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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Learning Context, Part 1, by Craig S. Keener


6. Imitating God in Ephesians 5:1

This passage summons us to imitate God the way children imitate a father. The text is also specific, however, in the ways that we should imitate God: we should forgive as God in Christ forgave us (4:32) and love one another, just as Christ sacrificially loved us (5:2). Happily, the text does not require us to imitate God by being all-powerful or everywhere at once!


7. Resisting the Devil in James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 4:27

James contrasts the peaceful wisdom which is from God (3:13, 17-18; “from above” was a typical Jewish way of saying, “from God”) with the contentious wisdom which is from the devil (3:14-15). Then he warns his audience not to try to hold both perspectives as if they were compatible. Those who try to follow both God’s and the world’s wisdom at the same time are spiritual adulteresses (4:4). Submitting to God and resisting the devil (4:7), then, is rejecting the world’s evil way of treating one another and preferring the gentle approach that comes from God. To adopt this new way of treating others requires repentance (4:8-10).

1 Peter refers to a situation in which Christians are being persecuted (1 Pet 4:12-16); in 1 Peter 5:8-9, the devil apparently seeks to crush believers by seeking to turn them from the faith. Resisting him therefore means withstanding the persecution. In the context of Ephesians 4:27, one resists the devil by refusing to deceive or stay angry with one’s fellow-believers (4:25-26); in the whole context of Ephesians, this is part of “spiritual warfare” (6:11-14, 18).


8. God’s Locust Army in Joel 2:9

Although the third chapter of Joel seems to describe a future war, chapters one and two depict as an invading army a devastating locust plague (Joel 1:4; 2:25). This text does not depict the church as a spiritual army of evangelists; it depicts locusts as an agricultural judgment against the sins of God’s people.


9. The Strength of the Weak in Joel 3:10

This passage is not an invitation to the weary righteous to strengthen themselves. God is speaking in judgment to the nations gathered against his people for the final war (Joel 3:9). God commands them to make their weapons and make themselves strong, when in fact they are hopelessly weak before them. He is actually mocking the enemies of his people as he invites them to judgment (3:12-14).


10. Babylon’s Ruler in Isaiah 14

The full context of this passage would let us know that Isaiah is denouncing a ruler, even if he did not tell us so explicitly. Like many other ancient Israelite prophets, Isaiah includes oracles against various nations: Babylon (Isa. 13-14), Moab (Isa. 15-16), Damascus (Isa. 17), the Nubian and Egyptian empires (Isa. 18-20), Babylon again (21:1-10), Edom (21:11-12), Arabia (21:13-17), Jerusalem (22), and Tyre (23). Isaiah 14:3-4 explicitly tell us that the following oracle is directed against the ruler of Babylon—an oppressor (14:4), a ruler (14:5), who conquered other nations (14:6). As he is defeated, the nations rejoice (14:7); figuratively speaking, even the trees of Lebanon rejoice, for he will no longer be cutting them down for his building projects (14:8). How has the Lord brought this king low, breaking his rod and scepter (14:5)? The text clearly indicates that he is DEAD: he goes to Sheol, the realm of the dead (14:9), and other rulers there rejoice that the ruler who defeated them has died just like them (14:9-10). His pomp and dignity ruined, his court harpists silenced, he now rots with maggots and worms consuming his flesh (14:11)—i.e., he is a corpse.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2003

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story.

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