“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.’ This is the Lord’s declaration.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
This is a bumper sticker verse. What I mean is that this is a verse that is commonly used as a stand-alone slogan. You can find decorative pieces at Hobby Lobby or other places that cater to a Christian audience with this verse on them. The thing about verses like this presented like that is they can mean just about whatever you want for them to mean. Lifted out of their original context, they become a kind of blank slate on which we can write our own story. This kind of thing feels really good, but it’s a terrible way to treat the Scriptures.
With the possible exception of several of the individual sayings from Proverbs, everything in the Scriptures has a context. It has an immediate context, a neighborhood context, a city context, a national context, and a global context. Let me explain what I mean.
The immediate context would be the few verses on either side of a particular saying. You can usually identify the immediate context of a particular verse in your Bible by look for a section heading. While we can’t treat those as Gospel, and they aren’t the same from translation to translation because they are an editor’s opinion, they are generally put there by someone who has spent a lot of time studying that particular text and are a fairly reliable guide.
The neighborhood context is the chapter or two on either side of the where a particular verse appears. This is especially true in the historical books, but even within the context of a prophetic record like Isaiah here, that’s important to consider. For example, this verse comes in the post-chapter 40 section of Isaiah which generally turns from prophecies of judgment and condemnation to prophecies of hope and restoration.
The city context is the whole book in which the saying appears. The author wrote that book to a particular people for a particular purpose. If we understand that, we will better be able to understand why he included this particular statement.
The national context would be the region of the Scriptures the book falls—Old Testament versus New Testament for example. And the global context is the whole Bible.
Unless we understand all of those properly, we won’t be able to fully understand the riches of a particular verse. This verse is a great example. On its own, out of context, it could mean all kinds of things. God is smarter than us. He is better than us. We need to change our ways to be more like Him. He knows things we do not. We could go on like this. And if this verse really stood alone, any of those could be true. But it doesn’t. And they aren’t. The truth is better.
So then, what does this all look like in practice? Come back this afternoon to find out.