Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Every year I try to read through the Bible in a different way. While reading the books in alphabetical order with Psalms interspersed the whole way though, the Holy Spirit lit up for me what I now refer to as “The Love Set.” The Love Set is comprised of Psalms 145-146, Ruth, Song of Songs, and Titus (in case any of you would like to duplicate the experience). While reading these books over the course of a few days the Holy Spirit gave me a realization: God loves love. I mean, God really loves love. Though I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising, because according to the Bible, God is love. It says so in 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.” John is short, and to the point, but just wrap your brain around that: God is love. God is love and God loves love.
God loves familial love. I’m pretty sure the whole book of Ruth is devoted to God’s love of family. If you notice as you read this rose-colored book, everyone who wins does so because they’ve been obeying God and honoring their family ties. Take Naomi, the poor widow who was left with two daughters not her own. Most mother-in-laws might just leave their son’s wives behind after losing said sons. But not Naomi, although later she gives them the chance to return to their own land; initially, Naomi just keeps going on living with them as though her dead sons would be coming home any time. Check out the way this is written,
Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah (Ruth 1:3-7).
Naomi had lost her husband, and then her sons both died. Later in the story it becomes clear that throughout this ordeal, Naomi suffers greatly from the deaths in her family and is pretty depressed the whole time. Rather though then kicking her two daughters-in-law to the curb, she keeps them with her all the time. Orpah ends up leaving, but Ruth stays, and Naomi cheers her on for the rest of the story (even through her depression). The Bible never makes it clear if Naomi loves Ruth because she actually likes her, or if she does it through some sort of sense of duty, but the point is that Naomi sticks with her daughter-in-law. And because of her loyalty to Ruth, she is blessed by grandchildren (something she never thought she’d have). Scripture records that after the grandchild was born,
The women said to Naomi: “Praise be the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth” (Ruth 4:14-15).
Naomi cared for Ruth, and was rewarded by her daughter-in-law giving her a grandson. But it wasn’t just Naomi who stayed true to her family and was rewarded for it. Look at Ruth. Consider this, Ruth lost her husband, but Naomi lost basically her whole family. Ruth was hurt, but Naomi had become a basket case, the point of even changing her name to reflect how awful she felt. Scripture records in Ruth 1:20 Naomi’s response after the women in town come to meet her, “’Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.’” This is what Ruth lived with every day. And yet, despite having no reason at all to stay and care for this probably difficult woman, Ruth honored Naomi and stood by her during her hard times. Naomi gave Ruth the chance to leave with her sister, but this is what happened:
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Ruth would not forsake her mother-in-law and even called a curse down upon herself should she consider doing so. In response to this, the Lord greatly blessed Ruth by giving her a great new husband, an awesome blessing from the elders of Israel, and a book of the Bible named after her. Scripture tells us,
Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son (Ruth 4:11-13).
Keep in mind, Ruth was not a native Israelite. However, even though the law looked down on her citizenship, both the people and God blessed her marriage to Boaz because it was done out of honor to her dead husband and to her mother-in-law. And, as it turns out, Boaz was a pretty cool guy too. You see, Boaz also took care of his family. For Boaz was an unspecified member of Naomi’s family (or more specifically her dead husband’s family). At that time, if a situation happened where part of the family line ended, a close relative could redeem the property owned by his dead relative. This sounds like a pretty good deal, but there’s a catch. If that dead close relative had a wife and no children, he would also have to take the wife at the same time (which could be problematic, especially if he wanted [or already had] a wife of his own). Moreover, the first child of that wife would be credited to the dead ex-husband and as such create difficulties when dividing up the inheritance later on. Although you would be gaining the property, you would be doing so in the stead of a dead relative whose line would continue separate from yours. It’d be like doing the work and someone else getting paid. Nevertheless, Boaz proudly helped his family and married Ruth (though to be fair, he was also motivated by love for Ruth). Check out his speech,
Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Today you are witnesses!” (Ruth 4:9-10).
