Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Pastors always say that the Old Testament points to Jesus. The problem is that they rarely back up the statement with Scripture. The pastors probably don’t even realize it though because the verses are so alive in their minds they just assume everyone else knows what they’re talking about. For the normal person though, the thought can be more like, “Ok preacher, Scripture or it’s not true.” I pressed the Holy Spirit with the task of pointing out pre-Gospel Jesus messages; and he is faithful and has provided me with abundant examples (some of which I’ve posted before). Here is another pre-Gospel message: Psalm 49.
The Sons of Korah (who wrote this Psalm) start,
Here this, all you peoples;
Listen, all who live in this world,
Both low and high,
Rich and poor alike:
My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
The utterance from my heart will give understanding (Psalms 49:1-3)
You can find introductions like this all over in Proverbs. Here, I’ll grab one: “Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding” (Proverbs 4:1). This means the Bible is about to impart onto us some holy understanding and maybe practical knowledge. So what wisdom do the Sons of Korah have to share with us? Let’s find out! They continue by posing a riddle:
I will turn my ear to a proverb;
With the harp I will expound my riddle:
Why should I fear when evil days come,
When wicked deceivers surround me-
Those who trust in their wealth
And boast of their great riches? (Psalms 49:4-6)
The question is posed, “Why should I fear evil days?” This question actually pops up in a few places and in a few ways. Psalm 27:1 says,
The Lord is my light and my salvation-
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life-
Of whom should I be afraid?
What’s more interesting though, is the answer we’re given by the Sons of Korah,
No man can redeem the life of another
Or give to God a ransom for him-
The ransom for a life is costly,
No payment is never enough-
That he should live on forever
And not see decay (Psalms 49:7-9).
Now you can probably see that there seems to be more than one voice at work here. One voice asks, “Why should I fear evil days? And the other responds: Because nobody can redeem you. That is to say that nobody can be made righteous before God and therefore all stand under his wrath.
HOLD THE PHONE! During the days before Christ (and even after him until the destruction of the Temple), there was a sacrificial system in place with the exact purpose being to forgive people their sins. Leviticus 5:5-6 declares,
When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.
It would seem that Scripture suggest that there is redemption of sins (through the sacrifice of animals). And yet this too has problems, because we all die. Why is this a problem? Well, death is the punishment for sin. For it is written,
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him (Ezekiel 18:20).
Ultimately, those who sin will die. So this presents a problem with the sacrificial system, as it claims that through the blood of lambs and goats we’re freed from our sins. Psalm 49 acknowledges this problem too,
For all can see that wise men die;
The foolish and the senseless alike perish
And leave their wealth to others.
Their tombs will remain their houses forever,
Their dwellings for endless generations,
Though they had named lands after themselves.
But man, despite his riches, does not endure;
He is like the beasts that perish (Psalms 49:10-12).
So it seems that whether we sacrifice or not, we all end up as worm food. This means that the sacrificial system laid down in the Law is lacking- which agrees with Hebrews 10:1-4,
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming- not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would not longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
So we find that the sacrificial system is lacking in saving our lives and (according to Hebrews) our souls. For as has been established, nobody can redeem anyone else.
Well what are we going to do then!? If sacrifices can’t save us from our sins and sacrifices were what was ordered by the Law, then how are we ever to be saved? Hebrews 10:5-7 offers us the answer,
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
But a body you prepared for me;
With burned offerings and sin offerings
You were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am- it is written about me in the scroll-
I have come to do your will, O God.’”
This is the essence of the Gospel. Jesus came and sacrificed himself on a cross, because as God, he was a big enough sacrifice to atone for everyone’s sins. This is why Paul was able to write, “For the wages of sin is dead, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Christ came to redeem us from our sinful state. Now, Hebrews and Romans are post-Jesus Scriptures, so none of this is very surprising. But the Sons of Korah already knew about this coming salvation from the Lord, for they wrote in Psalms 49:15, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself (Selah).” Nobody can redeem sins but God, and yet the sacrificial system had already been set up, requiring blood for forgiveness. So Jesus came, as God in the flesh in order that he may die and redeem all who call on him. Through Jesus Christ we’re given forgiveness and life eternal in heaven (that’s where that “he’ll take me to himself” part comes in). And so we find that since we live on both sides of death (on earth and then in heaven); our lives have meaning both before and after we die. Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We live then as servants of Christ our Redeemer and to help others find their way to Jesus and salvation, and when we die we reap our rewards in heaven for eternity.
However, those who trust in themselves are like pigs or cows waiting for the slaughter, for it is written, “A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish” (Psalms 49:20). Even with all the riches a person can amass, without Christ in their lives only death awaits, and, after death, hell. What an empty life and what a bleak future await those who deny Jesus and trust only in themselves. Instead of looking to yourself or the things of this earth, look to Christ Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, just like the Sons of Korah did many years before Jesus was even born.