Study 20: Application – So What??

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Romans 15:4

“For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”

Ezra 7:10

We are concluding our study on Hermeneutics, moving from interpretation to application; which should be the goal of your Bible reading.

We’ve spent much time going through the discipline of hermeneutics; the interpretation of Scripture. However, it would all be in vain if it remains an intellectual exercise. Unless we ensure that we believe, obey and practice what the Bible says, we are simply “hearers and not doers”. 

Carefully consider the instruction of James: “…putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves… one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:21-25)

Some Key Definitions

1. Interpretation
Interpretation is discovering the passage’s significance to everyone, everywhere, all the time – because it discovers the original authors meaning (what did the original author intend for his original audience in the original setting?). There is one meaning to the text.

2. Application
This refers to the different ways different people at different times and in different places can live out the one meaning of the text.

  • Application is bridging the gap between the ancient text and the modern world. As we study the text, we stand with one foot in the ancient world of the God-revealed biblical text, and the other foot planted in the modern world that we live in today (see John Stott’s excellent book Between Two Worlds).
  • The process of application is an like firing an arrow – may the bowstring between the text of the Bible on one hand, and the problems of modern day life on the other; if the string is insecurely tethered to either end, the bow is useless.

3. Implications
Implications refer to the inferred logical connections between foundational theological truths and changed daily Christian living. 

  • Not all passages have a direct and obvious “do this on Tuesday” application. However, profound theological passages (like John 1:1) have profound implications that affect all of life.

The Need for Application

Luther: “[The Bible] is not merely to be repeated or known, but to be lived and felt” and “Preach so that if people do not hate their sin, they will hate you!”

Fabarez: “Bringing application over the centuries is the essential discipline that separates an aimless sermon from a truly life-changing sermon” (Preaching that Changes Lives).

Spurgeon: “The bell in the steeple may be well hung, fairly fashioned and of sound metal, but it is dumb until the ringer makes it speak. The preacher has no voice to quicken the dead in sin, or to comfort the living saint unless the divine spirit gives him a gracious pull, and moves him to speak with power.”

Legitimate Applications

A true and powerful application must be built on the solid foundation of the right interpretation of the passage. To do this, ask three questions when considering application:

1. Does the author himself give an application in the context?
For example, in Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul immediately follows the put off/put on principle to lying, anger, stealing, speech, relationship sins, and forgiveness (v25-32).

2. How did the text apply to the original audience?
If you work hard in your interpretation to answer this question, the application for today will usually be quite obvious. Remember the key question to ask in hermeneutics: what did the author want to change in the thinking and actions of his original audience?

“I believe the more vivid and concrete you make the function of a passage sit in its original life setting… the more effective your application will be.” (Liefeld, NT Exposition)

For example, in Ephesians 5:3-4 “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness or silly talk or course jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks…” Understanding that the terms “filthiness, silly talk, course jesting” were all associated to the travelling comedians and showmen who were the town’s entertainment in that day (making use primarily of lewd sexual comedy) can instantly be related to our day’s entertainment, and be applied to the Christian today.

3. What spiritual concerns do I share with the people to whom this was written?
Human sin doesn’t really change, so many texts apply easily and immediately. For example, 1 Thess 4:3 “this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” This applies with equal force and simplicity to the Thessalonian context 2000 years ago, and us today.

Brian Chapell sums this up in his book “Christ-Centered Preaching” as the “Fallen Condition Focus”. He writes “the Fallen Condition Focus is the mutual human condition arising from the Fall, which contemporary believers share with those to whom (or about whom) the text was written, and requires the same grace in the passage so that God’s people may glorify and enjoy Him. It is any aspect or problem of the human condition requiring instruction, admonition or comfort of Scripture.”

In considering the text, discern what the human concern was which caused the Holy Spirit to inspire this aspect of Scripture: what are the struggles, concerns or frailties of the people originally addressed? 


  • what do I encounter today that is similar to what the passage deals with? 
  • what was the text intended to change in the original audience’s lives?
  • what do I have in common with that original audience related to this issue?

The Timeless Principle

Roy Zuck summarizes this concept: “When Scripture does not speak specifically to us, we should look for a principle that does tell us something. This principle is a general statement drawn out from the specific original situation.” 

Kaiser says it this way: “To ‘principlize’ is to state the author’s propositions, arguments, narration and illustrations in timeless abiding truths with a special focus on the application of those truths today.”

There is one meaning to a text, yet there are numerous specific applications that can be drawn out of the one meaning of the text. Because those applications are often bound to a time and culture, as well as specific to a person’s situation, we need a “bridge”. That is the principle of the text – a good principle applies to everyone, everywhere, all the time. So how do you make a timeless, abiding principle?

  1. There must be a clear correspondence between the original meaning of the text, and your principle. Here are two tests:
    • Is there a clear correspondence between the subject and the action of the text, and the subject and the action of your principle? In 1 Tim 5:17-18, the subject is a worker benefiting from his labor, and the action is to compensate a hard-working laborer (an ox or preacher).
    • The stretch test – the farther the stretch of logic between the original meaning and the application, the less legitimate (and powerful) the application. We’ll consider some examples soon.
  2. The principle must be limited by time, geography or culture.
  3. The principle must not violate any other teaching of Scripture.

Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world…”
Principle: “Do not think or act like unbelievers.”

[the Principle is a quick and catchy summary of the meaning of the text]

Ephesians 4:28 “He who steals must steal no longer”
Meaning: “Do not take something that does not belong to you.”
Principle: “Do not take what is not yours – or yours to use in that way.”

  • don’t shop-lift a chocolate from the store
  • don’t lie on your time card
  • don’t cheat on your taxes
  • don’t take paper from the office for your origami business at home

There is an obvious, undeniable correspondence between the original meaning, the timeless principle, and the applications we’ve created – and the principle applies the original meaning from its culture and time, to ours (and applied to a specific Western culture today).

More Examples

Romans 3:20 “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.”
Meaning: “No external religious Mosaic ceremony or moral efforts will make your right with God.”
Principle: “No external religious ritual or moral effort will make your right with God.”

Notice that to make this a timeless principle, we simply removed “Mosaic” from the previous statement, thus removing the limiting time and cultural reference.

Application: “Water baptism or regular church attendance or Bible reading will not make you right with God.”

Now let’s apply the subject/action and stretch tests:

  • Subject: in both the original text and our application, the subject is justification “being right with God”
  • Action: in both the original text and our application, the action we see is abandoning religious ritual and moral effort as the means of becoming right with God.
  • Stretch test: While there is a difference between OT circumcision and NT water baptism, we all understand the parallel between OT rituals and NT rituals. The gap is small and easy to step over.

Proverbs 5:8 “Keep your way far from her [the adulteress] and do not go near the door of her house.”
Meaning: “Stay away from the adulteress’s house!”
Principle: “Do not place yourself in situations where sexual sin is virtually inevitable – you can avoid a lot of sin by just avoiding temptation.”

Can you legitimately use Prov 5:8 to avoid the temptation of internet pornography?


  • Make a commitment not to surf the internet
  • Don’t browse the web without your spouse/parent present
  • Avoid the computer when you’re bored; use it only as a tool to accomplish your work
  • Take a different route home to avoid the lurid street with the semi-pornographic billboard

Subject/Action & Stretch Tests:

  • Subject: Clear correspondence with the subject (sexual sin)
  • Action: Clear correspondence of action (avoid the place/situation where you have the opportunity to commit sexual sin)
  • Stretch test: Although there was no internet in Solomon’s day, we can all see the parallel of avoiding the geography of the adulteress, and avoiding the situation of looking at internet porn.

Some Things to Consider

Is there anything in the context which limits the application to a particular target? What do I not have in common with the original audience?

For example when in the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus), many of the commands seem to have timeless principles regarding the Christian life – but always note that some of the intended applications are directed specifically to pastors and their ministerial leadership in the church. This is an important and limiting observation. 

For example, 2 Tim 2:15 “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

Of course, this was directed to Timothy, a preacher and elder, it does apply by extension because you are a Bible interpreter every time you open the text and read it. While we are stretching the author’s original intention, the principle (the word must be diligently and carefully handled) extends to every believer.

Does any other part of Scripture limit the target audience?

The application of Leviticus is even further removed than the Pastorals, because the rest of Scripture shows us that the sacrificial and ceremonial system of Leviticus has been fulfilled in Christ. So while there is plenty of application from Israel’s festivals and Sabbath regulations, our application will look quite different from the original.

Is there a cultural condition that limits the target of application?

For example, when Paul tells Timothy to “use a little wine” in 1 Tim 5:23, modern medicinal treatment are most likely superior to this personal advice.

Was there a particular historical or unique situation which limits the target of application? Or said another way, ‘was this descriptive passage given to serve as a template for us today?’

For example, when Jesus told the rich young ruler to “sell all you own and distribute it to the poor” was that a command to be applied to all Christians? Or were the miracles performed by Jesus and the Apostles particular to the establishment of the church?

Consider various people and situations in which a principle may be applied: men, women, children, believers, unbelievers, work, school, family, church, leisure time, current events.


  1. Does the author himself give application in the context?
  2. How did this originally apply to the original audience?
  3. What spiritual concerns do we share in common with the original audience (we are both sinners, serving the same God)?
  4. Is there a timeless principle implicit in the text that summarizes its legitimate applications?
    • subject/action test (a clear, demonstrable correlation must exist between the subjects and actions of the text)
    • stretch test (is my application stretch far beyond the original author’s intention that this application has either no authority or is false?

Remember, application is where we need to push our interpretation. Without obeying and practicing the truth of the text by faith, we are simply “hearers, and not doers, who delude themselves.”

Study 19: Reading Exodus

Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice and let Israel go?

Exodus 5:2

We are continuing our study on Hermeneutics, this time looking at the book of Exodus and applying the principles we’ve learned to draw out the theological message Moses intended for his audience.

The book of Exodus has provided a deep resource for Bible-story-time for parents everywhere. However, before getting carried away with the drama of plagues, sea split in two and fiery tornadoes… let’s apply our hermeneutics and understand the point of the book!


