07 August, 2013

The Progress of Man Toward God

I've been thinking about this too long not to type a little something about it. I'm seeing the Bible as a journal of the progress of man toward God, and a very complete journal. It records God's coaching of us, and our attempts at carrying out our Coach's instructions. It comes complete with progressions and measurable progress.

And maybe a prediction of what comes next?

Let me give you some general headings, and see what you think.
  • Adam
    Adam had no idea how to get to God. He didn't even know it was hard. He didn't even know being like God was out of reach! He ignorantly set foot on the stage of life and tried to pull of a miracle by a little culinary adventure. I used to believe Adam would have been home-free had he only eaten from the Tree of Life, instead of from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. My current thinking is had Adam chosen the right afternoon snack he'd have had fewer setbacks in learning to reach God, but he'd still have had to learn.
  • Seth to Noah
    We're talking about a handful of chapters here. As nearly as I can tell, these people lived kind of like New-Agers think they can live now. They had some sort of confidence they could just walk with God and that was enough. And it was, for at least one guy. Enoch seemed to handle the freedom and responsibility pretty well. The rest of the world didn't do so well. We're all just thankful God found Noah and his family worthy of preserving.
  • Noah to Abraham
    There's even less information here than there was for the last group of people, but we know Melchizedek was leading some folk in worshipping God, and we know Job leaned heavily on the virtue of sacrifice. Basically, Noah probably didn't teach his sons a whole lot about worship, but people built on his memories and whatever direct revelation the Lord gave.
  • Abraham to Moses
    God speaks to Abraham and Abraham tells his sons what God said. So far as I know, the memory of walking with God like Enoch disappears from the Earth after Abraham. In its place is one couple and their miracle family. Through one son, then two, then twelve comes a nation of people who've heard from birth God makes promises to people. I don't see a lot of instruction here about how to reach God, but there's a real and amazing confidence God is reaching them. Here's a beginning
  • Moses
    Moses is the redwood tree of the Old Testament. God chose Moses to carry His instructions for worship to Abraham's family. The children of Israel's family learn from Moses how to gather together, how to sacrifice, how to celebrate, and how to say thanks. Whenever we study the Old Testament, we focus on the failures of Israel's family to reach God. Focus for a second on the fact they made a skilled effort. Remember whenever you think about this there was at all times a remnant of people successfully reaching God. Many people failed to follow Moses' instructions, but there was always someone "doing it right." From the time of Moses onward, there was always someone pleasing God by doing the things He sent Moses to teach.
  • Joshua - Samuel
    Yes, I see success here. After Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, the people of God got down to the business of living in their new world. God made promises to Abraham, and gave instructions to Moses. Now they were living in that fulfilled dream. They had motive and opportunity to know God. They found out it wasn't that easy. Clearing their lives of idolatry was even harder than clearing the land. Following the instructions of God required knowing those instructions, applying yourself daily, and genuine belief that the invisible God was worth knowing. People failed in droves, but there are some great success stories, too. The report is that every man did what was right in his own eyes, but some of them actually saw the Truth. By the end, the people truly did trust Samuel for a while, and the remnant always sought God.
  • David to Jehoiachin
    The kings over Israel (and later over the Northern and Southern divisions of Israel) upped the ante considerably. For starters, they got everyone on the same sheet of music. All Israel worshipped pretty much however the king worshipped. David doesn't quite have the stature of Moses, but he's cut from the same cloth. He loved God, heard instructions from Him, and obeyed them with all his heart. By the time Solomon was done, the people had a place to gather, a priesthood to mediate for them, and a clear picture in their mind what it was to be "the" peculiar people God was calling for. From David's day forward, the people had a vision of what it was to be Israel. The remaining Israelite kings led their people as well. The kings of the Northern Kingdom led them astray while the kings of the Southern Kingdom hit every extreme of loss and restoration. In every case, the vision burned a little more clearly in the eyes of the remnant few than in the days of the judges.
  • Ezra to Jesus
    And here we pass into the murky age, and into the age filled with treasures. I hope and pray your teaching has been more complete than mine, but I knew nothing of these last 500 years of the Old Testament. There's an upward transition from David to Jesus, and it's right here. Ezra was a stranger to me, but he stands almost as tall as Moses himself and Jesus' message would have been incomprehensible without him.

    Jesus could make of us a kingdom of priests because Ezra first transformed Israel into people under priests.

Have you ever noticed 1 and 2 Chronicles is a rerun of 1 Samuel through 2 Kings. There's a reason for that. The first history is told in the mindset of the kings. It tells how God made Israel great by making its kings great. The second history is told in the mindset of the priests and is rich with insights the kings never had - even as they were living the story out. It's a subtle but significant difference.

The twin books of Ezra and Nehemiah begin right where 2 Chronicles leaves off, and essentially become 3 Chronicles. They begin with Israel deeply separated from Yahweh after their best and brightest were carried captive to Babylon. God lived in a building in Jerusalem, and that building had been leveled. Judah's sin caused that disaster, so they had to regard their disaster as their own fault. Yahweh had made promises to Abraham, explained them to Moses, and fulfilled many of them in David, but He ploughed it all under when Israel refused to keep His covenant. God's people had no hope. The isolation was astronomical, hopeless.

But the people of Judah brought the Word of God with them to Babylon. They were separated from the land, the temple, the blessings, but those powerful words spoke into their abandonment. In the darkest of hours Daniel could consult the scrolls. So could Ezra. So could all the remnant.

From Adam to Jehoiachin "The Bible" is almost unmentioned in the Bible. Abraham had Yahweh's promise, but not one little page of The Bible. Moses wrote five books of The Bible, but he didn't start with a single page of it himself. David had Moses' five books and so did a few priests, but the people never heard more than an occasional reading from The Bible. They took their lead from David and his priests. Comfort and guidance came from the temple pageant and the knowledge God was with the king. We can hardly imagine relationship with God apart from His words, but The Bible was truly not central to Israel's spiritual life.

It was during the Babylonian captivity the synagogue system began. Desperate for any connection to God, the people discovered the consolation of the scriptures. They turned whole-heartedly to the scriptures and began to realize how rich and full their lives were with just them. They expected life without the temple to be empty, so the richness of scripture came as a delightful surprise. The synagogue became the place to gather and share the Word of God together.

It was in Babylon the Jewish religion became an individual one. During the time of the kings, Israel was a nation and its reality was whatever its king made of it. Each individual Jew saw himself as a part of Israel's whole, and Yahweh related to the nation. In Babylon, the people began to see Yahweh relating personally to each Jew. Israel could be in captivity for its sins, even while my relationship to Yahweh was healthy and rich.

It's also worth mentioning that from the day of Babylon until now, Israel's main problem was never again idolatry. Legalism, distorted mysticism, and worldliness weren't cured in Babylon, but curing idolatry is an amazing change.

By the time the second temple was completed, Israel was a stronger nation of God-followers than ever before. We focus on Israel's mistakes throughout the 39 books of the Old Testament, but we need to see their success. Following an invisible God is hard! Abraham's pupils were stronger than Noah's, Moses's than Abraham's, David's than Moses's, and Ezra's than David's. The people of Israel struggled, but they grew closer to God each time he revealed a little more about Himself. The nation of Israel fell and fell again, but they were a little higher each time they rose. And never forget the silent remnant received the Lord's commendation in every generation.

It should not be the shock it is to me when I see the Lord succeeded in all those generations, but it's a happy shock. And it makes me want to recalculate everything about how Jesus changed everything when He came.