I am going through a phase, you might say, in which I am particularly sensitive to the proper use and application of Scriptural texts. In this age of social media, hardly a day goes by when I do not come across some Facebook or Twitter post that takes a snippet of a Bible verse and applies it, out of context, in a way it was never intended.
Perhaps the most egregious example is “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12a). The implication is that if a nation, any nation, honors God and exalts him as Lord, it will be blessed.
In its entirety, however, Psalm 33:12 reads:
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”
The full context gives the passage an entirely different meaning. It is not the nation that chooses God, but God who chooses the nation; and that nation, namely Israel, is blessed uniquely because it is “the people whom [God] has chosen as his heritage.”
So, Psalm 33:12 cannot be applied to any nation, but only to one nation, Old Testament Israel, whom God blessed in order that his name might be made known to all the nations.
Another example of this kind of misapplication is that favorite of the big box mega-church “vision casting leader,” Proverbs 29:18, which is not only taken out of context and misapplied but even mistranslated in order to fit the misapplication.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
I daresay, we have all heard this cited within the context of a discussion of or presentation on church leadership.
If you do not have some kind of vision, you will perish. The implication is, in order to thrive, a community needs a leader who is in touch with God and can “cast a vision.”
But Proverbs 29:18, correctly translated and in full context, reads:
“Where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
This presents us with a whole different perspective.
The vision, the “prophetic vision,” is a guide for the people, a safeguard against them “cast[ing] off restraint” (and, thus, perishing). The source of this “prophetic vision” is not some “leader” who is particularly in touch with God but God himself who has given “the law,” and in keeping it, there is blessing.
That blessing, ultimately, would be fulfilled only in Christ, who alone was able to “keep the law” perfectly. That, however, is the subject for another day.