Throughout the years I have a adopted a number of colloquialisms to convey thoughts. One of them is: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat!” Meaning: There is more than one way to solve a problem or to deal with an issue. Another one I am quite fond of using is: “The devil is in the details.” That means, the real difference between one meaning or another, is in the finer points that are sometimes overlooked or unknown.
Ironically, when it comes to the Book of Job in the Bible, the last colloquial expression I mentioned is both true and false! In the Book of Job, the devil is in the details, in the sense that there is a fine point in Job that most theologians and Bible scholars know, but they often overlook! What is that fine point? The fine point that is overlooked is the fact that the devil IS NOT in the details of the Book of Job! I know, it sounds confusing, so let me show you what I am talking about.
In the Book of Job, everywhere the term; ‘satan’ occurs, (Job 1:6, 7, 8, 9, 12; 2:1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7) in the Hebrew (the original language in which Job was written), it is preceded by the Hebrew definite article; ‘ha,’ which is equivalent to the English definite article; ‘the.’ In other words, everywhere we encounter the term ‘satan’ in our English translations, it should be more properly rendered; ‘the satan.’ Now you might be asking, “Ok, but what difference does that make?” Well, just as there are rules of grammar in the English language, there are also rules of grammar in the Hebrew language. And one of the rules of grammar that is common to both English and Hebrew is that a proper noun (a name) is ‘never’ preceded by a definite article! If the definite article precedes the noun, then it is understood that the noun is not a name, but rather a title. In other words, according to the rules of grammar (and good theology), the term ‘satan’ in the book of Job, refers not a name, but rather to a title!
The term ‘satan’ is a Hebrew term that is translated into English as ‘adversary.’ Therefore, everywhere the term ‘satan’ is found in Job, instead of using it as a proper noun or name (which it isn’t), it should be translated into English as ‘the adversary.’ For instance, to be consistent and true to the rules of English and Hebrew grammar, Job 1:6, for example, should more properly read: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD (Yahweh), and the adversary also came among them.”
I have written before about how we sometimes can be confused by the KJV translation, but this is a case in which ‘all’ of the English versions dropped the ball, because the one called ‘satan,’ known as the devil in the New Testament IS NOT the same personality as the adversary presented in the Book of Job! I know, we often use the colloquial: “The devil is in the details.” But in the case of the book of Job in the Old Testament, the devil IS NOT in the details!
PLEASE UNDERSTAND! When I post about common exegetical missteps, it is not an attempt to embarrass anybody or to project the idea that I am smarter than others! I love the LORD and I love HIS WORD! I believe we ought to spare no expense or effort to make sure that when we quote the Bible, we quote it accurately and correctly! After all, it is the word of God, therefore, when we say what the Bible says, we’re saying what God says or the principles, ideas, commands, and intentions God wants to convey. Consequently, when we misrepresent what the Bible says, we misrepresent the words, thoughts, intentions, and commands of God, which is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly!
So with that mind, here’s another one we so commonly and frequently mess up! We preach it, we quote it, and we sing it! What is it? It’s 1 Corinthians 2:9, which says: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 is the Apostle Paul’s adaptation of Isaiah 64:4. So, this is actually what Paul said and Paul is quoting the Old Testament, so what’s the problem?
Do you remember the radio commentator; Paul Harvey? He was famous for the way he reported his stories. Harvey would introduce a story, but before he concluded the story, he would go to a commercial break. When he came back from the commercial break, he would say; “And now, the rest of the story.” The problem with 1 Corinthians 2:9 is that it is not the complete thought the Apostle Paul was trying to convey! When we quote 1 Corinthians 2:9 and quit, we misrepresent Paul because we leave before giving him the opportunity to tell the rest of the story!
So, here’s the rest of the story! In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul says; “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” But wait a minute! Paul IS NOT THROUGH TALKING! In the very next verse, Paul says: “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit. . . “ What has God revealed to us by His Spirit? The things which God has prepared for them that love Him!Paul said one thing in verse 9, but he cancels it out in verse 10 and the following verses! Eyes haven’t seen, ears haven’t heard, neither has it entered into the hearts of men what great things God has prepared for those who love Him, BUT GOD HAS REVEALED THEM TO US THROUGH HIS SPIRIT! That’s the complete thought!
