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Interpreting the Bible

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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April 22, 2024 4:00 am

Interpreting the Bible

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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April 22, 2024 4:00 am

If you struggle to understand certain passages of Scripture, you’re not alone. So how should we approach Bible study? Listen to Truth For Life as Alistair Begg introduces our next series by establishing helpful principles for interpreting God’s Word.


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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!

Truth for Life
Alistair Begg

If you struggle understanding certain passages of the Bible, you're not alone. How should we approach our study of Scripture? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg introduces an upcoming series by establishing some helpful principles for reading and interpreting the Bible. We're looking at 1 Samuel chapter 21. I found myself this week referring to a phrase that I think is sort of falling out of everyday life.

I may be wrong on that. And the phrase is, Just let me get my bearings. The reason the phrase was in mind was because, as I came to the twenty-first chapter of 1 Samuel, I found myself saying, as it were, out loud, I just need to get my bearings. And some of you will have read ahead. Others of you have only come across it now for the first time in listening as I've read it.

And immediately it will strike you as a fairly peculiar incident. The story of David—once again, he's on the run. He shows up at the priestly city. He asks for five loaves and a sword, and then he makes a run for it. He runs into the apparent security of foreign territory in Gath, the city of Goliath.

He is uncovered. He decides that in order to keep up the subterfuge, as he's on the run, he will disguise himself as a crazy person, which he clearly does a very good job of. And then, once again, he runs off, and in chapter 22 he is once again found hidden in a cave, the cave of Adullam. So I read it all, and I read it again, and I said again, I just need to get my bearings. Now, what I want to do is provide us with a long introduction to the text.

It is purposeful on my part, and I hope it will prove helpful to you. Now, let me enter this introduction by saying this—that our use of the Bible does not end with our understanding of the text. It is actually our understanding of the text which gives us the beginning point for our use of the Bible.

It is perfectly possible for us to read, to understand the language that is used, and yet to go nowhere at all. And so, in order that we don't lose our way around the text of Scripture, a number of principles are important in interpreting the Bible. And I say that so that whether we are present in this context or whether we are in another context, perhaps even on our own, we won't lose our way. And fundamental to that as a principle is that we need to keep in mind always the main purpose of all of Scripture—the main purpose of all of Scripture—which is actually to reveal the ways of God with his creatures.

The Bible, you see, when you turn to it, has certain assumptions built into it. One is that we are made by God. Two, that we are made for God.

But three, that we have determined in rebellion and in revolt to seek to live separated from God. If you just let those words resonate with you, then you'll have the picture clearly—made by him, made for him, and yet we live in isolation from him. But it is into that context that the Bible then gives to us God's great plan, which is of course his great plan of salvation. So no matter where we are in the Bible, when we say to ourselves, Now, I need to get my bearings here, we need to keep this in mind, it is consequently impossible to properly use Scripture without first accepting the diagnosis that Scripture provides. One of the reasons that people say, Well, you know, I read the Bible, it didn't mean anything to me at all, or I've considered the Bible, but I can't make sense of it. Part of the answer to that is because we need to come to Scripture coming underneath Scripture and recognizing that we have to allow Scripture to diagnose our condition. And it diagnoses our condition as rebels, as sinners, as in default of God's plan and purpose. And then it provides for us the answer to that predicament in the provision of the Lord Jesus. Now, it is for that reason that we want to make sure that our use of the Bible, both individually in the way we read it and also corporately in the way in which we study it, is engaged in not only so that those of us who have the privilege that I'm enjoying in these moments, not only so that we can provide food for the flock, but in order that we might allow the members of the flock to learn how to adequately feed themselves. Now, Susan has a lot of recipe books, and I've looked at them. I know what it says.

But I am absolutely incapable of cooking myself. It's just a bunch of words to me. Now, what if that is true for some of you in terms of the Bible?

And it may well be. You see, because it is not simply sufficient to come and hear the Bible taught. It is not actually sufficient to read your Bible—although I'm going to say something about that in a moment—because it is possible for us to be formally committed—formally committed in our thinking to the fact that the Word of God is living, active, and authoritative, without being ourselves, arrested by it, summoned into its presence, bowing in reverence before the one to whom it points. Now, that, you see, explains why it is, as Spurgeon says, that people could listen to sermon after sermon after sermon and remain absolutely untaught and clearly unchanged, because it is the work of the Spirit of God to show us ourselves, our condition, and to show us Jesus in such a way as we recognize that we must come to him individually, personally, to embrace that which is made ours in his amazing sacrifice and in the display of his love. If you think about it, for example, the Pharisees were big on the Scriptures, weren't they?

That was their big thing. We know the Bible. And Jesus says to them, Yeah, you know the Bible, you wouldn't come to me.

And it is the Bible that speaks of me. If you're going to study the Bible, if you're going to read the Bible, number one, you need to come to it with a sincere desire. Secondly, you need to find a spot where you're going to read your Bible and set a time. Thirdly, you need to keep your appointment.

