TEACHING AND THE OLD TESTAMENT
by Jan Young
"I just don't get the Old Testament," you say, shaking your head. "Wars, genealogies, bloody sacrifices, don't eat this, don't do that...and all those kings. It's just a history book about Israel. It doesn't have anything to do with my life. I'll stick to the part about Jesus. That's all the church needs--the New Testament." Right?
The entire Bible is about Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation. Beginning in Genesis, the story of the coming Messiah winds through the books of history, the Psalms, and the books of prophecy, culminating in the New Testament. Jesus, Paul, and Peter, the key characters of the New Testament, often refer their listeners back to the Old Testament. New Testament truths are contained in the Old Testament accounts. Old Testament stories contain and illustrate universal truths about God. We will be looking at the Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus, Nehemiah, Ezra, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Habakkuk.
Who would read a book by starting three-quarters of the way through? How could you understand the plot and the conflict without knowing the earlier events of the story, the initial actions of the characters, or even the setting? Creation, the first story in the Bible, is the foundation of Scripture; it is the defining event of the Old Testament, the event by which God constantly identified Himself: the Creator.
As we read and study the whole Bible, we find that it is characterized by two broad teaching styles. One is the Old Testament style, where stories are told and histories are recounted. We are allowed glimpses into the lives of real people. There is little or no editorializing for the benefit of the reader. Therefore, some readers fail to see the stories as any more than just stories; they fail to see spiritual principles and truths illustrated. They find it hard to learn much about God from these stories.
Other people actually prefer the Old Testament style of teaching through stories. They need to see how spiritual principles play out in the lives of real people so that they can understand them. Reading the Old Testament is kind of like watching TV. Some stories are brief--one episode. Others are like a feature-length movie or a season-long series. We are immersed in real-life drama. The book of Genesis is especially gripping because it tells a detailed story of four generations in one family, like a TV mini-series. We see how the actions of one generation influence the next generation and the next.
The other style of teaching is found in the New Testament. The stories about Jesus are interspersed with His teachings. The Epistles are full of truths and principles plainly stated, such as in Romans 8:28, Galatians 6:7, Philippians 1:6, I Thessalonians 5:24, I Timothy 6:6, II Timothy 1:9.
We sometimes have trouble recognizing the truths in the Old Testament because they are not stated in so many words. But if we take the time to meditate on what we have read, we can see how these great New Testament principles are illustrated for us in the Old Testament. It has been said that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.
In reading and studying the Bible, people can gain understanding on various levels. We can simply learn about events and characters--head knowledge. Going beyond facts, we can attempt to understand what the facts mean. Head knowledge begins to turn into heart knowledge. We can internalize that heart knowledge even more by trying to find the application to our lives, by chewing on what we read, asking questions, discussing.
"What can I learn from this event or this character that applies to me, to my situation, to my life? What does this character, event, chapter, or book teach me about God? What is He like? Why did He choose to have these incidents recorded in His Word? How does God act? Why does He act that way? How is He likely to act in my life, and why? How does He want me to act, speak, think and feel?" Asking these kinds of questions can greatly improve our grasp of the Old Testament and of the whole Bible.
The Bible is similar to a great novel, with Genesis introducing the main characters: God, Satan, man, a particular line of men, and the promise of one to come in that line--the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We have the setting: earth, created in perfection but now under the curse of sin (which will affect everything that happens on it), and a particular spot on earth. The land of Canaan is the land God promises to a particular nation He will choose--the nation through which He will reveal Himself to the world.
Then we have the plot: the spiritual warfare between God and Satan, played out on earth in the lives of men, who have fallen into sin but who have been offered the way back to God through faith and the blood sacrifice of animals, which points them to the future blood sacrifice of God's Son, the promised Messiah--Jesus Christ. Many times during the story, it appears that all is lost and that Satan will win. But the final chapter of the story--the book of Revelation--brings together all the conflicts, themes, and main characters into a satisfying conclusion. It is a story that no human could have thought up or told before it happened.
