The Bible from 6,000 Feet, part 3

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Genre Alert

Lyric Love Poetry

 

          How do we interpret lyric love poetry? Here are some helpful things to look for: A unifying theme that controls the entire poem, such as “love is as strong as death.” (Song of Solomon 8:6) Personal and subjective expressions of thought and feeling, like “arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.” (Song of Solomon 2:10) Emphasis on emotion: “If you find my lover…tell him I am faint with love.” (Song of Solomon 5:8) Concentrated intensity and compressed action, with the words “I slept but my heart was awake.” (Song of Solomon 5:2) Abrupt shifts in scene and between characters.

 

The Book of Song of Solomon /Songs

 

The Song of Solomon is one of the most mysterious books in the Bible. Why was this love poem considered worthy of being included in Scripture? Many scholars have tried to give answers to this question, which have given rise to the several different ways in which the book has been interpreted throughout history. Since the Bible talks about God being married to Israel as His people (Hosea), there are some that believe that this book is an allegory of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel. To go a bit further, there are those that would extend this interpretation and believe that Song of Solomon is a prophetic allegory that speaks of Jesus Christ and His relationship with the church. (Ephesians 5) Others believe that the book isn’t an allegory at all, but falls under the category of wisdom literature, and was specifically directed as wisdom for young women just as Proverbs is wisdom specifically directed at young men.

 

Whatever genre Song of Solomon falls in, and whatever you feel is the interpretation of the book, everyone agrees that the main theme of the book is INTIMACY. Most scholars agree that the author was Solomon, who plays the part of the “beloved” in the book. Sex is not evil! God created it, and when practiced within the context of a marriage that honors God, it can be incredibly pleasurable. Song of Solomon portrays true intimacy as God intended it to be, and of course we can extend that application to refer not only to our marital relationships, but also our relationship with God. The intimacy that we are able to share with God is actually deeper than we will ever be able to share with our spouse. He knows us better than we can ever know ourselves, loves us unconditionally, and can get closer to us than anybody else can. The extent of the intimacy we share with both our spouses and with God is left completely up to us. How much are we willing to open ourselves up, and how willing are we to love the other unconditionally.

1 & 2 Kings

Part 2

 

It was because of Solomon’s straying after other gods that God tore the kingdom away from him. God only allowed the kingdom to remain united during Solomon’s reign because of David’s faithfulness. God placed Jeroboam as the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. After Solomon’s death, Rehoboam became king of the Southern Kingdom.

 

Another contributing factor to the split between the kingdoms was due to Rehoboam’s poor decision to raise the taxes in Israel. The people were begging him to lower the taxes as Solomon had already placed a heavy burden on the people to build the temple and his palace. It was after Rehoboam raised the taxes that many rebelled with Jeroboam and formed the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

This not only brought division, but confusion to the history of Israel from this point forward. From the reigns of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, 1 Kings starts switching back and forth between talking about the Northern Kingdom, which is also referred to collectively as Israel or Ephraim, and talking about the Southern Kingdom, which is also referred to collectively as Judah. You may remember that Ephraim and Judah were two sons of Jacob. Each of the sons of Jacob became the patriarchs over a tribe of Israel. Ephraim became the tribe that symbolized the Northern Kingdom, which was made up of 10 ½ tribes (1/2 of the tribe of Benjamin was in the north and ½ was in the south). Judah became symbolic of the Southern Kingdom, which was made up of 1 ½ tribes (Judah and the other ½ of Benjamin).

 

Jeroboam sealed the division between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms when he erected two golden calves as competing places of worship with the temple. He was afraid that those who lived in the Northern Kingdom would get tired of having to travel three times a year to the Southern Kingdom during feast days and would permanently move there, so he erected alternate places of worship. Originally, the intent was that Yahweh would be worshipped, but that soon only led further to the Northern Kingdom’s tendency to worship idols. When you think about it, what symbol could have possibly been more insulting to Yahweh than a golden calf? If you recall, the Israelites had Aaron erect a golden calf for them to worship when they thought that Moses wasn’t going to come back from his meeting with God on Mt. Sinai.

