The inspiration for today's devotional comes from one of my dogs. Thinking that I was still asleep and not knowing that I had got up and gone out for a while and was no longer minding our youngest hound, yesterday my frustrated wife exclaimed: "The puppy has peed everywhere!" I knew, of course, that there could only have been a small puddle on the floor but as I thought on her words, a mental picture presented itself of a room utterly drenched and swimming in urine. And then, considering she had not exactly specified where this catastrophe had taken place, I expanded it beyond the single room and to the whole planet. "Poor Noah," I thought to myself, "could never have coped with that."
"Everything is possible for him who believes" (Mark 9:23, NIV).
This is, of course, an example of hyperbole or exaggeration. I knew exactly what she meant and most English-speakers probably would have too. But if I had gone to a remote part of Papua-New Guinea where little or no contact has been made with Western civilization, and I had complained: "It's raining cats and dogs!" there would have been more than ample opportunity for misunderstanding. And when no hounds or felines came tumbling out of the air they might have either wondered about my sanity or integrity. Hopefully, even in their ignorance of what I meant, they might have reserved a portion of humour and concluded I was just kidding them.
It surprises many to learn that the Bible is full of exaggerations which are not meant to be taken literally. Passages like: "Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" (Matt.23:23-25 , NKJV) are left unchanged when we translate them from Hebrew because this expression has become a part of our own culture and we know what it means. But some might have wondered what on earth Yah'shua was talking about. We all understand that He was saying that the people in question were so focussed on minor things that they neglected the really important matters.
John the apostle, in keeping with his culture and tradition, said: "And there are also many other things that Yah'shua did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25, NKJV). There was a pretty big library in Alexandria at that time and I am quite sure they could have managed a detailed record of 3½ years' of Yah'shua's life. Really all John was saying was that there was so much more Yah'shua said and did that he wouldn't have been able to record it all even if he tried his hardest.
These are obvious hyperboles because as a general rule people don't swallow camels for the simple reason it's not physically possible. But other forms of hyperbole may not be so obvious.
I started today's devotional with a Scripture which is a less obvious hyperbole and one that has led ill-informed Christians into trouble. "Everything is possible for him who believes". Some believers have taken this literally and died needlessly for their trouble. A few years ago a group of charismatic Korean Christians, infected with the Rhema or 'Word of Faith' heresy, were on their way to a meeting but were blocked by a torrential river which had suddenly swollen following heavy rainfall. Remembering this passage, they took it literally, believed heartily that they could cross the raging river on pure faith, and were drowned making the attempt. They never bothered to ask Yahweh if they should, let alone apply common sense.
The Scriptures do not teach that we can ask for anything we want and that we'll get it so long as we just believe. Quite the opposite:
If our prayer requests are self-gratification, we have no guarantee they will be heard. The chances are they won't, no matter how much faith we exercise. faith is not some magical incantation that Yahweh, like some pagan deity, is obliged to respond favourably to. Even Yah'shua was not permitted to ask for things gratuitously, neither did He seek to:
"You lust (eagerly desire) and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:2-3, NKJV).
There are conditions for having our prayer requests granted:
"Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner" (John 5:19, NKJV).
If you ask for something that is not Yahweh's will, if your motives are not pure, and if you just want something for your own self-glorification, Yahweh will not hear you even if you exercise every last particle of faith you have. Yahweh did not want those Korean believers crossing that dangerous river. The same goes for the snake-handlers in some of the southern US cults. We are not supposed to court danger and Yahweh will not honour the reckless soul.
"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5, NKJV).
"For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth" (2 Cor.13:7-8, NKJV).
Not everything in Scripture necessarily applies to us. If we were to go down to the Red Sea and ask Yahweh to part the waters I am sure you'd agree He isn't likely to, even if the Egyptian police or some fundamentalists Muslims were chasing us with Kalashnikov's.
To correctly apply Scripture you have to know and understand the language it was written and the culture it operated in. I know of a Roman Catholic Priest who committed fornication who literally cut his finger off in remorse and a woman who tried to pluck her eye out because of lust issues because of a literally applied and misunderstood hyperbolic passage of Scripture (e.g. Mt.5:28-30). Jehovah's Witnesses and others have taken passages like Luke 14:26, "if anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" literally and actively sought to hate. All this passage is saying is to put Yahweh first in your life. He always teaches us to love.
"The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, 'You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!'" (John 12:19, NKJV). Well, the whole world had no more gone after Yah'shua than our puppy had staurated the whole planet with urine. This is hyperbole, a figure of speech. The whole planet was not following Yah'shua but big Judean crowds were, and this was threatening the power base of the religious leaders for whom this was a catastrophe. So naturally it seemed to them that the whole world was following Yah'shua.
If you would like some more examples of hyperbole, take a look at Judges 20:16, Deuteronomy 1:28, Job 19:6 and Matthew 11:23.
So what exactly did Yah'shua mean, then, when He said, "Everything is possible for him who believes"? It means you can do anything that Yahweh wills you to do if you will just trust in Him. The context is the demonised mute son of a father begging Yah'shua for help. Yah'shua's reply is to a doubter: "...if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us..." (Mark 9:22, NKJV). Yah'shua's reply is to unbelief. "What do you mean, 'If I can?' Yah'shua asked. 'Anything is possible if a person believes'" (v.23, New Living Translation). And specificially, for the man's son to be healed, which Yah'shua was willing to do, and did.
"For assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you" (Matt.17:20, NKJV).
This is another hyperbole that teaches the same principle. No man has ever moved mountains by faith alone but some obstacles may seem like mountains to us. That is not to say a man could not move a mountain if Yah'shua will Him to, and he had the faith. It's just a question of whether that's what Yahweh actually wants.
Whatever Yahweh wants you to do, you can do, by exercising faith. But make sure it's what He wants and isn't just a lust being driven by your flesh. At best you will be disappointed but at worst you might actually be harming yourself and others if you go literally interpreting hyperbole.
So whatever Yahweh has told you to do - for real - go and do it in faith and watch it happen!
Comments from Readers
And thinking of those people who drowned in the flood, I wonder if they would have remembered so many times in the scriptures when YHWH led His people he always parted the water first so that they wouldn't drown.... sad things we've heard of others too.
Some forget that YHWH provides and makes a way where there is no way.
He must always go before us first not we ahead of Him.
And we follow in His path where He makes the way and will keep us from harm even of the elements and of sickness or disease where we are quickened by the Holy Spirit as we love the Truth of the commandments of YHWH with all of our heart. Even in our afflictions He delivers us out of them all. And even our enemies are amazed.
Our ultimate deliverance is to come and that hope is what keeps us going as we seek out the righteous kingdom and do our part that we've been given to do.
Blessings, Shalom, Emet & Ahava in Yahushua! (RDR, USA, 9 March 2010)