Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
As a whole, people are generally inclined to become superstitious. This is actually logical and somewhat to be expected. It’s highly likely that the Lord designed us to be sensitive to him in order to better understand how God works all the time in our lives. Job notes to his friends that our God can be seen in most everything. We read,
But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
Or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
Or let the fish of the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
That the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
And the breath of all mankind (Job 12:7-10).
God may not be manifested in everything (a popular misconception), but he does make his presence known through most things. As the Lord has a hand in everything, we can see his handiwork quite readily. To say that we can’t see God working is foolishness, even David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1). And Paul states that if someone doesn’t notice God, they’re denying the obvious. He writes,
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Romans 1:20).
So to be sure, we were made to notice the Lord working in our lives. However, the part of our minds that should be used to recognize the patterns of our Creator has been corrupted into misreading signs and coincidences. As such, we develop concepts like lucky charms, unlucky behavior, false idols, and other such superstitious believes. This kind of thinking is not benign. Giving into superstitions can be sinful and also dangerous. Thankfully, we believers have the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to assist us in divining the truth from the devil’s deceptions.
First, we have to remember that many superstitions are born out of paganism. A prime example of this is astrology. It is rooted in the worship of the heavenly bodies, something God is totally not cool with. Check out what he says about star-worship in Zephaniah 1:4-6:
I will stretch out my hand against Judah
And against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal,
The names of the pagan and the idolatrous priests-
Those who bow down on the roofs
To worship the starry host,
Those who bow down and swear by the Lord
And who also swear by Molech,
Those who turn back from following the Lord
And neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.
The Lord lumps astrology fans in with pagan worshippers, and even calls out the folks who are supposedly followers of God but can’t help but check their horoscopes. He compares them to worshippers of Molech. I won’t go into it here, but scattered throughout the Bible are references to Molech worship, which apparently includes child sacrifice. Who knew getting your fortune told was so hardcore? Another great example of superstitions being rooted in paganism is found a few verses later. The Lord Almighty says,
On that day I will punish
All who avoid stepping on the threshold,
Who fill the temple of their gods
With violence and deceit (Zephaniah 1:9).
This must have become a pretty popular thing by Zephaniah’s time, because God is pretty pissed about people not stepping on the threshold of doors. But what’s the big deal? We all grew up with “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back” and didn’t end up devil-worshippers (well, at least most of us). Here’s where it gets interesting, this particular superstition is rooted in Dagon worship. How do we know? Because it’s origin is featured in the Bible. Let’s turn way back to the early days of the nation of Israel; they still had no king and the Philistines were beating them at every chance, including stealing the God Box also known as the Ark of God. History records,
After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashod. They carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashod step on the threshold (1 Samuel 5:1-5).
So although the people of Israel (whom God is pretty angry with in Zephaniah) were probably not stepping on the threshold to avoid bad luck; God, knowing its origin, was irate because they were inadvertently engaging in the same act as the priests of Dagon. We don’t really know all the sources for popular rituals and superstitions, but there’s a high likelihood that most come from unholy situations.
Many people believe in some sort of divine judgment or celestial balance, such as karma or similar concepts. Even people who don’t acknowledge any god can see that if someone does evil, usually things don’t turn out well for said person. Paul got to see how people automatically react with karma in mind when he was shipwrecked on Malta. Acts 28:3-4 records,
Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”
Justice is capitalized in my NIV Bible, so I’m presuming they meant some sort of deity and not just some overarching sense of justice. The natives right away assumed that Paul was in some sort of pre-film version of Final Destination. “Oh man, he survived the shipwreck, but Death still has him!” And this makes sense: you do something wrong, divine justice corrects the imbalance brought on by your wrongdoing. Paul didn’t die though. Our story continues,
But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god (Acts 28:5-6).
Well, Justice’s justice turned out to be a bust; but the people of Malta figured that since Paul was Justice-proof, he probably outranked him on the god scale. And I suppose he was as he had Jesus in his heart. But that’s how our Lord and Savior works though. Just when people think something is gonna go one way, it goes the other. Bitten by a snake: “Ok, well, he’s dead…Oh but wait, he’s got Jesus, never mind, he’s fine.” Paul very well may have died had the inhabitants of Malta not expected him to croak because of Justice. Rather than let that stand, God decided to stick it to their false god and keep Paul from all ill effects. Myth of Justice (and or karma)? Busted. I once heard a legend that if people worry too much about money, they become bald (sort of an origin story for male-pattern baldness). Makes sense, even almost makes Biblical sense (since we’re not supposed to chase money); however, the Word of God has an answer for that too: “When a man has lost his hair and is bald, he is clean. If he has lost his hair from the front of his scalp and has a bald forehead he is clean” (Leviticus 13:40-41). If you’ve ever read Leviticus, you’ll know that almost everything is a sin and has some sort of response- but not baldness- there’s nothing bad connected to being bald. Sometimes, things just happen. Baldness Myth? Busted.
