I just preached on Abraham on Sunday (click here for sermon video) and am realizing how when we approach Genesis (and the entire Old Testament), it is essential that we understand the concept of the old covenant vs. the new covenant. If we don’t, the weird texts of the Old Testament make no sense. It’s surprising to me as I look back on my upbringing how I wasn’t taught these things, but instead was equipped with a “skip over that quickly and hope your friends don’t ask you about it” approach to the off-the-wall texts in the Old Testament. I think most church people think that understanding the old covenant vs. the new covenant requires a seminary degree, but the good thing (as well as the frustrating thing) is that it’s really a simple concept to understand. Frustrating only because it isn’t taught as a regular part of church upbringing, which it needs to be.
This will end up being a series of posts, so let’s just start out with the problem. Here is a sampling of weird texts in the Old Testament. If you’d like more, you can Google any variety of atheist websites on weird and/or awful texts in the Old Testament and you will find a buffet of website choices indulging in these off-the-wall texts, all assuming that Bible-toting Christians are hypocrites for not applying these texts along with the ones we choose to apply, and assuming that these reflect the legalistic and harsh heart of God. Some of these are funny, some are downright awful-sounding to the modern ear:
- Don’t eat lobster or shrimp – Leviticus 11:10 But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to detest.
- No nylon, no polyester (no spandex???) – Lev. 19:19 Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
- Don’t shave your beard, or the sides of your hair (stock in Gillette just plummeted…) – Lev. 19:27 Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.
- No tattoos (proof that God is anti-tramp stamp) – Lev. 19:28 Do not put…tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.
- Death for Sabbath desecration (this would boost church attendance!) – Exodus 31:14 Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death;
- Death for working on the Sabbath (checking your work email on Sunday? DEATH! Unclogging the toilet on Sunday? DEATH!) Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. (technically the Jewish Sabbath was Saturday so to be extra careful to avoid death, probably best to not unclog the john on either Sat or Sun, just to be safe)
- Death for cursing your mom or dad (and you thought getting your mouth washed out with soap was bad?) – Exodus 21:17
My point is: We NEED to know how to understand the old covenant or we are left looking pretty dumb when non-Christians ask us about the above verses and others like them.
We don’t use the word “covenant” much anymore, but it was similar to the contracts we have today. God made covenants with Abraham and Moses (and Moses’ people, Israel). This is like a rent contract between you and your landlord. If your landlord approaches me to collect your rent, what am I going to tell him? That’s not my contract, it was made with you and someone else, so I don’t need to follow it. This is the same principle truth in how to understand the old covenant (made between God and Moses) and the new covenant (made between God and us).
Other posts in this series:
- Where the old covenant came from and why it doesn’t apply to us.
- Why the old covenant is still God’s Word to us and why it is still useful for teaching, rebuking, and correcting (i.e. 1 Timothy 3:16)
- Richard Dawkins: God commanding Old Testament Wars, Genocides, Infant Killings???
- Why the entire Bible matters, even if Rob Bell says it doesn’t
- Why the Weird Old Testament Laws Ever Existed
Still to come:
- How misunderstanding the old covenant versus the new creates an unbiblical health-and-wealth / prosperity message today.