When I first saw Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings I was struck by Howard Shore’s musical score, especially his Shire theme. Immediately I noticed that as it begins we can sing right along the opening words of “This Is My Father’s World” before it takes off with Shore’s own melody. At first I wondered, “Doesn’t he know that’s a famous hymn tune?” But then it hit me. Of course he does, and he’s using it on purpose.
wants to communicate that if there is one place that is good and wholesome, where people appreciate beauty and the simple life, it is the Shire. Despite the evil schemes of the forces bent against Middle Earth, in the Shire and because of the Shire, we know that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” By using just a half-dozen familiar notes, Shore brings all the resonances of that century-old hymn to fill in the emotional landscape of the movie. Otherwise it might have taken an entire symphonic movement to achieve the same effect.
Borrowing from the past to create something new for the future–this is how all art works. Indeed it is how all life works.
It is also how the Bible works. The New Testament is shot through with images (king, wilderness, mountain), narratives (new creation, exodus, exile), personalities (Abraham, Moses, David) and themes (redemption, faithfulness, justice) borrowed from the Old Testament. The writers very intentionally used the past to give their new content about Jesus even more weight and force than it could possibly had alone. If we miss these, if we ignore the Old Testament, we miss so much of what the New Testament authors wanted us to hear.
Christopher Wright puts it this way in The Mission of God: “The great historical account of God’s redemption in the Old Testament is not like a booster rocket that, once the space capsule is launched, drops off and falls away into redundant oblivion” (p. 279). No, because the two testaments are one story, if we set aside the Old, we only have half the story. A good half, no doubt. But half nonetheless.
Next: Through Old Testament Eyes 4: Who Are the Chosen Ones?