What is the Old Testament? How should Christians understand these books? In this session of Secret Church 1, Pastor David Platt provides a general survey of the Old Testament and teaches on Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus. The word “Genesis” literally means “beginning”—in the beginning. Genesis has two pictures—before the Fall, which is the beginning of creation and after the Fall, which is the beginning of God’s plan to redeem his creation. The word “Exodus” literally means “departure.” God is all-powerful and mighty to save is the picture that unfolds in the first half of the book of Exodus. Leviticus is a book about holiness and sacrifice. In order to come before a Holy God there had to be a sacrifice to make the way for that to happen.
- Why Study the Old Testament?
- How Should We Study the Old Testament?
- What is the Old Testament?
- When and Where Did the Events of the Old Testament Take Place?
- An Overview of the Books of the Old Testament
- The Story of God’s People
Two examples captivate my mind as we begin surveying the Old Testament. The first is the opportunity I had to be with an underground house church in Asia. It was not part of the plan on this particular trip, but by the grace of God a door was opened for me to be invited to come and do some training. I didn’t know what to expect. I walked into a room and saw a small group of believers gathered together in a circle, and we began studying God’s Word at about two in the afternoon, and by ten at night we were still going strong. They looked at me and said, “We need you to teach us all the books of the Old Testament”.
That began a journey, and over the next two weeks we did just that. The people who came together were mostly farmers or agricultural workers. They completely laid down everything for two weeks at a great cost to them and their families to come together for about 12 hours a day to study God’s Word together. They had a strong passion for God’s Word and wanted to make the most of the opportunity they had to study it.
The second example that captivates me is sitting in mud huts with our brothers and sisters in Sudan. Many of these believers had grown up with war over the last twenty years and had seen about a million die at their sides. During the entire time, I taught them, I barely saw their faces and scarcely made eye contact. This was not because they were asleep or daydreaming or off somewhere else, but it was because they were writing down every single thing I said. They came up to me afterwards and said, “David we know we have a responsibility to take everything you have taught us and translate it into our languages and teach it to our tribes.” I give you these two examples for two reasons:
First, to show you how believers in Asia intentionally gathered together for long hours to intensely study God’s Word. The purpose of this evening is not for entertainment, but we are going to fill each other with the knowledge of God’s Word so deep that we will be overflowing by the time it ends. This is more of a seminary study and it is not for those who are not prepared to think very much. I pray that you will keep your mind and attention devoted to His Word. Just as the Asian believers, we are going to get in as much as we possibly can to make the most of our time as we go through this text.
The second example from Sudan is to give you the over-arching purpose of this night. It is not to have a greater knowledge of the Old Testament (although I think that would be wonderful); instead, the purpose is to lead you in such a way that every single person will be able to re-teach the Old Testament to someone else. If what is discussed in these next few hours stops in your life, then we have missed the entire point, and we have received and given ourselves to a self-centered study of His Word. Our intention should be to reproduce everything that has been entrusted to us from God’s Word and to teach it to others. Then we will be part of making disciples of all nations, and it won’t be just thinking about the people in Africa, but we will have an opportunity to impact the people in Africa. My prayer is that a dedicated group of believers will be equipped to teach the Old Testament as a result of this study.
Understanding the Old Testament and its History
If I can be completely honest, I feel overwhelmed by the task that I intend to complete. We are going to get a very general overview of the Old Testament and what it reveals about God and ultimately our Savior Jesus Christ. It may be a little uncomfortable at times, but I say let’s explore whatever God would say to us.
Why We Study the Old Testament
Why is it important to spend time studying the Old Testament? Here are some common myths we propose:
The Old Testament is insignificant. Many times we think this it is just background material for the New Testament. Why would we want to pay attention to the Old Testament, when you can already see what happens in the New Testament? The Old Testament is insignificant. It is really not that significant for us in the 21st Century.
The Old Testament is irrelevant. It contains a lot of things we don’t observe or seem to relate to our lives any more. There are a lot of people (even in Christianity) who say that the Old Testament is more for Israel and not for us. Let’s be honest what relevance is an ancient animal slaughtering religion that talks about God in a portable tent have for Christianity in the 21st Century? What does that really have to do with us? Have you ever read a passage in the Old Testament and just thought, “Why, Lord, did you decide to include that?” Second Kings chapter 2 verses 23-24:
“From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.”
This is irrelevant. What does it have to do with us?
