Being a father has taught me more about the nature of God than any other experience. As I read the Old Testament, at this point in my life, I identify with God the father and begin to notice a progression in the language and lessons used to tell and teach us to live with Him and one another. From the children’s stories of early Genesis to the complicated life lessons of prophets and proverbs, God seems to be speaking to an ever maturing audience.
The stories told of creation through the flood are simple and easily visualized by the reader. They are like the “Sesame Street” of the bible. With uncomplicated, memorable characters and simple settings, they teach us of our origins and our dignity. They show how important to our survival it is to listen to God (our father). Illustrating how disobedience distances us from God and how envy can kill our relationships are examples.
Further along in Genesis, when told about Abraham’s later life and that of his sons we learn about family relations. The behavior of and motivations of the characters become more mature and begin to address deeper issues in relationships both human and divine. God makes his covenant with Abraham while his sons conspire with one another concerning their father and youngest brother, but they (and we) are introduced to forgiveness. These stories come closer to real life drama and start to add positive consequences, such as riches and happiness, to our lawful actions.
With the Exodus story, Israel is coming of age as a people. Their identity is changed from clan to nation. While they cry for independence, God sets some rules. Using the written word now, as opposed to oral tradition, God undertakes a great teaching, exponentially greater than before. We learn about responsibility, self-discipline, cleanliness, social organization and community relations. Consequences here are more global, affecting a whole population rather than just one person or family. Israel is still dependent on God in a very child-like way as he feeds and clothes her in the desert.
Once in Canaan, the lessons become more intricate and complex. Social interaction, leadership and politics are among the subjects taught by judges, prophets and kings. Time and again teachers instruct while Israel, now so much like a teen-ager, disobeyed with a self centered angst or in choosing comfort and pleasure over communal well being. These episodes of “falling away” were followed by punishment handed down from a parent trying to teach that all our actions do have consequences, but the idea that God’s law gives rather than limits our freedom and happiness begins to grow out of the action/consequence model.
Breaking away from the story format, Songs and Psalms teach us to pray and show the young how their prayers and passions would be spent. Joy and lamentations, thanksgivings and petitions are all written in prose, poetry and hymn with great emotion. In our adolescence, strong emotions can be quite overwhelming at first. In dealing with love, anger, justice, helplessness etc., God teaches us to cry to him in all things.
The timeless Wisdom and Proverbs offer the more personal and practical advice and admonitions of parents sending forth their children into the world. While hearing about friendship, marriage, finance and worship, we are also offered keen insights into understanding human behavior.
It was only when I, myself had said farewell to my children, as they left the place they were raised, was I to see Israel as God’s child, brought up in loving discipline as told progressively along the myths, stories and history of her birth and early life as a nation through the Old Testament.