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The Old Testament and Resurrection

Yesterday in the Easter Sermon I spent a good bit of time talking about five key verses of scripture from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, that point to a view of life after death. We would rightly call these resurrection verses in light of Jesus and the empty tomb, as well as the explicit teaching of the New Testament, particularly landmark passages like 1 Corinthians 15.

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Me preaching on Easter, or am I playing Rock, Paper, Scissors?

 

The compilation of these five verses comes from Millard Erickson’s epic theology book Christian Theology, on page 1201 of my copy. It is not in his section on the work of Jesus, but rather on “Last Things” which I find fascinating. So, if you missed them yesterday because you were dazzled by my homiletics (or, like most of the 7 or 8 billion people in the world, weren’t there) here they are.

  1. Isaiah 26:19, “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.  You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.  Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”
  2. Daniel 12:2  “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
  3. Psalm 49:15, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself”
  4. Psalm 17:15 “And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”

Erickson doesn’t list Job’s ancient words. I find this to be a glaring omission, for they are the most New Testament sounding of them all and are my personal favorite. As I said, it is part of my funeral liturgy, and for good reason.

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-26).

I’d like to point out as well that Erickson does in his work what theologians always do–offer serious caution about reading too much into these words. I know where he is coming from, but I think his caution is too strong. The Bible teaches us about Jesus, and though the language is imprecise in the Hebrew texts, it is still applicable and I believe appropriate at Easter.

I FINISHED THE OLD TESTAMENT TODAY AND I HAVE SOME IDEAS

This year I am reading the Bible from Genesis to maps.  I don’t do this every year because I tend to vary my devotional schedule.  Today I finished the Old Testament with such wonderfully encouraging words from Malachi as this:

I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence.  (Malachi 2:3, NRSV)

What a word picture, huh?  Of course, it is truth and the people have it coming.  The Lord is tired of their faithless religion and unrighteous ways so he is punishing them, and that is the problem I’m having with reading the Old Testament through this year.  I’m tired of them too and I’m tired of reading about their punishments because that is pretty much the entire story from Isaiah to Malachi:  Rebellion, sin, punishment, rinse and repeat.

I get why this is important, because as a follower of Christ I follow the same paradigm, except the focus of punishment is what Jesus took on the cross, so I need the biblical reminder of God’s punishment upon sin and the calls for me to repent.  I am not saying this material is not important.

What I’m saying is that reading it straight through beats the soul to pieces.  Therefore, I have some ideas.  Maybe we need an ordering of the Old Testament for readers--not to replace the canon but to help lift us up (I bolded that so no one would think I’m suggesting changing the Bible.  I am not.  I love the Bible, but am only addressing the needs of a reader).   The New Testament is already built that way.  You see, every Gospel has its depressing parts, but then comes resurrection and then comes the next gospel which is the birth narrative or Pentecost or Romans 8 or 1 Corinthians 13 or Philippians.  Revelation is a downer for most of the book, but then it ends on the highest happy note ever.

The Hebrew Bible could use a little help in this area–from a readers perspective, but not all the Hebrew Bible.  Torah is great because it sprinkles in things like talking donkeys and then the historical books give us David and Goliath between serious and somber narratives and law.  What we need is a redistribution.  So how about this:

1.  Let’s move Proverbs after Lamentations.  Some lighthearted reflections on the fool in his folly would help alleviate the pain of Jeremiah and Lamentations.

2.  We should move Esther after Daniel.  It fits anyway because of the timeline but more than that a story about the sad Jews winning would really help after reading Ezekiel and Daniel.

3.  Ruth could come right after Jonah, because their message is similar–outsiders are important too (Remember Ruth turns out to be a Moabite so King David has foreign lineage).

4.  Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes could come after Zephaniah.  You’re welcome.

5.  Let’s finish the Old Testament with Ezra and Nehemiah.  Instead of spreading dung on our faces, let’s rebuild the Temple and erect the wall as we wait for Jesus in Matthew.

Okay, I know some of you will not like this.   Just remember I am not suggesting that we change the canon of Scripture.  No no no.  I am suggesting a reader’s schedule for the Old Testament that allows for emotional breaks in the pounding trauma that endlessly unfolds from Isaiah to Malachi.