Closing thoughts on the Old Testament
Old, slow, but still matters.
Why the Old Testament matters too to non-believers.
Yes, the Old Testament isn’t the most exciting thing to read. The language sounds too old and too slow. Plus you have weird names like Ahaz and Boaz.
Also, the characters sound like they belong in fairytales more than serious lectures. Take the serpent, for instance. Evil entered the world through a snake? Come on. So we take these strange storybook characters as mere fantasy, and then, go on to assume that the rest of the Old Testament, is nothing but unreliable fiction.
But looking more closely at the text, you will notice that the Old Testament includes more factual characters too. Examples? Moses, Isaiah, and Elijah. The existence of these individuals are corroborated (confirmed) by non-biblical historical documents.
Also, the mythical (seemingly fantasy) texts are not entirely useless. They are valuable because they contain information about how earlier cultures thought and believed. So even if these beliefs are not factual, that people believed using those symbols and myths is a fact. In this sense, myths too are pieces of factual evidence.
Another interesting tidbit is that the original versions of Old Testament texts go way back. Take the oldest Genesis manuscripts for instance. The earliest ones I know of were written around the 5th/ 6th century B.C. And there are probably older ones. So, given this date, human beings have been worshipping the God of the Bible for for at least two thousand five hundred years! That’s older than any existing nation-state today. That’s longer than the Roman Empire’s entire existence.
If the God of the Bible has been worshipped for that long, and has won the allegiance of billions of human beings from the Middle East to Australia, don’t you think this religion is worth taking seriously even if you might not believe in it?
If it’s lasted this long, there are probably good reasons for its long life. Also, it’s probably shaped a good chunk of humanity. So, if you are serious about understanding human beings, you can’t ignore this creed. You might disagree with it, but it’s impossible to deny its importance to the human story of the last three milennia.
One reason why the God of the Bible has won over so many believers is that his behavior has been consistent since Genesis. And consistent means dependable.
That’s what the patterns found in scripture show. In class, I highlighted four of these patterns:
Pattern 1 : God’s unconventional behavior
This pattern has to do with how the God of the Old Testament, like the New,
(1) expresses his greatness through humility and
(2) always prefers establishing personal connection before doing anything or having any text written down.
Pattern 2 has to do with taking the material world as sacred.
And noticing how the human body bears within it signs that point to God, and a call that asks us to mirror and draw nearer to His Love.
Pattern 3 : the Covenant
Dr. Scott Hahn defines Covenant as “a bond of deep interpersonal love…” that remains “even if humanity is one big broken family”.
In class, I mentioned that a covenant is not the same as a human contract because the source of a covenant is always God. Because God initiates the covenant, it is also God who sets the terms for it. And sometimes these terms are challenging to live up to.
The upshot of this arrangement though is that when human beings find it hard to keep their end of the agreement, God steps in and helps humanity out.
The ultimate “stepping in”, of course, was the “scandal of the Incarnation” : the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, his death on the cross, and his resurrection. God needed to step in in this radical way, because something really sad happened after creation. That’s what the serpent in Genesis symbolizes.
Even if you don’t believe in evil or sin, the serpent symbol is just another way of expressing what everyone experiences: pain, suffering, injustice, and imperfection. Even billionaires like Bill Gates will get a cold and have stressful days. They might even get cancer or commit a really heinous crime. In other words, there’s always something less than satisfying and perfect about life. Even the best of us can’t escape. These cracks/ wounds suggest that something damaged the world and humanity’s original design. That’s what the serpent represents.
The theme of the Covenant though points to how God has repeatedly promised that despite these cracks and flaws, he will always help humanity heal and become mirrors of his perfection again. That’s why God became man in Jesus. That’s why he went to the extent of shedding blood on the cross. That’s why men and women who have encountered and chosen to believe in this God, have experienced unbelievable changes in their lives.
Here’s a third: http://www.ucanews.com/news/christian-pastor-tells-how-he-overcame-his-pornography-addiction/68104 — this story shows that the healing and transformation can take awhile.
Pattern 4: Clues to Christ
This has to do with how individuals in the Old Testament can be interpreted as hints to Jesus’ coming and mission. Clues to Christ, so to speak. I chose to highlight three more obvious ones:
- Adam who ate from the wrong tree and failed to protect his wife
- The aborted sacrifice of Isaac (his dad almost sacrificed him to YWH to prove that he loved YWH more than his son, but an angel stopped him)
- David’s failure to shepherd Israel with moral leadership
In the New Testament, Jesus overturns the shortcomings of these three men. Here’s how:
- Unlike Adam, Jesus ate from the right “tree” by embracing his death on the cross, which symbolically is described in Scripture as source of new life (Eph. 2: 15–18). Also, Jesus also protected his “wife” by dying for her. This “bride” symbolizes the Church (Eph. 5).
- Unlike Isaac, Jesus himself becomes the “lamb” of sacrifice when he died on the cross.
- Unlike David, Jesus was the true Good Shepherd, who was faithful to his people (his flock) till death (Jn. 10:11).
Yes, Jesus completes what a lot of Old Testament patriarchs leave unfinished by dying. It’s a little morbid. But also dramatically moving.
The drama also points to something new in what Jesus had to say about God. This “something new” will be unravelled in the next part of the course.