**This is my final paper for my Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures class. Honestly, I’m not super pleased with it, ha! I don’t feel that I communicated exactly what I wanted to effectively, but I’m pleased with the focus of the paper and the main points. The sections on worship and justice were especially difficult for me to attempt to synthesize into one paragraph. The difficulty there showed me how much deeper I need my understanding to go. The more I study and learn, the more humbled I feel concerning the things of God. I think we can all relate to that.**
The Hebrew Scriptures: A Thematic Review
“God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” Exodus 3:14 (ESV)
The Hebrew Scriptures are a unique collection of ancient texts. Indeed, they are special not only for their historical, topical, and stylistic variety but because the Hebrew Scriptures are an inspired spiritual collection carrying a sacred message: the very words of God, whose name is Yahweh. Instead of seeking to answer high reaching metaphysical questions pertaining to the existence of God, the text begins with the assumption of God’s eternal existence and power as it reveals who God is and what he does. Therefore, the knowledge of God is the focal point of the Hebrew Scriptures. Yes, the text provides vital details related to the story of mankind, however, the focus is not upon man, but upon Yahweh. As the knowledge of God is given, three major thematic areas emerge: God’s self-revelation to mankind, God’s initiative with mankind, and God’s prophetic anticipations for mankind.
A. God’s Self-Revelation
The knowledge of God is not founded upon the speculations of man but in God’s own self-disclosure. Over time, Yahweh displayed various aspects of himself as he deemed fit. The self-expression of God is diverse, personal, and magnificent. Truly, God is eager to reveal himself to mankind. These revelations take place in three general categories: person, work, and purpose.
“Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”” Exodus 33:18-19 (ESV)
Yahweh speaks about himself at length through the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Scriptures do contain statements about God made by men and women of God, yet these statements are built upon the foundation of knowledge laid by Yahweh himself. The reader is not left to debating concerning the legitimacy of conclusions made by a man because God speaks for himself. He chooses when and what to display to mankind related to who he is. When Moses asks what God’s name is in Exodus 3:13-14, God simply says, “I AM WHO I AM.” By giving this divine name, Yahweh tells mankind that he cannot be bound by man’s definitions. Only God can define himself. For instance, Yahweh chose to give insight into his person when Moses asks to see the glory of God in Exodus 33:18-19. Yahweh responds with three defining characteristics of who he is and what is most vital related to his glory: his goodness, his grace, and his compassion. Further, in dramatic fashion through the prophet Hosea, God reveals how he is a jealous lover who will, with longsuffering, continue to pursue Israel in her spiritual immorality. Throughout the whole of the text, God is putting himself on display and producing a beautiful tapestry from which mankind can know him.
“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.” Isaiah 42:5 (ESV)
Yahweh’s actions serve as the foundation for all activity in the Hebrew Scriptures. All activity of man is framed within the providential activity of God. The greatest accomplishment of Yahweh’s work, however, is found in how God uses his work in his self-revelation. Job 38-41 contains a lengthy account of God declaring many of his creative actions in the world. This section is especially relevant in God’s self-revelation because he uses his work in creation to show the depths of his wisdom, and how each decision he makes is wholly righteous despite mankind’s lack of understanding. In Isaiah 40-44 Yahweh draws attention to his own actions to validate his perfect perspective, and to reveal his sovereignty and righteous leadership of Israel and the nations. Here, God repeatedly uses phrases such as ‘I have,’ ‘I gave,’ ‘with my hand,’ and ‘I did’ to centralize his work in the prophetic message. Also, in Micah 6:4 Yahweh uses his past actions with the nation of Israel to again display his righteous leadership and the validity of his complaint concerning Israel’s sin. Continually, through the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh uses his own work to display his righteousness and wisdom to mankind.
“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV)
“Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure.’” Isaiah 46:9-10 (ESV)
Lastly, God’s purposes are vital in his self-revelation. The foundation of all of God’s purposes is given in God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. Here, Yahweh reveals his wishes to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham, displaying his goodness, mercy, and leadership through the promise. As Yahweh’s purposes became more fully known and experienced over time in the text, so did the knowledge of God. Then, looking back and observing how Yahweh has executed that which he has promised powerfully exhibits his faithfulness and sovereignty. Isaiah 46:9-10 draws this principle out as Yahweh declares, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” As a God of faithful promise, Yahweh displays his divine providence to mankind.
