I finished reading the Old Testament early last week in my journey through the Bible in 90+ days. I was going to try and write a little bit about each of the last few books in the Old Testament, but those posts would be very similar to things I have already written before. So instead, I am going to talk about the Old Testament as a whole and what I have learned through this read through.
First let me begin by saying that the Old Testament is still very relevant to Christians. It is not a goup of books that should be ignored. The Old Testament creates the very foundation for being able to fully understand the New Testament. The Old Testament gives an amazing picture of God’s character. Through Genesis to Malachi it is clear that God is all loving, compassionate, just, and holy. And God often teaches people through bad situations. I have often heard the question “If God is loving then how can He allow bad things to happen?” Usually the good Christian answer is simply say that ‘God makes all things good in the end, we just can’t see this from our perspective’. But I think a more accurate picture is that we are stubborn, thick headed, and down right disobedient. And God uses bad situations to force us to look to Him and Him alone. He doesn’t do this out of anger, but out of perfect love for us. This is how God dealt with Israel. He was gracious and very slow to anger. He allowed many generations of disobedience before He acted against Israel. But when it was clear to God that only through exile and destruction would Israel truly come back to Him, He did bring Israel’s enemies to conquer them and drag them off to foreign lands. If anything the Old Testament clearly teaches us that bad things can come from God, that it does not need to mean that the devil is out to get you. It could mean you need to get right with God. As Christian’s we shouldn’t forget this, love doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen. When we teach that the devil is behind all bad things we can seriously mislead people and give the enemy credit for God’s work. It also takes away the responsibility we may have in the situation. We can clearly be in a bad situation due to our sin, with God trying to bring us to our knees so that we will look to Him as our last resort.
The Old Testament is also a group of books about Hope. Nearly every book focuses on how things are not perfect. How God’s people don’t follow Him well, and how messed up the world is since humans have sinned. But in all of this there is the constant hope for a time when God makes it all right. When God saves everyone from all that is wrong in the world. A picture of a God who is just to all, the righteous and the unrighteous. A time of blessing and of punishment. For Israel the hope is all in the future, much of the Old Testament was glim for Israel, focusing on her disobedience and then punishment by God. Yet at the same time clear that Israel, though a disobedient nation, is special to God. When you finish the Old Testament it is hard to be excited since the last group of books are simply depressing. But all of the prophets shared a glimpse of the hope to come, a hope that would come through Israel.
The Old Testament also shows us how much we need God to be merciful with us. Israel had God’s laws and could not obey them. Israel had God’s prophets and could not listen to them. Through God’s interaction with Israel it is clear that the hope in the future is not found in a group of rules or laws. But these rules and laws show us our desperate need for a God who is gracious and merciful, because we will always fail to uphold those laws perfectly. God did not have plan A, the Old Covenant, and then a plan B, the New Covenant because plan A failed. Plan A was designed to show us our need for plan B. Without Plan A (the sacrifices), Plan B (Jesus sacrifice) makes no sense. God has worked through history intentionally with great purpose. He has done things so that we can know His character and desire to be His children.
Many Christians have not fully read the Old Testament and my theory is that due to a dominant idea among Christians being: that the New Testament (New Covenant) has done away with most of the Old Testament (Old Covenant). The Old Testament also seems to be treated by many as short stories for children or used as simply a general reference resource. But I challenge you as an adult to read the Old Testament fully so that you will know God better. It isn’t all cute pictures and stories like you might remember in vacation Bible School. I think you will be challenged by some of the ideas and things that God does in the Old Testament, so your view of God will be stretched and refined to what is a more accurate represenation of the creator and sustainer of the universe.
So now I am moving into the New Testament (a set of books more familiar to many of us) so I am interested to see what new insights I may glean from having read through the Old Testament. I believe I have a more accurate picture of God now than I have ever had before and I am looking forward to what He will teach me.
Micah is yet another one of the prophets that God gave a clear message to. Micah shared this message with Israel and Judah and also wrote down what God revealed to him in the book of Micah. Micah lived during the reign of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. So his life overlaps with Isaaiah.
Micah’s prophecy is nearly identical to the prophecies given to the other prophets. (not in a word for word sense, but in the overall message to Israel and Judah) So God is being very clear about what is about to happen and why it is going to happen.