The Old Testament's focus on stories and people takes various forms. There are historical accounts of what God did, of what people did, of how God intervened in their lives, and of how their lives seem to unfold through natural events but turn out to actually have been orchestrated by God. We are given the personal reflections of godly people--their songs, their prayers, their wisdom, their thought life. Some left us their journals, including their shortcomings as well as their victories. While the prophets record the direct words of God, we receive those messages through the eyes, ears and hearts of individuals with different personalities, education levels, backgrounds, problems and outlooks.
Similarly, approaching our teaching from varied angles can help make Bible teaching effective and relevant to each individual. Along with Bible study, reading books by godly individuals can help us understand God and see how He works in people's lives. Just as in a college course, we have the main text, the Bible, which can be complemented by outside reading in that field. Examples and quotations from such books can be used by the Bible teacher to help give insight, breadth and relevance to the Bible passage being considered.
To not read and study the Old Testament is to miss over half the story. The New Testament refers often to Old Testament people, events and concepts; to not know them can result in misunderstanding. The answers to many of our questions are found here, particularly in the first few foundational chapters. We see God working through events in people's lives--both supernatural events and seemingly ordinary events--because He is in control of all that happens. He doesn't force anyone to do good, to do evil, or to do His will; He has given man free will. They may choose to do right or wrong. They may make foolish decisions. They may accept Him or reject Him.
The Old Testament records many actions that God does not approve of. Because the text does not tell the reader that the person's actions were wrong, some people are confused and assume that God must approve of everything the Bible characters did, especially if they are characterized as being righteous. They take the stories out of context; they fail to fit each story into the larger picture of God's revelation.
We also see godly people adversely affected by acts and decisions of others who also were given free will. In seeing how God works in people's lives, we see not only miracles, but that He often works slowly, over time, through a course of natural events. These observations may seem obvious, but we sometimes have trouble seeing how they apply in our own lives. We ask God, "Why did You allow this to happen?" The answer, found in the Old Testament, is back in the Garden of Eden. Man was given freedom of choice, man chose sin, and sin entered the world.
If you avoid the Old Testament because you have trouble reconciling some parts of it with the New Testament, study the Bible more until you have resolved your lack of understanding. Two misunderstandings in particular are common to Christians.
One is a lack of confidence in the literal truth of the first nine chapters of Genesis: six-day creation and the worldwide flood. Many Christians have comprised their biblical beliefs with some form of evolutionary theory; many churches and seminaries do not teach that these events happened exactly as recorded in the Bible. Today there is so much evidence for the literal teaching of the Bible and Genesis in particular that we need not entertain doubts on this issue. There are many excellent books and websites available. If you are not solid on your Bible teaching here, your entire commitment to the Word of God is shaky and needs revamped. You are on the slippery slope to questioning other miracles, and ultimately, the trustworthiness of the Bible. Genesis is the foundation the Bible is built on.
Another common problem is the seeming contradictions between some Old Testament teachings and what we experience today as the New Testament church. Physical blessings are promised to obedient believers in the Old Testament, yet most of our lives do not seem to line up with this concept. Some teach that God's will for obedient Christians today is lots of good stuff and little or no bad stuff, yet few find this to be true in their lives. Many other groups who do not directly espouse the "health/wealth" teaching actually lean in its direction by seeing the church and Israel as one and the same, or teaching that the church is now "spiritual Israel" and inherits all the promises made to Israel.
A careful reading of the Bible makes it clear that in the Old Testament, God was dealing with mankind, and the nation of Israel in particular, through the Law which He gave to Moses. Righteousness was through faith in God's promise of the Messiah to come, and blood sacrifice atoned for sin, pointing them to the Lamb of God to come; the righteous were to follow the Law as their rule of life. If they did, God promised them physical blessings: prosperity, health, and long life. If they didn't, there were curses and punishments.