So, when we quote verse 9 and run off without reading the rest of the story, and proclaim verse 9 as the Gospel truth, we are actually lying and are misrepresenting the intention of the text! We are saying God hasn’t revealed what Paul said God has revealed! To get the full picture, we need to at least read to verse 12! This is what that looks like;
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
Wow! Do you see that? We preach and sing that God ‘has not revealed’ and ‘we can’t know’ when the Bible actually says, ‘God has revealed’ and ‘we can know!’ The sermons and the songs sound good! But nevertheless, they are not theologically sound! How did this happen? It happened because we didn’t read the rest of the story!
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” Psalm 42:5 ESV
“Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God.” Psalm 42:5 AMP
Because of their share vocabulary, themes, and refrain, most biblical scholars think Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 were originally one unit. They open a collection of psalms (42-49), attributed to the Korahites, which opens the Second Book of the Psalms. The exact setting of this unit (42-43) is unknown, but it appears to be the prayer of an individual estranged from his home and the Temple. Some have suggested that Psalm 42-43 was written by David when he was driven from Jerusalem during Absalom’s (David’s son) rebellion. But whoever he is, the psalmist is being taunted by his enemies, he has been exiled or otherwise denied access to the Temple, and he is in despair. The unit can be divided into three sections: (1) 42:1-5, (2) 42:6-11, and (3) 43:1-5. The unit is held together by a recurring refrain in 42:5, 11, and 43:5: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British Baptist preacher of the 17th century, known as; “The Prince of Preachers,” commented on this text: “As though he were two men, the psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hopes argues with his sorrows.” Yes! In this psalm, we have a record of a man who had a conversation with himself.
Now, before you think that strange, having a conversation with yourself is actually normal and natural behavior! In fact, research indicates that the average person talks to himself or herself about 50,000 times a day! The real strangeness is not in actually talking to yourself; it is when you constantly do it out loud! So, having a conversation with yourself is an occurrence that happens all of the time! The truth of the matter is that no one does anything without talking to themselves first! Before every decision; we have a conversation with our selves. After every compliment or complaint; we have a conversation with ourselves! But what kind of conversation is it? Researchers say that 80% of the conversations we have with ourselves are negative and disempowering, things like: “They don’t like me. . . I’m never going to be able to pull this off. . . I’ll never lose this weight.” And when we constantly have these types of conversations with ourselves, it is no wonder that we must constantly have battles of anxiety and depression because 95% of our emotions are determined by the way we talk to ourselves!
In the text, the psalmist seems to be battling with depression. But the thing I like about it is that, although, he is somewhat depressed, as a child of God, he knows better, and so, he has a conversation with himself! He asked his soul; his inner self: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” In other words: “Self, why are you so depressed?” Now, if and whenever we find ourselves feeling sad or depressed, the best place to start of the road to recovery is to ask the question: ‘Why?’ When we ask; why?, we just might discover our feelings really are not justified! The song writer asked her soul: “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart by lonely and lone for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is He, His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me!” Yes! The psalmist asked himself: “Why are you depressed and why are you filled with anxiety?” He tells himself, first of all, to hope in God. The Hebrew word for ‘hope’ in the text, means ‘to hope, to wait with hope, to have hope with a positive expectation.’ Oh! My brothers and sisters, there it is! When you’re feeling down and out, it might be because you have been saying the wrong things to yourself and not asking yourself the right questions!
No! No matter what going on, on the outside of you; it is never as important as what going on, on the inside of you! Even the conversations we have with others are not as important as the conversations we have with ourselves! You see, most of us never quite get a handle on our lives because we keep looking without, when the problem is actually within! The negative things other folks say to us and about us are not as powerful as the negative things we say about and to ourselves! In 1 John 4:4, we read: “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (ESV) Now, we know that the ‘he who is in you’ in that text is God, and the ‘he that is in the world’ is Satan or his designated agent, but the truth of that verse is also applicable to our subject: The ‘inner-me’ is greater than my enemy! Unless by negative self-talk, I make my ‘inner-me’ my enemy! And that is the problem with most folks! The reason they are constantly depressed and not successful in life is because they have an internal conflict; they are fighting against their own self! Therefore, we must always remember; what we say about and to ourselves is always greater than what any other person might say to or about us!
