What the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Scriptures of the Elder Testament, Does

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Remember we are building our temple of faith, and the stained glass windows let His light in.  That is why they represent the Scriptures.  We have paused to consider the Old Testament in particular, which task we complete with this entry.  There are doubtless many answers, but I here list some important ones.

The Old Testament grounds the revelation of God in history and in real human life.  We are not offered a work of mysticism, nor poetry, nor myth, though one could characterize particular passages this way. It is the world, and all of it, that God addresses, and a people He deploys, deeply flawed though they be.

The Old Testament begins at the beginning and envisions the end of all things.  These books set the expansive, inclusive frame of our relation to God.

The Old Testament introduces us to the Lord of heaven and earth, who is the Word from the beginning, speaks to us, so that we pay attention to His words.  His speaking so that we can hear is itself a gift of God, and the starting point of our life with Him.  He bends down to do this, and no less glorious for doing so.

The Old Testament provides the story in which we can identify God, and in so doing identify ourselves.   It is in narratives that we humans do this.

The Old Testament provides the elements of our faith, elements we share with the Jewish people, so that we are related in a close and complex way.  Word of God, Messiah, people of God, Kingdom of God, prophecy, resurrection, exile, repentance, the nations, etc., without these the New Testament can make no sense.

Discuss some of the ways we misunderstand the Old Testament (legalism, angry God, unevolved, etc.,) and how you would answer these.

 

‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’: The Messiah

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(Read Psalm 72, Isaiah 42, Daniel 7)

Because of the Kingdom of David and the Temple in his city, the kings that followed bore his blessing, his expectation, and the burden from their shortcomings. We hear these hopes in Psalm 72, on the occasion of the coronation of a new king or his renewed blessing.  But there were of course a series of kings who fell short and reverted to the old paganism or autocratic injustice.  The usual hopes and rebukes associated with the kingship come to an end with the exile. 

However, the vision of the righteous anointed one (messiah) is not then abandoned with this failure. On the contrary it expands, even as it is changed. The messiah will come with God’s victory, once and for all, over the nations.  He will exhibit all the virtues the real kings have fallen short of.

And, in the wake of the suffering and displacement of exile, this coming anointed one will take a form not yet imagined, a surprisingly lowly form. In the latter chapters of Isaiah he is a humbled servant with not a smaller but a greater mandate- to bring God’s light to the nations now their overlords, among whom they are scattered. This is indeed a reason they have befallen this calamity.  Is he an individual or the nation? The ambiguity itself is informative. In Daniel 7 is he a humble human being or a mysterious heavenly being? Again, the very question says something about who he will be. In both cases his suffering at the hands of the nations is conceived as the means of his victory. We can see how this transformed hope becomes the fertile ground for the coming of Jesus centuries later.  Disappointment did not lead to despair, but to a wider hope for a future. The people of God came to hope not for their own victory, but for a final resolution, a comprehensive coming of God’s reign. (The term in theology is ‘eschatology,’ i.e. the knowledge of the last things).  This hope had elements of ‘settling the score’ with the arrogant Gentiles, of the establishment of the Messiah on the throne, of conquering death itself. And of course, all would come to pass, but not as they could have foreseen.

Listen to Handel’s Messiah through ‘and He shall purify’

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