My goal each year is to make through the entire Bible, not by reading it but by listening to it. I have a set of Bible CD’s that I listen to as I drive around for my work as a pastor. Even though I have now been through the Bible at least 25 times there are always new things I pick up each time I listen.
Since starting back in August I have just about made it through the Old Testament so in this post I’d like to share some observations that I discovered on my latest trip through the library that covers the first 4000 years of history, aka, the Old Testament.
1. The Old Testament prophets were a pretty bold bunch. I simply could not imagine standing up in front of my congregation and delivering some of the devastating messages they did. They did not hold anything back. Of course they also deliver some of the most comforting and uplifting passages in the Bible but a lot of what they had to say must have singed the ears of those who heard it.
Yet, even though they boldly proclaimed God’s Word in all its severity and sweetness, sometimes it seems like it didn’t have much of an impact. The people who heard what they said still persisted in turning away from God and bearing the consequences of such behavior. Pastors also worry if the words they are sent by God to proclaim have any lasting impact on their hearers. This is the first test of a prophet/pastor: don’t question what God sends you to proclaim, just proclaim it and let God take care of the results.
2. I found a fascinating correlation between the adventures of the ark of the covenant and Jesus. Scholars sometimes distinguish between Jesus in the state of humiliation and Jesus in the state of exaltation. In his state of humiliation, Jesus set aside his divine powers and let the sinful world do things to him that he could have easily prevented with his divine powers. The most striking instance of this, of course, is when Jesus allowed himself to be put to death on the cross. In Philippians 2 Paul puts it this way, “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
Jesus in the state of exaltation is always using his divine powers. This is the state Jesus is in since the day he rose from the dead. He “lives and reigns to all eternity” as Luther puts in the Small Catechism.
What does this all have to do with the ark of the covenant? First of all, the ark of the covenant was the most important religious artifact for the Jews. It held the mercy seat where the priests would go to intercede with God for the sins of the people. Since they didn’t have Jesus yet, the ark was literally the next best thing. God gave Moses explicit instructions on how it was to be built and how it was to be carried. Misuse of the ark could result in death.
But in I Samuel 5 the ark was “humiliated.” It was captured by the Philistines in a battle; a very weak and humiliating thing to happen. Then in captivity the ark put on a display of divine power. The Philistines put the ark in the temple of their god Dagon and twice the statue of Dagon fell over in front of the ark. Then the people in the town where the ark was being kept were struck with a plague. As the Bible says, “the hand of the Lord was heavy upon them.” They tried moving the ark to another town but the folks in that town were plagued too. Things got so bad that the Philistines decided to send the ark back to the Israelite people.
So sometimes the ark was weak and at other times it was powerful, much like Jesus. This to me is a powerful reminder of how all of Scripture is related. And the fact that the ark showed its greatest power when it was in captivity is also related to Jesus. He showed his greatest power when we was captured and put to death by his enemies; he rose from the dead three days later.
The Jewish people also showed their greatest power and resilience while they were in captivity. Stories like Daniel in the lions’ den, the three men in the fiery furnace and Queen Esther’s courage all take place while the Jews are in captivity in Babylon.
3. The third thing I discovered in my latest run through the OT is that the Israelite people did not anger God by completely abandoning him. What they kept doing was letting the worship of other gods be included in their worship of the true God. And in time the worship of the false gods pretty much obliterated the worship of the true God.
This was a problem because God is a jealous God, He absolutely will not share with other gods the love and devotion we owe him.
I think this is a problem in the Christian church today. Most churches have not completely abandoned God. They are still very godly. It’s just that they have this idea that they can allow the gods of the world to be worshiped right along with the true God. God is still as jealous as ever and will not allow any other gods interfere with the love and devotion we owe to him.
Jesus left little doubt that he had the same mindset as the God of the Old Testament:”I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Many times Christians are persecuted not because we preach about a God of love but because we stubbornly maintain that our God is the only true God and there are no other gods beside him.
4. The time the Jews spent waiting for the Messiah was not empty, wasted time. Paul writes in Galatians that Jesus came in the fullness of time. The opposite of full is empty but that does not mean that the things that happen when it is not the fullness of time are meaningless events. This applies to today because we are now waiting for God again. We are waiting for the ultimate fullness of time when God will fulfill all the promises he has made by sending Jesus back to earth so that he can take us to our eternal home in heaven.
The time we spend waiting for Jesus to return is not empty time. It is a time to be busy by taking every opportunity we have to let God fill us with his grace and mercy through his Word and Sacraments. It is a time to be busy serving our neighbors in all their needs for in doing so we are actually serving Christ. When we get weary and impatient because of the waiting we have the perfect place to go for encouragement; the Old Testament. God will sustain and keep us till the end, just as he sustained and kept his people in the Old Testament.
So even though I’ve been through the Old Testament dozens of times, there is still always something new to find.