Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
In Malachi 3:6 God says about himself, “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” And of God, James reminds us of the Lord’s supposedly unchanging nature when he writes, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). Yet, when I read the Bible (especially the Old Testament), it seems like the Lord is talking out of both sides of his mouth. One minute he’ll be preaching wrath, and the next he’s talking about protection and provision. The seemingly double-mindedness of the Lord is especially prevalent in the book of Micah. Check this out:
Writhe in agony, O Daughter of Zion,
Like a woman in labor,
For now you must leave the city
To camp in the open field.
You will go to Babylon;
There you will be rescued.
There the Lord will redeem you
Out of the hands of your enemies (Micah 4:10).
First, God encourages Israel to feel is wrath and writhe in their God-inflicted pain, and then in the next breath he says he’ll rescue them. But there’s more; check out what goes down in the next chapter,
The remnant of Jacob will be among the nations,
In the midst of many peoples,
Like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
Like a young lion among flocks of sheep,
Which mauls and mangles as it goes
And no one can rescue.
Your hand will be lifted up in triumph over your enemies,
And all your foes will be destroyed.
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“I will destroy your horses from among you
And demolish your chariots.
I will destroy the cities of your land
And tear down all your strongholds” (Micah 5:8-11).
First the Lord promises that even while scattered, Israel will be a powerful force and after they achieve victory…God…will…destroy…them? Wait, what? You know, maybe the Lord doesn’t change, but it could be that his initial setting is “out of his mind.” I asked the Holy Spirit on the topic of God’s sanity, and he very quickly explained to me what was going on in God’s mind.
First of all, we need to remember Paul’s words about God, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). When the Lord acts, he is doing so with good in mind for the believer. Even if those who are followers of Christ suffer greatly, there is a reason for it. When Israel was sent into exile in Babylon and much of the population was killed, there was actually logic to it. A logic prophesized long before as God gave Moses the Law,
I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it (Leviticus 26:32-35).
God explains that when he would eventually send Israel into exile, first he’d make the land look terrible (and likely the people of Israel, through improper farming procedures, helped in that process). This way the enemies of Israel wouldn’t have any interest in the land. Therefore, while they were in exile in Babylon, nobody would settle the land and it would have its long-awaited rest. Part of the reason for the exile then was so that the Lord could restore the quality of the land for the faithful of Israel; as their pre-exile lawlessness included ignoring God’s laws on how to farm effectively (really). So, after seventy years of exile, the people returned to a rich, awesome land that for some reason nobody tried to claim during the time of exile. Or another example: when Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers and eventually put in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, God was actually using all of this to set up this Hebrew nobody to become the number-two man in Egypt. Joseph explains this all to his brothers in Genesis 45:4-8,
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been a famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing or reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.”
So although Joseph had to suffer through some pretty crappy and unfair stuff, it all brought him into a position in which he could lead Egypt and save his family (and many others) from the coming multi-year drought and famine. And if that is not enough to consider, remember that the faithful who suffer now will receive greater blessings in heaven; for it is written,
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7).
So when a believer finds him or herself in the middle of a curse, don’t worry; for good will come out of it.
God isn’t just thinking of believers though. When he strikes hardest, it is against those who reject him. Remember when God said he was going to destroy all of Israel’s cities? Let’s take a look at why,
I will destroy your witchcraft
And you will no longer cast spells.
I will destroy your carved images
And your sacred stones from among you;
You will no longer bow down
To the work of your hands.
I will uproot from among you your Asherah poles
And demolish your cities.
I will take vengeance and anger and wrath
Upon the nations that have not obeyed me (Micah 5:12-15).
So although God promised to give Israel victory over their enemies, he’d also destroy all of their cities. Why? Because he wanted to wipe the slate clean and stamp out the idol worship in Israel. He further explains the reason for his destruction in the next chapter:
Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales,
With a bag of false weights?
Her rich men are violent;
Her people are liars
And their tongues speak deceitfully.
Therefore, I have begun to destroy you,
To ruin you because of your sins.
You will eat but not be satisfied;
Your stomach will still be empty.
You will store up but save nothing,
Because what you save I will give to the sword.
You will plant but not harvest;
You will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves,
You will crush grapes but not drink the wine (Micah 6:11-15).
He finally sums it all up on Micah 7:13, “The earth will become desolate because of its inhabitants, as the result of their deeds.” The Lord may give his supporters victory, but he will thoroughly weed out those who oppose him and make their life miserable- without the silver lining that is promised to the followers of Christ. For those who always oppose the Lord, the day will come and God will strike- hard. In the end, when much of earth has turned against God and to false gods, our Lord makes it clear that there will be no mercy for the unrepentant:
All the inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast- all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.
