What Are The 4 Major Divisions Of The Old Testament Spirituality from the Hebrew Bible: 10 Major Themes

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Spirituality from the Hebrew Bible: 10 Major Themes

The main themes of the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament) surely include God, man, sin, justice, grace, covenant, law, atonement, and holiness. A final theme we will examine is the Messiah. Almost everyone would agree that these ten terms are among the most important. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

God – From its opening verse, the Hebrew Bible affirms the following important truths about God: Regarding time He is eternal, regarding His power is unlimited, and regarding His knowledge is infinite; He is one and not two or more, he is creator not a creature, and he is both loving and holy.

These characteristics, and many more, define who God is, and lie at the heart of Old Testament revelation. It is primarily revealed, however, not in abstractions or propositions, but in relation to human beings.

Man – Unlike God, human beings are limited: they have a beginning and are mortal, have only limited power and knowledge, and are certainly not always loving and holy. To be sure, human history has some heroics and stories of noble thought and deeds, but it documents sad stories of failed potential, wasted opportunities, and perverted goals.

The original pair of human beings comes into existence in relationship with God, object of his grace and love and reflection of his likeness. Unfortunately, however, they abandoned their position before the Lord. In the name of independence, they become slaves to sin, they need salvation. The progress of the descendants reaches its climax when Genesis 6 says, “Every inclination of the heart of man is only evil at all times.”

Sin – The Hebrew Bible reveals the nature of sin primarily in narrative form–that is, by telling the story of what happened to real people. Human beings were created in a sinless state, just as even now they are born into the world pure and innocent. Sin is not normal for human beings; it is not in alignment with what God made us to be and to do.

Since we bear the image of God, sin is anything that contradicts God’s own nature. Because God is true, lying is sin. Because God is holy, uncleanness is sin. Because God is love, hate is sin. Because God is unity, division is sin, etc. This is best expressed in Leviticus 19:1, where God says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Throughout Leviticus, the moral commandments announced were again tied to the affirmation, “I am the Lord.”

Doing what is right and experiencing the blessings that God brings with it is what the Old Testament means by knowing that God is the Lord (see statements in Ezekiel and elsewhere).

Justice – If sin is rebelling against reflecting God’s nature in our lives, then justice is living in harmony with this nature. It is to maintain a relationship of trust and obedience with God. Righteousness involves faith, but it also comes from the faithful heart of faithfulness in one’s walk.

The Hebrew Bible describes a righteous person as devoted to God with his heart, soul and strength. A good relationship with other human beings accompanies this good relationship with God. The Old Testament shows righteous people to treat others as they would like to be treated, and to act towards them as God would act.

Grace – Some readers have the impression that they will not encounter grace in the Hebrew Bible, that it only becomes a main emphasis in the New Testament. This impression is a false one, erased by almost every book of the Old Testament.

God’s grace to human beings begins with the first couplet and continues as a constant theme in the Old Testament symphony. The Lord is “abounding in steadfast love” and is willing to forgive for a thousand generations. Again and again He reveals His longsuffering and tender mercy toward sinners. Unfortunately, some have only focused on the passage where he reveals wrath against sinners, a counterpoint tune to be sure, but one that is always played out of the context of covenant-love and faithfulness.

Covenant – The sovereign, almighty, transcendent Creator-God is willing to stoop to enter into agreement with human beings. These agreements are called covenants, and they provide much of the framework in which the Hebrew Bible unfolds.

The great covenants of the Old Testament include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses (and all Israel), Aaron and Levi, and David. Each of these covenants involves God’s promises and expectations for the subject of the covenant. The Hebrew Bible also looks forward to a New Covenant, which is what the New Testament is all about.

Law – God’s covenant with the nation of Israel is called the Law (Torah, or Law of Moses). In the Law, God repeats the act of salvation by which he placed the nation of Israel in his debt and then challenges them to agree to live in relationship with him, experiencing the blessings that attend this relationship. Of course, he also warns them of the curse they will bring upon themselves if they break the covenant. Fundamental to the Law are the ten commandments, which establish the fundamentals for living in harmony with God.

Atonement – Under this same covenant with Israel, God provided a means of obtaining forgiveness through a system of animal sacrifices. These offerings were the believer’s way of removing their offense and begging God to renew the close relationship that sin had made impossible.

According to the Old Testament, atonement was possible only through the shedding of the blood of a perfect sacrifice. This laid the foundation for the eternal sacrifice of the New Covenant of the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

Holiness – In the Hebrew Bible, to be holy means to be dedicated to God. Holiness is a part of God’s nature and it is what gives human beings a right relationship with Him. God intends for all human beings to be holy all the time. But sin defiles us and makes us need atonement to be holy again.

Messiah – The Old Testament anticipated the coming of the Holy One of God who would have a miraculous conception, live a perfect life, serve as the ideal human being, and then willingly offer himself as a sin offering once and for all. Human beings could be restored to God and become holy again.

Over a period of more than 1,000 years, inspired prophets foretold certain aspects of this Saint’s life. The accumulation of predictions paints a perfect picture of the birth, life, character, death, and even resurrection of Jesus Christ. Several of these prophecies in the Hebrew Bible describe him as the “Anointed One of God” (Hebrew: Meshiakh), or the “Messiah”, in keeping with the Old Testament practice of pouring oil on the head of an appointed person. special God to fulfill his purpose.

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