What is the Bible #2 Dave Rogalsky October 14 2018
Scriptures: 2 Kings 22:1-15; Isaiah 37:14-20; Isaiah 45:5-25; Psalm 136:1-16
Theme: To look at the prophetic goals of much of the Old Testament – the Deuteronomists and Isaiah
Our Old Testament has 39 books. By books we mean separately entitled portions of the Bible. These books are divided into three types. First there are the five books of the law, known as the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. When you read them you will quickly find that they do not all include law, that one is an extended series of genealogies, and that most include stories or history of the Jews. They also include the stories from before there were Jews – Genesis 1-11 – that include two creation stories, stories of humanity’s experiments with broken relationships, God’s attempts to renew relationship with humanity, and an introduction to Abram and Sarai’s family.
The fifth book of the five, Deuteronomy, which means the second telling of the law, strangely fits together with the books that follow it – books that we would call history – Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. More about that in a few minutes.
The next division of books in the Old Testament are the prophets – four considered major because they are long – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel – and twelve considered minor because they are short – Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. But the Jews also include the books that connect with Deuteronomy - Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings - which we would consider to be history, as prophetic material. More about that later.
So, law, prophets, and then there are books considered the writings. They include poetry – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, The Laminations of Jeremiah, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon – and stories - Ruth, Esther, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. Actually, a number of them include poetry and stories.
Laws that include history, prophets that include history, and writings that include history. The Jews are people of history, holy history. But why are these things grouped like this? What do we learn about the core message of the Bible from these groupings?
Today we begin to look at that why of the Law, Prophets and Writings – as the Jews call them, the TaNaK - Torah (Teaching), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).1
The Old Testament more or less tells a story from beginning to end.
“1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)
That’s how the Bible starts.
The Old Testament ends with the minor prophet Malachi who foretells the coming of the Messiah and of the judgement at the end of the age:
Then those who revered the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before God of those who revered the LORD and thought on God’s name. 17 They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them. 18 Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve God. Malachi 3:16-18
The Old Testament is a piece of literature on its own without the New Testament. The Jews use these 39 books. We Christians have added 27 more. Muslims added the Quran to that. What we call the Old Testament is an ancient piece of literature, probably put into basically the form we have between 300 and 200 before the Christian Era. It tells the story of the world from the Jews perspective: there was a formless chaos of all the bits of creation mixed together. God came to this mix and set it in order separating light from dark, water from land, sky from earth. Then in that ordered world God created life in the air, water, and on the land. God finally created humanity in God’s own image, female and male created God them. Then God rested – the Jews were known as the people of the Sabbath. They saw it written right into God’s initial creation.
That creation was perfect, just as God was perfect. But the editors who put the Old Testament together had another creation story at their fingertips to tell why, though God created perfection, it wasn’t perfect now. This second story tells us that the first man and woman, the product of the division of the Adam into two creatures, refused to obey God and so were punished with pain and would be allowed to die. The next chapters describe how the early humans broke relationships – Cain killed Abel, Lamech married two women and committed murders, and almost the whole of humanity broke relationships with each other and God. So God attempted a restart with Noah and his family, sending a flood to purify the world. But even Noah’s son, saved in the ark, committed an act of violence against his father. Eventually, not understanding how high the heavens were above the earth, and not understanding the difference between God’s heavenly abode and the heavens or the sky, some humans tried to build a tower so high that they could climb into heaven through one of the windows through which rain came. The story says that God confused their languages and they scattered.
Then God began an age long plan to redeem humanity, to draw them back into relationship with God, or perhaps for the first time to be in relationship with the whole of humanity. God called a man named Terah to leave the city of Ur in Babylonia and travel to Canaan to establish a new people who would follow God, not just for themselves, but to be a witness for God to the nations. This man, Terah, with his daughter Sarai, and sons Abram and Haran, were not monotheists. They worshipped the powers of the mountains, of the sky, and of the earth. But God began with them anyway. Among their gods they also worshipped God. Probably God, as we know God, was for them named El – it simply means god and is the same word as the Arabic Allah. El was probably at first the God of the mysterious mountains, a seat of power, and the source of lightning and thunder.
