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MAKING SURE THAT YOU ARE SHARING WHAT THE AUTHOR MEANT BY THE WORDS THAT HE USED
The context (the surrounding Bible verses) will enable us to understand what the author meant, not what we think, feel, or believe. The context also runs throughout the Bible, so if our view of a verse is at odds with other Bible verses elsewhere, we must rethink our view, as the Bible does not contradict itself. We must remember that the Bible is not a collection of disconnected, confusing, incoherent, unrelated verses gathered at random that we may desire to use to prove a point that we may feel is correct. Instead, we must get the whole picture while studying the Word of God. We need to look at who is the author, who is speaking, to whom the person is speaking, on what matter he is speaking about and does the text relate to only one specific topic.
To clarify what is meant by “context” is important. What is usually meant is literary context: how a passage functions in the logical flow of a book’s argument. But there is also historical context. For example, the historical context of Hos. 11:1 is the Exodus and not the argument of the book of Hosea. In addition, there is also the thematic OT context: a NT writer might focus first on a general OT theme (e.g., judgment or restoration) and then appeal to a number of specific passages from different OT books that pertain to that theme. An author might reflect on only one of these three contexts or on all three, or entirely disregard them. In the light of the passages discussed above, John appears to display varying degrees of awareness of literary context and thematic context and perhaps historical context, although appeal to literary and thematic contexts is predominant. Interest in thematic context is really an explanation for why particular literary contexts are focused on. Those texts with a low degree of correspondence with the OT literary context can be referred to as semi-contextual, since they seem to fall between the opposite poles of what we ordinarily call “contextual” and “noncontextual” usages. The categories of use to be considered below should further clarify and illustrate these initial conclusions.—G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 85–86.
Our first example comes from the words of Paul to Timothy at 2 Timothy 2:15. There, he says: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” The words of Paul here were to a person who was already deeply grounded in the Word of God, who was also doing the will of the Father. (Matt. 7:21-23) How do we know this? Let’s look at what Paul wrote to Timothy earlier at the beginning of this letter. To Timothy, Paul said: “Having been reminded of your unhypocritical faith, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” (2 Tim. 1:1, 2, 5) So, what we have at 2 Timothy 2:15 is Paul telling Timothy, a traveling overseer, how to instruct the Christians within the congregations. Yes, a Christian should use God’s Word correctly when speaking with unbelievers. However, Paul did not tell Timothy how to convert unbelievers to Christianity. We can see this when we look at what Paul said to Timothy concerning his teaching: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain ones not to teach different doctrine.” Clearly, some in the Christian congregation at that time (61-65 C.E.) were teaching different doctrines, and they were not “rightly handling the word of truth.” Paul also advised Timothy: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be adequately qualified to teach others also”—1 Timothy 1:3; 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:2)
Another example can be found in the book of Job. Throughout Job’s book, Job’s three companions and even Job offer incorrect views. If one were to isolate a sentence or a verse and take that as what God is prescribing, one would take it out of context. These wrong views were not inspired by God but were added int the inspired Word of God by an author who was moved along by the Holy Spirit. Eliphaz erroneously accused God: Look, he puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his eyes.” (Job 15:15) God would later reprimand Eliphaz and his companions for their false statements. Eliphaz was told: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7) So, while Eliphaz and his companions were not under inspiration, the author of Job was inspired to include an accurate record of what they said. Why was it included if it is wrong? The record of what Eliphaz and his companions said helps the reader see some false reasoning as to why God would allow wickedness and suffering. Thus, the entire book of Job is the inspired Word of God. Nonetheless, this reveals that we must be cautious when quoting specific parts from the Bible. If they are removed from their setting, background, and context, we have a view of imperfect men that are being described, and we are wrongly ascribing their words to God. We must not only use the Bible, let the Bible speak, but not misrepresent what the authors meant by the words that were used. So, again, consider the context of the surrounding verses, who is speaking, to whom they are speaking, and the purpose of what is being said. And ask ourselves if it is describing something or prescribing something that we must do or not do. Are we dealing with proverbs, prophecy (apocalyptic prophecy), poetry, idioms, hyperbole, parables (illustrations), biblical narrative, or epistles (letters)?
Now, let’s consider 2 Corinthians 10:3-4. It reads: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but powerful to God for destroying strongholds.”
