Last night, while scrolling through my personal Facebook feed, I came across a Scripture verse, quoted in isolation, and the person’s subsequent interpretation of God’s loving care for her. People affirmed her understanding of that verse, gushing over how beautifully the Lord had spoken to her.Indeed, the imagery was beautiful!
Furthermore, her basic idea of God’s protection lined up with thousands of other Scriptures about God’s loving protection of Israel, and (by extension) of Christians. (Even then, some promises apply exclusively to Israel, and we should be very careful not to claim them for ourselves.) My friend’s overall conclusion that God shelters her has Scriptural merit, and I praise God that she looks to Him for security.
But the verse she used wasn’t a promise to Israel. It was a threat of judgment against Moab.
28 “Leave the cities, and dwell in the rock,
O inhabitants of Moab!
Be like the dove that nests
in the sides of the mouth of a gorge.
29 We have heard of the pride of Moab—
he is very proud—
of his loftiness, his pride, and his arrogance,
and the haughtiness of his heart.
30 I know his insolence, declares the Lord;
his boasts are false,
his deeds are false.
31 Therefore I wail for Moab;
I cry out for all Moab;
for the men of Kir-hareseth I mourn.
32 More than for Jazer I weep for you,
O vine of Sibmah!
Your branches passed over the sea,
reached to the Sea of Jazer;
on your summer fruits and your grapes
the destroyer has fallen.
33 Gladness and joy have been taken away
from the fruitful land of Moab;
I have made the wine cease from the winepresses;
no one treads them with shouts of joy;
the shouting is not the shout of joy. ~~Jeremiah 48:28-33 (ESV)
Taken by itself, verse 28 certainly does appear to draw a gentle picture of God gatherings doves to Himself, hiding them in the cleft of a rock like He hid Moses. But a cardinal rule in Scriptural interpretation is that we don’t take anything out of context and then assume that God has spoken personally to us, saying something completely opposite to the original meaning of that verse. That practice ignores God’s original intent, thereby making His holy Word subject to our desires and impulses.
To be fair, let me admit that for many years I also took verses in isolation, assigning them meanings that they really didn’t have. Since I’d majored in English Literature in college, I knew better, of course. My professors had taught me to disregard my subjective interpretation of a poem, essay or novel in deference to the author’s original intent. In other words, I couldn’t analyze a poem based on my emotional response to it; I had to respect the author enough to determine what he or she actually wanted to convey.
If authors who are long dead and have no way of knowing how anybody interprets their work deserve respect, how much more should the living God demand that we handle His Word with reverence. Isn’t that why the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write the following?
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. ~~2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
God certainly speaks to us through the Bible, but He commands us to understand His Word properly, and in context. Far too many people have developed false doctrines by dislocating verses from their context and then believing that God had given them personalized revelations through those verses. We must resist the temptation to twist God’s Word to force it to say something other than what it says.