The Old Testament
A dear friend of mine from the cult asked a question (paraphrasing) "what's the point of the old testament given that so much of it is made up?"
- The Bible: The Bad Parts
- Christian Guilt and a Christian Perspective on Abortion
- The Bible: The Good Parts
Here's something of my reply, in several parts.
I think anyone who goes to the Bible looking for literal truth, or laughs at the Bible because literal truth is not found in it, is a fool.
The Bible is a collection of sacred texts and they must be read as sacred texts. For the spiritual message.
That the stories of King David are not true (David was likely real but he probably came to the throne by fraticide and was never a shepherd) was a bit of a blow to "of the line of David" claims for the Christ in my mind, but doesn't alter the spiritual message one jot. Understanding the spiritual message, the gospel of true freedom; well that's another story.
I particularly love the Old Testament for its epic curses. One of my favourite curses in the Bible, second only to the curse of Ezekiel against the cities of Tyre and Sidon, and notable both for the baby eating and cursing Gehenna to become The Valley of Slaughter. This curse came true in the Babylonian siege and desolation of Jerusalem, or so it is written. It was recorded by Jeremiah as a witness in the book of Lamentations.
This is the curse on Sheol by the Prophet Jeremiah. Chapter 7 verses 1-13.
This is what the Lord says: “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.
“ ‘In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. I will devastate this city and make it an object of horror and scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’
“Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching, and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares the Lord. I will make this city like Topheth. The houses in Jerusalem and those of the kings of Judah will be defiled like this place, Topheth—all the houses where they burned incense on the roofs to all the starry hosts and poured out drink offerings to other gods.’ ”
This curse against the city of Tyre was by legend delivered by the prophet Ezekiel and is recorded in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, chapter 26. Although Tyre, located in what is now Lebanon, was later destroyed it wasn't quite in the manner of Ezekiel's prophecy. Close enough though.
Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.
They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers; I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock. Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. She will become plunder for the nations, and her settlements on the mainland will be ravaged by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea. I will put an end to your noisy songs, and the music of your harps will be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets.
Steve Chalke redeemed the Old Testament, and therefore the whole Bible, for me in his work "Restoring Confidence in the Bible: Can we use the Bible as a reliable moral and spiritual guide in our twenty-first century globalised world?".
He talks about the sweep and arc of the Bible from Old Testament to New and how the Bible is one humanity's attempt to understand how to be right with God and shows the evolution of our understanding of that (with Christ at the heart of it). So the old testament and new are works of flawed humanity with the nature of God shining through, especially in the person of the Christ.
The law of the old testament, contradictory and never all in force and some like the Jubilee Year probably never enacted and probably the collected works of clerics over centuries compiled into the books of the law by Ezra in the early days of second temple Judaism, is our attempt to understand the law of God.
The Christ sweeps that all away and says love is the law.
Righteousness does not come from following the law, because you can't. Instead love has fulfilled and perfected the law, and love is the law. And by grace, we can love. When we love we fulfil the law, and righteousness is made complete in us for love is perfect and without blemish.
For the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Against such, there is no law.
The spirit is the spirit of love, both the essence and the substance of love.
Grace is not given that we might follow the law, for we are no longer slaves to the law. Grace is given that we might love for when we love we fulfil the law. Righteousness, being made right, comes through grace as we are perfected by love.
What then is sin? Sin is the opposite of righteousness and since righteousness comes through love, sin is the failure to love. And that's it, that's the full list. If we fulfil the law we do not sin.
Where we do not love we dwell in darkness, for love is the light. Love is both the path and the means to find the path, both the freedom and the being made free.
As well as the arc of the law there's the clear arc of the people of God. The genocides of the old testament probably didn't happen (just as well) but the message of a people of promise so special that all else would be swept before it and that promise opening up to all people everywhere. That's still a message.
The Kingdom of Heaven, the place where love rules. Where love is the law.
1 Samuel 16:7
People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
I recently made a post saying "We see the outward appearance but the spirit looks to the heart", a paraphrase of 1 Samuel 16:7.
The prophet Samuel has been instructed by God to anoint a new king of Israel, whilst Saul is still living and still king and his son Jonathan is next in line for the throne.
Samuel goes to the house of Jesse who has a bunch of sons, all fine and upstanding and none of them God's anointed. Eventually David, the scrawny one looking after the sheep, comes in. Samuel is not impressed and God says, that's the one.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Pure fiction of course. The story of King David makes no sense historically. But anyone who went to scripture looking for literal truth, or laughing because it's not there, is a fool.
This warning for those who mock and scorn the true worship of the heart. The story from 2 Samuel 6 when David worshipped the Lord with all his heart and his wife Michal was full of scorn. She was cursed with barrenness.
2 Samuel 6:20-23
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”
And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
Some other favourite Old Testament scriptures:(Most quotes from the Nearly Infallible Version.)
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
“This is the covenant I will make with my people
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
Also in Proverbs can be found the gems:
As iron sharpens iron so sister sharpens sister.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
“I am strong!”
"Come quickly, all you nations from every side,
and assemble there.
Bring down your warriors, Lord!
1 Kings 19:11-12
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still small voice.
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’ ”
The intriguing Genisis 6:4
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
Isaiah 45:7 (KJV)
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.
There's lots of beauty in psalms of course. This is my favourite:
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
“I said, ‘You are “gods”;
you are all children of the Most High.’
On the nature of angels I particularly like 2 Kings 19:35
That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!
2 Chronicles 20:21-22 teaches us the nature (warfare) and power of worship:
After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his love endures forever.”
As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.
You see dry bones, I see an army! Ezekiel 37 and the Valley of dry bones. Where God makes an army.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
Another favourite. Genesis 15:6
Abraham had faith and it was credited to him as righteousness.
In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
And Daniel chapter twelve and verse one is particularly fine.
And not forgetting what is perhaps my favourite scripture of all, maybe second only to 1 John 4:7-8, is Ecclesiastes 7:8
The end of a thing is better than the beginning of a thing,
And patience is better than pride.
Lots of situations where you can whip that one out, and nod sagely.
"Everyone's mad, we just call the flavour of madness prevalent in our circles "normal"."