“Ok, ok, clearly God doesn’t support superstitions. But wait a second, hold on here. Don’t bad things happen to bad people?” Yes, of course they do. Job speaks of this during one of his big speeches. Check it out:
Here is the fate God allots to the wicked,
The heritage a ruthless man receives from the Almighty:
However many his children, their fate is the sword;
His offspring will never have enough to eat.
The plague will bury those who survive him,
And their widows will not weep for them.
Though he heaps up silver like dust
And clothes like clay,
What he lays up the righteous will wear,
And the innocent will divide his silver.
The house he builds is like a moth’s cocoon,
Like a hut made by a watchman.
He lies down wealthy, but will do so no more;
When he opens his eyes, all is gone.
Terrors overtake him like a flood;
A tempest snatches him away in the night.
The east wind carries him off, and he is gone;
It sweeps him out of his place.
It hurls itself against him without mercy
As he flees headlong from its power (Job 27:13-22).
Oh yeah, bad stuff happens to bad people. And, just like most people presume, bad folk do die as punishment as well: “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son- both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). The Bible even makes it clear that God directly punishes wickedness. Here is just a small sample from the Lord’s List-‘O-Curses:
However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you;
You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.
Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.
The fruit of you womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out (Deuteronomy 28:15-19).
So yeah, divine retribution does exist.
However, consider this: everyone dies- duh. So what was Ezekiel talking about? All of us are sinners, so we all die a physical death due to the natural corruption that lives within our flesh. After that though, believers in Christ Jesus will go to heaven whereas nonbelievers will be cast into hell, which is a spiritual death (as opposed to the physical death we all face). Jesus teaches, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). If you refuse to accept Christ Jesus, then you’re also refusing to go to paradise. Now, here’s where things get interesting. According to the Bible, people who die early are possibly being protected from future difficulties. Check out what God says in Isaiah 57:1-2,
The righteous perish,
And no one ponders it in his heart;
Devout men are taken away,
And no one understands
That the righteous are taken away
To be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly
Enter into peace;
They find rest as they lie in death.
This means that we can’t even develop superstitions around death, because an early death might be a good thing. Therefore even from a Christian standpoint it’s a poor indicator about righteousness. What about life? Ideas like karma and divine chastisement presume that when someone is bad, bad things happen. But bad things happen to everyone. Jesus acknowledged this when he taught,
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).
Bad things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people- everyone has problems, so Jesus recommends we pray for everyone. “Well hold the phone here, if bad things happen to everyone, then what was all that crap from Deuteronomy 28?” Solomon clears this up in his wisdom. He writes,
Do not lie in wait like an outlaw against a righteous man’s house,
Do no raid his dwelling place;
For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again,
But the wicked are brought down by calamity.
Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
When he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice,
Or the Lord will see and disapprove
And turn his wrath away from him.
Do not fret because of evil men
Or be envious of the wicked,
For the evil man has no future hope,
And the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out (Proverbs 24:15-20).
Solomon notes that although bad things do happen to righteous people, they’re destined to get back on their feet; whereas an evil person has no real future to hope for; they may not come back from a loss and ultimately they’ll be on the losing end. He also notes in the middle of the passage that you shouldn’t enjoy the suffering of your enemy, lest you cause God to turn his wrath on you instead. Why? Because it is none of your business. Here’s a great example: Israel was very wicked and was sent into exile by the Lord as punishment. The Bible records,
The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor young woman, old man or aged. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar (2 Chronicles 36:15-17).
The Word of God is clear, the people of Israel were rebellious and had earned their exile; God was carrying out a punishment promised way back in Deuteronomy 28 (the List-‘O-Curses). Edom, Israel’s neighbor (and rival/enemy) was really happy about Israel’s destruction. But check out the Lord’s response to their joy,
On the day you stood aloof
While strangers carried off his wealth
And foreigners entered his gates
And cast lots for Jerusalem,
You were like one of them.
You should not look down on your brother
In the day of his misfortune,
Nor rejoice over the people of Judah
In the day of their destruction,
Nor boast so much
In the day of their trouble (Obadiah 1:11-12).
That’s probably the nicest thing God says to Edom in the whole book of Obadiah- and even then he’s comparing them to the ruthless Babylon. If someone is hurting, don’t think less of them, don’t be happy about it (even if it is your enemy), and don’t try to figure out if there’s a reason for their pain. It’s none of your business, so saith the Lord.
Ok, so what should you do then? Jesus says that as believers we should “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). That’s it. We’ve already learned that we have no reliable indicators of a person’s righteousness, therefore we shouldn’t worry about the source of a person’s trouble (even if it is God’s wrath), and instead we should do our best to help them. This is why Paul writes,
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).
So just do your best to help everyone and don’t get all weird or superstitious about things, because only God knows where the lines connect and he isn’t telling ’til you get to heaven. Therefore I write to you, friend, stay free from myths and superstitions lest you accidentally wander into some form of idolatry. Trust in Jesus Christ, your savior and mine, not in some superstitions or myths. As Paul once wrote to a young pastor, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7).