Thursday, July 28, 2011

How Reading Torah Can Help You See More In The Jewish Pool of Images

 Christians have a history of neglecting to read the books of the law--Torah. We use the first eleven chapters of Genesis for debate over creation and anthropology, and then perhaps enjoy the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and the exodus. Then we get bogged down in formulas and lists in the second half of Exodus through the end of Deuteronomy, leaving our Western minds to check out. However, the writers of the NT quote from and allude to the first five books of the Bible so often that we will be lost as to what is really being said if we are not familiar with them as well. We will be like children watching a Disney cartoon--we get something out of it to be sure, but the parents are getting so much more.

As I was listening to the Exodus story on CD this week (incidently the Word of Promise by Thomas Nelson Publishers makes this experience very enjoyable) I caught a phrase that reminded me of something Jesus said.

14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.  17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.   (Luke 11:14-20, emphasis mine)
As I listened to the story of Moses confronting Pharoah, I heard this:
16 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,’ and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats.” 17 They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came on people and animals. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats. 18 But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not.    Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, 19 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the LORD had said.  (Exodus 8:16-19)
Is Jesus pointing back to this story and comparing the sign demanding crowds to Pharoah's court? I have to admit that I am not finished studying this topic, but it is a good example of how this works. As we become familiar with the Bible, both Old and New testaments, we will begin to pick up on more of the interplay between them. But not only will we understand the NT better if we read and study the "Books of Moses", we will also understand more in Psalms or the prophets. For example you may be reading Psalm 67 which begins with:
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
   and make his face shine on us—
2 so that your ways may be known on earth,
   your salvation among all nations.
If you are familiar with the book of Numbers, you may recognize that  the first line of this psalm is appropriating the Aaronic Blessing:
22 The LORD said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:  24 “‘“The LORD bless you
   and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face shine on you
   and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD turn his face toward you
   and give you peace.”’
 27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
These are just two minor examples that come to mind. There are many rich images from Torah that are picked up again and again in the NT--the call of Abraham (Gen 12), the Covenant with Abraham (Gen 15, 17), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19), the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22), I AM (Exod. 3), the parting of the Red Sea (Exod 14), Mt. Sinai and the 10 Commandments (Exod 19 & 20), the golden calf incident and the new stone tablets (Exod 32-34), the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), Holiness laws (Lev. 19), Jubilee (Lev. 25), the Nazirite Vow and Aaronic Blessing (Num. 6), water from a rock (Num. 20), Balaam (Num. 22-24), the Covenant (Deut. 27-30), and much, much more.

I would encourage you to go through Stephen's address to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 and trace the Biblical stories and quotations. If necessary, reread the stories and passages he cites. Then ask yourself why he uses these and what do they mean. It is a very rich experience.

Have you noticed any images or concepts from the Torah that clarified a NT passage? If so, please share what insights you have gleaned.

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