This is the apostle Paul giving counsel to the Corinthian Christians. So, let’s ask some investigative questions. Was the apostle Paul telling these Corinthian Christians not to get involved in the physical warfare of the nations? Would the Corinthians have drawn this conclusion from Paul’s words? Well, if we consider the context and see if Paul is discussing literal weapons: swords, spears, bows, and arrows. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 10:5-6, “We are destroying speculations, and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.” So, no, there Paul is not referring to literal, physical warfare. Clearly, literal swords, spears, bows, and arrows would be worthless in destroying speculations (false reasoning) and other obstructions blocking people’s accurate knowledge of God.
Christians were only to judge those within the congregation, not those people of the world outside of it. Therefore, Paul could never have meant that they were to punish the unbelievers in the world physically. In 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, Paul told these Christians, “For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Do you not judge those inside? But those who are outside, God will judge. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” Therefore, Paul talked about engaging in spiritual warfare inside the congregation to protect it from destructive speculations (false reasoning) and teachings. In this spiritual warfare, Paul did not use “craftiness,” ‘deceit,’ “deception,” extravagant and lofty language, and worldly philosophy. He only used honest and virtuous means, which included “the sword of the Spirit,” God’s Word.—2 Cor. 6:3-7; Eph. 6:17.
Aside from looking at the written context, we also need to consider the time period. If we do this, we will not come to the wrong conclusions. A good example of this is Amos 9:2, which reads, “if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down.” Trust me when I say some uninformed Christians might say this is prophetically talking about trying to avoid the judgment of God by going up in airplanes or rockets like those owned by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. But this is not feasible because the words had to have meaning to the people in 800 B.C.E., 2,8222 years ago. The ancient Israelites would have concluded that Amos was referring to going up into the mountains, which were sometimes concealed by clouds.
We also need to consider the geographical place involved. In Judges 16:2, we learn of Judge Samson’s being in Gaza. Note Judges 16:3: “But Samson lay until midnight, and at midnight he rose up and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.” As we read the account, we gloss over how large and heavy those gates and posts of a stronghold like Gaza must have been.
“To get to the gate of the city Samson would have had to get past four or six groups of guards stationed in the guardrooms. The gates of major fortifications had to be wide enough for chariots to drive through. They consisted of double doors made of wood; to prevent easy entry by an enemy they had to be made of thick boards. They were barred on the side by means of a heavy horizontal beam slid through slots in the doorposts. The doors were braced by wooden posts, the outside of which pivoted in stone sockets. The gates of Gaza that Samson pulled out of their sockets and hoisted onto his shoulders must have weighed at least four or five hundred pounds. Carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron (16:3). According to 1:10, early in the Conquest Hebron (formerly known as Kiriath Arba) fell under Judahite control. This city, situated on a low spur of Jebel Rumeida, rose 3,350 feet above sea level at the junction of the north-south road from Jerusalem to Beersheba and two routes coming in from the Shephelah. As the crow flies, the distance from Gaza to Hebron is forty miles. But if Samson followed the route along the Wadi Guvrin, as is most likely, the distance would have been even greater.”—John H. Walton, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament): Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 199–200. Samson’s accomplishment takes on new magnitudes, does it not?
GENESIS 13:5-11: Was Lot acting Selfish or Selfless in his choice of land?
Genesis 13:5-11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
5 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 And the land could not support them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. 7 And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.
8 Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are brothers. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of Jehovah, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. This was before Jehovah destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. 11 So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other.
We can see from this event and others in the life of Abraham that he certainly reflected the image of God. He would not allow a quarrel to continue between his herders and those of his nephew, Lot. It was Abraham, the patriarch, who had the right to simply make a decision, allowing Lot the first choice of the land he wanted. This was a selfless act on the part of Abraham.—Genesis 13:5-13.
Abraham and Lot stood up in the hill country of Bethel and Ai, which allowed them to see down into the Jordan Valley and the area around Jericho. Even though the Dead Sea is nearby, the south end of the valley is described as “well watered everywhere like the garden of [Jehovah], like the land of Egypt.” (13:10) This was the choice of Lot. Many commentators have said this was a selfish act of Lot. However, some factors need to be considered before jumping to that conclusion. (1) Why was Abraham or Lot never drawn to this area before now? Why were they not already occupying it if it is actually the preferred place? (2) This area was very hot and humid throughout the summer, which would have been very uncomfortable for Abraham. (3) The hill country they were in was more desirable year-round. (4) Lot is the one that would have to pick up and move to the new area, adjusting to the new surroundings. (5) This allowed the elderly Abraham to stay where they had already chosen as being the best suited for human occupancy, avoiding the sweltering heat and humidity of the summer in the Jordan Valley. In other words, it is far more likely that Abraham was selfless in his gesture to let Lot go first, and Lot was just as selfless in taking the less desirable option. How did God view Lot? Well, he inspired Peter to write,
2 Peter 2:7-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the irreverent men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds).