 

The books of 1 & 2 Kings read somewhat like a report card. We are told about the reigns of each king, and at the end we are given each one’s grade from God’s perspective. Those kings that were faithful to Yahweh and enforced obedience to the law of Moses were said to be like King David. Those that disobeyed God’s laws and followed after other gods were compared to Jeroboam. The Northern Kingdom failed miserably. They did not have one single king that was ever talked about in a positive light. The Southern Kingdom didn’t do much better, but they did have a few bright spots.

The title for the worst king goes to Manasseh, who reigned over Jerusalem for 55 years. After his father Hezekiah had torn down all the of the idol worshipping centers in the Southern Kingdom and renewed the people’s obedience to Yahweh, Manasseh took it upon himself to rebuild them, as well as bringing new gods, such as Baal and Asherah into the picture. He even built altars to other gods in the Jerusalem temple. He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists. (2 Kings 21:1-18)

 

The title for the best king is a toss up between David and Josiah. David is the standard to which all other kings before and after him are held to, but even David messed up a few times (the Bathsheba & Urriah incident, taking the census, etc…). Josiah reigned two years after Manasseh and had a lot to clean up. He became king when he was eight. While a crew was cleaning out the temple, they found a scroll that contained the law of Moses. They brought it to Josiah, and when he read it, he tore his robes out of repentance. He had the scroll read to the nation and renewed the covenant with Yahweh that he had made with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. He rid the nation of idols and re-established sacrifices and feast days.

 

The books of 1 & 2 Kings are also the high point in the ministry of the prophets. This is the time period during which all but four of the prophetic books were written.

 

The prophets, like the history of Israel, can be divided into three categories: 1) those that prophesied before the exile into Babylon, 2) those that prophesied during the exile, and 3) those that prophesied after the return of Israel to the land.

 

Genre Alert

The Prophets

 

     More books of the Bible fall under the heading of prophecy than under any other heading. Of the hundreds of prophets in the history of Israel, only 16 were chosen to speak oracles (messages from God) that would be collected and written up into books.

 

In the narrative books, we hear about prophets and very little from prophets. In the prophetic books, we hear from God via the prophets and very little about the prophets themselves. Most of the prophetic books were not intended to be read in one sitting. They are a collection of different oracles (sayings) from the prophet at different points in their ministry. Due to this, it is important to get some sense of the context (period of history) in which the prophecy was given. To do this, it might be helpful to get a chronological Bible, Bible dictionaries, Bible handbooks or commentaries.

The prophets were covenant enforcement mediators. Even though God was speaking His message through them, this message is based off of the blessings and curses that would come from obeying or disobeying the law that He had announced earlier. (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 4; 28-32) The prophets’ message was not their own, but God’s. The prophets were God’s direct representatives.

 

There are different forms with which the prophets convey their message. These include the lawsuit (Isaiah 3:13-26; Hosea 3:3-17; 4:1-19), the woe (Habakkuk 2:6-8; Micah 2:1-5; Zephaniah 2:5-7), the promise (Amos 9:11-15; Isaiah 45:1-7; Jeremiah 31:1-9; Hosea 2:16-23) and the messenger speech. (Isaiah 38:1-8; Jeremiah 35:17-19; Amos 1:3-2:16; Malachi 1:2-5)

 

I like to think of the prophets as God’s drama ministry. (Isaiah 20; Ezekiel 4:1-4; Hosea 1:2-2:1; Zechariah 11:4-17) I say this tongue-in-cheek of course, but some of the prophets were asked to some of the strangest things you will find in the Bible. Copy and paste passages above as examples.

