The Bible is a manual of the spiritual life. It is the most important and instructive such manual, but many people fail to see this. Instead, they see only a book of old documents about a little nation which lived in the middle east many centuries ago.
It is indeed such a book.
But it is also much more: it is a practical guide to living out the Christian life by the grace and power of God as the Holy Spirit operates in our lives. That Holy Spirit is given to those who accept the Gospel message about Jesus Christ and then submit themselves to the apostle Peter’s instruction on the day of Pentecost:
REPENT AND BE BAPTISED
Without receiving the message of God’s forgiveness because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and without then obeying the instruction to repent and be baptised, a person will not truly appreciate the vital importance of the Bible as a spiritual manual. They will not understand that it is indeed “the word of God” and that it does indeed contain the critical teaching we need to live this new life. A teaching which conflicts with the selfish concerns and values of a world in rebellion against God its Creator.
People get distracted along the way of course. They get distracted by religion, by ecclesiastical structures, by pressure from unbelievers, by a sense of self preservation. But all these pressures must be resisted and overcome. They must be faced down in order to live as Christ commands us,
- LOVE GOD
- LOVE OTHERS
It is that simple – and it is that difficult.
The teaching about this is explicit in the New Testament. Explicit about living by the power of the Holy Spirit; about living in the new life we know we possess once we have believed the Gospel message and once we have then been baptised by full immersion in water; about continuing to let go of selfishness and live instead by God’s love and grace until we pass on from this mortal life and go beyond.
That teaching is implicit in the Old Testament record where we find all sorts of intimations.
Some OT teaching is indeed explicit: the Psalms, for example, are written largely by King David and express his personal experience of living out the life of God in the context of the struggles and trials he faced – including the struggle with his own evil heart. Christian believers who know the reality of God in their own lives readily identify with King David’s experiences and know God’s reassurance when reading the Psalms.
Much OT teaching however constitutes parallels, types and metaphors. Such are not to be taken literally by the Christian adherent of the New Testament.
For example, Christians do not go through the rituals of the OT temple worship, nor do they have such a place of worship. The apostle Paul explains why in the book of Hebrews. The OT pattern is a physical representation of a far greater spiritual reality.
As is the history of warfare conducted by the nation of Israel in the OT record against the nations who already inhabited the land which God told them to take over.
The Jews were literally called to invade the area often called Palestine; to destroy and expel the inhabitants and their evil religious practices – which included child sacrifice. Instead they were to occupy and live in that land, consciously living according to a different religion based on the law given to Moses by God. They were to live according to this Law and so to reject and remove all traces of the evil religions of the peoples they were to displace.
The apostle Paul is again explicit about the way to interpret the OT when he discusses the two types of Testament, the Old and the New in his letter to the Galatians. In chapter 4, verses 22 to 21 we read Paul’s interpretation of the biographical, historical record of the lives of Sarah and Hagar her servant [recorded originally in Genesis chapter 16]. Paul is explicit in calling the historical story of these two woman an allegory about the two Testaments – the Old and the New which came centuries later.
And this is how we must view the historical record of warfare and conflict recorded in books of the OT such as Judges. Christians can never be called to live their lives in armed conflict with anyone. Instead they are to follow Christ’s example of self sacrifice. How then do we explain the meaning of conflict in the OT ?
In Judges we read of the physical fortunes of God’s chosen people as they go through the cycles of victory over, and defeat by, the indigineous peoples of the land they are called to occupy. When they live in obedience to God’s law as given them by Moses, all is well. They are victorious. But when they live in disobedience, practising instead the religions of their enemies, then they suffer defeat at the hands of the people they were called to eradicate.
But every so often, God appoints a leader who causes them to be delivered from their enemies [such leaders are called Judges] and they live again for a time free from subjection to their enemies.
All this is an allegory of the New Testament believer’s spiritual life. As Christians live in obedience to the teaching of Jesus Christ, they will know victory over the power of sin and selfishness in their own hearts and minds. They will have God’s peace and God’s help to maintain a holy life.
But when a Christian starts disobeying Christ’s teaching; when a believer starts to obey the sinful promptings in their own heart and mind, then they become subject to worse influences, and start to behave as the world about them and become ensnared its godless ideas and ways.
In that situation, they need to wake up and realise what is happening; they need to stop behaving in that way – to put that thinking and behaviour to death – and they need to start living again according to Christ’s teaching in the New Testament. They need to wage war against the spiritual enemy of self in their own heart; defeat it utterly and mercilessly; in order to live again as Christ demands.
We note that in the book of Judges God would intervene from time to time to raise up deliverers among the judges who led the Israelites. God would cause a leader to give the lead and start putting right what had gone wrong. This would inevitably mean a clash with the enemies who had gained the upper hand over the Israelites.
Deborah, Gideon and Samson are the most famous of these ‘judges’ who rise up at God’s prompting to lead the Israelites to obey God and overthrow the rule of the peoples who worship other gods.
They can be seen as ‘types’ of Christ: historical figures who prefigure the spiritual manifestation of Jesus Christ.
They also represent the need for leaders to take a stand against the anti God powers of the day and assert the teaching of Christ in the face of the self centred and deceitful values and standards of a world which denies Jesus Christ and which prefers to live in rebellion against God.
Such is the manner in which we must understand – or interpret– such books as Judges in the Old Testament.
We must never interpret OT scriptures in a way which conflicts or denies the plain teaching of Jesus Christ and his apostles and Evangelists in the New Testament.
Such erroneous interpretations make a mockery of the true faith and have led historically to terrible denials of the teaching of Christ in what men have done to other human beings. Literal interpretations of allegorical stories have terrible results not just in nations where historically Christianity held sway, but in countries where other religions are dominant.
Literalist and fundamentalist interpretations need to be viewed with great caution and with the use of clear reason.
We must always keep in mind that the message of the Bible is Jesus Christ and the requirement of God to obey his teaching for ourselves.
See also the Page titled “Christianity” on the menu bar of this website.