After the resurrection, God began dealing with all men in a new way, through grace: God's unmerited favor, bestowed on all who accept and believe in Jesus Christ and His blood shed on the cross as payment for their sins. Jesus made it clear that He has fulfilled the Law on our behalf and that we are no longer bound by it as a rule of life. Those who accept this gift make up a new body of believers called the church.
Now God is dealing with the church, not the nation Israel; God's plan for Israel will be culminated following the church age. The promise of physical blessings is not given to those in the age of grace--the church. Nor are we promised curses for disobedience. We are promised spiritual blessings, Ephesians 1:3, but also are to expect tribulations as long as we are here on earth, John 16:33, Acts 14:22, II Corinthians 1:5, Philippians 1:29-30, I Thessalonians 3:3, II Timothy 3:12, I Peter 4:12-19.
Not all Christians accept this distinction; some choose to interpret the Bible in other ways. But this understanding follows naturally from the literal interpretation of the Bible, and harmonizes the teachings of the Old and New Testaments easily. Other interpretations, such as seeing Israel and the church as one body of believers operating under the same principles, make it hard to explain many of the differences between the Old and New Testaments.
If your interpretation of Scripture leaves you with unsolved problems, then it probably isn't adequate. Instead of avoiding the Old Testament, continue to study, asking God for guidance. God is not the author of confusion; the Bible does not contradict itself. It claims to be truth; it either is or it isn't. If part of it isn't completely true, then all of it is called into question. Ask questions and look for answers until you are satisfied. This may be a life-long project!
The best way to understand the Bible is to read the entire book. That's what God intended; that's why He gave it to us and preserved it over the centuries. Anyone who teaches the Bible should make it their aim to read the entire Bible, if they haven't already. Many of us who have grown up in church may have read or heard much of the Bible but have never read straight through.
The personalities of the different writers are revealed in their writing styles as well as in their lives. God uses tough guys like Ezekiel as well as emotional types like David and Jeremiah. He uses Daniel, a top political figure in the most powerful empire on earth, as well as Amos, a sheepherder. He uses an intellectual like Paul and an uneducated fisherman like Peter.
We will look at some of the Old Testament books and writers and see what we can learn about teaching styles that can help us each develop our own teaching style and teach in a biblical manner.
Genesis (literally, "beginnings") gives us the basis of man's history and the foundations of the Bible. When we read the sketchy outline of man's history in Genesis, we can only wonder about all the details that have been left out; some things we can determine by inference. In the first eleven chapters, Moses, the writer, covers a few thousand years. The rest of the book moves much more slowly, covering only four generations; Moses gives us detailed accounts of key incidents in each person's life. Of course, God didn't only do and say the things recorded in the Bible; the Bible indicates that in every person's life, He is active, constantly drawing them to Himself, but He has chosen to record only certain events for us.
A good Bible teacher must learn that there is a place for going slowly and covering details, and a place for summarizing information and presenting only highlights. Always going slowly and dwelling on details can bore people to death. But moving ahead too quickly can lose people or fail to get to the meat of the Word.
Try to see what your group needs, and vary your approach from time to time. Cover a key verse in detail, but summarize other portions. The sections on the Law, the temple, the sacrifices, and the genealogies might be good sections to summarize rather than study verse by verse. You might want to do an overview of the Bible with new believers. A verse-by-verse approach might be better after you have the basic framework of the Bible on which to begin to organize information. However, some new believers might benefit from a detailed study of basic doctrines.
In trying to control how fast or slow the lesson moves, a common problem teachers face is how to keep the discussion under control. Unless your class is a lecture, you want to allow everyone to contribute, but a discussion can easily get off the subject or into personal, inappropriate, or irrelevant areas. Depending on how you structure your class, you may see yourself as a moderator, and let the discussion drift. But if you wish to stick closer to your notes, curriculum, or a time frame, you may need to jump in and stop or re-route the discussion. Many teachers find this difficult to do, so the class suffers. Your class will appreciate your tactfully keeping them on track and moving along.
