Before diving into this study, it is important to provide a bit of a primer to help the reader digest what I am about to present. The following items will help provide some foundation for how this study was approached.
- God’s Consistent Pattern of Speaking
- Nothing New Under the Sun
- Looking from God’s Point of View
- Considering God’s Character in Bible Study
- God’s “Tools” of Communicating Truth
God’s Consistent Pattern of Speaking
God repeatedly speaks through his prophets in the Old Testament in times when judgment is coming on His people because of their failures. He also speaks to other nations (not just His own people). When we look at His speaking to His own people we can observe a very consistent pattern in many passages of scripture.
- God gives warnings of coming judgment and punishment
- This always happens well in advance providing opportunity for repentance
- Judgment is established and sentencing is pronounced
- This always applies the principle of multiple witnesses who speak at the proper scope. In most cases, the scope is national (northern or southern kingdom)
- During the time of punishment a way of escape is provided for those who return their hearts to God
- A strong reason to hope is provided for the future which foretells recovery, restoration and a bright future
- In many cases, this hope is pointed towards the millenial kingdom and eternity after the return of Jesus Christ
This consistent pattern of speaking does not stop with the Old Testament. It continues now under the New Covenant but it is administered by the Holy Spirit and those whom God chooses. The scope can be personal, within a group or national. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 10 that the “way of escape” continues under the New Covenant.
12 Therefore, the one who thinks that he stands must watch out lest he fall. 13 Temptation has not come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful, who will not permit you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but will also make a way out (way of escape) together with the temptation, so that you may be able to endure it.1 Corinthians 10:12–13 (LEB)
Nothing New Under the Sun
It is important to remember that even though many things have changed throughout the ages there are some things that do not change. Solomon famously said there is nothing new under the sun.
9 What has been—it is what will be; what has been done—it is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 There is a thing of which it is said, “Look at this! This is new!” But it already existed in ages past before us.Ecclesiastes 1:9–10 (LEB)
Modern man might disagree with Solomon holding up a smart phone or a TV or some other modern device as proof of “new” things. In some sense, there are “new” things but in another sense there are not.
When it comes to man (his soul, etc) there is nothing new. The behavior of man and societies repeats over an over again. If you look beneath the surface, the factors in men’s souls repeat. The realities of what went on in the Old Testament are exactly the same as what happens today in regards to the souls of men.
The challenge is to break beneath the surface and to see how things are the same. Throughout time people are consistently desirous of prosperity and security. It is the same for American’s in the 21st century AD as it was for Israelites in 7th century BC. To be able to “see” the match across 28 centuries requires insight which God has to provide. Consider the following example.
- 7th century BC – Israel pursued Ba’al worship instead of seeking God. It turns out that Ba’al is a weather god who they believed would bring rain which would cause their crops to grow. They were an agricultural society, so their economic success (prosperity) was dependent on rain.
- 21st century AD – America pursues a capitalistic, market based economy with support of favorable governmental economic policies. The American economy is not solely agricultural. I believe America pursues its economy independent of God. America wants God’s blessing, but pursues a economic success (prosperity) by its own means. This pursuit is not based on a religion like Ba’al worship, but it is also not based on an approach that sets God first.
God indicates we should pursue Him first and He will give us prosperity and security as a gift and provision from Him. This example may seem like too much of a leap for some readers. This example is provided for consideration of how men are in the same situation and the behaviors can be the same even if separated by 28 centuries.
Looking from God’s Point of View
In the Bible, God speaks in “Word Pictures” a tremendous amount. God embeds truth in these “Word Pictures”. At the same time, the Bible is real stories of real people that really happened. These stories aren’t just stories, but include “patterns” or “pictures” of spiritual truths and real life situations that happen throughout the ages. They are not limited to the era of the Bible.
Consider a few pointed examples:
- God refers to wives in one region (Bashan) of the Northern Kingdom as cows. (Amos 4:1)
- God equates Israel’s behavior multiple times as prostitution and whoredom.
These are strong and pointed “word pictures” to describe Israel and members of Israel.
There are many other types of “word pictures” used by God. All of these pictures are captured and stored in the Word of God. It requires interpretation by means of study and revelation. It is not study without revelation and it is not revelation without study. It is both. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) indicates that 1 Corinthians 12:8 refers to a spiritual gift given by the Holy Spirit called the “word of knowledge” which is connected to this kind of study and understanding.
