How can we consider the contents of the whole of the Old Testament within a short reflection? There’s clearly no space for a book-by-book commentary, but here are some headings relating to the themes contained in it, which prepare the way for God’s full revelation of his plan of redemptive love through Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament.
The account in the first chapter of Genesis of God’s perfect creation
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.Gen. 1. 31
The fall of mankind and the inevitability of death and judgement
Because you… ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life… By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”Gen. 3. 17-19
The history of God’s redemptive plan, which emerges through the troubled history of mankind:
The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created”Gen. 6. 5-7
Through one righteous man, Noah, God spared the human race. He then went on to make himself known through the faith of individuals, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua and David. But each one, although progressing God’s plan, was a flawed human being. Even David, who was regarded as the model King:I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” (Acts 13.22) failed to live a pure life, and most of his successors turned the people away from following God.
Through a nation – the promise to Abraham and his seed. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12. 2,3) The great wickedness of mankind, had to be dealt with by raising up one nation, and their militant action that we read about in the Old Testament may strike us today as barbaric – but represents the action of a holy God in the face of unremitting evil.
Through a chosen land. “Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Gen 50. 24). Much of the Old Testament focuses on the way the people of Israel were led out of Egypt into a land “flowing with milk and honey”. The Passover supper which released the people to cross the Red Sea and take over the land, speaks to us of the Eucharistic meal initiated by Christ centuries later.
The failure of Israel to follow God’s leadership
The Ten Commandments and the Law were passed on to the people by Moses. However, subsequently in the book of Judges, we read of the chaos brought about by a lack of good or effective leadership and the turning away to follow other gods. Many of the anointed kings oppressed the people and failed to follow God’s commandments, and exile was brought about as a result of the spiritual collapse of the nation.
Prophetic words in troubled times, pointing towards the coming of Christ
Even during the many difficult times, God communicated through people who were given words in season – the prophets. We read of such characters as Elijah and Elisha and the story of Jonah – the reluctant evangelist, whose unique mission was to preach to the gentiles. Of all the prophetic voices, the most telling for us is probably Isaiah – whose “ suffering Servant” passages foretell the coming of Jesus Christ: “See, my servant will act wisely ; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” (Is. 52. 13)
The writer to the book of Hebrews explains how the Christian faith is a fulfilment of the context set in the Old Testament.”These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Heb. 11. 39-40)
We will consider this “better” promise next week!