Micah also focuses on Israel’s leaders, including the priests being guilty of misguiding the people. (chapter 3) He also talks about false prophets, basically prophets that are being paid to prophecy a specific message. (chapter 2)
Micah paints a picture of Israel that shows how distorted things had gotten. The people were being misled by the very people that were to be helping them worship God.
Esentially there is not a lot that appears to be unique with Micah’s message. So I really won’t do much of an outline. God simply seems to be wanting to hammer in that Israel being destroyed and taken into captivity was for one clear purpose. To bring them back to God.
I love the book of Jonah. Soon after I became a Christian a friend of mine was talking about Jonah being swallowed by a big fish. I laughed, because I thought he was making it up. It certainly sounded like a scene from Pinnochio to me. Well, it just so happens that Pinnochio got this idea from the book of Jonah.
God spoke to Jonah and asked him to go to Nineveh to tell them that He was going to destroy them. Jonah decided not to go and ran from God. Chapter 4 verse 2 Jonah reveals why he ran away.
Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.
Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he knew God might spare Nineveh because God is merciful and compassionate. Well, on the way to Tarshish by boat a great storm began to break apart the boat. The captain of the boat learned that Jonah was likely the cause of the storm and as a last resort they tossed Jonah into the sea. Immediately the storm stopped and all of the sailors were awe struck and offered sacrifices to God. This is when a huge fish then swallows Jonah. Jonah spends three days and three nights in the fish praying to God. Then the fish spits him out and Jonah heads on to Nineveh. (kids books seem to really like this part of the story)
Jonah heads to Nineveh and tells the people in Nineveh that God is going to destroy them. Everyone in Nineveh begins fasting and praying to God. So God spares Nineveh.
When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. — Jonah 3:10
You would think that Jonah would be overjoyed by Nineveh turning to God and God sparing them. However, Jonah has the exact opposite reaction.
Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh. Nineveh was a wicked city full of gentiles. So the book of Jonah ends with Jonah sitting on a hill overlooking Nineveh being angry with God. So by the book of Jonah you can already see that Israel really is not understanding that God’s grace and mercy are not exclusive to the Jewish people.
What I like about this book is that the people listened to the prophet God sent to them and repented. It is good to see a very different outcome than when the prophets are speaking to Israel. And it shows God’s grace to all people, not just the Jewish people.
Another interesting thing is that Jonah had been inside of a fish for three days. I wonder what he may have looked like?
Well, I think stomach acids would bleach your skin and hair. So Jonah was probably freakishly white. And I mean freakish. So I think a large factor in Nineveh even listening to Jonah was that he looked so bizarre. How could they not listen to a freakishly white man with a message of forthcoming doom?
Maybe God chose Jonah specifically because He knew Jonah would run and get swallowed by a fish before he would share the message to Nineveh? If an obedient prophet had gone to Nineveh maybe the ending would have been very different, maybe Nineveh would have ignored the message from God.
Well now I am heading into the book of Micah.
The book of Obadiah is a message given to the Edomites. The Edomites are the descendants of Esau. Esau was Jacobs older brother that traded his inheritance for a bowl of soup.
The book is only one chapter long so it is a quick read and the cliff notes version of the book would look like this.
Edom, you did not help your relative Israel. You watched them suffer at the hands of their enemies and get taken to a far away land. In fact you plundered their land and gloated at their destruction. So now Edom will be destroyed by Israel’s return.
Obadiah ends this book with a description of Israel coming back to their land and all of Edom being destroyed by Israel. Verse 18 says “There will be no survivors in Edom. I, the Lord, have spoken.” So…. I don’t likely have a family tree that will go back to Esau.
The book of Amos is a message that a young shepherd from Tekoa received from the Lord. This shepherd was Amos. Amos lived before Israel and Judah were destroyed so he is yet another prophet at this time period, sharing a very similar message as the other prophets. A message calling for repentance to avoid coming disaster.
The first messages Amos received were warnings to various nations. Basically God was letting these nations know that they will be punished for the sins they have committed through Amos.
By the middle of Chapter two of the book Amos is hearing judgments against Judah and Israel. The basic message is focused on lawlessness and injustice filling the society of Israel and Judah. God is calling Israel to do what is good and right, and to return to him from other gods.
