Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Being the perfect being that he is, God is able to make promises quite easily, because keeping a promise is no problem as he controls the whole universe. The Bible is a book of promises and fulfilled promises. However, those promises are not always fulfilled right away. Be assured, though, all that God promises will come to pass and all prayers will be answered- it’s just a matter of being patient.
We read in Romans 5:1-5,
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because god has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Paul is trying to help us understand the mind of God- or at the very least give some reasoning as to why we have to wait. Let me frame the argument like this: In the US there is a law that anyone wanting a gun has to wait ten days in order to get said gun. Think about that law. How many times have you been so angry with a person only to totally forget about it just a few days later? Or, if somebody is at the end of their rope, they have ten more days to turn things around. It really is a great law. A lot can change in a person’s mind or even their life in just ten days. Likewise, when we talk to God and ask for things, we often don’t get it right away. This is because God wants to make sure we’re ready for what he is going to give us. So, we need to be patient and not lose hope when it seems like God isn’t listening, because assuredly, he is. We know this because the Bible says, “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door is opened” (Matthew 7:8). God hears all of our prayers and requests, but we need to wait and prepare while God is waiting for us to be ready for them to be answered. Today, we will look at a few examples of God taking some time as noted in the Bible to better understand that God always keeps his promises, eventually.
Let’s look at our first example, involving the Holy Spirit and the disciples of Jesus. We read in Luke 24:49, “I am going to send you what my father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” This quote comes from Jesus after he has resurrected. In it he promised to send the Holy Spirit. Now, Jesus has been filled with the Holy Spirit the whole time and has been able to help so many people. As a disciple, I am sure anyone would want that power to help others. Surely Peter, James, John, and the rest had been praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit- even while Jesus was alive. After he had died and come back to life, what does he say to them? “Wait.” Even after all that time with Jesus, it was not time yet.
But be assured, the time did come for the Holy Spirit to be given to the followers of Christ,
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enable them (Acts 2:1-4).
It wasn’t until after many days of praying and even replacing Judas (who killed himself) that God finally sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Why? The disciples need time to grieve and to prepare for the huge job ahead of them. I mean, think about it, these guys have been through a lot, their master just died, one of their own turned out to be the reason said master died, and the people who killed said master are out to get them too. Not to mention they probably had to still get their heads wrapped around the resurrection itself. And after all of that, Jesus gave them a monumental task; “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation’” (Mark 16:15). Were the apostles ready to do this? No, of course not. I imagine they had no idea what to do or how to do it. Furthermore, I doubt they were ready to preach the good anything considering all of the bad they had witnessed. So God gave them time to organize their hearts, minds, and plans before sending the Spirit to them. But, when they were ready, the Holy Spirit came. I think it is not a stretch to say they did a pretty good job!
Now, let’s turn our focus to the story of Abraham and his son. Genesis 15:3-4 reads,
And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Then the world of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.”
All Abram wanted in his life was a son; but neither him nor his wife were able to produce children. Now at a young age, God saying, “Ok, I will give you a kid” would be no problem to believe. But Abram was pretty old at the time of this quote. It is a pretty big pill to swallow to believe that an old man and old woman can have children. However, Abram, being the righteous man that he was, decided to wait until God said that it was time.
After waiting quite a few years, nothing happened. Sari stared to get worried and pushed Abram to have a son by her servant. God, though, said, “This isn’t your heir.” Instead, God said that Abram (renamed Abraham) and Sari (now called Sarah) would have a child of their own,
I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of people will come from her.
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety? (Genesis 17:16-17)
God keeps his promises, and we as his followers have to trust in that. Abraham was a hundred, still, God told him to believe. Medically speaking (though I am not a doctor), it was well past the “totally impossible” point for both Abraham and Sarah to be able to bear children. However, God made his promise to answer Abraham’s prayer. Abraham prayed for a son, and a son he would get. So after many years of waiting on God we read,
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him (Genesis 21:1-2).
Abraham was one hundred years old when this happened! He had to wait many many years, but God gave Abraham exactly what he had prayed for. Why did he take so long? So that Abraham, Sarah, and indeed us would understand something very important: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
Sometimes, God waits to both strengthen our faith and allow it to be tested. If Abraham had gotten a son early in life, it would have been no big deal. However, because God waited, our eyes are open to the power of God and his majesty. It is because Abraham and Sarah were made to wait so long that our church even exists! It is because Isaac was given to Abraham when Abraham was one hundred that the early people were given faith in God and the importance of his promises stood strong against difficulties. Our God is a God who fulfills his promise.
