Communication is seldom simple. I read of a pastor who said he was, “tickled to death” about something. A man from another culture heard his words and was deeply sorry for the pastor because he didn’t understand the idiom.
Americans use language like “hot chicks” and “cool dudes” that make little sense to others, but that isn’t the only problem. Words are said but not heard (mothers know all about that), or full sentences are uttered but only partly heard, often with unpleasant ramifications.
Sometimes public figures say things and their words are taken out of context. The media easily puts them in a bad light by misrepresenting them — using their own words.
Lately I’ve noticed how often the words of the Bible are misrepresented too, simply by doing the same thing. Verses are taken out of context and then used to support a theory or make an assumption.
I’ve been reading a passage in Daniel where this Old Testament prophet must know and interpret the king’s dream or he will die along with the other “wise” men of the court. Daniel prays. Daniel 2:19 says, “Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. So Daniel blessed the God of heaven.”
His prayer follows, but only part of it is used in the devotional guide that I’m using. That part says, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” (2:20-21)
The devotional asks several questions. Two of them are, “Who is Daniel talking to?” and, “Would you tell your king that he was only a servant to the only true King?”
When I read these questions I wondered how could it be assumed that Daniel was speaking to the king? Did the person who wrote them open the Bible, put a finger on these verses, and not read anything else in Daniel before writing the devotional entry?
Verse 19 says that Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Verses 20-23 record that blessing. They start in third person but Daniel’s words soon switch to second person. He says, “I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers; You have given me wisdom and might, And have now made known to me what we asked of You, For You have made known to us the king’s demand.”
Then verse 24 says, “Therefore Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: ‘Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; take me before the king, and I will tell the king the interpretation.’”
In the prior verses, Daniel was talking to God, and maybe his friends, but certainly not the king. He was verbally worshiping the One who had revealed the dream to him, declaring praise and expressing his faith. He was not challenging the king. He was not even in the presence of the king.
Does it matter? In the bigger picture, yes. Do this with the rest of Scripture and interpretation will be faulty throughout. In these verses it also matters. Be seeing Daniel’s words as praise and prayer, God has blessed my heart with applications recorded here over the past few days. For instance, his praise to God came before he went to the king with his interpretation. Daniel knew who was in charge and he didn’t run to the palace in a panic.
Not only that, Daniel’s words show his humility, but also his respect. By reading the rest of Daniel, I see that this godly man never once taunted any of the kings that held him captive. He knew who was the ultimate authority and didn’t put the spotlight on himself by mocking or belittling the men who thought they were in charge. That is also an example to me.
Lately God has been showing me much about interpreting His words. He uses figures of speech that are unfamiliar to our culture; I need to know that. He uses language that means more to the original readers than it does to me; I need to know that. I also cannot pull partial sentences or even parts of paragraphs out of context to support my own ideas. This is called proof-texting. Instead, I need to intently hear and understand all of what He has said about any given topic.
The Word of God is often twisted and misinterpreted, mostly for some sort of human gain or to support a personal theory or idea. I must not do that. I need to always interpret any passage or verse by considering all of what the Bible says, even if those truths convict and rebuke me, or challenge me to change. The important thing is that the Bible will always honor the One who inspired it — and I can honor Him by letting it speak to me.