Tag Archives: Interpretation

God’s People, part 67: Beholder’s Eye

Read 1 Kings 1-2; 1 Chronicles 28-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment.” (Proverbs 23:23 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

PerspectivePart 67: Beholder’s Eye. There is an old adage that says, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I would argue that so is history and any other form of knowledge. We as humans, especially in Western Civilization, tend to compartmentalize things. If it is right-brained, artistic, creative, and aesthetic in nature, it must be subjective; however, if it is left-brained, logical, scientific, historical, and fact-based, it must be objective. I believe that this reasoning is no more than a false dichotomy and that such fallacious thinking gives us an excuse to not deal with true human complexity. The world is seldom, if ever, so simple.

Just as it is true that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so it is true that history, science, and other such disciplines are as well. Yes, there are facts, there are scientific laws that never change and there are subjects can only be seen in black and white (such as mathematics); however, how we interpret those laws, those facts, and even (in some cases) numbers, can often lead us to wildly different conclusions. It is also important to acknowledge that we can use facts in ways that support our conclusions, and we can skip over facts to not muddy the water in the well of our conclusions.

As a philosopher, I have long concluded that while facts must be true, the truth need not be factual. For instance, Jesus told the story about the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Parables are, by nature, not factual. They did not ACTUALLY happen. We could, possibly, imagine them happening. They may not be far-fetched; however, they did not actually happen. They are not factual, historical accounts. With that said, they convey THE TRUTH and through them, we are hopefully enlightened to a whole new way of thinking and living.

Yet, a fact cannot be a fact if it is not true. That is a simple, yet solid maxim. Unfortunately, we conflate the two realities and often resort to thinking that if something is not factual, then it must not be true. When we look at the Bible as a history, and parts of the Bible are recording history, we often measure its veracity by adding up the facts.

In the case of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, we often see two sets of accounts (one set in 1 & 2 Kings and the other set in 1 & 2 Chronicles) that tell the same basic story, yet the facts are different. The author of one might have written more favorably about, let’s say, David, than the other might have. From a 21st century stand point, the contradictions might cause some to put up red flags indicating that this account might not have happened because there are apparent contradictions; yet, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, both accounts could be true despite the contradictions.

What’s more, just because a text is written against another nation, does not mean that the other nation was all-evil in God’s sight. We have to remember that history is written in the beholder’s eye and that history is most often written by those who come out on top as the victors. Just because the Northern Kingdom of Israel is listed as a wayward Kingdom does not mean that they were all that the kings and scribes in Judah hyped them up to be. There may be facts in there; however, those facts get presented to us through the lenses of those writing them. This makes the truth hard to discern without grace, but it does not cancel the truth out.

This is an important lesson to learn, not only for studying the Bible, but for all things. Do we judge others based off what one side says about the other? Do we judge other nations based off what the leaders in our nation have to say about “them over there”? It is time for us to challenge ourselves from seeing the world in such a “true or false” way, for none of us truly live “true or false” lives. We all live in the “not sure” zone, as it were. Let us learn to be careful in our interpretation of facts. Let us be cautious in not just discarding potential truth because the facts don’t seem to line up. Let us also remember that, at the end of the day, God’s grace is what is ULTIMATELY TRUE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
While fact is dependent on truth, the truth is not dependent on fact.

PRAYER
Lord, let me seek you and your wisdom out so that I may be more humble in my quest for truth. Steer me from making rash judgments. Amen.

Unlock the Cage

Read Revelation 5:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For thus the LORD said to me, as a lion or a young lion growls over its prey, and–when a band of shepherds is called out against it–is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so the LORD of hosts will come down to fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill.” (Isaiah 31:4 NLT)

lion2As a lover of animals, I find it hard to utilize the animal imagery that is sometimes found in Scripture. The last devotion that was written was utilizing the image of a prowling, hungry lion waiting to devour it’s prey. While the image itself is not unrealistic, it paints a lopsided view of the animal itself.

On the one hand, it is not an unrealistic image of a lion. They do tend to get hungry and prowl around looking for food. That’s natural. To be fair and honest, humans do the same thing. On the other hand, to connect a lion to the devil takes away the natural understanding, and superimoses a supernatural one. The lion is now seen to be like the devil, like Satan, prowling around looking to devour and destroy! While 1 Peter 5:8 is a simile, people unfortunately begin to view and judge the animals as being beastly, primal, and even evil. Throughout history, certain animals have been categorically hunted and eliminated in immoral ways, with such passages in the Bible being used as some sort of theological justification.

But this is not the fault of the Bible, nor is it the fault of its authors who were simply trying to convey ideas through real-life images. For anyone living in areas that are inhabited by lions, the lion poses a real threat when it gets hungry and is on the prowl looking for food. It’s a threat to people and their livestock alike. Rather, this is the fault of people who take things way to literally and interpret the Bible in irresponsible ways.

The Bible itself, actually portrays most, if not all, animals in a very balanced way. Let’s look at the lion. Just as the lion is used to represent the devil on the prowl, so too is the lion being used to represent God. In Isaiah 31:4, God is likened to a lion who will not be scared and will not cower before the Egyptians who were looking to overtake the Kingdom of Judah; rather, God will directly face them and boldy ward them off, just as a lion does against anything that threatens its pride.

