Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Between the Law, prophecies, and parables in the Bible; not to mention stories like Esther or Nehemiah where God isn’t really the main character; or kings like Manasseh, who is labeled evil in one book, but repents in another; or Song of Songs- it makes sense when people say the Bible is confusing. I mean, check out Judges. Things get so messed up there that even the writer doesn’t try to say who is good and who isn’t. Even Jesus’ disciples were confused when listening to him. Sometimes, while reading the Bible and listening to God I envy Moses, because God said of him in Numbers 12:8,
With him I speak face to face,
Clearly and not in riddles;
He sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid
To speak against my servant Moses?
Speaking clearly? Oh that’d be pretty awesome. But actually, sometimes God has a clear message for us too.
While reading chapter after chapter of warnings to Israel in Jeremiah, I found myself begging the Holy Spirit to give me something I could understand- and hopefully relate to you. Sure enough, by chapter 18, God, in desperation reaches out to Israel by making his point clear. We start reading,
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him (Jeremiah 18:1-4).
Jeremiah was called to the house of a potter by the Lord to get a visual representation of what God wanted to explain. Once Jeremiah arrives, the Lord begins his explanation,
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it (Jeremiah 18:5-10).
First God reminds Israel that he is the Lord. God is over everything, he is God. He is the Almighty Creator who makes himself known; as in Isaiah 44:6,
This is what the Lord says-
Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last;
Apart from me there is no God.
Jeremiah 32:17 recalls as well the place and power of our God, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” God then sets up that he, at any time, could destroy a nation if they do not repent. Following all of this, the Lord gives a very clear, official, warning to his people,
Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, “This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions (Jeremiah 18:11).
It doesn’t get much more clear than that. God says, “If I warn a country and they don’t repent, I can and will destroy them.” He then follows with, “Ok, now I’m warning you. Repent.”
This is a message to us as well. The world is going through some awful times these days politically, financially, and even meteorologically. We can blame it on a lot of things, coincidence, ocean tides, even the devil. But the Lord makes it pretty clear that as much as healing comes from his hand, disaster does too. The Lord tells us,
For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Before your eyes and in your days I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in this place (Jeremiah 16:9).
Notice, there’s no blame being shifted, God takes it on himself that when the disaster comes, it comes from the Lord- maybe through other means than direct act of God, but the Lord always gets the final say. Why then does God destroy or allow destruction? He continues,
When you tell these people all this and they ask you, “Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?” then say to them, “It is because your fathers forsook me,” declares the Lord, “and followed other gods and served and worshipped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law (Jeremiah 16:10-11).
Why would the Lord bring disaster on a nation? Well, according to this prophecy, because they’re more than a generation deep in sin. But it gets worse, “But you have behaved more wickedly than your fathers. See how each of you is following the stubbornness of his evil heart instead of obeying me” (Jeremiah 16:12). And this is where it gets serious for us. Israel had been sinning for generations, and the Lord had been warning them over and over again. However, as Jeremiah is prophesying, they’re sinking into worse and worse sin and idolatry. The thing is: our generation is sinning far worse than the generations before us too. There’s no Bible in schools, evolution is the predominant teaching and everything else is seen as archaic and stupid, the internet gives us instant answers and instant gratification- even though much of what’s presented on it is not Godly and is in fact sinful, sex is far more openly discussed (and encouraged), people are defining themselves based on their idols, and the list goes on and on. What did the Lord say to the increasingly evil Israel? He continues, “So I will throw you out of this land into a land neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor” (Jeremiah 16:13). God says that because of their sins, he will take his favor away. Now, preaching to the choir, this is meaningful. However, no matter how much someone screams and yells our nations are in the same place that Israel was during Jeremiah’s time. God notes, “But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart” (Jeremiah 18:12). Even with all the financial woes, political instability, and horrible natural disasters, people refuse to listen to God and repent. This is where Judah and Jerusalem were before the Lord exiled them.
Having said all that; God has a plan (as he always does). In Jeremiah 16:16-17, the Lord reveals what he’s going to do,
“But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the Lord, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.”
Notice that the Lord says he’ll send out fishermen and hunters throughout the peoples. God will hunt down the unbelievers- wait, that doesn’t sound very uplifting. Oh, my friend, it is. Because Scripture interprets Scripture, and Scripture tells us, “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men’” (Mark 1:17). So when God says in Jeremiah that he’ll send fishermen and hunters who will travel the world hunting down unbelievers, he’s not saying that he’ll be condemning them, but rather saving people so they can save others. And so we find God’s plan of dealing with an increasingly sinful world: saving it. The plan was enacted as Jesus was ascending into heaven. He told the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). I love how God’s plans are set up. Because first the Lord says that he can destroy a nation, then he condemns the nations for sin, and then he saves them. God continues in this by saying,
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 (Jeremiah 16:21).
Rather than destroy the evil, the Lord works to save as many as possible; and not just save them, but teach them. Where there is the truth of the Lord, there is hope and there is forgiveness. Ezekiel 18:21-22 tells us,
But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.
Generations deep in sin, given over to idolatry, away from the Lord: loved and forgiven. Through accepting Jesus’ death for our sins and his forgiveness thereof, God wipes the slate clean and doesn’t take into account what has happened in the past. But, for those who refuse to believe, be ready. For the Word says,
My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. I will repay them double for their wickedness and their sin, because they have defiled my land with the lifeless forms of their vile images and have filled my inheritance with their detestable idols (Jeremiah 17:17-18).
God does his best, short of violating our free will, to find us and save us. But if a person refuses to come to Christ, there will be punishment, double punishment. And that’s the choice; it’s either destruction or Jesus. God will hunt people down and do his best, but if repentance isn’t’ gonna happen, then he’ll have to act on that.
There’s something else that’s clear in the Bible though: salvation. Scripture clearly states,
…That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile- the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13).
It’s simple. Believe in Christ and declare him as the Lord over your life and you will be saved. Why wait until disaster strikes?