The Old Testament is inconsistent. It doesn’t make sense in light of the New Testament. This is where a lot of people disconnect the Old Testament from Christianity as a whole. They look at the Old Testament as a Jewish book. There are cults that use the Old Testament as well, such as Mormons. Even Muslims use parts of the Old Testament as part of their scripture. The most commonly asked question is, “Why would the God of grace, love, mercy and compassion we see displayed in the New Testament, show His terrible judgment, wrath and punishment of sin in the Old Testament?” How do they go together? How do you reconcile the judgment that we see in the Old Testament, whether it is of forty-two poor boys or of whole nations that are being wiped out? How do you justify that with the God of love and grace and mercy? It seems inconsistent?
The Old Testament is incomprehensible. We basically think it is too cumbersome, or it is confusing and doesn’t make sense. It often leads us to boredom, apathy and neglect. It is just plain hard to understand. The books are large. They are filled with all kinds of history that many of us don’t know as well as unpronounceable names that we never could begin to talk about. How do you really begin to understand this? It is overwhelming. It is long. It is tedious. We are a lot more familiar with the Gospels where we see Jesus. As a result, we use the Old Testament every once in a while in our devotional times, but the bulk of our faith is dependent on the New Testament. The Old Testament just doesn’t make sense.
The Central Message of the Old Testament
Well, these are myths that I hope will be dispelled by one central message: The Old Testament is invaluable. If we abandon the books of the Old Testament then we abandon the revelation of God. More than that, we hinder our ability to understand the New Testament’s revelation of God. If we abandon the Old Testament, we will never understand fully what the New Testament is trying to teach us. The key to the New Testament is the Old Testament. There are at least 1,600 direct quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament, in addition to all kinds of allusions and references to it. If we don’t get what the Old Testament teaches, we will never get Christ. It is important for us to remember that the Lord of the universe who gave us this book does not waste words. He gave us this entire book for a reason. It doesn’t mean that it is not confusing or tedious or doesn’t make sense. I will go ahead and be honest; I am not going to be able to answer all the questions that come up in the Old Testament. My desire is for us to see and understand the main things that God is doing and why the Old Testament is so important.
Understanding How to Study the Old Testament and its History
I want us to look at the Old Testament through three different dimensions:
First, there is the literary dimension. The Old Testament is a book. It is a piece of literature. We are going to think about it in terms of what kind of literature it is and how that affects the way we understand the Old Testament.
Second, there is the historical dimension. The Old Testament is real history of real people and we are going to get a background for understanding the history. Most of us probably have little knowledge of the history of the Old Testament and how it all ties together. The Old Testament is a fragmented book for us and we try to piece it all together in our minds, but it just doesn’t make sense. So I want us to walk away with an overall knowledge of the history and how it all fits together. We will look at it from a literary perspective and from a historical perspective.
Third, there is the theological dimension. This book was not just written to tell us a story about history, but it was written to demonstrate God in the middle of history. That is what theology is…the Study of God. Following is an overview of how we are going to approach the Old Testament:
In Part One, we are going to briefly discuss the literary and historical overview. We are going to study as many books as we can just to get an overview of how they fit together. With that basic foundation, we are going to see the overall story line of where God is revealing Himself. Not only does He reveal himself to the people of Israel, and to the people of the New Testament, but also to us today. We are going to see the splendor of the Old Testament develop. We have to get a foundation in order to get to that point. We are going to learn about the literary and historical in the first part and then we will go to Part Two.
What is the Old Testament?
The Old Testament is literature. It is a collection of 39 books. There are 27 books in the New Testament, a total of 66 in the Bible. These books are traditionally classified according to genre. Some will say law is at the beginning, followed by history, followed by prophecy, and then poetry. We divide it up again into different genres. But that kind of classification really doesn’t represent very well the literary example of the Old Testament. It is rich in literary form. It has more than the law, history, prophecy and poetry.
It is rich in literary form with historical narrative. It does have stories, examples of what has happened in history. And not just that, it has laws and statutes. It has the laws God has given to His people. It has prophetic oracles pronouncing things that are happening in the future.
It has genealogies. Genealogies by the way are there for a purpose. There is a reason God has given us these names. Isn’t it good to know that we have a God who is concerned about us as individuals and who knows our name? Let that transform the way you look at genealogies in the Old Testament to know that God counts your name as valuable. After genealogies, you have Songs. There are passages that are intended to be sung in the Old Testament. The Old Testament has wisdom sayings, laments and apocalyptic visions (such as Daniel’s). Apocalyptic visions can get really extravagant and kind of wild in the Old Testament, but we will talk more about that later.
