I have been reading Walter Brueggeman’s Theology of the Old Testament lately. It is a dense book for its over 700 pages. However, despite the snooze-fest, my wife finds it, I make sure to only read it so much at a time. Brueggeman’s theology has brilliant takes on what the Old Testament could mean in the Christian Faith. The Old Testament could be so much more than those forgotten books at the front of the Bible. It is my opinion that it is the Old Testament that roots us into one of the deepest theological traditions humanity has experienced. It is also the source of life that provides us and continually growing relationship with the God of the whole Bible. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Struggle with God
I feel at home because these are my people. Israel literally means to struggle with God. Those are my kind of people. God has never been an easy answer. El Roi is a struggle. Answers have always come easily to me in life. Science, math, business, philosophy, literature, language, I can test well in all of them. God does not yield his answers so easily. If I am supposed to follow the son of El Shaddai then I must continually seek the face of Yahweh. Perhaps, I am too bold to seek the face of the Righteous One, but is that not the point? To me, the whole point of this endeavor is to have a right relationship with God. If Elohim will not yield the answers easily then I must find a group of people who struggled to find righteousness as well. Those people are Israel.
In Genesis 32:22-32, my namesake wrestles with the Lord. He fights against all odds to know and be blessed by God. Jacob tends to be a slippery character most of the time, and I like that part of his story too. But, this is the point where Jacob decides not to be slippery. Instead, he becomes sticky. Jacob sticks to God for a whole night without giving up, and he receives his blessing. Something I never noticed was how much it cost Jacob. It cost Jacob a limp and pain for the rest of his life. As a child, I thought it was a small price to pay. Now, I can see that it cost Jacob much. It cost Jacob his ability to provide for himself. He could no longer be the shepherd that had given him so much wealth.
I have always viewed this story as part of the foundation of my faith, a cornerstone even. Jacob risks it all to have a relationship with God. I don’t know that the kind of risk was ever modeled for me in my life. That hasn’t stopped God from demonstrating that my well-being is found in the struggle for that same blessing. The question lingers though, what are you willing to give up to seek God? The Old Testament is littered with people who risked it all to know God. The rest of the people are those who didn’t risk it. They didn’t see the value in the struggle. I can’t blame them, but I do wish they saw what I do in God. I wish that God was as real for them as Yahweh is to me.
Perhaps, I feel at home in the Old Testament because I recognize that I do not treat God so differently than my Jewish forebears. I, too, forget God’s majesty and the works El Roi has done, only to rebel as a petulant child. Then I return to Yahweh’s tradition, just as the Jews have celebrated Passover for over 3000 years. I cannot turn from God just as the Jews cannot turn from El Shaddai. God is their life-force.
I love the stories of rebellion just as much as the stories of redemption. I am not perfect and only rarely do I catch myself in the rebellion before it happens. Most often God must redeem me over and over and over again. The book of Judges is perhaps the hardest to not Judge the people on. It is also hard to see their faith. They must have continued many of the traditions and rituals in the books of the Torah or those traditions would not exist today. The book always reads of Israel turning from the Lord, but they could not have completely turned. They were simply distracted. I think we can all relate to that in our world of distraction today. The Israelites in their rebellion are simply holding a mirror up to our own rebellions. I would rather see with clarity my imperfections so I can resolve my immaturity.
I think the coolest thing about Jesus is that I am adopted into the family of Israel. It certainly has its faults, but whose doesn’t? When I read the Old Testament, I am reading about my family. As you learn about your family you can see different parts of you. You get to know yourself better, and that is a great gift. This family of mine has a history of wrestling with God. We won’t let go until Yahweh blesses us. Even when it costs us our livelihood, our health, our country we will stick to Elohim until we are blessed.
Family is why the Old Testament is home for me. I love the work of Walter Brueggeman and other Old Testament theologians because they give my family life and color. They clean that mirror that shows me my faults. That mirror also gives clarity to the strength and power and glory of Yahweh the Lord God Almighty.
Do you ever feel at home reading the Bible? If so, which parts? Let me know if the comments below.