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.

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The prophets in general

Some prophets wrote things, while others had people write things about them.  Thus, there is a mixed bag about the Hebrew prophets.  Generally speaking, a prophet was someone who believed that a higher power had contacted them.  Thus, they became the intermediary between Yahweh, their God, and their fellow human beings.  Almost like angels, these humans delivered a divine message.  Quite often, the message itself that the prophet conveyed was called a prophecy.  The Hebrew prophets were moral teachers.  Some prophets may have had a role with the institutional Temple priests.  Many religious groups have had what are called prophetic priests.  The Hebrew word navi, meaning spokesperson, has been traditionally translated as prophet.  These navi was considered to be the mouth of Yahweh or God, since they were open to receive and transmit his divine wisdom.  Besides writing and speaking messages from God, these Israelite Nevi’im often acted out prophetic parables in their life.  They were not always praised, since some prophets were even considered bad or false prophets.  Thus, they were sometimes the target of persecution and opposition.

The three major later prophets

The later prophets are what we normally think of as prophets.  They stood out against authority and asked people to reform their ways to that of Yahweh, their God.  They were writing prophets, as opposed to the early prophets who did not write, but were written about.  These later prophets are normally divided into the three major prophets and the twelve Minor Prophets.  There were three famous major writing prophets whose works are very long.  Isaiah lived in the 8th century BCE, but his work was not finished until around the 6th century BCE.  On the other hand, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were 6th century BCE prophetic writers around the time of the Babylonian Exile.

The flight from Jerusalem (Zech 14:5-14:5)

“You shall flee

By the valley

Of Yahweh’s mountain.

The valley between the mountains

Shall reach to Azal.

You shall flee,

As you fled

From the earthquake

In the days of King Uzziah

Of Judah.

Then Yahweh,

Your God,

Will come.

All the holy ones

Will be with him.”

The citizens of Jerusalem would flee their town via this valley in the Mount of Olives.  They would reach Azal, probably a small town beside the Mount of Olives.  Apparently, this was the same place where people fled during the reign of King Uzziah of Judah (781-740 BCE).  The Book of Amos in its first chapter mentioned an earthquake that took place at that time sometime around 760-750 BCE.  This must had made a big impact on people, because Zechariah mentioned it some 250 years later.  In the end, Yahweh, their God would come with his holy ones.  Thus, all the fugitives would be with Yahweh.

Kill the shepherd (Zech 13:7-13:9)

“‘Awake!

O sword!

Against my shepherd!

Against the man

Who is my associate!’

Says Yahweh of hosts.

‘Strike the shepherd,

That the sheep

May be scattered.

I will turn my hand

Against the little ones.’

Says Yahweh.

‘In the whole land,

Two thirds shall be cut off.

They shall perish,

One third shall be left alive.

I will put this third

Into the fire.

I will refine them

As one refines silver.

I will test them

As gold is tested.

They will call

On my name.

I will answer them.

I will say.

‘They are my people.’

They will say.

‘Yahweh is my God.’”

Yahweh of hosts wanted to take away the current leaders.  The sword should rise up against them, even if they are associated with Yahweh.  The shepherd leaders should be killed, so that the flock would be scattered.  Yahweh would destroy 2/3rd of this flock of people.  The remaining 1/3rd would have to be refined by fire, just like gold and silver were tested in a furnace.  This remaining 1/3rd remnant would be Yahweh’s people.  They would have Yahweh as their God.  Yahweh would have them as his people.

The problem of Judah (Zech 12:4-12:5)

“On that day,

Says Yahweh.

‘I will strike every horse

With panic.

I will strike its rider

With madness.

But upon the house of Judah,

I will keep a watchful eye,

When I strike every horse

Of the people

With blindness.

Then the clan leaders of Judah

Shall say to themselves.

‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem

Have strength

Through Yahweh of hosts,

Their God.’”

Once again, Yahweh declared, via Zechariah, that he was going to strike panic among the horses and their riders, who would be struck with madness.  However, the exception would be the house of Judah, because Yahweh kept a watchful eye on them.  When many of the people would be struck blind, then the various clan leaders of Judah would realize that the people of Jerusalem had great strength through Yahweh, their God.

Saving both the north and the south (Zech 10:6-10:7)

“I will strengthen

The house of Judah.

I will save

The house of Joseph.

I will bring them back

Because I have compassion on them.

They shall be

As though I had not rejected them.

I am Yahweh,

Their God.

I will answer them.

Then the people of Ephraim

Shall become like warriors.

Their hearts shall be glad

As with wine.

Their children

Shall see it.

They shall rejoice.

Their hearts shall exult

In Yahweh.”

Yahweh, here in Zechariah, assumed the first person singular.  He was going to strengthen and save the house of Judah and Joseph, because he was going to bring them back in a compassionate way.  They were going to be, as if they had never been rejected.  Yahweh was clear.  He was their God.  Thus, he would answer them.  He would be particularly kind to the northern people in Ephraim.  They would become like warriors with wine filled glad hearts.  Their children would see what was going on and be happy as they exulted in Yahweh.