Bible Reading Blog — January 10, 2016

10 Jan

Today’s Readings: Genesis 27-32 & Mark 1:40-45

Today’s reading is the story of a necklace and context. Some of you may have heard of the Mizpah coin. This coin is divided into two parts with the inscription “May the Lord watch between you and me while we are apart from one another.” Often, good friends each wear one half of the coin on a necklace as a remembrance of friendship. The problem with this, if you’ve read Genesis 32, is that the context of the commitment Jacob and Laban made at Mizpah was anything but friendship. Jacob felt used and abused and Laban felt betrayed. When Laban confronted Jacob over leaving without telling him, Jacob recounted all the ways Laban had wronged him. Laban, on the other hand, recounted all that Jacob had taken away from him, as his daughters became his wives and Jacob became wealthy off Laban’s land and flocks. So these two were hardly bosom buddies when they met at Mizpah. “May the Lord watch between you and me while we are apart from one another” was not a way of saying, “May God protect you and bless you, my friend” it was a way of saying, “Watch your back. If you mess with my daughters Jacob, may God judge you.”

This is one example of many of how we can lift one line out of the Bible and misuse it for our own purposes. There are, of course, many verses about friendship which could rightly be used on a necklace or on other items for encouragement. But context is important. If we take the Bible seriously, it is not in our hands to twist its meaning, even in the service of something good like friendship or family. I once saw a food ministry use the verse in John 21, “Feed my sheep” as a way to encourage people to be involved in feeding the poor. But again, this verse is clearly about the restoration of Peter to ministry, not about feeding the poor (there are other good verses to use with regard to this issue). If we really respect the Bible as God’s inspired word, we will pay careful attention to context before we put a verse on a coffee mug or a necklace or in a framed print. We are not free to make the Bible say whatever we want. Because it is the Word of God, we are compelled to do our best to understand it and to submit ourselves to what God has said.

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