Dear Christian friends, if you are still adhering to your annual Bible reading plan regardless of origin, you are probably deep into the histories (Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, and I and II Chronicles) and maybe even the prophets. If you have access to a good solid commentary, again, doesn’t matter who the publisher is, you might be consulting it on a regular basis. This blog post is to help you focus on the big picture again instead of getting lost in the charts and literature.
Big Picture Principle 1: The Old Testament was written for you to know; It is not about you.
Note the adverb. Some Christians today are too hasty in the study of God’s word. If they cannot find some direct personal application, these Christians will gloss it over. What I mean is this: if that passage does not tell them something, they will ignore. They seem to be waiting for God to say: “John, I want you to do this today, like this person did that you just read about. – God.” Okay… does that I mean to go shout from the rooftops that judgment is coming? Of course not. If you won’t do it normally because you claim to be a New Testament believer, why copy some long dead prophet?
Moreover, the histories are written about Israel and the prophecies are given to Israel (with the exception of Jonah, Nahum, and Obadiah). When I say Israel, I mean both Judah and Israel in their contexts.
Big Picture Principle 2: Context, Context, Context.
Context is king when it comes to reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Any good Bible expositor will tell you that. Again, without going into fine details with charts, you can still understand the story and the purpose of the book.
In this post, I am treating the histories and the prophecies together. The answer is simple; the prophecies were given to specific, historical people. When you read I or II Kings or I or II Chronicles, you find prophet X got up and said something to the king or priests. What did they? The books in prose might not say much but the other books do. They fit hand in glove.
At other times, the books of prophecy show a dialogue between God and man. God is telling His prophets basically what God thinks about the situation and what will happen. It is similar to asking your friend what his opinion about something like “Who do you think will win Wimbledon this year?” or “What do you think Chancellor Merkel will do about the European economy?” It so happens in the case of the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah or Jeremiah, or Daniel happens to be talking to the Person who sees the future with 100,000% accuracy.
Big Picture Principle 3: The True Kingdom of God
Throughout the entire Bible, it is the story of God and His people. That is the central theme from Genesis to Revelation: God wishes to establish a kingdom of love and grace. It so happens that the physical manifestation was Israel from about 1000 B.C. to 586 B.C. It was an earthly kingdom with kings and a royal dynasty. Did they do everything right? Of course not. Yet this was how God chose to manifest his blessings to the world at this point in world history.
Big Picture Principle 4: Don’t over-spiritualize or under-spiritualize
Don’t over-spiritualize. What I mean is: sometimes a bear emerging from the woods and killing several boys mocking Elisha IS a bear emerging from the woods and killing several boys for mocking Elisha. True story. The Syrian general Naaman did dunk himself seven times in the Jordan River. Israel is not America. It is not the church as the picture below says.
Don’t under-spiritualize, either. If there is a miraculous event, then it is that. You’ll need faith. If you are a secular materialist, agnostic, or a Deist like Thomas Jefferson, reading this, then nothing I say will convince you otherwise.
Big Picture Principle #5: Names and Places
Naturally, everyone will get tripped up on how to pronounce Jehu, Azariah, Gilead-Ramoth, or confuse Elijah and Elisha. And then there are the Assyrian and Syrian names like Hazael, Sennacherib, or Tiglath-pileser. Unless you are an expert in Semitic languages and want to show off which I am not, do not worry. Just think about this: those names have meaning to their culture and mainly those cultures. Can you try explaining your son’s or daughter’s name to someone outside your cultural context? For example, the meaning behind English names like Robert, or Ian, or James is quickly lost in translation to those from Tibet or the Amazon.
Big Picture Principle #6: Faith is Required.
Faith has always been the necessary ingredient to understand the Bible. I have sat with non-Christians at the University of Chicago reading through the book of Genesis in humanities class. Looking back now, I wonder how some of them, including tenured professors, seem to have come to their conclusions that are inconsistent with the rest of the Bible if we are all reading the same texts. The answer has always been: no faith in Jesus Christ.
And that is where I will end: the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ and his complete work at the cross.