A common problem with using Sunday School curriculum is trying to follow someone else's timetable. If your class gets into such a good discussion that you cover only a few verses, but the curriculum says that next week you must start the following chapter or another book, what do you do? Teachers must make a decision on how important it is to stay with the schedule. You may decide that it is more important to study all the Bible than to stay with a schedule imposed by someone else. Curriculum should be an aid, not a task-master. This might be something to discuss with your Sunday School superintendent or your pastor.
Moses becomes a great leader of Israel, but God does not give him that job until he is 80. Earlier, we see failures in his spiritual life. God puts him in the desert and gives him time to mature. Paul likewise does not begin his teaching ministry immediately following his conversion. Fourteen years pass before he becomes active as an apostle, Galatians 2:1.
I Timothy 3:6-10 warns against putting new converts in positions of leadership in the church; it speaks of a period of testing. It is tempting but unwise to put a willing new believer into a teaching position with children. A new believer usually lacks solid Bible knowledge; even children need a somewhat knowledgeable teacher. Perhaps no one knows her well enough yet to know her doctrinal positions, or even if her personal life lines up with scriptural practices. Teachers are to be held to a high standard, James 3:1.
If you are a new believer, teaching may not be for you just yet. If you have a desire to teach, begin now to prepare: immerse yourself in Scripture. Become as familiar as possible with the Bible; study it, meditate on it, and even memorize it if possible. Mostly, work on applying it.
Nehemiah's story is an example of how to walk with the Lord. As one of the Jewish exiles in Babylon, he chooses to leave his "cushy" job where he was daily in the king's presence, because he has a burden to help rebuild the fallen city of Jerusalem, the beloved city of David. Most exiles choose to remain in Babylon, comfortable in their new lives, but the desire of Nehemiah's heart is to revere God's name (1:11) by obeying Him in returning to the land God gave His chosen people.
He deals with opposition, mocking, intimidation, treachery, conspiracy, and death threats from unbelievers; as governor, he has to deal with squabbling, unfair business practices, unfaithfulness and disobedience among God's people. He faces the challenging job of re-establishing the temple worship and priestly service according to the requirements of God's Word. There is a great turning to God, but when Nehemiah comes back from a visit to the king, he finds the Jews have already fallen into compromise and blatant disobedience. As a godly governor, he cracks down immediately on the unacceptable behavior.
In our daily lives and in our efforts to do God's will, we too may face challenges, frustrations, disappointments, roadblocks, threats, and disillusionment, both from unbelievers as well as believers, as we make a stand for God. We may face the loss of friendships and family relationships. Whether we are teaching believers or are attempting to reach the unsaved, we will experience conflict. How will we handle it?
Will we follow Nehemiah's example? Nehemiah chose to direct his thoughts constantly to the Lord ("bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," II Corinthians 10:5), and he recognized God's hand in circumstances (2:4,8,12,18,20; 4:4,9,14,20; 5:9,13,15,19; 6:9,14,16; 7:2,5; 12:43; 13:2,14,22,29,31). He doesn't take credit for his own good acts or ideas. He frequently points out that it was God who had put a thought into his heart or mind, that "the hand of my God had been favorable to me," that the people had rejoiced "because God had given them great joy," that God had "turned the curse into a blessing." Nehemiah knows that things don't just happen; God is active everywhere, working through all things and all people (Romans 8:28). Will we teach our group to think this way?
Ezra lived in Babylon in the years following the captivity of Israel and Judah. The desire to study God's Word, practice it in everyday life, and then teach it to others characterizes his life, according to Ezra 7:10. God honors his desire and moves King Artaxerxes (acting by his own free will) to send Ezra to Jerusalem with the other returning exiles, along with an abundance of supplies. He commissions Ezra to appoint magistrates and judges over the people and to teach them in the ways of their God, 7:25-26.