All kinds of different literary forms come together in the Old Testament. Knowing each of the literary forms will affect the way we understand the Old Testament. When we come to the book of Proverbs, we will read it differently than we read the book of 1 Samuel. When we come to the book of Leviticus we are not going to skip over it so we can get to the good stuff in 1 Kings. We are going to study Leviticus and appreciate it for the type of form that it is, the laws that were given to the priests.
It was written by a variety of authors. Don’t forget that the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, has one divine author—the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit. However, it is the Spirit of God talking to different men and different servants. But, the beauty of Scripture is God the Holy Spirit inspiring individuals just like you and me. He takes individual personalities, gifts, talents, and passions and brings God and man together to produce a book that is completely and divinely inspired but also written by human authors. It is an incredible example in this book that makes it unlike any other book. It is one divine author, the Holy Spirit, and various human authors. The Old Testament is predominantly written in Hebrew, though some is in Aramaic.
It was written over a span of about 1,000 years. The span of time is where we get into a variety of issues that are really open to discussion and debate even among biblical scholars. Biblical scholars who are following Christ still debate about some of these things, but it is about 1,000 years. I am only going to focus on what we do know and leave the things that the Old Testament doesn’t tell us specifically. We will trust that it is not as important as things that the Old Testament does tell us specifically.
The earliest parts were written around 1,500 B.C., give or take a couple of hundred years based on your view of when the exodus happened. The two most common views of the exodus-when God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt through Moses-are either in the 15th century or 13th century. What you have is Moses writing these first books in the Bible during that time, some where between the 15th and 13th century. You also have a book like Job in the middle of our Bible, which was possibly written before the first books of our Bible were. It could have been written even before the exodus.
So you have the earliest parts of the Old Testament written around 1,500 B.C. and the latest parts written around 400 B.C. Around 400 B.C. you come to Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther closing out the history. Then you have about 400 years of God not revealing himself until you get to the New Testament and Christ. This is known as the “intertestamental period.”
Understanding How We Got The Old Testament
The Old Testament was collected into a canon by God’s people. “Canon” literally means a measurement, or standard, or a measuring stick. The measuring standard can be taken two ways.
In order for a book in the Old Testament to be included in the canon, it had to meet certain standards – who wrote it, when it was written and how it was written. They would also look at how it corresponded to the rest of the revelation that God had given through other books. If you had to simplify how books were included in the canon, these are the three criteria: who wrote it; who was the audience; and how did it fit with everything else? That was the standard by which books would be included by God’s people in the Old Testament and how He led them to get us to these 39 books. But the books of the canon are also a standard, in some way, by which our lives as God’s people are measured. There was a measurement for the Old Testament books to be included in the canon, and then our lives are put up as a mirror to these books to see how we measure up. That is what it means to be collected into a canon.
Also, it was transmitted through Scribes. This is where history really gets fascinating. I want you to think about the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, and to realize that there have been countless people over the last few thousand years who have given their lives to making sure the Word passes from generation to generation. These were scribes who had no word processing software; scribes who did not have computers, even typewriters, who wrote out by hand the Words of the Old Testament so that they would be passed down generation to generation.
It is amazing that these scribes would do that and we are indebted to them. Some may wonder why I am so passionate about the Word and the Church. The reason is because there is a whole lineage of people who were faithful to pass the Word on from generation to generation, and God help us to not let it stop here. We are not going to ignore the Word in the Church. We are going to highlight the Word in the Church.
It is going to be supreme and we are going to follow in the tradition of those who sacrificed their lives to make sure that the Word gets passed on. That is our obligation. That is our responsibility as God’s people. It was transmitted through scribes. Finally, it was translated through servants. Different people translated the Old Testament along the way.
Septuagint—the Greek Old Testament
You have the Septuagint, or the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and it dates back to about 200-300 B.C. Many of the New Testament authors who quoted from the Old Testament were using the Septuagint. There is this notion that the translation of the Old Testament into Greek affected the New Testament. Adam and Eve did not speak your language, but neither did the Israelites, Moses, Abraham or David. Jesus didn’t speak your language, but He knew it. We need to realize that once again we are indebted to those servants who translated this book into our language.
