I’m involved with four other people in a book project discussing “Five Views on Christ in the Old Testament,” which should come out from Zondervan next year. My paper is posted under “Biblical Interpretation.” I’m now reading the other people’s papers and commenting on them. Here’s a parable it’s provoked.
Kathleen and I once went on a walk from our home on the edge of Oxford to get to a country pub. The walk was more adventurous than we expected. We had to cross a stream by a rickety bridge and climb over a five-barred gate just before we reached our destination, and Katheen (who once lived in Arizona) was pretty worried about possible snakes in the grass. Then this past Friday we walked to the same destination, now knowing not only where we were going but how to get there, and the walk was quite straightforward.
Even on the first occasion, the destination was clear and we could trust that everything on the way was leading to the destination, but as we stood at the rickety bridge from which we could not see the destination we could not have said that the bridge pointed that way. The bridge and the gate existed for their own sake, not for the sake of our journey. They were not designed to lead towards the place where we were going, and they bore no signposts. Their own importance did not lie there. But they were on our route to the destination, so that they came to have that significance for us.
Our first walk corresponds better to the story of Israel than the second one. God had a wide-ranging perspective (a drone’s perspective?) concerning Israel’s journey. He knew about the rickety bridges and five-barred gates (the parable is not an allegory, but I am tempted: is the rickety bridge the exile, and is the five-barred gate the Torah, and the snakes . . . ?). But they were not designed to lead towards Jesus, and they bore no signposts. There was no more indication that the exodus pointed to Jesus than that the bridge or gate pointed to our destination.
We don’t get to understand the meaning of the exodus or Sinai or the exile or the Second Temple by thinking too much about Jesus. The First Testament can help us understand Jesus, but it’s also worth understanding in its own right without thinking too much about Jesus. That way, it does help us understand God and us.