Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: interpretation

Flashback Favorite - My first assignment

My first assignment
originally posted on April 20, 2016

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

That was my mental reaction to my first teaching assignment from my mentor, Joe.

Our mentor-protégé relationship began when he was teaching a Sunday School class and had asked if anyone was interested in team-teaching with him.  I was eager to teach, but I knew that I had to learn how to better handle the Scriptures if I was going to take on the responsibility of teaching God’s Word to others.  Joe pointed me toward Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book and, with his guidance, I began to learn how to Observe, Interpret, and then Apply the Bible.

I figured that my first teaching lesson would cover one of the passages I had just learned from…instead, Joe said that my first teaching experience would come from teaching the class how to study the Bible, like I had just learned.  I was instantly nervous and gave Joe a weak “You sure about this?”.  But he assured me that this was the best topic for me to start with.

I profusely prayed over every lesson.  I did my best to communicate the three steps, as well as provide good examples and practice exercises – some lessons went well; others didn’t feel like they went anywhere.  To anyone who was in those first classes of mine, I say thank you for your patience!  That experience was a huge step for me and my growth – both in my relationship with God, as well as in learning how to organize and teach.  It certainly helped to have my mentor’s example, his directions, and his confidence in me.

Reading through the gospels, we find that Jesus did something similar with his protégés:

Matthew 9:35-10:1
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.  The He said to His disciples,

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

When Jesus told them to pray that the Father would send out workers to reach the people of Israel, I’m sure they agreed that would be a good thing to do…but then Jesus turns around and tells them that it is time for them to go out and participate in the harvest, by doing what they had only previously watched Jesus do!  Imagine everything that must have been going through their minds – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, tension?  Trust me, it was all those and then some.

Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.  You have received free of charge; give free of charge.”

Notice how Jesus gave them parameters and direction for their first assignment.  They weren’t supposed to go outside of Israel.  They had a very specific message to proclaim.  They were also given authority to do what Jesus did – heal, raise the dead, cleanse, and drive out demons – and they were not to charge the people for these acts, just as Jesus hadn’t charged anyone.

The disciples would eventually be ready for the larger assignment of the Great Commission, where they were instructed to go make disciples of people from all nations.  They were not ready for that yet, though.  The disciples were still going to do what they had seen Jesus do, but their first assignment was on a much smaller scale.

As a mentor, we need to give our protégé assignments that will begin to stretch them now and incrementally prepare them for later.  On the flip side, when our mentor gives us an assignment that seems like a very large leap, we need to trust them. 

Looking back, it was that first assignment that propelled me closer to God and sharpened my teaching ability.  Joe was making sure that I was not going to be just another teacher who can only feed people The Word, but he wanted me to be able to show others how to feed themselves.  Following through on that first assignment, despite how rough it may have been on me and/or the class, has paid many dividends over the years since.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Do you see what I see?

The three rules of real estate are Location, Location, and Location.

Similarly, the three rules of Bible Interpretation are Context, Context, and Context

Whenever we’re trying to understand God, His plan, or the world He created, we must keep in mind the Context of His initial, intended design for the world. 

As Paul warned Timothy about the coming false teachers and the believers who would follow them, their lens of context would protect them – or be their downfall:

1 Timothy 4:1-3
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth.

While the false teachings come from forces outside of the church – from deceitful spirits and demons – the actual teaching of their false doctrine comes from within church – through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  Later on, Paul will address how these believers became deceived, but for now, his focus is on what they are teaching.

These teachers would take their incorrect understanding of God and then instruct others to apply their teachings in ways that God never intended us to live.  From Paul’s two examples here, we see that these false teachers are advocating rules that fully separate the believer from the world around them.  It is likely that their seared consciences has allowed them to think that the only way to avoid the sinful lifestyle around them was to completely remove themselves from participating in any corrupted part of creation.

On the surface, the application sounds noble.  But that kind of thinking does not produce the kind of life God designed us to live.

1 Timothy 4:4-5
For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.

Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden.  At the end of each day, God saw that what He created was good.  It wasn’t until after sin corrupted everything that God’s intended design for creation was perverted.  Marriage – as created by God – is a good thing.  Food – as created by God – is a good thing.  However, the false teachers aren’t looking at God’s creation within that context.  Instead, they are only seeing the current corrupted state of the world.  Rather than understanding God’s initial design and use for marriage and food, they are advocating the outright rejection of them in order to prove their status with God.

