(This is part two of a rather long chapter … to start at the beginning follow this link)
Let’s move away from the law now and see how we can apply this thinking to other parts of the Old Testament. The same point can be made to explore the literature of a culture – it reveals the prevailing thoughts and issues of the time period they are created in.
The bible is no different, yet because of its special, inspired nature, we often have a tendency to forget this fact. We see laws and instruction, imagery, metaphor, comparisons and impressions of God that may not make complete sense to us in the 21st century, but we don’t necessarily dig deeper to discover the meaning we are supposed to see.
We observe God completely willing to visit with and speak through these fallen people and often forget this is despite the fact that even in a surface reading shows these characters were not the heroes of faith we now suppose them to have been.
Before we explore this further, stop and remember the type of people Jesus chose as his disciples. These were not the best of the best. These were not young boys who had excelled in their Torah instruction. These were young men in their mid-teens who had obviously failed to achieve the top grades in Jewish studies because they are back working at their fathers’ businesses. All young Jewish boys had to learn from a Rabbi and memorize the Hebrew scriptures, but after a certain age, only the top students would be chosen to become the disciple of a Rabbi. Jesus chooses twelve disciples who had long ago been left behind as not being up to the task of a life devoted to God.
Very rarely do you find God – in the Old Testament or New – using people who are “superior” human beings by human standards. As said so eloquently in 1 Corinthians;
“… Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
The scandal of the bible is that God shows who he is by revealing his power, love and beauty through flawed people. Grace is undeserved favour, which means there is nothing we can do to deserve God’s love and there are no achievements or special levels of accomplishment required in order to hear his voice or have him visit us. There is nothing we can do that allows us to boast about deserving the gift he gives is. That is what grace is!
This very same grace can be dramatically seen on display throughout the Old Testament when we look at the text in a slightly different manner to see God’s work on display through a people who could not earn his favour. In Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?, Alden Thompson describes this change of perspective as a shift from taking a “high road” view of the Old Testament to taking a “low road” view of the “heroes of faith”;
“… interpretation has tended to glorify this ‘royal line’ of God-fearing people … I began to realize that Christians have often taken a ‘high road’ approach to the Old Testament, which, in my case at least, had left me quite unprepared for the reading of the Bible itself…
The ‘high road’ has marvellous potential for immediate inspiration, and perhaps that is why it has tended to predominate in Christian circles. But such an approach does not really prepare one for actually reading the Old Testament stories…
The evidence from the Old Testament suggests that virtually throughout her history, even after the exile, God’s people were mostly traveling the ‘low road’. One could hardly accuse Israel of worshiping God wrongly when she was not even worshiping him at all!” (Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God; p. 14, 20, 27-28)
What Thompson walks his readers through is the fact we have a tendency to make biblical figures such as Moses, Abraham, David, Samson and others into great heroes of faith and yet we have done so by virtually ignoring what the text actually says about these people.
We tend to ignore their glaring faults because they are morally difficult for us to understand.
As an example, if we view David in a hero’s light because he is described as a man after God’s own heart, how are we supposed to deal with the fact he had a close friend killed in order to cover up the fact he had slept with that friend’s wife and gotten her pregnant?
How do we deal with the fact God would not allow him to construct the temple because he had too much blood on his hands?
Or what about Abraham, the father of Jewish faith, with whom God walked and established his covenant through his bloodline. We frequently perceive this to mean God chose to reveal himself to him and approved of his lifestyle, but take a quick look at his actual actions.
On multiple occasions we see Abraham pretending Sarah is not his wife to avoid potential death or hardship.
We see Abraham taking God’s promise into his own hands by having a son with Hagar because Sarah was barren.
We revere his willingness to sacrifice his own son when God commanded it, yet God expressly forbids human sacrifice in the Old Testament, which makes you wonder if this is something that should truly be praised. I mean, if God were to ask me to sacrifice my son, I would automatically assume I was not hearing correctly because it goes against not just God’s character as we believe it to be, but against his laws as well.
This questionable morality causes real problems if you place these biblical figures on pedestals and consider them to have achieved a place with God to which we must aspire. That is the “high road” approach and, while it can be useful, it is loaded with landmines.
When we look at a “low road” view, we see a people that time and time again fell short of God’s purposes and plans, much like we do today, and yet God was patient with them and continued to stick with them despite the fact his name/character was being dragged through the mud because of it. God was willing to watch and wait patiently and counted the little steps that were taken as faith because they acted with what limited knowledge of God they had. They were willing to step out without all the facts and information, but with a complete trust that God would lead the way. That is biblical faith; a trust in who God is and that despite not knowing everything about him and what he intends for you, you have enough information to know he is on your side and working for your good.
That is belief, faith, and trust in God!
God’s grace is shown in the fact he was willing to take on the sin of his people, much like he does on the cross and continues to do to this day. Not only does he wait patiently, his patience and willingness to stick with them has led to the inevitable conclusion by many that he condoned these actions – or in some cases, commanded it. As a result, it could be said that by sticking with his people, he was willing to accept responsibility for their actions.
As I have said before, that sounds very much like the Jesus we see on the cross.
When we begin to see the Old Testament portrays people in a far less than perfect light, we can see a much more consistent image of God’s character. Thompson sums this up quite nicely;
“… the image of an unchanging God is more congenial, at first glance, than the image of a God who condescends to enter the human arena. But if the New Testament can testify to a God who became flesh, cannot the Old Testament bear witness to a God who stoops even further in order to reach humanity?” – Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?, p. 63
Viewing Abraham and Moses and David as true heroes who found deserved favour with God will cause us to see them as an ideal to be strived for in order for God to meet with us in a similar way. Yet, if we view these people as incredibly flawed and having strayed far from God’s ideal will, we can begin to see how God must strive to reach humanity slowly and step-by-step in order to win their trust and, eventually, their hearts.
The Old Testament reveals much about the type of people God was dealing with and, only when we realize this, can we begin to see how God needed to work within this context to reveal truth about who he is.
In all the literature found in the bible and in each culture expressing truth about God, we see a God that stoops to our level rather than expecting us to achieve his. He meets us where we are and slowly introduces us to the love found in him. In the next post, I hope to focus more on this fact; God reveals himself SLOWLY and in ways that will draw us to him. He does indeed meet us where we are, but is not content simply to leave us where we are.
Next Chapter: A Gradual Revelation
2. A Brief History of God
3. Concentric Circles
4. Jesus & Judaism
5. As It Was vs. As We Are
6. 100% God – 100% Human
7. Revealing God or Revealing Culture (pt1)
9. A Gradual Revelation (pt1)
10. A Gradual Revelation (pt2)
11. Checklist Time
12. Wrath + Love
13. The Vindication of God
14. Who is God & What is He Like?