In the probably-bit-off-more-than-I-can-chew department, I've recently begun teaching a Sunday School class on "Understanding the Old Testament." My intention in this class is to give folks a birds' eye view of the Old Testament, exposing them to parts of the Bible they rarely visit and often struggle to understand. To do this effectively, I can't afford to spend a lot of time going into depth on individual passages. So naturally, I've spent the last six weeks or so going through Genesis 1 and 2! At this rate, I may finish when I'm sixty!
My inability to skim the surface aside, I've been preparing a Keynote slide show each week to help focus my class's attention on the main points I want to get across. And since I tend to procrastinate, I'm thankful for great Accordance resources and a few simple tricks that make preparing this slide show a snap!
First, let me talk about some of the resources I'm using.
Bibles: As readers of this blog are probably aware by now, my preferred translation is the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It offers a good mix of readability and fidelity to the original languages, and is generally unafraid to offer a fresh translation of those well-known passages most translations are unwilling to modify (John 3:16, Psalm 23, Matthew 5-7, etc.). Of course, when I want to bring out an aspect of the text which is made clearer in another translation, I won't hesitate to use it. For example, when I want to bring out the structure of the underlying Hebrew text, I'll generally turn to the English Standard Version (ESV). When I wanted to discuss whether Genesis 1:1 should be translated "In the beginning God created" or "When God began to create", I used the Jewish Publication Society translation (JPS) as an example of the latter rendering.
Finally, while I don't show the underlying Hebrew text to my class, I do use the tagged Hebrew text in my own preparation to teach.
Commentaries: While I'm going into the first three chapters of Genesis in some depth, I am not doing a lot of verse-by-verse exposition. Rather, I'm focusing on bringing out the literary structure of these texts and the way they would have been understood by their original audience. Consequently, I don't often turn to expositional and critical commentaries when preparing for my class. Instead, I tend to go to background commentaries like the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament (ZIBBCOT) and the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament. I once read a review by a New Testament scholar I admire who panned the use of background commentaries because any more traditional commentary worth its salt will usually provide the relevant historical background information. While that's certainly true, the challenge is often finding those nuggets amid all the verse-by-verse exposition. I love these background commentaries because they're focused on the kind of information I most want to bring out.
For much the same reason, I often find myself turning to Study Bible notes before full-blown commentaries. Study Bibles like the ESV Study Bible often have concise but highly relevant information, as well as helpful charts and images that can easily be incorporated into a Keynote presentation.
Graphic Resources: Some of the commentaries and study Bibles already mentioned are a great source for visuals that can be dragged into Keynote slides. ZIBBCOT had a great illustration of the three-tiered cosmology which most ancient peoples assumed to exist, and it made such concepts as water above the sky much easier to explain.
The ESV Study Bible offered a concise chart of the days of forming and filling in Genesis 1 that helped me think through how to structure that particular slide of my presentation.
Another graphic resource I use heavily is The Accordance Gallery of Bible Art. Filled with great classic artistic depictions of various Biblical episodes, I tend to use the images in this tool to illustrate broad concepts and to add visual punch to title slides. While I'm still a little early in the Old Testament to make much use of the Bible Lands PhotoGuide, I did use the view of Israel from atop Mount Nebo to illustrate my slide that talked about the Old Testament being "The Story of a Land."
I likewise used an image of the high priest offering incense from Carta's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem for the slide on the Old Testament as "The Story of Redemption."
While I will turn to other Accordance resources from time to time, this combination of Bibles, background commentaries, study Bibles, and visual resources has served me well in quickly putting together my Keynote presentation each week. In my next post, I'll show you some of the tricks I use to get the information out of Accordance and into Keynote as quickly and painlessly as possible.
This morning in my family's devotions, we read Psalms 99 and 100 together. Psalm 99 calls the people to praise the Lord because of his sovereignty, justice, and holiness, while Psalm 100 calls them to celebrate the fact that he created them, that they belong to him, and that his love for them is eternal. The juxtaposition of these two psalms led me to discuss the difference between the concepts of God's transcendence, which Psalm 99 focuses on, and his immanence, which is the focus of Psalm 100.
Interestingly, each of these psalms mentions different aspects of temple worship. Psalm 99 mentions that the LORD is "enthroned above the cherubim" and calls the people to "worship at his footstool." Psalm 100 calls the people to "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise" (Psalm 100:4, HCSB). How often do we read these kinds of phrases and just think they sound poetic, without ever stopping to wonder what they mean? On those occasions when we do think to dig deeper, where can we turn to find out what they mean?
These days, one of the first places I turn when I come across passages like these are the Bible Background Commentaries published by Zondervan and InterVarsity Press. Unlike standard commentaries, which tend to focus on explaining a passage's wording, background commentaries focus on explaining the historical and cultural background of the passage. In this case, we're dealing with the mention of "cherubim" in relation to God's throne, the mention of his "footstool," and the mention of his "gates" and "courts." While I could certainly look each of these terms up in a dictionary, that approach might give me a lot of information which is not directly relevant to my understanding of the passage. What's more, I might not be able to piece together what I learn about each item to see how they all fit together. The advantage of a background commentary is that it offers a convenient summary of the background information you need to understand your passage of study.
So to understand these references to the temple, I simply opened the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament (ZIBBCOT) and the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament in two parallel panes. Sure enough, both discuss the fact that the ark of the covenant, which represented God's footstool, was placed beneath sculptures of two cherubim with their wings touching. First, the cover of the ark itself featured these cherubim, but in Solomon's temple, the ark was also overshadowed by larger free-standing statues of cherubim. By reading these two commentaries, it becomes clear that the temple references in Psalm 99 refer to the Holy of Holies. These commentaries also discuss the "gates" and "courts" mentioned in Psalm 100, explaining that the temple itself was part of a larger complex of courtyards where the people could come and worship.
By reading a few short paragraphs of commentary conveniently displayed in parallel panes, we see that Psalm 99, which focuses on God's transcendence, uses images of the Holy of Holies which only the high priest could enter. We likewise see that Psalm 100, which focuses on God's nearness and covenantal love for his people, uses images of the temple courts where the people could come and worship. Thus, the people of God are called to draw near to God and celebrate their special relationship with him (Psalm 100), yet they are also reminded that they worship a God who "reigns," whose dwelling place they can bow toward but not enter, and whose holiness inspires fear and trembling (Psalm 99).
As we say in the south, "That'll preach!"
At the very least, it makes for one pretty cool family devotion.