The psalmist had a conversation himself to encourage himself! Be careful of how you talk to yourself! Be kind to yourself! Never put yourself down, it’s really not needed because there are enough people in the world, standing in line, waiting to do that for you! Don’t make yourself your enemy! Yes! I like the fact that the psalmist said to himself, and I am ‘Millerizing it;’ “Self, why are you depressed and filled with anxiety? It doesn’t matter what the enemy is doing because greater is he that is within you than he that is in the world! Look to the Lord! I don’t believe He brought us this far to leave us now! If the Lord brought us to it; He’s going to bring us through it! Just sit tight, wait on the Lord and remember the good times! This is not the first time we’ve ever been in trouble! Do you remember when? The Lord did it then and He’s going to do it again! Besides, trouble don’t last always! It can’t rain forever, and even while it’s raining, up above the clouds; the sun is still shining!” That was what the psalmist said to himself! No! Things are rarely as bad as we tell ourselves they are! But, if we keep on telling ourselves how bad they are; they will get worst! Most people don’t realize it, but our words influence the way we feel and the way we feel influences the actions we take, and the consistent actions we take, have a cumulative effect of shaping our character and determining our destiny! Wherever we are right now is because of the consistent conversations we have had with ourselves in the past! If you don’t like where you are! If you want to change your destination; the change will begin when you change what you consistently say to yourself!
Now, the Bible says in KJV style: “faith cometh by hearing.” In plain language, faith is developed from what we hear. But the hearing is not just from what other folks say, it also comes from hearing what we say to ourselves! In fact, as we said earlier, what we say to ourselves is much more powerful, for good or bad, than what others say to us and here’s why: We can choose to disagree with and reject what others say to us and about us, but we always accept as truth what we say to and about ourselves, whether it is actually true or not! Now, most of the time, what we say to and about ourselves did not originate with us, but rather with some authority we believed (had faith in), from childhood, such as; our parents, teachers, and other adults. That’s why, we should be ever so careful how we talk to our children! Most messed-up adults were messed up children who accepted the bad and negative judgement and labels from parents and other adult who were messed up themselves because as children, they accepted the bad judgement of parents who were messed up because, as children. . . . you get the picture? The root of some of present-day inter-personal issues can be traced back through generations!
But, the key to changing your situation is not to be angry with your parents or any of your ancestors! When you were born, there was no manual or an instruction book sent home with you from the hospital. So, your parents did the best they could with what they knew! But since you are listening to this word today; you now have access to knowledge that could change, not only your life, but the lives of generations to come! All that is possible because now you know, you need to go home, sit down, and have a heart-to-heart honest, positive and open conversation with yourself!
Now, someone at this point might be asking; ‘Well, what should I say to myself?’ Well first of all, you need to quit telling yourself what you think about yourself and start telling yourself what God says about yourself! Quit telling yourself you are a chump because the word of God says you are a champ! Tell yourself: “Romans 8:37 says, ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Quit telling yourself that you are a victim because the word of God says that you are a victor! Tell yourself: “1 John 5:4-5 says: ‘For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?’ Tell yourself: “Self, since I have been born of God and I believe Jesus is the Son of God, then that means I am an overcomer; I am a victor and not a victim!” Yes! You’ve got to discipline yourself to believe and accept; not what other people say and think, not even what you say and think, but rather what the Word of God (the Bible) says about you!
Now, you need to remember, I said you’ve got to discipline yourself in this area! That means, it’s not going to happen without consistent, intentional, attention and effort on your part! We’ve been talking to ourselves wrong for so long that when we start talking to ourselves right, it will not feel right, at first! We’ve been having bad conversations with ourselves for so long that having a good conversation with ourselves will seem unnatural and fake, at first! But as you stick with the program, surely, gradually, and eventually, your world and your life will be transformed by the renewal of your mind and your positive faith-affirming self-conversations. Because, when you change your conversation; you will change your thinking, and when you change your thinking; you will change your life! The Bible says: Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus! That means we should think and speak like Jesus, even when we are having a conversation with ourselves!
Well, I need to quit here, but even when we change our conversation with ourselves; life won’t always be easy! Sometimes, it will seem like more than we can bear! But when the tough days come, remember the words of an old familiar song I heard them singing the other day: “Like a ship that’s tossed and driven; battered by an angry sea! When the storms of life are raging and their fury falls on me! I wonder what I have done, to make this race so hard to run, then I say to my soul; (I have a conversation with myself!) Yes, then I say to my soul: ‘Take courage! The Lord will make a way somehow!”
Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” (NLT) I was reminded of that verse as I was reading an article for a paper I am required to write for one of my D. Min., (Doctor of Ministry) classes. The article was about preaching, postmodernism and the New Homiletic. Without going into too much depth, postmodernism is a movement or a way of thinking that denies the objectivity of knowledge and truth. According to postmodernism, there is no objective truth, but rather truth is socially and culturally constructed. When you hear people saying such things as “my truth,” that is an indication that they have been influenced by postmodernism.