 

      Let me share something with you I’ve heard referred to as “the scale analogy.” Picture a scale weighing good and bad conduct. Under the bad side picture a button that says “JUDGMENT.” As a nation gets worse and worse in their sin and idolatry, the scale tips towards that “JUDGMENT” button (Sodom & Gomorrah). Likewise, when a nation starts repenting and seeking God and acting justly, then the scale tips toward blessing and away from judgment. When the scale hits the judgment button, then God pours out His wrath on that nation. If a nation is scheduled for wrath repents (Nineveh during Jonah’s ministry), then the scale tips off the judgment button and God’s wrath is delayed for a time. If judgment falls, then the scale is cleared and starts over again. (Jeremiah 18:7-10)

 

This also leads us to another very important principle. A nation that has more knowledge of God and His word is held more accountable to obey that knowledge than a nation that does not. (Luke 12:48)

 

So, how should I interpret prophecy? Here are few pointers. Unless you are given good reason, the plain reading of the text is the meaning intended. In other words, unless we are clearly dealing with metaphor or poetical language, the text should be interpreted literally. Never take any one prophecy by itself and look for its fulfillment. On any given topic that is prophesied, there are numerous different prophecies that relate to that topic. The main topic of prophecy is Jesus, the anticipated Messiah who will deliver humanity from their sins. Realize that there is a limit to what we can know about those things that are prophesied but yet come to pass. Seek to understand what the Bible says about these things, and don’t speculate on what is not clear. Most importantly, don’t make somebody’s viewpoint on the end times a matter of salvation or fellowship! (I learned this one the hard way)

 

To get the most out of reading the prophets, look for the statements that God makes about Himself, or direct references to sin, or principles that God wants us to apply, or prophecies of Messiah that will give you a certainty of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah that the Bible predicted, and that the Bible is the Word of God.

 

Pre-Exilic Prophets

 

The Book of Jonah

 

Perhaps the book that is most attacked by skeptics of Christianity and the Bible is the book of Jonah. Many Christians do not even believe that the events that occurred in this book really happened, or that Jonah was a real person who lived. However, we are not only told that Jonah was a real prophet (2 Kings 14:25) who had a ministry during the reign of King Jerobaom II of the Northern Kingdom, but Jesus referred to Jonah as a historical person in Matthew 12:38-42. In fact, Jesus mentions: 1) the prophet Jonah, 2) Jonah spending three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, 3) the people of Nineveh, 4) the repentance of the Ninevites, and 5) the preaching of Jonah to the Ninevites. Jesus referred to Himself as one “greater than Jonah,” and He pointed to the story as a “sign” and picture of the fact that He was going to spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. If you believe in Jesus, then you should have no problem believing in the book of Jonah. If you don’t believe in Jesus, you have bigger problems than whether or not the events in the book of Jonah actually happened or not.

 

Jonah is called a prophet, and the book that bears his name is included among the prophetic books, but you would be hard pressed to find any prophecy uttered by the mouth of Jonah in the Bible. So why is this book considered prophecy? Jesus gave us the answer when he said that “just as Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish for three days and three nights, so must the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jonah is about the RESURRECTION of the Messiah.

 

Jonah is also a book that is loved particularly by missionaries. It is the only time in the Old Testament in which a prophet is called to deliver a message to another nation full of gentiles. In fact, Jonah was so reluctant to go prophesy to them because they were Israel’s sworn enemies. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the world power at the time. They would eventually be the nation that God would use to judge the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They were known for being a particularly brutal people.

 

Jonah runs from God and Nineveh until God explains things “a little more clearly.” After being spit up by a huge fish onto the shores of Nineveh, Jonah was ready to obey, and no doubt the Ninevites, looking upon a man who couldn’t have looked his best, who may or may not have died and resurrected himself, were ready to listen to the message. This is especially true when you realize who the god of Nineveh was: Dagon, the fish god. Jonah’s sermon isn’t elaborate, “Forty days and you get yours!” and then he marches up on a hill outside the city waiting for God’s judgment to pour down on the Ninevites. However, the Ninevites repent from the king down to even the animals, and God spares the city.

 

Jonah is upset that God didn’t judge the city, but God reminds Jonah of Jeremiah 18:7-10 and expresses to Jonah how much he cares for all people because they are His creation. In the end, God won not only a pagan nation, but also a runaway prophet.