B. God’s Initiative with Mankind
The Hebrew Scriptures also reveal the knowledge of God through displaying Yahweh’s initiative with mankind. God is not reactive or ‘at the mercy’ of mankind’s actions, but is at every point initiating relationship with mankind. This initiative shows God’s deep desire for relationship with humanity. Yahweh’s initiation with mankind is presented in three major areas, which flow linearly: covenant and law, worship, and justice.
1. Covenant and Law
“And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” Exodus 34:10 (ESV)
The most potent way the proactivity of God is presented in the Hebrew Scriptures is through Yahweh’s covenants with Israel and his giving of the law. Beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12 and continuing through the Mosaic and Davidic covenants, God is displayed as pursuing relationship with mankind through his initiating and establishing of covenant with his special people. Yahweh was not discovered by Abraham, nor did Abraham persuade Yahweh into relationship with him. By his initiative, Yahweh sought for a man through whom he could bring blessing to the world and thus chose Abraham. The same pattern is repeated in the life of Moses and David. In 1 Samuel 16:1 God explains how he has provided for himself a king for Israel from the sons of Jesse. Through David, whom God chose himself, God declares his commitment to establish a throne that will be everlasting (2 Samuel 7). Beyond covenant, through Moses, God gave to Israel the law as a gracious guideline and boundary line for how to properly respond to their divine covenantal relationship. Yahweh did not leave the people of Israel grappling for how to properly appease or behave toward him, but rather God displays his gracious and merciful leadership in giving them what was needed for proper personal and corporate behavior as Yahweh’s people. Perhaps above all else, the holiness of Yahweh’s good intentions is made known through his initiative in covenant making.
“After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.” …And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.” 1 Kings 18:1; 21 (ESV)
Moving forward from God’s gift of covenant and law, Yahweh’s initiative is seen in how he prioritizes and centralizes worship in his dealings with mankind. An exciting and dramatic expression of God centralizing worship as he interacts with mankind is found in 1 Kings 18 as the Lord, through Elijah, drew a clear line between worship of Yahweh and idol worship in Israel. Worship directly effects behavior and therefore mankind’s ability to interact with and experience God. If mankind will worship him, the source of truth and righteousness, then mankind will be able to enjoy pleasures forevermore (Psalm 19). However, when mankind worships false Gods, then mankind will suffer the consequences of sin and death. By centralizing worship in his dealings with humanity, God is taking ultimate initiative to draw mankind to himself, giving mankind ‘the best chance’ for relationship with him. This truth is displayed in the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Abel’s righteous offering brought about a pleasurable experience with God, whereas Cain’s unfavorable offering, though we don’t know the exact nature of it, lead him into sin. Yahweh declares to humanity, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7 ESV). Though mankind places increasing value on a variety of other things and activities, in the Hebrew Scriptures God continually brings mankind’s focus back to worship. Yahweh’s initiative in clarifying the importance of worship puts his shepherding leadership and desire for relationship with humanity on display.
“Justice executed is a joy to the righteous but a terror to those who practice iniquity.” Proverbs 21:15
Finally, God’s initiative with mankind is made evident through justice. As was shown through the story of Cain and Abel, human behavior is the natural result of worship activity. Though God’s justice may be perceived as reactive to man’s behavior, it is rather the final step (as it were) in God’s initiative in drawing all mankind to himself. The Hebrew Scriptures present this truth from the beginning: walking contrary to God’s word and pattern for life will lead to separation from him (Genesis 3). God’s actions, therefore, as he expresses justice, whether for deliverance or destruction, are an important aspect of his pursuit of mankind. Yahweh’s justice is presented in the text as both on the behalf of the righteous and as against that which is contrary to him. Concerning the negative connotations of justice, the Hebrew Scriptures present both the consequences of sin and God’s intentional actions against those who oppose him. Both are vital to seeing God’s initiative with mankind through his justice. As God brings wicked actions into account, and at times putting an end to sin through judgment, he is clarifying to mankind his desire for relationship. If sin abounds, then so also will the separation of mankind and Yahweh. The interaction between God’s activity through justice and mankind’s sin is unique and may be best displayed in the Exodus story of Exodus 5-12. Though the nuances may be difficult to explain, the text displays Pharaoh continually hardening his own heart against Yahweh and Yahweh hardening Pharaoh’s heart as an act of judgment. Truly Pharaoh’s sin led to only more devastation, yet God is the one who initiated the judgments of the Exodus story (Exodus 3:7-8). God’s commitment to justice and proactivity in judging man’s sin display with raw intensity his commitment to relationship with humanity.
