Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I was reading in Deuteronomy when part of an introduction from Moses caught my eye. Before introducing the Ten Commandments (or re-introducing them I suppose), he makes an odd comment. Scripture records:
Moses summoned all Israel and said:
Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today (Deuteronomy 5:1-3).
What makes this interesting is that, factually speaking, Moses is in error. The covenant at Horeb was not made with this generation but with the previous one, their fathers and mothers. And furthermore, that entire generation (save for Moses, Joshua, and Caleb) were all dead by time Moses gave his Deuteronomy speech. Moses even noted this fact earlier in his speech,
Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp (Deuteronomy 2:14-15).
While I pondered these questions, the Holy Spirit explained everything by throwing some scriptures at me. First came Luke 20:38, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Considering that all the Scripture that got written down and saved in the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, it makes sense then that if God was speaking to the people through Moses, he’d assume everyone in the camp was part of the covenant, even if they hadn’t been born yet (as he had already seen them alive at that time). God seeing everyone as alive also gives credit to Hebrews 4:12’s,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
If God is outside time, then his Word likewise was written without a consideration for time but rather for all time. Jesus also invoked God’s status as outside of time for himself when he spoke with the naysayers. We read in John 8:58, “’I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” After being bombarded by these verses I realized that when the Lord acts, he does so unilaterally; since he is not bound up by space and time like we are. That’s why God, speaking through Moses, clarified that the children of the covenant were still a part of the covenant. This is also why Paul can tell 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).
Because although for us, the Bible was written long ago; God wrote the Bible while watching the world, even the world today. It’s because of God’s placement outside of time and his ability to speak to us unilaterally that explains why a book written thousands of years ago is still able to be relevant and useful to our modern plights. Of course, God already noted this in his Word when he spoke through the prophets, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Solomon realized this too and wrote, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14). Truly there is nothing new under the sun- at least as far as God is concerned.
Not only is God’s Word alive, but so is his Son. After Jesus died, the women who followed him went to take care of his body but were startled to find that it wasn’t there. History records,
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:1-5)
As the Son of God (and actually God), Jesus was not bound by death and therefore rose up from the grave. And what’s more, after walking around and talking to people, Jesus also went up into heaven alive too. Check out how Luke 24:50-51 describes it, “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” This means that even today, Jesus is still alive in heaven. And what is he doing up there? Hebrews 7:25 tells us, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Jesus is up there working on getting more followers saved and helping those who believe in him. So those who come to Christ have an eternally living and active advocate in heaven always fighting on their behalf. When talking to the woman at the well, Jesus tried to convey his constant existence. We read, “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water’” (John 4:10). Jesus describes himself as living water. Living water is water like a river, stream, or spring; it is continually flowing fresh (unlike well water which is largely stagnant). So we find then that Jesus is not only eternal, but fresh every day. Christ continues in John 4:13-14 as he compares himself to a well,
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Through this, Jesus again references back to the Word of God, which continues to be fresh each day you read it. Jesus is always fresh and new and he’s always working on your behalf, and he’s always speaking new things into your heart through his Bible.
Now, if God is alive and Jesus is alive and the Word of God written by the Holy Spirit is alive and all of these exist unilaterally across time and space- then so too the covenants of the Bible are still alive. God’s covenant to Abraham is still alive:
I will make you into a great nation
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And whoever curses you I will curse;
And all peoples on earth
Will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:2-3).
This is yours to take; it was made for you, who live today. Likewise, God’s covenant to the desert-bound Israelites still stands alive and well. I know many people want to run away from the Law, but Jesus said it himself,
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-18).
However, Jesus’ death on a cross did alleviate believers from the curses of the Law as it is stated in Galatians 3:13-14,
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order than the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of that Spirit.
And so, free of the curses of the Law, we are able to receive the blessings thereof as people declared righteous and clean in God’s eyes. And what does the Law say about such people? God speaks to us,
The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouses 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 (Deuteronomy 28:12-13).
Along with God’s covenant with Abraham and God’s covenant of the Law, we also are recipients of God’s covenant to the prophets. The Lord states,
And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right- if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live (Ezekiel 33:14-16).
Those who are declared righteous through Jesus’ death on a cross are completely cleansed of their sins, past, present, and future- the covenant of the prophets stands. Or what of Jesus’ covenants to his disciples? These too are alive and given to you today. Check out some of this stuff God has promised us,
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3)
Jesus’ disciples today also have this promise of heaven and the eventual second coming of Christ. They’re also given the Holy Spirit. For it is written,
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17).
And along with all of these promises thus far listed to believers, God is even reaching out his hand with a covenant to those currently without Christ in their lives. He says,
…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” (Romans 10:9-11).
And so we find that Moses was indeed not in error at all. The Lord has made many promises, but not to “our fathers” so to speak (that is to say, the Lord has not blessed only the previous generations). Take for example the gift of spiritual powers. Jesus spoke to his disciples (and through the Word, every follower),
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 16:15-18).
Many well-meaning Christians have made the erroneous claim that this promise was only for the apostles of Jesus’ time and that no such miracles are present today. However, that is directly in conflict with later Scripture, which states,
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).
Jesus’ promises of spiritual healing stand, no matter what people might think when they look around- people are healed by God every day; for it was written as such. God made this promise to all of us, living and those who have gone before us as we are all children of God, chosen and known from the beginning. We know this because Scripture tells us,
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:4-6).
And with the believer’s declaration of adoption comes yet another promise,
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Romans 8:16-17).
All this and so much more has the Lord promised to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ through his Word. It was not with our fathers that the Lord made these covenants, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. It’s no wonder that Moses sang out to God in Exodus 15:11,
Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?
Who is like you-
Majestic in holiness,
Awesome in glory,
Amen, brother, Amen!