On that note I want to remind you that over 2500 languages in the world still have no Bible translation. An additional 1,000 have only the New Testament. That means over half of the languages in the world still don’t have the Old Testament. God help us to be faithful servants of the Word.
Now you have a brief overview of literature of the Old Testament. The brief overview shows us how we got this book from the point that it was written to the point we are studying it in this text.
Understanding the History and Setting of the Old Testament
As we move from the literary dimension, let’s think about the historical dimension of the Old Testament. When did the Old Testament events take place?
The Old Testament is a real story set in real history
First, remember that the Old Testament is a real story set in real history. I want to emphasize that because we have a tendency to almost view this book as a mythological fable, or story from the past that may or may not be true. Even in the Church, especially in the United States, it is doubted in many different spheres of influence. This is real history, a real story of real people. It is not just a book of wise religious council and theological propositions. I want you to grasp this so that when we begin to unlock some of the things that are in the Old Testament, you will remember that we are not just telling stories to each other. This is true and it is about real places, real people and real time.
I want to give you an overview of the history of the Old Testament. Again, this is a very general overview.
In the beginning . . . nothing, then something. It is that simple. Now that simple truth is a part of much debate today, so allow me to share what I the Bible is saying within this debate. Nothing cannot produce something apart from someone. You have nothing one day and if you have nothing then what can you get out of nothing? Out of nothing, nothing comes. But you have nothing one day and then you have something. What you have is creation, life, creatures, and man made in God’s image. Man and woman created in the image of God, His prize creation, placed in the Garden of Eden, which quickly becomes the location of the Fall of man. By Genesis chapter 3 bad news creeps in. The Garden of Eden quickly becomes the location of the Fall of man. Humankind then degenerates for many generations.
As a result, God judges the world with a flood, but He spares one righteous man, Noah, and his family. He spares Noah and his family. The problem is after that happens, Noah, his family, and generations after him don’t do much better. There is not much improvement. Humankind rebels at the Tower of Babel resulting in division and dispersion.
Next, we see a new beginning and God’s faithfulness to Abraham and his family. God begins to set apart Abraham as the leader of His people. From that point, Abraham’s prosperity turns into Israel’s slavery. Abraham leads the people of God by the promise of God through his different generations: Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The result at the end of Genesis is people in slavery.
Then comes the exodus. At the end of Genesis, the people are in slavery, and what that means is the exodus is necessary. During the exodus, Moses leads Israel out of Egypt. They are led out of slavery and once they are out, God gives Israel two things. He gives them the law and His Word, which are the Ten Commandments.
God gave Israel the law, and then the people entered the Promised Land, where they were ruled for a while by Judges. Eventually, a kingdom was established, epitomized by King David and his son, Solomon. They are in the Promised Land; judges are ruling them and they see the need for a king – Saul, David, and then Solomon. Solomon builds a temple, which becomes the home of the Ark of the Covenant and the center of the people’s worship.
After Solomon, dies the kingdom divides into Israel, the Northern kingdom, and Judah, which is the Southern kingdom. There are now two kingdoms that are divided, Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Idolatry grows in both places
The nation of Assyria destroys Israel in 722 B.C. Then Babylon destroys Judah from 597-586 B.C. Ultimately the temple is destroyed in 586 B.C. The survivors are taken to exile in Babylon for the next 70 years. Then a remnant returns to Jerusalem and rebuilds the temple, but Israel still longs for the glory it knew under David.
A Story Without an Ending
That is the history, the story behind the Old Testament made simple. That is the complete overview of the Old Testament storyline. Everything that is from Genesis to Malachi is encompassed in that story right there. The only problem is the Old Testament has become a story without an ending. You have the people of Israel longing for the glory it knew under David.
In the (Secret Church) Old Testament study guide that accompanies this book there are a couple of maps. The “geographic summary of the Old Testament,” is map one. This map shows you how the story we just discussed plays out. If you look to the far right of this map (near the bottom right), you see a place called Ur. That is where Abraham starts. He goes north to Haran, following the line around to Egypt, which is point 3 on the map. Then the exodus happens. Moving on to point 4, they are at Mount Sinai where the law is given and land is promised. Following along the line to point 5, we find them wandering around in circles for a while. Then they move on to point 6, where they go into the Promised Land. You see Canaan there, and it is the point that things begin to develop.
