One of the most tragic methods of biblical interpretation that has arisen in church history is a school of thought called Dispensationalism which arose in the 19th Century in the British Isles and the United States. Even if you’ve never heard the word before, I guarantee you’ve heard some of its teachings. I do not wish to delineate the many flaws of the system. But I will highlight its fundamental error. This disorganized and unorthodox methodology places a monstrous wall between Ancient Israel and the Church. This means that God has two people–ethnic Israel and the Church, and therefore has a separate plan for each group.
The Bible knows nothing of this dysfunctional system. God has one people–His People. Taken to its logical conclusion Dispensationalism could teach that a Christian can learn nothing of abiding doctrinal value from the Old Testament. This is not only folly, but it borders on interpretive madness, and forces readers to initially decide if a text has relevance to them as a Christian. Hopefully you recall from my post on April 16, A Text Can Never Mean What It Never Meant (and my teachings over the years) that asking the question “What does this text mean to me?” is a disastrous misstep. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16 that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. Every passage in the Bible is profitable for a Christian to study. We derive profit from Genesis to Revelation. Of course, some passages are more important and other passages are more practical that others.
If you read a passage of scripture that is rife with complicated issues, and unfamiliar technical language–so much so that you simply cannot make heads or tails of it–is it possible for you to derive any benefit from it? Hearken back to 2 Timothy 3:16. If the verse is true–and it is–then the answer is an unqualified “yes”.
But what benefit is there in studying a passage without understanding it? For starters such a situation reminds us of our limitations, and the reality that we do not know everything, and this should cause humility in our minds, and praise in our hearts to God who, indeed, knows everything.
This is another reason why the Wisdom Literature is so valuable to a Christian. Remember that the category of Wisdom literature includes Psalms. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, and Job. The Wisdom Literature is fairly easy to understand. In the original Hebrew language, these writings contain copious amounts of poetry that sometimes isn’t discernible in English. Take Psalm 119, for example.
Psalm 119 is magnificent. It is an acrostic poem–a poem where each section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and proceeds in order. The psalm’s basic theme is the glory of God’s Word & Law. Here’s a golden nugget from it.
119.9 How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.
We need to realize that this was written roughly 3000 years ago, so it is naturally written from a male point of view. But both genders have similar problems, so if a young man can learn great things from this verse, then so can a young women! Furthermore, those of us who are no longer young can still learn the same lesson from the verse.
The verse is in question and answer form, and the question involves cleansing one’s way. Paraphrasing is a legitimate way to unpack a verse, if it aids our understanding. What the question is asking, in contemporary language, is “How can a person repent and live a righteous life?” The answer demands no paraphrase. The term heed in this context entails at least two concepts. Firstly, we must understand a law in order to obey it. Secondly, once we grasp it, then we must obey that law. Actually, all of us are accountable to God in obeying His law whether we know of a law or not. Ignorance is no excuse in human court, and it holds no water in God’s. By trusting Christ for salvation, we trust that his perfect obedience, and the merit He gained by the obedience, is granted to us.
Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm. Read it slowly and ponder it. Here’s three pointers:
- These terms– law, statutes, commandments, precepts–refer to the the same idea, God’s written law.
- Notice the excitement and exuberance of the writer. He revels in God’s words and he loves God’s love.
- Pray that God would give you, and those around you the identical attitude.
Happy reading, and may God bless your studies.