I still remember the painful lesson I learned many years ago when email first became a popular communication tool. Another person and I had a disagreement about something and exchanged a series of emails back and forth about it. Though most of the emails were cordial, toward the end of the exchange, as our frustration level increased, the emails got curt, tense and a bit mean. If someone read the entire exchange of emails, he or she would have understood the flow of conversation and clearly see the effort made by both parties to correct the situation. But the last couple of emails, read out of context, made us both of us look mean-spirited.
Regretfully, my friend chose to share my last email with a number of other people. Since he did not share the rest of the conversation, it made me look bad. Though we eventually got it all worked out, it took a long time to repair the relationship. I learned a valuable lesson in that experience about how easy it is to take something out of context if one does not understand the entire conversation.
This seems to be the case when many people read certain sections of the Old Testament. I recall a young man in our church asking me a question about an Old Testament passage. He was struggling with a passage that described a particular judgment God exercised on a group of people. Like many of the episodes of God’s wrath in the Old Testament, the example seemed harsh when lifted out of the context of the entire Old Testament narrative.
I had to remind the young man that the Old Testament narrative covers a historical period of nearly 4000 years. During that time a compassionate and gracious God revealed Himself again and again to a people that often ignored His overtures of love. God sent prophets, priests, and kings to lead the people the right direction. God used miracles, both small and large, to demonstrate that He was real and could be trusted.
In the Old Testament, God was long suffering in His efforts to draw people to Himself. Yet, at certain points during that time period, God judged evil behavior. If we only focus on those moments of judgment, the God of the Old Testament seems harsh, perhaps even evil. But if we read the entire conversation, we see a love story between God and a people He was trying to draw to Himself.
Much like the email conversation I had with my friend so many years ago, if one only reads the last email, one gets a messed up picture of the author. But if people read the entire conversation, the final email makes more sense. If we approach our study of the Old Testament the same way, we may find far more nuggets of truthful love than we realized in those ancient texts.
Lord, help me be diligent to read Your entire conversation with Your people so I can more fully understand Your goodness. Amen.