This is the beginning of the rule by Judges, and then they are united into a monarchy-Saul, David, and Solomon-at Jerusalem there in the center. Then you have the divided kingdom, the northern half of Canaan and the southern half-Israel and Judah. Israel is attacked by Assyria, which is in the northeast; and Judah (in the east on the right side of the map) is attacked by Babylon. They are taken, as you see, from Canaan over to Babylon and back. That is the exile. They come back and rebuild the temple in the city of Jerusalem. They are longing for the glory, the glory of Israel, as they knew under David. That is the theme of most of the Old Testament.
The second map on the back of Map one gives you a modern-day picture of this area of the world to remind us that this is real history, real places, and real-time. What you have is a picture of Egypt in the bottom left in the Southwest corner. You also see Iraq, Jordan, and of course Israel and Syria. This is where all of this history was happening. To think this part of the world, these different areas that are quite honestly so volatile today, was the place where all these things we read on a daily basis were developing. Hopefully, these maps will give you a better representation.
Understanding the Old Testament and its History through its Books
I want us to dive into an overview of the books of the Old Testament. We don’t have that much time left in this session for 39 books. I want to give you a resource that you can use to get a better understanding of the overall theme from book to book to book – how it all fits together. I want you to get a better understanding of each of the books and how they fit into the historical and literary dimensions. This overview is going to provide the necessary information for us to really begin to discuss theology.
Three main divisions in the Old Testament
The story of God’s people – that is the first. Turn to your table of contents in the Old Testament and block out the first 17 books, from Genesis to Esther, and you have the story of God’s people. It is fairly chronological for the most part, but we will see how it is mixed up later on. From Genesis to Esther you have a chronological sequence of the history of God’s people from creation all the way to the remnant coming back to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple. This is the history; the story of God’s people.
The writings of God’s people. That is the next five books – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Songs). These are the writings of God’s people. They are writings that God’s people have given that fit into the previous history. These writings don’t continue the history as we are used to. Our minds are trained to read books chronologically. They go together, one after another. As a result, we think that Job happened after Esther. Not the case. Job as I mentioned before was written previous to Esther. The first 17 books are giving us God’s story among His people -how He is moving. These books are very much focused on God and not man. What you have in Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon is man’s response in the middle of that history. How was man responding along the way? The response could have been in praise, in wisdom, in struggling through different things, and in suffering.
The prophets from among God’s people. Starting with Isaiah and going all the way to Malachi, you have the prophets from among God’s people. The Old Testament has three major divisions, with the prophets from among God’s people being the last. From Isaiah to Malachi, they are split up into Major Prophets and Minor Prophets. Isaiah through Daniel would be Major Prophets, and Hosea through Malachi would be Minor Prophets. That doesn’t mean poor Hosea was less important than Isaiah; and let’s not slight Joel, Amos or Obadiah. They didn’t write a lot, but they made their words count. They are called the Minor Prophets mainly because they are smaller. The prophets historically fit into the time that we see in 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. The prophets were not prophesying in the beginning, but they were wandering in the Promised Land. The prophets that are included in the Old Testament really come about during the monarchy, the division of the kingdom, Israel being destroyed by Assyria, and Babylon coming over and destroying Judah.
The Old Testament is comprised of the story, the writings, and then the prophets among God’s people. I want to give you an overview of each section: the story, the writings, and the prophets. In the overview of each book, there are two points of discussion:
The first is labeled “primary information for starters.” This is basic information that is going to affect the way we understand the book being discussed. In a lot of cases, especially in the New Testament, the basic information would always include the author. The problem in the Old Testament is that authorship was not that important to the Hebrew writers. In many cases, we don’t know exactly who wrote the books. There are a lot of guesses about the author. In those cases, I will give you the information that we do know. For each of the books there will be a summary statement that encapsulates everything that goes on in that particular book.
The second point of discussion is “practical advice for study.” These are things to think about and look for as we read through a particular book. It will be beneficial to help us understand how everything fits together.
Understanding the Story of God’s People and Their History
The story of God’s people is in the first 17 books, Genesis to Esther, and it is divided into two major categories. First of all, there is the Law or the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch basically means five books, five books of the Law. So the Pentateuch is Genesis through Deuteronomy. Then you have the History, which is Joshua through Esther. The two categories, Law and History are similar to division of the Major and Minor Prophets.
