“It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2)
We commonly call the Bible “The Word of God.” But what do we mean by that? Do we believe it offers a Divine message from Deity? Or do we really think it is just a collection of stories written by men alone? The simplest reader can open the pages of the Bible and learn about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, the tower of Babel, etc. These historical accounts are easy enough – they lay out the foundational principles for civilization and teach moral values by which we get along in society. But, is that all there is to biblical study – practical supplication?
Some Christians are comfortable with just a simple understanding of moral principles. Most sermons deal with practical applications of Scripture. However, a growing number of Christians desire to understand the metaphysical aspects – the mysterious teachings of the Bible – mysteries that give us a glimpse beyond the veil. These mystical teachings include such subjects as heaven, hell, eternity, angels, etc.
We all admit the existence of something beyond the grave, but many Christians let it go at that. They do not wish to get involved with subjects considered to be beyond our human experience.
There are strange stories – a flaming sword that guarded the gate of Eden; a burning bush on the slopes of Sinai; a pillar of fire that hovered over the camp of Israel for forty years; all of which we know very little.
Yet the Bible beckons us to learn more. We are admonished to study to show ourselves “…approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15).
Over and over again, we are reminded that we should aspire to be “wise” in the Scriptures, able to understand mysteries.
Levels of Interpretation
The stages of ancient Israel taught four levels of biblical interpretation:
Peshat – the simple meaning of the Scriptures taught in the Mishnah.
Remez – the “hint” level, practical instructions for intellectuals taught in the Gemara. The Mishnah and Gemara comprise the Talmud.
Drosh – meaning “to thresh,” yields special wisdom for political and religious leaders taught in the Midrash.
Sood – The secret divine level – the “other-world” sphere, teaching the prophetic aspects of Scripture, including the mysteries.
Each of these levels of study is thought to take the believer back toward the center of a spiritual Garden of Eden – to eventually reach the “tree of life.” The first letter of each Hebrew word spells PRDS, standing for “paradise.”
The Peshat level is simply the Primary Interpretation of Scripture. I consider the Remez and Drosh levels to be the Practical Application of Scripture. The Sood level is the most complicated of all – the Prophetic Implication of Scripture. Note that I call this level a study of “implication.” For the most part, prophecy is not explicit. It is implied – only for the spiritual eyes that can see it. Because of the very nature of this mysterious level, mistakes are commonplace.
One major mistake is that some Christians think this level allows them to prognosticate the future. It is true that prophets of the Bible were adherents of this Sood level and that they could look beyond the veil of the present and see the future. However, that does not mean that we can do the same. One great controversy over studying Bible prophecy is that some regard ministers like me to be nothing more than “crystal ball gazers.”
One can hardly blame the average Christian for being skeptical, For years, men have been setting unrealistic dates for the rapture, only to be ridiculed when their date came and went without incident. A candid observation of the very nature of eschatology leaves us to admit that, inevitably, one is led to search for the timing of Christ’s return. The most conservative scholar would concur that they search the Scriptures in hopes of learning more about the “time” of the end.
We who are Pre-millennialists look for the return of Christ at or near the beginning of the seventh millennium – that’s a date any way you look at it. “Pre” means “prior” to the millennium. We who are Pre-Tribulationists, with no apology, are looking for the rapture at or before the beginning of the tribulation. If these are not dates of some sort, what is?
We readily admit that we “see through a glass darkly.” There are mystical subjects in the Bible that we are incapable of comprehending. But should we ignore these subjects? No scientific investigator ever completely understood his subject before exploring it. Great inventions came out of mental explorations of little-known concepts. As men put their minds together, pieces of intellectual puzzles began to fit into place which, heretofore, had been secreted away – awaiting the day when they would come together as a result of investigation.
We look at Albert Einstein and respect him for being a mental genius. Yet, some look at theologians who walk in fields of the unknown and consider them to be heretics. May we be reminded that in 1632, the Roman Church considered Galileo to be a heretic, simply because he opened a new area of scientific thought. Largely, it is still the same today. If anything, we should hold our criticism of fellow theologians and wait to see what piece of the puzzle they might be able to contribute.
