Thursday, February 23, 2006

OT Ignorance

Aweek or two ago, I was discussing something at another blog when I brought up the fact that I hadn't read the book of Nahum for a long time. Truth be told, I've probably only read Nahum twice in my life, both times while I read through the Bible systematically. I knew the basics about the book -- it was an oracle against Nineveh and the Assyrians some time after that city-state had repented after heeding the warning from Fish Food Jonah. This time there was no repentance and soon there would be no Nineveh either. However I hadn't actually read the words for years. Two bloggers challenged me to read it. Actually they challenged me to preach a sermon for each of the 47 verses of the book, but that's just insanity! But since I'm in the midst of a through-the-Bible reading program (follow my progress here), I skipped ahead to read Nahum again.

I'd love to be able to write that Nahum changed my life. But I can't. It was an interesting read. The vividness of the prophecy is almost chilling. But was I instantly conformed to the image of Christ after reading it? No. I was enriched, but not overwhelmed.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a poster who asked why pastors never seemed to preach at length from the Old Testament. The Christmas Narratives, the Passion, Romans, the Sermon on the Mount... all these are "old favorites" for pulpit-dwellers. But Judges? Ezekiel? Nahum? Aside from a rare cameo verse, those books are hardly ever preached. The blogger wondered why that was? With all the richness of the Old Testament texts, why do pastors return to the Prodigal Son and the Romans Road time and again?

My response was pretty simple. Pastors don't preach the Old Testament because far too many don't know the Old Testament. We preachers enjoy working through the parables or mapping out Paul's missionary journies, but Isaiah is tough stuff to understand, let alone teach! Like everyone else, we get caught up in the idea that studying the New Testament is good use of our time and studying the Old Testament is something that is... well, time consuming and not too applicable to everyday life. And generally speaking, we're just plain wrong about that.

Jesus sure had a healthy respect for what we know today as the Old Testament. These 37 books give us the background which bring the Master's teachings new light. Not each will keep us riveted, perched on the edge of our seats, awaiting the next essential truth to fall from its pages. However being ignorant of these writings make it tough to really get the message of the New Testament.

We all tend to look at the Old Testament differently than we do the New. God seems so harsh at times. Everything is built around a nation of people which is foreign to us. So many of the pages are clogged with genealogies, strange laws and obscure prophecy. But it is here that we are given our initial glimpses of our Creator. It is here that the plan of salvation is foreshadowed. It is here that we see the ups and downs of real people trying to follow God. And it is here where we find the Law which we can never hope to keep perfectly. As Paul wrote, that Law was to drive us to Christ. But that's New Testament stuff. You probably knew that already.

I was amused last week to read the comments of Ralph that Genesis is the most read book of the Bible. The truth is that most of us feel really strange rifling through the Old Testament because we don't ever read it. We can find Psalms. After all it's in the middle of the book, right? But which comes first 1 & 2 Kings or 1 & 2 Chronicles? Is Nehemiah before Daniel or after? Is Obadiah before or after Nahum? And what about the book of Hezekiah?

So pick up your Old Testament. Deal with names like Jephthah and Nimrod. Work with places named Timnath Serah and Bezer. And revel in the faith of Abraham, the rise and fall of Solomon, the hardships of Isaiah and Hosea, the triumphs of Moses and Elijah, and the life of a man after God's own heart. Don't be ignorant of what God made sure was preserved for our benefit.

And if you're still looking for the book of Hezekiah, you can stop now.


Anonymous said...


I'm new here...I found you through Kristin. I've been reading your blog for a bit now and this one really touched me. I am a Jewish woman on the verge of becoming a Messianic Jew. I just wanted to thank you for this post, it meant something to me.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, one more thing. The link you'll find up there is to a regular - totally irrelevant blog. The blog I've been working most at lately is

rev-ed said...

Thanks for stopping, I am. Forgive me, but I think I've read too many blogs today. I saw your sentence beginning, "I am a Jewish woman on the verge of becoming..." and my eyes saw the next line and originally read "... Jewish Man."

Time for a nap... ;)

Catez said...

I enjoyed reading this Ed. I am obviously not a sermon preacher but I used to avoid the OT a bit. Then I got really into it. It is quite incredible - the themes, the patterns, the wisdom. Recently I did some reading on the ancient Persians and it had some amazing background info on biblical events, people, and prophecies. The Nineveh is quite interesting because they had previously repented - it said to me that we are in ongoing confession and repentance - how we need our daily examination before the Lord.

Good post.

A Human Bean said...

Personally, I love reading the Old Testament. In many ways, I prefer it because gives us so much history (I am a history buff.)

I look at the Old Testament as a great source of very practical teaching. Of couse, some of it is very archaic and does not seem to allow current day application.

While I do accept the belief that the Old Testament teachings are not binding on us today, that has actually caused me to learn more from it. I don't look at it so much as a rule book, but more as a source of great wisdom.

I also love finding the connections between the two. I find it very intersting that Jesus repeated 9 out of the Ten Commandments. The continuity and discontinuity between the two really seems to show the difference between grace and legalism.

When I do have the opportunity to preach, I admit I have never used the OT as primary source (largley because of my belief that it is not binding unless it is reinterated in the NT.), but I still use it to show continuity and the wisdom of God.

Jennifer said...

Well, finally I can get on here! I've been trying for two days but my computer must be slower than molasses in January. Geesh. Anyway, I can't say I've honestly ever read Nahum. If so, I can't remember it. So I'll go read it now. Thanks for the reminder.

John said...

My response was pretty simple. Pastors don't preach the Old Testament because far too many don't know the Old Testament.

That's exactly it.

I took Intro to OT last semester, and the prof, about three times a lecture, would point out some moral theme or lesson clearly present the OT narrative. Very, very preachable ideas.

At first glance, I'd say that Nahum is worth one sermon, and that sermon is that our God is a god of justice.

rev-ed said...

Yeah, that's the sermon from Nahum, unless you want to preach about specific modes of punishment.

I begin a series on David -- Shepherd, King, Sinner and Worshipper -- after Easter. It's not the Minor Prophets, but hey, I preached through Joshua last year!

Lorna said...

"Pastors don't preach the Old Testament because far too many don't know the Old Testament. "

I concer.

But also the tradition in many churches which follow the lectionary is to preach from the Gospel.

It's strange in a way because most regular church goers need to hear and have the OT expounded .. they are familiar with the NT esp the gospels... in a church that is mostly filled with new Christians or is actually seeker friendly I think I could understand it more.

The OT is hard (but so is much of the NT - esp Paul and Revelation) but that's no excuse.

I guess for those traditions where the liturgy is so strong, the 10 min preaching slot doesn't lead to much exposition of any kind. It's good that churches also offer Bible study and the like. But then still it's often NT oriented.

thanks for making me think