In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways…
With these 18 words, the writer of Hebrews—never identified, and still a mystery—launches into his masterpiece letter, extolling the absolute supremacy of Christ and the power of faith in action.
It’s easy to overlook this part of the sentence and focus on the next part: …but in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son…
But I’ll bet his early readers didn’t.
To them, God speaking through the prophets would conjure the entire Old Testament, and the vast sweep of history from the fall of man to the fall of Israel, from the earliest prophets to the final words of Malachi, promising the chastened Israelites a future hope in the coming of ‘Elijah’, a reference to John the Baptist, who would herald the arrival of their Messiah.
Prophetic words, pointing over 400 years ahead, while God’s people waited for a break.
For them, these words would summon victory and defeat, warnings and judgement, blessings and curses, second and third and umpteenth chances to repent and recommit: the arc of Biblical history as God formed, led, taught, and protected his people.
For a good Jew, these words could prompt days, if not months, of deep pondering and reflection, accompanied by some garment rending and ash sprinkling.
Which brings me to my point: I think too many Christians give short thrift to the Old Testament and its profound content… to their own detriment.
Yes, I’m aware we live under the New Covenant, not the Old. (Believe me, after months of memorizing Hebrews, I’m very aware!) I know we’re not bound by Old Covenant laws. I know the Old was meant to lead us to the New.
But as Paul writes in Romans, “… everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
I think too many Christians find the Old Testament hard to digest, so they avoid it. Too much violence and bloodshed. Too many scenes of an angry God. Too many incidents and events that are difficult to understand. Too many words, too many life and death judgements. Too many dead babies and sad stories.
But I believe if they went back, taking time to read closer, dig deeper, and look at the Big Picture, instead of focusing on the ‘unrelatable’, they’d be blessed with the encouragement—and insight— Paul refers to.
I wasn’t planning to jump all over the Bible in these posts, but it’s inevitable: it’s all of a piece, each part shedding light on the whole. And one of my all-time favorite passages, from 2 Chronicles 36, beautifully wraps up the whole Old Testament in a few words:
The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.
The good news is, there WOULD BE a remedy—the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Promised over and over again throughout the Old Testament, over two millennia of prophecies, and waiting in time for its fulfillment.
Still, the lessons of the Old Testament, especially what they teach us about the nature of God, and the nature and impact of sin, are just as relevant for us today.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God has not changed. His attitude towards sin has not softened over time, as many Christians would like to think.
Which brings me to my next point. The Old Testament portrays a God who fought for his people, loving them fiercely and faithfully. But time and again, we see the same God handing his people over to judgement, slaying thousands of sinners at a time, sending his remnant into exile, and warning them, over and over and over…
There’s a prevailing attitude in Christendom that God is ‘light’ towards sin these days, that Jesus’ death on our behalf heralded a benign grace that covers us so thoroughly, it doesn’t really matter how we live.
Which is an absolute lie, a deception that a closer look at the Old Testament would readily uncover.
What God considered “detestable” in Old Testament times is still detestable today. He hasn’t softened his views to align with our oh-so-sophisticated times. For example, a whole raft of detestable and wicked acts are listed for us in Leviticus 18, all having to do with sexual morality.
God’s views on what constitutes wickedness and perversion haven’t changed, even if society, or even the church, pretends otherwise.
Another list of “detestable” sins is found in Proverbs 6, quite a different list. This one names a list of common attributes found online and IRL, including haughty eyes (pride), a lying tongue, a violent nature, and a person who stirs up dissension.
Sounds like someone lurking in the Nation’s Capitol, fawned over by a whole media network claiming to be Christian.
Sounds like a lot of people these days, in and out of the church.
God still hates those things, too. Still thinks they’re detestable.
As Christians, we’re called to holiness and repentance, not to broad-minded skepticism. Yet a spirt of tolerance, of winking at sin and portraying a God who’s mellowed out since the days of Noah and of Sodom and Gomorrah, a God who sent his Son so we could do whatever we want and still get a ticket to heaven, provided we pay a bit of lip service, has pervaded the church in general. We’re so much wiser than the God of the Old Testament, aren’t we?
Which is exactly why we need to be reminded by the voices of those ancient prophets: God was speaking then, loud and clear, as he does today, whether the words come directly through Christ or through those thick, difficult pages of the Old Testament.
That book: the one too many believers ignore, or even discredit. Let’s stop ignoring and start learning.
Let’s pay attention to the words of life, whether they’re spoken by Jesus or graciously given by his servants, God’s chosen prophets.