However, those who believe and know the truth understand that we are not made holy because of the rules we follow or the things we do.  We are holy because through Jesus, God has made us holy and our relationship with Him has been restored to the good that it was before Adam and Eve sinned.

Despite the sin-corruption of the world, our food can still be received with gratitude since the believer can understand in the proper context as a gift from God.  Marriage, in all its difficulties and struggles, can still be lived out under God’s design.  In fact, a proper use of both will do a better job of pointing others toward God than an outright rejection of marriage or abstaining from particular food.

It all depends on the Context we use to live our lives.  Will our focus be on trying to manage the sin-corruption we see, or will we look at the world around us through the lens of God’s intended design?

The first one puts us in charge, while the second one reminds us that God is really in charge.

It’s all a matter of Context.

Keep Pressing
Ken
 

Women and church leadership (part 2)

When coming back to a difficult passage, we need to remind ourselves of the three rules:
1.  Context is key.
2.  We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3.  We let the author speak for himself

In the previous post, we discovered how important these rules are – because sometimes our first impression (i.e. – assumption) of what the author meant isn’t always the correct interpretation.  A couple of paragraphs after our subject verses, after Paul finishes his entire discussion regarding the qualifications of church leaders, Paul tells Timothy the following:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

As such, we need to keep in mind that Paul’s intention for this section of his letter was so that Timothy and the Ephesian believers will know how people ought to act in God’s household.

As a refresher, here are the verses we reviewed last time.  If you haven’t read Part 1, I suggest going back a reading it before going further with this post.  However, if you did read Part 1, reading the verses again will help form the context for the verses that follow:

1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

A woman should learn in silence with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

Last time we discovered that the education system of Paul’s day held the expectation that pupils would receive instruction from their teachers in silence and with full submission.  We found that these two phrases describe a student who peacefully conducts themselves while they are respectfully under the authority of their teacher.  We also realized that Paul’s prohibition against a woman teaching or having authority over a man was only in regard to the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church.  His directions to Timothy are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family. 

Now, let’s see how Paul supports these directions for the church:

1 Timothy 2:13-15
For Adam was created first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.  But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.

Paul notes that Adam was created first, then Eve.  God could have made them both at the same time, but instead, He created them at different times and in unique ways – with Adam being formed from the dirt and Eve being fashioned from Adam’s rib.  There were distinctions in origin and design from the get-go, from which God has specified a distinction in roles within the family and within church leadership.  God entrusted Adam with leadership responsibility over his wife.  Before God, Eve was not responsible for Adam in the same way that Adam was responsible for Eve.

God had an order and a plan for both men and women from the start, and Paul says the structure within the home-family should be the blueprint for the church-family.  Paul’s instruction here builds upon his previous teachings to the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 5:22-33).

Avoiding deception, especially concern against women being deceived, is frequently repeated in Paul’s communication with the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 4:1, 5:15; 2 Timothy 3:6-7).  Paul was concerned that the women in Ephesus were in danger of being deceived by false teachers, just like Eve had been.

One last note, on Paul’s last statement.  The Greek word saved can mean to be rescued from something or can mean to be returned to a previous state.  Given the context here, saved clearly does not refer to eternal salvation from sin’s penalty; instead, Paul emphasizes that women can be restored to their pre-fall status, and find leadership fulfillment within her family, provided she continues to walk with God.  Additionally, I think it would be acceptable to apply this concept to both naturally born children or to those spiritual children that a woman directly mentors.

With this, Paul wraps up his discussion on what women should not do with something they alone can do.  It was pointed out to me recently that perhaps we put too much emphasis on the leader up front and we unfortunately minimize the influence and mentoring of those who got them to that point.  It’s been said that “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”, and there is a lot of truth in that statement.  In fact, before Timothy met Paul, his entire spiritual instruction came from his mother and grandmother.  Without them preparing Timothy’s foundation, he would never have grown into the influential leader he was in the first century church.

In short, Paul’s directions in this passage to the believing women in Ephesus is to take God’s design for their immediate families and extend those characteristics to the church family.  As we all live out the talents, opportunities, and roles God has designed for us, our lives will become the walking gospels that point others toward God – and not to ourselves.  Ultimately, though, we are responsible before God for how handle His instructions.  If God is who we claim Him to be in our lives, then we should be able to trust Him in all aspects of life – even in the difficult passages.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Women and church leadership (part 1)

When dealing with difficult passages, we need to remember three rules:
1.   Context is key.
2.   We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3.   We let the author speak for himself

Much of Paul’s letter to Timothy talks about rebutting and correcting false teachers that were influencing the church in Ephesus.  He addresses topics and groups within the church that were being swayed by these teachers, including marriage, food, wealth, men, women, and church leadership.  In this next passage, Paul takes a moment to address the question of women in church leadership.

