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The Book Of Deuteronomy
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In this blog, we’ll explore the final chapters of the book of Job, which are puzzling and profound. To gain some context for this essay, it will help to read last week’s blog (link here) where we looked at the book’s introduction (chs. 1-2), and the dialogue Job has with his friends about the meaning of his suffering.
So, you’re in the Old Testament book of Job. Way to go, and get ready for the mental rollercoaster that lies ahead! You’ve stepped into one of the most sophisticated and mind-bending literary works in the Bible. This book has been designed to stimulate your mind and heart by raising huge questions about God’s character and the meaning of human suffering. But no straightforward answers lay within.
The Scroll of the Twelve, or in Christian tradition, what are referred to as the “Minor Prophets,” are not intended to be read in isolation of one another, but rather as a unified whole. Literary connections within the text of the different prophetic books (or maybe better titled “chapters”) work to weave this anthology together.
It’s critically important to remember that none of these prophets stand alone, so as you read Nahum and Habakkuk, you have all the imagery from the rest of the minor prophets ringing in the back of your mind. You have Joel’s cosmic imagery of the final Day of the Lord when God defeats all human evil once and for all. You also have the preceding book of Micah, which focuses on Israel’s judgment by Assyria, but also notes Assyria and Judah’s eventual downfall at the hands of the Babylonians.
Reading the books of the biblical prophets is challenging. They’re written in ancient Hebrew poetry and narrative style, which is really different from modern poetry or narrative. Also, these books assume that the reader has a fairly good understanding of the final two centuries that led up to the tragic end of the Israelite kingdoms. Now, if you’ve been tracking with the story so far, reading from Genesis through 2 Kings, you have an advantage because you can place the biblical prophets into the story you just finished reading. 2 Kings 17-25 just narrated the downfall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 B.C., followed by the demise of the southern kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
It’s easy to read 1 and 2 Kings and think of it as a history of Israel. While it does tell the story of Israel and the succession of its kings, the author isn’t writing history just for the sake of history. We know this because he quotes extensively from outside source books called the “Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. But if a historical account of the kings isn’t the primary purpose of the books, what is the point of 1 and 2 Kings?
King Solomon is one of the more familiar kings of ancient Israel. He was the second son of David and Bathsheba, and he expanded Israel’s borders and economy more than any king in Israel’s history. You can find the story of Solomon (his name is pronounced “Shlomo” in Hebrew) in 1 Kings 1-11. His name is derived from the Hebrew word for “peace” (pronounced “shalom”), and peace, as a matter of fact, is one of the things he’s remembered for. There were no major wars for the majority of his reign, and the biblical authors look back on this time as a period of abundance. But, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the glorious reign of Solomon. Way more, actually.
King David is one of the more well-known figures in the Bible, and for good reason. He’s actually the most developed and complex character in the entire Old Testament. The amount of pages dedicated to telling his story (1 Sam 16 through 2 Kings ch. 2) outnumber any other single person in the Bible except for Jesus (who has four entire books in the New Testament!). So, the question is a natural one to ask: Why does David get so much attention? Sure, he was an important king, but in terms of the overall storyline of the Bible, why is David such a big deal?
King Saul was technically Israel’s first king. He came to power after a bloody and tumultuous period in Israel’s history, when the people were governed by various tribal chieftains, called “Judges.” An account of this period can be found in the Book of Judges, which tracks the progressive moral corruption of the Israelites and their leaders after the death of Joshua. Saul was not a great king, nor was he even a good man. He was deeply flawed, and the entire first half of Samuel is dedicated to a character study about his failures.
You’re going to be reading into the thick of the Book of Judges this week, and it’s one of the most violent and bloody books in the Bible. This may excite certain teenaged, male readers, but it’s off-putting for most people. Aren’t these the kinds of stories that motivate religious violence, showing ancient religious heroes slaying their enemies in the name of their god? Shouldn’t we move past this kind of thing? Why do we need to hear stories of violent people from the past? Any answer to those questions forces a person to ask even deeper questions about what the Bible is in the first place and what these stories are designed to accomplish.