What sort of man is Ezra? He is a Jewish priest and scribe, skilled in the law of Moses, "for Ezra had prepared his heart to seek [study, NASB] the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments" (7:1-11). Even though the Jews are in exile and, without a temple, are unable to offer sacrifices according to the Law, Ezra does his best while in Babylon to obey God and study His Word (at that time, just the Old Testament). When the opportunity comes to return to Jerusalem, he is prepared to move right into a teaching ministry there because he has been studying and applying God's Word in his life in his temporary home in Babylon.
Ezra 8:21-23 gives us some interesting insight into his character. Ezra trusts God so much that he doesn't even ask the king for the protection of troops for the long and dangerous journey; instead, he tells the king that God will act favorably toward him and the leaders of Israel that he has gathered. But when they begin their journey, he admits that he is indeed afraid; he has doubts. He doesn't have to record that fact, but he is honest about his own shortcomings. He records that God did indeed protect them.
So we see a picture of Ezra: a student of the Scripture, a teacher, not proud but humble, a man of prayer, obedient to the king and to God, bold enough to speak to the king about the true and living God, a respected leader of men, and trusting in God, yet subject to doubts and fears. Upon arriving in Jerusalem, we see him as meticulous, responsible, and quick to worship God with the required offerings now that they have finally returned to the only place where Jews are to sacrifice--the temple in Jerusalem.
So does everything go smoothly for Ezra because he is serving and obeying God? Unfortunately, the first thing that happens is the horrifying discovery that the Jews who are living there have engaged in gross disobedience to God and must be disciplined. Not just one or two--not just a few unimportant people--but many Jews, including the leaders.
Ezra 9 records his anguish at this discovery, and his prayer. Interestingly, Ezra doesn't try to convince God that he himself is righteous and that only the others are at fault. He humbly identifies himself with his people, confessing "our guilt" and "our iniquities." In the Old Testament God deals with Israel as a nation, and thus the nation is guilty before God--again. Ezra is painfully aware that the captivity that had just ended was caused by Israel's unfaithfulness to God, and now it is happening again. He finds himself placed by God into this situation; he realizes that he is responsible before God as to how he now chooses to act.
Ezra knows the Law of Moses; he knows the consequences of breaking it. It would be so easy to just say, "Oh well, it's their problem, let God deal with them." What will they think if he, the newcomer, appears to be setting himself up as their judge? This is one difficult aspect of knowing and teaching God's Word: how will you handle God's Word in a tricky situation? Will you capitulate to pressure and tolerate wrong? Or will you risk your own reputation and the friendship and support of others to stand for God's Word?
Ezra does stand for God's Word. In his case, the people willingly repent of their sin, not only confessing it but also turning away from their foreign wives and, in some cases, even their children. Not everyone who stands up for God's Word will have this experience. Some find that other Christians see them as narrow-minded, judgmental or unforgiving. Some may lose the fellowship and friendship of other Christians. This is a possibility when you choose to become a teacher of God's Word. It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.
David is not the "stereotypical male": unwilling or unable to express himself in words or to share his emotions. David is a very emotional and articulate man. The Psalms are songs written mostly by David, expressing his thoughts about God, his words to God, and the ups and downs of his spiritual life. One reason the Psalms are so loved by many is that they put into words for us the things we would like to say--to God and about God--but don't know how.
The Psalms teach us about God in a very different way than other parts of the Bible. David, the warrior king, is also a sensitive, poetic musician; compare his writing style to Ezekiel or Paul. Many Psalms can be used word-for-word in our prayers and singing. They reveal much about the character of God. They even reveal important prophetic information about the coming Messiah and His future kingdom.
Not everyone in a church fits the same mold. There are many personality types. We are sometimes tempted to think, "I can't serve in the church because I'm not like so-and-so." Whatever your personality type, God can use you in some way. One person can relate to certain people to whom others cannot relate. Your experiences, even your weaknesses, can be used by God somehow, but maybe not in the way you would think. Even if you are shy and tongue-tied, unable to speak in front of others, God can use you to teach. He can bring about changes in your life that will enable you to speak in front of others. If you want to be used, you may find that God will work in your life in surprising ways.
