Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Life is hard. It’s filled with ups and downs. Not that this should be surprising to anyone. There are a few worldly maxims that cover the difficulty of life, but the only one I can print here is, “Life is a roller coaster; enjoy the ride.” The world, though, does not have a monopoly on proverbs about the nature of life. Christians are also told in the Bible that there are ups and downs. Jesus tells us,
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:44-45).
Straight from the Son of God to you, life is rockin’ awesome and terribly awful for everyone, Christian or not. Not only are there ups and downs, but these days the world seems to be constantly changing. With such a shifting surface to stand on, where is a person supposed to find solid ground? Let’s find out what the Holy Spirit had to say on the matter.
Those in Christ have an assurance that most of the world needs, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Well J-Man, that’s all well and good, but just saying “peace” isn’t really offering peace at all- if anything it might agitate some folks. So how can Christ make this statement? Let’s dig deeper. First off, let us establish that as the creator, God is the sovereign over everything. David writes,
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
The world, and all who live in it;
For he founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the waters (Psalms 24:1-2).
Through his power, God made everything and thus has dominance over it. But David continues in Psalms 24:7-10,
Lift up your heads, O you gates;
Be lifted up, you ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates;
Lift them up, you ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty-
He is the King of glory. (Selah)
In his ponderings over life and the universe, David reminds us that God is the King over all things, even though it doesn’t really seem like it sometimes. By establishing him as a reigning king, David is showing us that the Lord is still at work, even today and had not abandoned us to our own devices. Since the Lord is the King of the universe, the Lord over all, those of us who trust in him shouldn’t worry about what life will throw at us. For it is written,
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
In you I trust, O my God.
Do not let me be put to shame,
Nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one whose hope is in you
Will ever be put to shame,
But they will be put to shame
Who are treacherous without excuse (Psalms 25:1-3).
Alright, I know what you’re thinking (maybe). “It’s really easy to quote stuff out of a book and say it’s a life lesson, but you’re still just quoting stuff out of a book.” True that. So, instead of taking my word for it, God challenges you to prove him wrong. Check out what he has to say to the naysayers,
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
Or who laid its cornerstone-
While the morning stars sang together
And all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)
Yeah, he’s pretty strong about defending his place in the universe. And let’s not lie, up to this point, we’ve yet to properly prove God wrong in his claim to being the creator of everything. The big bang theory is starting to fall apart again and evolution and long-ages geology don’t really offer anything about how things actually got started. So God has another challenge instead: Prove yourself right. He challenges you to take hold of the universe and reign over it,
Have you ever given orders to the morning,
Or shown the dawn its place,
That it might take the earth by the edges
And shake the wicked out of it? (Job 38:12-13)
Of course the answer is “no.” As men we don’t have that kind of power. But really, it’s still a pretty heady claim to make in the debate about God’s sovereignty. Ok, so he brings it down to an earthly level: Prove your knowledge. Mankind has been on the earth- what 6,000 years, longer (if you believe in evolution)? Surely this has been enough time to figure out the mysteries of the universe, right? God challenges,
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years! (Job 38:18-21).
Keep in mind, Job’s story probably takes place thousands of years in the past. This means that God’ challenge for us to at the very least find out about the nature of light, darkness, and the whole of the earth has stood for that long. I have no idea about what science knows in regard to light and dark. However, I do know that there are still vast expanses of ocean that have yet to be explored, mapped, or understood. Through his speech to Job, the Lord reminds us of just how much he micromanages the existence of everything. He challenges in Job 38:39-41,
Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
And satisfy the hunger of the lions
When they crouch in their dens
Or lie in wait in a thicket?
Who provides food for the raven
When its young cry out to God
And wander about for lack of food?
Obviously answers differ on this one, but when it comes down to it, man has no part in any of it. God doesn’t take those who say he doesn’t exist lightly. It’s just that most people don’t read the Bible so they have no idea that God is surprisingly confrontational on the subject. How do we rank up with the Lord in power and justice? Let’s find out,
Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
Do you have an arm like God’s,
And can your voice thunder like his?
Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
And clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
Unleash the fury of your wrath,
Look at every proud man and bring him low,
Look at every proud man and humble him,
Crush the wicked where they stand.
Bury them all in the dust together;
Shroud their faces in the grave.
Then I myself will admit to you
That your own right hand can save you (Job 40:8-14).
This is probably one of my favorite things God says in the Bible. He basically throws the gauntlet down and says, “Go ahead and do my job better than me and y’know what? I’ll back off and admit defeat.” Oh how I wish we could crush the wicked and bury them all- but we can’t. And for some reason or another God chooses to take his time about it. After challenging man in Job, God challenges any other god through the book of Isaiah. He states,
“Present your case,” says the Lord.
“Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King.
“Bring in your idols to tell us
What is going to happen.