Moses is the author (see 17:14; 24:4), writing to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob during their wilderness journey to Canaan.

Gleason Archer notes: “The information needed to make the book of Exodus intelligible is supplied by the book of Genesis. It is in Genesis that the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are spelled out… Moreover, the fact that Exodus 1:1 begins with the word and suggests that it was intended to follow the preceding book. 

The Plot

  • Dire threats to the descendants of Jacob:  slavery and genocide (1-2)
  • The exile and call of Moses (2-4)
  • The destruction of Egypt by nine Plagues (5-10)
  • The 10th Plague and the Passover (11-13)
  • Rescue at the Red/Reed Sea (14-15)
  • Rescue in the wilderness—water, food, Amalek, efficient court system (15-18)
  • Covenant ratification at Mt. Sinai (19-24)
  • Tabernacle design and duties revealed (25-31)
  • The golden calf and Yahweh’s forgiveness (32-34)
  • The completion of the tabernacle (35-40)

Significant Speeches by Significant Characters


  • Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.”‘  (4:22-23)
  • I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.  (6:6-8)
  • You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…  (19:4-6)


  • Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.  (14:13-14)

Significant Speeches by Insignificant Characters

Pharaoh’s Magicians: ” This is the finger of God.” (8:19, after the 3rd Plague)

The Egyptian Chariot Drivers: “Let us flee from Israel, for the LORD is fighting for them…” (14:25)

Moses’ Father-in-Law: “Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians. So Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people.” (18:9-11)  

Key Editorial Insights/Summaries

2:23-25 Israel’s groaning and God’s remembrance of His covenant with Abraham
14:30-31 God’s act and Israel’s belief

Key Rhetorical Question

Pharaoh: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” (5:2)

Pharaoh’s servants: “Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed?” (10:7)

The People at Meribah: “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children…? Is the LORD among us, or not? (17:3, 7)

Moses to Israel at Meribah: “Why do you test the LORD?” (17:2)

Moses to God: “Is it not by Your going with us, so that we… may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” (33:16)

Repeated Words or Phrases

Exodus 1:7.  The sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them. (see also 1:10, 12)
Compare Genesis 17:2, I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly. (see also Gen 12:2; 15:5; 16:10; 17:6-7; 22:17; 35:11, etc.)

The God of your fathers (3:6, 13, 15, 16; 4:5) and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2:24; 3:15-16; 4:5; 6:3, 8; 32:13; 33:1)
The book of Exodus reaches back to Genesis to find hope of deliverance in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

First use:  God of Pharaoh—I will harden his heart (Ex 4:21)
God the active agent:  God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; and of the Egyptians generally at the Red Sea 14:4, 8,17)
Pharaoh the active agent:  Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:15, 32; 9:34)
Agent unstated:  Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 35)
Note: These verses (along with Ex 33:19) were used by the apostle Paul as a key factor of his argument that God is sovereign over belief and forgiveness (Rom 9:6-18). 

Land  (as promised by God; cp. Gen 12:7; 15:18-21; 35:12; 50:24)
Exodus 3:8.  I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey … (see also Ex 6:4, 8; 12:25; 13:5, 11; 15:17; 20:12; 23:23, 29-31; 32:13)

This is the key word in the first half of Exodus.  Both the descendants of Jacob specifically and the ancient world generally were tragically deficient in their knowledge of Yahweh.  The events of the Exodus were enacted by God to correct that ignorance.

Of Yahweh knowing Israel: “God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them [Heb:  knew them].”(2:25)
As the apostle noted in Galatians 4:9, it is always of first priority that God know us, and subsequently that we know Him.  Therefore, the book of Exodus starts with God knowing Israel.
Of Pharaoh knowing Yahweh: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (5:2) “I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth.” (9:14)
Of Israel knowing Yahweh: “Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God…” (6:7) “…I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.  (10:1-2)
Of the nations—personified in Jethro—knowing Yahweh: “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people.” (Ex 18:11; cp. Joshua 2:9)  
Of Moses knowing Yahweh: “…You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight… Show me Your glory!” (33:12-13, 18)

Observation: Moses felt inadequate to lead God’s people until He knew God—especially God’s compassionate forgiveness.  It’s noteworthy that God’s self-revelation in response to Moses’ request included His goodness and absolute sovereignty (33:19), His patient compassion and loyal covenant love (34:6), and also His unswerving justice (34:7).
Moses’ response to his new, profound knowledge of God was worship:  Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship (34:8).  
Point: To lead God’s people, a man must have a convinced knowledge of God’s goodness and sovereignty; furthermore, he must have a mature and worshipful understanding of God’s justice and loyal, forgiving compassion.  

Echoed in the rest of the OT
Joshua 2:9-11 (Rahab); 3:10 (Israel); 4:24 (all the peoples of the earth) 1 Sam 17:46 (Goliath) 1 Kings 8:60 (all people); 18:37 (Israel); 20:28 (Ahab) 2 Kings 5:15 (Naaman the leper); 19:19 (all the kingdoms of the earth) 1 Chron 28:9 (Solomon)
2 Chron 33:13 (Manasseh) Hosea 4:6, My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Isaiah 5:13, My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge. Ezekiel uses the phrase, that you/they will know the LORD, fifty-four times.

Repeated Themes

God’s Unique Protection of Israel

  • But against any of the sons of Israel a dog will not even bark … that you may understand [know] how the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (Ex 11:7)
  • You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. (19:4)

Antagonism toward Moses’ (and thus God’s) Leadership 

  • The people’s churlish rebellion against Moses and God regarding water and food in the book of Exodus (Ex 15:23-25; 16:2-3; 17:1-2) would reach its final expression in the book of Numbers.

The Mosaic/Sinaitic Covenant

“[By this covenant,] the Abrahamic nation would become a microcosm of the kingdom of God and would function in that capacity as an agency by which God would reconcile the whole creation to Himself.”  (in Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 27)

Interestingly, this covenant is usually named after its mediator, rather than its recipients.  To parallel the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic Covenants, the covenant of Sinai would most accurately be labelled the Israel Covenant.

The Setting:  the Peaceful Year at Mt. Sinai
God did not lead Israel directly from Goshen to the promised land, because a number of important preliminaries had to be put in place before the nation went to war.  The relationship between Israel and Yahweh had to be clarified.  They needed an authoritative moral and civil law code.  They needed a place to meet Yahweh, and they required authoritative regulations governing His worship.  All this was accomplished in the peaceful year they spent encamped at Mt. Sinai.

“Before this moment in her history, Israel had had no experience in self-government; in fact, she had no laws of her own and no identity as an organized people. (Kaiser, A History of Israel, 117)

“As Israel had been making her way from Egypt to Sinai during the prior sixty days, she had been only a vast host of people with little order or organization.  Except for size, she could scarcely be called a nation.” (Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, 143)

Key Concept:  Yahweh, the Victorious Warrior King
The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name …. The LORD shall reign forever and ever. (Ex 15:3, 18)

As King, Yahweh had:

  • rescued Israel from slavery and genocide 
  • provided military protection from both Egypt and Amalek
  • provided basic needs (water and food)
  • provided a just, efficient court system

What does anyone want from government except protection from violent enemies, assurance that life’s physical necessities will be available, and an even-handed, efficient court system?

Summary of Exodus 19-40

The Covenant Proposed

  • Its Basis: 19:4 “I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself…”
    • “Yahweh graciously chose, protected, guided, and helped Israel and her ancestors from the very beginning of Creation to their arrival at Mount Sinai—with the implication that Israel has every reason to be grateful to Yahweh and to accept Yahweh’s generous covenant.”  (Dorsey “Can These Bones Live?”, in Evangelical Journal, 1991, 16)
  • Its Duties 19:5. “If you will indeed obey My voice…”
  • Its Benefits
    • Unique relationship with God:  You shall be My own possession (19:5)
    • Unique access to God:  You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests (19:6)
    • Unique status before God:  a holy nation (19:6)
    • “Israel must be viewed as bearing a mediatorial responsibility, of serving as an intercessor between a holy God and all the peoples of the earth… that God and the peoples of earth might have unbroken communion.” (in Zuck, A biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 13)
  • Its Preliminary Acceptance
    • Exodus 19:8.  All that the LORD has spoken we will do!

The Covenant Expounded
Its General Stipulations: The Ten Commandments (Ex 20)
Its Specific Stipulations: the “Book of the Covenant” (Ex 21-23)

The Covenant Ratified
On earth (24:7-8)
In heaven (24:9-11)
Exodus 24:10-11.  They saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.

The Covenant Broken
The golden calf apostasy (Ex 32)

The Covenant Renewed
Levitical cleansing of the camp (resulting in the priestly covenant, Ex 32:25-29; Mal 2:4), Moses’ intercession, and God’s gracious forgiveness (Ex 33-34)

The Covenant Presence (of Yahweh)

  • Promised: My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.  (Ex 33:14)
  • “Exodus is indeed the book of the presence of the Lord among his people.”  (The Message of Exodus, BST, 195)
  • Fulfilled in the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting, as it was also called, was God’s travelling military headquarters. It visibly represented Yahweh’s presence with His people. However, since Yahweh was a divine King, it was also a place of worship. Therefore, Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 detail the furniture, structure, and priests of the temple-tent where Israel met God.

There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you… (25:22)

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (40:34)

Christological Allusions

The Passover lamb (Ex 4:22; 12:23; 1 Cor 5:7) 
God’s redemption of a people for His own possession (Ex 6:6; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9-10)
Moses as covenant intercessor (Ex 32:11-14, 30; 34:9; Heb 8:6)
The Angel of the Lord (Ex 23:20-21; 1 Cor 10:4)

Study 18: Interpreting Story

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

We are continuing our study on Hermeneutics: the art and science of Biblical Interpretation, this time focusing on Narrative.

Something that is uniquely human is that we process life through story. As we retell the events of the day, recall an important event from long ago, or try to illustrate a concept we begin to process, select and arrange those events as a narrative. Why? It’s the way we make sense of things.