Special Wisdom Is a Gift
As far back as the days of Joseph, the “wise” were considered to be in touch with God – channels of metaphysical wisdom. “And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath showed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art” (Gen. 41:39).
This wisdom referred to in the Bible is more than just a normal ability to discern Scripture. It is a gift imparted by God for those who aspire toward creative ability. Moses writes about certain special people who were gifted with wisdom to build the Tabernacle:
“Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the LORD put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the LORD had commanded” (Ex. 36:1).
In what is perhaps the lawgiver’s most mysterious writing, The Song of Moses, he sings of the end-time in couched language, then says, “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” (Deut. 32:29). This song is so important with end-time knowledge, the saints in heaven will take up harps and sing it:
“And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
“And they sing the song of Moses …” (Rev. 15:2, 3).
Though Moses worried that Israel would not understand the prophetic nature of the song, we are assured that the mystery will be known during the days of God’s final judgment upon an unbelieving world.
The Wisdom of Solomon
As the newly-made king of Israel, young Solomon was granted uncommon wisdom. There have been none so wise as Solomon throughout history, except for Jesus Christ. Solomon’s wisdom was a gift from God:
“Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee” (I Kings 3:12).
We are told that Solomon had knowledge of the sciences unrivaled until this generation. There are stories that Solomon healed the queen of Sheba, having knowledge of medicines and herbs and that he took her on a ride in his airship! Such extra-biblical stories have come down to us through history, whether accurate or not, to demonstrate the creative genius of a wise man.
According to the book of Esther, in the kingdoms of the east, wise men were thought to possess knowledge of subjects not demonstrate by the average citizen. “Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times …” (Esther 1:13).
One who learns to read and study the Bible, even the simple, will eventually become wise: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalms 19:7).
There are many Scriptures that offer wisdom and blessing to those who study the deeper things of G0od. For example, following the insertion of seven reversed nun in the Hebrew text of Psalm 107, God offers a clue to the mystery:
“Whose is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand …” (Psalm 107: 43).
The nun is the fourteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Normally, it refers to downfall, but the reversed form is said to be a demonstration of God turning His back in judgment upon the wicked. The verses designated by the reversed nun appear to describe the dissolution of Mystery Babylon. But the word “Babylon” is not used. We are left to speculate about the unusual phenomenon. We feel confident, however, with our conclusions. If we are wrong, we are assured that someday, someone will understand. We’d like to think that the “wise” person in verse 43 is us. However, if our attempt to interpret the passage is wrong, that does not mean that we are not wise – just not wise enough!
We should strive to “ …understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings” (Prov. 1:6). We dislike being wrong, but admittedly, can’t be right one-hundred percent of the time. Accuracy may be the test of a prophet, but should not be used to grade the student of prophecy.
We are also told that the soul winner is no ordinary person! “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30).
Wisdom Builds Confidence
There is a difference in the demeanor of a person who possesses wisdom. If one strives for knowledge and wisdom, he will develop a special confidence that the average man does not possess. Solomon writes: “Who is as the wise man? And who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed” (Eccl. 8:1).
Daniel also addressed this confidence, which can be seen in the attitude the wise have toward life: “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). We know that the passage deals with the eternal state of the soul winner, but from a practical view, we also should note that learning and public speaking builds confidence.
Concerning the suffering of the end-time generation, Daniel writes, “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:10). Who are the “wise” in Daniel’s verse? They are the believers who have not been afraid to search the prophecies and lay out a scenario for those who will suffer in the last days. One can endure just about anything if he knows that he will win in the end.
Hosea discusses God’s use of mysterious prophetic metaphors, “I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets” (Hose 12:10).
He then proceeds to couch his predictions in the forms of “…lion,” “…leopard” (13:7), “…bear” (13:8), and “…the sorrows of a travailing woman” (13:13); and concludes with the promise, “Who is wise, and he shall understand these things?” (14:9).
New Testament References
As Jesus referred to a prophecy taught in the book of Daniel, He noted that a particular group of people would understand what He was talking about:
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand) Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains” (Matt. 24:15,16).