The book of Isaiah is divided into two sections: chapters 1-39 deal with God's judgment, and chapters 40-66 deal with God's comfort. Like Isaiah, we should not focus on one without the other. Together they comprise God's character. His love is not fluffy and fuzzy but is based on holiness and righteousness. His judgment does not contradict His love--God's justice must include consequences. To rightly teach God's love, we must present both sides.
Many of Isaiah's prophecies have already been literally fulfilled. God Himself, speaking through Isaiah, tells us that fulfilled prophecy is the mark of God--the proof that these words could only be from God, not from man. Isaiah 42:9, 44:7, 45:11-12,21, 46:9-10, 48:3-7. No other book contains specific detailed predictions, made hundreds of years in advance, that have been literally fulfilled in detail. Many believers struggle with doubts about their faith or about God's Word. They think we must just believe that it is true. When confronted by skeptical unbelievers, they say things like, "well, I just believe it," or, "you just have to have faith that it's true." Teaching about Isaiah's fulfilled prophecies increases our confidence in God's Word. Teach your group that we can boldly tell others that the Bible is true, and we can prove it!
Everyone wants to learn how to apply the Bible to their own personal situations. In doing so, it is easy to miss God's "Big Picture" and focus on Self. Some Christians read the Bible as if every passage is written to them personally. This works sometimes, but often leads to confusion. Instead, read (and teach) the Bible in context; observe who is being spoken to, who is speaking, what the circumstances are, and how God worked in that situation. Compare other related passages. Then we can learn something about what God is like and how He is likely to work in our own situation.
Isaiah gives us the Big Picture about God--from eternity past, to Israel's history, to the birth and death of the Messiah and His future kingdom. Teach the Big Picture about God. The more we understand the Big Picture, the more we see how our little pieces of the puzzle fit into God's plan. The Bible is not about ME--it is about God. Life is not about ME--it is about God. Understanding who God is and what He is like will affect our entire outlook on life and help us get our priorities right.
Just as Isaiah points out the actions of people and nations that result in God's judgment, so part of our teaching is educating our group about other beliefs, religions and ideologies that are not biblical. Help them to become knowledgeable so they can more effectively interact with people of different beliefs. Teach what God's truth is and what it is not. This will also help keep Christians from being na´ve and being deceived by false teachings, which are often half-truths that sound biblical. Today it is popular to accept all beliefs: "my belief is true for me, and your belief is true for you." Teach your group that the Bible says all ways are not true, even though this fact is politically incorrect. Help them to be confident that the Jesus is "the" way to God, not "a" way, John 14:6. Then they will be more prepared to present God's truth effectively to unbelievers.
The prophet Jeremiah is young when he is first called to speak God's words to Israel. He is not good at public speaking and he lacks confidence. But God tells him that those are not important issues, that He will take care of the speaking problem. Jeremiah is just to trust and obey (1:1-10, 17). In fact, God will make him strong (18-19). Besides telling him what to say, God sometimes has Jeremiah use dramatic visuals to help get his message across to the people (24:1-10; 27:2 and 28:5-11; 35:1-19).
Jeremiah is actually faint-hearted at God's message to Israel (8:18). He is a tearful, emotional man (9:1, 13:17, 23:9). Jeremiah is the kind of man who could demonstrate to Israel the tender side of God's love--how they were breaking God's heart. He also is a bit of a whiner and a doubter; sometimes he feels like quitting. He admits that once he had even wished he had never been born (18:19-23, 20:7-18). But when he tries to stop giving out God's Word, he is miserable, so he keeps struggling on to do what he knows is right (20:9).
