Rethinking the Old Testament

For years, I have known that the 1st-century Jews understood the Messiah to be a mighty warrior who would save them. I’ve been told this many, many times by pastors, books, and others. It is important to know this fact because otherwise it doesn’t make sense to us why the Jewish leaders completely rejected Jesus. The Jews thought the Messiah would roll in and crush their oppressors and when Jesus isn’t majestic warrior who leads the revolution against Rome, they reject him. Makes sense, right?

What I have neglected to ask for all these years is: Why?

Why do the leading Jewish scholars think this? Isn’t it plain to see that the Old Testament (OT) points to Jesus as being the sacrificial lamb? Why are they so backwards and dense to think that God needs to come rescue them from Rome? They should be more concerned about their own sin!

Actually, I’m the one who is ignorant and backwards. I don’t know anything about the Jewish or ancient near east history. I don’t know nearly enough about the OT to see the connections. I don’t have the same mental imagery. I don’t know anything about the mythologies of the ancient near east. I don’t speak the same language and the translations often hide the connections that would be obvious in the original.

I should have heeded Socrates’ wise counsel to not pretend I know something when in fact I know nothing; for if I had understood I know nothing, at least I would have known that.

This fantastic reduction of my esteem of my knowledge and ever-so-slight increment in my actual knowledge is courtesy of The Bible Project podcast series on the phrase “the day of the Lord”. I’ve only made it through part four of the seven-part series and I have already discovered vast areas of ignorance. I can’t wait to see go through the rest.

Some examples:

Babel = Babylon

Babel is transliterated from the Hebrew בָּבֶל (Strong’s Concordance). Okay, I knew it was transliterated. What I didn’t know is that babel is translated as Babylon basically everywhere except for Genesis 10-11. I previously figured the two were related somehow (although I wasn’t clear on how a big empire would name itself after the place where God scattered everyone…) based on them sounding similar. This translation choice obscured the connection to how the Israelites understood the motif of the big bad villain (something they had to deal with throughout history).

Solomon the Shifty

Ask God for wisdom and discernment and you’ll be set, right? Or, if you aren’t miraculously given wisdom, at least seeking after such things will lead to good things, right?

Well, you’ll probably be a lot better off having wisdom (but maybe not too much if Ecclesiastes 1:18 is right), but don’t look to Solomon as a good role model for what to do with wisdom. He starts off great, but eventually does everything God said a king should not do.

And to top it all off, the biblical writers basically call Solomon the new Pharaoh, the new big bad guy. Israel has become Babylon. Remember the judgment God unleashed on the evil Egypt? The day of the Lord is coming, and it comes to reckon with evil.

I previously knew Solomon wasn’t perfect. Yet, I was never taught the Bible straight up calls him out on a lot of things. One would think this is the kind of stuff pastors should show front and center when talking about Solomon, but I’ve only heard a few brief mentions here and there about how messed up Solomon really was. Solomon used to be one of my favorite characters: he was smart, rich, and everyone in the world wanted to know what he said. Now, I’m rethinking that.

The Day of the Lord

The two examples above show aspects of the OT that would be clear after some good study of the OT alone. However, the phrase, “the day of the Lord”, is hopelessly lost on us without a long list of additional resources outside the Bible to get the whole picture. The prophets are drawing on their contemporary culture and previous days of the Lord to point to how God is working in the world and will bring about a new day of the Lord soon while also working the long game to bring about the ultimate Day of the Lord.

The Jewish leaders had all of this in mind when they thought of the Messiah coming. When they thought God’s big plan to save the world, they thought of Babylon, Egypt, judgment, and a warrior God rescuing his people from oppression. So, when Jesus did nothing like that, it’s no wonder everyone was confused.

Go learn yourself how little you know

If you can’t be bothered to listen to the seven-hour series (oh, but you really, really should), you can watch this six minute video by The Bible Project that summarizes what “the day of the Lord” means. I don’t think it does the topic justice, but it is a hard topic to summarize into a concise video.