Right interpretation, …enables us to make the correct application to our lives
We're continuing to work on how to study the Bible so that we can truly find God's solutions to life's problems. We said in previous times that if we're going to apply the Bible correctly, we have to first interpret it rightly, and if we're going to interpret it rightly, we have to observe it carefully. Careful observation is the foundation of the pyramid that then leads to right interpretation, which then enables us to make the correct application to our lives, so that God's Word can bear the fruit in our lives that He intends, so that He can show us how to live, and so that He can give us His solutions to life's problems.
Last time, we talked about careful observation. This time, we want to look at: How do we rightly interpret the Bible based on our careful observation? We made note of the answers last time to the questions: The W's and an H. We asked the question: Who? We saw that Genesis 50:22-26 is about Joseph. It's about the end of his life. In fact, we saw that the question When? is answered by 110 years old. We're told twice, in Verse 22 and Verse 26, that he's 110 years of age.
Where? It happens in Egypt. The passage is bracketed by the statement, “Joseph stayed in Egypt,” in Verse 22, with, “Joseph dies and is buried in a coffin in Egypt,” in Verse 26. So clearly, the Where? is Egypt.
We started to look at the question: What? What are the issues that the text talks about? We saw that when you look at the passage carefully, you see that it breaks down really into two subjects: Joseph's sons, and then Joseph's words. We're told about his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and their subsequent generations, and then we're told about the words that Joseph says to his brothers from his death bed.
…having carefully observed: How do you rightly interpret?
Now, to move to the next step, we have to now consider context, having carefully observed: How do you rightly interpret? This brings us to the important area of context. Context is the key to right interpretation. There are two types of context. The first is literary context. Literary context is basically putting a particular passage or a particular verse in its relation to the passages around it, and the book as a whole. So to rightly interpret any passage, you have to think about it in relationship to what went before and what comes after.
So Genesis 50:22-26 needs to be understood in light of the whole book of Genesis. So we're going to ask the question: How do these things fit with what we've learned before if we're going to hear it correctly? Context like that is always important. You can't interpret someone's words without thinking about what they said before, if you want to interpret it correctly. That's literary context, the relationship to the other words in the book or in the chapter.
There's another kind of context that's very important, though, and that's historical context. Historical context asks the question behind the passage, that is: Who is the original author? Who are the original recipients of the message? And when we think about their life circumstances, how would they have understood this passage? What were they going through? What was the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, trying to communicate to them? How did he want them to understand this passage, and how did he want them, really, to begin to apply it to their lives? That's really answering the question: What does the text mean? When we can understand what it meant to them, then we've really interpreted it correctly, and we can make that next step to application.
…now move into context and see how that informs our understanding…
Let's continue looking at interpretation. What does the text mean? We want to look at the pieces that we observed last time under our careful observation, and now move into context and see how that informs our understanding of the meaning of the passage.
We saw that the sons of Joseph were talking about. In literary context, relationship to the book really helps us to understand why the sons of Joseph were talked about, because when you look back at Genesis 50:22-26, why did the Lord bother to tell us, “Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim's sons; also the sons of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born on Joseph's knees”? What does that have to do with it? It seems like the words are so important, and they are, but why did the Lord stop and tell us about Joseph's sons?
Ephraim had three generations of sons so that Joseph actually had his son Ephraim, then Ephraim had his sons, who had sons, who had sons. When you look at that, that means Joseph saw the fourth generation of his descendents through Ephraim. That is, not only his grandsons, and not only his great grandsons, but his great, great grandsons were born before Joseph died. That's pretty extraordinary — the fourth generation of Ephraim's sons.
Joseph got to see not Manasseh's fourth generation, but his third generation. We see when we look at Verse 23 that the sons of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born on Joseph's knees so that Joseph's grandson had sons, that is, he had great grandsons. Now, why does that matter? What it's telling us is that Joseph was fruitful. When you look at it in the light of the literary context, we look just one chapter back to what Jacob said to his son Joseph, what he prophesied about his son Joseph before he died. In Genesis 49:22, he speaks this blessing over Joseph.
“Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a spring; Its branches run over a wall.”
– Genesis 49:22
That's a picture of great blessing. Joseph is going to be very fruitful. You add that to another previous passage, Genesis 41, where Joseph's sons are born. Remember the story of Joseph how he's sold into slavery by his brothers? He becomes Potiphar's slave, and then he's imprisoned after he's falsely accused by Potiphar's wife. There was bad circumstance after bad circumstance. Finally, he's able to interpret the dreams of the cup-bearer and the baker there, and then later, after the cup-bearer forgets about Joseph, after Joseph had said, “Please remember me before Pharaoh. I've been imprisoned unjustly,” the cup-bearer forgets him for two years until the right time when Pharaoh has a dream and God brings to the cup-bearers mind Joseph. There's someone who can interpret this dream. Joseph comes out. He's elevated to second position in Egypt, and then he's given a wife in Egypt, and he has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Manasseh's name means forgetfulness, that God has made me forget. The Hebrew Bible names often have real meanings. In fact, that was the normal case. They had a meaning. It wasn't like labels like our names. The names meant something. Manasseh meant God has made me forget. Ephraim means fruitful.