Even when Jeremiah faces death because of the unpopularity of God's truth, he does not back down (26:8-11). He gives God's true message even when the king himself forbids him to speak it; the king has him arrested and imprisoned (32:1-5). When the king throws God's written Word into the fire, Jeremiah boldly rewrites it (36:1-32). Lies are told about him, leading to his arrest, beating and imprisonment (37:13-16).
His honest and bold stand for God's Word (probably a scary thing for him, given his personality) almost results in his death again (38:1-13). The king orders him to stop telling God's truth, because it is not the message that people want to hear; the people want a message that will make them feel good about themselves and what is going on (38:14-28). When the people ask Jeremiah to tell them what God wants them to do, promising to obey, he tells them, only to have them accuse him of lying, and then to immediately disobey him (chapters 42 and 43).
Jeremiah is an example of a teacher who is more concerned with pleasing and obeying God and being true to God's Word than he is about pleasing people or even pleasing himself. He is not naturally strong or bold; in spite of his feelings of weakness, he chooses to stand up for God's Word, even though there are often unpleasant consequences.
We may not face death or imprisonment, but standing for God's Word can be unpopular, not only among unbelievers, but even in the church, where many are compromising, watering down the Bible, and moving toward tolerance of many beliefs. If you are in such a church, you may pay a price for upholding God's Word. If you are teaching unbelievers, especially adults, you may be accused of being narrow-minded, intolerant, or homophobic; you may have to make some hard choices--whether to stand firm or "soften" your position.
Ephesians 6:10-17 talks about standing firm. Believers are told to put on the armor of God so that when spiritual battles come, we can stand firm. We are not told to go on the attack or to take on our spiritual enemies, but to be strong, to stand firm, and to resist. We do not see Jeremiah being aggressive, going on the offense, or striking the first blow. We see him standing up for God's Word--not backpedaling, running away, or changing his position in any way. He never gets side-tracked by individuals but keeps taking the conflict to principles--God's Word, truth, and obedience.
We can't do this in our own strength but we can in God's strength if we have put on the armor: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, and salvation. Without these it is hard to stand firm when we are being pushed. We would lose our balance, stagger, step backwards or even fall down. This is not talking about personal issues; that would involve standing in our own strength. But when matters of right and wrong are involved, we can stand firm in God's strength. A Bible teacher may find himself or his position attacked by believers or unbelievers; Satan's schemes can use either. Satan does not want God's Word to prevail; if you stand up for it, you may find yourself, like Jeremiah, the target of his flaming arrows.
Ezekiel is a hard-headed man sent by God to a stubborn and obstinate people (2:3-4). Ezekiel himself was hard like flint (3:8-9); he was the kind of guy God could use to deal with Israel, because they were hard-headed. They were not going to listen to him anyway (3:11). He was a tough guy, not a "touchy-feely" guy. You don't have to be a "religious type" (whatever that is) to be used of God; tough guys fit into His plan too. Ezekiel could demonstrate the harsher side of God's love. God can use any type of personality.
Instead of just telling Ezekiel to say, "Thus saith the Lord...," God tells him to use drama and visual aids to get the people's attention and to get his point across (3:22-5:4). God has him give the people a riddle, ask them if they have any idea what it means, and then explain it to them (17:1-24). God has him prophesy to a forest, to the sanctuary, to mountains, and to a valley of dry bones. After he gets their attention with drama and visuals, he explains to them God's Word. God uses people's curiosity to get them to think, wonder and ask questions, just as we saw Jesus do in His teaching. We should also find ways to appeal to people's curiosity in our teaching.
In reading through the book of Ezekiel, notice the recurrence of this important theme: "and they shall know that I am the Lord." This is why we study the Bible. It's not about ME--it's about God. Popular psychology with its emphasis on and exaltation of Self has infiltrated the church: "What can God do for ME? How can I get Him to give ME the things I am asking for? How will Jesus make ME feel better about MYSELF?" People often start out as Christians by loving God for Self's sake. They want good things from God. They want the good feelings that come from loving and serving God and being forgiven. Help them move to the point where they actually love God for God's sake--because He alone is worthy, not because of what they got or hope to get from Him.
