Yesterday, I rediscovered this blog that I started in the fall of 2012. I was dismayed to notice I had only made one post on September 20th. I did have good intentions of routinely taking the time to reflect on what I was learning as I went through my Master of Arts in Biblical Studies program. However, time management was always a challenge. I spent an average of 16 hours per week for three years finishing this degree in addition to working full-time and teaching Sunday School regularly. So, now that I have graduated, I think it would be prudent to share some of what I was learning at the time.
One of my favorite classes that I had was Old Testament Biblical Theology, which I took two years ago this summer. In addition to the four short papers and one long research paper that I wrote, we had to respond occasionally throughout the semester to a topic chosen by our professor. I just re-read what I wrote, and I think it contains a few items that may be of interest and might be encouraging to others. After all, that was my primary motivation for pursuing this seminary program, so that I could be a better teacher of the Word and build up the Body of Christ.
In your life up to this point, what place has the Old Testament had in your spiritual life and development?
The Old Testament has played a huge role in my experience as a Christian. I get to know the faithfulness of God the Father and I see glimpses of a coming Messiah with promises of a new covenant spread throughout the 39 books. I have memorized dozens of verses from the Psalms and other books that have given me joy and hope. Just last summer, I found great comfort in the 23rd Psalm, when I walked through the valley of the shadow of the death of a family pet. When I was let go from a church youth ministry position 30 years ago I identified with Joseph, who said to his brothers that even thought their betrayal meant harm to him he knew that God meant it for the good of many. When I read something in the New Testament that ties directly back to the Old (or vice versa) it makes me appreciate the unity of the Word of God.
How does the concept of “Covenant” address aspects of your own life?
The various covenants in the OT touch my life in several ways. In general, I appreciate the idea that a covenant involves relationship. By grace alone, God has committed to relating to me. I am a recipient of his covenant blessings. He initiated; all I can do is respond in love and obedience. Regarding the critical elements in the Abrahamic covenant, I am a recipient of the blessings that were promised to him and to his descendants. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am a child of Abraham (Romans 4:16). The promise of “land” even pertains to me, which is a place of service and providence – the abundant life in Christ (John 10:10). Of equal significance, I am a partaker in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). God has put his law in my mind and has written it on my heart. I know him, and experience his forgiveness daily.
Comment on the relevance of three (3) important themes of biblical theology reflected in the book of Genesis.
As I think on the relevance of some of the important themes found in Genesis, there are several that immediately come to mind: creation, fall, redemption, and covenant. Beyond those, there are a few others that have personal significance to me. 1) Election – Yahweh chose Abram (Gen. 12:2-3), not on what he had done, would do, or because of his faith, but because he is God and he can choose to save anyone he wants to save; it was based on His sovereignty alone. 2) Presence – Yahweh first walked with Adam and Eve and He promised He would be the God of Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 17:7-8). You see a lot more of God’s presence later in the Pentateuch, but the theme starts here when Yahweh meets with Abram numerous times to reveal His master plan. 3) Providence – Yahweh clearly demonstrates to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and especially Joseph that He is in complete control of details, both large and small, in the lives of His people in order to bring about His purposes. Nothing can stand in His way; Yahweh uses what appear to be man-made evil circumstances to perform His mighty acts of deliverance (Gen. 50:20).
Comment on one Law from the Torah (Pentateuch) that has special significance to you.
There are a lot of laws in the Pentateuch. There are the Ten Commandments. There are a number of laws that pertain to dietary restrictions, moral purity, for priests, taking care of widows, etc. And then there is this little one, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). In context, it is found in the middle of a long chapter on a variety of laws, most of which deal with how to treat people. It does not stick out particularly, nor does it appear to be a summary statement. And yet, Jesus singled out this specific law as one second only to the Greatest Commandment, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:29-31.) It is not a statement, like some have said, teaching us to love ourselves so that we in turn can love others. It assumes that we naturally already do love ourselves; we demonstrate it by meeting our own needs daily. We are to love our neighbors in the same way (as illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan), by acting properly to meet legitimate needs (from Dr. Grant Howard, Western Seminary professor, in a class on Spiritual Life that I took in 1983). Jesus said that there is no greater commandment than these; we fulfill the whole law if we do them both.
As you think about the theological themes in the writings of the OT Prophets, briefly develop one theme that was perhaps new or different or fresh for you in some way.
One of the common themes in the writings of the Old Testament prophets during the time of the exile is that of restoration. I found this theme in many places and appreciated it anew during my study. Zephaniah speaks of it clearly, using language like this: “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered,” and “I will bring you home” (3:19-20). Joel’s words powerfully echo this same theme when he gives the Lord’s answer, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (2:25). Hosea refers to restoration also. For example, “He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds,” (6:1) and “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death” (13:14). Statements like these gave the readers hope; it does the same for us when we are going through a valley, a dry season, or a time of testing.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.