A Lesson in Context

If you have known me for any amount of time, you will know that I regularly remind believers that we must take the context of a Bible passage seriously if we are to properly understand it. In my reading through 2 Samuel, I found a perfect example of a verse that, out of context, gives us a very faulty impression of what the passage is saying.

 

2 Samuel 5:8 – And David said on that day, “Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David’s soul.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”

 

Ok, play with that verse with no context. What is your interpretation? Obviously, David, the king over Israel, hates blind people. He hates people with crippling disabilities. He really sounds like a nasty guy. He is even commanding people to go and strike such people down.

 

Now, think of what would happen if a person tried to make a devotional Bible lesson out of that verse when taken out of context. They could come up with all sorts of nasty conclusions, the worst of which might lead to concentration camps for the physically challenged.

 

But we know better. We know that this is not the way of God. We know that God does not hate the blind and the lame. He does not tell his leaders to turn against those who are needy. So what is going on?

 

Context!  Context matters! It matters a lot!

 

Let’s see that verse in its context. David had been king living in Hebron. But now he is preparing to move his capital city to Jerusalem, the city of the Jebusites. Obviously, the Jebusites are not interested in giving their city over to David. So they shut the gates. And then they taunt David, because the Jebusites are sure that David and his army cannot get into their city to defeat them.

 

2 Samuel 5:6-8 – 6 And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. 8 And David said on that day, “Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David’s soul.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”

 

In verse 6, we see that the Jebusites are mocking David. They are saying that their city is so strong that an army of the blind and the lame could ward off David and his men. They are putting down David’s army and saying that they are not a challenge.

 

So, when David hears the mocking of the Jebusites, he orders his men to find a way, even through the water shafts, to get into the city. And David turns the words of the Jebusites back on their heads. He tells his men to go get those blind and lame defenders of the city. David is not at all suggesting any hatred of real blind people. He is saying that he has a problem with the Jebusites, and they will not be able to defend their city against him. They said blind people could defeat David. David says they cannot.

 

Now, my point was to show us the value of context. If verse 8 were taken alone, one would have an entirely false impression of what the passage was saying. But, when we see verse 8 as part of the entire paragraph with the history filled in, we see that the words of David are intended to be a sarcastic taunt, not a nasty slur against people with disabilities.

 

When you read and handle Scripture, please, for the love of God and all things good, learn to keep the context of the passage at the forefront. Learn to ask what is really going on. Learn to see what has passed before what you read. Very few passages are intended to stand alone. Almost all Bible passages have something that came before them that help us understand them. (The Psalms are examples of stand-alone units, but even they have context we can learn from.)

 

Besides thinking about the historical context, ask yourself what kind of thing you are reading. David’s words were a taunt, not at all intended to be taken literally. Are you reading a text that is supposed to be rigidly factual, or is it full of metaphor, slang, or poetry? There is a big difference in how one handles a history book and a line from Shakespeare. The same must be true in Scripture.

 

Context matters. Let us learn to read the word of God with the intent of the author in our minds so that we will not mishandle it.

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