 Gr athesmos; pertaining to refusing to be subjected to legal requirements—‘lawless, unruly, not complying with law.’ … ‘who was troubled by the licentious conduct of lawless people’ 2 Pet 2:7.
“The use of poetry in ancient times, as in our own, indicates that the writer is less concerned with precise description or scientific accuracy than with evoking emotions and creating certain impressions. Poetry is clearly ‘commissive’ rather than ‘referential’ in nature (see pp. 73–74). Physicians do not use poetry to describe their patients’ medical problems, but lovers do when they seek to express their love for each other. The biblical poets and song writers frequently used this form in their praise and adoration of God. When they did so, however, they anticipated that their readers would interpret what they wrote according to the rules governing such poetry. We are fortunate that in the Bible we have at least two places where prose and poetic accounts of the same event appear side by side. In comparing them we can see that they function in different ways, although in each instance they still convey what the author meant by the verbal symbols he placed in these different literary genres.”—Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 102.
Take the case of David’s depiction of God’s stepping in to save him from his enemies:
2 Samuel 22:10-14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
10 He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
11 He rode on a cherub and flew;
he was seen on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness canopy around him,
a gathering of water and thick clouds.
13 From the brightness before him
coals of fire were kindled.
14 Jehovah thundered from heaven,
and the Most High uttered his voice.
The genre (literary form) of the Book of Samuel is historical narrative. Yet, like many historical narrative books, it contains poetry. So, if we took this poetic language literally, we would distort the Word of God. God does not literally come down from the heavens on clouds. Clearly, David was likening the result of God’s stepping in on his behalf to a massive, powerful storm, with God coming down with storm clouds under his feet. So, if we do not recognize the genre in our interpretive process, we will be misinterpreting the Scriptures.
THE MEANING OF TEXTS IS OFTEN HIDDEN IN CONTEXT
When we misapply the Scriptures, it is a horrendous injustice to God’s Word. o, let’s make every effort to avoid being regretful of such misapplication, even if it seems more or less as though it is a minor matter. An example of this would be if we were speaking with someone about the resurrection. Say that we are telling them that the Bible is clear that the wicked will not receive a resurrection. Then, we read them Proverbs 10:7, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” (Prov. 10:7) Now, while it is true that extremely; excessively wicked ones, will not receive the benefits of the ransom sacrifice, and will not be resurrected. However, we cannot use Proverbs 10:7 to make that specific point. We need to consider the context of the chapter, as what we have is a series of contrasts between a wise son and a stupid son, a person who works hard and a lazy person, a son who acts with discernment and one that is shameful. But nowhere is the resurrection found within the verses or the context (surrounding verses). So, it would be a misapplication of the verses to suggest that it does. The correct interpretation is below.
A Good Name Is a Good Reputation
Proverbs 10:7 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
7 The memory of the righteous is a blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot.
The memory of the righteous is a blessing: This is not a reference to the memories of the righteous reflecting on their lives, but rather the memories of others as they reflect back on the life of this righteous one after he has died.
but the name of the wicked will rot: Here we have the contrast between the wicked with the righteous of the previous line. The name [or reputation] is parallel to “memory” and “wicked” with the “righteous.” Here both name and memory stand for the beliefs or views that are generally held about someone when they are alive, and after they have died, which can be good or bad.
It is for this reason a “good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” (Prov. 22:1) The righteous one’s name or reputation is remembered favorably by others and, more importantly, by God. However, this differs from the name or reputation of the wicked ones, which becomes something disgusting and rotten! Truly, the name or reputation of wicked ones is not a pleasant memory. We need to make a favorable name with God and our fellow man.
The reality of what is on the horizon is that Jesus, at the battle of Armageddon, will destroy all the wicked, seen and unseen. The righteous who have a favorable name with God will survive that battle of Armageddon and will have the privilege of helping fulfill the original purpose that Hod had, to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. (Gen. 1:27-28; Isa. 45:18) During this time, the holy ones who will be ruling with Christ in the heavens as kings, priests, and judges; will judge the world of humankind. The Bible is clear that the wicked will not receive a resurrection. However, we cannot use Proverbs 10:7 to make that specific point. We need to consider the context of the chapter, as what we have is a series of contrasts between a wise son and a stupid son, a person who works hard and a lazy person, a son who acts with discernment and one that is shameful. But nowhere is the resurrection found within the verses or the context (surrounding verses). So, it would be a misapplication of the verses to suggest that it does.
