Let’s face it. The Bible is a big book with lots of strange stories and images. It is sometimes difficult to know what anyone should take away from it. The underlying logic seems to escape us. To those on the outside, it seems Christians just pick and choose what they want to believe and apply to themselves. Is this true? This question really gets at the heart of how we read the Bible. How should we understand the different commands and promises in the Bible? Well, the Bible itself helps us understand what God is communicating to us and how it applies to us.
The Bible is not a random collection of stories, parables, or pieces of ancient mystical wisdom. The Word of God comes to us through specific people, times, and places. This revelation of God is inseparable from his saving mission, and the mission he has for his people—for you and for me. It is from seeing what he is doing that we get a picture of how we are to receive his gifts and respond.
When we look at this story, God’s Word gives us various clues and cues to help us know to whom certain promises and commands apply. Some things in Scripture are descriptive of what happened. Some are prescriptions for us, revealing God’s will for our lives. Yet, all Scripture has something to teach us about ourselves, about our God, and how we are to live in gratitude for the redemption he has ushered into history.
A key term for making sense of the Bible is the word covenant. A covenant involves a relationship between two or more parties. The relationship between God and his people involves either a promise or command that he is giving. All the puzzle pieces of Scripture come together in the specific covenants God initiates. These covenants are how he relates to humans in all times and places. God’s mission and purpose are revealed through the kinds of promises or commands he makes with his people.
For instance, in the Old Testament God related to the nation of Israel differently than he did with Abraham. He established two very different covenants with them. How we relate to them is connected to how the New Testament relates Christ to those figures and their covenants.
So, God’s expectations for Israel are not necessarily the same for us. That doesn’t mean that they don’t teach us something very important. It just means these expectations are not direct commands to us in the way they were for the nation of Israel. This is not being inconsistent. We are simply recognizing that the Bible itself helps us understand how and where it applies today.
And that’s okay. Not everything must apply to us directly for it to be relevant or important. Scripture itself moves us forward, pointing to the person and work of Jesus. And that is the greatest application possible.