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Sermon | Exploring the Old Testament

Book lying open on a desk, we can see just the right hand half pf the pages splayed open

This Year has been set by Bishop Martin as the year of the Old Testament, next year is the NT. The Bible so important – and yet we often we miss the OT or find it too confusing. So we are going to dip into it between now and November as part of this year.

Our journey through the OT –we are trying to go in chronological order which is not necessarily the order it is in the Bible! Though with some changes – for example we’re also dipping into Psalms from time to time, as we go.

We’re going to do a intro if you like, for a few weeks – looking at the start – creation, law etc and then focus on some key women of the bible, followed by some key men of the bible, then into the prophets up to November.

I really hope this will be a helpful period of study and learning for us all. I once heard a stat that said of all preaching, only 3% is based on the OT and half of that is simply referencing the OT in relation to the NT!

So why should we read and study the OT?

  • It’s 75% of the bible – what are we missing if we don’t get into it?

I know it can be tough to get through sometimes. Hence this series! But don’t ignore it!

  • Jesus was a Jew – these were his scriptures – as a child who stayed behind in the temple for 3 days!! I mean… the teachers were amazed at his insight, questions etc. (these scriptures are what we know as the OT). 
  • 2 Timothy, Paul’s letter to him says…

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

He’s referring of course to the Jewish scriptures – our OT. The New Testament as a collection of writings did not exist yet. He talks about:

  • The sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus
  • All scripture is inspired by God and is[b] useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

So all scripture is inspired by God and all scripture is useful.

Romans 15:4 notes:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope

  • so that we might have hope, through the encouragement of the scriptures.
  • and finally  the scriptures point us to Jesus – this longed for Messiah the Jews hoped for

John 5:39, Jesus here is testifying to the Jews, who had questioned why he healed a man on the Sabbath – he says:

39 ‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf

  • He is saying that the scriptures they love, point to him.
  • And again as we heard a few weeks back, 2 of the disciples walking on the Emmaus road and meet Jesus – he explained to them:

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

  • And in our passage today we heard how he takes the most important commandments from Jewish scripture and says they are the most important things still

There is no other commandment greater than these

  • So in a nutshell the OT is super important!

Now I want to give us a quick overview of the OT. So, how is it made up?

The Hebrew bible/ Jewish scriptures, is known as the TaNaKh a name which is an acronym of letters from the 3 separate divisions.

So you have the Torah (Ta) – the Law or instruction (also known as the Pentateuch – first 5 books)

The Nevi’im (Prophets – which includes historical books – and then the major and minor prophets – ask why?) Na

The Ketuvim  (Kh) (writings – includes poetry and wisdom literature – for example: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, and a few others

And it’s important to note that the books are not in chronological order as I mentioned – so they are not in the order they happened or depict, they are grouped by category. So as Earl reminded us the beginning of the story was actually the exodus from Eqypt. The first things written down were after this – the tablets of stone with the 10 commandments, the laws given by God to the people on how to live. Later we have David and the psalmists writing their songs. But none of this was grouped together until much later. In fact the range of the OT scriptures were written between 1200-100 BC, in Hebrew.

And there are a range of writing styles too. History, poetry, law, songs and more. And so we need to remember how it was written as we read it. As Earl pointed out you don’t read a legal document in the way you’d read a poem for example. There is of course a debate about whether we take it all literally, this is the word of God – but how do we interpret the OT particularly for now. We will look at this a bit deeper as we go into the law for example in the coming weeks. The most important thing about scripture is that it should draw us closer to God.

So essentially the bible is about God’s relationship with humanity. It’s not a science book or even a history book it is a theology book.

We see the story of the OT is God in good relationship with the people, the people of Israel – from creation onwards.  And for whatever reason the people walk away from God, things turn sour and the prophets tell them – hey get back to God. Finally they repent and for a while things are good and then the whole cycle starts again. And again. And again.

So for example, you have: Adam and Eve – fell from grace. As did Noah. Sarah didn’t trust God. 

And with her and Abraham all was fine until the kids & grandkids appear. But God has promised numerous descendants and that’s how the story unfolds.

Jacob’s sons (Abraham’s grand kids) sold their brother to be a slave and lied about it. 

This people, the descendants, the Israelites become enslaved to Pharoah and God wants to set them free and we see the story of the Exodus – escaping him and into the promised land via the wilderness. Then after the Exodus, in the wilderness the people moaned about God’s provision for them and as a result ended up in the desert for 40 years. They constantly turned to and then away from God in this cycle of repentance.

During this time they receive the law – various rules and regs around how to live and stay in right relationship with God.  Ps 1:

Happy are those…
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Psalm 1:1-3

Then we see the history of various kings and leaders in this new land and surrounding area Kings, chronicles, Deborah, Samuel etc)  some of whom are distinctly dodgy.

I mean even King David, who was chosen to be king by God through Samuel the prophet – took the wife of his key commander who was away at battle and as some suggest raped her – certainly she had no choice – and then had him killed to cover up what he did. And then had to repent and draw back to God.

And you have the writings of the prophets too as the people time and again turned away from God the prophets gave messages from God telling them to repent, they did and time was good for a while and then the process starts again.

I mean it’s pretty meaty stuff but actually if we think about it not that far from our own lives – when do we turn away from God? when have we made mistakes that have hurt others?

And then we turn back…

In amongst this you have some reflective stuff too – the Psalms – love them or hate them! Many written by King David  (yes the same one who took his leader’s wife) but not all  – are full of emotion, pleading, heartfelt prayers – something for every situation I think! 

Proverbs – thought to be written by King Solomon – begins:

For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young—
 let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Provers 1:1-7

Song of Songs – a love song between God and his people or just a story of love? Pretty erotic in places…

And finally, we should read it all with the lens of how this points us to Jesus. As Earl noted – the light of Christ at Easter shines backwards. So we see things differently to the jews because of this light of Christ. There are moments in the NT were the disciples suddenly realise this – the scriptures come alive with the truth of Jesus.  So even if we read it with the knowledge of different styles of writing, that perhaps writers had an agenda or humans decide what stayed in and what was out – these are God given scriptures, they are here to help us know God more and in a deeper way. The historical stuff is interesting but it should not pull us away from the fact that when we read this (bible) we seek to know him more.

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