The Old Testament: Fashion Police, Love Letters, Hollywood History, and Fortune Tellers
How do I read the Bible? No, seriously, do you know how? Because sometimes I’m not sure, especially when it comes to the Old Testament. There are so many parts that don’t seem like they fit what we believe as Christians. Do we really need to wear tassels on the ends of our clothes? Am I supposed to build a railing around my roof so that if someone falls off, I can’t be charged with murder? Can I tell my wife that “Her hair falls in waves, like a flock of goats winding down the slopes of Gilead” and not expect to get a weird look from her? Did the Israelites actually do all those horrible things when they were retaking the Promised Land, and why on earth do 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles tell the same stories but have completely different takes? And what about those prophets – were they trying to predict the future or just trying to tell people that God wasn’t happy?
We’re going to try to tackle some of these questions this week by looking at the different genres of literature found in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, including law, poetry, history, and prophecy.
There are a bunch of Old Testament laws and commandments — 613 to be exact — with everything from the 10 Commandments to identity markers to civil codes. The purpose of the law was to help the Israelites keep the covenant they had made with God, but that covenant was made new through Jesus. That leaves us with the question: Which laws should we keep, and what should we toss? Each of these laws served a purpose at the time they were written, and many still have something they can teach us today.
The Old Testament also has poetry, and lots of it! The most famous poetry is found in Psalms, but there are also poems found all around the Bible — including Genesis 1 and Song of Solomon. When you read poetry, you ask questions like: Who is the speaker? What were they feeling? Does the poem use literary devices to achieve a particular effect or emotional response? What does this poem remind me of? Poetry is useful to us because it helps us put words to different feelings, and there are biblical poems about contentment, anxiety, discouragement, love, and doubt, just to name a few. These poems help us better relate our emotions to God through words.
The Bible is home to many books that can be read as a theological history — a telling of historical events that is meant to teach us something about ourselves and about God. In the Old Testament, this includes parts of Genesis, the first half of Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 &2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Jonah. It’s important to think of these books as less of a chronological, literal telling of history, but rather as literature written to tell stories of the things that shaped the Israelites past to help guide their future.
And finally, we find the majority of biblical prophets in the Old Testament — and let me tell you, the prophets were weird. And they didn’t talk about the future nearly as much as they talked about the present — about specific political and social problems and the ways they felt like the people of God (and their leaders) weren’t living up to what God had called them to. But there weren’t just prophets in the Old Testament. There have been prophets throughout history and there are still prophets (or people who speak God’s will) today!
Of course in typical youth ministry fashion, we have some unconventional, goofy ways to help our message sink in (including fashioning our own “Old Testament Prophet Names” and a clip from Forrest Gump) — but hopefully after this week we will all end up with a better understanding of how to read the Old Testament and everything it still has to say to us in our everyday lives!
Associate Director of Youth Ministries