He who has an ear, let him hear.
If anyone is to go into captivity,
Into captivity he will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
With the sword he will be killed.
This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints (Revelation 13:8-10).
Those who have chosen hell will receive hell. God is merciful, but he isn’t gonna force anyone to go to heaven. To those who’d rather not serve God, the Bible warns,
Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods- gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life (Deuteronomy 28:64-66).
After spending a lifetime opposing the Lord, you best be ready to have it all come falling down when he finally stops withholding his wrath. All things, good and bad come through our God. The Lord writes,
See now that I myself am He!
There is no god besides me.
I put to death and I bring to life,
I have wounded and I will heal,
And no one can deliver out of my hand.
I lift my hand to heaven and declare:
As surely as I live forever,
When I sharpen my flashing sword
And my hand grasps it in judgment,
I will take vengeance on my adversaries
And repay those who hate me (Deuteronomy 32:39-41).
Make no bones about it; God will destroy the wicked and the unbelievers. I find this especially distressing as currently the trend is for one to demonstrate their presumed intellectual superiority by making statements against the Lord Jesus. This happens in our universities and is rampant on the internet amongst people trying to make themselves look cool to a bunch of strangers. I worry because although the internet is supposed to be a place of freedom and the sharing ideas, many younger and impressionable people are being pushed into unholy ways and thoughts in an effort to look cool to more experienced posters. However, if Scripture is right, it is not the younger generation that I should worry for, but the people who impose their worldly ideals onto them. For Jesus taught, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). If you want to oppose God, that’s fine; I’m sure you’re aware of the risks and have accepted them. However, I plead with you, don’t push your unbelief onto others, for God can make things much worse for you.
There is a principle to all of this that strings the whole thing together. Jesus explains,
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4).
Those who oppose Jesus (or the Lord- as he’s presented in the Old Testament) will be cut off; but those in Christ will face times of pruning for greater days ahead. Just like when gardening, you do these things at the same time, so when the Lord brings a disaster (like economic collapse, war, natural disasters, terror, etc) he is doing a round of pruning/cutting. So when God prophesizes that he’ll destroy Israel’s cities, his is goal is to weed out the pagans and give the believers a fresh start so they can grow and build even better than before. Jesus reminds us,
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you (John 15:5-7).
Times of trials in which we’re either pruned or cut-out are the times we show our true selves and how we respond to such events can dictate what happens next in our lives. Those who deny Christ as the Son of God and Savior will face the fire of hell, but those who put their trust in Jesus will find salvation, power, and supply.
Therefore, be aware of the Lord when disaster strikes. Micah 6:9 says,
Listen! The Lord is calling to the city-
And to fear your name is wisdom-
“Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.”
We are to heed the rod and the Lord who wields it. When hard times come, rather than complain, make sure you are in a right relationship with God. He doesn’t bring hard times on us because he wants to, but because the Lord is desperate that we find our way to him and not be lost in the fires of hell. God states in Ezekiel 18:23, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” And he pleads with the distressed Israel a few verses later in Ezekiel 18:31-32,
Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
God doesn’t want you to face eternal destruction in hell; rather he wants you to recognize his Son as your Savior through his sacrificial death in your stead some 2000 years ago. And the Lord is willing to go to extreme lengths to reach even the most stubborn people. Jesus explains the proper way to respond to tragedy,
Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them- do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish (Matthew 13:4-5).
People interpret disasters in many ways, but the Bible tells us to see them as warnings and reminders to get right with God. The Lord wants as many people to be saved as possible, and in his love, he’ll come down hard to wake people up- all while still protecting those he loves (or calling them home to heaven). Micah 7:16-19 puts it this way,
Nations will see and be ashamed,
Deprived of all their power.
They will lay their hands on their mouths
And their ears will become deaf.
They will lick dust like a snake,
Like creatures that crawl on the ground.
They will come trembling out of their dens;
They will turn in fear to the Lord our God
And will be afraid of you.
Who is a God like you,
Who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
Of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
But delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
You will tread our sins underfoot
And hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
If you really want to get into it, our Lord is even delaying the end of the world solely to save as many people as he possibly can. For it is written, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Is God insane? No, he has a plan; a plan that will clear the way for his chosen ones and bring his opposition to their knees, so that they may look up and see his mercy. Repent, my brothers and sisters, and accept the Lord’s mercy and his ability to build you up; lest you face his wrath and an eventual eternity in hell.