I am privileged to be a member of the church where accurate Bible interpretation is taken very seriously. Since we hold firmly to the authority of Scripture, we want to read and study it with a view to discerning what God has for us in the text.
This exercise, however, must be performed carefully and responsibly. To aid that process, there is a mantra that is often repeated in various teachings: that Scripture was not written to us, but it was written for us. This is a crucial distinction to make. Let me illustrate.
Suppose a Christian military general leads his country into battle. His forces are proving victorious but the light is quickly fading. Victory will be best attained during daylight hours. Familiar with the biblical account in Joshua 10, the general proclaims in the hearing of his men, “Sun, stand still at <insert battlefield here>, and moon, in <insert battlefield here>” (see v. 12). Do you suppose the general should have ground for confidence that the sun would stop, as it did for Joshua in that account?
Most would recognise that that would be an unfounded expectation. Joshua 10 was not written as a promise to 21st-century Christian generals to provide them with a supernatural weapon in their arsenal. That is not how the text should be used. But the story was written for us. There are lessons for us to learn about the character of God and his dealings with his people—if we are committed to do the hard work of responsible Bible study.
Psalm 66 helps us in this regard. The writer begins by calling his hearers to praise God (vv. 1–4). He reminds his readers of how God had delivered their ancestors from Egypt and through the wilderness wanderings (vv. 5–12). God’s past dealings with his people provide the motivation for praise. But that motivation is not simply that God was faithful to a past generation. Instead, faithfulness to the past generation is meant to encourage the present generation that God will be faithful to them, too.
The writer goes on to talk about how he will offer sacrifices to this God who proved so faithful to his people (vv. 13–15). He then declares, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul” (v. 16). As he reflected on what God had done for a past generation, the writer learned something about the character of God. He did not experience the Red Sea parting. He did not experience divine sustenance in the wilderness. But he served the God who performed those deeds and could therefore take heart that he could likewise experience divine faithfulness.
I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!
As you head into a new week, remember that, while Scripture was not written to you, it was most certainly written for you. It was written to encourage you in the character of the faithful God. It was written to remind you that the God who proved so faithful to his people in the past will prove himself faithful to you today.