Why Interpretation Matters…
Listening to the readings for the Epiphany this morning, I couldn’t help but laugh inside as the verse “a multitude of camels shall cover you” was read. (And don’t worry, I will explain this verse a little further below). Sometimes the way things are worded in Scripture can conjure up some bizarre images in our heads, as they can be quite out of context for us today, and we try to read backwards into times of old with our knowledge of today.
This is precisely why whenever something strikes you as a little odd or doesn’t quite hit home, it can be very rewarding to do a little research to learn more about the meaning behind these passages. For moral questions, we often need look no further than the catechism, but other areas like this camel one might take a little more historical examination. Sure you could just ask your parish priest, but depending on the verse you’re examining, you could have a response from your priest that’s anywhere from an exciting treatise on the rich theology of that verse, to a mere shoulder shrug or a look of confusion. Don’t let that defeat you, but go ahead and keep exploring for answers. Some answers you’ll find easily online, and others you may need to do some good ol’ book research through Scripture commentaries and the like. It helps if you know someone who is a big Scripture buff. Of course, try as much to confirm with Catholic sources as possible, and especially when it comes to moral questions, that the interpretations do not contradict the Catholic faith. But don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and do some studying of your own! God wants us all to grow in our faith, and as St. Jerome once said:
Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
Oh, and you’re wondering what this verse about the camels is all about? Well, simply put, the prophecy of God, speaking through Isaiah, is being spoken to the people of God as a whole. In one sense, God is speaking of the blessings He will bring upon His people. This is because people traveled by camel. The camels are listed as coming from Midian, Ephah and Sheba, to show that from the surrounding nations of trade, they will travel with their gifts of gold and frankincense. This shows that God will bless His people in a general sense, and the material gifts are a symbol of that. But in another sense this verse is referring to the wise men who travel by camel to bring the child Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. This adds to the meaning of the many nations coming to bring their gifts because the wise men were Gentiles (non-Jews) who were coming to worship this Jewish child as God. This is the beginning of God bringing all nations together in Him (through Jesus). This serves as a blessing to us because we become one in the family of God, as the body of Christ. Thus every gift given to Jesus is a blessing to us, because it is the blessing of that body growing bigger, and bringing more people into the love of God. So no, it’s not about being buried underneath a pile of camels. It’s about the nations coming together, that to all ends of the earth, people will be drawn together to worship Jesus, and thus God fills us with His blessings. So the camels were a bit of a bigger deal than you may have thought.
As for studying the Scriptures, here’s some recommendations I have for Scripture studies, in order of increasing intensity and depth of study:
The Navarre Bible (New Testament. You can buy the Old Testament books in the Navarre series if you look them up individually, but they are currently not available in one book, because it would be enormous. This is more of a spiritual reading of the Scriptures than a study, but still great nonetheless)
The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (New Testament. More in this series are currently being produced separately for the Old Testament)
Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary (This is an old commentary so you can read it for free online. It is from 1859, so sometimes it has a bit of an anti-protestant sentiment about it, which was en vogue at the time, but otherwise it remains an excellent resource)
IVP Dictionary Series (You can buy them individually too)
Verbum (software package that comes with a wealth of Catholic materials that you can cross-reference, and in fact can include all of the previously mentioned titles if you buy them)