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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Learning Context, Part 2, by Craig S. Keener

 

21. God’s Vindication in Isaiah 54:17

The context indicates that the passage focuses on God’s people. Israel had sinned, been judged, but now would be restored, and those who had tried to oppose Israel would be crushed. There is a principle here that God vindicates His people; but it is not an ironclad guarantee for every circumstance in the short run for each individual (though He often does provide protection for Christians, He does not do so all the time). It does encourage us, however, that God will ultimately vindicate His servants and His plans for history. So whatever we must face in the short run, in the long run we can be sure of God’s faithfulness and vindication if we remain faithful to Him.

 

22. The Real Heart of a Host in Proverbs 23:7

In the ancient Mediterranean world, sharing food obligated people to be loyal to one another. But Proverbs warns that you cannot trust your host if he is selfish; he may encourage you to eat as much as you like, but you will be sorry if you trust him. What matters is not what he says to you, but what he really thinks in his heart (23:6-8).

 

23. The Psalmist’s Deliverance in Psalm 18:7-15

The language of Psalm 18:7-15 sounds like a cosmic event that shakes all of creation. But ancient Israelite songs, like some of our songs today, could express praise poetically. In this case, the psalmist describes a time when God delivered him personally (18:4-6, 16-19). The deliverance sounds like it affects all creation, but in fact it reflects the dramatic experience of the psalmist, from whose perspective God’s intervention seemed too dramatic to narrate in any less cosmic manner.

 

24. Married Love in Song of Solomon 2:1-2

Many Christian songs depict Jesus as the “lily of the valley,” the “rose of Sharon,” and the “fairest of ten thousand.” The songs are beautiful, and their point is that Jesus is the greatest beauty and desire of our souls. We should not read the meaning of those beautiful songs back onto the meaning of the Song of Solomon, however; the “rose of Sharon” in this book does not refer to Jesus, directly or indirectly. This book is an ancient love song, which provides wonderful insights into romance, the language of marital desire and appreciation, dealing with conflicts in marriage (the brief conflict is 5:2-6), the power of jealousy (8:6), etc. To the extent that it reflects the beauty of marital love, it may also supply us with words in our passionate pursuit of Christ, but this is not the subject of the book; the book is a practical example of romantic, married love. (For instance, the “banquet house” and “banner” in 2:4 may refer to ancient wedding customs: while guests were banqueting at the wedding feast, bride and groom consummated their marriage and reportedly hung out a banner when they had sealed their union sexually. It is doubtful that this is a symbol of Christ; it reads much better as a picture of married sexual love in ancient Israel.)

God will ultimately vindicate His servants and His plans for history. So whatever we must face in the short run, in the long run we can be sure of God’s faithfulness and vindication if we remain faithful to Him.

But even if Song of Solomon were but a symbol of Christ and His Church, as some have supposed, “rose of Sharon” and “lily of the valley” could not refer to Christ. As in the NIV, it is the bride who declares, “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley”—i.e., as beautiful as the most beautiful of flowers; her groom had made her feel loved, despite her own insecurities (1:6). The groom also compares her to a lily (2:2; 7:2); she compares his approach to one who moves among the lilies (2:16; 6:2-3; he also applies this image to her in 4:5). Even if Song of Solomon were an allegory of Christ and the Church (which is very unlikely), “rose of Sharon” would not refer to Christ, but to His Church. More likely, it is an example of the beautiful romantic language that an inspired author could apply to his bride, as an inspired guide emphasizing the importance of romantic affection in our marriages today.

 

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 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. sites.google.com/site/drckeener

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