Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Knowledge of the culture to which the Bible was written is an important part of correct biblical interpretation. The Bible was written to a particular people in a particular time. It is important to ask the question "how would someone living in the time that the scripture was written interpret it?" I often make the case that this is how scripture should be interpreted today. The applications are different, but the meaning hasn't changed.

My pastor wrote a great article that helps illustrate this point.

Here is a great Old Testament story. Jael, a woman of ancient Israel who lived in the time of the Judges encountered a military officer of an oppressive foreign power. He appears at her tent exhausted from battle and the effort to survive the conflict of the day. Jael invited him in to eat, drink, and rest-an act of surprising kindness. The officer fell asleep and while dozing, Jael took a hammer and drove a tent peg through his temple killing him.

One might well ask, “What’s so great about that?” It is a gruesome story to say the least. My answer would be that gruesomeness aside; it is a story of a patriotic Israeli woman who seizes the opportunity to strike a blow for her struggling people. She is a hero of the Hebrew people.

However, I have also reviewed an excellent work by Isaac Kikawada and Arthur Quinn entitled, Before Abraham Was. In this work, the authors suggest that often the stories of Scripture may contain messages other than the obvious ones. From our historical distance, we may miss the point entirely. They remind us that the original audience of this story would have probably read the details with a different perspective than ours. The ancients would have understood that when Jael invited this person into her domicile, fed, and rested him, she put into place a basic covenant relationship that called for the participants to be at truce for three days. Jael broke this truce by taking up the tent peg. To violate the covenant was highly inappropriate. Jael turned the act of hospitable kindness into an opportunity to kill an adversary.

Far from being a hero, Jael was a graphic illustration for the writer of Judges of how far Israel was away from what they were called to be. Remember this is the very time when the writer could say of Israel that “There was no prophet in Israel and every one did what ever they saw fit.” If Kikawada and Quinn are correct, it is a compelling reminder to us that our behavior should be subservient to the higher calling of Christ. We should never be guilty of (figuratively) killing someone and calling it godliness. We are called to pray for those who are our enemies, not look for a tent peg.

1 Comment:

  1. Ava Semerau said...
    Great post. Context is something I really learned - and took to heart - while living in the Middle East. It was incredible how many times my surroundings came to mind while reading the Bible. For me, context really grounds the wisdom.

    I'd like to invite you to participate in a blog tour I'm putting on in October. Here's some info on it if you're interested.

    Thanks again for a great post.

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