Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Life is filled with struggles. We struggle to succeed. We struggle to keep ourselves from sin. We struggle to make a difference. Heck, many of us struggle just to make ends meet. What’s worse is that so often we fail and fall short of what we’re trying to achieve. We would love to receive all the blessings that the Lord promises in the Bible, and yet even the Word of God can be disheartening when we read stuff like,
The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them (Deuteronomy 28:12-14).
First he sets you up with all that bounty talk, and then he sticks on the proviso that we’re to not turn away from any command. Any command? Are you kidding me? Lord, I can’t even keep the big ten consistently, and you want me to keep everything within the four books largely devoted to the Law? How am I supposed to hope for anything good as sinful as I am? Or in this economic depression I think of 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Really, Paul? If someone is having a hard time getting a job, this is kind of a heart-breaking piece of Scripture.
I’ve heard a fair few people argue that God doesn’t give an A for effort. And yet, while in my own pit of self-abasement, the Holy Spirit encouraged me with this,
On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?’” (Haggai 2:1-3).
Ok, not so encouraging yet. But hold on, it’s coming. First, though, a little background to this prophecy. Haggai was a prophet during the time when the exiles were returning to Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been destroyed 70 years prior to this and everything, including the Temple had been torn down and burned. So of course, one of the first things the returnees did was to rebuild the Temple. But…it wasn’t the same. This is how Ezra describes the scene after the Temple’s foundations were set up,
But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away (Ezra 3:12-13).
It was a joyous occasion, sure, especially for the 2nd and 3rd generation Jewish exiles. But for those who had seen the old Temple, they knew it wasn’t the same. And sure enough, in the above passage from Haggai, God confirms this new Temple definitely wasn’t as good as the original one built by Solomon. If you read the book of Ezra, there’s this cloud over it. Because after all their struggling to come back and rebuild, it feels like the constantly fail and can’t measure up. When we fail to meet our standards, or even what we view as God’s standards it can be a real downer.
Alright, now comes the uplifting part. God continues in Haggai 2:4-5,
“But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,” declares the Lord. “Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the Lord, “and work. For I am with you,” declares the Lord Almighty. “This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”
So after telling them that the new Temple kind of sucks, God quickly says, “Don’t worry about that though, just keep going, I’m with you.” I love that he talks about when he brought the Israelites out of Egypt; that he promised to stay with them, and is with them even now. To those wrestling with their finances and incomes, God says, “’The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Haggai 2:8). God is control of it all. If you’re having trouble finding a job, God has that in his hands, you just keep trying. You’re in debt up to your eyeballs and desperately trying to claw yourself out only to fail every month when the bills come? Don’t worry, keep trying, God has it in hand. Those in Christ are destined to succeed, for it is written, “’The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Haggai 2:9). God tells us that he already knows the end of our struggles, and that we shouldn’t give up because he has a great plan for us. For those of you who know about the history of the Temple, much later, after many years of being sub-par, it was completely renovated and shone greater and brighter than ever. So maybe you’re struggling today with sin, finances, or failing to achieve success in any area at all. Don’t worry, the Lord says to keep going and the end will be greater than the beginning- and even better than you could have hoped.
Jesus tells us, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). You will fail in this world, perhaps many times; but even if you’re failing today, keep going, keep trying, for God has a plan for your life. Of the sub-par Temple, God noted,
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty (Haggai 2:6-7).
For the believer, a time will come when you will reach success, for the Lord has good plans for you.
“Whoa whoa, let’s back the train up here, what about all that stuff about keeping the whole Law from the first paragraph?” Ok, time to look at that. The Israelites were commanded to keep the whole law- yes. Does this mean that sin will bring about curses? Yes it does. It also brings death- eternal death. However, none of this holds sway over those who trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Paul explains,
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin (Romans 6:6-7).
When you accept Christ into your heart, you die to sin just as he died. This way, when you do slip up, instead of having to carry a backpack-o-sin that gets bigger and heavier, the sin rolls off your back and you keep going toward that which the Lord has called you to. Will you sin? Sure, but you’re not tied down by it. You can trust this because it’s written, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). The Law of the Old Testament is not your master- it’s still useful but not in the same way it was for the Israelites. Rather, your master is Christ Jesus, who died on a cross to free you from all that sin weighing you down. And this one-time event doesn’t end Jesus’ work in your life. Oh no, for the Bible tells us, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25). God was already on your side from the beginning, Christ died that you may not be tied down by sin, and Jesus is still praying for you all the time: now that’s a recipe for success!
So cheer up, my friend. Look inside your heart, pray for God’s heart, and read his Word and find out where he’s calling you to go in life. And though you may struggle on the way, you won’t fail; because the Lord is the one who called you to it. He tells us,
I make known the end from the beginning,
From ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand
And I will do all that I please (Isaiah 46:10).
Whatever God has called you to he will grant you success in. It will get better even though you might be struggling now, for the Lord has put your good desires in your heart; be it financial stability, sanctification, a successful ministry, or whatever task he’s given you. If God told you to pursue such a path, then that path is already paved in gold because God has seen the end and isn’t gonna lead you into a trap. So don’t fret. Instead,
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth (Psalms 46:10).
Those who trust in Christ won’t fail forever, because God will make sure his name is upheld. Last of all, I just want to remind you, if you are in a pit of failure and can’t seem to get out, that God knows your heart. When choosing the 2nd king of Israel, the Lord looked at the most successful, competent man in David’s family; and this is what went down:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things a man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
God doesn’t judge you by how you look, or how you appear on the outside, or even your success rate- no, he judges you by your heart and your relationship to his Son, Jesus Christ. Even if everything isn’t up to snuff now; if those two things are good, then you’re already well on your way to the success God has planned for you.
Rock on God!