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Unit 5. Interpretive Journey Old Testament. Narrative Law Poetry Prophets Wisdom. OT – Law. Introduction Large portion of the Pentateuch (first five books of OT) is comprised of law (over 600 commandments) Some of them are very strange:

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interpretive journey old testament

Unit 5

Interpretive JourneyOld Testament
  • Narrative
  • Law
  • Poetry
  • Prophets
  • Wisdom
ot law
OT – Law
  • Introduction
    • Large portion of the Pentateuch (first five books of OT) is comprised of law (over 600 commandments)
    • Some of them are very strange:
      • Exodus 34:26: “Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk.”
      • Leviticus 19:19: “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”
    • Why do we adhere to some laws and ignore others?
Traditional approach to interpreting OT law
    • Moral – deal with timeless truths regarding God’s intention for human behavior (“Love your neighbor as yourself”)
    • Civil – deal with courts, economics, land, crimes, and punishment (“At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.”)
    • Ceremonial – deal with sacrifices, festivals, and priestly activities (“celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.”)
Distinction between moral, civil, and ceremonial law allowed the believer to know whether the law applied to them:
    • Moral – universal and timeless (still apply as law to believers today)
    • Civil and Ceremonial – applied only to ancient Israel, not to believers today
  • Problems with traditional approach:
    • Arbitrary distinction not in the Bible (Lev. 19:18-19)
    • Difficult to classify many laws (Lev. 19:19?)
    • Too ambiguous and inconsistent
  • We need a more consistent approach OT law
Narrative context
    • OT law does not appear by itself, but is firmly embedded in the story of Israel’s exodus, wilderness wandering, and conquest.

Exodus 1-19 Exodus 20-24 (narrative) (law)

Israel’s bondage in Part of the story of Egypt, God’s mighty God’s encounter with deliverance, and Moses and Israel at their journey to the Mount Sinai Promised land

  • The law is part of Israel’s story and the story provides an important context for interpreting law.
  • Don’t separate OT law from its narrative context!
Covenant context
    • OT law is tightly intertwined with the Mosaic covenant. What is the nature of that covenant?
      • Mosaic covenant is closely associated with Israel’s conquest and occupation of the land
      • Blessings from the Mosaic covenant are conditional
      • Mosaic covenant no longer a functional covenant for NT believers

Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant (Heb. 8:13)


“Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” – Galatians 3:25

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17

  • NT believers are no longer under OT law as part of the Mosaic covenant
  • We must interpret OT law through the grid of NT teaching. Jesus is the final interpreter of OT law.
  • The OT law no longer applies as direct law for us. However, the OT legal material still contains rich principles and lessons for living that are relevant when interpreted through NT teaching.

“Or if a person touches anything ceremonially unclean—whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground—even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty.” –Leviticus 5:2

  • Making the Journey in OT law
  • – Step 1 – Grasp the text in their town
  • Leviticus deals with how the Israelites are live with an awesome, holy God in their midst.
  • Larger unit of 4:1-5:13 deals with purification offerings for those who become ritually unclean
  • 5:2 details what makes a person unclean
  • 5:5-6 tells the people what to do to become clean again

We are not under the old covenant and our sin is now covered by the death of Christ.

  • We also have direct access to the Father through Christ and no longer need human priests as mediators.

Step 2 – Measure the width of the river

Step 3 – Cross the principlizing bridge

  • God is holy!
  • God’s holiness demands that his people keep separate from sin and unclean things.
  • If God’s people become unclean, they must be purified by a blood sacrifice.

God no longer resides in a tabernacle, but within each of us through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

  • His presence, however, still demands our holiness.
  • NT redefines “clean” and “unclean” (Mark 7)
  • Under the new covenant, sin is washed away by the death of Christ, the Lamb of God.
  • Confession of sin, however, is still important (1 John 1:9)
  • Summary: Stay away from sinful actions and impure thoughts because the holy God lives within you. If you do commit unclean acts or think unclean thoughts, then the death of Christ allows you to confess your sins and receive forgiveness.