1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

A woman should learn in silence with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

It’s statements like these, especially when taken out of context, that cause a lot of strife within the modern church.  However, before we dismiss Paul’s instructions as being old-fashioned or oppressive, let’s consider some context.

Paul’s direction here is for women who affirm that they worship God, and as such, this passage falls under the theme of the previous context.  Paul began this section with instructions for all believers.  He stressed the importance of living a quiet and tranquil life, one displaying godliness and dignity in such a way that our lives become a “walking witness” for the God we have a direct relationship with. 

Paul moves from how women who worship God present themselves publicly and then immediately moves to how she can be learning.  That may seem like an unusual transition, given the culture of the time.  There were not a lot of education options for women in the ancient world, as all of the formal teachings and instructions went to men.  When he says that a woman should learn, we can observe that Paul is counter-culturally giving the women of the church an equal opportunity with the men of the church to be learners of God’s Word.

Now let’s look at the ‘how’ a woman should learn.  The Greek word for silence doesn’t mean “not talking”; instead, it refers to someone with a stable quietness who doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others or act in an unruly manner.  Additionally, the Greek word translated as submission means to “rank under”.  Just like in military settings, rank has to do with order and authority, not personal superiority or inferiority.  In fact, the teaching style of the day held an expectation that a pupil would do all their learning with both of these two characteristics – silence and submission.  As such, Paul isn’t suppressing women here – instead, he is holding them to the same expectations as the male learners.

Understanding Paul’s word choice also helps us interpret why he says I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man.  The verbs teach and have authority are both in the present tense, which implies a continuing ministry rather than a single instance of ministry.  Additionally, the word for have authority over is unique in comparison to the typical Greek word chosen to describe someone in a higher ranking position.  Instead, Paul is describing a woman who acts without accountability, who domineers as an absolute master within the church family.  By recognizing that the context immediately after this passage gives specific qualifications for church overseers and deacons, we begin to see that Paul’s prohibition here specifically addresses only the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church.

While the current cultural and educational settings would have been familiar to the Ephesian church, Paul doesn’t appeal to those cultural norms to justify his instruction.  Instead, he looks back to God’s initial creation: 

1 Timothy 2:13
For Adam was created first, then Eve. 

We’ll get deeper into Paul’s reasoning for referencing back to God’s initial design for the family in the next post.  And in the text that follows, we’ll observe that Paul gives specific criteria for the men who want to be in the overseer or deacon roles.  We’ll see that God’s standard for those roles is quite lofty, and that they carry the risk of significant punishment for those who mishandle the position.

For now, though, because we took the time to examine the text, can see that Paul’s direction isn’t some off-the-cuff, all-women-are-slaves-to-all-men kind of idea.  Paul is addressing a specific leadership situation within the church family.  His directions are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family. 

Instead, we’ve discovered how this passage fits into the theme of this section in Paul’s letter to Timothy.  Proper dress, a right attitude, and orderly church-family leadership are all ways that Paul directs women to flesh out their part of all believers’ responsibility to lead a tranquil and quiet life, with both godliness and dignity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

My first assignment

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

That was my mental reaction to my first teaching assignment from my mentor, Joe.

Our mentor-protégé relationship began when he was teaching a Sunday School class and had asked if anyone was interested in team-teaching with him.  I was eager to teach, but I knew that I had to learn how to better handle the Scriptures if I was going to take on the responsibility of teaching God’s Word to others.  Joe pointed me toward Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book and, with his guidance, I began to learn how to Observe, Interpret, and then Apply the Bible.

I figured that my first teaching lesson would cover one of the passages I had just learned from…instead, Joe said that my first teaching experience would come from teaching the class how to study the Bible, like I had just learned.  I was instantly nervous and gave Joe a weak “You sure about this?”.  But he assured me that this was the best topic for me to start with.

I profusely prayed over every lesson.  I did my best to communicate the three steps, as well as provide good examples and practice exercises – some lessons went well; others didn’t feel like they went anywhere.  To anyone who was in those first classes of mine, I say thank you for your patience!  That experience was a huge step for me and my growth – both in my relationship with God, as well as in learning how to organize and teach.  It certainly helped to have my mentor’s example, his directions, and his confidence in me.