God wired us for story. And in Scripture, God gave us stories.

Now while story is a human trait, it is expressed in various ways. The Western tradition of storytelling is quite different to the East; or more particularly, the ancient Middle-East. We need to cross a vast chasm of time (up to 4000 years), culture (most agrarian), geographic, political and religious. Moreover, the authors of Scripture employed a variety of styles and literary devices we may ignore and completely overlook their significance. 

Our intention in reading Scripture is first to discover the divinely intended meaning communicated by the original author to the original audience in their original context. The biblical narratives are masterful literature: every word, every element, every part of the structure is precisely chosen to accomplish the author’s intention. Remember that the creator of communication, God Himself, stands behind the text of Scripture. As He said in Isaiah 55:11 “So is My word which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

To interpret narrative, Walt Kaiser points out: “The place we must begin is with the plain, natural, original, historical meaning of the passage.  If we ever abandon that as our starting point, we will have forfeited all hope for arriving at any agreed sense of meaning of a text.”

The five key components of biblical narrative are the setting, the plot, the characters, the dialog, and the theological purpose of the story. Clear-headed Bible interpretation must pay close attention to all five. Let’s lay out the guidelines for interpreting narrative:

Pay Close Attention to the Setting of the Story

To interpret a narrative fully, it is vital that one have a firm grasp on the historical-cultural background and the geographic setting of a Biblical narrative. This is the backdrop on which the story plays out.

  • Is it mere coincidence that the sermon in which Jesus spoke about the relationship between His teaching and the Mosaic Law Code was delivered from a mountain (Matt 5:1)?  What Yahweh did at Sinai, Jesus did in Matthew 5-7.  The setting of the Sermon on the Mount is an Everest-like commentary on the authority of Jesus of Nazareth.
  • In teaching Genesis 12ff., to understand how Abraham’s faith was tested by time, it is vital to pay attention to the chronological milestones supplied by Moses.  Abraham was 75 (Gen 12:4) when God called him, 85 when the Hagar experiment was undertaken (16:3, 16), 99 when God promised him a son through Sarah (17:1), and 100 when Isaac was born (21:5).  A twenty-five year wait for the son of promise is a severe test of faith.

Carefully Outline the Plot (the Events) of the Story

Biblical stories follow the normal pattern of stories the world over.  They start with a peaceful situation into which a problem or tension is introduced. A solution to that problem is sought, and in the end, there is resolution, a return to a peaceful situation. Consider Daniel and the Lion’s Den:

  • Initial situation:  Because of his extraordinary abilities and integrity, Daniel is appointed as one of three commissioners over the entire Persian Empire. 
  • Tension:  Jealous enemies plot against Daniel, arranging his unjust execution. 
  • Solution:  God intervenes to protect Daniel from persecution by subduing the lions. 
  • Resolution:  The wicked persecutors become a meal for the great cats, and Darius circulates a decree declaring Daniel’s God to be the living, eternal God. 

To approach this, you will need to divide the story into its proper segments (don’t rely on the chapter headings!). Often the narratives consist of a series of shorter stories within a larger story. For example, the various miracle accounts within the overall story of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  To discover the smaller stories within a larger narrative, look for two things:

  • a complete problem/solution storyline
  • significant changes in time and place

 Note the example from the anointing of David:

  • Then Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul… (1 Sam 15:34)
  • Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah. (1 Sam 6:13)

Note the change in scene and the repeated phrase Samuel went to Ramah tells you quite clearly that the anointing of David is a complete story within the larger story of 1 Samuel, and should be studied and understood as a unit.

Note Important Details about the Characters of the Story

We hardly know what Abraham, Moses, David or Paul looked like. However, on occasion, the biblical author gives some details about a characters appearance or reputation. Take special note of this.

For example, the summary of Job’s character in Job 1:1 (blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil) is super important. It establishes from the start that Job did not suffer because of his wickedness; he suffered in spiteof his extraordinary righteousness. Some cautions, though:

  • The human characters of a Bible story are a flea on a lion’s back when compared to the story’s central figure: God. He is always the most important character in a Bible story—even in the book of Esther where His name is not mentioned. 
  • The actions of Bible heroes are not always included in a story because they are noble.  For example, David had multiple wives, committed adultery, and murdered to cover his sin.  Always allow the teaching sections of Scripture to inform your conclusions regarding the behavior of the characters in biblical narratives.
  • The events experienced by biblical characters are often one-time events, not intended to be re-experienced or imitated by believers today (Jesus walking on water, Moses speaking to God face to face). Narrative is not necessarily normative.
  • Be very careful not to impose a psychological or social interpretation quite alien to the Scripture on a biblical character’s attitudes and actions.

Daniel Block writes, “Much of what goes by the label of ‘biographical preaching’ is little more than the imposition of contemporary psychological theory or the latest thinking on leadership style upon biblical texts… Such approaches tend, on one hand, to lead interpreters to find what they are looking for, rather than what is actually there, and on the other hand to yield overly optimistic perceptions of the characters that appear in biblical texts.”

Pay Special Attention to the Dialogs in the Story

Biblical authors often tell their story and its theology by means of the words or dialogs of their characters. Especially pay attention when an insignificant character says something of theological importance.

  • In Ruth, the author could have stated in his own words that Ruth converted from worshipping the gods of Moab to serving Yahweh, the God of Israel. However, it was far more compelling to quote Ruth’s own words: “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).
  • David and Goliath: without the dialogs between David, Saul, and Goliath, 1 Samuel 17 would devolve into nothing more than an entertaining account of David’s improbable victory over a Philistine giant.  However, with those dialogs, it is a theological treatise on God’s power.
    • Saul: “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him.” (1 Sam 17:33)
    • David: “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” (17:37)
    • Goliath: “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky 
      and the beasts of the field.” (17:44)
    • David: “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I 
      come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel.”(17:45)

So when studying narrative, give special attention to the words of the characters. In many cases, their conversations or speeches reveal the theological point of the story.

Identify the Theological Message the Author wanted to Communicate

This is the point of your study. The biblical authors recorded history to teach theological lessons. In a very explicit example of this, the Apostle John says as much in John 20:31 “These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Here are seven tips for getting to the Biblical Historian’s theological purpose:

  1. Direct Statements
    • Does the author directly state the theological lesson to which he hopes to draw your attention?  John 20:31, cited above, provides the classic example of this.  All the words, deeds, and miracles of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel were included to compel one to believe Jesus is Messiah and God. Naturally then, John’s purpose must shape one’s interpretation of individual sections.
    • See also 2 Kings 17:7-23 where the author summarizes the theological point of his report on the evil kings of the Northern Kingdom.
  2. Editorial Comments
    • Sailhamer notes, “Biblical narratives, in particular are noticeably reader conscious. In reading them, one rarely has the impression of being alone, the authors have their way of guiding the reader along…”
    • See how this plays out in Acts:
      • [They] began to speak the word of God with great boldness. (4:31)
      • Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (5:42)
      • And the word of God kept on spreading. (6:7)
      • Those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. (8:4)
      • [Paul was] preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. (28:31)
      • The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (2:47)
      • Many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of men came to be about five thousand. (4:4)
      • All the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number. (5:14)
      • So the church … continued to increase. (9:31)
      • And many believed in the Lord. (9:42)
      • The hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. (11:21)
    • Luke wrote the book of Acts to show that the early church was faithful to obey Christ’s commission to preach the gospel and that God was faithful to bless their efforts with many conversions.  Luke’s theological message?  Whatever internal problems or external pressures threatened its progress, the church preached and the church grew.
  3. Significant Speeches
    • Speeches are like road signs to the theological lesson of the story. Note especially speeches by insignificant characters (who could have been left out of the narrative without anything being lost). When the author makes a point of quoting the words insignificant characters, you can be sure he is directing the reader’s attention to something important.
      • Nebuchadnezzar: “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth… He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” (Dan 4:35, 37). 
        Daniel didn’t need to supplement Nebuchadnezzar’s speech with a closing editorial comment. Nebuchadnezzar’s words summarized the theological lesson of Daniel 4 perfectly.
      • The widow of Zarephath regarding Elijah: In 1 Kings 17:1, a completely unknown man named Elijah suddenly appears in the court of Israel and tells King Ahab that it will not rain until he says it will. Then Elijah (who is as much a mystery to the reader at this point as he is to King Ahab) goes into hiding, staying with the widow of Zarephath.  After Elijah raises her son from the dead, the widow makes this declaration:
        “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is true.” (1 Kgs 17:24).  
        Although she is an insignificant character, the author uses the widow’s words to express the view of Elijah he wants his readers to adopt. 
  4. Structural Devices
    • Note the literary or structural devices the author uses to ‘glue’ his story together. After all, the chapter and verse divisions weren’t added until the Middle Ages and they often obscure the original author’s organizational designs. Here are some examples:
      • Sometimes biblical authors cluster groups of stories together to make one point.  The miracle accounts of the Gospels are obvious examples of this literary technique.
      • Chiasmus: in Genesis 7-8, Moses purposely structured the story of the Flood to emphasize God’s complete sovereignty over the number of days comprising each stage of the Flood:  7, 40, 150, 150, 40, and 7 days.
        Of course, Moses did not impose that chronological structure on the Flood. God did. And Moses’ intentional recording of God’s time schedule for this worldwide disaster is one of the key theological lessons of Genesis 7-8:  what appears to men to be an out of control catastrophe is, to God, a tightly governed event run on an exact time schedule. David summarized this in Psalm 29:10 when he said, The Lord sat as King at the flood; yes, the Lord sits as King forever.
      • Inclusio: this refers to the technique of “book-ending” a large block of text with similar words or themes to highlight the fact that everything in between the bookends works together as a unit.
  5. Repeated Words or Themes
    • In Jonah, the word compassion is used three times, in 4:2, 10, 11.  The repetition of the word compassion provides a clue to the book’s overall theological message:  God’s compassion on Gentile sinners.
    • Ezra 7:9, 27-28; 8:18-23, 31-32.  The repetition of the phrase the hand of our God (or its equivalent) highlights the theological message of this section of Ezra:  God’s providential care for the returning exiles.
  6. Rhetorical Question
    • A rhetorical question is a question, the answer to which is so obvious, the author does not supply the answer.  OT writers often employed key rhetorical questions to highlight their theological message. For example:
      • Pharaoh to Moses: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?  (Exodus 5:2)
        Yahweh will spend the next nine chapters showing Pharaoh who He is and why He should be obeyed.
      • God to Jonah: Should I not have compassion on Nineveh… ?  (Jonah 4:11)
        The question needs no answer.  It is perfectly appropriate for a God who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abundant in loving-kindness to extend mercy to the undeserving Ninevites.  In other words, Jonah’s account is not about a naughty prophet and a hungry whale.  Instead, it is a powerful theological lesson about God’s compassion toward undeserving sinners.
  7. Choice of Material
    • To find the theological lesson of a historical account, note what information the author includes and excludes. For example:
      • Why did the Gospel writers include so little information about Jesus’ childhood and youth? Why didn’t they tell us what Jesus looked like? Why do all four gospels dedicate so much attention to Jesus’ miracles, the passion week, and especially His death and resurrection?
        The Gospel writers ignored trivial information about Jesus’ physical appearance and childhood and chose, instead, to load their accounts with reports of Jesus’ miracles, teaching, crucifixion, and resurrection, thus revealing their theological agendas.
      • In 1 & 2 Chronicles, the author wants to exalt the Davidic covenant and to idealize the Davidic line, so he ‘sanitised’ his report of David’s reign, excluding David’s adultery, murder, and family conflicts, so that David could be presented as the ideal king. The Chronicler employed the same technique with Solomon, skipping any mention of Solomon’s serial idolatry. The Chronicler was not being dishonest as he did this; he was simply excluding material that did not serve his theme: the benefits of a noble Davidic ruler who righteously implemented joyful Yahweh worship.

