A Study of the Old Testament, part 4

  Published: Dec. 20, 2016 |

Deuteronomist history

Abandonment is a theme throughout the OT from Israel’s perspective.  The response was the articulation of Hope.  Deuteronomy was written while the Israelites were still in exile which is why there is no real conclusion because the resolution hasn’t happened yet, from the Israelite perspective in antiquity.  Deuteronomy focuses on the “change of heart”.   Most scholars think the Deuteronomist history went through some revisions but it articulates the looking back on the story through the lens of exile.

  • Exclusive worship of Yahweh
  • Central location of the temple cult
  • God’s covenant with the divine dynasty

1 & 2 Kings is mostly about Geo-Politics.  1 & 2 Kings shares a more rounded story of the Kings, not just the Christian perspective. which often limits the negative references.  Thematic in the OT, is that it is good to listen to the elders and not the youngsters, but much like todays society, they often listened to the youngsters rather than the more experienced elders and had bad experiences.  The rise of prophecy is also found in 1 & 2 Kings.  This is because the Israelites became too comfortable in their security and forgot about Covenant.  The story of the prophets describes the relationship between the fidelity of Yahweh, thus Covenant, and blessing and curses.  The words of the prophets are “remembered” over and over again.  The prophets are “guides” to a new age.

Book of Lamentations – brief overview

  • 5 poems of grief that were invoked by the crisis of 587.
  • Each of the poems are crafted after the second siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian’s.
  • Conveys a voice of a suffering, dying and abandoned woman.  Her name is Daughter of Zion.
  • Lament over the abandonment of the city brings realization that is beyond expectation.
  • The logic of loss is not governed by explanation.
  • Quanah – funeral march beat (how the poems are timed and sung)
  • Survives to witness the durability of loss.  (Book of Job will do the same).

Wisdom Literature Traditions (Hebrew: Hocmma aka Wisdom) (Greek is Sophia aka the Wisdom Woman)

(before the storm comes – beginning to deconstruct) The purpose of Wisdom Literature is to hold in front of our faces the realities that the way we think the world is operating (created by God), holds up the reality that it just isn’t so all the time.  (example: Yes, but…).  Literature when looked at on a broad scale is disturbing. Wisdom Literature is about life in a community.  The Israelites manage their lives through their community.  There is not a lot of individuality in the Bible.  Wisdom Literature is “universal”.  It isn’t specific to just Biblical culture or one specific faith base.  It is a worldwide phenomenon.  The God of Lamentations is the God that the Israelites cling to.

Proverbs – imagine parents talking to children.

Proverbs has four themes:

  • Ambiguity is revelatory (revealing something hitherto unknown)
  • Suffering and justice
  • Wisdom woman
  • Theology of community

Mashal” is Hebrew for “implies a comparison

  • This is where ambiguity comes in
  • Lays out “A” and “B”

A further example of Mashal would be: The Mustard seed is an invasive plant and takes over everything.  The reference of “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed” can be unsettling.  It implies that the kingdom of God is invasive and takes over everything!

 Cycle of Theology

As you walk through life, the only consistent thing is your ‘bucket of rocks”.  The journey never ends.  There are moments of orientation but then life brings more disorientation until some rocks fall out and new rocks are added and you have moments of orientation again until more rocks fall out and new rocks, etc.  We would relate this to the “ups and downs” we experience.

Exegesis of Old Testament

The role of exegesis is to best determine what the text meant.  Exegesis is a way to investigate and explore.  A way to get to the root.  Here is a breakdown of how Scholars come to their conclusions.

  1. Text – The point at this stage is to become familiar with your passage and its literary surrounds as much as possible.
  2. The world behind the text
    • Historical Background
    • Social setting
    • Form
  3. The world within the test
    • Literary Context
      • Placement of the text
      • Literary Function
    • Structure
    • Grammatical Data
    • Lexical Data
    • Biblical Context
    • Theology
  4. Provisional Conclusions – You need to be able to give reasons for what you think, and demonstrate how your research led you to your conclusions.
  5. Secondary Literature – You need to be able to articulate the reasons why you disagree with a commentary, if that commentary doesn’t tweak your thinking about the passage a little.
  6. Final Conclusions – You need to be able to give reasons for what you think, and demonstrate how your research led you to your conclusions.  In doing this, you can now utilize what other scholars (commentaries) say that corroborate with your own thinking.
  7. Compose the Exegesis Paper


Authorship of the Psalms is anonymous but is accredited to David. Psalms are from many different periods in antiquity.  Israelites were active innovators and participants in the broader literary culture of the ancient near east, with all cultures borrowing from each other. This concept is important in every part of the Old Testament.  Another example would be the creation story.  Reviewing Sumerian Cuneiform, a similar but older creation story is told.  We tend to think of the Bible as the authority.  When we consider that the Old Testament is only about the Israelites and that many of their legends are “borrowed” from other cultures, it can turn our belief system upside down.  Yet, we still accept the Bible as inspired by God.

Songs of Psalm are poetry – focusing on life’s experiences, how to live life wisely. Psalms are dominated by a male culture (father / son).  The Psalms (TeheleemT in Hebrew) is the longest scroll in the Hebrew Bible.  They are utterances of faith as they make sense of God at the crossroads of life.  The Israelites of antiquity were what we’d call today, very high maintenance.  They were confused, angry, forgetful, regretful and trying hard to find their identity.