You can read so many of the books of the Old Testament looking for a great children’s tale suitable for bedtime stories, and if this is all you‘re looking for, it’s all you will find. However, below the surface, there is so much more. Edward Campbell says it best in the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary, “[The Book of Ruth] is an intricately woven, magnificently crafted story. It is the work of a person standing in the mid-stream of Israelite life and thought, a person wishing to communicate to his audience things very close to the heart of the Old Testament.” There is more to this story than meets the eye, which is why we’re doing a blog on it!
There are few stories in the Old Testament as challenging and troubling to modern readers as God’s command that the Israelites should do away with the Canaanites and take over their land (see Deut. 7, or Josh. 6-12). Is this the same God that revealed himself in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Does this qualify as genocide? How does this square with Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies, much less with his decision to lay down his life for his enemies? This particular issue causes many people to shun the Old Testament, and even the New Testament because of its guilt by association. The New Testament is, after all, part of the same Bible that includes divinely sanctioned violence against these groups of people.
Those reading through the final chapters of Deuteronomy might find themselves feeling a little unfulfilled. Nearly all of the plot tensions that have developed from the earliest chapters in Genesis, through the entire Torah narrative, remain unresolved! Abraham’s family is really big now, but they’re still not in the Promised Land, and all the nations have not yet discovered God’s blessing. To make it more complicated, the Israelites keep rebelling and bringing disaster on themselves. After forty years of putting up with these grumbling road-trippers, and after God gives Moses a spoiler-alert, Moses concludes his long speech by predicting how Israel’s story is gonna unfold.
The Shema refers to a couple lines from the book of Deuteronomy (6:4-5), that became a daily prayer in Ancient Israelite tradition. It’s the equivalent of the Lord’s prayer (“Our Father in heaven…”) in Christian tradition. The Shema gets its name from the first Hebrew word of the prayer in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Listen, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” The English word “listen” renders the Hebrew word “shema.” In traditional Jewish prayer practice, these lines from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 were combined with other passages from the Torah (Deut. 11:13-21 and Num. 15:37-41), and were prayed in the morning and the evening. This prayer has been one of the most influential traditions in Jewish history, and functioned both as the Jewish pledge of allegiance and a hymn of praise.
In last week’s blog, we explored Israel’s central sacrificial ritual, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). No matter what happened, Israel’s sins were covered and removed for yet another year. Now that Israel has a working tabernacle, the tribes are organized and prepared to leave the mountain. While you may be hopeful, get ready for disappointment, because this road trip goes south quickly. Numbers 11-21 contains seven narratives about Israel’s rebellion as they journey through the wilderness; these narratives tell you a great deal about the dark side of humanity, but also the covenant faithfulness of God (even when the Israelites don’t know it). Dive deeper with this weeks blog.
In last week’s blog, we talked about animal sacrifice within the context of the Ancient Israelite culture. If we lost you at “animal sacrifice,” we suggest you go back and read that blog first! We explored how these sacred rituals were symbols of God’s love and mercy for the Israelites. These images point forward by highlighting the great rift between God and his people, even as he dwells among them. It’s a tension that was climatically resolved in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, many of the ways that Jesus’ death is talked about in the New Testament don’t make much sense without a basic grasp on the meaning of sacrifice in the Old Testament. So, today, we’re going to focus on one particular sacrificial ritual and its connections to the death of Jesus, the Day of Atonement.
There is a chance that when you enter Leviticus and start reading about animal sacrifice, you’ll want to shut down. This is so foreign to the life experience of modern Westerners; most people simply don’t have categories for what’s happening here. We want to help with that, though at the end of the day it’s still going to feel weird. Our modern notions about animal sacrifice come from all sorts of places, most of which are not biblical at all. Over the next two weeks, our blog will focus on atonement, sacrifice, Jesus, and how it is deeply revealing about God’s good nature in all of it.
Let’s be honest, Exodus 1-18 is a super intense part of the biblical story, which raises some heavy theological questions. The epic showdown between God and Pharaoh over the fate of the enslaved Israelites is a page-turner. Pharoah is a really bad man—actually the worst person we have met in the Bible so far. As you read these stories, you may be tempted to ask, who is really calling the shots here? Is it God? If so, why would he allow this? And, why does this showdown become so violent and intense? These questions pick up the key themes we introduced in last week’s blog about the conclusion of Genesis (human evil vs. God’s purpose to do good), and explore them even more deeply.
