For the past few months, I’ve been immersed in a series by Dr. Sandra Richter called Epic of Eden. My leadership team and I discovered her original book quite by accident. We were wrapping up Priscilla Shirer’s study, Breathe, when Priscilla mentioned that she’d read Epic of Eden 3 or 4 times and wanted to read it again. She had our attention.
What book (besides the Bible, of course) do you read over and over again? We were intrigued, so during our break between studies, we ordered copies. We sat down at our coffee shop one Friday to look it over and make a plan. To our shock, and maybe even a little horror, we discovered Sandra Richter to be a seminary professor – gulp. Us read a seminary book? We weren’t so sure.
Something in us told us to dig in and give it a try. Each Friday we’d meet, amazed that we could read a book written by a seminary professor and understand what we were reading. In fact by the time we finished the book, I’d say we LOVED it.
Yes, we had to think. Yes, it challenged us. But, oh my, it opened our eyes to the Old Testament like never before. By the end of the book we wanted our Bible study group to read it with us (yes, we wanted to read it again!). The Friday we finished the book, we vowed to pray about our next move.
And just like that I get an email from Seedbed (a Wesleyan publisher…and so much more) introducing a new small group study…Epic of Eden. I’m pretty sure I squealed out loud and leapt from my chair. Timing is everything, right? Well, this felt like God’s timing…as if He were saying, “It’s time. Get this in my church.”
And we did.
We started with this sweet group of about 30 women the fall the study came out. Our leadership team was so nervous – we wanted them to experience at least some of what we had when we’d read the book. And we hoped they loved it even a fraction of what we did.
And they did.
By the end they were saying things like, “I want my husband to do this with me” and “When are you offering this again?”
All the while, I prattled on and on to our Associate Pastor, who offices next to me, about this amazing study and how it’s impacting our understanding of the Old Testament and GOD. He was amused and curious. I’d never really prattled about a study before.
Late the next spring he calls me to his office and shows me a class syllabus from one of his seminary classes. On his list of required readings…Epic of Eden! Not just in one class but two! I was giddy! This meant he and I could talk through the book as he read it.
And we did.
About halfway through his summer session he told me, “Shelley, you and I need to lead this on Wednesday nights in January. Our church needs this study.”
And that is where we are now.
This winter/spring we’ve had 40 brave souls dig into this study of the Old Testament which sets out to:
- Help us better understand the historical context and chronology of the Old Testament so that the stories we know fit into a larger story and pattern.
- Help us better know our God – a God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
- Help us better grasp who Jesus is and what it is He has done for us.
Dr. Richter does these very things by equipping us with some organizational tools. In fact, she uses the “organizing your closet” analogy, giving us shelves and hangers to organize our Old Testament closets.
Three shelves she gives us help us understand the PLACES of the Old Testament, all of which lie in a region called the Fertile Crescent:
- Canaan/Israel/Palestine (three names of the same land area)
Five hangers she hands us are names who represent the PEOPLE of the Old Testament, namely God’s people:
Every week for 12 weeks we review these shelves and hangers so that long after this study is over we still have this “map” of the Old Testament. We’ll be able to know where we are in Israel’s history any time we open the Old Testament.
The first half of the study is foundation-laying. Dr. Richter spends a good amount of time helping us grasp the patriarchal society in which the Old Testament lies. (Dr. Richter brings her Old Testament expertise to this study, as well as, her archaeological background.)
What could be tedious and boring is absolutely brought to life by this woman who is not only passionate about what she is teaching but is committed to helping today’s believers get a better understanding of our heritage and history.
She teaches us about Eden and creation in great depth and color so that a picture of our Creator is revealed – One who is relational and good. And we begin to understand with clarity just what resulted from the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve.
Better yet, we begin to see God’s point of view of the Fall — we learn that Eden was God’s “Original Intent” all along. Dr. Richter walks us through the five PEOPLE’s stories in such a way that we see God taking steps toward rescuing humanity and restoring the broken relationship between Him and His creation (us).
Each of the “steps” God takes toward this restoration, toward His “Final Intent,” is marked by a COVENANT He makes with His people. And, oh, to understand COVENANT is to understand the God who loves us so much that He sent His only Son…to die for us…to bring about restoration of relationship with us.
“Dots are connecting for me!” That’s my best way to describe to you what happens every time I do this study. I become more aware – ideas and circumstances and relationships make more sense:
- I see connections between ideas and people and situations that I never saw before.
- I see God carrying out the plan He had all along, one step at a time, toward restoration.
- I see that God knows us so well that He meets us WHERE WE ARE, in such a way that we will understand what it is He desires: Relationship with us.
- I see that the God we know in the New Testament is the same God of the Old Testament (I know…that can be a hard one…but when we understand the historical context, the truth of what life was like then, and just how much God desires this relationship with His people…we really do see God more clearly).
- I see that the people of God in the Old Testament weren’t so different from us today. We can learn a lot from them (good and bad).
I’m still processing everything I’m learning through my time with Epic of Eden. I want to do a short series this spring that picks up some of the main teachings and themes of the study – I hope you’ll join me. I won’t take twelve weeks to cover each of the chapters, but I’ll do my best to capture the essence of what Dr. Richter has to unveil to us about the Old Testament…and our God.
Desiring more and more of God,