Richard Ritenbaugh, reporting on a frustrating e-mail exchange with a woman who claimed to be a Bible teacher, concludes that the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4) has blinded many to the basic principles of biblical interpretation. Biblical symbology is consistent: yeast, for example, always representing corruption, or a field also representing the world. The lion has always represented a powerful and majestic ruler, whether applied to Nebuchadnezzar, Satan (I Peter 5:8) or, most importantly, to Jesus as the lion of Judah—a conquering King (Revelation 5: 5). The misinformed Bible teacher could not grasp how God could symbolize the "meek and mild" Jesus as a Sacrificial Lamb in some passages and as a conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah in others, in spite of the plethora of Scriptures showing His as forcefully subduing man's evil governments at His second coming. The god of this world has convinced many mainstream 'Christian' churches that the Giver of Grace cannot also be a Champion of the Law and a Hater of sin. Our Savior and High Priest and will ultimately assume the role of the King of Kings, with leonine power to subdue all evil and forcibly rule with righteous judgment. As God's called-out ones, we must be savvy about the nature of biblical metaphors, not letting the god of the world blind us with wrong understanding.
David Grabbe, focusing on the two goats of Leviticus 16, cautions that there is not a clear definition scripture for the word "azazel." In tradition, Azazel is the name of a fallen angel. The roots of the Hebrew word indicate a goat of departure, or "going away," "disappearance" or "complete removal." Scripture warns us not to base a doctrine on a meaning of a word because a word's meaning can change. The two goats of Leviticus 16:5 represent one sin offering. Importantly, though, this offering represents something beyond the payment for sin. Jesus Christ was and is our perfect sacrifice for sin. The idea that Christ fulfilled the role of one goat, Satan the role of the second goat, is not viable. Because the Bible is consistent in its use of symbols, and because God Himself is consistent, the Bible interprets itself. If Christ fulfilled all the other offerings rehearsed in the Book of Leviticus, the offering of the second goat, the one rehearsed in Leviticus 16, would be a major departure from all the others. In the Pentateuch, there were 40 injunctions that the animals selected for offering be without blemish. Because the priest had to cast lots to decide the fate of these animals (indicating that God alone would decide their fates), we can surmise that both these goats were without blemish or defect, symbolism that could not be applied to Satan, as he is totally unqualified to be represented by an unblemished sacrifice. The first goat is a blood sacrifice to pay for the sins of the people; the second goat is led away and freed (not bound by a chain). In the Scriptures, no one is bound for our sins. The problem of sin is not solved by only paying the death penalty. The function of the second goat will be explained in a future installment.
Richard Ritenbaugh insists that the Bible, in both parables and prophecies, interprets itself and remains consistent in its use of symbols. We cannot arbitrarily pull symbols out of the air and attach meaning. The first four parables of Matthew 13 (Sower, Wheat and Tares, Mustard Seed, and Leaven) all describe Satan's plan to destroy the church: (1) attacking at early stages of growth, (2) infiltrating through secret agents, (3) influencing unchecked, unnatural growth going beyond God's ordained limits, inviting worldly and demonic influence, and (4) influencing yielding to sin and false doctrine.
A summary of the reasons God uses symbols in the Bible, along with a few rules for understanding them.
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