The narratives of the Old Testament are brilliant, literary works with mind-blowing depth. You just have to learn the literary style of these writers, and one of the easiest styles to start with is the repetition of keywords and themes over the course of multiple stories. The narratives from Genesis to Chronicles are filled with intentionally repeated ideas that are interwoven through whole books and even across multiple books. Once you start to spot these, you know you’re on the trail of the biblical author’s main point. In this weeks blog we focus on one such theme, and it connects the Genesis and Exodus stories.
Have you ever been reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and thought God seems to be called by a lot of names? Who is this Yahweh, Elohim, El Roi, Adonai, Savior, Redeemer, and Angel of the Lord? What happened to the simple Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? There are, in fact, dozens of ways in which the people of Israel referred to God, and many of these are revealed to us in Genesis and the rest of the Torah. This multiplicity of names can be a little confusing for those who don’t know ancient Hebrew. So, we thought we’d do our best to open up this fascinating can of worms and show you why it’s important to understand the many ancient names of God.
The Bible is historically the most well-read, well-circulated, commonly quoted, yet widely-criticized book of all time. There is no shortage of topics to debate, and pages one and two of Genesis have unfortunately been a frontrunner for controversy due to the creation vs. evolution debate. Whichever side of that argument you might agree with, it begins with the interpretation of the book of Genesis, which sort of makes sense as Genesis is Hebrew for “in the beginning.” It’s here we see God set the stage for the Garden of Eden and all that will unfold with Adam and Eve. Nevertheless, before we move onto the Garden and the Fall, there is so much to explore in this first chapter of the first book.
Have you ever excitedly anticipated something only to find that when it arrived it was nothing like what you had expected? Maybe as a kid you were expecting to get a BB gun for Christmas, but instead you unwrapped pajamas. Let down. Well, when we unwrap the story of Jesus’ birth, it isn’t what you might expect, but it certainly isn’t a letdown. In this video installment, we explore the first two chapters in the book of Luke and the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this Earth-shattering event. Dive into the blog after you watch this exciting video on the birth of Jesus.
We’re diving (no pun intended) into Jonah! If you haven’t already seen it, watch the video and then hang out as Tim and Jon talk about literary ninjas, big fish, Snapchat, and how the secret of the book is all about cows. Enjoy!
In this episode of The Bible Project Podcast, Jon and Tim explore a story about two Harvard Business School Graduates who are confronted with a biblical view of money that changes their lives.
Holiness: It’s not just about hip, ripped jeans. In this live Q+R Jon and Tim talk about purity, the phrase “set apart,” the dangerous power of God’s goodness, and what they would wear if they had dinner with the President.
We’ve made it through the Torah! Plus, the office cactus makes its triumphant return!
Hey Gang! Dive deeper into the bible with us as we respond to viewer queries on the Read Scripture Numbers video.
Imagine heaven. See clouds? A pearly gate? Golden walls? For most of us, the word “heaven” conjures up a cartoonish image of a city floating on cotton, even if that’s not really what we believe God’s dwelling place is like. Time to forget all that. In this study, we want you to begin to think … Continued
Do you have questions about the Torah laws concerning tattoos, tithing, blood sacrifice and more? Tim and Jon answer viewer questions on the 3rd book of the Bible, Leviticus! If you haven’t already, check out the Read Scripture Leviticus video and then LET’S DO THIS.
We’re diving into the “snippets of stories and blocks of laws” that encompass Exodus 19-40.
If Disney’s “The Prince of Egypt” is your main reference for the story of Moses and the Israelites, this video is for you! Come along as Tim and Jon answer questions about God’s chosen people and their journey out of Egypt.
Is there marriage in Heaven? Are our views about heaven different than the Israelites? How will TBP celebrate their 2-year anniversary? Get answers to these inquiries and more, as Jon and Tim answer questions about our first theme video: Heaven+Earth.
This was our second live-stream Q+R that, due to the wonder of the internet, is still available to watch at any time! Check out the Read Scripture Genesis Part 2 video, then join the conversation and nerd out on the Bible with us! (Remember: Nerding out is a good thing).
Welcome to our new Bible Project web endeavor: the live Q+R (Question and Response). In these videos we’ll be going more in depth into our fully animated videos and answering specific questions from BP viewers in the Youtube community.