Out of Context, Hmmm…

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: 2Chron 7-9; John 11:1-29

12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him: I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place as my house of sacrifice.13 When I close the sky so that there is no rain or I order the locusts to consume the land or I send a plague against my people, 14 if my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. 15 From now on my eyes will be open and my ears will pay attention to the prayers offered in this place, 16 because I have chosen this temple and declared it holy so that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. 17 As for you, if you will walk before me just as your father David did, doing all that I have commanded you and keeping my regulations and case laws, 18 then I will establish your royal throne, just as I promised your father David: You will never fail to have a successor ruling in Israel. 19 But if any of you ever turn away from and abandon the regulations and commands that I have given you, and go to serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will uproot you from my land that I gave you, and I will reject this temple that I made holy for my name. I will make it a joke, insulted by everyone. 21 Everyone who passes by this temple—so lofty now—will be shocked and will wonder, Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and temple? 22 The answer will come, Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt. They embraced other gods, worshipping and serving them. This is why God brought all this disaster on them. (2 Chronicles 7:12-22, Common English Bible)

“… if my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14, CEB).

I see the verse on bumper stickers. I see it on Facebook memes. It is quoted in many ways and in many places. Most every place I see it, it is taken out of context. All too often, we see these verses and as they stand, removed from the context of the passage, the other verses around them, they sound really good. They sound like God might have just written them for us. One particular Facebook meme had an American flag with, these words of 2 Chronicles 7, superimposed over the flag. The implication being, God intended these words specifically for the United States, 4000 years before the United States even existed. I am not saying God couldn’t do that if God so desired, but God did not intend this verse or even the whole passage for Americans. Can we learn from it, obviously, but this isn’t our passage.

God, in this passage, is speaking to Solomon. “If my people, [the Hebrews] who are called by name…” God goes on to remind Solomon of the covenant that God made with David, that there would always be a descendant on the throne. If they veered away, however, God would take back the land God promised them and God would destroy the temple. That is exactly what happened with the exile.

But, there is good news here as well. “…if you will walk before me just as your father David…” (2 Chronicles 7:17b, CEB) We know, from our study of 2 Samuel some of the things that David did that displeased God, Bathsheba and Uriah come quickly to mind. But again, I am hand-picking a verse of Scripture, making it say what I want it to say.

We all have a tendency to pull Scriptures out of passages and use them as justification for what we want the Bible to say. In theological circles, it is called eisegesis. “There he goes, using those high dollar seminary words again.” The word really isn’t just a seminary word. It simply means, taking a text (be it Biblical or something else) out of context to make it say what we want it to say.

A good example of this is, “If anyone doesn’t want to work, they shouldn’t eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b, CEB). I have heard this quote (not even a full verse) used to say we, as the Church should not feed the homeless and hungry. We have to remember, this verse, Paul wrote in the context of a letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. He was addressing Christian believers who would not work within the community for the common good. In the verses that surround the quote, Paul isn’t talking about the non-believers outside the Church but those who already were there. When we take the verse fragment out of context we also ignore Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, “…I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat (Matthew 25:42a, CEB) and “…I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me…” (Matthew 25:45b, CEB) Taken out of context, these verse fragments seem to contradict one another. But the 2 Thessalonians fragment, put into its context would not conflict with the passage at all.

I don’t mean to imply that our country doesn’t need prayer. It does. Nor do I mean we shouldn’t pray for our country and its leaders. We should. And, I also am not saying that if we remain faithful God will not bless us. That is my certain hope and if I am wrong, why would I have faith at all.

What I am saying here is, we need to be careful how we read and interpret Scripture. Is there anything bad and terrible a result when we take the 2 Chronicles fragment out of context? No, of course not. But, it is a slippery slope. Any time we take a verse out from what surrounds it, great care, on our part, is called for, that we remain faithful to the words of Scripture.

Have I ever taken Scripture out of context and twisted it to make it say what I wanted to say? I feel certain I have. I pray God will forgive me for my negligence. I also have within me, just as every other time I have failed God, God will forgive my lapse. While we should be careful, Eisegesis is not a deadly or unforgivable sin. Praise God for forgiveness.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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