Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
As I sat in a crowded café with a plethora of voices around me, I found myself perplexed by a Psalm. I like the sound of Psalm 46. In fact, I have the whole thing colored blue in my Bible (which is the color of my personal, not-attached-to-a-sermon, highlights). And yet, as I read it, I realized that I’m missing something about it.
Psalm 46 is really quotable. It’s got good snippets like Psalms 46:1-3,
God is our refuge and strength,
An ever-resent help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
And the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
Though its waters roar and foam
And the mountains quake with their surging. (Selah)
Or a few verses later when we read, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress (Selah)” (Psalms 46:7&11). Who doesn’t like the image of God as a fortress? Someone we can run to in our distress. It’s accurate, informative, and comforting; awesome for quoting. But when you zoom out from the verses, the Psalm itself is really disjointed. Ok, so verses 1-3 and 7&11 go together well, right? But look between them,
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day (Psalms 46:4-5).
What am I supposed to do with this? I don’t even understand what “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God” even means. If the Holy Spirit has explained that part to you (or even if you have a really solid theory) by all means, explain Psalms 46:4 in a comment. There’s more though, this Psalm also features what looks like a contradiction. Psalms 46:8-9 gives us a command,
Come and see the works of the Lord,
The desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
He burns the shields with fire.
We’re told that we should come and see the works of the Lord. However, right after that we read,
“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).
Well, what are we supposed to do? Should we come or should we stay still?
I asked the Holy Spirit about all this and how I am supposed to understand Psalm 46. He told me to consider the form, something which is cemented in the title to the Psalm: “For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.” Note that it’s written by the sons of Korah, that is, it’s written by multiple people. And through this Psalm, the writers are creating the sound of multiple voices with different standpoints. We have our comfort and security, “God is our Defense,” voice in verses 1-3. We’ve also got our “Destruction to God’s enemies” Spiritual offense voice in verse 8 and 9. Oh, and there’s some voices that don’t make any sense, like in verses 4 and 5. These differing voices give us the same feeling as the Christian world today. Everyone has something to say about Jesus (even me). Some preach defensively, some preach offensively, some don’t make any sense; but it seems everyone’s got a message to preach. But amongst all this, God’s response is that we should all be still and know he is God (verse 10). Our Lord is above all teachings, preaching, and everything else on earth. Therefore, all of the voices go silent before God because he is the ultimate authority. For it is written, “Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts” (Psalms 46:6).
We have to remember as we go on our way that God always comes first. After all, even when watching us chase after our basic needs like food and clothes, Jesus told us to calm down and focus on God. We read, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Rather than worry about anything else, Jesus just points to God and says to focus on that. We can actually see this in action in Luke 10: 38-40,
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Martha was all wrapped up in doing things and the worries in her life (and presently her guests). But Jesus just pointed her to the Lord (himself),
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Jesus said that just sitting at his feet and listening was much better than being busy with everything else.
“Ok, so how do we sit down at Jesus feet and listen to him?” Unlike Mary and Martha, the Lord isn’t physically sitting on our couches waiting to teach us. However, we can still sit and listen to his words through the Word of God, our Bibles. In fact, Scripture suggests that reading the Bible isn’t all that unlike listening to Christ in person, as the Word of God is alive. Don’t believe me, check it out:
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 (Hebrews 4:12).
The written Word of God, combined with the Holy Spirit working in you makes every read-through of the Bible fresh and new. I’ve been reading the Bible non-stop for years and it still reads differently every time; and I’ve heard the same from people 90 years old who’ve spent their lives in the Scriptures. The Bible is the Word of God, spoken through the Holy Spirit to the writers (and people who appear in it) and put onto the page. And what does God speak about? His Son, Jesus Christ:
You all know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen- by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:37-43).
And along with teaching us about his Son, the Lord also tells us through his Word how to be saved and brought to heaven at the end of our earthly lives so that we can live with the living Christ:
But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 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 10:8-13).
This is the Word of God, from the Bible, written by the Holy Spirit through varied people, all centering on our salvation through Jesus Christ.
So I say to you, trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior and read your Bible. Let the voices that surround you (accurate as they may be) take a break for a while as you engage in personal study time with God. And along with listening to the Lord through the Bible, talk back to him through prayer. It is written, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). Between your prayers and his Word, you can have some amazing conversations with the Lord.
Rock on God!