The title above is one of those long words that people use: it really just describes a way of preaching or interpreting Scripture in which the interpreter’s ideas are read into a passage. This kind of preaching is supposed to be avoided, as it is considered bad.
By contrast, exegesis is when the preaching or interpreting Scripture, the Scripture is allowed to speak for itself. It doesn’t mean one cannot express thoughts about the Scripture; it just means that one doesn’t read things into it that aren’t there.
An example would doubtless be very helpful here, and I have one.
I think I have mentioned before that I listen to recorded preaching from time to time. I have heard some excellent, challenging messages, and I have heard some not so good ones. Today’s example of eisegesis is one of the bad ones. I am deliberately not giving the name of the church or of the preacher for a couple of reasons: First (and foremost), this article is about a practice (eisegesis), not a person. If the person were named, his enemies would cheer me and his followers would attack me, and the whole matter of eisegesis would be ignored. Second, it could be that the message I listened to may have been a one-time occurrence; the preacher may not usually preach like example I’m going to give.
On to the example: The text was about the whittling down of Gideon’s army from about 32,000 people to 300 people in Judges 7. There was an initial reduction of ~32,000 to ~10,000 people (vv2-3), and then a second reduction (from 10,000 to 300) in vv4-7.
The speaker, while talking about this second reduction, said that the men who “lapped water like a dog” were more watchful of their surroundings, more on the alert, and thus the better soldiers, so God chose these men.
This is an example of eisegesis; when you invent reasons that God did not give.
First of all, God did give the reasons for His choice: And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me (v2). And again: And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many (v4). This is about God getting the glory for delivering Israel; He is reducing the people involved so that there is no doubt that it is His deliverance.
Secondly, I can do the same thing the opposite way: The men who “bowed upon their knees” to drink were trusting of their fellow soldiers to watch over this, and every soldier knows you must trust your fellow soldiers in battle. These were clearly the superior soldiers, so God sent them away to show that He is able to work with anyone. (See how easy it is just to make something up?)
Since we know that this was about reducing the number of men, I believe that if the numbers had been reversed, and 9700 had lapped water like a dog and 300 had bowed their knees to drink, God would have chosen the men who bowed their knees to drink.
By the way, this man is not the only preacher that I’ve heard say this similar things about why God chose those men. However, this preacher made it a major point of the message – that we should strive to be better solders to be be part of the crowd that brings a great victory (incidentally, this is wrong on two points; not only is this eisegesis, but these men did not do anything to be in the 300; God chose here to save His people by the use of a small minority). The thrust of the teaching here is about giving glory to God, not trying to be part of some kind of superior group that impresses God so that He uses them.
Oh, and while I’m on this passage, I’ve also heard it said of the 22,000 men who left the first time that they were cowards. Not so. The Bible tells us that they were “fearful and afraid” — but consider that they come out with full intention of fighting. It is the bravest of men, who despite being afraid, goes ahead and does what needs to be done.