3 Lessons from the Old Testament

I’m all the way in Zechariah now, one book away from making it to the New Testament, so it’s time to collate the information I’ve gained.

  1. God cares for the poor, weak, and oppressed. There are repeated calls to protect the weak, execute justice for the oppressed, and provide for the poor. This is in keeping with Jesus’ attitude in the New Testament.

    Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked – Psalm 82: 3, 4

    “This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” – Jer 22:3

  2. God does not care for phony religion. The religious requirements in the old testament were many: Fasting, feast days, tithes, rules on what you could eat, what you could wear, who you could associate with. Rules about hygiene and what kinds of animals could plough together. But there was little point keeping those rules if you didn’t care about the things that were important to God: justice, mercy and faithfulness. This is why the list of commands has been replaced with the most important two: Love God and Love Your Neighbor. If you’re not doing these things, your fasting and prayer and church attendance is phony. Jesus too had this attitude in dealing with Pharisees, chastising them for their slavish adherence to rite while they neglected the important things.

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. – Matt 23: 23, 24

    This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave to your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
    Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe’– safe to do all these detestable things? – Jeremiah 7: 3 – 10

    This is not to say that you can or should do whatever you want so long as you donate a suitable portion of your income to the poor and don’t oppress anyone. The first command, after all is to love God. And as Jesus said, loving God involves keeping his commandments (John 14: 15). The Israelites were condemned for their worship of other gods and desecration of the Sabbath as well as for their oppression and injustice. The key is not to assume that adherence to rite is a substitute for love.

  3. God cares for all people. The mercy shown to Nineveh, the call to treat foreigners well, the promises that all nations of the world would someday worship God all proclaimed that God’s care went beyond just the Jews before Paul ever declared “There is neither Jew nor Greek”. God’s care for all people is present in his justice as well as his mercy. The prophets record his promise to punish both treacherous Israel and her corrupt neighbors and oppressors.

Reading Note – Jeremiah 50 & 51 – Fall of Babylon

  • After using Babylon to punish Israel, God uses some other nations to punish Babylon for hurting Israel. The point being that even when God withdraws protection from his people and lets you hurt them, hurting them is still illegal. The fact that God doesn’t stop you from doing something wrong doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong. The fact that he uses it – as a punishment maybe – or brings a blessing from it, still doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong.
  • God warns Babylon, like he’d warned Israel, the Canaanites, and the people of Niniveh.
  • The phrase “devote to destruction” is used here too. “Devote to destruction all her army”.

Jeremiah 12 – Reading Note – A Promise for the Nations

  • Jeremiah makes that age old complaint: Why do the wicked prosper? God’s response is confusing; something about horses, treachery, and abandoning Israel.
  • God threatens to displace the nations surrounding Israel in addition to Israel itself and return them all to their own land in time (12:14, 15). I wonder if/when that happened.
  • Once again, God shows care for people beyond his chosen Israel, promising to build them up in the midst of Israel if they learn to serve him. Otherwise it’s bye bye (12: 14 – 17).

Reading Note – Isaiah 56 – To Daughters, Foreigners and Eunuchs

The status of women in the Bible is often a discussion topic, so I make a note of relevant points related to the issue whenever I find them.

  • Isaiah 56 begins with a common admonition: Keep Justice, Do Righteousness, Keep the Sabbath, Don’t do evil. If you got all the way to Isaiah and hadn’t figured any of those things out, you’re probably a normal human being.
  • Next comes a promise to foreigners. Not just foreign people living in Israel, but Foreigners who have “joined themselves to the Lord”; who minister to him, love his name, serve him, keep the Sabbath, and the covenant. The promise is that God will accept their worship, even in his temple.
  • “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” – Isaiah 56:7
  • Next comes the promise to Eunuchs. Those eunuchs who choose to serve God get a promise of recognition, “a name better better than sons and daughters”, “an everlasting name”.
  • This is important in light of the command in Deuteronomy 23:1, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” That God promises them “a monument and a name” “in his house and within his walls” is a curious thing, then.
  • These two promises suggests that God cares for eunuchs and foreigners, and herald a change in the temple policies (although not too explicitly). The passage is a message of hope to those who feel like outcasts.
  • Notice that the promises are made to those who keep God’s law, not those who deep down, in their hearts, care about God and maintain that only God can judge their actions. It’s a reminder that despite all our talk about being saved by grace through faith and not by works, actions are important to God. Our actions reveal the desire of our hearts. As Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Or as James more succinctly put it, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
  • Finally, the promise to eunuchs is a name better than “sons and daughters”, not better than sons. The comparison is to the value of children, not to the value of sons. As a hint about the cultural attitudes, it says that Hebrew culture at that time did value female children. In contrast to the “maybe we should drown them” attitude of some cultures.

Midweek Praise – Hands of the Healer

Blood flows down
Blood flows down
Flowing from the hands of the Healer
Death is bound
Death is bound
It’s broken in the hands of the Healer

So beautiful oh so beautiful
So beautiful Your love

Glory to the King who gave His life
Glory to the Lamb of sacrifice
Beautiful and broken
Holiness and love
Glorious the wounded hands of God

Risen life
Risen life

Purchased by the hands of the Healer

Sanctified
Sanctified
How precious are the hands of the Healer

So beautiful oh so beautiful
So beautiful Your love

Glory to the King who gave His life
Glory to the Lamb of sacrifice
Beautiful and broken
Holiness and love
Glorious the wounded hands of God

So beautiful oh so beautiful
So beautiful the hands of love
So powerful oh so powerful
So powerful the hands of love

Checking In

I just want to point out that I really am still alive. I just haven’t gotten around to working on any of the things on my list of topics to write about. Currently on the list are:

  1. Justification: Faith or Works (or Why Did God Choose Abraham?). This also pertains to the issue why God chooses one person for a certain role and not another. Is it because they have certain qualities that makes them more likely to succeed? It is arbitrary? Does God prefer people who keep his laws, or is he just as likely to choose a lawless person? Could God have chosen King Ahab or Queen Jezebel? If not, then could we get on his good side by doing the right things?
  2. Marriage in the New Testament: I have talked about why a society should prefer some idea of marriage to another but I’m also trying to understand what God’s plan and ideas about the issue. Is it better to marry or not to marry? What should be the aim of marriage? How do children fit into a marriage?

There were other things on the list, but someone deleted my sticky note, so I can’t recall them.

Midweek Praise -The Lord Our God

(Chorus)
The Lord our God is ever faithful
Never changing through the ages
From this darkness
You will lead us 
And forever we will say 
You’re the Lord our God 

Promise maker, promise keeper
You finish what You begin
Our provision through the desert 
You see it through ‘til the end 
You see it through ‘til the end

I Believe
(Chorus)

In the silence, in the waiting
Still we can know You are good
All Your plans are for Your glory
Yes, we can know You are good
Yes, we can know You are good 

(Chorus)

We won’t move without You
We won’t move without You 
You’re the light of all 
And all that we need

(Chorus)