For to one is given a word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another a word of knowledge by the same Spirit1 Corinthians 12:8 (LEB)
“To another the word of knowledge, by the same Spirit;” that is, say some, the knowledge of mysteries (1 Corinthians 2:13): wrapped up in the prophecies, types, and histories of the Old Testament: say others, a skill and readiness to give advice and counsel in perplexed cases.Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2266). Hendrickson.
Considering God’s Character in Bible Study
God does not operate by a separate set of rules than those He puts forward in the Bible. In fact, He is bound by His own internal principles (i.e. His character). The Old Testament law expresses various rules and regulations for God’s people. The interesting thing is that God does not cover every aspect of life that occurs. There are many things that are not covered, but the important things that we need to know about Him are covered. One example which I will draw on as part of this study is related to using witnesses to establish judgment. In the Old Testament law there are some situations with a requirement that more than one witness must establish the truth of a matter (See Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15) when an accusation is brought against someone else. When He comes to judge His people, He establishes more than one witness BEFORE he judges, sentences and implements His judgment. We know some of these witnesses in the Old Testament as “prophets”. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, etc. They are all witnesses. God sent these witnesses in plurality to both kingdoms (north and south) before consequences fell upon them.
There are other aspects of God’s character portrayed through Old Testament scripture and play a role in understanding the Bible. For the purposes of this study, I am drawing primarily on this important principle of establishing a charge by multiple true and valid witnesses of God.
God’s “Tools” of Communicating Truth
Upon some review, we find that God actually communicates truth about the underlying reality of something and about future events through multiple different means.
- Prophecies – truth telling to communicate underlying reality and/or future events
- Dreams and Visions – Pictures presented to the mind’s eye while awake or asleep
- Types – “Model” or “pattern” or “mould” into which clay or wax was pressed, that it might take the figure or exact shape of the mould. Biblically speaking, the word “type” is used to denote a resemblance between something present and something future, which is called the “antitype.”
- Shadows – Vague image of something which is representative of something real, but not fully or clearly demonstrated or seen.
- Parables – Enigmatic sayings that compares one thing to another in order to convey a truth openly to an audience while hiding the true meaning from the audience unless revelation (i.e. revealed interpretation) is also provided.
Here are a few things to help confirm that these tools have been selected by God to communicate with His people.
The many prophets of the Old Testament and their collection of prophetic speaking (aka prophecy) to God’s people is evidence enough of this “tool” of God for communication. In the New Testament age there are still those who can function according to the “gift of prophecy”, but there is a new responsibility for all believers to test (aka examine) all prophetic speaking and keep the good while tossing out the bad (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).
Dreams and Visions
For dreams and visions, in the book of Job, God makes it clear that He uses dreams and visions to communicate to man.
14 Indeed, God speaks in one way, even in two, yet man does not perceive it. 15 “In a dream, a vision of the night, when a deep sleep falls on men slumbering on their bed, 16 then he opens the ear of men, and he frightens them with a warning.Job 33:14–16 (LEB)
For types, in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul describes the Old Testament children of Israel wandering in the wilderness as “types” of us (i.e New Testament believers).
6 Now these things happened as examples for (types of) us, so that we should not be desirers of evil things, just as those also desired them, … 11 Now these things happened to those people as an example, but are written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 (LEB)
This points to a realm of Biblical interpretation that includes the use of typology. Most study of typology focuses on Jesus Christ. Various aspects of Old Testament characters are “types” of Christ and Jesus Christ is the “anti-type” that matches with the Old Testament “type”, but in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul informs us that the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness are types of us who God graciously provided to us for our learning.
Paul also talks about shadows which means a foreshadow of something from the Old Testament that is to come primarily in the reality of Christ (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:4).
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with reference to eating or drinking or participation in a feast or a new moon or a Sabbath, 17 which are a shadow of what is to come, but the reality is Christ.Colossians 2:16–17 (LEB)
4 Now if he were on earth, he would not even be a priest, because there are those who offer the gifts according to the law, 5 who serve a sketch and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle, for he says, “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown to you on the mountain.”Hebrews 8:4–5 (LEB)