Reading through the gospels, we find that Jesus did something similar with his protégés:

Matthew 9:35-10:1
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.  The He said to His disciples,

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

When Jesus told them to pray that the Father would send out workers to reach the people of Israel, I’m sure they agreed that would be a good thing to do…but then Jesus turns around and tells them that it is time for them to go out and participate in the harvest, by doing what they had only previously watched Jesus do!  Imagine everything that must have been going through their minds – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, tension?  Trust me, it was all those and then some.

Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.  You have received free of charge; give free of charge.”

Notice how Jesus gave them parameters and direction for their first assignment.  They weren’t supposed to go outside of Israel.  They had a very specific message to proclaim.  They were also given authority to do what Jesus did – heal, raise the dead, cleanse, and drive out demons – and they were not to charge the people for these acts, just as Jesus hadn’t charged anyone.

The disciples would eventually be ready for the larger assignment of the Great Commission, where they were instructed to go make disciples of people from all nations.  They were not ready for that yet, though.  The disciples were still going to do what they had seen Jesus do, but their first assignment was on a much smaller scale.

As a mentor, we need to give our protégé assignments that will begin to stretch them now and incrementally prepare them for later.  On the flip side, when our mentor gives us an assignment that seems like a very large leap, we need to trust them. 

Looking back, it was that first assignment that propelled me closer to God and sharpened my teaching ability.  Joe was making sure that I was not going to be just another teacher who can only feed people The Word, but he wanted me to be able to show others how to feed themselves.  Following through on that first assignment, despite how rough it may have been on me and/or the class, has paid many dividends over the years since.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Learning how to listen for God

Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians who want to “hear from the Lord.”  We desire God’s guidance for our lives, but we tend to be rather unfocused in how we go about finding it.  We know that listening for God’s guidance is something that we need to learn and practice, but what we fail to realize is that means we’re going to need someone to teach us how.

We see an example of this at the beginning of Samuel’s career as God’s prophet:

1 Samuel 3:1-11
The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence.  In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.  One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room.  Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.”  He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call,” Eli replied.  “Go and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied.  “Go and lie down.”

Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel.  He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy.  He told Samuel, “Go and lie down.  If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”  Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder…”

Then the Lord went on to give Samuel his first prophetic insight into God’s plans for the nation of Israel.

Notice how Samuel had to be taught how to respond to God’s voice.  Even though Samuel had been serving the Lord under Eli’s guidance, recognizing the word of the Lord wasn’t a skill Samuel just naturally had.  He had to be taught how to listen and how to respond to God’s call.

We’re like that, too.  We believe Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we accept His offer of eternal life, so we’re in His family.  We may even be serving – and serving well – within our local church congregation.

But if God called out to us right now, would we know that it’s Him talking?

For our current stage of human history, God doesn’t talk through prophets like He did in Samuel’s time.  Instead, we have the recorded words of Jesus and those who interacted directly with Him.  Perhaps the same question needs to be put into our modern context:

Do we know the Bible well enough to recognize God’s voice and direction?

When Joe began to mentor me, the very first thing he taught me was how to read and understand Scripture.  Learning how to properly observe, interpret, and apply Scripture was the major catalyst for growth in my relationship with God.  As I studied the Bible, I learned to recognize how God works and what He expects from His children.  I began to know Him better as He revealed Himself to me through the pages of the Bible.

Interacting with God’s word isn’t a one-and-done type of thing, either.  We don’t learn to handle the Scriptures and then consider it checked off our list of “ways to grow”.  We need to continually go back to where God has revealed Himself to us, because that is where our relationship with Him is found. 

Samuel had the same kind of experience:

1 Samuel 3:19-21
Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false.  All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.

I love that last sentence, where God revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.  We have the same opportunity, to have God reveal Himself to us if we take the time to learn how to handle Scripture.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Rooted and growing

I love word pictures.

Similes and metaphors have the incredible ability to communicate broad concepts in simple images.  We come across one of the most famous Biblical examples when we read about the psalmist’s desire for God:

Psalm 42:1
As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God.

The imagery is so strong that I honestly think he could have stopped the psalm right there.  We clearly understand the level of desire he is trying to communicate.  Later on, the psalmist also uses a metaphor to demonstrate how much he relies on God:

Psalm 42:9
I will say to God, my rock…

This comparison grabs our attention as well.  By referring to God as “my rock”, all the associated ideas of strength, stability, and reliability are understood.

This is why we need to pay attention to any word pictures that we come across when reading Scripture.  When we pause to consider what the imagery represents, we will get a fuller understanding of what the author is trying to communicate – and better understanding always leads to better application.

