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Doing Biblical Interpretation in Port Ministry

By Gabe Holton

Genesis 12:10-20

One of the great pleasures of port ministry is getting to hear the voices of our brothers and sisters across the world. When we have a chance to do worship services on a ship, we dedicate a portion of our time to sharing a passage of scripture. There are usually a number of questions and comments after the service from the seafarers, and they often prove to be great encouragement and provide an opportunity for discipleship. We try to provide a good context for what we want the seafarers to hear in the text, and how God is speaking to all of us through his word. Our hope of course, is to speak into the often isolated and spiritually bleak world the seafarers experience everyday, offering some sort of encouragement and hope through our service.

It is a powerful tool for a Christian, especially one in or interested in port ministry, to have the ability to approach scripture with a level of confidence. This confidence does not necessarily mean to have a comprehensive understanding of every aspect of the Bible, though this can be a helpful tool. Instead, I like to use a simple methodology paired with a posture of humility, seeking to hear God's voice in the text. This process is what I hope to share in today's devotional.

We are all interpreters, whether we choose to be or not. If it is a magazine, an advertisement, or the Bible, we all interpret everything we read. When we get to talk to a Christian seafarer, it is always interesting to hear how their faith is being challenged on a ship and what passages God is speaking through to their lives. All of our experiences and backgrounds influence the way we read a text, and every word is going to elicit a response within the reader. Because the Bible is both a piece of literature and God's word, we must take care to approach the text as such. The hope in this devotional is to discuss how we can take measures to responsibly read scripture and hear God's voice through it.

Genesis 12:10-20

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

Faithful Response

I wanted to use a passage of the Bible that is not commonly used for a devotional to outline the way we ought to read God into the scriptures. I like to call the sections below the text "faithful response" because that is what God is calling us to do when we read the Bible. The Bible is God's revelation of himself for humanity, and he has directed every passage to be apart of his overarching plan of redemption. While there is not always a clear "application point" for us through the narrative, we can respond in praise and have a further understanding of God's character. This process starts with our posture towards God and the Bible. Before reading a passage, take the time to pray to God for his spirit to fill our understanding, that we may further our relationship with him. We approach the passage not with the presupposition we have all we need from a particular passage, but that God can speak through any passage, whether it's one we struggle to accept or one we have read a thousand times.

When approaching a passage such as this, it is helpful to divide it into sections (or subunits) that trace the theme, leading us to what God is revealing about himself through the Scriptures. This procedure is helpful especially when trying to read an unfamiliar or complicated passage in the Bible. First, divide your passage into sections by identifying what the shifts are. Using the lingo of the passage, I find it helpful to name each section you label, trying to understand what exactly each piece is saying. I labeled my sections as: (1) Abram and Sarai flee to Egypt to escape famine (Gen. 12:10), (2) Abram's fear drives them to disguise Sarai (12:11-13), (3) Pharaoh takes Sarai as his wife and rewards Abram, and (4) God plagues Pharaoh and returns Abram and Sarai back home. I chose to pick four shifts that I saw in the passage, but you may see more or less. Either is okay! There is no particularly right or wrong way to do this step, but do it in a way that is helpful for your own understanding of the content and flow of the passage. The goal in this step is comprehension, so do this in whatever way is going to help you connect what the text is trying to say.

Finally, once we have laid the groundwork for reading the text, it is time to draw some conclusions and respond to God. The Bible is, after all, God's word, and we should treat our study of it as a relational act, attempting to continue to build our relationship and trust in God. One of the first things I noticed in this text is Abram's fear. Just before this passage, God had promised Abram to bless him, turning him into a great nation, and a promise to bless him. The first thing the Bible tells us Abram does? He lies and acts out of fear, not trusting God. The narrative is set up this way for a specific reason that is revealed later in this text we just read. Instead of allowing Abram to fall in his mistakes, he proves himself trustworthy to his promises. He frees Abram from Pharaoh's grasp, not letting go of the way that he says he will bless Abram's family. God is trustworthy. This fact is something he is sealing in the text about himself for humanity. He is true to his promises, and he shows this through the way that he brings Israel from the line of Abram and continues to be their God through the whole Old Testament, eventually sending Jesus as the messiah to save his people later in the story.

This conclusion is just one of many that can be gleaned from the text. Many have seen the parallels between God saving Abram from Pharaoh and God saving the Israelites from Egypt through the Exodus. In both, people come to Egypt to escape famine, but are soon oppressed by the ones they come to. In order to free them, God sends plagues to show his disapproval for the Egyptians, and his people go free. Both of these readings are valid and faithful readings of the text. Both show the way God is true to his word, but get there through different means. This idea is the beating heart of doing Biblical interpretation as Christians. We have a shared faith that comes from many different upbringings and ways of life that allow us to share and testify to who God is and why we ought to worship him more through each reading of the Bible.

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