Sunday, August 24, 2014
How To Read The Bible
Certainly anyone can crack open a Bible and read it, but can they read it in context? It's an unfortunate reality that there are some people out there who's minds are blown when they discover The Bible isn't written in chronological order (with some books taking place at the same time as others) and there are some who's minds are blown when they discover that some authors of certain books in The Bible are unknown (that revelation causes some people to lose their faith oddly enough, which is weird because any study Bible will tell you that point blank). So in order to help unbelievers and believers alike, I've crafted this nifty little guide to help you navigate The Bible and get as much out of it as you possibly can. We're gonna go through the entire Bible from start to finish, so strap yourselves in, it's gonna be a long one.
The Bible is a book that primarily broken up into several literary genres (Legal Documents, Historical Records/Prophets, Letters or Epistles and Poetry). Some books don't just stick to one genre however, in the case of Isaiah, much of his book is written in the form of poetry while still being firmly historical record, same goes for Jeremiah. I won't rehash the story of Genesis as that would make this post MUCH, MUCH longer than it's going to be already, so I'll defer your attention to Genesis 3 and suggest you read the entire chapter before continuing. Now that you're up to speed, we can continue. In order to understand The Bible you need to understand the Legal documents of The Bible (Exodus, Leviticus & Deuteronomy) and what they mean and why they're there. But before we get there we need to start with Abraham.
The Bible is composed of covenants or to use legal language contracts made between God & Man, these contracts are important because they will be referenced throughout The Bible and are VERY relevant even today. While The Noahic Covenant (the contract with Noah) is the first contract, it's not as referenced or as detrimental to everything as The Abrahamic Covenant. So what is The Abrahamic Covenant? Well, God wanted to create a nation of people just for Him (we'll get to why later, trust me), clearly He'd need a starting point and that starting point was Abraham. In Genesis 15:9-21 God tells Abraham that He is going to make a nation out of Abraham and promises him a land for his nation (this is The Promised Land, The land of Canaan). While God made the promise to Abraham, Abraham's descendants became the fruition of that promise resulting in Jacob.
Jacob, after an encounter with God was renamed Israel and Jacob's children became the 12 Tribes of Israel: Reuben,Issachar, Zebulun, Judah, Simeon, Asher, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Levi. Levi is the one I'm gonna focus on later on so remember him. Let's fast forward to THE BIG GUY, THE MAN HIMSELF, Moses! Moses is a HUGE DEAL! Liberator of The Jewish People out of Egypt and Israel's MAIN prophet, but why? The same way God selected Abraham to make a nation out of him, God selected Moses to be His premier prophet.
So just so we're clear on where we are, Moses just got The Israelites out of Egypt and they're on their way to The Promise Land. But now you suddenly have a brand new nation of people, well they need something to be considered a nation, they need a land and a law. God gave them the land (per The Abrahamic Covenant) and now God's gonna give them a law (The Mosaic Covenant). The Mosaic Covenant or The Law Of Moses is covered in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy and carried with it a HEAVY stipulation that went like this, God says "Okay Israel, I'm gonna give you this land and you can keep this land as long as you follow my laws, if you don't follow my laws then you'll be expelled from the land until I deem it fit for you to return.". (keep in mind that Israel has been expelled from the land once for nearly What you need to understand is that some of those laws, such as the dietary restrictions and statues on clothing and the trimming of hair were solely cultural laws that divided Israel from the Pagan nations around them, other laws such as the laws on sexuality, idolatry and murder ect. ect. were not only made to divide Israel from the Pagan nations and Pagan practices but were for EVERYONE to follow (for more information see this article).
To make things clear God did not hold a gun to Israel's head and force them to accept His covenant, any Israelite who didn't want to live by The Law of Moses was more than welcomed to leave the Nation, but if they wanted to remain in The Nation, they HAD TO FOLLOW THE LAW. This, oh my brothers and only friends, is the ENTIRETY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT! What do I mean by that? Well, like I said before Moses was God's premier prophet but he wasn't Israel's ONLY prophet. Now usually when we hear the word "prophet" we think of someone who can tell the future, maybe read minds or has a keen insight into a person that borders on the supernatural, while not entirely false, The Biblical prophets mostly prophesied according to The Law of Moses. Basically when ever Israel started to deviate from The Law, a Prophet would rise up and say "Yo, Israel we need to follow The Law otherwise we're gonna lose our land!". The Prophet would point out what Israel was doing wrong and tell them how to correct it.