Why would you make appointments for a medical procedure or for business and show up on time and make an appointment for the reading of the Bible and hear from God and miss the appointment completely? Fourthly, you need to come expecting to learn and willing to change. You need to read the passage, and as you read the passage, you need to ask questions, like, What is the main point of the passage? Or, What do I learn about God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Or, What does Christ require of me today? To ask of the passage, Is there an example to follow? Is there a warning to heed?

Is there a promise to trust? And make sure to seek the help of the Holy Spirit to apply what you've learned and take it into the day. Now, you see, that's vastly different from using your Bible as a—I don't know what—as a big compendium of stuff that you look in. See if there's a good part, and maybe find something here. Oh, there's a good one.

I remember that one. Yes. Oh, Leviticus. No, we don't do Leviticus.

No. Incidentally, the reason Hebrews is in the Bible is so that when we could read Leviticus, we can make sense of it. Now, let's keep moving here. Number one principle. We need to keep in mind, no matter where we are in the Scriptures—and we are, at the moment, in 1 Samuel 21.

We will be. But wherever we are, to keep in mind the main purpose of all of Scripture. Briefly but secondarily and purposefully, we need to learn to interpret the obscure by the clear and the partial by the more complete. So we come to passages of Scripture that, when we read them, at least for the first time, they are just almost impossible to understand. We read them and say, Well, I can't make one sense of one part of that at all. Now, once again, in such cases we have to remind ourselves that these difficulties in recognizing truth are part of the whole process, whereby, in coming to the Bible in its totality, we can then look for clarity elsewhere in the Bible to help us with that which we find obscure in another part of the Bible—to find sections of the Bible that are more immediately accessible to us, which perhaps unpack for us a rather brief comment that we really can't get ahold of at all. And part of the adventure—and it is an uphill adventure.

This is not something that you're coming to overnight. No more than you became very proficient enough to become a CPA. I mean, unless you're some kind of genius, you had to stay up and study. You had to work that material. And again and again, you didn't qualify in microbiology by just sitting looking at the ceiling. And so why would it be that we would become students of the Bible, that we would have enough information, concern in the Bible, to teach it to our children when we walk along the road and when we lie down and when we get up, if all that we're doing in terms of the Bible is simply sitting somnambulant for half an hour listening to a man talk and thinking that somehow or another that is going to secure to us a spiritual heritage that can be passed on? No.

It is not going to happen, I guarantee you. Because the pursuit and the discovery and the doing of God's will takes time and trouble. And it makes us aware of the fact that none of us—no individual—in the course of our earthly pilgrimage ever reaches the place where we understand it all. No one in our earthly pilgrimage ever is able to say, I understand the entire thing. Even Paul, remember, was prepared to say, Now I know in part.

Then I will really know. Now, that's not an argument for holding up our hands and saying, Well, if you can't know, I don't care. Rather, the reverse is the case. Third principle—and now I'll move on—one, that we keep in mind the main purpose of Scripture, to make us wise for salvation, the dealings of God with his creatures. Two, to interpret the obscure by the clear and the partial by the more complete. And three, to compare Scripture with Scripture and to let Scripture check our interpretation of Scripture.

That second piece is important. To compare Scripture with Scripture—we understand that. So we go from 1 Samuel, where we'll go elsewhere, and we will compare in order to help our understanding. But our interpretation then must be framed by the Scripture itself. Because that is the only way both to grasp the big picture and also to understand the individual parts. Well, as I said, that's a long introduction. I hope in some measure it is helpful.

I want to think that we are not simply growing generation after generation of sermon-tasters, but we are actually growing generations of young men and women who said, You know what? If he can understand it and he's not that bright, I can understand it too. I can study.

After all, I've studied here, I've studied there. Why would I not give myself to the study of the Bible? That's the first principle, you see.

Come with desire. Now, with all that said, 1 Samuel and chapter 21. And as soon as we come back to it, I hope you will realize why it was that I have done what I've done and why I've said what I've said. So let's apply one of the principles, interpreting Scripture with Scripture. I'm not going to do it in its entirety, or I'm just going to point it out to you.

When I read 1 Samuel 21, one of the questions then I said to myself is, Where else can I go in the Bible to help me with this? And there are at least four places that we can go. And I'll tell you what they are.

You may want to just look at them with me. But two Psalms, two Psalms, a piece of Leviticus, and Luke chapter 6. If you turn to Psalm 34, you will realize that we have a helpful heading for the psalm, which says, A psalm of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.

Okay? So what do we know? We know that in this second half of 1 Samuel 21, where he feigns madness, he wrote a poem. And he wrote a poem about it, or he wrote a poem coincidental with it.

Who knows? But he wrote a poem. I like to imagine him showing up in the Cave of Adulment, the beginning of chapter 22, and saying to his friends and his family members, You know, I just wrote a song. And they said, Oh, you wrote another one? Yes.

How does it go? Well, the verse I want you to really get a hold of is this. O magnify the Lord with me, and come, let us exalt his name together.

