Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
The economy isn’t good; millions are homeless; wars, fights and battles rage. Is it the end of the world? Perhaps. Is it the wrath of God? Probably. We are living under the curse of God. Last time we talked about intolerant Christians. This time, with the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s look at why they’re so angry.
By saying that we’re under a curse, I’m not making a particularly huge proclamation; the Bible shows that Israel has a long history of being under the curse of God. Even after coming back from exile, the Israelites couldn’t keep clean for very long; for we read in Malachi 3:9, “You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me.” So what actually causes a curse to fall on a nation? Let’s take a look. Deuteronomy 28 outlines some of the curses that can fall upon a nation and why. Here, we’ll grab a passage:
All these curses will come upon you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you (Deuteronomy 28:45-48).
Leviticus 26 has a very similar passage (but with slightly different wording); and there the Lord says,
If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit (Leviticus 26:18-20).
As an aside, remember that early Israel was an agriculture-based society, so when God says he’ll stop their food production; he’s basically threatening to destroy their entire economy. Anyway, he continues a few verses later,
If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. And I will bring the sword upon you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands. When I cut off your supply of bread, ten women will be able to bake your bread in one oven, and they will dole out the bread by weight. You will eat, but you will not be satisfied (Leviticus 26:23-26).
Oh, well if not following God’s Law is what is causes all of our problems, then maybe angry Christians are justified protesting pop music and telling homosexuals, abortionists, and video game creators that God hates them.
…But check out how the curse is usually overturned in the Bible. Nehemiah recalls the basic pattern while praying:
But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs. They killed your prophets, who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. So you handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.
But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time (Nehemiah 9:26-28).
We can see this in action in Judges 10:10-16,
Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.”
The Lord replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”
But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.
The pattern is consistent throughout the Bible: the people turn from God and he curses them, then they return to him and he saves them- notice that the focus isn’t being placed on their deeds. Even the prophets kept hammering this idea home. Zechariah 1:3 puts it concisely, “Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.” And while Israel was facing a famine mixed with a coming locust apocalypse the Lord spoke through his prophet in Joel 2:12-14,
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“Return to me with all your heart,
With fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
And not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
For he is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger and abounding in love,
And he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and have pity
And leave behind a blessing-
Grain offerings and drink offerings
For the Lord your God.
And again through Isaiah the Lord spoke,
Turn to me and be saved,
All you ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
My mouth has uttered in all integrity
A word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow;
By me every tongue will swear (Isaiah 45:22-23).
The solution isn’t the Law; it’s the Gospel! Getting Jesus to people so that you can get people to Jesus, that’s where salvation occurs. And where there is salvation, there is the Lord’s grace. Paul lived in an era of sin, but did he go around nagging on everyone for how they lived? No, rather he looked at their situation and tried to use that to help them understand the Lord better. He says it better than I do though;
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
I’m not saying that Paul manipulated the Bible to his whims or that he used the Gospel as some sort of excuse for sin. But what he didn’t do was to impose his will onto others. He found them where they were and brought Jesus to them in a language they’d understand in order to save whoever he could.
Let’s look at this from a logical standpoint. You can’t expect godless people to be godly, can you? David famously said,
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
There is no one who does good (Psalms 14:1).
Notice that pattern, the fool (which in Hebrew denotes someone morally deficient [thank you NIV Bible notes]) believes there is no God; therefore they sin. Godlessness precedes a lack of morality. It makes sense too, how can we presume someone to live up to what they see as a fictitious character’s expectations? Saying “God hates [insert people group]” is the same thing to them as saying “Bugs Bunny hates [group].” Even the Bible notes that non-Christians aren’t going to take us seriously. Scripture records,
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
Shouting the Law at someone who doesn’t acknowledge said Law is like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. 2 Chronicles 12:14 says of a bad king, “He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.” The focus isn’t on the behavior, because behavior is predicated on what one believes.
Therefore, Christian friends, rather than hate we must love. After all, what’s our favorite verse that we quote ad nauseam? John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God responded to our world’s awful sin and rebellion through love – an unending love for those who didn’t (and don’t) deserve it at all. John challenged us as Christians in this love when he wrote,
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:10-12).
And Paul, the guy who made himself everything to everyone, told us,
Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:32-11:1).
We will get nowhere yelling at people who are different than us. Doing so will just push them further away from God and sink us deeper into the curse. Angry Christians aren’t helping anything; they’re only making everything worse. If you are the kind of follower of Christ who makes it their mission to make non-Christians miserable, then get your act together. A Godless nation acting righteously is a fallacy; but a nation who loves and follows the Lord is a nation free of curse.
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house” (Haggai 1:5-9).