Read John 1:1–18.
It started when I began studying the Old Testament Law. I learned that many of the commands God gave Moses for the people of Israel were not entirely new. Hammurabi, in his famous law code, had recorded similar rules for the Babylonian people centuries earlier. I was somehow saddened at the thought that the Bible was, in some ways, a rip-off of what had come before.
Then I studied the temple and discovered something similar. The temple that Solomon built for the Lord was, in many ways, just like the temples of Israel’s neighbors. Its basic design and construction were not unique at all.
And it didn’t stop there. Prophets and priests? Other ancient cultures had them, too. Digging deep into God’s Word, I was struck by how many aspects of Israelite worship had a rough-hewn heathen equivalent.
All this left me feeling empty, that I had somehow been lied to. Of course, no one had ever told me that the Bible was supposed to be completely original. I think I just wanted to believe that God had given His people something new and different—a heavenly alternative to her neighbors’ evil practices.
In one sense, that’s exactly what He did. While other law codes contained rules for moral living, only the Mosaic Law reflected God’s holiness and pointed to the grace that was to come with the gospel. Unlike the other temples, God’s temple in Jerusalem lacked an idol of wood or stone to worship. And the priests and prophets of Israel served the one true God, while their counterparts were sorely deceived.
I came to understand that while similarities existed between the culture of Israel and that of her neighbors, it wasn’t due to a lack of originality on God’s part. Instead, I saw a beautiful picture of God bending low to talk to His children with words they could understand. God, wanting to capture the hearts of His people, revealed Himself using categories they knew. Ultimately, God spoke His love through His Son, born to look just like an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Jewish laborer. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
The Lord engaged the culture of the ancient world by becoming like the people He wanted to save. That’s the way He’s always done things, and now He invites us to do the same.
This devotional is taken from 21/Jesus: A Devotional for Busy People, which is currently available as a free ebook. For more information on my latest devotional, The Ascent: A Devotional Adventure through the Book of Psalms, click here.