There is a common danger which tempts the Bible teacher or preacher, which is adding some imaginative color to a particular passage, event, parable, or narrative.
If you have read Warren Wiersbe’s book on preaching with imagination, you will realize that it is important to make the Scriptures live, and he is a master at that! We typically call this “a sanctified imagination.” Part of any and all public speaking involves painting a picture with our words. Some may believe that they don’t do that — “They just preach the Word.” — “They are expository preachers.” — but rest assured all who are effective engage the imagination!
As I was listening to Stephen Davey, I was again reminded of this rhetorical technique as well as its accompanying danger. It is a rhetorical technique which involves brightening the colors and giving greater depth to the imagery, but it also poses an inherent danger to the biblical expositor.
Bible teachers and preachers typically hold to the belief that we are to exegete the Scriptures and not engage in some form of eisegesis (adding our thoughts into to the Scriptures).
Now, that does not mean that there is not more implied in any particular passage than is written down in the actual words. Like all communication, there are other subtle messages implied beyond the words. There are legitimate and fair expansions of the text.
When Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for him in regards to boldness (Ephesians 6:19), it is fair to say that Paul found himself in situations of life where he struggled with speaking up and saying what he knew he ought to and must say. But what I just stated is not found in the passage, but it is accurate.
No matter how correct we may be in expanding or in adding color, there is the potential that we begin saying what the Scriptures do not say.
Here is an example of that rhetorical tendency. Obviously, you are free to decide if you believe this to expansion and color is legitimate, reasonable, iffy, or improper.
Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. You should underline those three words, “but forgot him.” Sometime, at another time, ponder the implications of the way that must have affected Joseph.
F. B. Meyer, a colorful expositor, uses his imagination in this situation. He writes that the next day, when the prison door opens, Joseph jumps with a start.
He looks toward the door, perhaps even running over to it, thinking, “Here they are! I’m free!” He had probably told all of the other prisoners, “They’re coming to get me, I guarantee.”
Then, after a few days, the door opens and he probably, with a start and with a hopeful look, looks over at the door – but it is another prisoner or a guard entering or exiting. Finally, someone comes to the door and Joseph does not even look.
It must have been unbelievably difficult for Joseph to go through that experience of knowing that the cupbearer had chosen to forget him.
The cupbearer has been restored. He may have thought, “Would I dare threaten the position I have now with the Pharaoh by bringing up a story about this Hebrew captive; this slave? No way! I’m not going to endanger my position.”
The cupbearer is walking on eggs. But perhaps, over a period of time, he forgets the entire story.
— Stephen Davey
Here is F. B. Meyer in his commentary on the life of Joseph.
“When his fellow servants we squandering the golden moments, Joseph was filling them with activities. When they were content with a good surface appearance, he toiled upward to success from carefully laid foundations. When they worked simply to avoid the frown or the lash, he worked to sin the simile of the great Taskmaster whose eye was every upon him. They often pointed at him with envy and perhaps said, “He is a lucky fellow.” They did not stop to think that his luck was his character and that his character meant God.”
— F. B. Meyer – Joseph, Hated, Beloved, Exalted
I understand what Meyer and Davey are seeking to accomplish. There is a desire to have the audience . . . .
√ better visualize the situation
√ identify with character, event, situation, thinking, reactions, response
√ feel the emotions in what is taking place
√ grasp the historical reality of the situation
There is a simply way to avoid this danger which moves the teacher and preacher away from the temptation of saying what the Scriptures do not say. Frame any reasonable and right imagery with the words . . . .
- If this was me, I’m thinking . . . .
- If this was me, and many of you would probably be thinking as well . . . .
- Most people in this situation would think / say / respond . . . .
- Many people with these options before them might well say / think / react . . . .
- What would your response / words / thoughts / reaction be?
If you are like most people, and your thinking is typical, it will accomplish the same ends.
A good example from Bryan Loritts . . . .
This is the last battle described in detail in the book of Joshua. What we see in verse 5 is that a large coalition forms to fight against Gibeon because they are ticked off they would have the nerve to make a peace treaty with the very nation who threatened their existence. Gibeon catches wind of this and see how they respond in verse 6. What’s interesting here is if you study Gibeon’s words in Hebrew they are all imperatives, which is an emotionally intense mood. It is as if Gibeon is hollering, “HELP!” to Israel.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m Israel, and the one’s who just betrayed me hollered help, I’m going to be like, “Look at God! Ain’t God good? Won’t he do it? Won’t he will?”
I mean this is like that ex who has refused to make child support payments and is now asking me for a loan. Won’t he will?
But it’s here where God flips the script and ends whatever thoughts of jubilation Israel may have had. Because God says go help them, and I will be with you. Yep. God is like, “That’s right, the very one’s who wronged you, go help.” See friends, grace is not passive. It is not just the refusal to exact vengeance. Grace is active, it’s rushing to the battlefield to help your enemy. And this is the first of three things we are going to learn about grace this morning, and that is…grace is hard.