A chapter I found particularly interesting is chapter 7. It is a series of visions Amos has. After the first two visions Amos pleads with the Lord to not destroy Israel in that way. And the Lord relents. Amos does not protest to the third vision and this just happens to be how God destroys Israel.
Here are the visions from Amos 7:1-9
A Vision of Locusts
The Sovereign Lord showed me a vision. I saw him preparing to send a vast swarm of locusts over the land. This was after the king’s share had been harvested from the fields and as the main crop was coming up. In my vision the locusts ate every green plant in sight. Then I said, O Sovereign Lord, please forgive us or we will not survive, for Israel is so small.
So the Lord relented from this plan. I will not do it, he said.
A Vision of Fire
Then the Sovereign Lord showed me another vision. I saw him preparing to punish his people with a great fire. The fire had burned up the depths of the sea and was devouring the entire land. 5 Then I said, O Sovereign Lord, please stop or we will not survive, for Israel is so small.
Then the Lord relented from this plan, too. I will not do that either, said the Sovereign Lord.
A Vision of a Plumb Line
Then he showed me another vision. I saw the Lord standing beside a wall that had been built using a plumb line. He was using a plumb line to see if it was still straight. And the Lord said to me, Amos, what do you see?
I answered, A plumb line.
And the Lord replied, I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins. The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.
This is also another passage in the Old Testament where God allows a person to plead with him and he then does something different. I love these verses because they show us that prayer can be effective. That God does listen to His people, and responds. Occasionally I have talked with people that feel threatened by the idea that God would listen to a human and then decide to do something different. A simple way to say this is, that He changes his mind. There are examples of these types of interactions throughout the Old Testament. Because of Moses pleading with God, God did not destroy Israel in the wilderness. Because of Amos God did not destroy Israel by fire or locusts. I think the idea is stressful for some people because they think, if God could have changed his mind in the past, then could He change his mind about salvation? We also need to remember that a characteristic of God is that he is faithful to his promises. So we can believe his promises. And at the same time we can interact with Him through prayer and be bold enough to make requests to the Almighty Creator of The Universe.
The book of Amos ends with a message about restoration. After Israel and Judah are enslaved God will bring His people back to their land and bless them. So there is another strong consistency among all of the prophets. Israel and Judah will be destroyed and the people enslaved. But after a time, people will return and worship God once again.
Here is a brief commentary on the book of Joel.
1. The book begins with a section describing a horrible plague of locusts, and more locusts, and more locusts. (Joel 1:1-2:11)
Now I am guessing that this is referring to the time period that Israel is destroyed be the Assyrians and Judah by Babylon. The armies are the locusts.
2. Then Joel asks for Israel to repent and turn back to God. (Joel 2:12-17)
This fits with what the other prophets have been asking of Israel. Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc. So this seems to reinforce the previous understanding of the locusts.
3. And then Joel gives some good news about God restoring Israel and the land ravaged by the locusts. (Joel 2:18-26)
This is also very similar to the other Prophets. That God is only punishing Israel so that they will come back to Him.
4.And then a prophecy that is fulfilled in the New testament. (Joel 2:28-32)
Then, after doing all those things,
I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on servants men and women alike.
And I will cause wonders in the heavens and on the earth
blood and fire and columns of smoke.
The sun will become dark,
and the moon will turn blood red
before that great and terrible day of the Lord arrives.
But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved,
for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape,
just as the Lord has said.
These will be among the survivors
whom the Lord has called.
— Joel 2:28-32
The big news here is the idea that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’. Israel wasn’t understanding that God loves all people, they really thought he loved them, and them alone. God is challenging that view. And the Holy Spirit had been only for some very unique people. namely prophets and Kings. But Joel says that the Holy Spirit will be given to servants and to men and women alike. Men and women alike would have been a fairly revolutionary concept at the time. Again, God is challenging what Israel believes.
5. And then a prophecy that appears to clearly be about the end times. (Joel 3)
I can’t say I really understand much about this chapter but I think it is about events yet to come. And since I really don’t understand it I won’t say much about it. If your interested in it you can click on this link to Joel Chapter 3.