We’re continuing on with the interpretation process of Bible Study Methods.
BIBLE STUDY RESOURCES
I hope these resources help you as you work through this process. I’ve provided a lot of explanation for what I’ve done, why I did it and the insights I drew out of the text. I also continue to share my philosophy of studying the Bible.
Video Explanation of my Interpretation Page:
IF YOU DON’T THINK CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING MATTERS…
She had dreamt of this day for a long time and now it was finally here. Everything was perfect. Fixing her gaze, she took a deep breath, and began walking down the aisle. Slow deliberate steps in time with the music, both her and her dress dazzled. As she smiled and sauntered through rows of admiring eyes, spitting noises began to fall like a light rain shower: ftou, ftou, ftou. The wedding guests pretended to spit on her from the back row all the way to the front. She would cherish this day for the rest of her life.
Okay, what’s going on here? I’m confused. People don’t pretend to spit at the bride at weddings. And brides don’t receive being spit at as a good thing.
At least, not here in America. But, in Greece, they do. They believe it’ll protect the bride and groom from evil spirits.
Someone who didn’t know Greek culture would be mystified and possibly offended, thinking this behavior incredibly rude. I mean, how could you treat the bride that way?
Even in this day and age, we have cultural barriers of understanding. Now, what if we were both separated not only by culture, but also time place and language? With a further distance, we need more time to build the bridge to the other side.
In Bible study, the interpretive process helps us to discover more about the culture, history, geography and original language of the text in order to understand it better! In other words, we seek to build this bridge of understanding.
BIBLE CULTURE: PLEASE GIVE ME YOUR SHOE TO SEAL THE DEAL AND THE VERY BAD HAIRCUT THAT RUINED HIS LIFE
1. Boaz buys the land of Naomi’s dead husband and marries Ruth. To seal the deal, the man who had more right to the property, but chose not to redeem it, took off his shoe and gave it to Boaz. (Ruth 4)
What’s the significance of taking off a shoe? The great thing is that we don’t have to look any further than the context of the passage to find an explanation.
(Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.) –Ruth 4:7
And, just like Boaz became a kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and Ruth, having bought the property and married the widow, Jesus is our kinsman-redeemer.
Later we see in the book of Revelation, it’s the lamb, looking like he was slain, who is worthy to take the scroll (title deed of the Earth and End-Time battle plan) and open its seals. (Revelation 5) His death on the cross and His shed blood brought forth a two-fold redemption. He had taken back the right to own the Earth and He had purchased people from every tribe, nation, language and tongue to be His bride. He had to become a human being in order to be a kinsman-redeemer for human beings. As the second Adam, he would redeem all that the first Adam lost and forfeited in the garden. (Romans 5:12-21) In this way, Boaz is a type of Christ.
2. If Spiderman gained his superpowers through a radioactive spider and Superman, by being an alien, what’s the deal with Samson’s hair? Reading Samson’s story, without looking carefully at the cultural context, it may be easy to think his power came from his long hair. But, that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t the hair, but what the long hair represented. (Samson’s story: Judges 13-16)
Just like with the giving of one shoe and what it meant to the people of the time, we could look into the Bible context to understand more of how Samson got his power. But, we’ll need to make some extra connections. First, we must go back into the context all the way to the beginning of the story to look closely at the circumstances surrounding Samson’s foretold birth.
The angel of the Lord told an Israelite woman she’d give birth to a deliver of her people.
You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because they boy is to be a Nazarite, dedicated to God from the womb. –Judges 13:5
Now when you look at this verse and you want to go deeper to get more understanding, what word might you want to look up in a Bible dictionary?
Living outside of Bible times, we may not know what being a Nazarite entails or what it would mean for Sampson’s life and strength?
[The root-meaning of the world in Hebrew… indicates the Nazarite as “a consecrated one” or “devotee.” The Nazarite consecrated himself or herself, and took a vow of separation and self-imposed discipline for the purpose of some special service, and the fact of the vow was indicated by special signs of abstinence.] — International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia– Nazarite
Nazarites, during the course of their temporary vow, wouldn’t shave their heads, among other things. Cutting the hair meant the vow of dedication was finished. Samson, along with Samuel and John the Baptist were called to be lifelong Nazarites.
So, it wasn’t the hair at all. The long hair represented his consecration and dedication to God! After Delilah finally got him to confess the secret of his strength, she cut his hair, and his strength left him.
