Lecture 1- Old Testament Theology: An Introduction
ASSIGNMENT: read Von Rad, volume 1 chapter 1.
The study of Old Testament Theology began as an independent discipline only in the 17th century. Before that time the Old Testament was simply seen as a depository of proof texts for the use of the church. But once it came into its own as an object of study it was freed from these dogmatic bonds and its voice could be heard once again.
The first thing scholars did was to examine the text of the Old Testament (cf. the course offered on Biblical Textual Criticism). What they discovered is that the Old Testament is a compilation of books divided into three segments:
The Torah (Law) Genesis through Deuteronomy
The Nevi'im (Prophets) Josh, Judges, Sam, Kings, and Isaiah through Malachi.
The Kethuvim (Writings) Psalms, Prov, Eccle, Ruth (!), Daniel (!), Esther, Job, Lamentations (!), Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles.
What this means is that when the Hebrew Bible is examined for itself, it must be studied on its own terms. That is, Daniel is not a "prophet" and Lamentations is not an appendix to Jeremiah! And the last book of the Old Testament is not Malachi, but 2 Chronicles! All of this has a great significance for interpretation, as we shall see. To pursue our study we shall simply follow the outline above.
Part 1- The Theology of the Torah
ASSIGNMENT: Read Genesis through Deuteronomy, and von Rad, part 2, chapter B.
The center of the Torah is the short confession of faith found in
Deuteronomy 26:5ff. This text reminds us that the center of Torah is grace. God freely
called and his people answered the call. Thus, the Torah is not a list of to do's and not
to do's; it is guidance for living. In fact, the Hebrew word Torah comes from a verb which means "to guide".
The center of the concept of Torah is that God has entered into a covenant with the people of Israel. The following texts are a small sampling of the use of this word throughout the Torah (not to mention its use throughout the rest of the Old Testament).
Gen 9:12, 14:13, 17:7, Ex 24:7, Lev 2:13, Num 10:33, 18:19, 25:13, Dt 9:9, 10:8, 28:69, etc.
A covenant is an agreement between two party's. When God makes a covenant with Abraham or Moses he is making a contract with them. He will do certain things for them and they will obey him by doing what he wishes. These kinds of contracts or covenants were as common in the ancient world as they are today.
When God makes a covenant with Israel the result for Israel, what it receives from the covenant, is shalom, or wholeness, peace, security and harmony. Cf. Gen 15:15, 26:29, 29:6, 37:4, Ex 4:18, Num 25:12, Dt 2:26, etc.
The central text of this covenant agreement between God and Israel is found in Exodus 24:9-11. This text says:
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank. In this text we see the way that covenants are made. The parties assemble and share a meal together! (this, by the way, has a great deal to teach us about the Christian celebration of the Lord's Supper!!)
The two major examples of covenant in Genesis are those made with Noah and Abraham. These covenants demonstrate that God wants to save his people. That is, every act in history performed by God is a demonstration of his willingness to save. Cf. Gen 14:19, 22, 24:3.
When the Old Testament describes God as Redeemer and Creator (cf. Is 44:24) the order of the words is not accidental. In the stories of the creation of mankind we discover that man is the pinnacle and the center of creation (Cf. Gen 2;4bff; and 1:1ff).20 The reason is that man is the center of God's work -- his welfare and his salvation are God's major concern!
And when the first family decides to rebel against God they have decided to break the covenant with God which he made in creating them. Thus, the whole of the Torah is in its essence a report of God's faithfulness and man's unfaithfulness. Or, to put it another way, the Torah is about the incursion and spread of sin, and what God does about it.
From Genesis 3 through 11 we read of the incursion and spread of sin. Disobedience, murder, arrogance, drunkenness, and at the tower of Babel, open rebellion against God ("we will ascend to heaven and overpower God"). It just keeps getting worse and worse, until God steps in and calls a man called Abram of Ur. Abram is the means by which God will deal with the sin problem. In particular, a certain descendent of Abraham would finally respond fully to sin by bearing it to death. Clutching it, as it were, to himself as he plunged into death itself.
The sin problem led God to provide the world with a "light". This light would be Abraham and his descendants. From Abraham to Moses; through David and Malachi the people of Israel were privileged to share the knowledge of the one true God with the rest of the world.
To facilitate this "light bearing" Yahweh (the proper name of God in the Hebrew Bible) gave the Israelites Law or Torah, which is, as we have seen, guidance. The main points of this guidance are codified in what we call the 10 commandments.
Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work -- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
There is no doubt that historically these laws are a compilation of laws which existed in other cultures as well. What is unique about the Israelite laws is that they express the ideal of equality under the law. Rich and poor are alike equal under the law.
This legislation is aimed at ensuring that the sin problem is temporarily brought under control. In fact the whole of the law is an attempt to ameliorate the effects of sin.
If the Torah is adhered to, sin will not overwhelm humanity. If it is not, then sin is "a demon at the door". If the food eaten and the places visited and the people communed with are likewise in accord with Torah, then all is well. But if Torah is ignored than things shall go badly.
The center of Torah is faithfulness to God. If Torah is followed, life goes well. If Torah is ignored, then God's just judgment will descend. Thus, the first segment of the Bible, the Torah, has at its center the famous text of Leviticus 19:1-37:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God.
Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the Lord your God.
When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, offer it in such a way that it is acceptable on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the same day you offer it, or on the next day; and anything left over until the third day shall be consumed in fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it will not be acceptable. All who eat it shall be subject to punishment, because they have profaned what is holy to the Lord; and any such person shall be cut off from the people.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.
And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.
You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.
You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
You shall keep my statutes.
You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.
If a man has sexual relations with a woman who is a slave, designated for another man but not ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, since she has not been freed; but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, a ram as guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he committed; and the sin he committed shall be forgiven him.
When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall regard their fruit as forbidden; three years it shall be forbidden to you, it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all their fruit shall be set apart for rejoicing in the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat of their fruit, that their yield may be increased for you: I am the Lord your God.
You shall not eat anything with its blood. You shall not practice augury or witchcraft.
You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.
You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.
Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, that the land not become prostituted and full of depravity.
You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.
Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.
You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old; and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.
The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity. You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them: I am the Lord.
What is most interesting about this text is that it stands at the center of Leviticus, which stands at the center of the Torah! It, therefore, is an intentional theological statement about what it essentially means to be the people of God.
Did Israel live out this covenant? We shall have to examine this issue in the following segments of our course.
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