Let me summarize it in one place. To get the most out of a biblical story (to get the the theological message of the narrative), look out for:

  1. the setting
  2. important details about the characters
  3. the plot or events of the story
  4. structural (literary) devices
  5. editorial comments
  6. key dialog
  7. significant speeches
  8. repeated words or themes
  9. key rhetorical questions
  10. the author’s choice of material

This has been a long one. Well done for pressing on all the way to the end! No one said hermeneutics would be an easy exercise. But it will most surely bless your study of God’s Word.

Study 17: The Great Theme of Scripture

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 22:3-5

We are continuing our study on Hermeneutics: the art and science of Biblical Interpretation.

When reading the Bible, there is a sense in which you are reading a series of books, letters and poems written over a period of about 2000 years by 40 different authors from three continents in three different languages. And yet, there is a single divine voice that speaks without confusion or contradiction proclaiming a central theme.

While there have been many themes proposed for the whole of Scripture, there is one which goes from the first page to the last – and that is kingdom. The two other alternatives, salvation and promise, fail to encompass the opening two chapters of the Bible, since there was no need for God’s saving promises until after the Fall.  In contrast, God’s reign over the universe generally, and over the earth and the descendants of Jacob specifically, encompasses the entire Scripture.

Michael Vlach writes in his excellent book He Will Reign Forever, “The kingdom is a thread that runs from the first chapter of the Bible through the last.  Genesis 1 begins with God as Creator/King of the universe and man as God’s image-bearer who is created to “rule” and “subdue” the earth …. the last chapter of the Bible shows God and the Lamb on the throne and God’s people ruling on the new earth (Rev 22:3, 5).”

The backbone that provides the structure for the kingdom work of God comprises five vertebrae: the five key covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and the New Covenant)

  • “It seems clear that the central focus of biblical theology is the interlocking concepts of kingdom and covenant, and not covenant alone.” (Kenneth Barker)
  • “The kingdom of God is one of the grand themes, if not the theme, of Scripture. As the expression of God’s historical work, therefore, the kingdom of God is really the end of all his biblical covenants.” (Robert Saucy)

The biblical covenants are mile markers along the highway to the ultimate reestablishment of God’s kingdom reign over the earth and the human race.

Vlach writes:
The Noahic Covenant promises stability of nature as the platform for God carrying out His kingdom purposes.  The Abrahamic Covenant reveals that Abraham will be the father of a great nation, Israel, who will serve as the platform for bringing blessings to all nations.  The Davidic Covenant shows that the ultimate King will be a descendant of David who will rule and bless the entire world from Israel.  The New Covenant explains how God will change the hearts of His people and grant His Holy Spirit so they will always obey Him.  Each of these covenants works together in harmony to guarantee that God’s kingdom purposes will be fulfilled. 
The kingdom plan will be carried out through the eternal and unconditional covenants—Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and New.  The Mosaic Covenant was a temporary and conditional covenant that Israel failed.  Because Israel did not keep the Mosaic Covenant, God’s kingdom did not come in its fullness and there is the need for the superior New Covenant, which will enable Israel (and others) to obey the Lord.

The Abrahamic Covenant

Keith Essex notes, “It is recognized by all serious students of the Bible that the covenant with Abraham furnishes the key to the entire Old Testament and reaches for its fulfillment into the New.”

The Abraham Covenant is:

  • The source of patriarchal blessing
    • “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham… Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. (Gen 28:13-15)
  • The reason for the Exodus
    • “So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.” (Ex 2:24-25)
  • Why God forgave them after the golden calf incident
    • “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself”. So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Ex 32:13-14)
    • “He has remembered His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac.” (Ps 105:8-9)
  • The reason for Israel’s success in conquering Canaan
    • So the LORD gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. (Josh 21:43)
  • Why Israel will always rebound from judgment
    • But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham My friend, you whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts and said to you, “You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.”  (Is 41:8-9)
    • Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? …. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)

Although the Abrahamic Covenant is more often assumed than overtly mentioned after Exodus, at key moments throughout the OT the promises of God to Abraham shine through the storm clouds of Israel’s disobedience, assuring Yahweh’s people of the warmth and light of His ultimate love and blessings.

The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19-24)

Robert Saucy on its place in God’s overall plan:
“Although the Sinai covenant, like the covenants that followed, is related to the Abrahamic promises, we should note a fundamental difference.  The Davidic and new Covenants are basically elaborations of provisions of the Abrahamic promises, the Sinai covenant, by contrast, being the initial fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise, was added alongside that promise to provide the structure and conditions for its temporal enjoyment.”

Israel’s failure to obey God’s voice was the reason for the destruction and exile of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel.

  • Hear, O earth: behold, I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their plans, because they have not listened to My words, and as for My law, they have rejected it also. (Jer 6:19)

The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:9-16)

Kaiser notes: [In God’s promise plan] there was the constant narrowing and making more specific of what the ultimate fulfillment was to be.  It was a sort of election within the election, i.e., a man David from a tribe of Judah, from a nation Israel, from a race of Semites, from the seed of a woman.

As God’s revelation progressed, it became clear that God’s promise to David would be kept, not by a perpetual succession of Davidic kings, but in one Davidic king who would rule perpetually.

  • For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
  • “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The inadequacy of the old arrangement to bring mankind to righteous perfection precluded fulfillment.  The new covenant will succeed where the old had failed.  God will finally make his people perfect and bring them into the relationship with him for which they were originally created. 

In both the Old and New Testaments it is the provisions of the new covenant that ultimately provide the solution to the human problem of sin and bring those in the covenant into a final perfect fellowship with God as his sons and daughters. The relationship promised is nothing less than direct, personal fellowship of God with mankind through His Spirit.

For sinners, unhindered participation in the blessings of Abraham requires the internal transformation of the New Covenant.

  • Connected to the Abrahamic Covenant
    • Then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity. The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply youmore than your fathers.  Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. (Deut 30:3, 5-6)
  • Collaborating with the Davidic Covenant
    • My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. (Ezekiel 37:24-27)

The Ultimate Fulfillment of God’s Covenants

  • In the book of Revelation, the never fully obtained blessings of the Mosaic Covenant are provided. (And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them… Rev 21:3)
  • The promises of the Davidic Covenant are fulfilled through the joint reign of the Father and David’s son, the Messiah. (And one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Rev 5:5)
    (There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him …. I, Jesus … am the root and the descendant of David. Rev 22:3, 16)
  • In Revelation, the ultimate purpose of the Abrahamic Covenant is fulfilled, as the lost blessings of Eden are restored.
    (Rev 22:2b.  On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.)
  • In Revelation, the New Covenant promise of forgiveness is fulfilled.
    (Rev 22:17  …And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (cp. Isaiah 55:1-6)

The Abrahamic Covenant reveals that Abraham will be the father of a great nation, Israel, who will serve as the platform for bringing blessings to all nations.  The Davidic Covenant shows that the ultimate King will be a descendant of David who will rule and bless the entire world from Israel.  The New Covenant explains how God will change the hearts of His people and grant His Holy Spirit so they will always obey Him. Each of these covenants works together in harmony to guarantee that God’s kingdom purposes will be fulfilled.

Note!! This exploration is to help you see how the books of Scripture come together, developing a common theme – however, do not use this as an interpretive grid. Instead, notice how the authors keep reaching towards the covenants as they develop various aspects of God’s Kingdom work being done in human lives and history.

Study 16: The Hermeneutics of Proverbs

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7

We are continuing our study on Hermeneutics: the art and science of Biblical Interpretation.

The book of Proverbs is a great study as we begin practicing hermeneutics for a number of reasons:

  1. It comes in neat small sections (sometimes as concise as a single verse) taking some of the intimidation out of tackling an entire book
  2. The context is very clear and self-contained in the book (the wisdom literature, primarily of Solomon instructing his son)
  3. It is probably one of the best books to study with your family in raising children, or for young men facing the decisions of adulthood (after all, it is the art of skillful and wise living in God’s world)
  4. It allows us to consider the principles we’ve been studying, and avoiding the pitfalls of bad hermeneutics – particularly that we do not mis-interpret, sub-interpret or super-interpret, and avoid allegorizing

The Place of Proverbs in the Wisdom Literature

Now remember, the wisdom literature (namely Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes) are to be taken together as they bring harmony and balance to the subject. We can sum up the themes of the three as confidenceconfusion, and (apparent) cynicism.

