Yesterday we considered the most important question for interpreting the Old Testament: What was the original message to the original audience? Let me give some examples of what insights this question produces.
Genesis was written by Moses to the Israelites who had just come out of Egypt and were wondering if they should have left after all.
Original Message: God’s power to create order and light out of disorder and darkness in the universe and in individual lives should encourage Israel to leave the disorder and darkness of Egypt behind them, and confidently move towards the order and light of Canaan.
Present Message: God’s power to create order and light out of disorder and darkness should encourage the new Israel (the Church) to leave the “old world of Egypt” (this present evil world) behind and move toward the “new world of Canaan” (new heavens and earth).
Exodus was written a bit later than Genesis when Moses’ leadership was being continually questioned by the Israelites following him in the wilderness.
Original Message: Israel should continue to follow Moses because God clearly authorized him to be Israel’s deliverer, law-giver, and worship-leader
Present Message: The Church should continue to follow Christ’s fulfillment and application of Moses’ teaching because God clearly authorized him to be the Church’s deliverer, law-giver and worship leader.
Deuteronomy was written to the Israelites on the border of the Promised Land and reviews Israel’s history to encourage them to go and take the land God had given them.
Original Message: Israel should renew their commitment to the God’s covenant under a new leader (Joshua) facing new challenges.
Present Message: The church should renew its commitment to the God’s covenant under a new leader (Christ) facing new challenges.
Judges was written to show what happened in Israel when there was no king in Israel but every man did what was right in his own eyes.
Original message: Israel should commit itself to the godly King of Judah for spiritual and social blessings on a personal and national level.
Present message: The Church should commit itself to the godly Judahite King (Christ) for spiritual and social blessings on a personal and national level.
The two books of Kings were written to Israel in Babylonian exile asking, “Why has God broken His covenant promise to us?” Kings demonstrates that far from breaking His covenant promise, God has kept it by punishing Israel with exile for her sins, and calls her to repentance.
Original Message: The nation deserved the exile, but restoration was possible through full repentance
Present Message: The Church deserves chastisement, but restoration is possible through full repentance
The two books of Chronicles cover the same period and stories as the two books of Kings, but they were written at the end of the Babylonian exile not the beginning. So, although they tell the same stories, Chronicles tells them in a much more optimistic, upbeat way. The emphasis is not on past sins, but past examples of faithfulness. The difference is due to different people, different times, and different purposes. Chronicles was written at the end of the exile when God was trying to encourage the Israelites to return to their land and to His blessing with these inspiring stories from their national past.
Original Message: Work for the restoration of Israel’s throne and temple to enjoy God’s blessing.
Present Message: Work for the restoration and rebuilding of the throne and church of God to enjoy God’s blessing.
Song of Solomon
The Song of Solomon was written to a people in covenant with God, whose spiritual relationship with God was often portrayed by Moses, the Psalmist, and the Prophets as a marriage.
Original Message: Enjoy God’s gift of love in every relationship, but especially in relation to Him
Present Message: Enjoy God’s gift of love in every relationship, but especially in relation to Christ.
I hope this sample encourages you to take this approach with other books, and parts of books. Some of these are adapted from Richard Pratt’s He Gave Us Stories, which is the go-to book for learning more about the original message of the Old Testament books.