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My Best Guess

April 12, 2012

“And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him.” Exodus 4:24

What!? The Lord sought to kill Moses, just after He had sent him to talk to the Pharaoh and deliver the Israelites? Huh? What is going on?

With the help of a Hebrew-English lexicon, I can translate this verse from the original. I can diagram it and describe the syntactical relationship between each word. Furthermore, I can examine its near and far context to place it carefully in its historical setting. I can study the cultural backgrounds of the Egyptians and the Midianites, observing the differences of lifestyles and world-and-life views between the very poor (i.e. shepherds) and the very rich (i.e. the pharaohs). Then, broadening my study, I can embark on a biographical study of Moses (since he is the one referenced in this verse) and see what insights I can gain into his personality. What was it about him that would prompt the Lord to seek to kill him? And, then, I can engage in a systematic study of God’s attributes, seeking to understand fully the revealed character of Him who sought to kill Moses.

And, after all that, I still will not know.

Oh sure, I have some ideas, and I can make some guesses about what was going on. But I really don’t know, and, in the end, I have to admit that my guesses are just that – guesses. Educated guesses, perhaps, but guesses all the same.

For know-it-alls like me, that is hard. It cuts into our pride. It exposes a weakness we’d rather not admit. And we are tempted to hide this reality, this inability to understand all the details, as though it were a dirty little secret that would embarrass and disqualify us from service.

I suspect it’s the ‘professional’ trap. In our heavily specialized world, we expect people to be masters of their specialty.  Sure, I don’t expect my doctor to be an expert on golf, but he sure better be an expert on diagnosing my medical condition. And, if I were into golf, I probably wouldn’t have much use for a golfer who could spout the newest medical terms but couldn’t find a green the size of a football field.

This reminds me of a conversation I once had with my dad. I had been a Christian for about a year, and I had come across a difficult passage (like the one above). So I asked him what he thought it meant. And he answered, “I don’t know, but that’s why I’m glad you’re going to Bible school and then to seminary. I expect you to tell me all those answers after you graduate.”

Being young and dumb, I took it as a given that I would indeed, after all that school, know the answers to those questions. I nodded and our conversation turned to simpler matters.

I think dad knew better. In the following years, he never humiliated me by asking those tough questions, and he never expressed any disappointment that I didn’t offer to tutor him from my ‘scholastic wisdom.’

Yeah, dad was a smart guy. Whenever he turned to theological matters, he adopted a C.S. Lewis-like approach – “I’m not a theologian like you. I’m just a layperson, so I don’t really know.” This approach always provided him with the assurance that his professional credibility was not at stake.  He freely admitted he was moving into areas where he was not ‘learned.’ (Though, of course, he had read and studied the same stuff the theologians had studied.) Tricky.

Okay, well, let me get back on track…  Hmm, where was I? Oh, yes, guesses… so, I decide for myself, the honest scholar must admit that his interpretations of such passages are guesses.

But – and this is where we must be very careful – the fact that all interpretative decisions are guesses does not mean that those guesses are necessarily equal in value. There can be an enormous difference between an educated guess and an uneducated guess. Let’s take an example…

Imagine we have joined two young men in a kitchen. We are going to watch as the two men each make and bake a cake. One of these men works as a baker and makes cakes every day. The other has never entered a kitchen, other than to get something from the refrigerator, and he has certainly never made a cake.

To make the experiment a little more difficult, we have decided, as the designers of the test, to do away with all measuring tools. The two men must guess the amount of flour, sugar, eggs, etc., they will add to the batter.

The test is conducted, and the two cakes are baked, frosted, and readied for tasting. Which of the two cakes would you expect to be better?

The man who uses a one-cup measurer every day is far more likely to approximate that amount than the other man. Beyond that, he will also have a better idea of how many of those amounts to add to the batter. The other man is hopelessly adrift in a sea of options.

When it comes to theological interpretation, we must recognize that some guesses are better than others. Education does make a difference. In addition, the discipline of ‘correlation,’ the checking of one’s interpretation against the interpretation of Christians throughout the nations and the centuries, is indispensable. A new interpretation, ‘discovered’ in isolation, is likely the wrong interpretation.

But what of the Holy Spirit? Don’t Christians have the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit’s illumination? Aren’t we assured in God’s Word that He will lead us into all truth?

Hmm, here is another topic where opinions abound, but let me give you my best guess. I believe the Holy Spirit will indeed lead us into truth, as we depend upon Him and move forward in our pursuit of understanding. The relationship between the believer and the Holy Spirit’s illumination seems similar, in some ways, to the believer’s discernment of God’s will. God’s will is difficult to discern, but we are assured that it can be discerned by us, if we “offer up our bodies as living sacrifices, refuse to be conformed to this present world, and be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12) Only when these conditions are met are we assured we will be able “to test and approve” what is His perfect will.

So, in short, I see a working collaboration by God’s design of the believer’s Bible study and the leading of the Holy Spirit. As one seeks to understand and obey God’s Word, the Holy Spirit leads the believer to greater understanding and greater calls for obedience. And this is all part of the sanctifying process. Wow – seems complicated, doesn’t it? Still, it does encourage me to keep working on Bible study. And it makes me look forward all the more to glory when those questions will finally be answered!

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