I’ve been reading Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet, on hermeneutics. I’ve really just started, but I have to comment on a weird coincidence between something McKnight says and something I heard on the Ray Vander Laan “Faith Lessons” DVD in the “God With Us” lesson. I’ll start with McKnight, as Vander Laan’s comment will make more sense once we’ve sorted through what McKnight says.
I grew up with a specific kind of approach to the Bible … . As God’s true Word, therefore, it is our final authority, and our response to the Bible must be one of submission. I believe this is an approach that fosters a relationship with the Bible.
I knew there was something wrong with framing our view of the Bible like this. It took me years to put my finger on it. … It is not that I think these words are wrong, but I know there is far more to reading the Bible than submitting to authority.
McKnight then takes his readers to Psalm 119 — a very long psalm written as an acrostic: each verse begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
12 Praise be to you, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
Notice the Psalmist’s attitude. God’s laws aren’t a burden, but a delight. Obedience is cause for rejoicing.
18 Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.
19 I am a stranger on earth;
do not hide your commands from me.
20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times.
24 Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.
The psalmist prays for God’s guidance, not out of duty or necessity or submission, but out of wonder — and because he considers himself a stranger on earth — the law shows him his true residence and citizenship.
28 My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
29 Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me through your law.
30 I have chosen the way of truth;
I have set my heart on your laws.
31 I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD;
do not let me be put to shame.
32 I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free.
Verse 32 is particularly poignant. The psalmist finds true freedom in God’s commands.
40 How I long for your precepts!
Preserve my life in your righteousness.
…43 Do not snatch the word of truth from my mouth,
for I have put my hope in your laws.
45 I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts.
46 I will speak of your statutes before kings
and will not be put to shame,
47 for I delight in your commands
because I love them.
52 I remember your ancient laws, O LORD,
and I find comfort in them.
54 Your decrees are the theme of my song
wherever I lodge.
…58 I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
McKnight notes this verse particularly. In God’s commands, the psalmist seeks God’s face, that is, a relationship as present as with someone whose face you can see.
97 Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
for they are ever with me.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
101 I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
102 I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path.
…111 Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
…143 Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands are my delight.
What I learned about the authority approach to the Bible was that it is not personal enough or relational enough. It does not express enough of why God gave us the Bible.
Now for Ray Vander Laan’s point. He teaches the lesson standing within a duplicate of the temple of Solomon built in a nearby town, which archaeologists have been able to restore.
He describes the Law of Moses as written in the form of an ancient treaty, as though between an superior power and an inferior. He notes that after such treaties were made, short versions were written with two copies prepared. Each party was to take one copy home with him and keep it in his most sacred place. Hence, when Moses descended from Sinai with two tablets, he was likely carrying two copies of the Ten Commandments — the Israelite’s copy and God’s copy. Each tablet had all 10 commands.
And God had Moses keep both copies in the Ark of the Covenant, and ultimately in the Holy of Holies. You see, the Jews’ most sacred place was also God’s most sacred place. After all, God chose to indwell the Holy of Holies. Although God was a superior power, God chose to dwell among the people he had covenanted with.
Vander Laan then compares the Ten Commandments to our wedding vows. When we make those vows to our future spouses, we delight in the vows. We make serious promises that we certainly intend to keep. But we feel no compulsion or command. We aren’t being forced to submit. We want to submit. We anticipate — and later enjoy — delight and wonder in our submission.
When we later renew our vows, again, there’s no compulsion. There’s no thought of the authority of the other spouse or of the state under the law of which you were bound to this man or woman or of God who more surely binds us to our spouse. It’s just not about authority.
Obviously, we submit to one another. That’s the nature of marriage. But we don’t submit because we have to. It’s not because our vows are authoritative or inerrant or God given. It’s because we want to. We enjoy it. We delight in it. Indeed, we can’t imagine existing otherwise.
And so, here we begin to understand law in the God-sense of law. And here we see, I hope, a better way to preach, and to teach, and to lead, and to shepherd.