Because you know what has happened to me? And then he would recount for them his running and his fleeing. So in other words, Psalm 34 is his song of deliverance. But we don't need to stop just there, because we discover that Jesus actually makes reference to 1 Samuel chapter 21. And for that, you need to turn to Luke chapter 6. You could also turn, for example, to Matthew 12.

But Luke has it in short order. Luke chapter 6 and verse 1. On a sabbath, while he—that is, Jesus—was going through the grain fields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath? And Jesus answered them.

And this is quite fascinating, isn't it? Have you not read what David did when he was hungry? He and those who were with him, how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he also gave it to those with him.

And then he said to these Pharisees, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. When you take these passages, and particularly the passage in Luke, and you realize how Jesus uses 1 Samuel 21, it gives us reason to think—reason, at least, to consider—the possibility that the hostility of the Pharisees towards Jesus may well have caused Jesus to think of the animosity of Saul towards David. To the extent that the possibility is worth consideration, it would then allow us to say, Well, that is quite illuminating inasmuch as what we have in 1 Samuel—and, interestingly, all of the rest of 1 Samuel is essentially the same story. It is the king on the run. So the final third of 1 Samuel is the king making a run for it, faced by the hostility of Saul and his enemies. And the final third of the Gospels is the story of the Lord Jesus Christ on the run, as it were, from the pursuing, hostile aggravation of those who were his enemies and seeking to put them to death.

But since you are going to make sure that any interpretation of Scripture, such as even that observation, is going to be determined by your own understanding of the parameters of Scripture itself, I can rest confident in that. The thing would be this. To remind ourselves that—to use another idiom that is, I think, fading from view—this is for real. This is for real. The same people that used to say, Just let me get my bearings, also used to say, This is for real. All right?

I don't know who they are. But anyway, so, you say, Well, why are you saying that? Well, because we know the end of the story. At least those of us who have read ahead know the end of the story. Therefore, the temptation is for us to come to this and not to get the weight of what is happening here, not to actually get a hold of what is happening, so that we understand that, for David, this is a real danger. It's a real danger.

This is not a little story that's a fabrication. This is a real danger, remember, where he said to Jonathan, There is but one step between me and death. That is how Kingsaw was to kill him.

He was unable just to walk around like, Hey, I'm King David. Nice to meet you. He realized that he had to be involved now in subterfuge going forward until, finally, that would be over with. A real danger. A real sadness. A real sadness. The sadness of a broken friendship. The sadness of a relationship ended.

David wept more than Jonathan. Real danger. Real emotion.

Real fear. He's not running around here just for fun. David is not immune to these matters.

And we end with this thought. Consider how the picture has changed, how it's changed from chapter 17, where we see him as the conquering hero. But now he's a homeless, helpless fugitive. Then he seemed to be in charge of the world. Now he's emotionally crushed.

Now his vision is clouded by fear. And now his attempts at self-preservation involve the use of lies. And we ought to find ourselves at least saying, Can he have forgotten so quickly when he told Goliath, The battle is the Lord's? That he was able to make it very, very clear that the Lord saves not by sword or by spear? Well, if that is the case—and he really believed that—why does he have to tell lies now? Why can't he just tell the truth to Elimelech? I'm on the run.

Just think about your own life. Think how easy it is to move from the declarations of the Lord's day mourning in our praise and our abject failures on a Monday or a Tuesday, when we, who are so bold in the presence of affirmation, may actually play the Simon Peter before the servant go, Oh no, I don't know Jesus. No, I'm not a follower of Jesus. You're listening to Truth for Life, and that is Alistair Begg with a message he's titled, Interpreting the Bible. In the weeks ahead we're going to be working our way through this Old Testament narrative. Alistair will be taking us verse by verse through the text. Together we'll gain some remarkable insights into the life of David, the anointed king of Israel, and along the way we'll learn how his reign points forward to Jesus, the eternal king.

I hope you'll be able to join us each day. The Old Testament makes up about two-thirds of God's revelation, so it's important that we don't overlook what is recorded in this portion of Scripture. And as you're learning from the Old Testament, you'll want to take time to observe the many places where God's unfolding plan of salvation is predicted. To help us draw these connections, I think you'll benefit greatly from a brief booklet we're recommending called, Does the Old Testament Really Point to Jesus? As you read this booklet, you'll learn specific ways to identify where the long-expected Messiah was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. You'll begin to see more easily how Jesus was predicted throughout Scripture. Ask for your copy of, Does the Old Testament Really Point to Jesus? when you donate to support the ministry of Truth for Life at slash donate. Now in today's message, Alistair explained why it's so important that we read our Bibles, and an easy way to have a Bible on hand no matter where you are is to add the Truth for Life mobile app to your smartphone. It's a convenient way to hear the program each day or to read the daily devotions. You also have access to the complete ESV Bible. It's entirely free, so download the Truth for Life mobile app from your app store today or visit slash app. Thanks for listening today. Is it ever okay to tell a lie, like if you're in danger or no one will be harmed or the needy will somehow benefit? Tomorrow we'll examine some questionable decisions that King David made. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-22 05:12:28 / 2024-04-22 05:20:53 / 8

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