Derek Kidner puts it well: “Between them, the three books clearly cover three aspects of existence which no-one can afford to overlook:  the demands of practical good management; the enigma of calamities that are beyond control or explanation; and the tantalizing hollowness and brevity of human life.”

So the three key wisdom books of the Old Testament must be studied in concert, or the Christian’s understanding of life in God’s world will be dangerously imbalanced: Proverbs is life as it should be; Job, how it sometimes is instead; and Ecclesiastes, the frustration experienced when we are in the midst of the “instead”.

Kidner, again: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning’, or first principle, ‘of wisdom’.  In one form or another this truth meets us in all the wisdom books, and it is this that keeps the shrewdness of Proverbs from slipping into mere self-interest, the perplexity of Job from mutiny, and the disillusion of Ecclesiastes from final despair.”

As Joel James puts it, “the wisdom of Proverbs is accessible—strikingly everyday.  It is popular, not arcane.  Wisdom’s pulpit is the street corner (Prov 1:20), not a lectern at the philosophical society.  More than any other book of the Bible, Proverbs deals with life’s most common and ordinary problems—especially relationship problems.”

Proverbs in light of the Mosaic Law

Proverbs 29:18.  “Where there is no vision (revelation), the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.”  (see also Prov 28:7, 9)

There are details of character small enough to escape the mesh of the law and the broadsides of the prophets, and yet are decisive in personal dealings. Proverbs moves in this realm, asking what a person is like to live with, or to employ; how he manages his affairs, his time and himself.  

To see the relationship of Proverbs with the Law, see how the key themes of Proverbs all find their origin in Deuteronomy:

  1. Wisdom “I have taught you statutes and judgments… So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples” (Deut 4:5-6)
  2. God-centered stability and peace (shalom) “You shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you…” (Deut 4:40)
  3. The Fear of the LORD “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deut 5:29)
  4. The home is the epicentre of spiritual instruction (see Deut 6:7-9; 11:19-20)
  5. The 10 Commandments as much of Proverbs is simply filling out the commands 5-10:
    • family honour and authority
    • respect and kindness toward one’s fellowman
    • marital purity
    • integrity and sharing, rather than grasping and stealing
    • truth-telling in all realms of life
    • the importance of curbing one’s desires (sexual or otherwise) 


First Kings 4:32 says that Solomon wrote 3,000 proverbs; moreover, the headings of the book of Proverbs ascribe the majority of the book to him (Prov 1:1; 10:1; 25:1).  Therefore, one can assert with confidence that Solomon was either the author or the compiler of the proverbs contained in this book.

  • Solomon as original author     1-22:16 and 25-29
  • Solomon as compiler               22:17-24 and 30-31

An Outline of Proverbs

1:1-7              Introduction and motto
1:8-9:18       Encouragement to “marry” Lady Wisdom
10-22:16      Various Solomonic proverbs
22:17-24      Thirty sayings of the wise
25-29            Solomonic proverbs complied by Hezekiah’s scribes
30                  The sayings of Agur
31:1-9            The sayings of Lemuel
31:10-31        The celebration of an excellent wife

What is a Proverb?

  • Short, vivid, easily remembered truisms
  • Wisdom in pill form—effective medicine easily swallowed
  • A sermon in one sentence
  • Proverbs are short sentences, drawn from long experience
  • Proverbs are sayings characterised by “shortness, sense, and salt.”

Note: Because of their conciseness, rarely does a single proverb express all that God—or even all that the book of Proverbs—has to say on a given topic.  Therefore, expect to find verifying examples and counter-examples in the book that expand or balance the teaching of individual proverbs.

Axiomatic vs Absolute Proverbs

Proverbs consists of both axiomatic principles and absolute promises.  For example, Proverbs 10:4 “The hand of the diligent makes rich.”  While hard work usually produces financial success, this proverb is not an absolute promise that if one works hard he or she will always become wealthy. One can embrace the truthfulness of Solomon’s observation about the value of diligence without attempting to transform it into an absolute principle. 

Equating a proverb with a promise is a frequent and elemental mistake when interpreting Proverbs.

On the other hand, some Proverbs are absolutely true:  “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil” (8:13).  That statement is always true, without exception.  Therefore, the interpreter must be able to distinguish Solomon’s purpose for each proverb:  Is it an absolute promise or an axiomatically true observation?

Kidner observes, “‘Many hands make light work’ is not the last word on the subject since ‘too many cooks spoil the broth'”. This is why Solomon can give apparently contradictory advice in successive verses (see Proverbs 26:4-5 “answer not a fool according to his folly… answer a fool according to his folly”!! Different fools and situations require different responses. Clearly it takes wisdom to understand and apply the wisdom of Proverbs!

You can see the axiomatic and absolute in a single verse – for example, speaking of keeping kindness and truth, Prov 3:4 says “…so you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.” It is always true that kindness and truth find favor before God, but it is only generally true before men.

What is the Purpose of Proverbs?

  1. To teach the Fear of the LORD
    • What the alphabet is to reading, the fear of the LORD is to attaining wisdom in this book (Waltke, the Book of Proverbs)
    • This is what keeps the shrewdness of Proverbs from slipping into mere self-interest (Kidner, the Wisdom of Proverbs)
    • The fear of the LORD includes “…a knowledge of our sinfulness and God’s moral purity, and it includes a clear-eyed knowledge of God’s justice and his anger against sin.  But this worship-fear also knows God’s great forgiveness, mercy, and love.” (Welch, When People are Big and God is Small)
    • The fear of the LORD is a continuum with each component vital to understanding the whole: terror → dread → trembling → astonishment → awe → reverence → devotion → trust → worship3
  2. To teach Practical Daily Wisdom to Believers
    • Some evangelical expositors will feel especially reluctant to preach from Proverbs because they cannot find the announcement of the gospel in this book.  But that must raise another question: Is the sole reason for preaching to bring the good news of salvation in every message? (Kaiser)
  3. To teach Believers how to make Decisions
    • Proverbs is the decision-making book of the Bible, directing those who fear the Lord to make decisions based on principle not panic, driven by wisdom rather than merely by want.
  4. To teach Believers how to Avoid Temptation
    • Proverbs teaches believers to avoid temptation by controlling their thoughts (4:23; 6:25a; 23:7), by avoiding people who are acting sinfully (1:10-11, 15; 22:24), and by avoiding situations where the lure to do evil will be nearly overpowering (5:8; 10:19).
  5. To bring Order, Peace, and Stability to Life
    • Proverbs 1:33, “He who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil.”  (see also 6:21-23)

Things to look out for as your study

See key words used in the book, particularly:

  • Wisdom(meaning skillful)
  • Insight (to discern)
  • Naive (where we all start – also translated simple)
  • Fool (someone fixed in their own opinion)
  • Scoffer (the hardened fool, beyond help)

Note key themes:

  • The Law of Consequences (character → conduct → consequences)
  • Biblical change in the principle of “put off, put on” (see Prov 15:1, A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger)
  • Wisdom comes from God and His Word (2:6, 13:13, 21:30)

My hope is that this very practical and helpful book in discipleship (which will immediately be usefully applied) will also provide a fertile field where you can check yourself against the issues of bad interpretation vs right interpretation. Start by identifying a section (in this book, that may be a single proverb), ask questions about context, author and audience and then ask, “is this axiomatic or absolute”? 

As you go through the book, reading the text as “naturally” as possible, you will find that by asking key questions and simple observation, meaning becomes clear and you will gain confidence in interpreting God’s Word. 

The key to understanding the text is found in the text itself as you endeavor to discover the divinely intended meaning of the original author writing to his original audience in their original context!

Study 15: Hermeneutical Detox

For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Ezra 7:10

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

We are continuing our study on Hermeneutics: the art and science of Biblical Interpretation.

I’ve decided to start us off with what we could call “hermeneutical detox” to purge ourselves from unhealthy, confusing and downright toxic habits of Bible interpretation and get back to a “normal and natural” reading of the text. 

Remember that as Jesus confronted Pharisees, Sadducees (Matt 22) and even his own disciples (Luke 24), He held them accountable to what the Scriptures taught. He assumed that the text was clear and comprehensible, and they should have all come to the same conclusion. That means Scripture must be objective, and it must have a singular meaning, defensible from the text itself.

This is why our motto must be: what was the divine meaning intended by the original author writing to his original audience in their original context? It should never be “what does this text mean to you” but rather “what did this text mean to the author who wrote it”?

Sadly, we fall into many habits of reading the text in bizarre and unnatural ways. We should be doing exegesis (reading meaning out of the text) and never eisegesis (reading meaning into the text). When doing eisegesis, meaning is determined by the contemporary reader; in exegesis the meaning is determined by the original author and discovered by the contemporary reader.

Avoiding Pitfalls of Bible Interpretation

Three broad categories:

  1. Mis-interpretation: ascribing the wrong meaning to a passage (meaning is A, interpretation is B)
  2. Sub-interpretation: failing to ascertain the full meaning of the passage (meaning is A, B, C, but interpretation is A)
  3. Super-interpretation: attributing more to a passage than was intended (meaning is A, but interpretation is A, B, C)

We have all, no doubt, been guilty of all three to some degree or other. And in some way, we are all somewhere in 2, which is the least of the errors, yet calls us to improve and grow in our understanding and study of Scripture.

If we are to submit to Scripture, it must hold its objective and clear authority over us – and for that, we need to get out of the way!

Seven Pitfalls

1) Proof-texting

This is “using a text to prove a point“. While this may be neutral, it can easily lead to problems, especially when you’ve got a point to prove or a theology to defend, and you start searching through Scripture looking for ammunition. You’re not trying to understand the original author in the context of that verse, but it becomes a bit like the pastor who says “I’ve got a zinger of a sermon, I just need a verse to go with it.” 
When using a verse to make a point, be certain you understand the context and meaning of what the author was communicating in that passage, and make sure you’re not twisting a verse to make a point you need it to make.

