For Christians, the Old Testament provides a rich understanding of the historical context for our faith. It is a bit proverbial, but it is true that if we don’t know where we have come from, we will not know where we are going. Anyone in the real estate business will tell you that there are three things which matter: location, location, location. Likewise when we come to the Bible there are three things which are equally important: context, context, context. In other words, where something is found in the Bible is very important to understanding its meaning. There are many “contexts” that are discussed when coming to the Scriptures. Many will think first of literary context which is looking at where certain sentences are found in relationship to surrounding sentences, paragraphs, and divisions of a book. Although this is extremely important, right now I want us to look at a different context, namely the redemptive historical context of a portion of Scripture.
To illustrate what we mean by redemptive historical context let me give you a picture. For a moment, imagine the plans of God for the world as a tightly rolled scroll. It is written from beginning to end with all its contents established but it has not yet been read by those interested in its contents. Now for a second, think with me about the time before God created the world. God knew his plans from beginning to end perfectly in his mind. Yet his plans were still “rolled up” as it were, not yet revealed. In many ways his plans are like the scroll, not yet read by anyone on the earth. Yet slowly, over the course of time, God began to unfold his plans, in wisdom unrolling redemptive history bit by bit. God’s plans to redeem a people for himself were set in motion before the creation of the world (Read Ephesians 1:1-13) but continue to unfold up to the present day. It is important as we come to any section of biblical literature, for example an Old Testament prophecy like Habakkuk, that we ask when the people and events took place within the overall plan of redemption. This helps us understand what God is doing in the big picture scheme of things when we come to a certain book in the Bible. We’ll give a brief overview of the Old Testament narrative below so we can find Habakkuk in its redemptive historical context, but for now I simply want us to see the importance of reading both the Old and New Testaments. By reading the Old Testament we can understand the big picture of history and understand things in their proper context. Doing so will help us not only interpret Scripture better, but it will also help us understand our own place in the larger story. Indeed we are all part of his story that still unfolds today. Knowing the Old Testament teaches us our own history and it also shows us what to anticipate as the scroll continues to unfold until the end of time.
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