Bread – Interpretation

November 6, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, November 6, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Neh. 13:4-22; Rev. 12:1-12; Matt. 13:53-58; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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There is a real danger we all fall into regarding our reading of Scripture, and that is to read it in English applying common modern understandings of the English. This can get us into real trouble unless we are careful to stop and think about something which is seemingly out of place. I almost fell into that trap today regarding our reading from Revelation: “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to His throne…” Rev. 12:5. Since this sentence arises in the description of Satan’s fall from heaven and I am mindful of the serpent in Genesis, it struck me that the “male child” was most likely Jesus. I then thought about the “iron rod” and wondered what that was.

Our idea of an “iron rod” suggests an “iron ruler,” someone who rules with an “iron fist.” Using this common modern understanding of “rule…with a rod of iron,” it would appear therefore that Jesus is going to rule the earth as a dictator, a strong man. Yet this seemed wrong to me, so I looked up “rod of iron” or “iron rod” and came across Revelation 2:27, which says in part “Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I Myself have received authority from My Father.” Rev. 2:25-27 Here the iron rod is in the hands of the persevering saints appointed to rule, but the concept appears to be the same. Everyone will be ruling with the “iron rod,” which does not sound very pleasant to me.

But I still felt that something was wrong with my understanding, because although I know that Jesus will rule over all and that the persevering saints will rule as appointed over the nations, my impression from the rest of the Bible is that the rule will not be cruel, but protective. So I felt I should look further.

And I’m glad I did. It turns out that the word “rule” is a derivative of “shepherd” and it means in Greek “to shepherd,” involving all of the actions of the shepherd to guide, guard, lead to pasture, and gather.

When we substitute the word “shepherd” for “rule,” we get the idea of a shepherd with a shepherd’s crook (rod) made of iron.

And here we run into another interpretation problem, not with Scripture but with our images. I have never seen a shepherd’s crook made of iron; they are always made of wood. And what is one characteristic of wood which is different from iron? Wood breaks; iron does not.

Many, many people doubt Jesus’ ability to guide them to clear waters and good pasture, so they “help” Jesus with their own effort. Many, many people doubt their salvation (they lack assurance of salvation); therefore, they help with good works.

I wonder if some of this doubt doesn’t arise from our image of Jesus as a shepherd with a rod which can break (one made out of wood). I wonder as we think about it, if the soft, warm and fuzzy image we get of Jesus as shepherd, an image to which we are attracted, doesn’t lead us into wondering if we don’t need to help Him because, after all, His staff might break.

And now we can see clearly what Jesus’ revelation to us through John in Revelation is all about. Jesus is the good shepherd who will guide, guard, lead, and gather with an unbreakable staff, an iron rod. Not intended to beat us over the head or to force us into submission to His will, but to ensure that, in the evil day, His victory is complete.

I would have missed all this if I had left Scripture to my interpretation. And I would have left with the image of Jesus as good dictator rather than Jesus as good shepherd. And no telling what foolishness would follow from that.

Does our Christian understanding seem foolish to us sometimes? Maybe if it does it is the Holy Spirit whispering in our ear “check it out!” The results will amaze you.

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© 2013 GBF

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