The memory of the righteous [will be] a blessing in receiving a resurrection after Armageddon. God will remember the wicked ones who will not receive a resurrection, and he will remember the unrighteous ones (who never heard the gospel) and the righteous ones. The meaning is that the name or reputation of wicked ones is not a pleasurable memory but rather is sickening and disgusting.
Is It Really What the Bible Says?
1 John 4:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
The Bible is the inspired, fully inerrant Word of God. If we are to understand what was meant, to “have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:16) God had but one meaning when he inspired the author to place those words in the text. We truly appreciate the love that God has shown us. Many have read 1 John 4:18 above, which reads “the one who fears is not perfected in love” and have come to the wrong understanding. In looking at the whole verse, some have concluded they will never be “perfected in love,” because of the fear and anxiety that they experience in life. However, is this what the apostle John was talking about?
This wonderful reality of love being made complete among the body of Christ is driven home by John’s reason for doing so—having confidence on the day of judgment—as well as his statement, There is no fear in love (4:18). Many of us have struggled with fears of losing a loved one to another. Or, we have allowed jealousy to become a monster that can ruin a good relationship with someone we love. In what ways can love eliminate these fears and give us confidence?
For one thing, the immediate context of this verse is focused on our relationship with God and our assurance before Him regarding judgment. John writes, But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. When we know that our focus is to love God and others, we take it by faith that such obedience will deliver us. We need not live in fear of God, or in anxiety about our destiny.
But what about the fear we experience in other love relationships? Cultural clichés say that we tend to “hurt the one we love” and that “it is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.” And there are times when we can feel consumed with fears of losing what or whom we love. But John says, The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We must remember that love includes decisions and discipline. There is wisdom and truth in recognizing that love is a choice. Love requires discipline. Doing what love does will call for effort, discipline, fortitude, and even sacrifice.
The good news is that as love grows and matures, it eliminates that which contaminates and includes that which purifies the other person and the relationship. When love refuses to be dominated by the winds of emotion or past failures, it gains the strength and health that minimizes fear and anxiety while it maximizes fulfillment and joy. As we learn to forgive, sacrifice, and dream, everyone thrives.—David A. Case and David W. Holdren, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude: A Commentary for Bible Students (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2006), 301–302.
HANDLING PROPHETIC SCRIPTURE ARIGHT
Most understand the word “prophecy” always to be another word for prediction. The Hebrew, navi and the Greek prophētēs (prophet) carry the meaning of one who is a proclaimer of God’s message and need not necessarily be foretelling of the future. He may very well be proclaiming a moral teaching, an expression of a divine command or judgment, but they also mean a foretelling of something to come. Below, we will be considering the secondary meaning of prophecy, one who for foretells the future, not the primary meaning, one who forth tells the will and purpose of God, i.e., a proclaimer. Just as it is true of all these genres, there are principles that both writer and reader were aware of and need to be explained. We, however, are far removed from their time and need to be introduced to these principles.
The Prophetic Judgment of Nineveh
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which Jehovah has not spoken?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that Jehovah has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
Jonah 3:4-5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 And Jonah began to go into the city a journey of one day, and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Jonah 3:10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
Based on Deuteronomy 18:20-222, does Jonah 3:4-5 and 10 not prove that Jonah was a false prophet? No, both Jonah and the Ninevites were aware of a principle that is often overlooked by the modern-day reader. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel give the answer or the principle that readers of that time would have understood about judgment prophecy. Jeremiah explicitly explains the rule of judgment prophecies when he writes,
Jeremiah 18:7-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
7 At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to tear down, and to destroy it; 8 and if that nation which I have spoken against turns from its evil, I will also feel regret over the calamity that I intended to bring against it.
The opposite is true as well,
Jeremiah 18:9-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
9 Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; 10 if it does evil in my eyes by not obeying my voice, then I will feel regret over the good with which I had promised to bless it.
Yes, if one turns back from their evil ways, endeavoring to obey God’s Word, he will not receive the condemnatory judgment that he deserves. That a previous wicked deed will not be held against them, God states,
Ezekiel 33:13-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 When I say to the righteous one: “You will surely keep living,” and he trusts in his own righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous acts will be remembered, but he will die for the wrong that he has done. 14 “‘And when I say to the wicked one: “You will surely die,” and he turns away from his sin and does what is just and righteous, 15 and the wicked one returns what was taken in pledge and pays back what was taken by robbery, and he walks in the statutes of life by not doing what is wrong, he will surely keep living. He will not die. 16 None of his sins that he has committed will be remembered against him. He has practiced justice and righteousness; he shall surely live.
