A while ago I was reading the books of the Kings. I was struck by a passage that resonated with me oddly. So much of the time in our Scripture reading we don’t see the fuller picture because we fail to draw on the context provided by the writers who give hints to other texts and thus those contexts as well.
Let me give you an example of this (the way Hebrews used the text, and still do). This hopefully will open to you a fuller appreciation and trust for the message of the Scriptures (and prove I am not out of my mind).
In Matthew 21:16 (Mark 11:9, 10, 17-18, Luke 19:37-40, 45-48), certain people are praising Jesus for “the wonderful things he had done”. The synoptic gospel writers each tell the story slightly differently and in a different order. Although this is the case, the picture remains consistent.
The people (disciples in Luke) were praising him for his wonderful works and for the “coming Kingdom” of David (which is from the prophets – especially Ezekiel) (Mark 11:10). The leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees depending on the gospel) were wanting the “praisers”(disciples) rebuked for these proclamations. In Luke Jesus replies to these requests by stating that if they did not proclaim, the “stones would cry out”. They then wanted to destroy him. We tend to just skip over that. Why did they want to destroy him for such a saying? The passage from which he is hinting is in Hab. 2:11. But Jesus' reply comes from the context of the passage not just the one verse (it is prudent to remember that verses were not even invented at that time, in the first century). The leaders knew their text; the entire context. So by Jesus giving just a “hint” (in Hebrew the word is remez, and is a rabbinical teaching method Jesus used often), he is giving them a message they know, implied by his use of that phrase. In the context it says, “You have devised a shameful thing for your house By cutting off many peoples”, “you are sinning against yourself”, “Woe to him”, “it not indeed from the LORD of hosts”. Do you see his message, and why they wanted “to destroy him”? Remember this is all very closely related to the “purging of the temple” as well.
That is not all from this particular episode. To the careful observer of this story, you will see the freedom that the gospel writers took in these passages. Matthew records Jesus saying something else altogether, although it ends with the same outcome. Are we to imagine that this temple scene took place more than once to rectify the divergent accounts? That is not the purpose of the narratives. It has the same outcome; the writers just brought us there in slightly different ways to show the point of the story.
Matthew has Jesus saying, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise”. Again, Jesus is quoting from scripture. Do we pay attention to this? He is quoting from Psalm 8:2. The context is very important because it gives the extra “ummff” to Jesus’ message and explains why they wanted to undo him. If you look at the whole context of the passage he quotes, you will find that it speaks about the “son of man” (Jesus' favorite title for himself). It also speaks about that one being exalted and “putting all things under his feet”. In the line after “perfected praise”, it says “because of your foes, in order that you might silence the enemy and the avenger.” What did Jesus just call the leaders who were wanting to silence those praising the “coming Kingdom of David” of which Jesus is the heir? He called them the “enemies” or “adversaries” of God without even saying it! We would completely miss this outside of knowing the context in which Jesus is quoting! The leaders sure knew. That is why they wanted him dead.
These subtle messages and nuances are all through the scriptures and not confined to the New Testament. The one that I discovered is such a case. Let me qualify; this is new to me, but would not necessarily be news to one who knows well the scriptures and how the prophets message often contains hints at texts prior to give further definition to their message. I have never seen or heard anyone bring this out; though I am sure I am not the first.
As I was reading 1 Kings 4:25, I came to this passage, “Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon.” I had never seen (meaning contemplated) this passage before. It immediately took me to another passage. Mic 4:4 “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.” The whole context of this passage and of Micah is the Kingdom of God. Micah prophesies about the Kingdom being restored, and when shalom is once again the “order of the day” (and all that goes with this). Micah links his message and the “coming Kingdom” to “as it was in the days of Solomon” by this simple phrase “every man under his vine and under his fig tree”. Those hearing his message would know that this is said about the glory and golden age of Solomon and David! That is really cool!1
What is also not too much of a stretch to suggest is that this phrase has its origin in the Torah (as most things do). In Deut 8:7 there is specific mention of “the good land”, “obeying God’s commands” (Deut 8:6), and the fig tree is enumerated as part of the reward and blessing in the abundance of it all (Deut 8:8). By using this, the writer seems to imply a description of Solomon’s reign at this time (obedience = blessing = fig tree etc.).
When we find these hints through the Scriptures which link us to other passages, the context brings so much more meaning by drawing from another point in time to broaden the picture and give us further perspective from the writer and his intentions. Also, papyrus or a writing surface was not as easy to procure as it is today. The writer could conserve his writing utensils by saying much that he did not have to write merely by sending the reader or hearer mentally to another point (such as with Micah linking us to Kings) to get his point that the coming Kingdom will be like the reign of Solomon and David. Such is the way the Hebrew communicates.
1. We find the same thing done by the prophet Zechariah (Zech 3:10)