There is an ancient principle in Judaism regarding the interpretation of scripture. It says that there are no idle words in scripture, and that there are no misplaced words. If God uses an unusual phrasing, adding extra words, it is because he wants us to learn a lesson from it. If God places a seemingly irrelevant verse next to another verse, it may be that there is a reason for it. Using that latter thought, I am going to toss out some questions. They do not necessarily have answers. It is just that the proximity of some verses has gotten me to musing, and my musings may sometimes turn into an article.
One chapter that fits this idea is Genesis 38. Genesis 37 ends with Joseph being sold into Egypt. Genesis 39 begins with Joseph arriving in Egypt. Between these two sentences the Bible tells the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar. Why is this story placed here? What does Judah’s failure to provide an heir to his line and Tamar’s subsequent apparent incest have to do with Joseph going to Egypt? This incident is important to the Judaic lineage, but why put it here? There are several possibilities. God knew that Israel would one day beIf we are vexed by the evil around us, maybe it is time for us to run. divided, essentially along the lines of Judah and Ephraim (a son of Joseph). Could he have been prefiguring that division by telling of Judah’s line in the middle of Joseph’s story? Another possibility is that he is contrasting the righteousness of Joseph with the unrighteousness of Judah. A third, though less likely possibility, is that it is merely chronological. This is less likely, because the story of Tamar actually crosses several years, possibly ending about the time that Judah and his brothers went to Egypt and learned that Joseph was still alive.
“And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.” (Gen 13:7) Why do these sentences come together? Is it possible that the Canaanites and Perizzites somehow were the instigators of the strife between Abraham’s and Lot’s herdsmen? Did these two nations move into the area at this time, thus reducing available grazing land, and in that way causing the strife?
“And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.” (Gen 13:14-15) Was there a reason that God waited until after Lot separated from Abraham until he established his covenant with Abraham? Was Lot his last tie to the idolatry of Ur? Did God have to wait until all family ties were finally broken? Does this teach us that following God may mean we have to break with family, sometimes?
“And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.) (2 Pet 2:7-8) If Lot was so vexed with the unlawful deeds of the people of Sodom, why did he stay? Perhaps the two different words translated vexed give an answer. In verse 7 the word means “exhausted with labor.” That would indicate that even Lot’s righteousness was being worn down by the evil behavior of his neighbors. The word in verse 8, though, refers to a testing. It comes from the use of a touchstone, a particular type of stone that leaves a distinctive mark on gold or silver. Was Lot intentionally exposing himself to sin to test his own righteousness, and in so doing he was tiring himself out? Did he believe God wanted him there so that he could be an example to these people and maybe save them thereby? If the former, then he was in danger of losing his righteousness. God will test our righteousness enough; we don’t have to help him along by exposing ourselves to temptation just to prove ourselves righteous. If the latter, it certainly was not working. Lot’s example had no effect on the people of Sodom. He barely got out with his immediate family. He couldn’t even influence his prospective sons-in-law. If we are being vexed, in either sense, by the evil around us, maybe it is time for us to do what Lot was forced to do—run away.
And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp. So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said. And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD hath kindled. But you are not to leave the entrance of the Tabernacle, under penalty of death, for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you." So they did as Moses commanded. Then the LORD said to Aaron, "You and your descendants must never drink wine or any other alcoholic drink before going into the Tabernacle. If you do, you will die. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be kept by all future generations. (Lev 10:1-9)
It is easy to see why God commanded Aaron and his remaining sons not to mourn the deaths of Nadab and Abihu. They were in the period of consecration as priests, and to leave the Tabernacle to mourn would require that they start the whole process over again. But why is the last commandment included at this point? All my life I have heard these two men reviled because they offered strange fire. What prompted them to do such a thing, and to do it while they were in the process of consecration? Is this an indication that Nadab and Abihu may have been drunk while performing their duties? This seems to indicate that it was not just their violation of the command, but maybe more importantly it was their attitude that resulted in their deaths. Serving the Lord was not so important that they would change their lives to do it.
Whether this can be used as a rule today for those attending an assembly of the church is questionable. We may not be able to say that one sins if he comes to the assembly after having taken a drink of alcohol. Nevertheless, we can say that God expects his people to put him first. We are not to let anything interfere with our ability to praise God and to obey him. For some people that may include not taking a drink. For others it may involve something else that may control their lives. Ultimately, God asks us to put him in the place of these things of this world that interfere with our life in him.
In Numbers 15 a man is stoned for violating the Sabbath. After that account God tells the Israelites to wear fringes on the corners of their garments to remind them of the requirements of the law. Immediately after that, in chapter 16, we read the account of Korah’s rebellion. What prompted the rebellion? The excuse they used was that “all the congregation are holy.” If everyone was to wear fringes, then everyone was in a special position before God, who dwelt among them. But this seems to be a mere excuse, a justification for rebellion. What was the root cause? Was it the stoning of the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath? Perhaps this man was a friend or relative or Korah or one of his cohorts. Perhaps Korah was opposed to capital punishment. Perhaps Korah just thought he should have been on the jury.
One thing that we can learn from this incident is that our motives are not always clear to us. Sometimes we justify ourselves with high-sounding reasons, when our real motives are considerably more base. Before we rebel against God, we need to examine ourselves to be sure that we know exactly why we are doing what we are doing. Only after doing so can we proceed with confidence that we are in the right.
The Christians in Acts 6 had a problem. The people from outside Judea who had become Christians were being neglected in the distribution of food to the non-locals. The apostles decreed that their job was teaching, not waiting tables. So they agreed to choose men for this job.
And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor,God asks us to put him in the place of the things of this world. and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:5-7)
The question is, did the choice of Steven and his companions have a direct effect on the increase of the word of God and the multiplication of believers? Perhaps it did. When others saw the Christians take care of their own, all their own, others may have realized that this new Way was special. When people stop acting like everyone else and start acting like the Messiah, it is noticed. People see the change and want to be part of it.
These are only a few of many questions brought about by the proximity of certain sentences or chapters to a seemingly unrelated matter. Some of the questions may still be unanswered. But maybe this will help us all to look at the scriptures in a new way. Instead of just reading to be reading, may we now ask ourselves why what we are reading is where it is.