Tell us what the former things were,
So that we may consider them
And know their final outcome.
Or declare to us the things to come,
Tell us what the future holds,
So we may know that you are gods.
Do something good or bad,
So that we will be dismayed and filled with fear” (Isaiah 41:21-23).
Why does God take such a strongly-worded defensive stance? He does so to remind us that we weren’t there, we don’t know, we can’t do, and the stuff we trust in are worthless in the grand scheme of things. He reminds us of all the things we’re not and how powerless we are in the universe. And yet, there was a beginning, time and space do go on with nature being preserved despite the odds, justice does get served even when man’s hand isn’t part of it, and the Word of God has stood the test of time. Maybe the Lord doesn’t really prove his existence, but he certainly proves the existence of something beyond our comprehension- and since he puts himself in that place, we can only assume he is the one who made the set and continues to hold the strings. So it seems that God is the creator and sovereign of the universe.
Jesus is God. This is established by John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). However, although Jesus is God, he is also distinct from his Father, God. Even though he is separate from God (while still being God), after his suffering, Jesus claimed the throne of God. Paul writes,
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death- even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
And gave him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-11).
It’s a little confusing, I know. However, since he is God and sits on God’s throne, Jesus has all power. For we find out that after Jesus rose from the dead, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’” (Matthew 28:18). Not only does Jesus command all the powers of God over the universe, he also has all of the experience of a man through his life on earth. Scripture reminds us of this when it says,
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 14-16).
Therefore, even in our times of worst suffering we can rely on the Lord. During his worst days David couldn’t deny God’s existence (even if he may have wanted to). He writes,
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
By night, and am not silent.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
You are the praise of Israel.
In you our fathers put their trust;
They trusted and you delivered them.
They cried out to you and were saved;
In you they trusted and were not disappointed (Psalms 22:2-5).
Even when everything comes crashing down, know that the Lord is still on the throne and has everything under control. In fact, David realized that when the chips are down, only one person is powerful enough to help you, and that’s God. He continues,
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
You made me trust in you
Even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast upon you;
From my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
For trouble is near
And there is no one to help (Psalms 22:9-11).
The Lord is the one thing in this life we can trust. For when we came out at birth until the day we die, God is always there, never changing. Besides that though, the Lord has complete authority over all things. For it is written,
All the ends of the earth
Will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations
Will bow down before him,
For dominion belongs to the Lord
And he rules over the nations (Psalms 22:27-28).
Keep in mind too that not only does the Lord rule over all that we see, but he also exists outside of and controls time. This is why David can write things like,
They will proclaim his righteousness
To a people yet unborn-
For he has done it (Psalms 22:31).
David says that we can preach of the good things to come to future generations because whatever will be decreed already has been in commanded since the beginning. Before you were even born, the Lord set about answering your prayers. It was with such things in mind that Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Since, after all, we have no control over what will happen tomorrow; but the Lord has complete dominion over it.
Without Christ, though, your life is unpredictable and has no ground. Check out how the Bible describes it,
Blessed is the man
Who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
Or stand in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And on his law he mediates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
Which yield its fruit in season
And whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
That the wind blows away (Psalms 1:1-4).
What would you rather have your life compared to? A solid tree that endures no matter what, or some chaff that the wind easily blows away. Unfortunately I think all too often we might describe what happens to us as more of the latter than the former. However, when we have God in our life through Christ, we can trust in his dominion to reign over any bumps that may come along in our path. Also, those in Christ not only are able to find hope in life, but in death as well; for heaven waits. Paul makes an interesting note,
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body (Philippians 1:21-24).
There is a feeling of purpose in the life of the believer, something that those who rage against Christ may never understand. And so many Christians often find themselves in this weird position, where they know heaven is gonna rock, and yet they’re curious to know why the Lord has kept them on earth and to what end their lives will be used. But no matter where he takes the believer, the Lord will always be there watching over that person. For it is written, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). And again, “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). With God always comes Christ. He too will be with the believer until the end, for he says,
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
And have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
Your walls are ever before me (Isaiah 49:15-16).
When he went to the cross and was nailed to it for our sake, Christ promised to always be with us in all things. He carries with him the marks of crucifixion as a reminder of his devotion. If you haven’t trusted in Christ yet, I plead with you to do so. Pray for forgiveness, and if you have trouble figuring out how to do all that, go to your local church, someone; be it the pastor, a staff member, or a fellow follower will help you. For Paul tells us,
Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
We will also live with him;
If we endure,
We will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
He will also disown us;
If we are faithless,
He will remain faithful,
For he cannot disown himself (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
Jesus makes a big claim when he says that he gives you his peace, but he’s got the power to back it up. Trust in the Lord, he won’t let you down, because he cannot go against himself and his words.
Rock on God!