Exegesis and eisegesis are two conflicting approaches in Bible study. Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis. The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by following the text.
The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.
Obviously, only exegesis does justice to the text. Eisegesis is a mishandling of the text and often leads to a misinterpretation. Exegesis is concerned with discovering the true meaning of the text, respecting its grammar, syntax, and setting. Eisegesis is concerned only with making a point, even at the expense of the meaning of words.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
“And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)
The above two passages are foundational for the practice of what is widely known contemplative prayer, which focuses on becoming silent and emptying the mind of distractions that might hinder hearing the ‘still small voice’ of God, and thereby experience God more fully than is possible through inductive Bible study. Such Bible study, along with commentaries is actually discouraged. We are to enter the silence and listen for the ‘still small voice’.
That being said, given that the topic of contemplative prayer is a subject unto itself, and the analysis thereof not the intent of this short article, we will merely examine the ‘foundational’ passages quoted above and their meanings in context.
1God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
The phrase “Be still, and know that I am God.” is in the last of three sections of the Psalm, and is followed by a summary of the entire Psalm, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”, an echoing of the very first verse “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Between the first verse’s declaration that ‘God is our refuge and strength’ and the summary that ‘the God of Jacob is our fortress’ we find things that could bring great fear into our hearts; earthquakes, raging storms, trembling mountains, terrible wars and nations toppling. We are then told how to respond in such times. We are told specifically ‘not’ to fear because God is our refuge and strength. In other words, ‘be still’, means ‘remain calm’ in the midst of the storms of life. Someone might say in today’s parlance, “Take a chill pill, dude!”
1 Kings 19:12
“And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” (KJV)
While our passage in Psalm 46 “…be still…” is used to ‘prove ‘listening in complete silence, our 1 Kings passage is used to ‘prove’ the practice of waiting to hear ‘a still small voice’. But is that what the passage is teaching? Again, we examine the context:
The prophet Elijah, with a death sentence hanging over his head, courtesy of Queen Jezebel, was in a serious E&E (escape and evasion) mode and had petitioned God to go ahead and take his life, thinking he was the only prophet left, was given these divine instructions:
“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12)
Elijah then heard the voice of the Lord, and once again complained that he was the only prophet left in Israel. The Lord gave him a new OPORD (Operations Order), reminding him that He had preserved 7,000 prophets! The wise prophet that he was, Elijah continued on his new mission.
Placed back into its context we discover that the ‘still small voice’ merely referred to the manner with which God spoke to the prophet on that particular occasion. It is not teaching that listening to the still small voice of God is required to experience the true fullness of God.
So does the Bible teach us anything about meditation?
Most definitely! However, Biblical meditation is always about ‘filling’ our minds and hearts, not emptying them, whether in a season of prayer, or as a lifestyle. Here are just a few examples:
“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” (Joshua 1:8)
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)
“When I remember Thee on my bed, I meditate on Thee in the night watches,” (Psalm 63:6)
“I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Thy wonders of old.” (Psalm 77:11)
“They did not remember His power, The day when He redeemed them from the adversary,” (Psalm 78:42)
“Thy word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against Thee. I will meditate on Thy precepts, And regard Thy ways.” (Psalm 119:11, 15)
“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Thy doings; I muse on the work of Thy hands.” (Psalm 143:5)
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. (Php 4:8)
May God richly bless you as you read His Word, hide it in your hearts, and grow in grace!