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Three Ways to Summarise the Old Testament
- God is looking to build a people for himself. He wants to fill the earth with them and he wants them to live under his blessing. This purpose is worked out painfully slowly through the Old Testament (and at times it looks like it hasn’t worked). The purposes of God can be likened to a steamroller – they take a long time to get there, but when they do, they are unstoppable.
- God wants people, but people don’t want God.
- It doesn’t work. The Old Testament speaks against itself – but it is pointing forward to something that will work.
The Beginning – Genesis 1-11
- It begins with God creating everything (including people).
- Humanity was created in the image of God to represent God to his creation and to rule creation on his behalf (see Genesis 1:27-28).
- The Hebrew word translated as ‘earth’ is erets. In other places, this word is translated as ‘land’. This is a commission to fill the land.
- God’s plan was that the garden would spill out and the whole earth would be the place of God’s blessing.
- Despite God’s creation and blessing, the people fall. They distrust God, disobey God, displace God, disconnect with God and die. This emphasises the theme that God wants people but people don’t want God.
- God pronounces a curse on the people, but in there is a promise of the offspring/seed of the woman who shall bruise the serpent’s head, but have his own heel bruised in the process. The Hebrew word used is zera, and this could carry the sense of either one individual offspring or of all his offspring collectively.
- They are expelled from the garden, from the presence of God and from life itself. The rest of the Bible is answering the question, ‘how does God get us back into the garden, the presence of God and life itself?’
- In Genesis 4-11, people continue to rebel against God, even as they are now filling the earth (eret).
- God sends the flood and starts again with Noah, a kind of new Adam, who has the same commission to be fruitful, to increase in number and to fill the earth. But Noah quickly messes up and his found drunk and naked by his sons.
- In Babel (later called Babylon), the people build a tower to avoid being scattered. They are resisting God’s plan for them.
- Again we see the God wants people but people don’t want God, and that the Old Testament isn’t working.
The Patriarchs – Genesis 12-50 (From Around 2100 B.C.)
- In Genesis 11, God calls Abram (effectively Adam number three).
- God makes covenant promises to Abraham and his offspiring (zera). These promises are that he will be numerous, that he will inherit the land and that he will bless the nations (we have already seen these three things in Eden). These promises are stated or reiterated in Genesis 12, 15, 17 and 22.
- God is going to fulfil his promise of the people living in the land under the blessing, and he is going to do it through Abraham.
- As Genesis goes on, we follow Abraham’s family line until we get to the twelve sons of Israel. As we see their story, it is evident that they are basically ungodly people, and again it doesn’t seem to be working.
- In Genesis 49:10, Jacob prophesies that the promised seed would come through Judah’s line.
- By the end of Genesis, there are some people, living with some blessing but outside the land.
The Exodus (From Around 1500 B.C.)
- In Exodus 1, we see that the people multiplied greatly in Egypt, but they were made slaves by the Egyptian rulers. There were now lots of people, with slim blessing and in the wrong land.
- God’s rescue of his people from Egypt was based on his covenant promises.
- Moses was raised up lead the people out. God spoke to Moses, who confronted Pharaoh. The people come out of Egypt and the Egyptians are defeated.
- Immediately after God rescues them, the people spend the next three months wandering in the desert, grumbling, backbiting and complaining. Again, it is clear that it is not working.
- The people arrived at Mount Sinai and the law was given, and then they started sacrificing to a golden calf. This shows that law alone doesn’t work. We need something better.
- Moses was given instructions to build a tabernacle so that God may dwell amongst them (see Exodus 25). The schematics for the tabernacle give the impression of a portable Garden of Eden.
- Then, forty years later, the people are gathered on the planes of Moab as is recorded in the book of Deuteronomy. Again, this ends on a sour note – Moses tells the people that they will be unable to do it and that they will get kicked out of the land. Deuteronomy ends on the message of ‘this doesn’t work’.
Conquest (From Around 1400 B.C.)
- Joshua’s initial offensive was fairly unsuccessful in terms of what God had actually called them to do.
- There were a series of raids and incursions. Three cities were destroyed and a few skirmishes had been won.
- This was at best a partial success. There was still lots of the land untaken halfway through Joshua, but then we see no more action. In the rest of the book they are just working out who will get what when they finally do take the land.
- The book of Joshua ends on the note of, ‘we’ve started, but we haven’t finished’.
- This legacy rumbles on into Judges.