Daniel was a sealed book in those days. Most did not comprehend the subject of the “abomination of desolation.” But for that future generation which would understand, Jesus explains that they should flee into the mountains.
The Use of Metaphors
Have you often wondered why the Lord uses metaphors and symbolic language in prophetic passages? It is because He wants some to know while others are blinded to the mystery. Jesus explains the use of parables to cover up the plain message: “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand” (Luke 8:10).
Even the disciples had a difficult time understanding certain predictions until Jesus explained the details. After His resurrection, He mentioned that the ordeal was predicted in the law of Moses, in the prophets, and in the psalms: “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures…” (Luke 24:45).
Luke simply says that Christ explained the prophecies. Unfortunately, Luke did not elaborate. We are left to search them out for ourselves! Ah, but that is the nature of prophetic studies. The student of the Bible must search – for a lifetime – and continually discover new and exciting nuggets to add to his knowledge.
In ages past, before the invention of the printing press, can you imagine how many believers discovered things that became lost again to future generation – simply because they did not have a method for communication with other believers? We are blessed in this generation of mass communication. We can share our finds with God’s people everywhere.
Knowledge Brings Wisdom
Id we would aspire to gain prophetic knowledge – to be “wise” – then we must continually study God’s Word. It is only through the accumulation of biblical knowledge that the break-through in wisdom will come. Furthermore, only the Holy Spirit can piece the puzzle together in our minds. So how do we reach the Sood level of biblical interpretation? First, we should remind ourselves that Daniel prayed before each encounter with an angel. Without a proper prayer life, we cannot expect to reach new insights. Note that Daniel did not have the Holy Spirit indwelling him as we have today. His learning experiences came from angelic messengers. But Jesus opened a new avenue of biblical study when He informed the disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit:
“It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.
“His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb.
“Now are we sure that thou knowest all things…” (John 16:7, 13, 29, 30).
Here is your key to opening the prophetic mysteries of the Bible. As you pray for guidance and diligently study the Bible, the Holy Spirit “will show you things to come” (v.13).
Don’t Be Conceited
One note of caution should be addressed. Let us not become unkind toward ministers with whom we disagree. Maybe we will understand their thinking at a future time – or maybe they will learn to understand us. The underlying principle to really being wise in biblical knowledge is demonstrated by our love for the brethren. The apostle Paul puts it this way:
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountai9ns, and have not charity, I am nothing” (I Cor. 13:2).
Know any ministers who are constantly complaining about the perceived failings of other ministers? Paul really comes down hard on those who are constantly trying to straighten out other ministers. The apostle encourages us not to be like that. In the next chapter, Paul told the church at Corinth, “Brethren be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men” (I Cor. 14:20). Let us love the brethren and have patience with those who appear to be less knowledgeable than we perceived ourselves to be. After all, we may not be as smart as we think we are.
Do Not Shun Prophetic Studies
Finally, we are told that a special blessing is reserved for the believer who studies prophecy. John writes: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (Rev. 1:3).
No one fully understands prophecy. Until this generation, the subject was sealed. One only needs to look at the past century and understand that the human race rode horses for six thousand years! But that’s all changed. Today, man has ridden a rocket to the moon! Errors were made along the way. Accidents happened. But nothing would have been accomplished if no one had been willing to grope in intellectual darkness until they found the proverbial switch! So it is with the study of eschatology.
At the close of each letter to the churches, John writes, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit sayeth unto the churches.” We are told that a special ability to hear with spiritual understanding is given to a chosen group. Not all have this ability.
Perhaps Revelation 13:18 is the most familiar passage that points to the ability of some who understand the deeper levels of biblical interpretation:
“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six” (Rev. 13:18).
Obviously, not all Christians are given the ability to comprehend dark passages Don’t expect to know everything there is to know about prophecy. At the same time, don’t leave the study of it to others. Jump in! Get your feet wet! Don’t worry about making mistakes. We all do! The study of the Sood level of Scripture is a “trial and error” process. Don’t become discouraged if you embarrass yourself with some wild notion. Just be willing to learn. Keep feeling your way until you too, find the switch! When you finally flip it, the light feels so good!