Rightly Dividing the Word of God Between Literal and a Symbolic Understanding.
There is an abundance of truth to be found in the word of God and yet, we must know as believers how to understand it and draw from it correctly.
There are parts of the scriptures which one can take literally and understand in this way.
But then there are other sections where one needs to have a spiritual understanding into the significance of how The LORD would want us to interpret it.
Within the pages of the parables one must certainly know that our LORD said these things in a way that one would need to understand them symbolically.
Surely, we must know that the seed that fell upon different soils was not meant to be understood literally, but rather in a way where one’s heart condition was involved in the process.
For to be sure, when the seed fell upon rocky soil, the spiritual application is that there wasn’t any depth for the seed to be planted upon, and it couldn’t take root or develop into something mature.
You see, if we can readily receive the Word of God but it doesn’t have a way of “taking root,” then how can those things that we have received become something stable and grow in our lives?
One would surely know that when a seed is planted among the thorns that the weeds would prevent the plant from growing and it would be choked and then wouldn’t be able to grow.
We know from the parable of Jesus that the thorns represented the cares of the world and thus, how when one is consumed with all of these cares and worries, then the word of God cannot thrive there.
One would be remiss if they neglected the scripture where Jesus told them about casting a mountain into the sea.
And Jesus answered and said to them,
“Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen,” Matthew 21:21.
And yet again, we see that Jesus wasn’t talking about the physical removal of a mountain, for the mere act of doing so, wouldn’t be possible.
But we have many mountains and obstacles in our lives that can be removed through our faith in Him.
The hyperbole is used here, as it is elsewhere, to impress upon our mind the truth which underlines it.
We are told in John 14:12 that we can do even greater works that He has done because of our faith in Him.
In another instance, Jesus told a parable about a fig tree that had become barren and wouldn’t produce any fruit:
“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it,” Mark 11:12-14.
Again, we see the significance of the symbolic phraseology in His parable here.
For the story is not about a fig tree but of the spiritual significance of moral barrenness, and not about the fig tree in and of itself.
For what other reason would there be to curse a fig tree simply because it had not produced any fruit?
There is no other reason than what the spiritual significance is of one’s own barrenness.
In Isaiah 6:9-10 we see a portion from the prophet that certainly would not be so easy to understand, and one would have to dig deeply in order to interpret the significance of it:
“And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their eats heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”
Besides being a prophecy fulfilled in the New Testament, God is telling us through this scripture that when most hear or see the scriptural stories and sayings, they do not understand.
Our hearts have to be opened to the spiritual truth which is beyond any literal interpretation or meaning. Typically Jesus spoke to the multitudes in the form of parables.
“And he said unto them, Unto you it is given the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but unto them who are without, all these things are done in parables,” Mark 4:11.
“Do not work for food that spoils,” He told the people, “but for food that endures to eternal life,” (John 6:27).
What is that life-giving food, the source of eternal life? It is Jesus.
When Jesus told people that they must eat his flesh (verse 53), he did not mean it literally.
Even when he said that his flesh was “real food” (verse 55), he did not mean it literally.
He explained that flesh is not important (verse 63). To be given eternal life, we need something spiritual.
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out,” Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:29).
But can an eye really cause us to sin? No. Jesus was making a bold statement to emphasize an important principle.
Biblical prophecies often include figures of speech. Some predictions came to pass exactly as written.
Others were fulfilled in type — one thing representing another.
Isaiah 40:3-4, for an extreme example, predicts that valleys will be raised and mountains brought low.
Luke 3:4-6 indicates that this prophecy in Isaiah was fulfilled by the preaching of John the Baptist.
The valleys and mountains of Isaiah 40:3-4 are apparently symbols for something else and therefore not to be taken literally.
The apostle John saw a beast coming, out of the sea (Revelation 13:1) and another beast out of the earth (verse 11). Were the animals real, or only a vision? Were they literal or symbolic?
If we interpret the prophecy literally, we might think that this is referring to some type of strange monster.
But few students of the Bible would interpret these beasts literally as strange and fearful animal-type figures.
Instead, we are to understand them spiritually through the symbolic pictures that are represented there.
And yet where would we find those sections of the bible where one would interpret it literally?
It would be quite obvious that one would certainly understand the Ten Commandments in a literal fashion.
For each and every one of them is plain and direct in how they are laid out.
If God says that there are to be no other gods before Him, then how else can that be understood?
If one is commanded not to kill then surely there is no other understanding that what is laid out through the commandment.
Of course we see the fulfillment laid out when Jesus told his disciples that whoever hates his brother has already committed murder.
He goes on further to say that whoever looks upon a woman lustfully has committed adultery with her in his heart.
The story of The Tower of Babel was absolutely literal and that it accurately explains why people have different languages.
There are countless sections of the bible where one would understand what is written down in a literal sense.
In the historical books of the bible we see the accounts of various kings and how some fell prey to violence and deceit, while others chose to follow after God, as we see in the life of King David.
We hear of the account of Abraham and how he was ready to sacrifice his only son Isaac, and we know that it actually happened, and yet we see the spiritual relevance to this act seen where God gave His only Son as a sacrifice for us.
All-and-all, most of us know that the word of God is written in such a way that it is spiritually discerned and that oftentimes, there is a deeper meaning implied even when the words and phrases may seem at first to be quite plain.
Much of this is seen in the writings of the prophets as the visual implications and word pictures portray the heart and mind of God towards His people.
And yet even in the midst of these prophecies, we see the fulfillment of the destruction of various kings and kingdoms, the captivity of Israel into Babylon, and the prediction fulfilled of Jesus as He came in the form of a lowly servant to take on the sins of the world.
~ Stephen Hanson
Stephen Hanson of In His Truth Ministries came to The LORD is a special way in 1975 and has prophesied regularly since. In these end-time birthing pangs we are reminded that judgment must first begin with the household of God. Will we be prepared and ready?