- The people were living in the land, but they were living among many other people who would frequently oppress them and lead them away from God.
- Again, the fundamental issue is that though God wants people, people don’t want God.
- At this point, they were not a united nation. It seems as though people’s tribal identities were much more important to them than their national identity.
- The Judges themselves were more like local warlords than national leaders. Times of brief deliverance were followed by spirals into disappointment.
- The people failed to live as God’s people and failed to live under God’s covenant, so very little blessing was experienced.
- The key verse in Judges is Judges 17:6, which says that, “In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”It is saying that they needed more than the current system.
- Samuel (the last of the Judges) appointed Saul as King over Israel. The question was whether this could solve the problem.
The United Kingdom (From Around 1050 B.C.)
- Saul did manage to unite the twelve tribes into one nation, but his own disobedience lead to him being told that he would be replaced by a king after God’s own heart.
- Next came David. Under David’s rule, Israel became a geographical and political union with Jerusalem as its capital. Things were looking pretty good and David became the standard against which all future kings would be measured.
- But David was far from perfect. He had early successes, but then it went downhill into adultery, murder and overindulgent parenting, and his moral failures were mirrored in the decline of the nation.
- Yet God made David a promise in 2 Samuel 7:12 that he would raise up his offspring (zera) after him. Even though David looks good, there will be someone greater than him to come.
- Solomon was appointed King after David and he had the potential to be brilliant. He was gifted, wise, godly, a strong leader, internationally influential and inherited a strong united kingdom.
- Under Solomon’s rule, Israel had it’s golden age. The temple was built and the borders were as big as at any point in history. In 1 Kings 4 we are told that the people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore (reminding us of God’s promise of Abraham).
- The people of God were living in the land – so we need to ask whether this is what had been promised.
- Because the people still didn’t want God. Solomon sinned, and his sin produced a selfish king and a sinful nation rather than all peoples being blessed through them.
The Divided Kingdom (From Around 930 B.C.)
- Solomon should have left a great legacy, but instead, after his rule there was a civil war and the kingdom divided.
- Solomon’s son Rehoboam became king, but he caused the break up of the kingdom through his heavy-handed rule of the people.
- Jeroboam rebelled and set up a new kingdom in the north (Israel), with Judah in the south under Rehoboam.
- In the north, the kings were not of the Davidic line. There were short reigns, coups, the people sinned and there was an alternative religious life. People didn’t want the true God, they wanted a tame god where they could do what they want and think he’s on their side.
- Judah in the South fares a little better but not much. They were ruled by kings of the Davidic line, and it was a depressing mix of good and bad kings.
- 1 Kings 12 makes clear that this split in the kingdom is actually God’s doing.
- God’s people are in his land, but split in two, largely unfaithful and with very slim blessing.
- For the next 200-300 years, there is slow decline with people evidencing that they don’t want God, punctuated with small revivals (such as under Josiah) and warnings from the prophets.
- These warnings were in line with the warning of coming judgment and exile from Leviticus, and are reminiscent of Adam and Eve being exiled from the Garden of Eden.
Exile (From 722 B.C.)
- In 722 B.C., the Northern Empire was destroyed when they rebelled against the Assyrian Empire. They had already been attacked a few times before and survived, but this time the battle was climactic. Many of the people were taken away and new people were brought in. This mixed people became the Samaritans that we read about in the New Testament.
- The Southern Kingdom was invaded by Babylon in 586 B.C. They destroyed the city and took away most of the people – only the poorest remained. External governors were appointed over them, and by this time the population was only about 10% of what it had been under Solomon.
- At this point in the story, it seems as though we are right back to where we started. The people are in Babel/Babylon, not living under the blessing and not sharing it with the peoples around them.
- The exile years were a time of crisis for Israel. It could have been the end of them (it was for many other nations). Once again they were slaves in a foreign land. It was like Egypt all over again – a numerous people but enslaved by a foreign power.
- They were back in the same geographic area as where Abraham had started out.
- The question for the people was whether the covenant even still existed. Had they blown it through their unfaithfulness?
- Again, the Old Testament is testifying against itself – this doesn’t work!
- The prophetic hope for the people to hold on to is that God doesn’t forget his covenant (see Jeremiah 29:10)
Return & Restoration (From 538 B.C.)
- Cyrus the Persian came to power in Babylon (as Isaiah had prophesied decades earlier), and he had a policy of relocation of conquered peoples. He wanted to send them (and their gods) back to their own land.