What’s more, the risen Christ is called the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” who has conquered sin and death and stands ready to reign as King. There are many such references to God as a lion in the Bible and all of those references utilize the stately, the bold, and the protective power of the lion as a description of God.

Slight switching directions, but still utilizing the theme of God as the lion, we Christians tend to forget that God is our lion. We forget that we serve a God of great power and we feel that we have to prove to others (and to ourselves) just how powerful our God is. I have seen many Christians set out to be “lions” of the faith in order to guard and protect God.

Here’s the problem, God doesn’t need, require, or even want our protection. God does require us to try and prove anything and, more times than not, we not only fail in our attempt to win anyone over, we often do more damage than we do good. The heart of the Gospel is God’s power to forgive, reconcile and restore a broken world back to the paradise it was once created to be.

By trying to prove God and/or by trying to protect God, we inadvertently try to cage God in. We can only prove what we fully know; yet, we try and prove the one who is beyond our full comprehension. The reality is that anytime we try to prove God, or try to “protect” God, all we are really doing is proving or protecting our idea or understanding of God…which amounts to a false god.

The challenge for us is to be responsible in our interpretation of the Bible, and to be humble in it. It is the authority by which we found our faith; however, it is not the foundation. God is! The challenge for us is to stop trying to cage God, but rather for us to unlock the cages we’ve built so that the true LION, the true God, can come forth, rally the pride, and begin to reign in our hearts once and for all.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Trying to prove God is like trying to defend a lion. [The lion] doesn’t need your help, just unlock the cage.” – Jason Petty

PRAYER
Lord, help me to stop trying to be right in my understanding, so that I may be open in my heart. Amen.

Anointed

Read Isaiah 45:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

anointing_of_fresh_oilWhen you hear the word Messiah, who do you think of? When you hear the word Christ, what do you think of? Some of you may know that the words Christ and Messiah mean the same thing, that “messiah” is the English equivalent of a the Hebrew word “mâshı̂yach” (מָשִׁיחַ) and “christ” is the English equivalent of the Greek word “christos” (Χριστός). My guess is that when most people hear the phrase “messiah” or “christ”, whether they or Christian or not, they immediately think of the man who ended up becoming the figure head of the Christian religion, Jesus of Nazareth. Some may even mistakenly think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name!

I am very certain that when most people hear the words “messiah” or “christ”, they do not think of Cyrus. In fact, if I were a betting person, I would bet that most people would not even know who Cyrus actually is. As it happens, Cyrus was the king of Persia. He ended up being the ruler who took over the kingdom of Babylon after it fell to the forces and the might of Persia. Within Babylon were the people of Judah who had been exiled there because of their trying to ally with Egypt against Babylon. When that happened, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon beseiged Jerusalem and, upon overtaking it, forced all of the leaders, the Temple priests, the scribes and people of import were exiled from Jerusalem and relocated in Babylon.

Once Babylon fell to Persia, King Cyrus (who was not a Jew and had no in depth knowledge of the Jewish religion) let the Jewish people return back to Jerusalem. What is even more striking than that, is that Cyrus seemingly had no agenda other than to just let them go home. He didn’t require them to send any money back to him, or pledge their loyalty to him in any way; rather, he simply let them go home to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. In response to that, the Jewish priests and scribes wrote of Cyrus that he was the LORD GOD’s “anointed one”, or Messiah (which is “Christ” in Greek). Let me reiterate that. Cyrus, the non-Jewish, polytheistic, war mongering Persian King was the Messiah…the Christ…the LORD’s anointed one.

I bet you didn’t see that one coming. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with such richness that really help point us to the nature of God. If we read Scripture carefully, there were many messiahs. Saul, David, Solomon, and every other King of Israel were all the LORD’s anointed ones. That’s different than being “the Messiah”, the one that some of the first century Jews were looking to come and rid them of their oppressors and reestablish the line of King David forever; however, there were many messiahs and each one of them were anointed by the LORD’s prophets. There really is nothing unusual about a king, or others, being called messiah. What is unusual is that this particular king does not even know, let alone worship, the God of Israel.

What does that say for us? It says that God constantly exceeds our expectations. It says that God will anoint anyone who is willing to have compassion, who seeks justice, who loves mercy, and who walks in the path of humility. Whether that person is a Jew or a Gentile, whether that person is a Christian or a Muslim, whether that person is a monotheist or a polytheist, whether that person is a male or a female, God will work in and through anyone who is willing to humble themselves and let LOVE rule the day. The fact is that God was calling Israel to live in that love, to be God’s chosen, and God worked through Cyrus to remind them of that. The fact is that God is calling us to live in that LOVE, to be God’s chosen, and once again is using Cyrus to remind us of that. Be reminded and live a life of LOVE that witnesses to the LOVE of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is not the time to shrink back in fear. This is the time to move forward in Faith. Get up every morning knowing you are anointed. You are equipped. You are empowered. You have everything you need to fulfill your destiny.” – Elton Sibiya

PRAYER
Lord, allow me to step out in faith, to see that you have anointed me to fulfill the work of love, compassionate justice, and mercy that you began at the outset of the world. Allow me to act upon that knowledge in service of others. Amen.