“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.”
Psalm 34:15 (NIV)
The 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, in which the first Duke of Wellington led an allied army to victory over the forces of Napoleon in 1815, was commemorated in various events across Europe in June this year. Charles Moore commentating on the victor’s character wrote, “The first thing to know in life, said Wellington, is to see what one does understand and what one does not. He lived by this principle. It explained his love of exactness, his sense of the waste of war caused by not understanding enough.” (1) During previous campaigns Wellington would go hunting, often several times a week, to understand the lie of the land on which future battles could be fought. Apparently he had also toured the whole Waterloo area the previous year (1814) and observed that, if he were ever to fight for the defence of Brussels, he would do so at Waterloo because the landscape was such that the Allied front line could be formed atop a gentle ridge, giving it a tactical advantage.
Unfortunately some theological battles have been fought without taking due account of the Biblical landscape. The Old Testament now needs to be interpreted in the light of the New; the written word, scripture, interpreted in the light of the living word, Jesus Christ.
The gospels record the spoken word of Jesus. Like all good speakers he used the tools of speaking to emphasise his points. These included overstatement (“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters– yes, even their own life– such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26) and what is termed hyperbole or exaggeration. (“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away…” Matthew 5:29) Jesus used these techniques to highlight the radical nature of his teachings.
In addition, the epistles shed light on the events and teaching of the Gospels so that we understand them more fully. The Bible contains many literary genres such as law, history, narrative, poetry, gospel, epistles, prophecy and apocalyptic literature. Sometimes the authors of the books were inspired to write passages that were intended to be taken literally; at other times the scriptures were written in figurative language. Numerous types of figurative, i.e., non-literal, expressions exist (2), such as the metaphor, simile, parable, anthropomorphism (as in the header scripture) and personification (“the mountains leaped like rams, the hills like lambs” Psalm 114:4)
Inspired by the Holy Spirit students of the Bible need to understand the Biblical landscape, to carefully read and study the Bible, becoming familiar with the way it uses language, to be aware of the figurative devices used and interpret them accordingly.
Father, we thank you for your inspired word, the Bible. Help us to understand your truth and grow in grace and knowledge.
Study by Eddie Marsh
- What made Wellington a winner at Waterloo; Daily Telegraph Monday 15th June 2015
- gci.org/bible/literal Literal and Figurative: How to understand the language of the Bible. GCI literature
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