Two Methods to See God's Truth -- Natural/Literal and Figurative/Spiritual
There are two methods to understanding the Scriptures: they can be taken literally, or figuratively (i.e. spiritually). Some scriptures must be understood literally while others must be taken spiritually. Through the years many people have spiritualized literal verses while taking figurative verses literally. This has led to enormous confusion with many denominations teaching different doctrines from the same book.
Since man is not able to interpret the Scriptures on his own, he must find the rules of interpretation in the Bible. The Apostle Paul gives us the rule (1 Cor. 15:45-47) "And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from Heaven."
Paul speaks of a natural creation of mortal men of which Adam was the first, and a spiritual creation of immortal men of which Jesus Christ is the first. Here we have the scriptural sequence of God's creation and the key to interpreting His Word. Every verse has to be taken literally first. If it violates nature or other scriptures then, and only then, should the interpretation be figurative or spiritual.
A good example of this rule is given by Jesus (Matt. 8:22) in his answer to the man who wanted to go and bury his father before following the Christ, "Follow me; and let the dead bury the dead."
By using the scriptural rule we come to the correct interpretation. We know that a physically dead man cannot bury another dead man. But, a spiritually dead man can bury a literally dead man. Therefore, the verse is to be understood in a figurative sense.
The same is true of the saying of Paul (1 Tim. 5:6) "But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth." A person cannot be dead and alive at the same time, but one can be spiritually dead while literally alive.
God spoke to Israel (Isa. 54:7,8) saying, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer." The moment spoken of cannot be taken literally, as it has been more than 2,000 years, while the gathering of Israel is literal, as evidenced by the events leading up to 1948).
Hosea mentions the same thing (Hos. 5:15-6:2) where that time of affliction is regarded as two days, "I will go and return to My place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek My face: in their affliction they will seek Me early. Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight."
These are but a few examples concerning the first key to understanding the Scriptures. The point to remember is that a scripture cannot be taken spiritually first, unless of course it violates natural laws or other Scriptural truth. First the natural, then the spiritual.