2) Allegorizing

Allegorizing is “to search for the hidden or secret meaning underlying the passage – and those hidden meanings are unrelated to the obvious meaning of the passage.” This method of interpretation was popularized (and canonized until the Reformation) by Origen, who developed it initially to explain away what he found strange, uncomfortable or ‘immoral’ in Scripture. He was one of the first to explain away the literal interpretation of Genesis saying “no sensible man would believe Genesis to be literal, it surely was intended to be allegorical” and he spent considerable ink saying the creation account was not to tell us how God created the world, but why (sneaky, sneaky).
Origen went on to create an entire system called the ‘fourfold method’ all about getting past the shallow ‘literal’ interpretation and find the allegorical meaning.
By the time you get to the Reformation, libraries of fanciful interpretations abounded. For example, Gregory the Great said that in the book of Job, the 3 friends represent heretics, Job’s 7 sons are the 12 Apostles (?), the 7000 sheep are innocent thoughts, the 3000 camels are vain notions, etc. etc.
Many of the Reformers explicitly condemned allegorizing and called for a return to a literal reading of the text. After all, allegorizing is arbitrary. It has no objectivity or controls except your imagination. It obscures the meaning of Scripture and strips it of any authority or certainty. 

3) Christologizing

This is a subset of allegorizing – particularly finding “hidden forms of Jesus and His work on the cross in the Old Testament“. Or better said, eiseJesus (reading Jesus into the text). I’m sure you’ve heard someone say the story of David and Goliath represents Jesus taking down the giant of sin and death. 
Justin Martyr said that Genesis 29 taught that Leah represented the Jews, Rachel the church, and Jacob represented Jesus who serves both the Jews and the church.
While this may sound spiritual and ‘Christ exalting’, it is simply subjecting the Scriptures to our imagination, and will yield a Jesus made in our own image.

4) Personalizing

This is “skipping over the author’s intended meaning and looking for some connection to our personal circumstances“. This is not about applying the Word to your life, but skipping over the true meaning of the text and grabbing something that ‘sounds’ like it’s speaking to a circumstance in your life.
This usually happens when people read the Scriptures ‘devotionally’, praying for God to “give them a verse”; not studying but just reading until some phrase or word just connects to something in their life. 
For example, a youth pastor explained that he was just thinking and praying about the issue of dating when he opened his Bible, and his eyes settled on 1 Tim 5:22 “…do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and share in the sins of others…” and he totally ignored the context of appointing elders in a local assembly, and just applied it to his personal situation on dating. 

5) Decontextualizing

This is to “consider something in isolation from its context“. Taking something out of context. 
You could call this ‘fortune-cookie hermeneutics’. You get this verse that is independent, free-floating and unattached to any context. When verses are isolated from their context, becoming a ‘pearl of wisdom’ (or in modern vernacular, a meme) it is no longer grounded in a real person writing to real people in a real context.
Do not attach God’s name to some sentiment you’re experiencing as you read words stripped from their context. For example, many missionary pamphlets quote Psalm 2:8 “Ask of Me and I will surely give the nations as your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as your possession” and claim this is a promise of conversions! Who is being promised the nations in this passage? Messiah, not missionaries.
While Scripture was written for us, it was not initially written to us. For us to understand the divinely intended meaning for our benefit, we must do the work of understanding the original author, the original audience, and the original context.

6) Reading through a lens of:

  • Human Reason
    • During the enlightenment, reason was elevated to the highest place of authority. There are those who read Scripture through a lens of their own reason – if something doesn’t sound ‘reasonable’ to them (morally or scientifically, for example), they simply reject it out of hand, or find ways of explaining it away.
    • Some cannot reconcile the doctrine of election and that we are responsible for our choices and actions, so they either reject the doctrine or redefine it to make it more ‘reasonable’. 
    • The Scripture is not illogical; logic and reason were created by God – but this is the infinite God who created the universe with a word. Our reason (limited and fallen) should not be the authority over Scripture, instead Scripture should correct and shape our reason. When reason fails to reconcile it all – once we have pressed in and deeply studied and considered – let us be humble enough to say, “God is God and I am not; let Him be true and ever man proved a liar (or a fool).”
  • A Theological System
    • When we have a systematic theology (an important and helpful exercise), we may be tempted to interpret a passage through that system. For example, those zealous ‘cage-stage’ Calvinists seem to find the 5 points of Calvinism in every verse. 
    • This often results in ‘right doctrine, wrong verse’. 
    • The problem is that we will not have our theological system challenged, refined or corrected by that passage, instead our theological system governs the interpretation rather than the Scripture correcting the system.
    • Walt Kaiser says “to impose a theological grid onto a text must be condemned as the mark of a foolish and lazy exegete”. 
    • We must have an ‘exegetical theology’ which arises from a deep study of the Scriptures, constantly being refined and even corrected. Follow the text where it leads, and don’t be afraid of where it goes. God’s Word is true and consistent.
  • Continuity and Discontinuity
    • There are certain theological systems that emphasize continuity between Israel and the Church, and others emphasizing discontinuity (for example, covenant and dispensational theology). 
    • Robert Booth, in defending infant baptism, says “our interpretive starting point determines how we understand Scripture… we must strive for interpretational consistency. The Covenantal principle of interpretation holds that we must assume continuity in God’s revelation.”
    • Others go to the radical opposite, assuming discontinuity (for example, Andy Stanley’s campaign to ‘unhitch the church from the Old Testament’).
    • If you put on a lens of continuity, you will miss legitimate points of discontinuity. And likewise, a lens of discontinuity will make you miss points of legitimate continuity. Covenant or Dispensational theology is not a hermeneutic – it may be a post-exegetical conclusion you arrive at, but never start with.
    • Ask, ‘do my lenses prevent me from seeing what the text actually says’?
  • Other Passages of Scripture
    • When cross-referencing, you may be tempted to transfer meaning from one text into another. For example, if you read Mark 8 and the command “take up your cross” and you go over to Romans 6, speaking of the cross of Jesus, you may be tempted to take meaning from one and place it over the other – while they are both mentioning the cross, they are addressing two entirely different issues.
    • Compare Romans 4:1-5 and James 2:14-16, is Paul using the word “justified” the same way James does? Getting this wrong may lead to a false view of salvation!
  • Culture
    • We live in a very different culture to the biblical authors – separated by geography, ethnicity and time. The temptation may be to read my own culture into Scripture.
    • For example, when you encounter the term ‘slave’ in the Bible, you may transfer a cultural understanding of slavery into that term which is entirely different to what you may think. Indentured servanthood in the Old Testament is utterly different to the chattel slavery of the 18th century.
    • Perhaps you read Genesis through the lens of a cultural view of origins, ie. evolution. That will destroy your understanding of the text.
  • Your own intuition
    • If you read the Bible just following your gut, those impressions you get while reading, your ‘moral intuition’ and what ‘feels right’, you are interpreting by your own intuition.
    • Clark Pinnock wrote “I reject the traditional view of hell in part out of a sense of moral and theological revulsion to it – and this is probably the reason people question the traditional view in the first place. They are not impressed by its lack of Scriptural basis, instead they are appalled by its moral implications.” If your (fallen) moral intuition is your interpretive lens, you will create your own personal theology.
  • Personal Experience
    • Perhaps you’re facing a critical decision in your life, you may be tempted to open your Bible with one overriding goal: give me guidance!! You may be bringing a question on your mind to a passage that the author was not addressing.
    • Some interpret the Scripture through charismatic experiences. For example, they do not interpret 1 Corinthians 12-14 (where Paul addresses the charismatic gifts, especially tongues) with the Biblical Acts 2 definition (tongues are understandable human languages miraculously spoken by a person who had not learned them). Instead, they simply assume the experience of ecstatic speech they experienced in church last week is what Paul is talking about.
    • A Charismatic University has a statement “a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with a biblical argument”. And they intend that as a good thing!
    • We don’t deny experiences, or read our experiences into Scripture – instead, we are to interpret that experience by what Scripture says. What is objective? The Word. So let’s look at what the Scripture teaches about tongues, and from that understanding see what this experience actually was.

7) Interpreting the OT with the NT

This is quite controversial in theological circles. For example, in McCartney and Clayton’s handbook on hermeneutics, they write “to understand the Old Testament properly, it must be read through the lens of the New Testament.” Roy Zuck, on the other hand, says “Recognizing the progress of revelation, the interpreter must be careful not to read back into the Old Testament from the New.”
Zuck is right. We cannot take NT truth and read it into the OT text to change the meaning originally intended by the author to his original audience.
If we affirm that the whole Scripture is ultimately authored by God, and it is all one consistent and coherent truth – nothing will contradict. However, if meaning changes over time, Scripture is no longer consistent. Worse, if you need the NT to properly understand the OT, what about those poor people who originally got the OT text? They could not understand what was given to them until they had the key hundreds, or even thousands of years later!
When Jesus said “have you not read”, He assumed the text was clear to them!
Think of the progress of revelation – for example, the prophecies of Messiah – as a line of prophets. As we move from that initial promise in Genesis 3 (the seed of the woman shall crush the head of the serpent), we learn more and more about the promised Messiah… he’ll be from the tribe of Judah, born in Bethlehem, in the line of David, and He will suffer and be killed before rising to his glorious throne.
It is as if each prophet came and supplemented a painting with more and more detail and color until the full revelation of Messiah would be seen. They never erased or changed what came before. They didn’t flip over the canvas and say, “see, you thought it was a mountain, but it’s actually a face!” 
Unless we understand the text in its original context and time, it is easy to read into it things never intended by the author, resulting in mis-interpretation or super-interpretation.

That leaves us bereft of the divinely intended meaning of the original author writing to his original audience in their original context. 

Let us never assume that God is a poor communicator. He gave us the Scriptures by His divine design and we must embrace it (its context, its progress of revelation, its cultural and historical background) for what it is: the very Word of God!