The essential makeup of these books is narrative. What this means is the story of God’s people, Israel, is being told. Remember Israel is going to come about when God interacts with Jacob and He says, “I am going to change your name and you will be called Israel.” Therefore, they are referred to as the people of God, the people of Israel. God is the Holy One of Israel.
Remember, this is a historical narrative because it is a story. Even books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy fit into the story. They are not just books that were included as an “add on.” They are part of a story.
Genesis: Primary Information for Starters
Moses is the author of the five books of the Law. Throughout the books of the Law, we see Moses constantly receiving directives from the Lord. Jesus, Paul and John all attributed the writing of these books to Moses. If Jesus thought Moses wrote it, then I do as well. Moses wrote most of the books, but the likelihood is he had some help along the way; whether it was Joshua or others who helped plug in details here and there. Moses is the primary writer. For example, when you get to the end of the books of the Law, Moses passes away. It is unlikely he wrote that particular section unless he saw it in his mind the day before and was able to write it down. Some parts of the Law had to be filled in along the way.
Genesis literally means “beginning” – in the beginning. Genesis has two main divisions – before the Fall, which is the beginning of creation, and after the Fall, you have the beginning of God’s plan to redeem His creation. Redeem is a hard-to-understand word that gets developed later, but it basically means to restore His creation or to recreate, to bring it back from what happened after the Fall.
Practical Advice for Study
We need to realize that, just like a good novel you read, the introduction is huge. If you don’t get a grasp of the introduction, the rest of it is not going to make sense. The first 11 chapters of Genesis are foundational to the rest of the Bible. The major themes of the Bible begin to develop. Spend a long time in Genesis 1 through 11 because the things that develop there are important. The major themes are:
First, the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God means that God is in control. We see that from the beginning-God is the Creator. All of creation works according to His plan, His desires, and His power. He has all authority over all creation. All throughout the book of Genesis we see people having a difficult time understanding that foundational theme. Look at Job, ‘is God in control of this?’ When the people of Israel are being destroyed by Babylon ‘is God still in control?’ All throughout you see people having a difficult time understanding the sovereignty of God.
Did you ever have a difficult time understanding God’s sovereignty? “God are you in control of what is going on in my life? Why is this happening? How can this be explained? Why is that person being prospered and I am falling apart?” Many of you are still trying to answer these questions. This is a constant source of confusion, but it is also a constant source of strength for God’s people. The sovereignty of God is not easy to understand. As we seek to understand it, we can know that no matter what happens to any of us, there is a God who has a purpose. His purpose will be accomplished for He is all wise, He is all good, He is all loving, and He is all gracious. It all develops from the very beginning in Genesis.
The second theme is the sinfulness of man. Genesis chapter 3 should be an in depth study. It is an incredible passage of God’s.
Third, we see the promise of redemption. The amazing thing is that at the very beginning of the Bible within the first three chapters-Genesis one, two and three-you see the promise of redemption on a large scale. Most of us have a good understanding of what the New Testament teaches us about who God is, and about who Christ is. Christ, believe it or not, is seen there in Genesis chapter 3-the promise of redemption and the sinfulness of man.
Not only should you grasp the major themes, but the major plot as well. The major plot is God’s gracious election of Abraham’s family. The word ‘election’ makes some of you cringe a little bit—“election” of God’s family. Some would say this is bringing Calvinism into the Old Testament. Well Calvin came much later. This, however, is an example of Abraham not doing anything to earn or merit God calling him, or placing affection on him. God elected him by grace. God chose to show a large amount of His grace to Abraham. God graciously elects Abraham, and we see that over and over again throughout his life.
You also have Isaac and Jacob. How about Jacob and Esau? One is chosen by God, the other is not. How does this work? God’s grace is being given in abundance. Then you have Joseph.
All throughout God’s gracious election of Abraham’s family, He chooses to display His abundant affection on His people. The ultimate truth is, regardless of what you might think about Calvinism, praise God that He chose to show His affection to you and me. We did not earn it. We did not deserve it. We have not merited it and not one of us deserves it. However, God in His grace, chose to show His abundant love and mercy to us, and for that He is worthy of all of our praise. The Old Testament is good.
We will also see some minor sub-plots develop in Genesis. As mentioned previously, in Genesis 3:15, we are already looking to Christ. The sacrifice (Abraham and his son Isaac) in Genesis chapter 22 is a example of who Christ is. When you look at the passages in Genesis 35:11-13 and 49:8-12, what you see is a promise that is given to Jacob that kings would come from his line. Look at Genesis chapter 49. Jacob is blessing his sons and he says something different to each one of them. Look at what happens in Genesis chapter 49:9. He says to Judah,
“You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.”
