Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
The Bible says in Deuteronomy 6:6-9,
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The gist is that we should always be thinking and talking about the Law. That seems a little extreme, doesn’t it? When I read these verses I picture a conversation that goes something like this…
Person 1: Oh hey, how are you? You haven’t been murdering anyone these days, have you? The Bible says we shouldn’t do that.
Person 2: Haha, of course not. Oh, don’t forget to bring your sacrifice in every day- y’know, in case you forgot.
…And the conversation continues with the two people reminding each other of varied laws as a form of small talk. Obviously, this situation wouldn’t really work. Clearly there’s more to God’s command than meets the eye. It was as I was pondering these things that the Holy Spirit dived in and explained that I, like most people, am thinking too small when it comes to the Law.
As we start, first it has to be explained that at the time that the Law came out there was a huge lack of Scripture. And by that, I mean that there was nothing considered to be 100% canon. That is to say, there was nothing that legitimately counted as Scripture. But since he had plucked his people out of Egypt, the Lord tried to establish contact with them by speaking to Israel directly (as he had done in the past). Moses recalls,
When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leading men of your tribes and your elders came to me. And you said, “The Lord our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him” (Deuteronomy 5:23-24).
The Lord called everyone together and spoke to them directly- cool right? Well, apparently not; because the Israelites couldn’t handle hearing God directly. We continue,
But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer. For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? (Deuteronomy 5:25-26).
After happily proclaiming to Moses that it appears that God doesn’t kill people with his voice, the Israelite leaders decided that God kills people with his voice (after repeated hearings). Never mind that Moses himself had heard God speak from fire the first time he met the Lord, and this time as well without any side-effects. Either way, the people decided that it would be better for them not to speak to God directly. Maybe they were afraid of “I CAN SEE YOU SINNING, (insert your name here), YOU SHOULDN’T BE (insert your sin here)” booming across the camp whenever they sinned- which, depending on the sin, could legitimately result in someone getting killed (via vengeful friends and spouses). Anyway, after hearing the Ten Commandments boomed across the camp; the Israelites decided two things: (1) They couldn’t handle God’s thunderous voice and (2) Lists of rules were pretty easy to understand. So rather than listen for God every day, they asked for more rules: “Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey” (Deuteronomy 5:27). Considering that the Israelites were tired from running out of Egypt and exhausted mentally and physically from years of brutal slavery; the Lord understood their position and developed a whole bunch of rules that would help the Israelites get ready for their new lives. The Lord spoke to Moses,
Go, tell them to return to their tents. But you stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving you to possess (Deuteronomy 5:30-31).
And that was the birth of the Law. From then on God would periodically call Moses up a mountain or into the Tent of Meeting (the pre-temple) and give him more regulations for the Israelites to follow- which is exactly what the asked for.
The Law was the first Scripture. It was (and is) multi-purposed and designed for every aspect of a person’s life. It wasn’t just designed as rules, but as the Word of God it was made to teach, to lead, and to connect people to God. That generation of Israelites was a people who had lived in slavery for their entire lives and didn’t know how to take care of themselves; and so in his love God designed the Law to help them stay healthy and within the Lord’s care. This is the heart of all of God’s Word in the Bible. Paul reminds 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). Even from the start, the Law (and the rest of the Bible) was intended to be a Guide for Life rather than a set of rules and regulations. Remember, this is the Word of God, it is something that goes beyond what we see on the page, it contains a depth that extends from the beginning to the end of time and has, even in this modern age, managed to remain relevant. Why? Because in the Lord is life, and even his very breath, the very words from his mouth contain that life. Hebrews 4:12 puts it like this,
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.
What other book can offer such a claim? I have found not a one. Even on multiple daily readings, the Bible continues to stay fresh and relevant to what’s happening in my life- and this is true for everyone. The Bible is so intricately designed for you, you specifically who are reading this, that it will conform to your life as you pray to God and read the Word. Through Scripture the Lord talks to you; maybe not in a scary booming voice with a fiery mountain in the backdrop, but closely and deeply into your heart. This is our Bible and this is what the Law was for the people of Moses’ day.
Even Jesus, the dude who overturned most of the Law, was actually a firm supporter of it. He noted in Matthew 5:18, “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.” Now, to be sure, Jesus actually completed the Law. For he himself stated, “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” (Matthew 5:17). And, as he gave himself over to death on a cross as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law; opening heaven’s doors for all who would accept Christ as their savior. As it is written, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). So through his life and death, Jesus ended the condemnation associated with the Law (it is a list of rules, anyway). Yet still, the very Savior who came and saved us from condemnation promoted the Law. Why? Well, for one, the Law points back to Jesus and the work he did for our salvation. After resurrecting, Jesus (in the guise of someone else), tried to teach his disciples about this very thing:
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).
Notice where he starts: Moses. The books of the Bible ascribed to Moses are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; aside from Genesis, those are the books of the Law. So when teaching his disciples, even Jesus “I Fulfilled the Law” Christ actually started with the Law.
As Christians it is very easy for us to shy away from the Law of Moses (or more accurately, “The Law of God”). However, that is a mistake. The red letters in our Bible are not the beginning of Scripture, but the culmination of everything that came before; all starting in God’s deep, purposeful, communicative rules and regulations found in the Law. Don’t be confused, the Law should not be taught legally- that would be missing the point entirely. Now, we need to think bigger as we approach the first entry into the Bible. The Law should be taught, it should be on our minds and it should be discussed with fellow believers- not to keep us from sin necessarily, but so that we can better understand the mind of the Lord; who very much wants to speak to each and every one of us. Paul even realized that the Law is largely powerless against sin (in fact he noted that some of his own sins were brought on by the knowledge of the Law). However, even at the end Paul had only one conclusion, the same that we need to remember: “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12).
Rock on God!