Not only did Boaz honor his dead relative, but he did so with great gusto. As such, Boaz’ line was blessed (and interestingly enough, he’s still credited by history as his son’s father). How blessed was this family line? We read,
This, then, is the family line of Perez:
Perez was the father of Herzon,
Herzon the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
Boaz the father of Obed,
Obed the father of Jesse,
And Jesse the father of David (Ruth 4:18-22)
Boaz ended up being the grandfather of King David, the greatest king of Israel. But there is more, Jesus was born from the house of David. I won’t list that genealogy (because it’s quite a few generations between David and Jesus), but you can check it out right at the beginning of the book of Matthew and in chapter 3 of Luke. So Boaz just did his duty, and now for eternity he’s tied to not only Israel’s royal family, but also to the Savior of the world and the Son of God. God loves familial love. Now, before moving on it should be noted that not everybody wins in the book of Ruth. You see, Boaz wasn’t the closest relative to Elimelech. There was another man in town that got dibs on helping his family first. However, he refused because of Ruth. Take a look at what happens,
At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”
(Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took of his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)
So the kinsman-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal (Ruth 4:6-8).
When we read this by itself, it just seems like an odd tradition, removing one’s shoe. However, there was actually a lot of meaning behind this, and it carried a very heavy weight that the writer of Ruth tries to cover over a little. Check out what the law says on a relative who refuses to redeem a widow:
However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take of one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled (Deuteronomy 25:7-10).
The book of Ruth suggests this guy isn’t actually a brother, but a close relative. And the ritual he does is very much a corruption of the original Law (which fits with the lawless times that the book of Ruth is set in). But by removing his sandal, the closest kinsman-redeemer acknowledged that he’d have to carry the shame of essentially abandoning his family. The Lord rewards those who love their family, and brings shame to those who don’t; because God loves familial love.
God loves friendly love. Scripture tells us, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). The relationship we have with our friends is unique out of all of the other relationships we may have. We may keep our friends for longer than we know our spouses; our friends may even outlive our relatives as life goes on. And with a friend there’s a wonderful innocence; it’s not your responsibility or duty to maintain your friendship like it would be in a familial relationship. Rather, you stay friends because you want to, and because even year after year, the emotional rewards keep on coming. Solomon tells us,
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down,
His friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
And has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
Two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Friendship is a gift from God to hold us all together. Pity those who walk alone, and then try to befriend him. Even Jesus had friends, and he called them friends too. We read,
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:13-15).
Jesus’ disciples were also his friends. And our Lord died for his friends, so that they would be saved. However, Jesus also opens up that invitation of friendship to us. He says that if we believe on him and do as he commands, we’ll enjoy friendship with our Lord and Savior. Trust Jesus and accept his friendship; because God loves friendly love.
God loves romantic love. Solomon’s Song of Songs is an amazing book about romantic love. It features many of the aspects we find in a romantic relationship. When you’re feeling romantically in love, you long for the other person, you need them to be with you and near you; and when they’re away you miss them (even if it’s because you’re at work or something). We can feel this along with the character of the “Beloved” (according to my NIV Bible’s separation of the verses) and her desire to be reunited with her “Lover,”
All night long on my bed
I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
I will get up now and go about the city,
Through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.
So I looked for him but did not find him.
The watchmen found me
As they made their rounds in the city.
“Have you seen the one my heart loves?”
Scarcely had I passed them
When I found the one my heart loves.
I held him and would not let him go
Till I had brought him to my mother’s house,
To the room of the one who conceived me (Song of Songs 3:1-4).
Aside from the strange interest in being intimate in pre-conceived places, we find that feeling of longing every time the two lovers of Song of Songs are separated. This is a book that celebrates romantic love. What probably stands out the most though about the Song of Songs is the way the topic of sex is handled. Most of the Bible, as it deals largely with the issue of sin, makes sex something to be somewhat ashamed of. However, in Song of Songs, there is no shame, no hiding, but instead we find a pure flow of emotions. Even as you read the beginning of the book, it’s quick to see that this isn’t gonna be a list of laws and regulations,
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth-
For your love is more delightful than wine.
Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
Your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the maidens love you!
Take me away with you- let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers.
We rejoice and delight in you;
We will praise your love more than wine (Song of Songs 1:2-4).
If somebody quoted that to me and I didn’t know where it was from, I’d assume it was an excerpt from some trashy romance novel. I mean, c’mon, look at that, the whole “song” starts off with the two lovers making out, getting the “Beloved” (the female voice) so worked up that she demands they move it to the bedroom. This is steamy stuff. There’s no punches pulled in this book. The couple featured is madly in love- not as friends, not as family, but as lovers who cannot have enough of the other emotionally or physically. As she sings of her love, the Beloved tells her Lover (and us),
How handsome you are, my lover!
Oh, how charming!
And our bed is verdant (Song of Songs 1:16).
Even as she’s trying to compliment her husband, the Beloved’s comments spill into the bedroom. She talks about their marriage bed being verdant, which is a word that brings to mind greenery (like a lush field), so clearly their sex life is far from dead. When the Holy Spirit was guiding King Solomon to write this he lets it all come out. The reason why God does this is because he doesn’t want to be misunderstood. Our Lord loves romantic love. Most Christians today see sex as a totally taboo topic that isn’t meant for the church, but that’s not the case at all. God loves it when his children can proclaim that their marriage bed is green and exciting. There’s nothing wrong with the full emotions of a romantic relationship. However, we do need to keep in mind that God expects us to keep sex within the confines of marriage. Scripture reminds us, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4). So if you’re going all Song of Songs on your boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t expect it to be a blessed relationship until you put a ring on it. God made us special, separate from the animals, and wants us to behave in a way fitting for our place (even some animals mate for life, so stop complaining about how restrictive God is). However, if your marriage bed isn’t anything to write home about, it might be time to do some Bible study with your spouse through the Song of Songs- I suspect the silliness derived from acting out the parts could loosen up the atmosphere quite a bit and probably warm some hearts (and bodies). Because it is the most intimate form of relationship, God is pretty strong on how he wants us to carry out our sexual relations- or rather how not to do so. The Lord says in Leviticus 18:6 that we are not to become intimate with those already closely related to us, “No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord.” Likewise, we are not supposed to share our bodies with those who have the same gender as us, or other species,
Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
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.
Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that that I am going to drive out before you became defiled (Leviticus 18:22-24).
Our Lord isn’t trying to restrict sex in order to be some fuddy-duddy. He designed the romantic relationship to be used a specific way, and amongst the nations this way was corrupted and led to those nations eventual destruction. God isn’t afraid of sex or ashamed of it, but he knows how it’s done right. After all, he’s the one who wrote,
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Genesis 2:24-25).
In the marriage relationship, there should be no shame; it is when sin creeps in that we start to feel weird about it.
God loves to love us. Our world can be tough, but for those in Christ, there is a constant hand to help us through the hard times and guide us through life. God is our loving father, Jesus our friend, and the Lord is also our husband (sex doesn’t really play into human-God relations). He loves us, and he takes an active role in our lives in order to show that love to us. Our Lord isn’t some being that just made everything and backed off, oh no. He’s involved even in our daily lives and is constantly listening and answering each and every believer’s prayer. David couldn’t help but to gush about how the Lord has been active in everyone’s lives,
Great is the Lord and most worth of praise;
His greatness no one can fathom.
One generation will commend your works to another;
They will tell of your mighty acts.
They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
And they will tell of the power of your awesome works,
And I will proclaim your great deeds.
They will celebrate your abundant goodness
And joyfully sing of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all;
He has compassion on all he has made (Psalms 145:3-9).
Now this sounds like a lot of hyperbole but take note of a few certain points. David says that each generation will tell the next of God’s amazing works; this means that aside from the stories in the Bible, God will make his presence known to each generation. We’re also reminded by David that the Lord loves all that he has made. In fact, it was through this love that God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ to earth to sacrifice himself in order that we may become closer to God and spend our eternity with him. It is written, “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). Our God is involved in our lives daily; as we reach out to him he delivers his goodness. David continues,
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And your dominion endures through all generations.
