If Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Judges, Ruth and Kings are books you know but haven’t read because of the heavy complexity and Cecil B. DeMille-like scope, then David Limbaugh’s new book The Emmaus Code: Finding Jesus in the Old Testament (Regnery, 2015) is for you. Limbaugh recognizes the problem—”readers intimidated by the … grand sweep…the difficult names and places”—but provides a unifying framework in The Emmaus Code to make the Old Testament understandable. His framework makes the Old Testament fit together with itself, but also with the New Testament.
The Emmaus Code seeks to unite the history and promise of the Old Testament with the fulfillment of those promises in the New Testament. In doing so, Limbaugh primes the pump for those who may have been intimidated by the sweep of the Old Testament. He does this by providing concise and readable accounts of the books of the Old Testament and by explaining how they connect both in prophecy and theology with the New Testament.
A reader who has always wanted to read the entire Bible, yet can’t get past go, might find The Emmaus Code a great way to start.
Limbaugh tackles two weighty tasks in his book. First, he seeks to distill and organize key messages in the Judeo-Christian narrative, and bookmark where they appear in both the Old and New Testaments. Second, he joins in the late-20th Century effort (largely undertaken by Catholics and Evangelicals) to unify the history of the Jewish and Christian peoples into a single divine design. He recognizes the challenge he faces, and that such an undertaking is bound to be imperfect and overwhelming—noting his current project flows from an unfinished book.
Consider first Limbaugh’s distillation of key messages in the Judeo-Christian narrative. Instead of the dry march of Kings and Kingdoms in the Old Testament, Limbaugh characterizes this history as active messaging. “The Bible’s historical books were not written to give us history for its own sake, but to show how God works through history.”
That sentence follows the reader throughout the entire Emmaus Code. Limbaugh:
Despite its gaps, salvation history is a complete, coherent history for God’s purposes, and it is a record of events that actually occurred, not a series of fictitious stories designed to teach various lessons.
The active messaging in the Old Testament is messaging that applies to any given civilization, at any moment in time. Limbaugh:
His punishment is meant to prevent the Israelites from falling into greater depravity. They always begin following the judge, but man’s fallen condition being what it is, they cannot hold onto their blessings, and within a generation or two descend again into their sinful practices. But in the end, God is always there to correct, redeem and improve.
Limbaugh devotes the largest portion of The Emmaus Code (eight chapters) to the theme: Christ in Every Book. This is the engine of the book, where Limbaugh traces out prophecies in the Old Testament which were fulfilled by the New Testament. Instead of a thematic, theological and stylistic divide between Old and New, Limbaugh creates bridges and consistency.
And herein Limbaugh undertakes his second challenge in The Emmaus Code—joining the late 20th Century efforts to provide a unifying framework for the Jewish and Christian people. Limbaugh’s book, I believe, is part of the noble efforts to revolutionize the relationship between Christians and Jews. That effort couldn’t come at a more appropriate time in the world with the gathering threats to both religious traditions.
This unifying framework must necessarily start small, as it cannot overcome obvious departures in theology. Saint John Paul II made contrition the foundation of this effort. In the Great Jubilee Year of 2000, he traveled to Israel and visited Yad Vashem. He visited the Western Wall and left a note saying:
We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.
John Paul departed from centuries of Catholic teaching and advanced an idea of a dual covenant approach to the Jewish people, that the covenant of the Old Testament is uniquely alive to the Jewish people. The essence of that dual covenant view is that the Old and New Testament can be read, in time, as consistent paths. Limbaugh doesn’t wade directly into these shoal waters, but his effort to bridge the divide between Old and New bears strong resemblance to the interfaith dialog between Jews and Christians of the past half-century.
Above all, The Emmaus Code provides a wonderful starting point for anyone wishing to explore the Old Testament but had previously considered it a dry, detached march through the history of ancient kingdoms. Limbaugh provides the reader with the larger narrative, the unifying themes, that might otherwise stay hidden.