How would you like it if a Russian, or an Arab, or even a Scot walked into your house, picked up your diary and photo album and said, “Oh, this is all about me! Look at me in that picture. And this diary entry was such a big lesson for me.”
You’d probably grab your diary and photos back, kick him out of the door, and rebuke him for his cheeky self-centeredness. “How dare he think these things are all about him!”
So why do we do that with the Bible, especially with the Old Testament. We pick up this old collection of “pictures” and stories and the first question we ask is, “What’s in this for me?” or “What does this say to me?” How dare we!
This cheeky self-centeredness is not quite so common when we deal with the New Testament as more people recognize that the letter to the Corinthians was written to a specific people at a specific place at a specific time for a specific purpose. Same with Paul’s letters to the Romans, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, etc. Teachers and preachers will often explain New Testament verses in their original context before drawing application to today’s readers and listeners.
But when we come to the Old Testament, people read Genesis or Ruth or Isaiah as if it was written directly to the 21st century western Christian, with hardly a thought about the original writer, the original audience, or the original reason for writing. I must confess, that’s how I used to read the Old Testament, and even preach it.
However, my approach to the Old Testament was revolutionized by Dr. Richard Pratt’s Old Testament Introduction lectures and his book, He Gave Us Stories. Pratt insisted that we must research when an Old Testament book was written, who wrote it, and why. That will give us the original message to the original audience, enabling us to make more accurate application to similar audiences meeting similar challenges today.
Tomorrow, we’ll survey the original message of a number of Old Testament books and how that guides us to understand their message to us.