Instead of a list of rules that are hard to tie to actual verses and even more to life application, this lesson takes the popular verse of Jeremiah 29: 11 that says, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” and uses it as an example of how people often incorrectly interpret this verse and then get mad at God if He doesn’t do what they expect.
It then goes on to show how by correctly applying Hermeneutic principles to interpret this verse, ultimately this passage can give us great hope in all situations.
Below are links to the podcast and video of the lesson.
Most people believe the Bible is an important book but isn’t it hard to understand?
• What does it mean—the stories, the prophecies, what is it all about?
• How is the average person to decipher it?
• Answers to these questions and more are in our lesson today entitled…..
The Bible didn’t say that!
A brief introduction to Hermeneutics and why it’s important
Yvon Prehn, Teacher
Lots of people read the Bible or at least jump around and pull phrases out of it
• But is that how we are supposed to read it?
• How do we interpret the passages that don’t seem to make sense or that seem to contradict each other?
• What if I read a promise in the Bible and God doesn’t do what He said He would?
• These are just a few of the questions people have when they read the Bible and because of that, the entire field of Biblical Study called “Hermeneutics” was developed.
• Other than a seminary class that sounds hard, what is Biblical Hermeneutics all about?
What is hermeneutics?
· To paraphrase a definition by Bernard Ramm (my seminary professor in Hermeneutics):
· “Hermeneutics is the science and art of Biblical interpretation. . . .It’s a science because it is guided by rules within a system and an art because the rules must be skillfully (and prayerfully) applied. . . . .
· It gets its name from Hermes, the Greek God who was the messenger of the gods and was also the god of eloquence, speech, writing, and art.”
It is also the path we take from reading to application
· And that path can be comfortably simple or it can be crazy complex.
· Many articles and books online and certainly most Bible schools and seminary courses go the crazy complex route.
· With deep discussions of systems and details of word studies.
· They can be fascinating, but they can also distract and pull us away from the purpose of scripture.
Which we are reminded of in
2 Timothy 3:16-17
• KJV: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
• NIV: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
• NLT: All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
• If we don’t get to the practical application of it in learning or action, the Word has no meaning to us.
• Hermeneutics must help us apply the Word, or it is a useless mental exercise.
How does Hermeneutics help us get to the right application?
• If we don’t properly understand a passage. . . . .
• We can make all sorts of incorrect inferences that God will do all sorts of things He never in fact promised to do and then get angry at God when He doesn’t do them.
• For example, a key one often misunderstood today is Jer. 29:11
• For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
• Without a proper understanding of this passage, people take it as an unconditional promise that God will:
Wrong ideas about
• #1 Prosper you—that God promises to prosper you and most often prosper to us means money prosper or in general give you whatever you want.
• #2 Not to harm—that means God won’t let anything bad happen to you.
• And then people often compound incorrect assumptions by statements like this when they assume it is an unconditional promise by saying, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
• The question we must ask, is “Did God really promise that he would prosper you financially and nothing bad will happen to you?”
• And if the passage isn’t about that, what is it about?
What hermeneutics shows us what it is really about
· Just these two items (and so much more)
· #1 “prosper” –when you look at the Hebrew word, not at all about prospering economically, no matter what
· It is the Hebrew word “shalom” – literally God will pour out His all-encompassing peace over you
· #2 the term means “bad, evil” not that difficult things won’t happen, this is a little more complex and we need the historical setting to understand it.
· This was a letter to the Babylonian exiles (just a few verses up in the context it says that) and they would return to Israel. It would be far from easy, (as subsequent history proved true) but God’s shalom would be with them through it all.
Let’s look at the context of the verse to better understand Jer. 29:11
· A Letter to the Exiles
· Jeremiah 29 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:
· 4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
· 10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Daniel and his 3 friends were some of the people this letter was addressed to
• They were among the first taken to Babylon.
• They followed the advice of the letter in working for the welfare of Babylon, actually all four became respected government officials.
• It was not without challenges—3 of them were thrown into a fiery furnace for not worshipping the pagan king, though God delivered them out of it.
• When Daniel was a very old man, he was thrown into the lion’s den for praying to God, and again God delivered them.
• Ezekiel was also a captive in Babylon and would have been a recipient of this letter and we know his prophecy is filled with hope one of the most memorable being where a valley filled with dry bones comes to life again.
• God was with these individuals we know about and many more in all their trials in exile, pouring out His shalom to them all.
• And ultimately, God brought the exiles safely home, back to Israel.
What practical hermeneutical (proper interpretation) lessons did we learn from this brief example?
• Lesson #1 Importance of Context
• Context of surrounding verses—at a minimum the chapter, better yet the book, and best where it fits in the Bible overall.
• Context of History—what is going on at that time and where does the history surrounding the passage fit into the overall history of the Bible.
• Context of authorship—who wrote the passage? The passage refers to false prophets, but this message was from Jeremiah, God’s prophet.
• The Bible quotes and tells the stories of and quotes many people who are evil and wrong. If you don’t have the context of the passage and history correct, you might not recognize the source of an unreliable quote.
Lesson #2 : Importance of the words themselves
• We can’t assume that words mean the same to us that they meant to the Biblical writers.
• We don’t need to obsess about this, but also, don’t pin a major application on just one word in one translation, e.g. the word “prosper”
• As we saw, today that means to many people economic prosperity, but when we look at the Hebrew word itself, “shalom” we see it means PEACE.
• What should we do to not make mistakes in understanding the words of a passage.
For further study
• Read the passage in a variety of translations—see how the key words are translated. Two great resources for this are the YouVersion Bible app at www.Bible.com and the www.biblegateway.com
• Use a tool like Strong’s Concordance to find the word in Greek or Hebrew and look up the meaning in it.
• For more depth in your study, I highly recommend….
• A great tool—the www.BlueLetterBible.org that gives you not only the Greek or Hebrew word but much more to help you understand both the word in context and how it is used in other parts of scripture.
One more Hermeneutics tool: Principlizing—this will encourage you
• This answers the discouraging thought that I can’t trust any of the promises of God in the Bible if I have to know all this background stuff first.
• “Principlizing is an attempt to discover in a narrative the spiritual, moral, and/or theological principles that have relevance for the contemporary believer.” Henry A. Virkler, Hermeneutics
• In other words, what do we know about God and how He treats us, from other passages in the Bible and based on that, what can we apply from that background to the current passage we are studying?
• More than anything, Hermeneutics, when done properly helps us see the overall grand story of the Bible, helps us know our God better, and walk more closely with Him.
Back to Jer. 29:11 and how it can apply to us
• When we come to a passage like that or any other, the most important lesson we have in Hermeneutics, from how to properly interpret the Bible is to remember how God acts in other situations, throughout Biblical History.
• God is consistent in His character, His expectations, His love, and care for us.
• So, when we read a verse and want to know how and if we can apply it to our current situation, we look back at what we know about Him and His actions in previous situations.
• With that in mind, Jer.29:11 becomes a passage that assures us that God is with us no matter how horrible our situation. He wants us to make the best of it, to trust Him in it and to know He will “shalom” us by pouring out His peace and wholeness on us no matter what circumstances we are in.
• And ultimately, He will bring us safely home.
For more, go to www.Bible805.com
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