“The Lord will fight for you.” Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 February

Exodus 14.14.

From time to time you’ll hear a Christian claim, “I was reading my bible this morning, and after I read this verse, I just felt this verse resonate with my spirit. Like God telling me, ‘This verse is for you.’ I know; it means something else in context. But this verse is also for me.”

Yep. It’s how people totally acknowledge that a proof text does not mean what they claim it means—but that doesn’t matter. They were granted a special dispensation from the Holy Spirit to cancel its original meaning, and change it to something they like much better.

Imagine a preacher who told you this before he presented a sermon or bible lesson. “I realize some of you are gonna say, ‘Pastor, I looked in my bible and that verse doesn’t mean what you say it means.’ Well no, it’s not gonna look like it does. But the Holy Spirit within me declares it does mean what I say it means, and you need to trust his wisdom instead of man’s wisdom.” I guarantee you the Holy Spirit is telling him no such thing. And this preacher’s church, unless they ditch him for better teachers, is gonna turn into a cult. Wherever preachers regularly get away with nullifying God’s word in favor of their own ideas, you get cults.

But the reason Christians let their preachers get away with stuff like this, is because they do it themselves. We find a verse in the bible, realize once you pry it away of its settings it suits us just right, and make that our “life verse”—and claim it does apply to us, because we want it to apply to us.

Today’s out-of-context scripture is just such a “life verse.”

Exodus 14.14 NIV
“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

In context it’s Moses and the Hebrews, who’d just left Egyptian slavery and were headed for Palestine; but at this point they were standing at the edge of the Red Sea, and the Egyptian pharaoh and his army are headed their way. They were understandably terrified. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” complained some of the more sarcastic types to Moses. Ex 14.11 ’Cause yeah, it looked like there was gonna be a slaughter.

Moses’s response was the LORD was gonna save them, and the LORD’s response to Moses was to tell him to stretch his staff over the sea, which would part. You know the story. If you don’t, read your bible. And of course there are movies.

So is verse 14 about the LORD fighting for me? Nope. Fighting for you? Nope. Even if you really, really want him to? Still nope.

What about if the Spirit within you tells you he’s gonna make that verse apply to you? That the LORD is gonna fight for you, and you need only be still?

Well first I would say make sure that’s the Spirit telling you so. Confirm it with another Christian who hears the Spirit. Because until you successfully do so, for all we know you’re just having a sock-puppet “conversation with God,” in which “he” tells you everything you wish to hear—but it was never God.

The verses we covet.

I’m using Exodus 14.14 as the example of this, but really any verse in the bible can be misapplied as someone’s “life verse” which “now applies to me.” Christians do it all the time. I’ve seen one dude in bible study after bible study, in every single passage we studied, try to pull a verse out of the passage and claim it for himself. He thought that’s what we legitimately do with bible: We get to claim verses!

And there are certain meme-makers who do nothing but pull such verses out of the scriptures, stick it on top of a nature photo, and post ’em on Instagram or Pinterest. (Sometimes with their username distractingly embedded right in the middle of the verse so you can’t trim it out of the photo. Yeah, they’re promoting God… but they gotta promote themselves, right?) After they’ve run out of all the bible verses which legitimately do apply to everyone—and sometimes well before that point!—they dig out inspiring verses which sound like they could apply to everyone, and meme ’em. And all their fans, who never bother to double-check the context of their favorite memes, spread ’em like flu at a doorknob-licking convention.

It’s entirely a case of “I want that verse so bad to apply to me,” we pretend it does. Or find a convenient excuse to claim it does. Sometimes concealed in theological language. Frequently with the claim the Holy Spirit says its totally okay; in fact it’s all his idea!

But it’s not. The Holy Spirit does not quote the scriptures he himself inspired, out of context. In fact that’s one of the more reliable ways we can deduce he’s not involved. If a prophet misquotes bible, stop listening to that prophet! If the prophet can’t be bothered to get bible right, she’s not gonna be bothered to get the Holy Spirit right either.

And meme-makers are hardly prophets. We have a duty, as Christians who don’t wanna bear false witness, to make sure when we share a bible verse, we’re not gonna share it with people who will foolishly think, “Oh, that verse resonates with me; I’m gonna make it one of my life verses!” Is it a verse which legitimately applies to everyone, or does it only apply to the person or audience to whom it’s said? Does it mean what the original author meant it to mean, or is it extremely likely people are gonna leap to the wrong conclusions about what it means?

Are we encouraging more out-of-context thinking, or are we encouraging people to read more bible? ’Cause we should be encouraging more bible.

“But what if the Lord is gonna fight for me?”

I’ve been in circumstances where people were attacking me. Sometimes it was entirely my fault: I wrote a column, and I was being a dick, and they weren’t happy about that, and rightly so. I coulda dickishly claimed, “I’m being persecuted!” as many a Christian jerk will. But even then, I knew better.

Other times I was doing the right thing, and intentionally not being a jerk about it; I was trying to be as kind as possible. And I got attacked just the same. Hey, sometimes that happens. Even if what you’re doing and saying is totally righteous, you should be wholly aware your actions are gonna have consequences, and not be so foolish as to think you get to escape those consequences. Most of the first 12 apostles got crucified; we get off far easier in comparison.

Now sometimes in the scriptures God rescued his followers. Sometimes. It didn’t always happen! It didn’t happen most of the time. We get the idea it did, because we love to tell the rescue stories. They’re the ones we preach about, and teach in Sunday schools. We rarely talk about the martyrdoms. Daniel getting out of the lions’ den is far more fun than James getting beheaded.

In these instances we’d love for the Holy Spirit to tell us, “Stand still and the LORD will fight for you.” We’d love it so much, we’ll even psyche ourselves into thinking he did tell us so. Nope; circumstances are gonna play out as they usually do. Sometimes with us escaping intact. Sometimes not.

But I don’t rule out the possibility the Spirit could tell us he’ll get us out of this jam. Because of course he could.

Thing is, when he does so, he’s not gonna tell us Exodus 14.14 now applies to us. At most he’ll tell us our circumstances are like that verse. God will rescue us like he rescued the Hebrews from the Egyptians. We’re to stand still and the LORD will fight for us—like he fought for Israel. History’s gonna repeat itself. But it doesn’t mean Exodus 14.14 now has a new context. It does not.

You want a verse which actually does apply to you, you’d be far better off with this one:

John 16.33 NIV
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”