Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
We often see the law as a test of obedience or a list of practical commands that were designed to help a new nation survive in the desert as they trekked to their new home in the Promised Land. As such, while reading, we often find ourselves fighting against the laws of Exodus, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy, either as a response of our flesh not wanting to be controlled or as an understanding that we’ve somehow developed beyond the need for God’s law. For example, when we read “You shall not commit adultery” in Exodus 20:14, our fleshy side feels restricted and starts to complain about how uptight the Bible is. Or when we read things like “Any bed the man with a discharge lies on will be unclean, and anything he sits on will be unclean” in Leviticus 15:4, we start saying, “Ok, well maybe that was the case some thousands of years ago, but now we have pants- and showers.” But the Law of Moses serves a whole other purpose than just testing us and protecting the ancient Israelites. A large part of the Law was designed to protect your reputation.
“Wait, hold on here; protect my reputation? I thought being humble was part of being a Christian.” Oh, it is, as Christians, we are called to be humble in all things and at all times. Jesus actually taught, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). However, while we should not be pushing our own name, the Law enables us ways in which to not only protect it, but to make us look better as well. Consider this, if you do your best to follow all of the commandments and other laws, will you be doing good or bad? So, by following God’s Law you will most certainly be protected from messing up your good name.
Don’t believe me? Check out the list of unlawful sexual relations in Leviticus 18. The Bible says,
Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father.
Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.
Do not have sexual relations with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter; that would dishonor you (Leviticus 18:7-10).
While I was reading through all of these (and the list is much longer) the Holy Spirit lit up the last part of verse 10, “that would dishonor you.” Suddenly it made sense, aside from all of the other people being dishonored by varied in-family sexual adventures; you would look bad in all of these situations. I mean just look at the first one I listed, if you happened to lay with your mom, someone would call you a mother-f-well you know where I’m going- AND THEY’D BE RIGHT! God even makes sure in this section to clarify the possible iffy parts that people might try to exploit. We read in Leviticus 18:11, “Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father’s wife, born to your father; she is your sister.” God doesn’t see in halfs and steps, a sister is a sister and sleeping with her would be weird. And guess what, the whole world sees it as weird, plus there are possible mutations that can result from family interactions, so everyone would be able to figure out what’s going on. People want to do whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes, but the fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as 100% privacy. Sooner or later it’s gonna come out. I once had a friend whose girlfriend secretly confided in him that when she was younger, her and her brother experimented with each other. My friend was terrible at keeping secrets and soon the whole group knew and of course her name was ruined as was their relationship. Consider this, do you really want to be known as the person who’s gotten it on with a dog (and I don’t just mean an ugly person)? Well, thank goodness God lets you know it’d be a bad idea, “Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion” (Leviticus 18:23). Or think of the hard time homosexuals are having all over the world. The Bible says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (Leviticus 18:22). I know a lot of people think that Christianity is to blame for the stigma associated with homosexuality, but quite honestly, there’s a whole bunch of religions that ban it. Not only that, but I’ve met a fair few atheists who likewise are disgusted by the thought (and why shouldn’t they be? Homosexuality doesn’t fit in an evolutionary model very well either). Now, I am not saying that incestites, beastials, or homosexuals are bad people. I don’t want to make that suggestion at all- there are good, kind people in every kink and Jesus loves them all and desires salvation for them if they have not yet received it. What I am saying is that by their actions, they have damaged their own reputation in front of others, when by trying following the Laws of God they would have been protected.
But there’s more than the list of unacceptable sexual practices pointing to God’s desire for us to have a good name. Let’s look at Proverbs, in which God, through Solomon pleads with the reader to follow his rules and commands. Scripture says,
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 (Proverbs 3:1-4).
Notice, God says to follow his commands in order to win a good name and favor not only with him, but also with other people. He even evokes the imagery of the Ten Commandments by telling you to write the laws of the tablet of your heart. So to be clear, God wants you to have a good name; and to that end the laws and teachings of the Bible were given to us to follow.
Ok, so the Lord wants us to look good, but why? If we’re supposed to be humble, then why is God trying to give us such a good name? God wants us to look good because when our name is good, his name is good. That’s right, the Lord cares about his name, and therefore he cares about yours. All over the Bible, God is talking about his name. Look at Jeremiah 16:21,
Therefore I will teach them-
This time I will teach them
My power and might.
Then they will know
That my name is the Lord.
When God acts, he’s doing so in order to strengthen his name. The Bible records,
For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath;
For the sake of my praise I hold it back from you,
So as not to cut you off.
See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.
How can I let myself be defamed?
I will not yield my glory to another (Isaiah 48:9-11).
Heck, God even goes as far as outright stating his goal in Malachi 1:11,
“My name will be great among the nations from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.
Wow, the Lord is really selfish right? WRONG! There is a purpose to all of this concern for his name. As I mentioned earlier, Jesus loves everyone, and he died for everyone so that everyone may have the chance to come to salvation. We frequently read 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The Lord wants everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge and belief in his Son, Jesus Christ. By us looking good, we make Jesus look good, and if a relationship with Jesus appears to be desirable, then more will be saved. So although you might want to do whatever you want in your freedom in Christ, he wants you to consider the souls that may be saved through your obedience to his Word. Peter sums up the Law and one of its many purposes beautifully. He writes,
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:11-12).
By following the commands of God, you’re not just playing an obedience game or following a set of antiquated rules; you’re building up your own name and the kingdom of God at the same time. And so we’re told by Jesus, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). So check out the Law, it’s for your own good.