Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Assuming that you are reading this, you’ve probably already answered the title’s question with “English.” Or maybe “English and ____.” Come to think of it, with the internet and a global mindset starting to take over the world, most people speak English (and a growing number of people are learning Chinese). But when I ask what language you speak, I’m not talking about what system of communication employed by a specific country you use. What I really want to know is, “Who is behind your words, the world, or the Word?”
I was reading in Nehemiah and the Holy Spirit lit up an interesting passage. Scripture records,
Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves” (Nehemiah 13:23-25).
Most of Nehemiah is a really exciting book in which Nehemiah confronts the world, takes Gods side, and always comes out on top. It’s a really motivational book for anyone looking to be a Godly leader in their community or family. But then we read about Nehemiah getting angry because the children don’t speak Hebrew. I don’t speak Hebrew either, Nehemiah, so am I in the wrong? Furthermore, the New Testament was written in Greek, so were Paul and the Apostles in the wrong too (though likely they spoke some Hebrew)? Because the Christian church is not bound by language, this passage often ends up as a throw-away set of verses for most people. And yet, as I went through my day, the Holy Spirit kept it ringing in my ears. Because as much as we’d like to skip over stuff we don’t understand, the Bible reminds us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
“Alright, God, alright. What am I supposed to do with this passage?” The Holy Spirit explained to me that before getting too focused on the language, to look at the problem behind the issue. That is to say: “Why are the children not speaking Hebrew?” The answer was easy to see, the Israelites were intermarrying with foreigners. Even before Nehemiah arrived on the scene in Jerusalem, this had already been noted as a big problem by Ezra the scribe and priest. We read from his journal of events,
After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness” (Ezra 9:1-2).
This news did not go over well with Ezra. Ezra 9:3-4 show us his response,
When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.
Ezra was so upset that the Israelites were intermarrying that he sat down, likely for hours (since he eventually formed a crowd according to the above passage) in misery. Notice that in both passages from Ezra 9 the act of marrying a foreigner is called unfaithfulness. “Unfaithfulness? I thought marriage was all about being faithful.” While I have little doubt that most of the intermarried exiles were faithful with their spouses, once again, like the Hebrew issue, there is more than meets the eye. Ezra wasn’t crying over marital unfaithfulness of the Jews, instead he was wallowing in despair because they were breaking the Law of God through their marriages.
Before entering the Promised Land, the Lord warned the people about the native inhabitants. God commanded (through Moses),
Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).
Alright, so both Ezra and Nehemiah were upset that God’s people were marrying outside of the nation of Israel, and therefore marrying outside of the faith. Although all this happened in the Old Testament, Christians should pay special attention as well. In Malachi 2:16 God speaks out,
“I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the Lord Almighty.
So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.
Any believer knows (almost instinctually) that divorce is a big no-no for a Christian. When teaching on the topic, Jesus lays down the one exception to the no-divorce rule, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced women commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32). So most Christians know that unless there is cheating involved, divorce should be out of the question. However, Paul gives yet another situation in which divorce is acceptable in one of his letters. He writes,
But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God had called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:15-16)
Through this we can learn that marrying an unbeliever is such a problem that even though God hates divorce, he lets it be a consideration in such circumstances. So…why is marrying an unbeliever such a big deal? Paul explains,
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).
The Bible implores believers not to be attached to the world, for all that we stand for, the world stands against. And all that the world stands for, we likewise stand against. “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Ok, let’s pull this back into the context Nehemiah freaking out about the children not speaking Hebrew. Why was Nehemiah so angry? It wasn’t that they couldn’t speak his language (though, he probably felt a little bad about that too, since it was their heritage), it was because of whose ways they were learning. By learning the languages of the world rather than the language of God’s people, it showed Nehemiah that the families the children were growing up in had become worldly. So when we read about Nehemiah getting upset about the kids not speaking Hebrew, we need to turn a mirror on ourselves and ask who’s language we’re speaking- or maybe more accurately: “Who’s ways are we learning?” Where are you learning from? We watch a lot of TV, and we put a lot of emphasis on education these days. And let’s not even get into the Pandora’s Box that is the internet. Moses reminds us, “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them” (Deuteronomy 11:16). Always remember as you carry out your daily lives that most of our educational systems, media, and society in general are anti-Christ. Quite a bit of the world belittles the idea that God created the world in six days, yet at the same time they set up evolution on a pedestal to be worshipped. Evolution is just as much a faith-based belief as creationism, especially when you realize that through natural selection (the supposed force behind evolution) creatures are losing genetic information- not gaining. Therefore if anything, the schools should be preaching de-evolution. Now, I can’t in any way suggest that you fully disconnect yourself from the world, because I’m pretty sure that’s impossible (since we live in the world). What I am saying is this: be informed. Read your Bible, it is the Word of God. Go to church, God trains pastors to help you understand his Word. And be ready, the world is gonna throw all it can at you to disrupt your faith. Parents, listen to Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” I’m not saying to bury your children in scripture, but don’t go all hippy “They’ll decide when they’re older” either. Use their childhood to be a Godly example of living in Christ’s love. If you care about your kids, don’t let them get a chance to go to hell, train them up so that when the testing times are past, they’ll chose to side with God rather than the world. And how do we do this? How do we make our language the same as God’s (and keep ourselves from getting a hair-pulling from Nehemiah)? Well, here’s what the Lord (through Moses) tells us,
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth (Deuteronomy 11:18-21).
I grew up in a house where there were framed Bible verses on the walls, and in a town where everyone went to church and spoke some form of Christianese, and with a family that prayed together every day (even if just at dinner). From experience I can tell you, although I went into the world, when I heard the sound of the Bible and read the words that had been ingrained into me without me even knowing it; it was like I was being called home. Cover your lives with the Word of God and protect yourself and your family from the temptations of worldly thinking. The Holy Spirit is asking you today, “What language do you speak?”