I am reading through the entire Word of God this summer. 90 days of total immersion, along with the students, and families, and members of all ages, in our church.
My translation of choice, this time, is The Message. Even though I have given The Message less than favorable reviews in the past, when reading it through, as a novel, it is very refreshing, and very approachable, and not at all what I once believed it to be.
That being said, here are two things I’ve gleaned from this summer’s reading so far:
The culture of the Old Testament was incredibly violent. From the flood, to Sodom, to the great escape from Egypt and the final plague, to the wilderness time and the occasional fights against cities, to Joshua and then Judges, and then the era of the kings, the world of the Hebrews, as written, is very, very, very violent. Which has caused me, as of now, to rethink how I teach those stories.
I’ll not elaborate on that here. What I will say is that reading through in large passages, sometimes fifteen to twenty chapters a day, I am able to really see the entire story of the Word in perspective. Many churches don’t emphasize perspective when teaching the Word of God, because of the enormous expanse of historical information covered in the first dozen books. But, when you read it as it was meant to be read (and memorized), the understanding of the histories makes much more sense, and the idea of God’s displeasure with the Hebrews is more obvious.
This was not the culture God intended in Eden. And for God to watch his own children exact violence against his own children must have greatly disappointed him, and greatly broken his heart.
As this culture of violence spawned more and more violence, there is such an apparent need for grace, then. To teach a violent culture through violent acts would not have been memorable. For God to teach violent people, He had to do so with grace, with forgiveness, and not violence.
Saying that, and then knowing how often God exacted justice, through violent means, especially against the kings of Israel and Judah, would almost seem to be an oxymoron. I won’t defend, theologically, why those things occurred, to say only that God himself stated through Ezekiel (Ezekiel 18) that he takes no delight in the deaths of those who do not believe in him. My statement above really only implies the intervention of grace as the overwhelming way God chose to have his people approach him, after the culture of violence ended.
The second thing I noticed, and perhaps the most surprising, was how quickly the worship of Yahweh became the practice of the minority of people. The book of Judges itself is a testament to how quickly the Hebrews abandoned the worship of Yahweh, until God called a local commander to bring relief. And even then, the revival was short-lived. Judges 11 indicates that 300 years had passed from the Exodus to the time of Jephthah, (and 260 years had passed since the death of Moses) and in that time, the Hebrews had all but abandoned the worship of God as Moses instructed.
Which again leads me to the need of grace. If such an overwhelming miracle that delivered the Hebrews, and such an expansive, comprehensive, and explicit law was given, and then, in spite of those two things, the Hebrews still abandoned God, then God, to me, had no other choice but to bring grace to humanity.
I am still working on these hypotheses, to be sure, but I am convicted of God’s grace more, through every chapter and book I’ve read thus far.