At prayer meeting the other day a friend enthusiastically relayed a neat insight into the Christmas story that she heard somewhere. She said the wise men that came to visit Jesus, once they had seen him, "departed to their own country by another way" (Matthew 2:12). She said it's the same with us: When we have an authentic encounter with Jesus, we turn from our sins and go home "by another way."
I graduated from seminary, so I could find plenty wrong with this interpretation: (1) violation of redemptive-historical context; (2) eisegetical; (3) allegorical; (4) the passage is speaking about history and geography, not spirituality.
I smiled and said nothing.
On my walk home I thought more about it. First, I thought how delighted God must be with my friend, that she loves Him and his Word so much that she gets excited by His every utterance and puts the broadest possible interpretation on it. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." "Blessed are the meek." "Unless you become as children you will not see the kingdom of God."
But then I thought: Is she right? Is that meaning in the text at all? For that matter, am I, a widow, allowed to read Isaiah's words to ancient national Israel---"Your maker is your husband" (Isaiah 54:5)---and draw comfort from them as if they are written to me also?
Then I thought about all the curious liberties Jesus and the New Testament authors took with the Old Testament. One time Jesus told some hostile Jews that people who believe in Him were people who had been drawn by God. And he proved it by quoting Isaiah 54:13: "They will all be taught by God" (John 6:45)---which, if you want to be uptight about the redemptive-historical rules of interpretation, is an illegitimate interpretation of a passage about ancient Israel.
Then there's the author of Hebrews, who took 2 Samuel 7:14, which sure looks like it's about David's son Solomon, and quoted it (Hebrews 1:5) as if anybody with a brain could see that it's really about Jesus. That reminded me of the time Paul said that the lessons God taught Abraham were meant for us (Romans 4:23), and of the time when he quoted a straightforward Old Testament passage about animal husbandry and said rhetorically, "Is it about oxen that God is concerned?" (1 Corinthians 9:9), as if we should know better.
I know, some will say that Jesus and the Hebrews authors are allowed to do unusual things with the Old Testament because they're writing the New Testament. No doubt that's true. But maybe they are also hermeneutical role models in a sense. Not that we non-canonical interpreters can make Scripture mean any thing we want, but that we can be expansive like they are in seeing Christ more pervasively than anyone could have guessed heretofore. I can't think of a single instance when Jesus rebuked an over-reading of Christ into a passage or an outsized faith.
In any case, if the insight about conversion changing our direction is nowhere to be found in Matthew 2:12, it is certainly in Luke 3:8. But by the time I got home from my walk after prayer meeting, I was inclined to say yes and amen to my friend.
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