During the 2008 United States presidential election, a man named Jeremiah Wright came to the public spotlight. As the pastor of a church in Chicago, he made a number of fiery speeches that were politically damaging to his most well known congregant, Barack Obama. Under intense fire, the presidential hopeful made a speech wherein he denounced Pastor Wright’s remarks but did not disown him as a person. After another series of inflammatory remarks made things substantially worse, the candidate did finally leave Pastor Wright’s congregation. This abandonment prompted the older minister to complain that he had been “thrown under the bus” by his young disciple.
Many people can sympathize with the President’s situation. Doesn’t everyone have a member of the family who can be a trifle too colorful at times? Haven’t we all longed to say, at one point or another, “I am not related to that person”? Sometimes, however, you are between a rock and a hard place and you cannot deny your close relationship to someone who has just done something embarrassing. What do you do?
When I consider the Old Testament and the many difficulties that confront the believer in Jesus Christ who reads the stories of these ancient Jewish barbarians, I think of it in these terms. Like a man embarrassed by batty old relatives who commit embarrassing sins, Christians are often embarrassed by Moses and the Old Testament prophets. As we read the Old Testament, we see things that are clearly sinful and evil. How can we best handle this situation? I think we have to do what President Obama did and “Throw Moses under the bus”. It is hard and we don’t want to do it, but we must renounce that which is evil and be “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).
Now it is absolutely obvious that in order to throw Moses under the bus and propose a radically different alternative interpretation of the Old Testament, I must have an absolutely iron-clad case from the Scripture. If I have an iron-clad case I am boldly applying the word of God even to His greatest prophets. If I do not have an iron-clad case, then I am serving the enemy as an “accuser of the brethren”. You will have to pray and study the Scripture for yourselves, but I believe I have an iron-clad case. As you will see, my case is made up of two of the two most important divine imperatives given in the Bible.
At the very beginning of the Old Testament, in one of the most conspicuous places possible, God explicitly gives us a command that can be very closely paraphrased in the following way:
And you, oh nation of Israel, when I pronounce judgment on a sinful people I want you to intercede on their behalf.
At the very beginning of the New Testament, in one of the most conspicuous places possible, God gives us a second command that can be closely paraphrased:
And you, oh Church of Christ, do not elevate the teachings or the person of Moses to the same level as my son Jesus Christ
Correctly understanding these two extremely important sections of Scripture allows us to radically reinterpret the Old Testament and “throw Moses under the bus”. You do not believe that the Scripture contains such commands? Come and let us see.
Intercede for Others: A Divine Imperative in Genesis 18
The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. (Genesis 18:1)
This is one of the most important and conspicuous places in the Old Testament. Abraham, the father of the faithful, is meeting His God face to face for the first time. What section of the Old Testament could be more important? Surely the words that are exchanged here are among the most important that God has ever given to man? What does God have to say to us on this occasion?
After making one of the most important promises in the Bible, the Lord tells Abraham that he is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah:
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” (Genesis 18: 17-21)
Who are “his children and his household after him”? Is this not the nation of Israel and all of his descendants? What is the command of the Lord that Abraham gives to the nation of Israel? Is it not the example that he sets when God has pronounced judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? What is this example? What does Abraham do that God describes as “keeping the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice”?
Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? (Genesis 18:23-24)
This is the first ignored divine imperative. God explicitly tells the nation of Israel that when He pronounces judgment on sinners, they are to follow the example of His friend Abraham and intercede on behalf of the condemned. The importance of intercession is not introduced in the New Testament by the life of Jesus Christ who interceded on behalf of all men, it is a continuing theme of continuous importance and it is introduced right here in Genesis. As we will see, the nation of Israel ignored this divine imperative time and time again and the they experienced the meaning of one of the teachings of Christ:
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. (Luke 6:37-38)
Do Not Confuse Moses with Christ: The Mount of Transfiguration
And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (Mathew 17:2-3)
This is one of the most conspicuous places in the New Testament. Jesus appears transformed in His glory before the disciples. You can well imagine that this is a sight that the disciples never forgot. What is the vastly important message that God has for His church in this episode?
And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mathew 17:4)
Peter is here making the same mistake as the Pharisees have been making. Every time Jesus teaches something in public, the Pharisees throw the teachings of Moses in His face. “But Moses taught this and Moses taught that” they said, “don’t forget about Moses”. In his naivete, Peter demonstrates that he also has elevated Moses to a high and exalted place. “Lord we will make three dwelling places for the divine. One for You and one each for Your equals Moses and Elijah.” How does God the Father react to Peter’s words?
He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. (Mathew 17:5-6)
God the father will not suffer His Son to be compared with His servants. Before Peter even finishes his sentence, the Father rebukes him. “This my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him”. The disciples feel the power of this rebuke and they are “terrified”. Fortunately, Jesus is there to show love and forgiveness.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Mathew 17: 6-8)
This is the second ignored divine imperative. God the Father explicitly tells the church not to elevate Moses and Elijah to the same status as His Son. Jesus was perfect and divine, Moses and Elijah are sinful men who are not to be compared with him. For two thousand years the Christian church has ignored this divine imperative.
Understanding the Old Testament
The key to understanding the Old Testament is to understand that Moses and Elijah and the other Old Testament figures were vicious and brutal barbarians who do not hold a candle to Jesus Christ. They ignored the divine imperative in Genesis 18 time and time again. They were disobedient, dishonest and lacked understanding. When one reads these stories in the light of these facts, one can dismiss the difficulties of the Old Testament as the tremendous sins of a sinful people.
Ignoring the second great divine imperative, Christians will protest. “But Moses was as righteous and holy as Jesus.”, they will say, “he never sinned and was always obedient. Jesus would have done the exact same thing had He been in Moses’ shoes.” By carefully examining four sections of the Old Testament, we will see that this attitude is fundamentally wrong and betrays an ignorance of the character and person of Jesus Christ. By studying the words of the Bible carefully, we will understand the true purposes of God in His dealings with His chosen people.
I have been linking to this post as being the way I answer difficulties with the Old Testament, but it was only part 1 of the case. For this reason, I decided to add the links for the related essays to the bottom of this one:
- Throwing Moses Under the Bus Part 3
- Throwing Moses Under the Bus Part 2
- Quantum Mechanics in Kindergarten
- The Greatest Sins in Human History