Friday, January 10, 2014

Interpretation 101 ....................... Parables 065

Bumper stickers and Bible verses have something in common: To correctly understand them, you sometimes need to know the mind-set of the person who wrote them, the meaning of the words used, who they are written to, and whatever other background that will clarify their meaning.

For instance, there is the sticker that says something about the person “left with the most toys - wins” Left where? What toys? Wins what? Did a greedy child write this, or a materialistic-minded adult, or someone who was very disillusioned with life?

Bible interpretation is something like that too. One example is a verse in Proverbs that says, “Evil men do not understand justice, but they that seek the Lord understand all things.” If the last part of this verse was lifted off the page, burned in wood, and put on the wall for a plaque, I would be perplexed. I seek the Lord daily, yet there are some things about life that do not make sense. Does that make the Bible wrong when it says that those who seek the Lord can understand all things?

Since God never makes mistakes, the answer must be in the interpretation. I need to know more; such as who did He inspire to write this, who was it written to, and why? What was the intent? What does the rest of the Bible say about this?

First of all, Solomon, a king of Israel, wrote Proverbs 28:5, the above verse. Reading it in context shows that the scope of “understanding all” is perhaps narrowed by the first part of the verse. Since it says that the evil person does not understand justice, it seems more fitting with the rest of the Bible to assume that those who seek the Lord understand “all things about justice.” Nowhere does it say that we will know everything about everything, at least not in this life.

Further reading finds that Solomon was a young man when God appeared to him in a dream with, “Ask what I shall give you.” (I Kings 3) 

Solomon humbly admitted that he was but a child, and did not have a great deal of understanding, so he made this request, “Give thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” He wanted to understand justice.

God promised in response, “Because you have asked this thing, and not asked long life for yourself, or riches, or the life of your enemies, but have asked for understanding to discern judgement (or justice); I have done according to your words:, I have given you a wise and understanding heart; so that there was none like you before you, neither shall any arise like you after you. And I have also given you which you did not ask, both riches and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like you all your life. And if you walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and commandments... then I will lengthen thy days.” 

Knowing the writer, his background, and God’s promise to him, helps to make sense of that verse he wrote. A person to whom God had granted such unique understanding of justice could write such a statement. Solomon knew what he was talking about.

Other portions of his writing add meaning, such as Proverbs 3:5,6 where he warns not to rely on our own reasoning but to trust the Lord with all our heart, and follow His ways. Solomon learned from experience that even God’s wisdom has no personal value if it is received but not obeyed. Hence evil people will not have a true understanding of justice because they are not obedient to it.

Bible study is not particularly easy. Because we do rely on our own understanding, we can sometimes get off target. Also, grabbing a verse here and there to put together a theology is spiritually dangerous.

Solomon sets a good example. A humble dependance upon the Lord, and a full acknowledgment of our needy condition are both important attitudes with which to approach the Word of God.

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