The research topic I'm working on now isn't very hard to figure out, if you just skim the titles of the books I pulled from the library.
One of my spring courses was on the Old Testament prophets, one of the most neglected portions of scripture. I understand why -- they're gloomy, they're harsh, they seem very judgmental, they record a period of history when everything was going wrong for the Israelites. Other than a few readable, fascinating stories like Jonah and Daniel, sections that are on-the-surface uplifting in nature, or a few passages which are taken by Christians as clearly pointing to Jesus, the Prophets tend to be overlooked, even avoided.
This is a big problem, and Jesus himself points it out to us. In the parable of Lazarus, he says if people don't listen to Moses and the prophets and repent, they won't repent even if someone comes back from the dead to warn them (Luke 16:19-31). After the resurrection, Jesus meets two of his own disciples walking to the village of Emmaus, disciples who confess they thought maybe Jesus was the Messiah, but then he got killed so apparently he wasn't. Jesus doesn't say "hey guys, it's me," he challenges them with scripture. "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (Luke 24:27)
The Gospels mention the prophets over and over, pointing out that Jesus fulfilled what was spoken about by the prophets, holding up the prophets as vital for understanding Jesus as the Messiah, comparing the unbelieving men and women of his time to those who disbelieved and killed the prophets of earlier generations.
Does this sound like a section of the Bible we should overlook because it's hard? If it was so important to the first disciples, if we modern disciples want to follow Jesus even a fraction as closely as they did, shouldn't we pay attention to what they say is important?
That doesn't make the prophetic books any easier to read. But understanding some ideas makes them easier, as I learned in my spring class, and that leads me back to my stack of library books. The Prophetic books make a lot more sense when you go into them with the idea of covenants firmly in mind
You see, the prophets weren't just saying "God is mad at you, Israelites." They were saying "You made an agreement with God, and you're not keeping up your end of it." They were calling the people to remember the contract under which God agreed to be their God, a contract which laid out specific standards of conduct for them to follow.
Think about it. Imagine making a contract with someone regarding something important: completing repairs to your house, selling you a vehicle you really need for transportation, providing services your children need. Or imagine the contract in the other direction -- promising to provide services to someone for payment, or in trade for work you need.
Now imagine you hold up your end of the agreement, and the other party fails to hold up theirs.
Do you just let it go? Should you just let it go? When the well-being of yourself, your family, maybe even the other party themselves, is on the line?
In such a case, it's entirely correct and just to call the other person out on their lapse. There are better and worse ways to go about it, but the BASIC FACT OF ASKING THEM TO LIVE UP TO THEIR AGREEMENT is actually a good thing to do.
That's exactly what most of God's prophets did: called on God's people to live up to their agreement with him.
Understanding the idea of covenant, of the agreements God made with his people, is vital to understanding the entire Old Testament. It helps to explain a lot of God's actions toward his people, both positive-seeming and negative-seeming actions. It is one of the lines that connects the Old Testament with the New.
Sounds like a worthy topic of study to me.
I'm planning to spend a good portion of the summer learning about covenant, what it is, what it meant to the Israelites, what it means in scripture. What it means to me and my fellow Christians. As I go, I'll write about what I learn here.
If you'd like to know more about covenants, please come back and read along -- if you want to receive every post by email, click here to subscribe. If you have any specific questions, leave a comment and I'll see what I can dig up for you.
I think there's a lot of good, valuable stuff to learn here. I'm looking forward to it!