Understanding the Old Testament

Image: Understanding the Old Testament

Is the Old Testament confusing you? Our new series will help make it easier to read.

What does the Old Testament say?

Let’s admit it: sometimes the Old Testament seems like a wild and scary place. But that’s exactly why it’s worth visiting ... regularly.

I once went on a short exchange to Japan. It was daunting at first. But slowly getting to know the food and culture, I realised how much I could learn from that amazing place. For us the Old Testament is like a foreign country: 2600 years old, full of people long dead from the other side of the world.

But it also has heaps to teach us. The whole Bible is one big true story – and it’s our story.

The New Testament has 7941 verses. That seems like a lot ... until you realise the Old Testament has 23 261 verses!! Christians believe the whole Bible is God’s word – so if you don’t know what the Old Testament says, then you’re missing out on a lot of what God has to say to you.

Up for an adventure to a foreign land? In this series, we’re going to visit Ezekiel’s world, and along the way pick up some tips for understanding what any Old Testament book says.

Understanding Ezekiel: 

In Ezekiel 1:1-3,  we meet Ezekiel sitting by a river feeling sorry for himself:

"In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles  by the Kebar River,  the heavens were opened  and I saw visions  of God. On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin —  the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel  the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians.  There the hand of the LORD was on him".  (Ezekiel 1:1-3)

This might not mean much to you. But with a little context, it all makes much more sense.

Big Tip: Get the background info (place, time and context)

The Place: Ezekiel was a priest from Jerusalem, God’s special city. But as the story starts, he is nowhere near the temple. In fact, he is in Babylonia (modern day Iraq). That’s a long walk, and he wasn’t there by choice; he was ‘among the exiles’. Exiles are people forced to leave their own country. Imagine if Tomorrow When the War Began came true, and Australia was invaded. Then imagine they rounded up all the smartest people and shipped them back to their home country.

The time: Five years earlier (597 BC), a superpower called Babylonia invaded Ezekiel's home country, and exiled all the smartest people back to Babylonia (to stop them organising a rebellion). Ten years later (587 BC), Ezekiel heard news that the people back home in Jerusalem had stood up to the Babylonian King (Nebuchadnezzar, or ‘Neb-dog’ as my youth group guys call him). They found out the hard way that this was a bad idea. After an 18 month seige, those who weren’t killed were dragged off to join Ezekiel in Babylonia.

The context: Ezekiel is writing in the middle of these two dates. His prophecy was bad news and good news. The bad news: Ezekiel correctly predicted that 5 years later Jerusalem would receive a royal thrashing. The good news: hope is coming beyond that.

Why do I need to know this?

“Now this is all very interesting,” I hear you say, “but what does it have to do with me?” Well, if youth groups in Ezekiel’s day had held ‘Q&A’ nights with their leaders, there would be one big question (apart from all the sex questions of course!): "if God is so powerful, and he never goes back on his promises, then how could God let this happen? And is there any hope for the future?"

Do these questions seem familiar? If so, then Ezekiel has a lot to tell you about God, sin, judgment, and hope. It’s set in a strange and distant land, but it features the same God you know today. He spoke to Ezekiel directly and gave him a message which he also intended for you. So are you listening?

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