How we read a text often determines what we receive from the text. When we read quickly, our comprehension of the text may suffer. However, if we read a text carefully, we will likely notice more about the text. This is true for almost anything we read, from signs giving us directions to news articles, down to the Bible. Since we’re likely to notice more details on a close reading when we read the Bible, we might also notice some apparent contradictions. We also might notice some things we didn’t realize before that prompt us to go, “Aha!” Today, I’m going to go over some verses in the Bible that might appear to be contradictions and some others that give us insight into our text. 

Judges

As I continue to read through Judges, I’ve reached the story of Abimelek, one of Gideon’s sons by a Canaanite woman. Abimelek wants to rule over the people at Shechem, so he conspires with his Canaanite relatives and the people of Shechem to murder his seventy brothers. When we first read about Gideon’s male offspring, Scripture tells us this:

30 He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. 31 His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelek.

Judges 8:30-31 (NIV)

Although Abimelek was Gideon’s son, he’s not counted here in verse 30 amongst the seventy. He is an outlier because he’s not of pure Israelite descent. Therefore, if we were to count the total number of Gideon’s sons, that number would be seventy-one. When we get into Judges 9, we read that Abimelek tried to kill his seventy brothers. 

He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding.

Judges 9:5 (NIV)

Names are a big deal since we use them to differentiate between people. Gideon was also referred to as Jerub-Baal because he had previously destroyed Baal’s altar, and when the people wanted to kill him, Gideon’s father told them that if Baal really were a god, then let Baal dole out justice to Gideon (cf. Judges 6:31). Therefore, the people started calling Gideon, Jerub-Baal, which means, “Let Baal contend with him” (cf. Judges 6:32). We see here in Judges 9:5 that sixty-nine sons were murdered because the youngest, Jotham, escaped by hiding. An issue arises, later on, when Jotham says this to the people of Shechem.

But today you have revolted against my father’s family. You have murdered his seventy sons on a single stone and have made Abimelek, the son of his female slave, king over the citizens of Shechem because he is related to you.

Judges 9:18 (NIV)

Why does Jotham say seventy people were murdered and not sixty-nine? I see a couple of possible explanations. The first is that the people not only agreed that Abimelek should rule over them, but they paid him seventy shekels of silver to murder his brothers. 

They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelek used it to hire reckless scoundrels, who became his followers.

Judges 9:4 (NIV)

It doesn’t really matter if all seventy were murdered or not. The intent was to kill them all. That’s what was in their hearts. People don’t get a pass when they plan a murder, and it doesn’t work out. 

Another possible explanation has to do with how people think about numbers and consequences. In the book of Exodus, when the plagues were sent to the Egyptians, we read something of note about their livestock.

And the next day the Lord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died.

Exodus 9:6 (NIV)

All of the livestock of the Egyptians died. Right? What about this passage then that comes after this?

Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside.

Exodus 9:20 (NIV)

If the livestock all died, what livestock was there to take inside? Let’s consider the use of the word “All” and how we misuse it today. 

I’m certain that we are all guilty of using the word “all” in cases when what we might really mean is most of the timeoften, or even a lot. Note, even in the previous sentence, I said, “we are all guilty,” and you probably didn’t think much about it because you understood what I meant. Sometimes we might use “all” when it doesn’t mean most of the time or any other such thing. We use it based on feelings. Who, at one time or another, hasn’t been in the middle of a bad day and thought something like, “All I want to do is go home,” when that’s not been the case? We often use “all” to be inclusive within certain parameters. Therefore, when we examine Exodus 9:6, and we read that all of the livestock died, this case isn’t any different. It could mean that all of the livestock outside died. Or that almost all of the livestock died, or even something like so much livestock died, in comparison to nothing dying that belonged to the Israelites, that it had a huge impact.  

Therefore, when we consider Jotham’s statement that all seventy brothers were murdered on a single stone, we should also consider the emotional value of having just lost sixty-nine of his brothers to murder and betrayal.

Of course, there are times when the Bible uses the word, “all” and it means everything (all). Such as Proverbs 3:5-6.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

1 Corinthians

Sometimes we might read the closing of a letter and not give it the attention we could. As I was finishing up 1 Corinthians today, I took notice of this verse.

I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you.

1 Corinthians 16:17 (NIV)

We take for granted today that we can easily communicate with most people in the world. In many cases, instantaneously, through text, e-mail, or phone. Even video chat is becoming more prevalent. When we want to send someone a letter or package, we can get it to anywhere in the world as fast as the fastest vehicle. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, there wasn’t a postal service or delivery service around. No DHL or UPS. This verse from 1 Corinthians 16:17 tells us these three men came from Corinth to Paul. We know from 1 Corinthians 7:1 that Paul was responding to questions from Corinth that had been written down. These three men would have been the ones who delivered the letter to Paul. This also gives us insight into another question from the beginning of the letter.

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.

1 Corinthians 1:11 (NIV)

These men could have been traveling with other people from Chloe’s household, but it makes more sense that the people who told Paul about the divisions in Corinth were these same men since they were trusted to carry the letter and supplied Paul with whatever had been lacking from the other Corinthians. 

Regardless of how carefully we read the Bible, we will understand nothing without the Holy Spirit revealing it to us. This is why those who are not saved and read the Bible can’t understand what they are reading (in the Spirit). This is also why we ought to pray for Him to reveal God’s word to us every time we encounter it. This is a privilege we seldom get. Asking the author of a text what He meant when he wrote it.

Do you know God? God knows you, and he loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, and he wants you to know him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be free from death, and live eternally with him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away. 

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.