The Lord is faithful to all his promises
And loving toward all he has made.
The Lord upholds all those who fall
And lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
And you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
And satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways
And loving toward all he has made.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
To all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
He hears their cry and saves them (Psalms 145:13-19).
The Lord manages the whole earth, and he provides to his children the things they need. Now I know this sounds like an infomercial about investing in Christ; but honestly from a personal level, David is right on the money. God does fulfill his promises made through his Word, he does satisfy desires, he does lift people up, and in his love he does this to everyone who calls on the name of Jesus with sincerity in their hearts. The relationship with God you develop after coming to him through Christ is beyond words and can only be fully understood through experience. But David is trying to get the point across anyway. Another Psalm tells us,
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
The Maker of heaven and earth,
The sea, and everything in them-
The Lord, who remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
And gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
The Lord gives sight to the blind,
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the alien
And sustains the fatherless and the widow,
But he frustrates the ways of the wicked (Psalms 146:5-9).
If you are with Christ, your life will be different. God loves all of his creations, but in order to fully show that love you must have your heart open to him. Otherwise, the Lord, in his love, will frustrate your way until you come to him; because he wants to give you all of his love for eternity rather than let you run headlong into hell.
God showed us the greatest love. Paul reminds us,
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7-8).
Is there someone in your life that you’re willing to die for? Why are you willing to do so? Remember this, when we were still sinners, separated from God and quite honestly his enemy, the Lord sent his only son (who was also God) to die for us. And it was through this act of love that we are able to be saved. As he wrote to Titus, Paul wanted to make sure that everyone remembers just how much God loved us all,
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:3-7).
It is through Christ’s sacrifice that we are brought into a relationship with God so that he can shower us with his love like he had intended to in the beginning. We have done nothing in this relationship, but the Lord’s love has carried us from start and will carry us to the very end; for God is eternal and his love is eternal too.
How then can we, who are human, love God back? Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). We show God our love by obeying all that he asks of us. “Whoa whoa, hold on! That’s a lot of rules to memorize!” If you’ve ever read through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; you’ll know that there are a lot of laws the Lord expects us to keep. These laws are further added to by the books of prophecy later and made must stricter when Jesus shows up in the gospels. How are we supposed to live such perfect lives? Moses tells us, “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day” (Deuteronomy 8:11). But let’s be honest here, most of us can’t even remember most of the Law, how are we expected to keep it? According to Paul, the key is self-control. He writes,
Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless- not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined (Titus 1:7-8).
Now take note here: Paul goes through a list of “do-nots.” However, they all can be maintained by practicing self-control. Wanna get angry? Self-control. Wanna get drunk or violent? Self-control. Wanna get out of debt fast? Self-control. It is through self-control that we are able to avoid the things that we know we shouldn’t do (or are being told to avoid by the Holy Spirit). This is a big piece of advice and he says it over and over. Check out what Paul says to teach to people of various ages,
Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled (Titus 2:2-6).
No matter who is being taught, Paul gives the same advice, “Tell them to be self-controlled.” This is the key to obeying God. Aside from that, the whole law is actually very easily summarized. The Bible tells us,
Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40).
How do you obey God? Love him, and love those around you. If you love the Lord you will obey him naturally, for the Holy Spirit will warn you as you get too close to sin and remind you to show some restraint. And if you love those around you, then you also fulfill the other half of the Law. When Jesus called out the Church in Ephesus in the Book of Revelation, he wrote, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Revelation 2:4). Never stop loving God. Don’t let the Law bring you down, for it is through your love of God and love towards people (with some self-control being applied where needed) that you grow in your relationship to the Lord. Remember the “Beloved” in the Song of Songs. Her love is crazy, emotional, and totally unabashed. If you run towards Christ headlong, with love, and without shame you will live the way God wants you to. And you will experience the Lord on every level of love and you will bask in that love. Because let’s be honest: God loves love, and he loves to love.