Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Look Back on the Torah (Deut. 24-34)

SEAN - This post marks the end of our time reading the Torah, or Pentateuch - the first five books of the Bible. Here are some reflections on the experience. This ties in with Deut. 24-34, which reflects back on the early history of the nation of Israel. By the way, the picture above is from the movie The Book of Eli, in which Denzel Washington plays a man (Eli) who possesses the last Bible in existence and who will do anything to protect it. Denzel/Eli's creative use of the machete made me think of the war-making Israeli people of God in the Old Testament. Now, here are some things in Genesis through Deuteronomy that have got me thinking...

Based on ESV.com's Chronological Bible In a Year schedule. If anyone would like to join in, this blog's comments sections would be a good forum in which to share insights from the text.

The Messiah and the Prophet
1. Jesus Christ ('Yeshua the Messiah,' if you are a Messianic Jew) is preached in every one of the first five books of the Bible. You just need to be aware of what is going on under the surface: In Genesis 3.15 the king's scepter 'shall not depart from Judah' until 'it comes to whom it belongs,' a reference to Jesus, after Whom there has been no other king of Judah; The passover festival in Exodus 12.13 foreshadows the atoning death of Christ; In Leviticus 17.11 the blood of the sacrifice is given to make people right with God - foreshadowing how Jesus would make us right with God through His blood; Numbers 21.9 tells of a time when Israel was overrun by poison snakes, and the only way to be cured was to look at a bronze snake that Moses made, foreshadowing Jesus who became sin for us that if we look to him we might be saved from sin; Deuteronomy 18.15 tells of a (one) Prophet who would be like Moses, which had still not quite happened by the time of the Babylonian Exile (see Ezra's note in 34.10-12). The entire Bible completely points to Jesus Christ.

Attention: Graphic & Disturbing Content
2. I have covered the disturbing content of the first five books in The Heroics/War Crimes of Israel and The Barbaric/Progressive Bible, and come to the conclusion that God defines right and wrong (the first post) and that some of the measures that are described must have been necessary, even if they seemed pretty horrific (the second post). Sin makes everything just messy and hard and uncomfortable, and easy feel-good solutions aren't always available. So there is a lot of death and punishment in the Bible. It isn't easy to deal with, but it's a big part of the Bible's history.

All of the Main Figures Are Ripped Apart
3. I noticed, while reading other Ancient Near Eastern literature (in translation), that compared to other works of the same period, the Bible subverts all of its heroes and objects of study: Adam fell from grace; Noah became a drunk; Abraham was a coward; Lot slept with his daughters; Isaac was an underachiever; Jacob was dishonest; Judah paid money for prostitutes; Moses and Aaron and Miriam disqualified themselves from going into Canaan; and Israel as a whole brought God's wrath on them more than once for their stubbornness. This is to show that (1) only God is good, and (2) none of these people was any kind of savior - they all needed saving. Not one of them was a hero.

The Sacrifices Just Don't Cut It
4. The sacrifices (killing sheep, goats, birds, and other things to cover Israel's sins) make things right with God but still aren't good enough to get Adam & Eve back into Eden, or the first Israelis into the Promised Land, or Moses and Aaron into the land either. From the time of Adam and Eve to the end of the time of Moses, the questions are "who is the deliverer of humanity?" and "how do we get back to the Garden of Eden?" Put those two together and we have a Deliverer (savior) who will be more effective than animal sacrifices and who will bring the earth back to the way it was before sin entered it - a good description of Jesus Christ, come to think of it.

A Surprise Progressive Agenda
5. In the middle of all of the death and war and blood and wrath, of these books, some early forms of women's rights, anti-slavery legislation, environmentalism, rule of law, volunteer military, welfare, honor for seniors, and the like can be found in the Torah (the first five books). A little known fact is that Tommy Douglas, the ex-Saskatchewan Premiere/First NDP leader/father of modern Canadian Medicare, got all of his social society ideas from the Old Testament. The man was a Christian preacher and pastor before entering politics. He got his ideas from the Bible.

Summary of the Torah/Pentateuch
6. Finally, I have learned to love, and be confused by, these first five books of the Bible. Everything else in the Bible builds off of them, and they are the building blocks of the Christian faith, but much of it is confusing, horrifying, inspiring, and geographically distant in our Evangelical minds. Even as a Christian with Jewish background, I found myself completely out of my league blogging through these books. Nonetheless, I know that I will return to them often throughout the next year, and will continue to find that these much-neglected books give me a stronger, firmer, sharper faith. Wrestling with these unfamiliar texts will be an exercise in spiritual growth for sure.

Other comments and observations can be found in the comments section! Join in!

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