My current research obsession is the parallels of Israel to the entire history of the Church specifically and symbology/typology in general.
Israel’s significance to understanding Jesus Christ and the Church is very difficult to overstate. Israel bears the marks and patterns of how God is planning to raise up a people to himself to eventually reclaim the rest of the nations that were lost and scattered at the fall.
Patterns are the language of the scriptures. From the very beginning, God laid down symbols and metaphors that would stir the minds of men and show them how God acted. In Genesis, God says he made the stars for “signs and seasons.” Every person of the ancient world saw the stars in the night sky relatively unhindered from the light pollution of modern cities, and they studied them because Netflix didn’t exist then. Many knew the movements of the stars and the patterns thereof and even made mythologies around them, like an ancient form of a movie everyone re-tells again and again.
God speaks through the patterns in his word – and this is a monumentally significant fact, because the Bible was written by many different individuals over a very long span of time, yet it has an unreal number of patterns and symbols that repeat at nearly every level of interpretation, not unlike how systems such as our solar system circle large heavenly bodies, planets circle the sun, moons circle their planets, and even down to the smallest level of matter, electrons are somewhere within a certain proximity of the nucleus, although not necessarily a specific circular or elliptical orbit. There is a layered, onion-like way in which things from the tiniest and largest levels have analogy at other levels. God did this deliberately.
With this in mind, it’s silly to only view the bible through a plain-sense lens. Jesus himself did not interpret the Old Testament this way. Some denominations have ignored or badly neglected teaching anything beyond the plain sense of the scripture which eventually leads to an erosion of that plain sense, as it was never intended to be a dead book read only skin deep. This “plain sense” approach is like attempting to make a circle out of a sphere. When we remove a dimension, we change the nature of an object depending on what we have excised. So many denominations are dealing with only their particular “slice” of the plain sense they’ve chosen to read. And certainly the gospels and Paul’s writings show many examples of going beyond the plain sense of what was written in the Old Testament:
Hos 11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
Mat 2:14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt
Mat 2:15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
In this example, the plain sense of Hosea 11:1 demands that it be interpreted as applying to Israel, and if we take that approach dogmatically, it is the only thing we will see. But the writer of the gospel has clearly applied that directly to Jesus, and for good reason. The similarities in the life of Jesus and Israel are many. I do not diminish valid rules of hermeneutics as being simply good rules when thinking reasonably about a text, but there are times that the prophetic level of the scripture takes precedence over those kinds of rules, as is the case above. There are a number of examples of this type in the Gospels (Isa 8:16-22, Mat 4:12-16), Acts (Amos 9:11, Acts 15:15-18), and in Paul’s own writings. Jesus interpreted a sabbath day reading (Isaiah 61:1-2) while stopping in the middle of a sentence and telling those around him that it was fulfilled in their hearing.
The other kind of error on this spectrum is going too far with interpretive license, where we reject things that are clear from the plain sense of the scripture in favor of spiritualized meanings we have invented, or we fill in perceived gaps with our own explanations or shade plain meaning with our own biases. Nearly all sentences and words have a range of possible meanings, so debate here is expected and needed, and everyone has been wrong at times.
At its core, the scripture was never meant to be interpreted only as a book of doctrines or simple statements of principle. There are many other non Christian written works which are just as nuanced, interesting, and valuable for life as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs is mostly a book of principles or statements of wisdom, but even it has a strong prophetic level.
The bible is a prophetic book at its core. Its intention is far grander than simply a “love letter from God.” This creates difficulties and scares folks who are looking for something that grants security – such considering it a book that says plain, happy things, like “Jesus loves me,” and not quite difficult or harsh things like “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues.” God promises us eternal security and a place prepared for us, but not physical and emotional safety. Others still consider it a tool to beat others with or to prop up our own pride in how nice we are. These people might support government policies or initiatives which essentially outsource the work of authentic love to a system which will always mislead and often fail and crush people’s intrinsic humanity, rather than investing in others’ lives personally or through honest charities full of people who are committed to a particular cause. Many consider their work of charity fulfilled in being political activists. What we do on a daily basis with and for the people around us is infinitely more important than our political stance based on what we already believed and a few articles we might have read – not real expertise of the subject matter.
Bringing a prophetic interpretation or exposition into certain churches would result in them losing many members, and creates a large amount of strife.
[Mat 10:34 ESV] 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
[Luk 12:51 ESV] 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
This presents a difficulty for those who really wish to follow where God’s words lead.
[Luk 14:31-33 ESV] 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
It is well worth the trouble to declare war and to demand no quarter from evil.