So remembering that, you go back now to Genesis 50:23. The details of the text:
Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim's sons;…
– Genesis 50:23
Joseph, a fruitful bough, prophesied by his father, sees his son whose name means God has made me fruitful. Look at fruitfulness: Ephraim to the fourth generation. How extraordinary to see your great, great grandsons. What this is saying is look at the Word of God. It's been fulfilled. God said, “I'm going to make you fruitful,” and look how fruitful Joseph has become. In other words, you can rely on the Word of God.
In fact, it's interesting to note too that in the blessing of Joseph, the private blessing of Joseph in Chapter 48, Jacob intends to bless the younger son more than the older son. Ephraim is the younger son, and Jacob says, “God's going to make the younger son more fruitful than the older son.” Here you have a fulfillment of that prophecy in Verse 23, because the younger son, Ephraim, has a third generation so that Joseph has a fourth generation through Ephraim, but only a third generation through Manasseh.
Here again, this is told so that the original readers could understand in light of what they've read already, look, exactly what God said would come to pass, has come to pass. God was going to make Joseph extremely fruitful. He's much more fruitful than his father, his grandfather, or his great grandfather were. Abraham never saw four generations of descendents. Isaac never lived to see four generations of descendents. Jacob didn't live to see that, but Joseph has. What an extraordinary blessing upon God's servant, but what an extraordinary vindication of God's Word.
Why is that said? It sets the table for then the words of Joseph. When we look at the sons of Joseph, basically the message interpreted correctly is: Look at the Word of God. God is faithful to His Word. Everything He said that was going to happen has happened. That's Joseph's sons.
Now, what is the meaning of Joseph's words?
…“I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” 25Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying,…
– Genesis 50:24-25
And then here are Joseph's second words:
…“God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.”
– Genesis 50:25
The historical context concerns the author when he penned the words to the original audience.
The words of Joseph also need to be considered in context, both the literary and the historical, but let's start with the historical context here. The historical context concerns the author when he penned the words to the original audience. It's important to understand that. This isn't just about Joseph and the conversation he had, but it's about Moses who is the author of this passage, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writing to the descendents of Joseph hundreds of years later. In fact, about 360 years after the events of the passage, Moses writes it down.
What was the life circumstance of Moses and the nation of Israel when he wrote these words down? It was after the exodus, after they had left Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land. What were their circumstances? Well, they were dealing with difficulties. They had a 40+ year journey, because they didn't believe God could get them into the Promised Land, though He had promised that He would get them in. When you consider their circumstances, it adds rich meaning to the passage and rich meaning to Joseph's words.
Thinking about their circumstances, when they get out of Egypt, when you read through the exodus, they immediately run into difficulty. Pharaoh and his armies pursue them, and they wonder, “Has God forgotten us? Has He brought us out in the desert to die?” Then the Lord protects them and they see His hand. Then they go a little further and they have no water, and they wonder, “Has God forgotten us? Where is our water?” Then God provides water. Then they don't have bread and they don't have food, and they wonder, “Has God forgotten us?” That's a key question they ask: “Is he going to come to our aid?”
Look again at the words of Joseph. God will surely take care of you… is repeated twice, the same Hebrew verb translated with the same English words here in the New American Standard Translation that I'm reading. God will surely take care of you… When you look that word up that's emphasized by its repetition, you find that the word means to take note of, to assess the condition of an inferior by a superior, to assess his condition and to come to his aid. It means that you're aware of the needs. It's often used as like a General of his soldiers, or a King of his armies, or a master of his servant. “I know what's going on with you, and I'm coming to your aid.” That's said twice. God knows what's going on with you, and He's coming to your aid. Joseph said that twice in the passage, and then the Spirit of God inspired those words to be repeated twice for the nation of Israel. You may feel like He's forgotten you, but He hasn't forgotten you. He knows what's happening, and He's going to come to your aid.
They were afraid of the war-like tribes in the Promised Land. They were given the report that the walled cities reached to the skies, and that the giants in the land made them look like grasshoppers. “Is God able? Is God able to come to our aid? Is He faithful to His Word?” We understand that in light of this, this passage spoke powerfully to the people in their real life circumstance, to see that God's Word does provide solutions to all of life's problems. They needed confidence in the Word of God, and the passage, rightly understood, said to them, “Be confident. God will get you into the land. He will surely take care of you and will bring you up. He's going to fulfill His promises. You can count on that. God will get you into the land of Canaan.” That's the meaning of the passage. You can count on the Word of God, and you can trust Him to be faithful to His Word. That's what it would have meant to Israel.
Now, having understood that correctly, we will next time look at: How does that apply to you and me living here in the 21st Century? That message that God inspired back then, how does it speak to your life, to my life, to your problems, and to my problems? That's the question of application. And after we've understood the meaning correctly, Lord willing, we'll move to that next time. I hope you'll join us again as we continue to look at how God's Word speaks to our problems.