- Phase one of the return was under Zerubabbel in 515 B.C. where the temple was rebuilt. This is recorded in Ezra 1-6.
- Phase two of the return was under Ezra 80 years later. This brought spiritual reforms and is recorded in Ezra 7-10.
- Phase three of the return was under Nehemiah another 10 years later. He reinforced Ezra’s work and built the wall around the city. This is recorded in the book of Nehemiah.
- By this point there were some of the people in the land and some not, but it didn’t look particularly good. There was a sense of ‘is this it?’ It didn’t seem to be working. It didn’t look like all of the prophetic promises (such as Psalm 22:29, Isaiah 2:2, Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 52:!5, Habakkuk 2:16, Zechariah 2:11, Jeremiah 31:33) had led them to expect.
- The Old Testament ends and there is 400 years of silence. The question is whether God has forgotten his covenant.
And Then Comes Jesus…
- The one seed of the woman.
- The one seed of Abraham in whom all the promises are condensed and expanded to the nations.
- The Lion of Judah, the ruler with the sceptre in his hand.
- The Son of David, for whom God will build a throne, and though he never did anything wrong was beaten with rods.
- The perfect Israel who came up out of Egypt, who kept covenant and pleased God in everything.
- The last Adam who never failed, gave up or broke covenant.
- The one who can change the heart of both Jew and Gentile so that they want God.
- The one who causes the ‘land’ to burst out to the whole world.
- All of the Old Testament builds up to it. That didn’t work – but this will!
- God will have a people living under his blessing in Christ.
How can we teach Old Testament passages in ways that honour both the individual passage and the big picture?
- Preach it as the Old Testament – don’t treat it as the New Testament packaged up.
- Preach it on its own terms. Don’t turn it into a code to be solved.
- Think how in its own terms, it is fulfilled in Christ.
- Don’t make it into an allegory.
- An example is David and Goliath. This isn’t primarily about us defeating our enemies. It is about a shepherd king who wins the victory – it points us to Jesus.
- If Jesus isn’t the hero then we’re probably teaching morality rather than the Gospel.
What is the difference between making something an allegory and saying that David is like Jesus?
- Allegory is random and isn’t grounded in the original text itself. You are just assigning your own meaning to things.
- When you are looking for typology, ask where the continuity is between what you see in your passage and the New Testament, and how is it fulfilled in Christ?
- It needs to be the same thing brought forward into the New Testament. The New Testament authors themselves do this. Matthew quotes Hosea about Jesus coming up out of Israel. This shows a lot of continuity.
- You are looking for continuity of purpose and continuity of fulfilment rather than random abstraction.
Is it possible to measure the level of unity in a local fellowship?
- There isn’t much continuity between the complaining and moaning that we see in the Old Testament and what is in the New Testament.
- A big New Testament theme is the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
- The Old Testament highlights people not wanting to live for God. In the New Testament, we see much more joy, delight, and peace (especially among the leaders) and we don’t see the same level of leader ‘fatalities’. They seem to be flourishing (although there are exceptions to this).
- There seems to be a step change between the moral quality of God’s people in the Old Testament and in the New Testament (as you would expect from passages such as Ezekiel 36).
- Where the Spirit of God is, there will be love for one another – and when there isn’t, it’s a sign of people not living godly lives (out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks).
Why are there so many long gaps in God’s timetable?
- I don’t know.
- God seems to be very content to work at a pace that is different to ours.
- God seems to be happy leaving us in difficult situations in order to refine us.
When we don’t preach on the Old Testament much, does out understanding of the New Testament suffer?
- We should preach on it more than we do.
- It is good to preach through whole books of the Bible.
- Rich Tutt tries to alternate between Old Testament and New Testament.
- For example, the book of Revelation is much less mysterious when we have a good grasp of the Old Testament.
What advice do you have for getting young people fired up about the Old Testament?
- Don’t teach it as a set of morality stories.
- Teach it in light of the Gospel – it shows that we are all screaming out for Jesus.
Should we see the last few chapters of Genesis as Judah’s story rather than Joseph’s?
- The purpose of these chapters is to show how the people got to Egypt.
- They show a pattern of righteousness bringing suffering – and yet through that experience, God works deliverance, not just for his people but for the whole world.
- When the promise comes to Judah, it makes you wonder what the promised ruler will be like. Maybe be won’t be an all conquering king, but someone who experiences something very different.