Book Review: Introducing the Old Testament – John Drane

24 09 2008

I have to admit that I don’t know my Old testament as well my New Testament. Recently I have been reading John Drane’s “Introducing the Old Testament”. Its a great book which outlines Israels history in a thematic way.  One topic that really grabbed my attention was the section on Kingship.
Israel was a nation made up of twelve small self governing tribes, united around a common belief that they were the chosen people of Yahweh. For all their petty squabbles this was the one thing they could unite around, however rare that unity was. It was designed that way to remind them of their distinct identity and that they were not like the other nations.

But the desire for unity proved to be too strong, and Saul was proclaimed King. More kings followed, David, Solomon, and his son. By the time of Solomon the Israelites were an incredibly large group of people who had gone from a group of rag tag group of tribes to a wealthy nation with a centralised power structure. It was a time of peace and prosperity. David established a system where the tribes still functioned but submitted to his authority. Each one responsible for supplying the King and his government with supplies for a month of the year. Solomon expanded this to include taxation to pay for his lavish projects. He spent so much money that he had to borrow more, and when he couldnt pay his creditors back he offered them land, which they refused. The Kingdom was starting to crumble, and a revolt was brewing. After all who wants to be taxed to death to pay for the extravagant lifestyles of the rich and famous? Certainly not the under class who had paid more than their fair share of taxes. Along came Solomons Son who, under much pressure, split the Kingdom in two; Israel and Judah.

Kings were always problematic for the Israelites. Would a king be a man after God’s own heart? Would He do God’s will? Would he keep the nation Faithful to Yahweh alone? Most the kings didn’t live up to expectations. They repeatedly did “evil in the sight of the Lord”. Many were ousted in coups. Many resorted to idolatry or pluralism. Jereoboam, who lead one of the coups, set up two temples in his newly claimed kingdom. One in the extreme North and one of the border of Israel and Judah. This was an effort to stop people travelling South on pilgrimages to Jerusalem; showing that they had cut the ties. The only problem was that he tried to merge traditional Jewish belief and Canaananite religous practices, by placing two golden calves in the temple. Though his intentions were probably political more than religous, it shows far the nation had strayed from the covenant. Perhaps we’re meant to read overtones of Moses on Mt Sinai coming down to find the Israelites bowing down to a golden calf? From then the nation weakened, internal squabbles and the external pressure of advancing armies eventually forced its collapse and they were carried off into exile by the Babylonians.

Israel became like the other nations. Genesis 3 echoes powerfully throughout the whole narrative. From when Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden they had trouble with Identity. Adam and Eve knew who they were as creatures created in the image of God. But when Sin appears on the scene they lost their ability to say who they were. Israel was a nation chosen by God. They were to be a special people, a holy people and a blessing to other nations. Set apart for the work of God. But the effects of sin always first caused them to reject their identity. Sin very quickly gave them a new identity and nature as its slaves. As Edwards insists in his book “Freedom of the Will” we never chose anything that is contrary to our nature. This nature separates us from God. It stops us coming to him. It even prohibits us from properly repenting. The Apostle Paul picks up this theme in his letter to the Romans, that the wages of Sin is death and in Ephesians he writes that we are “dead in our tresspasses”. We are people truly in need of saviour. For the “wrath is God is revealed against all unrighteousness”; God would be just in destroying us. Sin is just that abhorrent to Him. As a just God he must condemn it. But in His Grace and good pleasure, he allowed Jesus to stand in our place and take the full force of God’s punishment against Sin, becoming Sin for us.

When we look back at the history of Israel its easy to get smug and look down on them. But how often do I act exactly like them? I may be a new creation but there are times when I act more like my old self. I may be made in the image of God, but I don’t always reflect it. In reality we’re all in the same boat in need of the same saviour to come and rescue us. When Jesus said to his disciples “Apart from me you can do nothing” he surely meant it. Having Faith in the finished work of Jesus means admitting my falleness as a creature, admitting my total dependance on him and living out who I have already become. So often, like the Pharisees in Mark chapter seven, I want to start by picking myself up by my own moral bootstraps. Very good at cleaning the outside of the cup, impervious to the dirt on the inside. It is God, and God alone who creates a clean heart, a heart of flesh, and removes my heart of stone. He does this solely out of Grace, and his perfect love for me. He doesn’t overlook my Sin, but recognises the price that Jesus paid on my behalf.

But the story gets bigger. God is redeeming all of creation. The picture in Revelation 21 and 22 is of a Garden City, and heaven coming to earth. A place where creation no longer groans, but is set free. No longer subject to futility but perfected. A place of plenty, and of feasting like Isaiah foresaw. A place where sin is no more. Truly more was gained in Christ than was lost in Adam.
This hope gives me a passion for the life I live now and an appreciation for the planet I live on. It is something that God loves and cares for. As a member of God’s family I do too.

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