Did you notice that? In the New Testament, Jesus is known as the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah”. Until the scepter, the rule, the authority comes to Him to whom it belongs, it belongs to Him and the obedience of the nations will be His.
Another minor subplot is the covenant. I say minor sub-plot, but the covenants are huge throughout, and you see it develop for the first time with Noah. Even with Adam, though it is not called a covenant, there is one. A covenant basically means a contractual agreement. I mainly think about covenants in the same way as I do marriage ceremonies, marriage commitments. You unite your life and you commit your life to each other. That is what we see happen between God and Adam, God and Noah, and then with God and Abraham.
Also, notice there are major flaws in main characters throughout the book of Genesis. This is where we learn very early on in the Old Testament that these stories of real people were not given to us so we would emulate them. I am not saying that there were not some good qualities along the way – there certainly are. But we are going to learn from characters in the Old Testament.
No one wants to live like Abraham or Isaac or Jacob, Jacob the deceiver. No one wants to live like Moses. He missed out on the Promised Land because of his disobedience. No one wants to live like David. But he was a man after God’s own heart, and God gives us the story of his life for a reason. No one would volunteer to emulate David with their lives. We see some major character flaws at the very beginning for a reason. It shows us the insufficiency of man and the sufficiency of God. His purpose and His promises are going to continue even despite major flaws. Isn’t it good to know that God works in spite of our weaknesses and that the success of your local church or any church, praise the Lord, is not dependent on the lack of character or flaws in a pastor. It is great encouragement to know that God is faithful. He will accomplish His purpose even through our weaknesses.
Don’t forget Genesis was not written to answer every question we may have about these events. We might ask about evolution? We might ask about dinosaurs? There are all kinds of questions that you can come up with that are not answered in the book of Genesis. I am not saying that they are not good questions or that they are not important questions, but they are not answered, so we don’t need to try to make an answer by saying that some particular animal in the Bible must have been a dinosaur. God has given us the revelation and what we need to know Him, to know His character, and to be in a relationship with Him. That is the purpose of the Bible. It is not to answer every question that we may have.
Exodus: Primary Information for Starters
Exodus literally means “departure.” God is all-powerful and mighty to save is the theme that develops in the first half of the book of Exodus – chapters 1 through 19. Remember the history behind this. In the beginning, God’s people are in slavery in Egypt. Moses is chosen as a leader of God’s people, and they depart from slavery in Egypt and go up to Sinai. They wander around for a while in Sinai. Exodus is a departure from slavery.
The second half of the book focuses on how God is faithful to His covenant. That is when God gives His people, in chapter 20, the Ten Commandments. In Exodus chapter 20 verses 3 through 17, you see the Ten Commandments given to Moses. God gives His people the law, and establishes His covenant, which is the Mosaic covenant. We saw Abraham in covenant with God, Noah in covenant with God, and Adam in covenant with God, and now that covenant is transferred over to Moses and the people of God after they are brought out of slavery. Literally, this means this is the story of how God’s people came out of slavery and to Sinai, the place where they established their covenant with God.
Practical Advice for Study
There are three defining moments in Israel’s history: (1) Their deliverance from slavery; (2) The significance of God’s presence – God established His presence with His people through something called the tabernacle; and (3) the terms of the covenant or God’s commitment to His people and His description of how they will relate to Him, walk with Him and enjoy Him. Just as He had said to Adam and Eve, “walk with me and enjoy,” “don’t do this and don’t eat from this tree.” God is saying what you do and what you don’t do as you walk with Him. It is a covenant – the contractual agreement with each other like a marriage.
There are two key chapters. Exodus 12 is one, because it is where the sacrifice of the lamb makes the deliverance from slavery possible. The sacrifice of the lamb, or the Passover, is important. Exodus 20 is the other, because it is the giving of the Law. These are the two pivotal chapters when you come to Exodus. Spend time on these two chapters and really get their meaning.
There are also some key places. They go from Egypt across the Red Sea to Mount Sinai where God establishes His covenant. Mount Sinai is a very important place in the book of Exodus. This is where we see God choosing to show a large amount of His grace to His people, and the election of Abraham.