Study 14: Hermeneutics Introduction

For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Ezra 7:10

…just as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

We are now embarking on a new study! Hermeneutics: the art and science of Biblical Interpretation.

Why should you study the Bible? A couple observations:

  1. It is commanded and commended (2 Tim 2:15, Psalm 119)
  2. It is the means of your sanctification (John 17:17)
  3. It is the way the Holy Spirit exposes our hearts (Heb 4:12)
  4. You are to have Biblical convictions, not derived convictions (Rom 14:5, 22-24)
  5. It is your duty to raise your children in the instruction of the Lord (Deut 6:4-9, Eph 6:4) 
  6. You are to shepherd your wife in the Scriptures (Eph 5:26)
  7. Biblical maturity develops discernment (Heb 5:11-14) 
  8. It will equip you for evangelism and apologetics (1 Peter 3:15) 
  9. It is the source of the believer’s reviving, wisdom, joy, insight, power and truth (Psalm 19:7-11)
  10. Studying the Word will stir up spiritual interaction with fellow believers and motivate you in evangelism.

As 2 Peter 3:16 warns, there are those who distort (twist a statement as to make it mean a falsehood) the Scriptures – those who are unstable and untaught. The first part of our study in godliness has had its purpose to make you stable in the faith. We’re shifting gears now, turning to the work of training you to be able to understand the God-intended meaning of Scripture.

What does this verse mean to you? It had better mean what it meant before you existed!

Gordon Fee notes, “The Scripture cannot mean now what it did not mean then.” and John MacArthur, “The meaning of Scripture is the Scripture.”

Let us have Ezra as our pattern:
“Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”

  1. Study (this is to examine and make inquiry to discover the true meaning of the text)
  2. Practice (applying the truth and principle from the Scripture with obedience and submission)
  3. Teach (here is the goal – yet it can only happen if the first two have been diligently done)

Said another way, to study is about extracting meaning and to practice is to draw out the various applications of the truth you have discovered. Themeaning is ancient, the application is contemporary. The interpretation of the text arrives at a singular meaningapplication draws out a plurality of application.

So, the goal of biblical interpretation is to discover the divinely intended meaning that was communicated:

  • by the original author
  • to the original audience
  • in the original context

Said another way, the goal of hermeneutics is to get the authorial intent. What did the original author intend his original audience to understand by the words he was communicating to them?

Think of it – we’re living in the 21’st century. We have to essentially time travel across to another land, another culture, another context so we can rightly come to the meaning in the text. Some passages will be harder than other to do this, and some will require a lot of work to build enough context – but here is the point: unless you get to know what the original author was communicating to his original audience in their original context, there is no way you can know that the meaning you’ve arrived at is correct.

For example, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says “if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

This has been used to motivate massive prayer meetings with the goal of claiming God’s promise to “heal our land”. Is this the legitimate application of this passage? Is anyone asking the question, could this promise have had a very particular intention to a very particular people (namely, the nation of Israel) in relation to a very particular context (the blessings and curses found in the final third of Deuteronomy) which held very particular physical promises intended for that theocratic nation.

If you do not understand the original intended meaning of the passage, you will not be able to rightly apply that passage in your context. Will you be able to apply 2 Chronicles 7:14 to your life today? Absolutely. But that application can only be legitimate if it is based on an accurate understanding of the original meaning of the text.

The true meaning of Scripture is not found in the subjective impression of the contemporary reader, but rather in the objective intention of the original author. 

The meaning of Scripture first existed in the mind of God, that meaning was communicated through the human author and is contained in the text:

  • it is fixed and unchanging
  • it is objective and intelligible
  • it exists in the text apart from the human interpreter
  • the job of the interpreter is simply to discover the objective, intelligible, fixed and unchanging meaning contained in that text. 

Again, the goal of biblical interpretation is to discover the divinely intended meaning that was communicated by the original author, to the original audience, in the original context.  Why? Because meaning has authority, application does not. Meaning is unchanging and objective, application is subjective and changes from person to person.

My hope is that you will be better equipped to open God’s Word and approach it with confidence, knowing with certainty that this is what God intended to communicate through this passage. Because its meaning is certain and clear to me now, I must submit my life to it and apply it with wisdom. And I can then teach it to those in my sphere of influence with the boldness of a lion!

Study 13: A Man of Purity

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

We are continuing our study on the Character of a Godly Man.

In our age, we may imagine that we are living in the most sexually explicit time in history with extraordinary temptations that make it impossible to live a morally pure life. However, the audiences of Paul’s epistles were in an equally – if not more salacious – culture to ours. And his instructions carried the full expectation that a Spirit-indwelt believer had everything necessary to gain consistent victory over sexual sin and live lives pleasing to God. While they were in the world, they – and we – are never to be of the world.

There is something particular about today’s temptation when it comes to the lure and availability of pornography in that it has moved the battle directly to where this particular fight is always won or lost: the private thoughts of the heart. We need to be all the more diligent to guard our hearts in this matter.

While much of the response to the bondage of sexual sin has been techniques (methods and programs to deal with behavior with some form of accountability) this is not the substance of what keeps the Christian in the joy of a holy life marked by a clean conscience. What the past few lessons have taught us is the substance is divine power in the inner life: the work of the Holy Spirit through His Word.

That is the key.

This is no human victory. You cannot ‘self-control’ yourself into purity by your own strength. We are to rely on the truth of Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit leading us to repentance and godliness.

In Matthew 5:27-29, Jesus drives to the crux of the issue and gives us two principles to ponder:

1 – This is an internal battle first

“…I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart…”

  • Sin begins in the heart and that’s where it must be defined
    • remember, the heart is the wellspring of every form of evil (Matt 15, Mark 7)
    • are you merely dealing with the externals? or are you going all the way, to the root and waging war there long before the sin is acted out?

2. It is a severe threat requiring radical amputation

“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you… if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose a part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

  • have you counted the cost of this sin (and the reward of purity)?
  • it is a particularly destructive sin (1 Cor 6:18)
  • sexual sin is solemnly warned against (1 Thess 4:6) where Paul remarks that “God is an avenger in all these things”
  • it is a disqualifying sin (1 Cor 9:27)
    • think of its devastating consequences to your family
    • consider the reproach it brings to your gospel testimony
  • do you embrace the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the radical repentance His Word demands on this area of your life?
  • go through last week’s lesson (11 – A Man of Integrity) and consider self deception vs genuine confession and repentance in sexual sin

Understanding that this is a battle in the private thoughts and imaginings of the mind, and it is to be fought with severity – that requires you to have a battle plan in facing this temptation. And it must have a clear intention of victory: the violent death of sexual sin and victorious joy of godly purity.

1 Thess 4:4 says “each one of you must know how to posses his own vessel in sanctification and honor”. I believe Paul means “know how to control your own body” in this matter. 

Paul models this for us in 1 Cor 9:24-27 showing that his Christian life is one of discipline – bringing his body under control by “exercising self control in all things“. What he essentially says is: “I am not controlled by anything in my flesh, but I control it. I am not controlled by my desires – even if those desires may be considered neutral, I bring my flesh to heel.”

The Apostle had a comprehensive view, taking all his life under a Spirit-empowered self control. Because the stakes are that high. Negatively, the devastation of disqualification. Positively, the imperishable reward awaiting the faithful disciple.

His goal (as not beating the air) in self discipline was moral strength. He was still going after this, decades into his conversion and ministry. So – a quick recap – this is a battle of the inner life, you must go to war with it, and do not underestimate it! Stand firm, stay steady. You will not be mastered by sin. In fact, you are to be mastered by Christ alone. 

So in the area of discipline and self control, we need some serious self evaluation to see if you are mastered or enslaved by anything. Even what you may think is neutral. Because, as 1 Thess 4:4 tells us – you must know how to control your body – so your strategy must start by understanding your weaknesses in this area where the enemy will most certainly strike to get at your soul.


Here are a few ways to evaluate yourself to see if you have particular vulnerabilities to enslavement, and work to cultivate self control “in all things”:

  • In those things with which you coddle yourself and reward yourself (this could be a hobby, media, an enjoyable habit), give it up for a season.
    • give up what you enjoy when you don’t have to
    • this is not in itself spiritually beneficial (this must not be asceticism, see Col 2)
    • this is to bring your desires under the control of a parameter to see if you are enslaved by it, and then to begin to practice self control even in the enjoyment of it
    • Spurgeon did this to see if he was controlled by his cigar smoking (
  • Overlook offenses
    • we have a natural tendency when we’ve been personally offended to demand that it be made right
    • to nurture self control, begin to practice this: when you’ve been personally offended (especially at home), resolve it in your heart and don’t say anything about it
    • this is the discipline of learning how to absorb and not feed a desire, starving the tendency of wanting satisfaction in a personal matter
    • there is a direct link between feeding your desires in matters of personal offense and weakness in moral fibre
  • Do your undesirable tasks before your favorite ones
    • why? So you don’t coddle yourself and feed your flesh
    • when is something your slave? when it does what you tell it to
  • Admit weakness before it’s exposed
    • this cultivates humility and transparency
    • proud men refuse to admit weakness, even when it’s been uncovered
    • confessing weakness pulverizes the tendency to hide with pride
  • When something goes wrong, thank God first
    • when something irritates you or even provokes you to anger, start by thanking God for that situation
    • this crushes the pride of self sovereignty (wanting things your way)
    • you’ll discover that as you thank God in temptation, your victory is already secured
    • your eyes are turned to Him and away from your weakness

We live in a culture that coddles us on every level. Don’t imagine that doesn’t affect your self control, your humility and your battle with purity. If you coddle yourself rather than bringing yourself under the control of the Holy Spirit, you will fail in this area of your life.

This is not about asceticism or rigidness of life, it is about evaluating your heart to find its vulnerabilities and cultivating self control.

What are the things that take your guard down?

  • Tiredness? Overworking?
  • Spiritual and emotional trials?
  • Conflict at home?
  • Boredom? (young men, be especially wary of this)
  • Isolation?