But, worse yet, “…he did not know that the LORD had left him.” (Judges 16:20)
It brings so much more meaning to the text when we understand how his long hair stood as a symbol for his consecration to God. His strength left him when he left God. Sadly, that’s the story of many lives. Once again, Samson is a prototype (1 Corinthians 10) of the one who loses their “spiritual strength” by compromising their relationship with God.
BIBLE HISTORY: CONTEXT AND BIBLE STUDY TOOLS MAKE TIME TRAVEL POSSIBLE
Let’s go back to the example of the book of Ruth we looked at under the subheading BIBLE CULTURE. (Incidentally, Samson was one judge of many during the period of the judges. Sadly, he seemed to be more influenced by the culture than an influencer of it.)
1. THE BOOK OF RUTH: In contrast to the roller coaster ride of the book of Judges, this short book provides hope for Israel’s future. After Moses died, Joshua led the people to conquer the Promised Land. During Joshua’s lifetime, the people followed the Lord. (Judges 2:7) But some time after he died, the people fell into sin and would lose their way. Judges chapter 1 gives a potent reminder how “the Canaanites (who were) left in the land” would some day come back to haunt them.
The Israelites went through a cycle of repetition, during the time the judges ruled:
- The Israelites sin.
- They’re conquered by another people group.
- God sends a judge (a leader of God’s people) to deliver them.
- They have a period of peace.
- The Israelites fall into sin again…
- The cycle loops back again and the Israelites are “stuck on repeat.”
Why is it important for the book of Ruth to be set “in the days when the judges ruled?” Though the judges were a “temporary fix,” God knew the Israelites needed something more. At the end of this simple, but beautiful story, we see how God intended to give the Israelites a shepherd king, long before they had asked for one!
After Ruth marries Boaz, the town rejoices in the son born to them.
…”There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” –Ruth 4:17
The story concludes with a genealogy from Pharez (from Judah) to David. Back in Genesis 49:10, Jacob prophesied over his son, Judah, that “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah.” A line of kings would come from his tribe, culminating in the King of kings, who would be their Messiah, Jesus.
God planned to give the Israelites David, who’d be a type and a shadow of their ultimate king. God also made sure to note that “the seed of the woman” will continue. It will survive these dismal up and down times written about during the book of Judges. God ends the book on a strong note of hope.
GEOGRAPHY: PLACE AND TIME MATTER
If you read at all, you know that the story’s setting really matters. Sometimes, the setting is so vivid and so much a part of the story, it can almost be viewed as another character in the book. Setting would also include the time in history.
For example, Bethlehem during Ruth’s day as compared to Bethlehem during the time of Mary and Joseph are two very different places. Why? Because history and a host of changes have happened to the place. Certain things may change, such as borders, the people in charge, how the place has developed over time and the demographics. Other things may stay largely the same, such as the topography.
In Ruth’s day, Bethlehem was a small Israelite town. During Mary and Joseph’s time, Bethlehem was under Roman rule. So, even if the place is the same, one still needs to locate that place in a certain time in history.
Sometimes, you can just touch on something having to do with geography and it can bring out a host of meanings.
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. –Ruth 1:1
Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Beth (house) lehem (bread). You can find this in a Bible dictionary, the interlinear (where you find the words translated into Hebrew) or even by just knowing modern Hebrew.
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT INTERPRETING SCRIPTURE FIGURATIVELY
Now, I find it significant that the “house of bread” had very little bread, because there was a famine in the land.
Certain people who teach Bible study methods tell us you can’t take the Bible figuratively or metaphorically, unless somebody is using a figure of speech. I would disagree. God’s making a point here! This famine happened in the natural, but this hardship can also be interpreted metaphorically and spiritually.
Remember, God sets this story during the time of the judges, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes, because there was no king in Israel. (Judges 17:6; 21:25) It was a time of apathy and sin. The people repented only when they were oppressed enough to call out to God.
A famine in the land is a sign of judgement. God also likes to do word plays. The “house of bread” lacking in bread motivated Naomi’s family to move to Moab for a time, which they would’ve never done otherwise, if the situation hadn’t been so dire. God includes the fact of this famine in the “house of bread” to illustrate the spiritual situation in Bethlehem, and in a larger sense, Israel, during this time in their history. The spiritual climate was so bad a famine had to come into the land.
Another example: Similarly, during Samuel’s boyhood, the Holy Spirit describes the spiritual condition of the temple and the priest in charge. Samuel was Israel’s last judge and, therefore, marked the end of that period.