C. God’s Prophetic Anticipations for Mankind
The final theme of how the knowledge of God is made known through the Hebrew Scriptures is God’s prophetic anticipations for mankind. Throughout the text, Yahweh’s words and actions point forward. The covenants and promises given by God all have a destination toward which he is driving them. Yahweh’s prophetic projections of his future activity can be found in three ways: anticipating a messiah, anticipating a new covenant, and anticipating a global blessing.
1. Anticipating a Messiah
“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill. I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”” Psalm 2:6-7 (ESV)
“A Psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”” Psalm 110:1 (ESV)
Throughout the text of Hebrew Scripture, Yahweh uses appointed individuals as his representatives. Yahweh also reveals in the text that one day there will be an individual who will be the culmination and pinnacle of Yahweh’s representation amongst men. This person is referred to as the anointed one, or messiah. Beginning in Genesis 3:15 and on throughout much of the Hebrew Scripture, Yahweh reveals various aspects of a coming individual who will be God’s chosen messiah. Genesis 3:15 reveals a wounded victor who will defeat the deceiver that was in the Garden of Eden. Psalm 2:6-7 shows an anointed King to whom God will give all the nations as his heritage and possession. In 1 Samuel 7, Yahweh tells David of his plans to establish David’s throne, through one of his descendants, as an everlasting throne. Psalm 110:1 tells of this messianic figure, who is both David’s son and his Lord, sitting at God’s right hand until all his enemies are made a footstool under his feet. In a seemingly differing presentation of the messiah, Isaiah refers to him as the Servant of the Lord, and even presents messiah as a suffering servant in Isaiah 53. As the messiah is revealed in these and many other places in the Hebrew Scriptures, a composite view of this person and the functions he will serve can be formed. The abundance of revelation concerning Yahweh’s intentions concerning his messiah helps the reader anticipate God’s coming actions and know God more deeply through his prophetic projections.
2. Anticipating a New Covenant
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jeremiah 31:31-33 (ESV)
In the text, Yahweh reveals his plans for a new covenant, where law will not be written upon stone and parchment, but upon the mind and heart. The foremost passage concerning this coming covenant is Jeremiah 31:31-33, where Yahweh declares emphatically that he will establish a new covenant, which will differ from the former. This coming covenant is spoken of in various ways, especially by the prophets. For example, Ezekiel anticipates the new covenant throughout his prophetic work, referring to the new covenant as the ‘everlasting covenant’ (Ezekiel 16:60) and the ‘covenant of peace’ (Ezekiel 34:25). Further, both Jeremiah and Ezekiel anticipate the new covenant as a time when God will put the law inside of man, giving man a new heart and spirit. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this new covenant will be its efficacy in uniting mankind to Yahweh. The prophetic anticipation of Yahweh’s new covenant profoundly reveals the glory of his sure leadership and commitment to relationship with mankind.
3. Anticipating a Global Blessing
“Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” Isaiah 9:7 (ESV)
Yahweh, at many times in the Hebrew Scriptures, expresses to humanity his plans for a time when all the nations will know him and have spiritual relationship with him. Anticipation for the global blessing of Yahweh is made clear and foundational in his choosing of and promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. Though God chose a single family to work through, his work was always intended to impact the whole of mankind. This intention is revealed continually throughout the text and is a hallmark of the messiah’s anticipated ministry. Isaiah 9:7 tells of how the kingdom of God ruled by the throne of David will know no boundaries on the earth. Isaiah brings the anticipation of global blessing to light in Isaiah 56:7 when Yahweh declares that, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Yahweh reveals through the drama of the visions of Daniel 2 and 7 how his coming kingdom will be everlasting and encompass all the kingdoms of the earth. As Yahweh shows mankind his plans to bring all things unto himself, the scope and the audience for the knowledge of God is clarified. God’s attention is upon all mankind and his revelation is for all mankind.
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6
To sum up, the Hebrew Scriptures, though diverse and historic, claim the knowledge of God as its central focus and theme. This knowledge is revealed by God himself as he declares who he is to mankind and works to bring about his good purposes on the earth. The way the knowledge of God is displayed by the Scriptures unfolds and deepens over time, and at the end of the composite text three main thematic areas can be identified: God’s self-revelation to mankind, God’s initiative with mankind, and God’s prophetic anticipations for mankind. After a reading of the Hebrew Scripture, the reader is left in wonder and expectation considering what God has revealed about himself and what he intends to do. The Christian therefore rejoices and loves even more as the substance of the Hebrew Scripture, the knowledge of God, is found fully expressed in the revelation of Jesus Christ.