Regardless of all that one has done throughout their life, it is their standing in God’s eyes at the time of the divine judgment which God considers. Therefore, God goes on to say through Ezekiel, “None of his sins that he has committed will be remembered against him.”
Supposed Unfulfilled Prophecy
In the days when Micah was prophesying, c. 777-717, the king, the heads of the Jerusalem government, the religious leaders, the priests, and some prophets, were deserving of nothing but death. All were guilty of causing the life of their fellow countrymen, all for the sake of greed. They were guilty of false worship, bribery, lies, and wicked behavior. These leaders used false prophets, who were not true spokesmen of God. Therefore, the real prophet, Micah, shouted,
Micah 3:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house as a high place in a forest.
The destruction occurred in the late seventh-century B.C.E., just as it was prophesied. As we can see below, Micah 3:12 was quoted over a century later in Jeremiah 26:18.
Jeremiah 26:16-19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man is not worthy of death; for he hath spoken to us in the name of Jehovah our God.” 17 Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spoke to all the assembly of the people, saying, 18 “Micah the Morashtite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah; and he spoke to all the people of Judah, saying: ‘Thus says Jehovah of hosts,
“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’
19 Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear Jehovah and entreat the favor of Jehovah, and Jehovah changed his mind about the misfortune, which he had pronounced against them? But we are committing a great evil against our own souls.”
Is this another unfulfilled prophecy? Did not Jeremiah himself say, “Jehovah changed his mind about the misfortune, which he had pronounced against them”? Verse 19 of Jeremiah [chapter 26] “indicates that Micah’s preaching may have been instrumental in the revival under King Hezekiah (see 2 Kgs 18:1–6; 2 Chr 29–31).” (Barker and Bailey 2001, 82) The New American Commentary authors go on to say,
Lamentations describes the awful fulfillment of this prophecy (see Introduction, p. 30). It is ironic that those who thought they were the builders of Zion (v. 10) actually turned out to be, in a sense, its destroyers. The Lord, because of their breach of covenant, used King Nebuchadnezzar’s Neo-Babylonian army to raze Jerusalem and its temple. They were reduced to a “mound of ruins” (translating the Hb. word ʿîyyîn) similar to an archaeological tell and to Ai (see also comments on 1:6), foreshadowing the Roman destruction of a.d. 70. Jerusalem became a place suitable only for wild animals. And the temple mount that thronged with worshipers became as deserted as when Abraham almost offered Isaac there on Mount Moriah (Gen 22:2, 14). (Barker and Bailey 2001, 82)
Yes, there is no reason to view Micah’s words as an unfulfilled prophecy. We have a following of the above rule, with a qualifying clause, so to speak. As God said through Jeremiah, “If at any time I say that I am going to uproot, break down, or destroy any nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns from its evil, I will not do what I said I would.” (17:7-8) However, “if I say that I am going to plant or build up any nation or kingdom, but then that nation disobeys me and does evil, I will not do what I said I would.” In other words, the king, the governmental leaders and the priests heeded Micah’s warning, repented, and were forgiven for a time, with the judgment prophecy lifted. However, they fell back into their former ways more grievously than before. Therefore, Micah’s prophecy was reinstated. It is as Jeremiah said in 26:19, “But we are committing a great evil against our own souls.” Therefore, Jeremiah was saying, Micah prophesied, the people repented, God forgave them, and now Micah’s words will be carried out because of the current generation of God’s people ‘committing a great evil against their own souls.’
As we can see from the above, judgment prophecies are based on a continued wrong course by those receiving condemnation. However, both the condemned and the one proclaiming the prophecy knew that the judgment would be lifted if they reversed course, and repented. This was even expressed by Jonah himself. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to Jehovah and said, “O Jehovah, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (4:1-2) However, it is also true, if one goes in the opposite direction after having repented, returning to the sinful ways, the judgment will be reinstated.
The prophet is much like the poet, in that he is given a license to express himself in nonliteral language. Generally, he is working with images that are far more effective than words themselves.
