I’ve noticed something about the way I write about scripture. When I talk about ideas that span the whole Bible, such as describing it as God’s Love Story or contextualizing spiritual battles, I speak as if all of Bible history is part of our personal history. Symbolically, it’s as if we betrayed God in Eden, made a covenant with Him at Sinai and then broke it, had Jesus die for our sins, and are now welcomed into a new covenant with Him.
In some ways, the parallels are almost literal. We’ve all sinned just like Adam and Eve. Many of us had a relationship with God in our youth and weren’t entirely faithful to him. And no matter what our background, every single one of us needs Jesus’s sacrifice to save us from our sins. All of us who are Christians are now trying to live a godly life in covenant with God. But we weren’t literally there in Eden, nor wandering with Israel on their journey between Egypt and the Promised Land, and we weren’t alive when Jesus walked on the earth. So in what ways are we supposed to identify with people of the past? Is there a point at which we might identify with them too much (or maybe even not enough)?
Covenanting With Us
After the Exodus, when Israel first reached the Promised Land, they sent spies in to see how things were. The spies brought back a report that terrified the people and they refused to go into the land. In response, God swore, “they will by no means see the land that I promised on oath to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it” (Num. 14:23, NET). They had to wander the wilderness another 40 years until everyone “twenty years old and upward” died except for faithful Caleb and Joshua (the two spies who urged Israel to follow God’s plan) and a couple others like Aaron’s son Eleazar the priest. That means there were plenty of people who had no memory of the covenant God made with their ancestors at Sinai by the time they were ready to go into the Promised Land again. And yet, this was what Moses told them before his death:
Then Moses called all the people of Israel together and said to them: “Listen, Israel, to the statutes and ordinances that I am about to deliver to you today; learn them and be careful to keep them! The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. He did not make this covenant with our ancestors but with us, we who are here today, all of us living now.”Deut. 5:1-4, NET
Other than Caleb, Joshua, and Moses there wasn’t any one in the crowd who’d been older than 19 when God made this covenant with His people. Many of his listeners hadn’t even been born yet. It doesn’t matter if they remember it, though. From a spiritual perspective, God cut that covenant with them just as surely as if they’d been in the crowd who said, “We will do all that Yahweh has said, and be obedient” (Ex. 24:7, WEB). Something very similar happens with New Covenant believers as well.
Written For Our Sakes
Paul’s writings are often difficult to understand, but one thing which he is pretty clear on is the fact that the Old Testament is relevant for modern Christians. His first letter to the Corinthians provides excellent examples.
For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it for the oxen that God cares, or does he say it assuredly for our sake? Yes, it was written for our sake, because he who plows ought to plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should partake of his hope.1 Corinthians 9:9-10, WEB
Here, Paul directly identifies something that was “written in the law of Moses” as being “written for our sake.” It wasn’t just for ancient Israel; it’s for us as well. The law teaches us about God’s priorities and where His focus lies. In addition to what the law teaches us, the history of Israel is also highly relevant today.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were cut down in the wilderness. These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. … These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall.1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 11-12, NET
When Paul writes to his first-century audience that the things which happened thousands of years ago were written for their examples, we can also see those words connecting to us. Our faith has a rich history and we’re just as much a part of God’s whole plan as Paul’s first readers were. We can, and should, learn from the whole Bible because it was all written for us.
Those Who Will Believe in Jesus
This blog post isn’t about a new or startling teaching. If we didn’t believe Jesus’s words and the rest of the holy Bible are written for us, then we wouldn’t be Christians. We already know that this faith is real, living, vibrant, and relevant today. And yet, I still think it’s good to remember our roots and to remind ourselves that the Bible doesn’t go out-of-date. Both Old and New Testament were written for us to learn from. God’s law and Israel’s history was written for all God’s followers who would come after. Paul had people like us in mind when he wrote his letters. Jesus even prayed for us.
Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me.John 17:20-21, WEB
When Jesus prayed for His disciples before His crucifixion, He also prayed for people who would believe that He’s the Messiah based on those disciple’s words. That’s us. We believe Him because of what we’ve read and heard and seen as He works in our own lives. And with Him by our side and the encouragement of the examples we have in scripture, we can keep believing no matter what comes to challenge our faith.
For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope. Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.Romans 15:4-6, NET
Featured image by Pearl from Lightstock
Song Recommendation: “How Great is our God / Gadol Elohai” by Joshua Aaron