Eisegesis Unplugged – Psalm 37:4

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.

The Passage

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

I remember when this was an often quoted passage with the primary focus on the last half – “and he will give you the desires of your heart”. All I have to do is delight in the Lord and he will give me everything my little heart desires! It was a given that I delighted in the Lord, since this prodigal had come home to Jesus.

When I wasn’t seeing ‘the desires of my heart’ actualized however, it was necessary to rethink the matter a bit, in spite of other believers ready and willing to affirm my chosen interpretation of such a wonderful promise. What was going on? Were we guilty of a wrong interpretation, or what?

I’ve concluded, wisely I think, that our interpretation wasn’t wrong, but our focus on the last half of the passage is not what the original author (David) intended. Let’s put the passage into context, shall we?

1Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.

3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!

8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
9 For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

From just the first few verses of this Psalm it’s not difficult to see that rather than a prescription for obtaining our personal wishes and desires, what we have is a contrast between evildoers and the righteous. As the ESV Study Bible explains:

The opening stanza sets forth the overall theme: “fret not yourself because of evildoers” (esp. when it seems that they are prospering), “trust in the Lord, and do good.” The reason not to fret is the assurance that justice will come in the end: the evildoers “will soon fade like the grass” (v. 2) and “shall be cut off” (v. 9), while the faithful—those who “wait for the Lord”—“shall inherit the land”

Rather than worrying about evildoers and unjust seeming to prosper all around us, we are told ‘delight in the Lord’, but not in order to satisfy the desires of our hearts, but so that our hearts will desire the right things!

To ‘delight’ in the Lord is to find happiness and pleasure in “the perfections of God, his power, goodness, faithfulness, wisdom, love, grace, and mercy; in his works of creation, providence, and redemption; in his word, his Gospel, the truths and ordinances of it” (John Gill).

When we truly find our ultimate delight and happiness in our Lord, our still flawed and selfish hearts will be so wonderfully changed that many of our heart’s desires will become dim, if not vanish entirely, as we are conformed to the very image of God’s own Son!

The contrast between the two outcomes, those who shall be cut off and those who shall inherit the land, recurs throughout the psalm: vv. 11, 22, 28–29, 34. “Cut off” generally refers to divine judgment, which removes a person from the people of God (e.g., Gen. 17:14; Lev. 7:20); in this psalm, it looks forward to the “future of the wicked” (Ps. 37:38), which likely refers to his afterlife (since it contrasts with one’s “hope” in Prov. 23:18; 24:14 (ESV Study Bible)

Have you ever found yourself envious of those around you who seem to prosper in spite of being unrighteous, unjust, or who even blaspheme our Lord and God? In all honesty, I can only plead guilty. I have at times needed an attitude adjustment, however those times have become fewer and fewer as I have grown spiritually through the years.

So rather than worrying about those around us who know not Christ yet are prospering, let us pray for God to open hearts to receive the message of the Gospel and for opportunities to share the only truth that gives hope to mankind!

And may Philippians 2:13 become more of a reality in our lives every day.

“. . . for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”.

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