“…know how to control your body in sanctification… For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”

Sexual sin is slavery and leads to destruction. Yet in our salvation, we have been called to purity. This is not a reluctant religious killjoy – it is the liberation of the Christian! We get to be pure, to have a clean conscience, to have true and unashamed sexual pleasure to the glory of God in the intimacy of marriage! And for the single, your energy may fully be expended in the service of others as you cultivate moral purity before – and into marriage! 

Men, let us rejoice in purity. It is the protection of our souls and the liberation of our consciences in a perverse and wicked generation.

Study 12: A Man of Truth

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbour, for we are members of one another.”

Ephesians 4:25

“Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being…”

Psalm 51:5a

We are continuing our study on the Character of a Godly Man.

Last time we spoke on Integrity and the conscience. The fact is, in a church like ours where God’s Word is clearly taught, where we have active discipleship and men pursuing godliness, and we have a men’s study which pulls no punches – you’re going to have those times when your conscience is hit and you say “man, that’s is convicting!” 

The question is, what are you going to do about it?

You have two options: self-deception, or self-indictment. You will either suppress the truth and ignore, deflect or dodge the pangs of conviction… or you will confront sin by confession and repentance. The first option is the natural one, the second must be empowered by the Spirit and leads to integrity and truth in the inner man before God.

1 – How do we deceive ourselves?

  • We ignore
    • don’t imagine that God will allow you to ignore His truth
    • to ignore conviction from the Word of God is to resist the Holy Spirit
  • We rationalize
    • this is how we silence the conscience
    • the conscience is the accuser, and you become the devil’s advocate (the devil being your own desires)
    • rationalizing is becoming the serpent saying “has God really said”
    • we re-interpret the Scripture to avoid its unyielding truth
  • Realize that self-deception is at the core of the old man (see Eph 4:17-19)
  • We have been called to speak truth, and it starts by putting off all falsehood – especially self-deception in avoiding conviction

2. How should we confess?

  • Psalm 51 is our model
  • Start with a clear and specific acknowledgment of whatever is being exposed in your heart
  • Do not run from the light, but expose your heart to the full sunshine of God’s Word
  • Confess your sin by agreeing with what God’s Word is revealing
  • Have the posture of ‘raising your hands to heaven’ 
    • this was the attitude of saying “God examine my hands, I’m open before you”
    • come to God asking for His evaluation of your heart
    • integrity for sinful men must begin with confession
  • Confess your rationalizations, confess where you have been suppressing the truth
  • Say about your sin “in that moment, I loved my sin more than Christ”
  • Take the truth, be honest with yourself, confess the reality of it all in light of God’s Word, be specific about its offense, pray that God’s heavy hand of conviction would not allow a moment’s peace in hypocrisy, call for pruning
  • Empty the room
    • as David prayed “against you, and you alone have I sinned – and done what is evil in your sight”
    • everyone else is excluded, you are to contend with your sin first and foremost before God
    • exclude those who may offer excuses to your behavior (he made me angry, she tempted me, finances were tough)
    • the blame is on me, there’s no blame-shifting
    • God defines what is sin, what offends His holiness
  • Embrace the forgiveness you have in Christ and rejoice that you are not a slave to sin, but free to serve our Saviour

A man of integrity is a man useful to God. 

As David confessed his sin, turned from it and embraced God’s forgiveness, it produced a yielded submissiveness to God and His will. “Make me hear gladness, renew a steadfast spirit in me…” and then he got back to what he’s supposed to be doing “teaching sinners Your ways”. A renewed mind, a new life. That’s what we’re looking for – putting off sin and producing lasting fruit.

A man of integrity is eager to be in discipleship – a hypocrite is afraid of people in his life because he is afraid of being exposed. We are to be men who are whole and not divided, speaking truth all the way into the inner man and inviting influences that will expose us to the light of God’s Word. Integrity has the attitude of embracing and not resisting the conviction of the Holy Spirit and engaging to the full result that is intended by Him.

Although this is not the perfection of your life, may it be the direction as you nurture and cultivate integrity in confession rather than self-deception.

Study 11: A Man of Integrity

“Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being…”

Psalm 51:6a

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; he swears to his own hurt and does not change;
He does not put out his money at interest, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. 
He who does these things will never be shaken.

Psalm 15

We are continuing our study on the Character of a Godly Man.

Integrity is the character of man after God’s own heart. As David emphasized in his prayer of confession, “…behold, You desire truth in the innermost being…” A man who is not only undivided, not a hypocrite, not compromised, but a man who is honest to his very core and pours God’s truth into his heart.

Psalm 15 goes to the integrity and honesty of a man, the prerequisite for one who will enjoy an intimate walk with God, and be useful to Him. What David reveals about integrity is a man with a clear conscience (bound up in the very word, integrity) and the character that flows from truth spoken in the inner man.

One cannot address the issue of integrity without spending a significant amount of time on the conscience: sadly a topic often overlooked, misunderstood and abused by many. Though the conscience is immaterial – you can’t touch or measure it – it can drive a man to suicide, determine a life of joy or depression, marks the difference between a sociopath and a ‘normal person’.

1 – What is the Conscience?

  • “the one who stands alongside” either accusing or commending (Rom 2:15)
  • It is not God’s law, yet may reflect it
  • Think of it as the mechanism God intended to shine the truth of God’s Word into your inner life exposing it either to commendation or condemnation
  • It is like your spiritual nerve-endings indicating pain to warn you when something is wrong (and likewise, think of the lack of conscience as leprosy, where all feeling is lost)

2. The Conscience can be seared or sensitized

  • Paul warns of those who dull or sear their conscience (1 Tim 1:5-6)
    • “those who have strayed from a good conscience, a pure heart and a sincere faith”
    • this is a package deal – those who violate their conscience no longer have a pure heart and their faith is no longer sincere – the seeds of hypocrisy and apostasy have been sown
    • straying from a pure conscience results in fruitless discussion and pride (when you violate your conscience, things become murky)
  • The rule is: do not violate your conscience – even though it is not God’s law, and even if it is poorly informed. What is done in violation of conscience not only sears and defiles, it is sin (see Rom 14)
  • Instead we should be calibrating and informing our conscience with Truth

3. The Conscience must be trained in the truth

  • We always battle an ‘underbaked’ or ‘overbaked’ conscience
    • your conscience may warn you of things that don’t matter to God
    • your conscience may be silent when it should be warning you of violating God’s Word
    • these two often exist in the same person (self-righteous legalism, anyone?)
  • The greatest culprit in misinforming our conscience is a combination of worldliness and psychology
    • we get used to sin by exposure to it in the culture and entertainment
    • we are told by the authorities of psychology that guilt is always bad and we should discard it
    • psychology commends pride and tolerance of sin, ultimately inverting the conscience (calling what is good, evil and what is evil, good – Isaiah 5:20-21)
  • We must confront our conscience with God’s Word
    • Peter had his conscience confronted in Acts 10:9-16, where God commanded him to set aside his objections to non-kosher food and particularly, his separation from Gentiles
    • this was a serious issue to deal with in the early church, and Christians were urged to have patience and forbearance with one another while they matured to a better-informed conscience (Rom 14)
  • Dig into the Scriptures and cultivate conviction on its truth and emphasis, repent of guilt whether you feel it or not (guilt is first a fact, not a feeling) and this starts the process of sensitizing and cleansing your conscience

4. Love what God loves, hate what God hates

  • A calibrated is that which loves what God loves, and hates what God hates (Psalm 15:4)
  • As you act according to integrity and not hypocrisy, as you aim towards a conscience which commends rather than condemns, your life will be oriented towards and energized by good works (Eph 2:10) 
  • This is where the battle must be fought and won – where nobody else can see, but you and the Lord; the inner life

5. What defiles the Conscience

  • Psalm 15 contrasts the man of integrity against those things he despises
  • He does not slander
    • Slander is at its core hypocrisy: talking about someone what you would never say to his face
    • Deal with slander (notice how it is the prerequisite for a heart that loves God’s Word in 1 Peter 2:1)
  • He does no evil to his neighbor
    • Do you speak and act with integrity cleansed from malice?
    • Are your words and deeds aimed at building up and not tearing down (Eph 4:28-29)?
  • He doesn’t take up a reproach against his friend
    • We must clear our accounts and not hold grudges
    • When you hold something against someone and don’t deal with it, it loads your conscience and you cannot act with integrity towards them

6. Hypocrisy is Cancer

  • Is there any part of your life, if it were exposed would shame you? Destroy you?
  • A hypocrite cannot hide it from his family and children
  • Note how much weight Paul puts on a sincere conscience, with the result being that he will not be ashamed (make a word study on conscience and shame sometime)
  • Conviction is impossible to cultivate in the soil of hypocrisy
  • Hypocrisy is the seed of apostasy – it will destroy faith
  • Our culture is designed for hypocrisy
    • we are highly individualistic with much privacy, especially online
    • business justifies so much compromise and legal wrangling, it is easy to begin to play with right and wrong
    • it is so easy to live a double life, especially between work, home, and church
  • We are not pragmatists, we do not have a price – we must be morally predictable
  • Aim towards a life internally regulated by God’s Word
    • accountability is good, but it is a means towards the end
    • it is so easy to hide and get around accountability
    • the goal is to be captive to God’s Word when nobody is around and you can get away with it

A man of integrity will not be shaken. Your yes is yes, your no is no. Your convictions go to your core and you will not be spiritually shaken. You will not lose your moorings. Your family will be secure under your leadership. You will be growing and progressing as you speak truth in your heart. 

This is not talking about perfection – a perfectly clear conscience will only happen when we are glorified and no longer fight sin – but this is about the work of integrity. Cleansing your conscience, maturing your conscience, building conviction, deepening your roots, working integrity. Then you will be able to teach and proclaim the truth with clarity and conviction. You will be steady and persevere to the end. “He who trusts in You will not be ashamed.”

To you who are still in your youth – start now! This is the time when you determine your course, and integrity must begin today. What God desires of you is integrity.