Step 4 – Cross into the New Testament


There will be numerous applications of this text.

  • One application relates to the issue of Internet pornography.
    • God’s holiness demands that we lead clean lives.
    • Viewing pornography clearly violates God’s holiness and hinders our worship and fellowship with God.
    • Stay away from Internet pornography!
    • If you do fall into this sin, confess your sin and because of the death of Christ, you can be forgiven and your fellowship with God restored.

Step 5 – Grasp the text in our town

    • Traditional approach to law (moral, civil, ceremonial) is inadequate.
    • Journey approach to interpreting law:
      • Narrative context
      • Covenant context
    • Interpret all OT legal texts with the same method
ot prophets
OT – Prophets
  • Nature of OT prophetic literature

OT Prophets


Isaiah Hosea Jeremiah Joel Ezekiel Amos Daniel Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Longer books

Shorter books

Little in our culture that resembles the OT prophetic literature (Bob Dylan?)
  • Only a small amount of OT prophecy deals with events still future to us

“Less than 2 percent of Old Testament prophecy is messianic. Less than 5 percent specifically describes the New Covenant age. Less than 1 percent concerns events yet to come.”– Fee and Stuart

  • Prophets proclaim more than they predict
  • Prophets make extensive use of the figurative language of poetry
Prophetic books are primarily anthologies–collections of shorter units, usually oral messages proclaimed publicly to the people of Israel or Judah.
    • Not usually arranged chronologically
    • Therefore, almost impossible to outline
    • Look for a few major themes repeated over and over
    • Yet the prophet’s message comes through loud and clear


















Living in

the land

  • Historical-cultural and theological context




Basic prophetic message
    • Prophets function as God’s prosecuting attorneys, warning the people of the consequences of covenant violation.
    • Prophetic message has three basic points:

1. You have broken the covenant; you had better repent!

      • Idolatry—syncretism, faithful husband/unfaithful wife
      • Social justice—widows, orphans, foreigners
      • Religious ritualism—ritual substitutes for relationship
2. No repentance? Then judgment!
  • Plea for repentance, but proclaim severe consequences of rebellion
  • Horrific invasions
  • Loss of Promised land

3. Yet, there is hope beyond the judgment for a glorious future restoration.

  • New exodus (Isaiah), new covenant (Jeremiah), new presence of the Spirit (Ezekiel and Joel)
  • Messianic promises and future predictions
Interpretation and application of basic message

1. You have broken the covenant; you had better repent!

      • Must pass through filter of NT teaching
      • No longer under covenant of law, so different for believers and unbelievers
      • Focus on relational aspects of our sin (marriage analogy)
      • Sinning against God causes him to hurt emotionally
      • Idolatry – job, success, money, TV, clothes, grades …
      • Social justice – poor, elderly, minorities, children …
      • Religious ritualism – rituals function as means or ends?
2. No repentance? Then judgment!
  • Sin is an offense against God and demands judgment
  • NT gjudgment of death for Christian’s sin transferred to Christ
  • If Christians fail to repent, their relationship with God will be damaged

3. Yet, there is hope beyond the judgment for a glorious future restoration.

  • Ultimate fulfillment of promises in Christ
  • God is in the business of forgiving and restoring people
Predictive passages
    • Small portion of prophet’s message to events that are still future for us

Near View or Far View?

