-This is dedicated to Rev. Soma. I never was much of a saint, sir, but I always did respect what you taught.
-I recently had some time to read some books in the Old Testament of the Protestant Bible. Particularly, I was thumbing through 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. I saw things I never noticed before in there, and things which may shed some light onto why the modern church seems to be so impotent at times to face the culture.
-I noticed the genealogies. If you read most books of the Bible, there is usually at least one small genealogy in them, whether it’s Jesus’ in the Gospels, or Israel’s in the Kings and Chronicles. They’re almost always boring lists of names, and some go on for verses and verses, but they have some very interesting characteristics, especially when viewed in light of today’s upside-down culture. They are mostly patrilineal, for one thing; these lists tend to name few, if any, women, and many of them go on like, “This guy, son of That guy, son of This guy, son of…”, or “[This man] beget [This man], who beget [This man]…” In fact, many Israelites back then could probably trace their lineage back for ages. This tone carries over into the culture, daily life, and general existence for them back then. Visualize something like that happening in, say, modern urban America…
-Family life was VERY important. In Nehemiah, when the Jews were rebuilding their homeland, which they had been deported from (The books of Kings and Chronicles tell that tale). When opposition to their efforts got fierce, they put up armed guards for the builders, with all the men basically being armed 24/7, but Nehemiah also did something interesting: He organized the builders by families. He did this to stir up the protective instincts of the fathers, brothers, and sons to fight for their loved ones, and, if the result of the book is any indication, it worked very well.
-The governments of nations were much closer to their people. If you go read Ezra and Nehemiah, it is striking how people could organize. Foreign nations had their formal systems of governance, yes, but they tended to rely on normal folks to carry out many of their functions. I would infer from reading these 2 books that bureaucracy was very low in those days. They managed to build an entire wall around a city in ancient days (meaning no modern technology) in under 2 months! They organized repopulation efforts, did border security, abided by foreign law, fought corruption, and built major infrastructure, all very efficiently and without the need of large regulatory agencies. Priests and ordinary men functioned as builders, soldiers, and governors of households, tribes, and subdivisions of people. It is very interesting to see how much closer government decrees were to common men back then.
-There was a high degree of organization. If you read these books (it takes maybe an hour and a half to slow-read them both), notice the structure of how Israel and Persia functioned. There is a definitive hierarchy and authority structure that people fell into, and it is followed pretty closely. Ranks are respected (or else…in some cases), and from the books’ narrative, chaos seems at a minimum. Contrast that with Judges’ last few chapters, or the modern Urban ghettos of America.
-Leaders led by action and example. This is shown especially by the titular characters of the books, by the fighting of kings in Kings and Chronicles, and by the actions of many leaders written in these books, from fathers to royal prefects. Back then, unlike today, many leaders led with their feet, and not just their mouths. It is refreshing to read of a day when political figures didn’t just say whatever they had to in order to get into power (truth be damned), but actually were expected to (and in many cases did) put their money, swords, and sandals where their mouths were, even unto death. I’ll bet the people had more respect for their governments back when the governors had to be more physically accountable to the governed (or risk rebellion and upheaval).
-Men worked, and were respected for it. I have been reading about Israelite society for a little while now, and I notice something: the men of many of those nations back then seemed to be multitalented. Many of then could build things, wield weapons, function as formal leaders, make wine, and much more. Mass unemployment doesn’t seem to come up in those books; in fact, in many cases, there was a dearth of workers! Work, to the Jews back then, is seen as a given, not as a luxury to be fought for. For the males especially, respect was conferred upon them for their labor. Notice how, in those books, society viewed working men as integral parts of it, instead of mere expendable gears needed to help it run. Compare that to our nation today, with its record-low male workforce participation rate. They seemed to understand the importance of a society keeping its men busy back then in ways they solidly do not in the present day.
-Also notice how the workmen tended to organize by family, tribe, or individual pliers of trade, and how the idea of a large corporation or government department was completely foreign. Indeed, they had plumbing, wells, roads, fortifications, and more, and they did not need huge government agencies to oversee their upkeep and construction. There also was a monarchy then, so maybe that does speak to the efficiency of monarchy vs. democracy, but still, it seems that society then could function effectively under much less regulation than ours does now.
-Fatherhood was assumed. Underlying all of the action and detail in these narratives is an unspoken fact: Fathers and families were understood to be inseparable. Notice how in both books there is a mention of forcing intermarried peoples apart, and how big of a deal that is. Notice the distinct unity assumed in the family and clan units back then. Do you think, from reading those books, that massive divorce was a problem? I posit this to you: Marital unity was so ingrained, so inherently understood by those people, that it didn’t even need mentioning. I personally cannot imagine anything like that in modern American culture.
I say all that to say this: Look back at the OT. Even though it covers periods of massive civilizational chaos, it also shows functioning societies who figured out the basics. Men were men, in every sense of the word. Women were women, in every sense of the word. Androgyny was severely frowned upon. Politics was bloody, but also more straightforward. Family was father and mother. Work was pretty much a given (as you can note in, say, Proverbs, for men it was pretty much the law to work, and for women, work took on a different, but no less dignified, form). Men were kept occupied so as not to cause havoc (unlike in our modern ghettos); the idea that a third or more men who should be working could not find work was anathema; the working man was much more respected. Leaders led by example a LOT more often. Religious order was central, not peripheral. Weapons were not restricted to government officials (back then, they needed citizen-warriors). Governments were more accountable and, even in empires, tended to be more localized. Entrepreneurship and apprenticeship was more common. Good, rough times.
When you look at some of the problems our modern churches have today (like liberalism, loss of younger members, rampant divorce, shrinking cultural influence, lack of male participation, lack of leadership, ect.), perhaps some of this is due to a lack of OT preaching and reading. When you read the Old Testament books, a lot of the problems of the modern American church seem, frankly, mystifying as to how they got so big. Compared to the soft, low-commitment teachings of modern pastors, the OT reads like Game of Thrones! It is a bloody, violent, vivid, detailed, profoundly deep set of literature which applies very much to our modern era, and tends to take a lot of the complication out of our modern problems. Which leaves me asking: Why doesn’t the church teach more on the Old Testament?
Frankly, the OT compares to what modern churches present the New Testament as like a grizzled ex-Marine compares to Michael Moore. At the very least (and I have personally witnessed this), inspired, theologically accurate teaching on the Old Testament has the ability to light many a young (and not-so-young) man on fire! Some say that the God of the OT is much less forgiving and much more brutal and wild than the NT God, but as I am slowly navigating through those old books, that’s not what I see. In many ways, I see a God who is just as loving, forgiving, and righteous as Jesus’ dad. To me, there seems to be only one God, and He shows His love just as much to Job as he does to Paul, even though it may be hard to comprehend that.
The OT has so much valuable truth in it that just gets overlooked! It is a very narrative, dynamic set of books, and the more you read them, the more sense they start to make. Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is in there: Homosexuality, marriage and divorce, law and order, engineering, politics, warfare and strategy, business (read Proverbs enough and you’ll have an MBA), x-rated lovemaking scenes, corruption, greed, beauty pageants, prostitution, survivalism, and much, much more. Seriously, check it out sometime. Even if you’re a lifelong Christian, I guarantee there’s stuff in there you forgot about or never noticed. Plus, it’s longer than the NT, so it must have something in there that warrants a look-see.
Maybe if the modern western church focused more on all 66 books of the Bible, and not just the last 27, some of the church’s issues would start clearing up.