The author of the article, in describing the various elements of the New Homiletic (Homiletics is the art and craft of constructing sermons and preaching. Simply put; the New Homiletic advocates the construction and preaching of the sermon should start with the listener, whereas in traditional homiletics, the process begins with the biblical text) said, according to the New Homiletic, the purpose of the sermon is not to communicate information, but rather to evoke a communication event from the audience in which the audience, with the help of the preacher, creates or discovers the meaning of the text. In the New Homiletic, the most important thing is not what the text actually means or says, but rather the meaning the listener or reader gathers from the text or the preaching event. The article goes on, in much detail, to talk about this ‘new’ way of thinking, preaching, and listening to sermons. As I read the article, I said to myself: “This is nothing new; this is the same thing I did in Sunday School as a boy!”
When I was a youngster, my Sunday School teachers were not, by no stretch of the imagination, biblical scholars. Now, this is not to be disparaging, or disrespectful toward them because they, and the church, did the best they could with what they had! (The only qualification required to teach Sunday School back then was just the willingness to do it; not too much has changed in most churches I am familiar with today!) But, I thank God that they did know enough to light a fire within me to want to know more about the Word of God and the God of the word! Now, I mention them because, as we went over the lesson, each student had to read a verse. Then, after reading the verse, each student would stand up and explain what the particular verse they read meant to them. I didn’t know it then, but the most important thing in biblical study is NOT what the verse means to me, but rather, what the verse actually means! No! I didn’t know it then, (and my Sunday Schools teachers apparently didn’t know it either!) but you really can’t know what the verse means until you know what the verse meant! In other words, the primary thing is not so much what the verse is saying to me, but rather what was the original author’s intended meaning for his original audience. You can’t get the application right (what the verse means and how it applies to your life) until you first get the original meaning right! My New Testament Greek professor; Dr. G. Roger Greene, at Mississippi College (MC) always asked and challenged his students, when I was in his class: “How can you know what it means if you don’t know what it meant? As preachers and teachers of the Gospel: You can’t tell them what it means, if you don’t know what it meant!”
So, I guess what I’m saying is that postmodernism and the New Homiletic are not really “new” at all! The same thing was happening in my Sunday School class over fifty (50) years ago! But, we could go back, even farther than that! Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25 are two verses that are identical in most English Bibles, the verses say: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (KJV) The New English Translation renders it: “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right.” (Jdg. 21:25 NET) Isn’t that where we are today, with people talking about ‘their truth’ and ‘my truth?’ Isn’t that the same thing postmodernism and practitioners of the New Homiletic are doing and saying when they say there is no objective truth and that truth is subjective and relative? It’s amazing to me, because it seems like the more modern man seeks to discredit the Bible as the Word of God, the more he actually proves it to be true!
If you are a preacher, a prophet, a teacher, or deal with the word in any kind of way, I admonish you to be careful to be faithful to the text. Please remember, we are not being faithful to our calling when we assign meaning without finding and understanding the original meaning. We must remember, the scriptures were not written specifically to us or for our modern frame of mind. They were written to ancient people, who processed things much differently from the way we do today. Therefore, to be honest in our exposition, we must first understand their position! Even in modern communication, the real meaning is not the meaning you, as a reader might assign, but rather the real meaning is the meaning the writer or author intends! For instance, if you assign a meaning to this blog post that I did not intend, there has been no communication; but rather there has been a miscommunication! Even in our daily conversations, we should make sure we are actually communicating instead of just merely saying words to each other. One of the main problems with communication today is with people are using the ‘same’ words, but those same words often having ‘different’ definitions! For example, when I tell you, “I’m cool.” Before the conversation is over, we both need to understand whether or not I’m talking about my discomfort with the temperature, or am I talking about what a great guy I am, or am I saying, I have no problems with our relationship or with something you might have said earlier that might have caused me to be upset!
Now, if we have those communication issues with just simple everyday conversations, and we are in the same culture, time, and place, then how much more do you think there are communications issues involved in properly reading and understanding the Bible, when we are dealing with communication issues with people from a different time, culture, language, and way of thinking? Imagine this scenario, if you will: Suppose, I write you a note and I tell you about this funny joke I heard. And in the note, I make the statement: “That joke was so funny, I died laughing!” Now, fast-forward several thousands of years and my note is found by people of a different culture, language and time. A people who no longer or never, used the expression; ‘died laughing’ to express how funny something is. There will be a distinct possibility that those people might mourn my untimely death because they will think I literally died from laughing so hard! And God forbid that my note should somehow be misconstrued as factual scientific data! Then they would be some sad people indeed, afraid to laugh, lest they were to ‘die’ from laughing! Now, as unlikely as that might sound to you, some of the things that people are so uptight today about what the Bible says were not meant to be doctrines, dogma, or deep truths, but actually were originally just hyperboles and figures of speech! But, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the deep stuff and the fluff, if you don’t dig for what it meant and just take someone’s word for what it means!
