Friday, April 26, 2013

Epic of Eden: A Book Review

When you think of the Bible does the word epic come to mind?

I recently finished a book called Epic of Eden, by Sandra L. Richter. 

This fall two of my lovely friends and I took up the endeavor to read the book together.  We read and discussed.  We tried to drink in the content and let it change us.

Epic of Eden has the subtitle “A Christian Entry into the Old Testament.”  It is that.  It provides a framework for understanding the patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal culture of the Ancient Middle East, as well as an understanding of the geography of the Fertile Crescent, Palestine, and Egypt. 

Understanding the context in which the Old Testament takes place is critical, since often times we readers bring our own experiences and biases from our own upbringing and cultural understanding when we sit down to read the Bible.  If we do not understand the context we readers, who come from a modern Western background, might find stories odd and disturbing because we lack the information that make sense of that which is strange and foreign to us; and in the midst of our own biases we may miss the critiques of culture that are being pointed out in some instances or the provisions of God’s generosity in others.

Richter tackles the ideas of redemption and covenant, by explaining their significance in the broader culture of the Ancient Middle East.  In doing this, she highlights how God uses these cultural customs to reveal himself in an epic way through Israel’s history.

After setting the stage with this background, we began to explore creation and God’s intent for humanity.  It is a beautiful picture.  We looked at how the story is headed towards a restoration to God’s original intent; and what follows is the unfolding history of a God who works to redeem humanity.  He works through a man, a family, a nation, to draw all people to Himself.

Richter uses several patriarchal figures of the Old Testament to set up a basis for understanding the history of the Old Testament—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.  These men are used to define different periods of time in Israel’s history and to describe the significance of how God is working toward reconciliation with humanity in the midst of these times. 

The insights along the way have been enlightening.

When my friends and I began to read this fall, it was my third time to begin Epic of Eden.  As much as admitting that may not lend itself to seeming like a good read, I promise that has never been the case!   

I truly have enjoyed rereading all of it, each time, because it has deepened my understanding of Scriptural context in a way reading it once would not have accomplished.  I have also found with each reading, Jason and I have been in different locations of the Old Testament reading Scripture together; and each time it has seemed to match up perfectly with the content of the book to lead me to a deeper understanding of the character of God and his love for humanity.  I could not have orchestrated that and count it as a gift.

Recently, Jason and I have been reading through 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings.  (We will soon get to 1 & 2 Chronicles!)  This was very appropriate as I was reading about David and the monarchy in Israel.  There was so much that I did not understand about the distinctions of the role of a prophet, priest, and king in the midst of the monarchy in Israel. 

The priest was to speak for the people to God.  The prophet was to speak God’s word to the king and the people.  The king was to know God’s law, and lead the people by example in relationship and devotion to God. 

What made David a good king was not that David was perfect.  He definitely was not.  However, he loved God and sought to serve Him.  When he did not follow God’s law, he listened to the word of the prophet and was repentant.  In reading, both Epic of Eden and Scripture it seems to me that it was David’s repentant heart that was special.  David was receptive to what God was saying; and it his response to God that sets David apart from all the other kings.  This is why he is the standard.

The words about each new king introduced in 1 & 2 Kings say something about the king’s heart and the way he leads God’s people.  They are either like David or not. 

“[Abijam] walked in all the sins of his father which he had committed before him; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, like the heart of his father David.” 1 Kings 15:3

“Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord, like David his father.” 1 Kings 15:11

“[Hezekiah] did right in the sight of the Lord according to all that his father David had done” 2 Kings 18:3

There are many instances where the Kings of Israel and Judah are compared to the example of a bad king (usually from Israel) as well.  These are in contrast with David.

In the past, I read through the parade of kings noticing a king’s behavior but not really understanding the full picture of what God was doing.  (I still probably don’t see the whole picture, but more of it.)  What I have seen is that God responds to His people based on the way they keep their covenant with Him.  If they follow the covenant, they live in peace in the land.  If they do not live according to the covenant, they are attacked by foreign nations and the land (or a portion of it) is taken from them.  It is fascinating to watch God’s consistency, His patience, His mercy—even with the worst of Judah’s and Israel’s kings.

As I have read, there is something else I have been learning.  Understanding the Old Testament is key to a deepening understanding of the gospel.  It is important to understand that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises made to God’s people.  Jesus’ claims are tied to these Old Testament promises where God is calling all people to Himself in a kingdom.  Jesus’ death and resurrection prove his identity as King.  The New Testament is in this regard about the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ and learning to live under His kingship.  It is a call to live in reliance upon God, trusting Him. 

I can’t think of a book that I would recommend more highly.  Epic of Eden will deepen your understanding of Scripture and God’s heart toward people.  I invite you to stop by and borrow a copy if you are in the area.  If you are not in the area, you might consider ordering it.*  I would love to sit down for a chat to hear what you are learning if you do!


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we open up the Bible and drink heartily of God’s word to us.  May we find that it excites in us a posture of loving obedience to the heart of God.

Jessica :)

P.S.  I am so sorry if you stopped by last week looking for a post.  I got carried away with getting ready for our Little Love and found that the day slipped away.  That may happen again in the near future when she actually arrives and we try to find our bearings around here.  I will try to do a better job of communicating when that happens if I can.  Thank you so much for grace!

*Jus in case you are wondering, I am not receiving any compensation by linking you to order here.  I am just providing access to this resource.

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