Terah’s personal god was probably Sȋn, god of the moon and the chief god of Ur. When Terah got to Haran in Syria he found another city whose chief god was Sȋn and so he stopped there. But Abram, with his wife Sarai and nephew Lot went on following El to Canaan. There they established themselves as herders and as a military force to be feared. There they also did something new – they made covenant with God as their king. Kings and peoples of that day made covenants with each other. In these covenants or treaties the king promised to rule with law and to protect the people, and the people promised to obey the law and serve the king. Abram, Sarai and their family promised this, not to a human king, but to El. They believed that God was their king.
Abram and Sarai had a son Isaac who in turn had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob, the second born, inherited his father’s blessing and property and had twelve sons, besides daughters. In a severe famine, the story tells us, the family of Jacob moved to Egypt where there was food. In return for their herding of cattle – sheep, goats and perhaps bovines – they received what they needed. Different from the Egyptians they were eventually enslaved and forced to work in Pharaoh’s huge building projects. But they did not forget the covenant they had with El and the promise of a land where they could be free. But they did not worship El alone. Among their names are those associated with other gods.
Eventually a redeemer arose – named Moshe or Moses – he led his people out of Egypt and through the desert back to Canaan. In between he led them in a renewal of the covenant which they had from of old. They would follow and obey El, whom they now began to call YHWH. YHWH would give them a land to live in. Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers tell this story, and then part of it is retold in Deuteronomy – the second telling of the law.
The next books tell the story of the people moving into the land. The way the story is told it feels like a terrible victory with the Jews annihilating the people of the land and taking it over in short order. But there are many hints that this did not happen. The names of the cities the Jews take are hill towns and not valley and plain towns. The warfare seems to go on and on in the books of Joshua, Judges and then in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. Over and over again the refrain in the books is that so long as the folk would stay true to YHWH they had victory and freedom. But if they strayed from worshiping YHWH they lost and were enslaved. Other hints tell us that they were not monotheists and often worshipped other gods. Even the most faithful Jews were not only worshipping YHWH.
In that land they lived as herders and shepherds in the hill country. The people of the valleys had technology which kept them in control – iron swords and chariots. But then a Jew gained access to that technology and learned to use it effectively. David was chosen by God, and by the people, to rule over them. With military might he subdued the people of the valleys and plains and established a kingdom between the desert and the great sea.
But this kingdom did not last. Moses had led not only one group but an amalgamation of many groups and in the years after David these groups divided into two kingdoms – Judah in the south and Israel or Samaria in the north.
These books, from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings, tell a continuous story and show the effects of being written down when the people had achieved a significant growth in their understanding. The story ends in the destruction following the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. This happened a number of times (597 BCE for the first, with others dated at 587/586 BCE, and 582/581 BCE respectively1) as the people would at first obey the Babylonians and then when the army withdrew would rebel. Most Jews were taken into exile in Babylon while others fled to Egypt. This exile refers to the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel or Samaria had been destroyed in 7222 by the Assyrians and was never reconfigured as a Jewish kingdom.
This event, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, and the exile of all its people, is the single most important historical event in the history of the Jews. It was this event that caused the prophetic writers to gather the story of the Jews together into one long story. In the exile the prophetic writers told the people that their God had not forgotten them. Instead the one and only God, YHWH, remembered them even in exile, and would return them to the land. They were to be a light to the nations of God’s love and care. In spite of their polytheism, their injustices and their unrighteousness. God would gather them back together and through them gather the peoples of the world to Godself. The story of the Exodus was turned to as a reminder, we’ve been here before, enslaved in a foreign land, God remembered us and returned us to the land. The first clear statements of monotheism came as the prophets preached in the exile. There a prophet in the school of Isaiah heard God say:
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, 6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. Isaiah 45:5-6 (NRSV)
These prophets blamed any past problem on a failure to be monotheists and any blessing on God responding to human faithfulness. But in the future it would be grace in spite of human failure. God would act first, and continue to act, in love.