Matthew 24:29-31 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
The Coming of the Son of Man
29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet call, and they will gather his chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The above cosmic terminology need not be taken literally. It is a part of their toolkit, which enables them to make it clear that God is acting on behalf of humans. (See Dan. 2:21; 4:17, 25, 34–35; 5:21) The sun will not be darkened, the moon will not stop giving its light, and the stars will not fall from the heavens, nor will the heavens be shaken. What is being communicated here is that following the tribulation, when God is going to judge humans, the righteous will receive life, and the unrighteous will be cut off from life. (34-45) While we do not take cosmic terminology literally, we do discover its meaning, and this is what we are to take literally.
Acts 2:14-21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and declared to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel
17 “‘And it shall be in the last days, God says,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 and even on my male slaves and on my female slaves
I will pour out some of my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’
In all occurrences, prophecy proclaimed in Bible times had meaning to the people who heard it; it served for their guidance as well as each generation up unto the time of its fulfillment. Usually, it had some fulfillment in that time, in numerous instances being fulfilled during the days of that very generation. In looking at Peter’s quote from Joel, it must be asked; did they see those cosmic events on Pentecost? Yes, the cosmic terminology expresses that God was acting on behalf of those first Christians. A new era was being entered, and God poured out His Spirit, and sons and daughters did prophesy, both in proclaiming a message and in foretelling further events. However, let us delve even deeper into prophecy and how they are to be interpreted. Before moving on, let us briefly offer what we have learned this far:
- Judgment prophecies could be lifted and set aside if the parties affected repent and turn around from their former course.
- On the other hand, if God has promised blessings, but then that person or group disobeys him and does evil, he will not do what he had said he would do.
- Then again, if one has repented, turned around, and a judgment prophecy has been lifted, it can be reinstated if that person or group returns to their former evil ways.
- Prophets have a license to use prophetic language, cosmic terminology that evidences that God is working or acting within humanity.
- While we do not take cosmic terminology literally, we do discover its meaning, and this is what we are to take literally.
If we are to understand and interpret prophecy correctly, we must first have a grasp of the figurative language, types, and symbols. We have already dealt with figurative language back in the CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING HOUSE BLOG Interpreting Figurative Language, and typology is dealt with throughout this book. In addition, the reader should carefully consider New Testament Writers Use of the Old Testament.
We will follow the same interpretation process here that we would elsewhere, grammatical-historical interpretation, which attempts to ascertain what the author meant by the words that he used, which should have been understood by his original readers. (Stein 1994, 38-9) It was the primary method of interpretation when higher criticism’s Historical-Critical Method was in its infancy back in the 19th century (Milton Terry), and remains the only method of interpretation for true conservative scholarship in the later 20th century into the 21st century.
When we speak of interpreting the Bible grammatically, we are referring to the process of seeking to determine its meaning by ascertaining four things: (a) the meaning of words (lexicology), (b) the form of words (morphology), (c) the function of words (parts of speech), and (d) the relationships of words (syntax). In the meaning of words (lexicology), we are concerned with (a) etymology- how words are derived and developed, (b) usage how words are used by the same and other authors, (c) synonyms and antonyms -how similar and opposite words are used, and (d) context-how words are used in various contexts.
In discussing the form of words (morphology), we are looking at how words are structured and how that affects their meaning. For example, the word eat means something different from ate, though the same letters are used. The word part changes meaning when the letter “s” is added to it to make the word parts. The function of words (parts of speech) considers what the various forms do. These include attention to subjects, verbs, objects, nouns, and others, as will be discussed later. The relationships of words (syntax) are the way words are related or put together to form phrases, clauses, and sentences. (Zuck 1991, 100-101)
By “historical,” we mean the setting in which the prophet’s book was written and the circumstances involved in the writing. … taking into consideration the circumstances of the writings and the cultural environment. We must keep in mind that even though many of the prophetic utterances were meant for the generation in which they were spoken or shortly thereafter. Even if it is not the immediate generation, all prophetic utterances had some type of meaning to the prophet’s generation, be it hope in some future person or event or the knowledge of a judgment that is coming or could come as a result of their behavior. For example, maybe the Israelites are under persecution and oppression by the surrounding nations, and the prophecy is for a protector that is to rise up, and set matters straight. Even though they do not know who the protector is or the exact time of his appearance, they do know that God cannot lie, nor has he ever lied, so they can have hope and faith in his words. Moreover, they would have also known that if they fell back into false worship, God could withdraw his prophetic message of a savior.
The context in which a given Scripture passage is written influences how that passage is to be understood. Context includes several things:
- the verse(s) immediately before and after a passage
- the paragraph and book in which the verses occur
- the dispensation in which it was written
- the message of the entire Bible
- the historical-cultural environment of that time when it was written. (Zuck 1991, 77)
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