Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I was reading in Genesis about Abraham and God making the first covenant; but when I came to Genesis 15:9-11 I ran into something a bit odd:
So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
I don’t believe that there is any wasted space in the Bible, but Abraham chasing away birds seems like a surprisingly minor detail. So I prayed, “Lord, what is this supposed to mean?” and right away the Holy Spirit answered – I guess he was just waiting for me to ask.
Immediately, my mind was turned to Jesus’ parable of the sower:
While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown” (Luke 8:4-8)
One of the obstacles for the seed is birds. Jesus explains what the seed and the birds represent in Luke 8:11-12,
This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from the hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
Just like in Abraham’s tale we find greedy birds showing up.
Suddenly it all started falling into place. Both scenes are representations of the covenants between God and man. Abraham’s is the original Old Covenant. Just like the later Old Covenant (the Law) though, Abraham was required to do specific works (in this case make the sacrifice). He also had another important act he had to fulfill; history records,
I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you” (Genesis 17:6-11).
The Old Covenant between God and man required that works be done for one to find salvation in God.
But Jesus teaches of the New Covenant in his parable. In the lesson, the soil in various places represents each of us (and everyone else), and the seed is the Word of God. All dirt needs to do is to come into contact with the seed and allow it to take root. It’s an entirely passive experience. This holds true with faith if we believe what is written in Romans 10:17- “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” There’s no doing in that sentence, just hearing (which is passive). Again, you don’t need to do anything to be saved other than to accept the Word that has been given to you.
But there is a common thread between both the Old and New Covenants: birds. Jesus says in the parable’s explanation that the birds represent the devil. Although no work is required to be saved, as a precaution, just like Abraham we need to keep the birds away – that is to say that we need to avoid sin. Sin will not mess with your salvation, as it is based only on faith; for it is written, “…That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). However, sin can complicate your relationship with God; we know this because the Bible says,
But your iniquities have separated
You from your God;
Your sins have hidden his face from you,
So that he will not hear (Isaiah 59:2).
Sin can separate you from God and stifle his power in your life- not because you screwed up and he’s angry with you though. No, sin gives the devil a chance to plant doubt in your heart. You screw up and think, “Oh no, maybe Jesus doesn’t love me anymore because of what I did!” This is a lie of the devil, Jesus loves you no matter what and you are always worth dying for in his eyes; we know this because Scripture reminds us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). If he died for you before you repented and were still steeped in sin, then why would anything you do afterwards mess that up? Rather we must follow the words of Paul, “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). We must be vigilant in not letting Satan creep into our lives with his doubts and temptations. Chase those birds away!
So indeed, there is no wasted space in the Bible. God’s lesson to me in all this: Just ask. After all, Jesus said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14). And we know that this includes when we ask for information because James 1:5 states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” And of course we together about Abraham’s bird-based adventures. So, through an old man chasing birds the Lord taught two lessons in one shot.