How does God’s sovereignty work? When you read Exodus, I want you to notice both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. When God is bringing His people out of Egypt and Pharaoh is fighting against that, there are times when it says, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart“ (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8,), and it makes us wonder, “What in the world? God did that to people?” but at the same time there are ten times where it says, “Pharaoh hardened his own heart” (Exodus 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15; 9:7, 34, 35;).
This is becoming a big issue in the Church today. How does God’s election, or sovereignty work with man’s responsibility? Do we have a choice in our salvation? I want you to see that they are both developing in Scripture from the very beginning. If you are asking, “How do you reconcile those two together?” You don’t reconcile two friends. You don’t have to reconcile friends. They go together. “How do they go together?” That is a great question but the important thing is to see that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility aren’t going against each other. They work together and this develops in the book of Exodus.
Here is the situation: if we don’t understand Exodus, we will never understand the New Testament. When Jesus comes is born into history and John says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” That scene is weird if you don’t know Exodus. It doesn’t make sense. He is the greatest religious teacher in the world and they are calling Him a lamb. What does that mean? Well, in order to understand that, you have to know Exodus. So, know Exodus and know the New Testament.
Leviticus: Primary Information for Starters
In Leviticus God’s people are led out of slavery and brought to Mount Sinai. It is referred to as “The Law of the Priests” – the Levities. It literally means pertaining to the Levites. The Levites were members of Aaron’s family who were responsible for helping the priests in the tabernacle. The tabernacle was how God dwelled among His people and the priests were the intermediaries between God and His people. That is what it meant to be a priest. It is a strong theme that we will learn more about later.
Primarily this is a book about holiness. Over 90 times, “holiness”, “be holy”, “this is holy”, “I am holy,” are mentioned. It is also a book about sacrifice. In order to come before a Holy God there had to be a sacrifice to make the way for that to happen. What we are seeing set up in Leviticus is the necessity of sacrifice. In order for sinful man, who is not holy, to approach a Holy God there was a sacrifice, and that is really important. Do you see the importance of it?
Practical Advice for Study
There are two main sections as you study Leviticus. The first half, chapters 1 through 17, talks about fellowship with God through ritual offerings. It talks about the offerings that the people of God were to do, and the designated and different times the people of God were to give these offerings. It also talks about the different points of the year for these offerings and celebrations.
The last part, chapters 18 through 27, talks about fellowship with God through righteous living. That is not just about giving your offerings. It is about walking with God and obeying Him. There is a lot of meaning there for us today. It is not just about bringing your songs; it is about giving your lives. It is not just about rituals we do in our Church culture, it is about walking with God on a daily basis. Leviticus has meaning for us today.
There is one main chapter, Leviticus chapter 16: The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. Atone literally means “to cover.” That word is used 45 times in the book of Leviticus. That means it is important. Because of our sin, somehow that sin had to be covered. It was covered on this Day of Atonement, the day of covering.
There were two necessary elements on the Day of Atonement, a bold priest, and a blood sacrifice. A bold priest, and by that I mean the high priest, would go into the presence of God at this designated time. He would have to wear bells so when he walked you could hear them. When he went into the presence of God, everyone standing outside would listen closely to make sure he was still moving. To make sure he had not been struck down in the presence of God. Can you imagine the tension of that scene? A blood sacrifice was needed because in order to cover over the sins, there had to be a blood sacrifice.
Don’t miss the practical application and significance found in Leviticus. First, God is holy. Leviticus teaches us that if we are going to bring something to God, it had better be worthy of bringing it to God. He is Holy. The implications are profound. You don’t bring junk; you don’t bring trash; you don’t bring second best; and you don’t bring that which costs you nothing into the presence of God. You don’t offer Him meaningless sacrifices. He is holy; He deserves much more than that – a worthy sacrifice.
Second, sin is serious. Leviticus teaches us that sin before God is very costly and the worship is expensive. Sin is serious.
Finally, God is gracious. When you take the first two together, God is holy and sin is serious, it is not a good situation. However, you get to the third truth and you see God providing to atone and cover our sins. It then begins to illustrate what God has done in each of our lives. Christ has paid a high price on the cross, a high price to cover over our sins. If we want to understand the price of the cross, we have to study the book of Leviticus. If the cross doesn’t mean anything to us, then we can leave Leviticus alone. If the cross is the center of our faith, then we have to study the book of Leviticus to see how important it was.