The book of Daniel illustrates two types of teaching: accounts of people's lives, and direct revelation from God. We read of Daniel and his three friends, of kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius. We also read of the prophetic information God revealed to Daniel through visions, dreams, and the interpretation of dreams. Much of the Bible falls into these two categories also: historical accounts and revelation.
Both ways are effective means to learning about God and spiritual truth. Some people can learn more easily from one style than the other. What the Bible teaches us through historical accounts is never contradicted by its revelations, and vice versa. Rather, they complement and reinforce each other. Our teaching should utilize both.
Likewise, our own spiritual learning curve takes place on both levels. We learn about God from reading, studying and meditating on His Word. He also teaches us through the experiences of our daily lives. Our life experiences are to be measured against and interpreted through the standard of God's Word.
As you teach the Bible, strive for a balance in your emphasis. All Bible text without personal application can make the Bible appear dry, boring and irrelevant, like a college course. On the other hand, too much emphasis on experiences without the focusing lens of the Bible causes people to draw their conclusions about God from thoughts, feelings and circumstances. Our beliefs (doctrine) should never be drawn from our experiences, because we often cannot see how they fit into God's Big Picture.
When feelings or experiences seem to contradict the Bible, the Bible must always take precedence. For example, if we do not feel God's love during a difficult time, we should not conclude that God does not love us; the Bible says God does love us. When circumstances seem out of control, we should not conclude that God is not in control, or that He is lacking in power; the Bible says He is sovereign over all things and that everything is working into His plan. When we do not feel God's presence, we should not conclude that He has left us; the Bible says He will never leave or forsake us.
This subject will frequently come up in discussions on the Christian life and is a great opportunity to continually point your class to the importance of knowing God's Word. When our feelings do not line up with the Bible, we can read or remind ourselves of a passage that applies to the situation, and thank God it is true, even though we may not feel good about or understand the situation.
Daniel is usually associated with prophecy and the endtimes, but this book contains many other teaching examples:
*the importance of learning God's Word as a child
*that teenagers can stay pure and true to God
*the true meaning of worship
*how a Christian should live in a non-Christian environment ("in" the world but not "of" the world)
*how a Christian can faithfully operate in the realm of business or government
*how to stand for God against pressure
*how to influence the non-Christian world for God.
Daniel can be used to teach the trustworthiness of the Bible--fulfilled prophecy is one of the best proofs for the Bible's reliability and divine inspiration. Because of the literal fulfillment of prophecy (and the detailed prophecies of Daniel 11 in particular), we can confidently teach that the remaining unfulfilled prophecies will also be literally fulfilled. No man could have written those prophecies ahead of time and had even a slight chance of having them all fulfilled; it is a mathematical impossibility. This book illustrates the Big Picture, how God is working in the world. He has a plan, and He is in control--over Israel, the world, and each individual.
The little book of Habakkuk is written in a style that many can relate to--asking God "why?" Habakkuk was concerned about the same things we are concerned about:
Why are things so bad?
Why doesn't God fix bad stuff when I ask Him to?
Why doesn't He do something about the bad people?
Why doesn't He give me the things I ask for?
Why did He make us the way we are?
Bible teachers are often asked, and stumped by, these questions. We don't always have the answers, but we can assure our students that it is okay to ask God these kinds of questions, like Habakkuk did. God didn't explain everything to Habakkuk, nor will He explain everything to us (Job 1-2, Isaiah 55:8-9), but the Bible does teach us that everything God does is right (Genesis 18:25, Psalm 7:11) and that God is working everything that happens into His plan (Romans 8:28). When we as teachers cannot answer hard questions, we can always point our students to these foundational truths about God and teach the importance of faith. We are to respond with trust, like Habakkuk did (3:17-19).
Copyright 2012 Jan Young
Return to Jan's Bible Notes