In those days, the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see… The lamp of God had not yet gone out… (I Samuel 3:1-3)
Eli was the high priest at the time and his sons were in gross immorality. Okay, when I look at this passage, I’m thinking God’s trying to make a point here figuratively and spiritually. There were not many visions and the high priest is nearly blind by this point. His “ability to see” wasn’t what it should’ve been. Yes, these things happened in the natural, but the circumstances also teach from a metaphorical perspective. Especially when we consider the last part about the lamp of God not having gone out yet. (Okay, did they have an oil shortage that compromised the lighting in the temple?)
Or did God speak metaphorically? Once again, consider how this scene is set during the time when the judges ruled.
Please chew on this for a while.
NOW BACK TO OUR STORY
Bethlehem figures hugely in the story. What was happening in Bethlehem during a particular time was the reason why Naomi’s family left and later why Naomi and Ruth made the journey back to her hometown.
Naomi seeks to go back to Bethlehem after the death of her husband and two sons and upon hearing the Lord has provided food for her people. (an upward point in the cycle?) She tries to persuade her daughters-in-law to stay behind. Orpah turns back, but Ruth clings to her and refuses to leave her. Naomi and Ruth go back together, which then provides the catalyst for the rest of the story. Ruth marries Boaz and they give birth to King David’s grandfather.
Later, Micah would prophesy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2) Going forward to the New Testament, Mary and Joseph, who were from Nazareth, traveled to Bethlehem to obey the census decree given by Caesar Augustus. (Luke 2:1) Since Joseph was from the house and line of David, he had to go back to his own hometown to register. Due to this census, Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, even though his mother and Joseph were from Nazareth. (Luke 2:3-7)
GRAMMAR AND LANGUAGE
This part of the process involves mainly looking into key words in the original Hebrew and Greek and paying attention to how grammar is being used in those passages. I share a lot about his aspect in my video explanation of my interpretation page. Please refer to it.
TIMELESS SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE (TSP): WHAT’S GOD’S LESSON FOR ME HERE?
Once we’ve done our interpretation work, we can then draw out some timeless spiritual principles. A TSP is a principle we can take from the context of the passage that can apply to all people in all ages. In other words, it’s universal in scope. How many TSP’s we generate largely depends on how small or large the passage. Keep in mind, different people will draw out different TSPs, depending on what God highlights for them. The most important thing is to make sure they fit the context of the passage.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I explain more about this in my video explanation of my interpretation page. I also share in another audio presentation how we can tell if a passage is taken in context or out of context, by looking to the timeless spiritual principle.
Lessons from the Book of Ruth
Now, looking at the very end of the book of Ruth, where it mentions the lineage of David, I can draw out a couple of TSPs.
- God knows what we need even before we ask him. (looking at the larger context of Israelite history and how God will bring forth David as the shepherd king)
- Even during the darkest times, when all seems lost, God is at work for our benefit.
- In God’s plan, sometimes, the most common things can be the most historically transformative. (Ruth clinging to her mother-in-law; Ruth marrying Boaz; their new son)
- God can and will work through the most unlikely of people. (Who would’ve ever thought Ruth, a Moabite woman, would be in the lineage of Christ? Who would ever thought Boaz, son of Rahab the prostitute from Jericho, would be in the lineage of Christ? (Matthew 1:5))
We’ll see later on how to draw applications from the timeless spiritual principle(s), when we move to the application part of Bible study methods.
Lessons from Mary and Joseph’s Journey to Bethlehem
Let’s try to draw out TSPs from the situation of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem to be part of the Roman census.
- God can fulfill his prophetic promises through secular individuals and institutions. (Caesar Augustus may have had his personal reasons for declaring the census decree, but there was no way he could see the bigger picture.)
Here let me share with you a more modern example:
The Man who Helped Give Birth to the State of Israel
Theodor Herzl founded modern political Zionism, in the hopes of establishing a Jewish homeland. He labored tirelessly to promote the idea of a modern state of Israel, long before it happened. He wanted this future Israel to be like every other nation on Earth. He saw that the only political solution to the “problem of the Jews” –their rootlessness and persecution by others nations — was to give them a homeland of their own. For centuries, wherever the Jews lived, they were held in suspicion, segregated, denied citizenship, persecuted and outright killed simply for being Jews.
Herzl wasn’t necessarily thinking about ancient prophecies or “God’s will.” He simply wanted the Jews to have a place where they could be safe from this persecution and develop as a people group.
So, even though Herzl had a more political and secular view of a modern state of Israel, God still used him to bring forth this ancient prophecy of God gathering the Jews back to their ancient homeland.
Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’ –Ezekiel 11:7
Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. —Isaiah 66:8
Yes, on May 14, 1948, the modern state of Israel is proclaimed. More surprisingly, God would use the United Nations to declare Israel an independent modern state. This miracle had never happened before, where a people group scattered for centuries could come back to their ancient land with their culture still intact. We know, however, it was the fulfillment of an ancient Biblical prophecy, against all odds.
IN CONTEXT OR OUT OF CONTEXT
Though Herzl’s story is different from Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, I’m still using the scripture “in context,” because I’m honoring the TSP drawn from the context of the passage.
If I were giving a message about Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, I could then ask, “Have there been other times where God has used secular individuals and governments to fulfill ancient prophecy?” I could then launch into the example of Herzl and the modern state of Israel and it’d be true to the context of the passage.
- God can honor you as you obey the edicts of oppressive governments. (I use the word “can,” because, sometimes, he might call us to disobey like the Hebrew midwives in Egypt who wouldn’t kill the Israelite babies. In that particular case, God honored them for not obeying the government institution over them. Exodus 1:15-21)
The whole spirit of our original passage shows how Mary and Joseph obeyed the oppressive Roman government over them. Therefore, I find it ironic how people use this story to try to convince Christians how they need to support illegal immigration. Moreover, Mary and Joseph were natives to the land of Israel from centuries back as we learned from the book of Ruth. They weren’t foreigners or immigrants.
Their use of this passage to support illegal immigration, then, can be said to be taken “out of context.” In other words, the ways in which they use the scripture passage doesn’t actually fit the context of the passage.
Scriptural misuse is a prime reason why we need to see the Bible in its context to accurately interpret it.
BIBLE STUDY HOMEWORK
Since my interpretation page video explanation (above) focused on Acts 17:11 about the Berean Jews, I thought I’d include some exercises to give us a better grasp of the circles of context. Paul shares the gospel with these Berean Jews, just like he had tried to do earlier with the Jews from Thessalonica. Later on, he’d share the gospel to the Greeks, or Gentiles. There are three categories of people in Acts 17: Christians, Jews and Gentiles.
I want to focus on God’s salvation plan for the Jews. One, because it’s the main focus of our verse and passage. Two, people in today’s world are divided on the topic of how we should relate to Israel and the Jews. For this reason, we need to study the Bible all the more carefully to see what it says.
Chuck Missler, a celebrated Bible teacher, noted how Israel is nonexistent as a theological study in most seminaries, even though the subject takes up 5/6ths of the Bible. Something is wrong here.
1. Watch the videos under BIBLE STUDY RESOURCES. I explain a lot in them about issues of interpretation, along with more of my philosophy about studying the Bible in general.
2. Observe carefully the parable of The Sheep and the Goats. Answer the following questions.
- When do the events of this parable take place?
- Discover the context circles of the passage.
- Can the other parables in Matthew 25 be related to this parable? If so, how?
- And, can Matthew 24 be related to Matthew 25?
- How many groups of people are represented in the parable? Who are they?
- *Who are Jesus’ brothers? Look into the original Greek word.
- Why would Jesus include this passage here?
3. Read and/or listen to Romans chapters 9 through 11 at least three times this week. Paul writes about God’s purposes for the Jews. Do a observation practice (to whatever degree, focusing on key verses/passages) on these three chapters. Look to the previous blog post to remind yourself of what that entails. Answer the following questions.
- What is Paul’s desire for the Jews? How strongly did he feel this way?
- What came from the Jewish people?
- God promised Abraham a land, a people and a nation that blesses other nations. Through whose line will these promises be given?
- How does God want us, as Gentiles believers, to view the Jews? (11:13-25)
- Why has Israel experienced a partial hardening of their hearts? (11:25)
- How long will this partial hardening last? (11:25)
- Will God yet bring salvation to Israel? (11:26-32)
4. Read these End Time passages about Jerusalem and Israel. Consider these questions as you carefully read through the passages.
- How does God view Jerusalem and Israel?
- What are His End Time purposes for Jerusalem and Israel?
- What phrases in the text would make someone think this was an End Time passage?
Next week, we’ll look more closely at these passages and further develop the greater circles of context for Acts 17:11. Ultimately, I encourage you to do the work, because I want you to see these passages with your own eyes in your own Bible. I want you to come to these discoveries and conclusions for yourself. How we view Israel is so critical for us now and into the future. Since so many people, even in the Church, have a distorted view of Israel, we need to educate ourselves.
Regardless of what the world says and what a certain segment of the Church teaches, we must have God’s view of Israel!