  • Predictions could refer to:
    • Return of Jewish exiles to Israel (past for us)
    • First coming of Jesus Christ (past for us)
    • Second coming of Jesus Christ (still future for us)
Difficult to determine whether the prophets are describing events that will occur within their lifetime (near view) or events that will occur much later (far view).
  • We should be cautious about being overly dogmatic when interpreting details of predictive prophecy.
  • It is possible that the prophets have intentionally blurred together these future events so that their readers will focus on the broader theological principles.
ot wisdom
OT – Wisdom
  • Introduction
    • You have persevered the end of this book!
  • “Of making may books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” –Ecclesiastes 12:12b





Song of Songs

Purpose of the wisdom books
    • Law, narrative, and prophets stress “Believe!” and “Obey!” while wisdom stresses “Think!”
    • Call us to listen, look, think, and reflect
    • Offer practical insights for living
    • Goal is to develop wise and godly character for life in the real world


Righteous and wise suffer in ways that mere humans cannot understand.

  • The big picture
    • Four wisdom books balance each other theologically. Read each one in context of all four.


Rational norms of life (what normally happens). Does not present universals (what will always happen).


Failure of the rational, ordered approach to provide ultimate meaning to life. Meaning only comes through a relationship with God.

Song of Songs

Irrationality of romantic love between husband and wife.


Less Emotionally Charged, More Emotionally Charged, Less Picture Language More Picture Language

Proverbs Ecclesiastes Job Song of Songs


  • Wisdom as poetry
    • A large portion of wisdom literature is poetry.
    • Wisdom books use parallelism as their standard structural feature.
    • The more emotional the tone, the more the book will use figurative language:
Grasping the wisdom books
    • Proverbs
      • Proverbs – short, pithy sayings that teach practical wisdom about life
      • Individual proverbs reflect general nuggets of wisdom about what normally happens in life (e.g., “Don’t be lazy! Work hard!”).
      • Proverbs are never to be taken as universal promises.
      • The book of Proverbs does not deal with the exceptions to the normal rules.
      • Since each proverb presents a general principle, the river of differences is usually quite narrow and shallow.
      • But be careful how you define “blessing.”
    • Job does all that Proverbs commands, but he receives dead children, financial ruin, physical pain, and criticism from his friends.
    • Job is a story (in contrast to Proverbs) and we must take the literary context of narrative seriously:
      • 1-2 Job is afflicted
      • 2-37 Job searches unsuccessfully for a rational answer
      • 38-42 God answers Job’s accusations
      • 42 Job’s friends are rebuked and Job is restored
    • The differences between the ancient audience and us are not great.
    • Lessons from Job:
      • God is sovereign and we are not
      • God knows all and we know precious little
      • God is always just, but does not always disclose his reasons
      • God expects us to trust his character
NT presents suffering as a normal feature of a godly life.
  • Don’t repeat the mistake of Job’s friends and misuse biblical truth.
  • Book of Job teaches us that it is not wrong to cry out to God in anger and frustration when unexplained tragedy strikes.
  • Our focus in grief should not be on “why” but rather on God and his character.
  • Comforting friends is different from having all the answers.
    • Ecclesiastes (like Job) must be interpreted as a whole with the ultimate answer coming at the very end.
    • The book is full of satire, sarcasm, and cynicism.
    • The “Teacher” or “Preacher” declares that a strictly rational search for meaning is “meaningless.”
    • At the end of the book, the Teacher comes to his conclusion: “Fear God and keep his commandments.”
    • Apart from God, not even wisdom can give life meaning.
    • River normally shallow in Ecclesiastes except for a limited concept of death and the afterlife.
    • The NT adds that apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ, life is meaningless.
    • Apart from a relationship with Christ, not even a college degree can make life meaningful!
Song of Songs
    • Shocking book because it speaks openly and joyfully about human sexuality (read 7:7-8).
    • The book is organized into three sequential units:
      • 1-3 Courtship
      • 3-5 Wedding
      • 5-8 Life of Love
    • Highly emotional and full of picture language as the man and woman describe their love for each other
    • Scholars today reject the allegorical interpretation
    • A model of the joy and irrationality of a married couple madly in love
    • Wise and godly people should express their marital love in strong, emotional (mushy?) terms.
    • We suggest a little updating of the figurative language (hair like a flock of goats?)