A Story of Faith: the Old Testament

This fall at the Lutheran churches in Dunn County we are hearing the story of the Old Testament. Each Sunday will be like the next episode in one big story.

By Pastor Simonson

This fall at the Lutheran churches in Dunn County we are hearing the story of the Old Testament. Each Sunday will be like the next episode in one big story.

Each month in the Herald we will talk about another Bible story but we will also be missing some, so as we begin here is a really quick nutshell of the Old Testament to help you piece the story together.

Throughout the Bible, we see themes emerge. A really big one to keep watching for is that God commands us through God’s laws that we are to 1) Love God, and 2) Love Each Other.

All of the laws in Old Testament are to help us to do these two things. Easy, right? We will see over and over again that humanity fails to do this well and instead we choose to exert our independence from God and each other, seeking control, power, and security in things that are not God. This is the broken state that we find ourselves in, and try as we might, we can never love God and love each other as we should.

Over and over throughout the Bible God shows compassion and forgiveness as we act out of this state of brokenness. Thus we are always living in a tension between being called to follow God’s command to Love God and Love Each Other, but also trusting in God’s mercy when we realize that we have failed.  Watch how this major theme unfolds throughout the whole Bible, starting in the Old Testament.

In the beginning God created everything, and it was good. Yet sin and brokenness soon followed. This question of how sin came into the world and how God responds to it is discussed in the first stories of Genesis: The two creation stories, Noah and the flood, and the tower of Babel.

Ultimately, God decides to create a nation of people (Israel/Jews) who God would have a special relationship with, blessing them so that they would be a blessing to the world. They would show the world who God is. This special nation of Israel began with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham and Sarah and their descendants were very far from perfect, but were faithful to God. A few generations later, the Israelites (all of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants) became enslaved in Egypt, and they cried out to God to save them. So God called Moses to go and tell the Pharaoh, “Let My People Go!” Pharaoh was not impressed, but eventually God (through Moses) convinced him, and the Israelites were finally free.

Although the land that God had promised them was not too far away (present day Israel), it took them 40 years of wandering to get there. During this time, they had to learn to trust God to take care of them, and they also received the 10 Commandments from God, which was a gift to help them Love God and Love Each Other, creating a stable community.

When they finally got to the Promised Land, they had to first conquer it, under the leadership of Joshua. Once they settled in, they did not have a king, since God was their king. When something came up that needed leadership (invading armies, etc), God would raise up a leader for that specific need, and those leaders were called Judges.

Eventually, however, the people decided they would like kings instead, so God relented and called the Prophet Samuel (a prophet is someone who God uses to speak to the people) to choose Saul to be their first King. Saul slowly became crazy, so God had Samuel choose someone else: King David.

King David was a heartthrob and was adored by everyone because of his charming personality, cunning military strategy, and poetic spirit. King David was also especially favored by God.

After King David died, his son, Solomon took the throne and was not only super wise, but he also built The Temple in Jerusalem where God could live among God’s people. After Solomon things got a bit ugly and the nation of Israel split into two: The northern kingdom was called Israel and The southern kingdom was called Judah.

Many kings ruled these two kingdoms, some were good, some were bad, and most had strange names. During this time the people kept repeating a cycle of promising to love God and each other, then breaking that promise, then getting punished by God, then repenting (saying they’re sorry and returning to God), then God would forgive them, at which point they would make big promises to God again to love God and each other…. and around and around.

Things started to get really bad and more and more they were worshipping other gods and they didn’t take care of the most vulnerable in their communities, but often exploited them for their own gain instead, and so God sent some prophets. These prophets told everyone that they needed to return to God and start loving each other again or else God would punish them. No one listened.

So the Assyrians came in and conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Gone. Took it over, killed many people, enslaved many more and intermarried with those who were left over in that area (in Jesus’ time, these intermarried people were known as Samaritans).

The prophets continued to warn Judah to return to God and each other or this would happen to them too, and…. they still didn’t listen. But God had mercy and instead of destroying them, God sent them into captivity. This time it was the Babylonians who conquered them, taking them away for 70 years.

This is a major time for Israel. What did it mean for them that they no longer were living in the land God had promised to them? What did it mean that God’s Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed – was God now gone from earth? Had God abandoned them? Were they, as a nation, dead? And just as they were in the depth of their despair, God did what God does best: new life out of death! God sent them home to the Promised Land and restored them as God’s Special People.

They had a lot of rebuilding to do, but their faith was restored and they were trying to Love God and Love Each Other. But soon a new challenge arrived that led them to cry out to God for help once again: the Roman Empire. They were again conquered, but this time they were allowed to stay in their land, though they were oppressed and persecuted by their Roman rulers.

Would God come to their aid again? Who will God send this time?? Stay tuned and find out around Christmastime! Next month we’ll look specifically at how God was with the Israelites in the Wilderness after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Stay tuned!

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