But there’s more. Abraham waited quite a while for a son, but the people of Israel had to wait a very long time before they found their way out of the desert and into the Promised Land. We read in Genesis 15:18-21,
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendents I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates- the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
This is the promise of the Old Testament. God promised that not only would Abraham have descendants, but those descendants would get a pretty large chunk of land. On this one promise hangs almost half of the Old Testament.
When God makes a promise though, things may not always look like he’s in the process of fulfilling them. We read as the Pharaoh of Egypt responds to the growing Israelites,
“Look,” he said to the people, “the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
So they pout slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh (Exodus 1:9-11).
Now wait a second here, God promised Abraham that his descendants would take a lot of land, but instead, the Israelites were put into slavery! Has God forgotten his promise? Of course not! God always has a plan. He explains,
So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey- the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (Exodus 3:8).
Notice that God hasn’t forgotten his promise. He still promises to bring the Israelites into Canaan. You might also notice that the list of nations that will be displaced by Israel seems to have gotten smaller since last time the Lord invoked his promise.
Indeed, God frees Israel, but it is not their time yet. God still feels that the people of Israel need to be tested to prepare themselves for owning their own big plot of land. So in order to cause the Israelites to submit totally to him, God gives them many hardships that they would not be able to face without some divine help. We read of these troubles such as no potable water…
Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place was called Marah) (Exodus 15:22-23)
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:2-3).
And more waiting…
I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and the Hittites out of your way. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land (Exodus 23:28-30).
Not just waiting a few more years either. God says, “until you have increased enough.” So this means it will be quite some time before the Promised Land is claimed, as the Israelites need to have more kids. Not only that, but those kids have to grow up as well.
But wait; there is more for the young nation that isn’t ready yet (as far as God is concerned). They begin to complain, so we read, “But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague” (Numbers 11:33). That’s right, illness. Soon though came the worst news of all,
The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times- not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it” (Numbers 14:20-23).
God announced to the Israelites that they wouldn’t go to the land they left Egypt for. Due to their impatience with the Lord, God decided to delay the Promised Land for yet another generation. As it turned out, everyone who came out of Egypt was doomed to die in the desert, Moses included. So on top of everything else, they can add hopelessness to the list. Only two men from that time would be allowed to walk onto the land promised to Abraham, Joshua and a zealous man named Caleb.
I want to ask you, how strong is your faith? How much hardship are you willing to endure to get what you pray for? Hebrews 11:1 reminds us, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Notice, you have to be certain, absolutely certain that God will deliver what you have asked for because until you are ready, God isn’t going to give it to you. If you’re praying for something big, you might have to be ready for some hard times. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that all the way from Abraham to Moses (a significant amount of time),
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth (Hebrews 11:13).
Can you do that? Can you die, knowing that what you longed for is something you will never experience? The Israelites didn’t give up though. Even Moses, who had all of the pain of the Israelites on his shoulders, who God also said would never enter the Promised Land, wouldn’t give up. No, he didn’t give up because he full trusted in God’s ability. Moses sadly announced to the people before they crossed the Jordan River to take their land, “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan’” (Deuteronomy 31:2). Even so, Moses never gave up on God, he continued, “The lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). Even after everything even after knowing that he would not enter Canaan, Moses still put all of his trust and faith in God. Do you have that kind of faith?
I am sorry, but I am not going to tell you today that the road will be easy, nor will you get what you want right away. But understand, God knows what you want, and he is always listening. He hasn’t forgotten you or your needs. When you are ready, god will give you all the great things that he has prepared for you. So,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).
The road may be long, the road may be hard, but God will always be there. You can trust in him. He will not leave you, nor will he forsake you.
We read in Ephesians 3:12, “In him and through faith in him we may approach god with freedom and confidence.” With faith, we bring all of our prayers to God (through his son Jesus), and we know that they will be answered. That is faith, you must trust god and fully believe in his ways. If you truly have faith, you can do anything, because you know that god will give you what you need, when you need it. Therefore, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Not only that, but through Jesus, our risen Lord, we have a petitioner in heaven. If you don’t trust my words, then hear it from our Lord and Savior himself, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14).