The Law of Moses is the reason why Christians reject Muhammad (the prophet of Islam), Joseph Smith (the prophet of Mormons), Charles Taze Russell (the prophet of Jehova's Witnesses), Mary Baker Eddy (the prophet of Christian Science, NO not Christians who are scientists but a movement called Christian Science that has nothing to do with Christians or Science...think Buddhism with Jesus sprinkled on top and you're dead on) and ect. ect. as prophets. The Law of Moses was the standard and if some guy just randomly popped up and said "Hey Israel, I'm a prophet! Listen to me!" and he started saying stuff that wasn't found in The Law Of Moses, he was to be put to death. Why? Because;
1) That person is not only lying about himself but potentially misleading others about who God is therefore causing people to question God's authority.
2) That person is leading people against God which will cause Israel to lose the land. And when I say lose The Land, I don't mean that Israel packs up and leaves the land, no, Israel getting kicked out of The Land meant that other armies would enter into Israel and take over, which would result in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Israelites. One of these kingdoms were The Babylonians and if you know anything about ancient history, then you should know how brutal those guys were.
That's why they were put to death, think of it this way, impersonating any authority figure is a punishable crime, but impersonating someone who speaks for God and using that "authority" to misdirect people...everyone (including atheists) agree that's down right evil, yeah, so does God.
Now I'm sure you're all wondering the same thing so I'll just come right out and say it; "But Ugo, how does Israel know who's a prophet and who's not?", I'm glad you asked, not only does Israel have The Law Of Moses to distinguish the real prophets from the fake ones they also have The Phineas Covenant, a promise God made to Phineas that all of his descendants would be honest priests, therefore promising Israel with a faithful priest, a priest who would be aware of who the prophets are. God's not going to let Israel be mislead by any yahoo claiming to be a prophet, God gave them a standard and faithful priest to help them distinguish who's who and what's what.
Getting back on track, this is what meant when I said "THAT'S THE ENTIRETY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT!". If you read The Old Testament it constantly chronicles Israel's failure in following The Law of Moses, a prophet rising up and telling them to get their act together, being taken over by invading forces, eventually defeating those invading forces and returning to the land only to start the cycle over again. In a nutshell, that's the entire Old Testament. The two main covenants of The Old Testament are The Abrahamic Covenant (which promised Abraham a nation, which is why whenever Israel was attacked by invading forces there was always a remnant that would survive and rebuild, and promised him a land, which means that regardless of how many times Israel is expelled from that land, it will always be theirs) and The Mosaic Covenant (which laid down the laws for living in the land).
This is the context for the entire Old Testament (and the New Testament, but we're not quiet there yet). If you can understand those covenants then you can understand who and what the prophets are, what they're supposed to do and who Moses was and what he means to the Jews, ect. ect. Those covenants are constantly referenced throughout The Bible by the prophets as a reminder to Israel about God's faithfulness towards their ancestors, so when The Prophets say things like "The God of Jacob" or "The God of Abraham", The prophet is referencing God's actions with those individuals and the residual benefits that have befallen them all because of it. And when a prophets says "Your father, Abraham." he is reminding the Israelites that they are members of The Abrahamic Covenant and therefore share the benefits that were given to Abraham. Got it? Good.
Within the Old Testament there lives one LAST, very important covenant made to Israel's most famous king, King David, this is called The Davidic Covenant. The Davidic Covenant is a promise made to David that his lineage would be godly and would rule over Israel. This is the LAST covenant of The Old Testament and this brings us to The New Testament. The time period between Nehemiah and the birth of Jesus is 400 years, and during that time God remained silent and many forces were able to take over Israel from Xerxes to Alexander The Great and finally to The Romans.
During the time of The New Testament, The Jews were under heavy Roman rule (however The Jews managed to maintain remnants of their cultural identity, their temples, their religion kinda, ect. ect.) But The Jews were under a different political system then they were accustomed too which resulted in many Jews foregoing The Law Of Moses (once again, part of the Law Of Moses was to separate The Jews from everyone else). Now to bring this all full circle, what do all of these covenants mean? Why? What's the point? They all result in Jesus. How? Well, God wanted to create a nation for Himself, because through that nation He'd bring forth Jesus, He gave Israel a Law or a STANDARD to live by, because Jesus will be the living example of that standard, He gave Israel prophets to encourage them to follow The Law so when Jesus arrived and revealed The Law to The Israelite's they'd understand it better.