As Paul was encouraging the believers in Colossae to develop and mature in their relationship with God, he used two powerful metaphors.  The first one equated our relationship with Jesus to our walk, which carries the idea of us traveling together with Christ.  Take a look at these verses and find the second word picture.  It gives us the characteristics of how our walk should go.

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Just in case the Colossian believers were wondering what their walk in Him should look like, Paul jumps to an agricultural metaphor to explain.  Clear images come to mind when he says that the path of our lives should be rooted and built up in Him.  This word picture makes it easy for us to take the concept of a tree driving roots deep into the ground for both stability and nutrients and associate it with the need for us to drive our own spiritual roots deep into Christ.

From the moment life bursts forth from an acorn, we have an oak tree.  It is weak and susceptible to damage from a variety of sources – weather, disease, other creatures, etc.  Its only hope of protecting itself is to establish roots.  Strong roots make a strong tree.  Weak roots make a weak tree.  As the oak tree’s roots find good soil and water, the tree can be built up and develop.

This metaphor is easily applicable to our lives.  From the moment we receive Jesus, we are a Christian.  But we are also weak and susceptible to damage from a variety of sources – life’s circumstances, poor teachings, other people, etc.  Our only hope of protecting ourselves is to establish roots.  As we are rooted and built up in Him, we can grow, develop, and be established in what we believe.

Pausing to consider this metaphor also gives us a chance to ask the question:

Am I making sure I’m rooted in Jesus?  What steps am I actively taking so I can walk in Him, and walk with Him?

Think about this today.  This word picture, and its implications, are worth meditating over.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Saved from what?

As modern-day believers, we have a habit of over-spiritualizing everything we read in the Bible.  We tend to read our understanding of words and phrases from one section of the Bible into all other sections.  Instead, we need to remember that the meaning of a word or phrase is always understood based upon the context that word is used in. 

Take, for example, the word run:
I run for public office.
I run marathons.
Allergies make my nose run.

Same word – three totally different meanings.  However, what I am communicating to you in each sentence is clear, based upon the context of the surrounding words.

When we read the Bible, what is the word that we most typically ignore the context of and mis-read the author’s meaning?

It’s the word salvation or save.

In both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, the word for save simply means to be rescued or delivered.  What we typically assume is the New Testament concept of Jesus rescuing us from the consequences of our sin and giving eternal life to those who believe in Him for it.  And that is a proper use of the word save – as long as that idea is the author’s topic.  Other things that Biblical authors need saved from include: enemies, danger, circumstances, physical death, illness, captivity, and several others. 

So whenever we come across the word salvation or save, we need to stop and ask the question “Saved from what?”.

When David writes Psalm 57, he’s not asking God to rescue him for eternal life…even though it would be tempting for us to read that into the text:

Psalm 57:1-3
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.

I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills His purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me.

God sends His faithful love and truth.

So how do we know that David isn’t talking about (or even alluding to) eternal salvation when he says that God reaches down from heaven and saves me, challenging the one who tramples me?

By looking at the context.

While the numbering system used for the Psalms isn’t original to the text, there are sometimes instructions or notes about the psalm left by the author.  The instructions can vary from what kind of instrument or tune is needed for the psalm, who wrote the psalm, or even give detail as to when the psalm was written.

In the case of Psalm 57, the notes tell us the circumstances which influenced David to write. 

For the choir director: “Do Not Destroy.”  A Davidic Miktam.  When he fled before Saul into the cave.

David was hunted by Saul for four years.  Saul resented that God had chosen David to succeed him as king, and Saul rationalized that if he killed David, then he could continue being King of Israel.  There were many tense occasions during those four years, several times where it looked like Saul had David trapped. 

Psalm 57 was born out of one of those times.  David was in trouble.  Like the text says, Saul was trampling David.  The grace, refuge, and salvation that David was petitioning God for was his physical rescue from Saul.  Based upon the Biblical account of those years, and that David did eventually become King of Israel…we know God’s answer to David’s prayer in Psalm 57.

We don’t have to find inspiration by reading eternal salvation from sins into the text…because a plain reading of what the text is actually talking about is plenty encouraging – from David’s example, we see how God cares enough about our current physical situations to protect us and to fulfill His purpose for us.

God keeps His promises.  He’s willing and able to protect us in this life, even in the times we feel completely trapped.  That great truth is there for us to see, as long as we read the text for what it says and resist the urge to read something else into it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken