab, and they are in need of some advice from God,
But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”
The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”
“The king should not say that,” Jehoshaphat replied (2 Chronicles 18:6-7).
Notice how simple it was; King Ahab was not acting properly, so Jehoshaphat reminded him. Nobody got angry and no time was wasted.
If a believer continues in sin, call an intervention. There’s nothing bad about friends trying to help their neighbor. The last step is to take it to the church. This does not mean to spread it to everyone; Jesus means to talk to the pastor. The pastor is willing to help, for he has Paul’s instructions to Timothy,
And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that god will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil who has taken them captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
This is how Paul acts when he writes to Philemon about his former slave Onesimus, who is scared to return to a likely angry Philemon. Paul writes,
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul- an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus- I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains (Philemon 1:8-10).
Notice, as a pastor, he has authority over Philemon a believer; however he chooses instead to speak with love. A pastor is trained to behave this way, thus, if a fellow Christian is unrepentant, let the pastor handle it. And if that doesn’t work, treat him as you would an unbeliever.
So…what do we do with non-believers? We do exactly what the Lord told us to do, “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation’” (Mark 16:15). That’s right, we preach the gospel! Those of us who know the law, and study the Word should spread the Word. Even if we don’t know the whole Bible by heart, preach what you know! Jesus commands us,
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus tells us to go and teach what we know to everyone. Those who are trapped on Mount Sinai, this message is for you. Keep in mind he doesn’t say to judge or condemn by using the law, but teach the commands of the Lord. Paul explains, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). The law then is not a tool of judgment but of education. We are to teach the law (and the Word as a whole) with the purpose of leading people to the forgiveness of Christ.
However, the Gospel and acceptance thereof is a choice. Your job isn’t to win every soul; it is to make sure people know their options. Moses understood this and presented the message of God with this in mind. He tells the nation of Israel their choice,
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to boy down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
You are to set before unbelievers this choice of life and death, and moreover, eternal life and eternal punishment. This is what the Lord has commanded all Christians to do. If the people you talk to accept the gospel, great. If not, don’t lose any sleep over it, as it is between that person and God; but you know where you stand with the Lord. This is the sentiment in Joshua 24:15,
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
Joshua understood that some people wouldn’t follow our God, but he was at least confident in his own relationship with the Lord.
When presented with this choice, some people will choose God, others will not. Jesus told a story about a rich man who did not have God in his heart and so he went to hell. Realizing his mistake, he called out to Abraham (the father of faith) and to a beggar who went to heaven named Lazarus to help his relatives avoid the pains of everlasting punishment. Jesus explains in Luke 16:27-31,
He answered, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”
Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”
“No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”
He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
Now we have the law and the rest of the Word, just like this man’s brothers had, we too even have the risen Lord Jesus. Still, some people can never be convinced, and we have to realize that.
The Bible has some great examples of Gospel success and failure stores to illustrate the above point. Some of the best success stories include the likes of David, Solomon, and Paul. Some of the clearest failures are shown in Absalom, Jeroboam, and Herod. Let’s take a look at them.
First, let’s look at David. David grew up in a family that had great faith, as is shown many times in his account. David likely received instruction on the Word as a young boy, and as he grew, he put his faith in the Lord. Not only that, but he also helped to spread the message of God through songs, poems, and prayers; many of which are recorded in the book of Psalms. In Psalm 131:3 he speaks out to his nation, “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” Even David’s last words are reminders of the message of life and death he learned long ago,
Is not my house right with God?
Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant,
Arranged and secured in every part?
Will he not bring to fruition my salvation
And grant me my every desire? (2 Samuel 23:5)
David was extremely blessed in his life, for he almost always had his eyes set on the Lord.
Solomon, the son of David, was also well versed in the law. He was known for building the first Temple of the Lord and furthermore he gained worldwide notoriety for his divine wisdom. If asked about his great intelligence, what would Solomon say? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7). In this statement Solomon does three things. First, he establishes where knowledge ultimately comes from, God. Second, he spreads the “life and death” message of Moses’ Gospel, but with a “smart people and foolish people” approach. But the third thing he does is tell us where one can find wisdom- through the Word of God. How does he do that? Well, Solomon isn’t making an original statement, he’s referencing the book of Job in which the title character explains to his friends, “And he said to the man, ‘The fear of the Lord- that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). Solomon teaches us that sometimes, just hearing the Word can bring about great revelation in one’s life. That is why we are called to spread the Gospel, so that on hearing it, many will be saved.
Paul, however, knew the Word very well. In fact, his Scriptural resume is made very clear in Philippians 3:5; “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee.” But his heart was so cold and legalistic that he had never really understood the Word, despite being very well educated in it. After an encounter with Jesus though, his spiritual eyes were opened and Paul spent the remainder of his life preaching and writing, trying to lead the Gentiles (non-Jews) to Christ and to explain the law to the Jews that they may see the great revelations Jesus showed him. Paul writes of the power of Christ in the Gospel,
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was pour out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:13-14).
Paul had always sought the Lord, but he couldn’t understand the Word in relation to Jesus, so he fought against the Messiah. Many people you may try to teach will have the same reaction, but if they truly want to become close to God, Jesus will show them one way or another. So don’t worry if by exposing somebody to scripture you fail to save them, Jesus can do what we cannot.
On the other side of the coin though are people who hear the Word, but just don’t care. As the opposite of Solomon, his brother Absalom was just as much raised in the scripture by his father David, probably even more so than Solomon as Absalom was older. However, Absalom disregarded the teachings of the scripture and instead perverted it to his own will. In order to motivate men to carry out his revenge on his brother Amnon for sexually assaulting his sister, Absalom uses the words he learned in Scripture, “Absalom ordered his men, ‘Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, “Strike Amnon down,” then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Have I not given you this order? Be strong and brave!” (2 Samuel 13:28). In this verse, Absalom is actually evoking God’s “pep rally” speech to Joshua before the Israelites go in and take the Promised Land, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Absalom knew the Word of God, but the Lord wasn’t in his heart.
Again, later, king Jeroboam of Israel, knowing the Scriptures, tried to manipulate the Word of God to his will instead of submitting to God’s authority. 1 Kings 12:26-28 records,
Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”
After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
Jeroboam realized the Israelites were a religious people, and so he quoted a part of Scripture he remembered. It is clear though that Jeroboam had no real interest in God (or his Word) as his Scripture quote actually evoked one of the worst sins Israel as a nation had ever committed when they made an idol and forsook the Lord in Exodus 32:4, “He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’” Jeroboam’s deceitful use of the Word betrayed him, and likely anyone who knew the Scriptures would have known something was rotten in Israel and fled down to Judah anyway.
The final example of a well-versed Biblical character that rejected the Lord comes in the form of King Herod. Herod was hardly a king as Israel was under the control of Rome, but he was anyway allowed to be called king. Herod makes a use of the Bible that helps to establish his kingship, and does it so smoothly that it suggests he knows the Scriptures very well. Herod’s wife, Herodias, until this moment had been pleading with him to kill John the Baptist, but Herod was curious about John and afraid of the people, for they viewed John as a prophet. We read what happened in Mark 6:21-23,
Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
This is actually a very smart quote, because Herod is quoting a King from a time when Israel was under the thumb of another nation, a similar situation as they are in during the days of Jesus. He’s doing this likely to show that he still retains authority. The quote? Esther 5:3, “Then the king asked, ‘What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given to you.’” Unfortunately, instead of making a promise that leads to the saving of many lives, Herod is requested to kill John the Baptist, condemning himself for his disregard of the Lord.
When we spread the Word, we can’t be downtrodden to know that some will misuse the law and some will misunderstand it. God reads the hearts of all men, and for those who seek salvation, salvation will be found. As Jesus says, “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knows, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:8). So we are called to spread the Word, but do not judge if it isn’t received well. Who knows, maybe God is working something behind the scenes. Besides, we spread the Gospel not only for others, but for ourselves. Remember Paul’s words, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (Philemon 1:6). So by teaching what we know, the Lord will help us to uncover even more and remind us just how wonderful Jesus is, which will make spreading the Gospel even easier.
Alright, we’ve climbed up Mount Sinai and discussed legalism, being judgmental, and the proper use of the law. Now you are at almost the same place we met Moses at the beginning of this post. He too had to learn all of this about the Law of God (no wonder he was on the mountain for so long!). For when Moses first received the law of the covenant, he thought it was something that we humans could handle, so he carried the stone tablets in his hands. However, God allowed the Israelites rebellion with the golden calf not only to teach us the dangers of stagnation (as I posted here earlier), but also to teach Moses, the man of god, how weak we humans are. For as soon as he saw the Israelites in sin; Moses abandoned (and broke) the law in order to exercise wrath on his fellow Israelites. This is recorded in Exodus 32:19-20,
When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
We look down on the Israelites, who at the time had no law that they knew of, and sinned in their ignorance, but Christians (especially legalistic ones) should remember Moses, who had the Law and couldn’t keep it for all of five minutes; abandoning God’s Word in favor of human rage and wrath.
And so we find ourselves with Moses at the beginning of this article. If you’d like, take a break now and turn back to it quickly for a review. Don’t worry, I’ll wait (…) Ok, this time God instructs Moses to build a chest for the tablets. Why? Because we cannot handle the law, it is too difficult. This is true today as well. The Law of God is impossible to keep in our fallen state by ourselves. Many Jews could not understand this and many Christians today still don’t. “Well, if I can’t keep the law, then why does it exist?” Paul tries to explain this in Romans 2:28-29,
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is a circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
This was a huge obstacle for the Jews of Paul’s time and for many very devout Christians today. The law is not a set of rules to be taught and followed; it is the very Word of God that is meant to touch not our actions but our heats. Paul writes of the gentiles, who had accepted Jesus into their lives,
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them (Romans 2:14-15).
God told Moses to prepare a chest; we too must prepare our chests- that is, our hearts. For when you accept the Lord Jesus, the word made flesh, you are not accepting him into your hands, but into your heart. Becoming a saved person isn’t about a change in actions, but a full-on change of heart. Paul explained that the gentiles who had never read the law, but accepted Jesus were more righteous than law-abiding Jews. Why? Because the gentiles allowed Jesus to speak the Word into their hearts. We too must accept the law like this, not as rules to follow, but as the divine saving grace of our Lord, convicting us, sanctifying us, and strengthening us in Christ Jesus.
Listen to the wisdom of Solomon,
Do not be overrighteous,
Neither be overwise-
Why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked,
And do not be a fool-
Why die before your time?
It is good to grasp the one
And not let go of the other.
The man who fears God will avoid al extremes (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18).
Solomon is not saying to not be righteous. What he says is to not put the law above all else. At the same time, do not reject the Lord in favor of your desires, for this is foolish. No, the man of god realizes that he is sinful, and clings to the Lord of mercy, the only one who can save him from that sin.
Remember the words of Jesus, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). Why? Paul writes about the coming of Christ,
Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (Galatians 3:23-25).
Do not judge; for by judging you make yourself a prisoner of judgment. The Lord Jesus came to bring forgiveness, therefore, as a follower of Christ, do not judge. For, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).
Finally, do not set your mind to follow the law, instead open your hearts to Christ and accept the Holy Spirit. For where there is law, there is judgment and guilt, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
If you are a Christian or are not a Christian caught up in guilt, judgment, or confused about the seemingly exclusive nature of god’s law, let’s pray together. For our spiritual growth is dependent on the Lord. Just read these words aloud and God will hear them:
I have gotten stuck on the things that I and others do.
I’ve let what I can do supersede what you can do.
Lord, forgive me for holding the law in my hand,
And not letting it rest in my heart.
Today I am ready,
Speak to me and I will listen.
Thank you for your forgiveness, which I cannot earn.
Lead me off this mountain,
And bring me into your Kingdom.
In your name, Lord Jesus, I pray,