What do I mean by "revealed the law"? Jesus showed The Israelites what The Law of Moses was REALLY about, if you turn to Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus is constantly saying "You have heard X, but I tell you Y", Jesus is saying that following The Law isn't JUST about your physical actions, it's about your heart, your desires, your soul. Jesus says it's not enough that you don't kill anyone, you shouldn't have the desire to kill anyone, it's not enough that you don't steal anything, you shouldn't the desire to steal anything, it's not enough for you to not have casual sex, you shouldn't desire to have casual sex. Jesus is taking The Law Of Moses and explaining what it is, it's not JUST about your behavior, it's about your heart and your desires and your soul. And seeing as how Jesus is God, He's aware of those things and judges those things.
Several paragraphs ago I told you guys to remember a young man named Levi, I hope you all were paying attention because we're about to get to him. Levi's descendants became known as The Levites. Now it breaks down like this, "Every Priest is a Levite, but not every Levite is a Priest", hope that clears it up. The reason why the Book of Leviticus is called Leviticus is because talked about The Law, roles and duties of The Priest. The Priest was the person who would go to the temple and make the sacrifice (often a lamb) and talk to God on behalf of the people. This was a ceremonial process which means that sacrifices were made often. Sacrifices weren't made because God was some bloodthirsty nutcase that demanded animal blood, the sacrifices were symbolic gestures getting Israel used to the idea that blood will be shed on their behalf and it will be worthy blood (as The Law dictates that a fitting sacrifice is an animal without blemish).
Notice, this symbolism is first presented in the story of Abraham & Isaac when God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. This is NOT, I REPEAT, NOT to "test his faith" as many believe, but rather God is setting up a symbolic representation of what He will do later on (sacrificing His Son). Any close reading of the text reveals that Abraham, although unaware of God's intentions trusted God and followed through on God's instructions. After all, even if God wanted Abraham to slay Isaac, God can very easily bring him back to life. God promised Abraham Isaac and for God to make such a promise of Abraham having a son and then ordering that son to be killed makes no rational sense. While no doubt, Abraham was tested by this, his complete and utter faith and trust that God wouldn't destroy his son (and this is made clear when Abraham tells his servants that "we will come back to you".) caused Abraham to soldier on
Jesus was a baptized into Priesthood (in case you're wondering why Jesus got Baptized) (and specifically The Order Of Melchizedek, who was both a priest and a king, FORESHADOWING). Jesus' role as a priest required Him to perform certain ceremonial tasks like making a sacrifice and talking to God on behalf of the people. If you read the first chapter of Matthew and read down to verse 6, a very specific name pops up, DAVID! As in King David, and per the Davidic Covenant, God promised Israel a godly King and if you continue to read down to verses 16 & 17, you can see another name pop up, JESUS. Jesus is related to David (therefore making Jesus both priest and king). Thus Jesus' sacrifice was the PERFECT sacrifice and therefore NO OTHER sacrifices MUST BE MADE and no other prophets are needed. Therefore, Jesus is the LAST sacrifice, the LAST prophet and The LAST priest.
This is why when Jesus was crucified, the temple sheet was torn, in The Old Testament, ONLY the Priest was allowed to enter into that part of The Temple to speak to God, but NOW we can just go to Jesus and talk to Him ourselves instead of relying on an intermediary. Jesu said in Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus says He's not there to abolish The Law but to fulfill it, which means He's there to finish the contract, how did Jesus finish the contract? He followed The Law of Moses perfectly for our sake (because we could not) and revealed it's true meaning to us. Therefore, we are left with the moral teachings of The Law Of Moses as our guide and Jesus as the example to follow. So by trusting in Jesus' sacrifice and His perfect following of The Law, we join Jesus in His righteousness. That's the entire Bible, from start to finish.
I hope this has been enlightening to you as it has been physically exhausting for me to write this and even then I don't think I did a good job and hopefully my conversational writing tone made this behemoth of an article more palatable to read. That'll do it for me gents. Peace in Christ.