BiND: Reflections on the Old Testament
Reading the OT with you all has been really interesting and wonderful. I’ve loved our conversations. One of the things we talked about over and over is the importance of context—when I was in seminary we heard “context, context, context!” so many times that for part of our senior prank we covered the seminary campus in the word (in sidewalk chalk, of course). The importance of context simply cannot be overlooked—both the context in which the books were written, the context in which they were originally heard or read, and how they apply to our own context. That third is particularly difficult, because the worldview of ancient near-eastern people is so different from ours, especially in the area of causality. We recognize a number of causes behind events, but they only knew one: God. Anything that happened happened because God made it happen—no exceptions. We sometimes still do this (it might be human nature)—when something bad happens, especially, we say things like “why did God do this?” and occasionally when good things happen we acknowledge “we’ve been so blessed.” Having said that, in our current worldview we often recognize secondary and even tertiary causality and that changes our view of God and our views of covenant, community, and religion. Even the prophets, whose view of the world and of God is so much wider than the average persons (hence their difficult lives and often unpleasant ends), still recognize only one cause. If we are going to say (as I often do) that Scripture is a record of God’s people and their interactions with God, their reactions to God, and the ways they have attempted to live as covenant people, then we have to recognize that there is a limitation to Scripture. It’s words, and though God can inspire the writing, God still can’t be contained in words. God is beyond human language, and the Bible is one attempt to explain something of that mystery.
I love the prophets because they give us a glimpse of how God might see the world—they have a vision to share, and that vision includes justice and peace and compassion, it includes those on the margin, it includes, period. God’s vision for covenant community may be wider than we can imagine, and I love that. And then it’s over, and we turn the page and find ourselves reading about a time 250 years or so after the last book of prophecy was written down, and as many as 400 after the times that have been written about. The world changes significantly during this time—the Temple becomes more functional, the synagogue system becomes entrenched, a new Empire comes into town, new systems of religion and economics come into play. With Rome will come new taxes and also new infrastructure, new amenities and also new oppression. And that means new ways of figuring out how to be God’s people in hostile territory. And new ways of sharing of God’s vision!