We live in an amazing time! On one hand, with the advent of biblical computer software programs such as Logos Bible Software, BibleWorks, BibleSoft, WordSearch, Sword, and many others (some of which are free), access to the Bible in the original languages and the tools for research and correct interpretation are just clicks of the mouse away! Yet, biblical illiteracy, even in the church is increasingly alarming! I remember one night, I was teaching a New Testament Survey class at a church I once served. One student asked me why I kept referring to some of the epistles as ‘Pauline.’ He thought ‘Pauline’ was the wife of Paul! (No joke; he was serious and he was a deacon!) He was almost as bad as the joke I heard about the kids who thought the ‘epistles’ were the wives of the apostles! Or even worst, I actually heard a person reviewing a Sunday School lesson say that he thought the ‘Gentiles’ were called that name because they were gentle!
God help us all! At a time when the need for biblical authority in preaching and teaching is so great, the airwaves are flooded with preaching and teaching that has no real depth or substance! There is an overwhelming number of preachers and teachers, with many followers and listeners; boldly, loudly, and authoritatively proclaiming nothing more than: “This is what the verse means to me!”
Most Bible readers would readily recognize the subject of this post as being the beginning of Philippians 4:19. The Apostle Paul wrote the church at Philippi a ‘thank-you’ letter in which he told them: “But my God shall supply all of your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (KJV) Often in our day and time, this verse is incorrectly used as a ‘blanket guarantee’ that God will supply all of our needs! But, was that really Paul’s intended meaning when he made the statement?
There are three rules we should carefully follow when we read the Bible. The first rule is context! The second rule is context! And, the third rule is context! So, let’s look at the context of this familiar passage. The first thing we should notice is that the verse begins with a conjunction! From the Greek text, this conjunction can be translated as “but” or “and.” The KJV says “but,” however, many of the modern translations render the conjunction as “and.” But either one is acceptable because one makes no difference in the intended meaning as opposed to the other. But, I wanted to call attention to the conjunction, not so much to highlight the different translations, but rather to remind us of the purpose and function of a conjunction. A conjunction, by definition, is a word that joins together sentences, clauses, phrases, or words. Since the conjunction is at the beginning of verse 19, in order to correctly interpret the verse, we must look at what proceeds it. In order to ascertain Paul’s complete meaning, we need to go back to at least verse 15.
The gist of the conversation is that Paul is commending them for being the only church to supply him with financial assistance since the beginning of the gospel when he left Macedonia. Even when he was in Thessalonica, they rendered assistance to him more than once! Paul told them that, although their giving was much appreciated, he had learned to get along with whatever he had! That was the rationale behind the other statement we often misapply from this chapter, where Paul said in verse 13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me!” The ‘all things’ Paul was referring to was; living with little and living with plenty! He could do all things because he had learned the secret of being content in whatever state he was in! He was telling them: “I’ve learned how to live in poverty and I’ve learned how to live in abundance! So, even if I had received nothing from you, I would have been alright, but nevertheless, I appreciate your gifts!” And because they gave to him, Paul told them; “But (and) my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by (in) Christ Jesus!” Paul was telling them; “Because you took care of my needs, my God will take care of your needs!” In its original context, this wasn’t a unilateral promise; it was a statement of reciprocal blessing! “God will do for you, because you did for me!
There is a similar principle stated in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus says: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV) Jesus didn’t say that all these things (food, drink, clothing, things needful for life) would be added automatically! No! He said all these things would come as a matter of course as one seeks first to find and submit to the authority of God in their lives!
In both cases, the blessings were and are conditional! The principle is this: God will take care of us and our business when and as we first take care of His business and meet His requirements! Context is everything! But, when we take scripture out of context, we erroneously make God responsible for commitments God never actually made! And when God doesn’t come through on the promises we misappropriate because we took scripture out of context, it damages our faith and/or the faith of others! So, before we apply and rely on anything anybody said in the Bible, we should make sure of the context! We should make sure the promise is applicable to us and that we met the conditions of the promise!