Christians reading the Old Testament

The Old Testament Hebrew Bible raises questions of interpretation for a Christian.  To what extent am I, as a Christian, projecting Christian views and values on the children of Israel, the people of Israel, the Israelites?  There are various terms that translators have used to describe the slowing forming group of Yahweh believers over three thousand years ago.  Yahweh was their God and intervened in their lives.  They had a special relationship or covenant with him.  The Hebrew sacred writings were incorporated into Christianity because all the early Christians were Jewish.  However, the writings were not originally meant for Christians, but for the Hebrew people.  Can I really fully understand the Semitic thought process of three thousand years ago?  Will I be able to appreciate how important the promised land of Israel was to Jewish people?  What role did the exodus from Egypt, the Temple, the exile, and the various codes play in their lives?  I can try, but I doubt if I will be fully successful.

The useless worship of God (Mal 3:14-3:15)

“You have said.

‘It is vain

To serve God.

What do we profit

By keeping his commands?

What do we profit

By walking

As mourning

Before Yahweh of hosts?

Now we count the arrogant

Happy.

Evildoers not only prosper,

But when they put God

To the test,

They escape.’”

The people of Israel were saying that it was useless to worship God.  What did they gain by keeping his commandments?  How did it help them by walking around mourning before Yahweh?  The arrogant ones were the happy ones.  The evildoers not only prospered, but when they defied God, they escaped.  What was the value of their Yahweh worship?

Do not be like your ancestors (Zech 1:4-1:6)

“Do not be like your ancestors!

The former prophets

Cried out

Against them.

Thus says Yahweh of hosts.

‘Return from your evil ways!

Return from your evil deeds!

But they did not hear.

They did not heed me.’

Says Yahweh.

‘Your ancestors,

Where are they?

The prophets,

Do they live forever?

But my words,

My statutes,

That I commanded

My servants,

The prophets,

Did they not overtake

Your ancestors?

Thus,

They repented.

They said.

‘Yahweh of hosts

Has dealt with us

According to our ways,

According to our deeds,

Just as he planned to do.’”

Yahweh, via Zechariah, wanted the people of Israel not to be like their ancestors.  They should return from their evil ways and deeds.  Their ancestors had not listened to the former prophets proclaiming the word of Yahweh.  What happened to their ancestors?  Neither they nor these prophets would live forever.  However, the statutes and commands of Yahweh as pronounced by his servants, the prophets, overtook them.  They repented and agreed that Yahweh had treated them fairly according to their ways and deeds.

The conclusion of Haggai (Hag 2:14-2:14)

“Then Haggai said.

‘So is it with this people,

With this nation before me.

Says Yahweh.

So is it

With every work

Of their hands.

What they offer there

Is unclean.’”

Haggai explained the situation about the people of Israel, the nation before him.  He said that Yahweh felt the same way about all the work of their hands because of their uncleanness.  Whatever they offered up would be unclean also.

The new ruler of Israel (Mic 5:3-5:4)

“Therefore,

He shall give them up

Until the time

When she who is in labor

Has brought forth.

Then the rest

Of his brethren

Shall return

To the people of Israel.

He shall stand.

He shall feed his flock

In the strength of Yahweh,

In the majesty

Of the name of Yahweh,

His God.

They shall live secure.

Now he shall be great

To the ends of the earth.

He shall be the one of peace.”

Next Micah gave a description of this new Israelite ruler.  Apparently, this would take place after a long process of pregnancy labor.  Then the new ruler would be born when the rest of the people of Israel returned.  This new ruler would stand with them and feed them like his own flock.  He would stand in the majesty and strength of the name of Yahweh, his God.  They then would live secure.  This new ruler would be great, since he would be a man of peace, known to the ends of the earth.  It is easy to see why many of the early Christians applied this passage to Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem.

The response of Amos (Am 7:14-7:15)

“Then Amos answered Amaziah.

‘I am no prophet.

I am not a prophet’s son.

But I am a herdsman.

I am a dresser

Of sycamore trees.

Yahweh took me

From following the flock.

Yahweh said to me.

‘Go!

Prophesy to my people Israel!’”

Amos responded that he was not a professional prophet, nor the son of a prophet, nor part of any prophetic group. He was a simple shepherd or herdsman. He loved to take care of sycamore trees. Yahweh had taken him away from his flock and told him to prophesize to the people of Israel. Remember that King David was also a shepherd. Obviously, that was considered a badge of honor to be a lowly shepherd, something that Jesus of Nazareth would also mention.

The destruction of Israel (Am 7:8-7:9)

“Yahweh said to me.

‘Amos!

What do you see?’

I said.

‘A plumb line.’

Then Yahweh said.

‘See!

I am setting

A plumb line

In the midst

Of my people Israel.

I will never again

Pass by them.

The high places

Of Isaac

Shall be made desolate.

The sanctuaries of Israel

Shall be laid waste.

I will rise against

The house of Jeroboam

With the sword.’”

This time, Amos had no response to this vision about the plumb line. Yahweh asked Amos what he saw. Amos responded that it was a plumb line. Then Yahweh told him that he was going to place it in the middle of the people of Israel. He was not going to pass by them again. The high places and the sanctuaries of Israel would be laid waste and become desolate. Yahweh was going to rise up against the house of King Jeroboam II (783-743 BCE), meaning his son, King Zachariah, who did not last a year in 743 BCE.