Psalms is broken down into 5 books:

  1. 1-41
  2. 42-17
  3. 73-89
  4. 90-106
  5. 107-150

Each Psalm ends with a blessing.  There are three different themes through out the Psalms:

  • Praise poems
  • Lament poems (communal and individual) (Psalm 44 – communal, Psalm 40 individual)
  • Thanksgiving Psalms

Psalms deal with life that balance loss and gift.  They don’t suppress one for the other.  Psalms (and all Wisdom Literature) are understood as challenging dominant culture by talking about what we would rather not talk about privately or publically. Psalms confronts us with the challenge of looking at life realistically.  The whole reality of disorientation in the Psalms is the shattering of our icons and understandings.  Modern day song may one day be consider similar to Psalms.  Our songs deal with many of life’s challenges but also offer thanksgiving, lament and sing praise.  As much as things change, they stay the same!  Remember also that in all of the books there is the reoccurring theme of “orientation-disorientation-reorientation”.  We experience this today as well but it is the foundation of the Bible stories.

Psalms of orientation are created by a faithful peoples  experience of a trustworthy God.  Things are settled.  The world is orderly and happy.  No fear.  No sadness.

Social function – provides a sacred canopy where the faithful live without anxiety, right now.  The problem – the sense of orientation becomes dangerous when this orientation becomes “status quo”.  We become resistant.  If all we do is sing songs of orientation in the face of diversity it doesn’t make any sense to go to Temple or Church to sing these.  The goal of orientation is to “cling on” to it.  A wrestling of trying to keep things the way they are.

Songs of creation – Psalm 33 for example.  They are songs about keeping the Torah.

Psalms of disorientation are not denials of faith.  They are affirmation of faith.  Even the hard ones that yell at God.  By talking to God, even in anger, you are acknowledging God exists.  No matter how crude, always directed to God.   Examples:  Complaint Psalms 13, 15, 86. (individual) 74, 79, 137 (communal)

Psalms of Reorientation – not a return to old order but something new.  Transformation brought about by God.  Experiencing something new.

Personal Thanksgiving Psalms – 30, 34, 40.  Communal thanksgiving Psalms that celebrate the salvation – 25, 66.

The Psalms are taken together as an example of how we should experience the Divine.  They are bottom communal utterances that reflect life within the stages.  Wisdom Literature is about collision – something that breaks the image in order to move to something new.  Examples are conventional Wisdom (Status Quo) and subversive Wisdom (That which is not status quo).  Let’s look a bit further into these two examples:

Proverbs (Conventional Wisdom)

  • A book that asserts the orientation (status quo).
  • A wonderful narrative story that situates the father talking to the son about life.
  • Deals with deeds and their consequences.
  • Reassert us of a status quo but also give young males how to live a prosperous life.

Ecclesiastes (Subversive Wisdom)

  • Author’s name is Qoheleth (Solomon), which means assembler or collector.
  • Qoheleth is ‘honest” in his writing.  More “reflective” on life.
  • Habel, “vanity” in Hebrew.  All things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and chase after wind (1:14, 2:11, 17, 26…).  Sense of emptiness, futility, absurdity.

Job (Subversive Wisdom)

  • The breaking of relationships with God.  Job is not an Israelite.  He’s “any man”.
  • Job’s story is as old as the 18th century BCE.  Perhaps the oldest story in the Bible.
  • Body of the work is in poetry.  Prolog and Epilogue are written in “pro’s”.
  • The Divine cycle of speeches turn from Job’s problems to creation (governance of the universe)

Chapter 3-42:7 and take it away you have remaining one story.  Root of the word Job means adversary. God is the “problem” in the Book of Job, not evil.  The speeches between Job and his three friends tend to be miscommunication.  Neither party hears the other.  We also have a long breaking of relationship between God and Job.  He is gone for thirty-six chapters!   Job functioned by means of conventional wisdom.  The breakdown with his friends is through conventional wisdom.  Job is angered because he hangs onto the conventional wisdom.

Chapter 10:6 is similar to Lamentations.

Chapters 29-31 constitute Job’s self defense

  • Chapter 29 – “the good old day”
  • Chapter 30 – “the bad new days”
  • Chapter 31 – “the vows”

At the end when Job reunites with God, Job doesn’t get his children/family back.  Job was a good man from start to finish but his family was never restored.  It is a clear example of a faithful servant who never failed in his duties yet he was punished because Satan and God decided to essentially, play a game.  In today’s society we expect good novels to have a happy ending.  It is most unsettling to think that a faithful servant who did nothing wrong was punished in this way.  The lesson for the Israelites is a strong one.  In the end it is a teaching of “it is what it is.  Deal with it!”

In conclusion of the four part series, it is hoped that you have had a brief overview to the layout of the Old Testament and have garnered a slightly deeper understanding of the struggles of the Israelites.  In an upcoming series on the New Testament, we’ll explore how the Old Testament influenced parts of the New Testament character behaviors and further explore Christianity; no longer as a sect of Judaism but as a completely new element developed heavily by the ministries of St. Paul.