The Bible
  NT Background
  NT Books
  NT Studies
  OT Background
  OT Books
  OT Studies
  Bible Study
  Early Church History
  British Museum
  Museums
  Historical Docs
  Life Questions
  How to Preach
  Teaching
.pdf
Print
Search for page by title (auto-completes)
Advanced search
  
Google Translate
Advanced Search
Search for word or phrase within each page
Search by OT book and chapter
Search by NT book and chapter


Old Testament Overview 1 - Creation and Patriarchs

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Also available:

1: Creation and Patriarchs 2: Exodus and Wilderness
3: Conquest and Monarchy 4: Divided Kingdom and Exile
5: Return from Exile 6: 400 Silent Years

The Overall View of God's Plan of Salvation - A Framework for a Biblical World-view

Before beginning with the more detailed historical overview of the Bible, it is helpful to gain an understanding of the spiritual situation mankind is born into, and why we need the Gospel of salvation. The overall story of God's plan of salvation as presented in the Scriptures will then seem more relevant. The whole of Biblical history can be divided into four major phases by the four major events of history:
1. Creation
2. The Fall
3. The Birth, Death and Resurrection of Jesus
4. The End, and the New Heaven and New Earth.

This gives us a framework for the development of a Christian world-view. As Christians we are called to renew our minds so we can understand the world around us from a truly Biblical perspective, and to assess different religions, philosophies and world-views. It is also the foundation from which we can consider all aspects of Christian ethics, including all the difficult issues facing the church and society in the 21st century.

The four major stages of Biblical history

1. Creation (Gen 1-2)

The Bible declares that God is the creator of the universe and of life. Through his Word, he made a perfect creation. After each day of creation, he saw it was good. As the climax of his creation he made human beings, Adam and Eve, in his image. This means that although people share some physical characteristics with the animals, they are distinct from them, sharing some qualities of God's nature. Only humans have a spiritual nature and a desire to worship, placed in them by God. We are unique in our ability to have a personal relationship with our Creator. Humans are like God in being rational and moral beings, so we are accountable to him to obey his commands. God gave mankind authority over the rest of creation to use it responsibly as his stewards. In this perfect world, there was no sin, no suffering, and no death. Adam and Eve enjoyed an unbroken relationship with God and with each other.

2. Fall (Gen 3 and rest of OT)

Through listening to the lies of Satan, mankind fell, causing sin, sickness and death to come into the world. The tragedy of Adam's act of disobedience affected every human being born after him. All people are born with a sinful nature, which is shown in a tendency towards selfishness and rebellion against their Creator. This rebellion deserves the punishment of death and therefore mankind has need of salvation. The fall also affected the physical world when the ground itself was cursed (Gen 3:17) so working the land became a hardship. Human relationships were distorted and broken. Godly stewardship of the environment was replaced by greedy exploitation, causing great devastation.

Through the rest of the Old Testament, God gradually revealed his plan of salvation, repeatedly promising the coming of the Saviour. Beginning with Abraham, he chose one people, the Jews, to be his special people, to whom he gave a special revelation of himself, and through whom the Messiah would be born.

Tension 1: Creation is good but fallen

The world we now live in is no longer perfect. The original creation is spoiled. It still shows great beauty and demonstrates incredible design and wonder, which should led us to worship the Creator, but it is also filled with decay and death. Paul describes creation as being in bondage to decay, waiting to be set free (Rom 8:21). Similarly, human beings still bear the image of God in that they retain great capacity for doing good, showing love, and have the ability to use the physical creation for good in the development of beneficial technology. However they are also capable of the most dreadful acts of selfishness because of the effects of sin and rebellion against God.

Only the Biblical revelation gives us a correct and realistic understanding of the world and of the human dilemma. No other religion or belief system gives an adequate explanation of the tension between good and evil that we all experience in our lives.

3. New life in Christ (NT)

Jesus came to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God, bringing new life and salvation through the forgiveness of sin. He demonstrated it through healing and miracles, through which he showed his power over the created world and the powers of darkness.

Even though we cannot see God in this life, Christians can enjoy a relationship with God by faith. By dying on the cross, Jesus defeated Satan as he took the punishment for our sin, breaking the barrier of sin and opening the way for us to come into God's presence. Through his resurrection he defeated the power of death and brought us the promise of eternal life. We are no longer alienated from God, but are reconciled to him. We now enjoy the gift of the Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering us. His Kingdom grows as the Gospel is preached to all nations and people respond by repenting and coming to faith in Christ. They are reconciled with God and join his new community, the church. Through Christ, broken relationships between people can also be healed through the unity we have in Christ.

4. Perfection in New Heaven and New Earth (Still future)

At his second coming, Jesus will come in great glory to save those who are waiting for him (Heb 9:28), but unbelievers will be irrevocably excluded from God's presence at the final judgement. At his coming, the curse will finally be removed, and Satan and all evil powers will be sent to eternal torment. Believers will come into God's presence, and see him face to face (Rev 22:4), and will be reunited with their fellow-believers who have already died, from all nations of the earth. The Bible also predicts a new heaven and new earth, probably meaning that this one will be miraculously renewed and restored to the perfect condition it had before the fall. In glory, both mankind and the physical world will be again made perfect.

Tension 2: Jesus established the Kingdom of God, but not yet in all its fullness

In Jesus, Christians can enjoy the blessings of being part of God's kingdom. We receive new life in Christ as a foretaste of the glory promised in the future. Our sins are forgiven, and we enjoy a relationship with God, but we still have to walk out our Christian life in a fallen world. We are still subject to sickness, and continually face temptation, so our Christian walk is often difficult. To live as a Christian and to obey God's will is a spiritual battle. It is important that we do not fall into unreality in thinking that the Kingdom is fully here yet. However the Christian hope is that we look forward to a life in glory after we die, or after Jesus returns.

Understanding the Old Testament narratives

Much of the Old Testament consists of historically true stories which describe how God revealed his character to ordinary individuals in Old Testament Israel, and worked in and through their lives, calling them to faith and obedience. The Bible does not attempt to cover over their weaknesses and failings, but instead shows God working often in spite of these, in order to bring about his purposes in bringing salvation to mankind. So, through these stories we can learn much about the nature and character of God, especially his loving faithfulness and almighty power, and how he relates to individuals.

Each individual story is part of the history of Old Testament Israel, through whom the Messiah would come, and so each fits together into the greater story of God's overall plan of salvation. Many of the events in the Old Testament in some way foreshadow the coming of Jesus and his death on the cross.

The Book of Genesis

The foundational Book of Genesis is the book of origins. It describes the origin of the universe, the origin of mankind, the origin of sin through the fall of mankind, and the origin of the Israelites, the people chosen by God to receive a special revelation of himself, and through whom the Messiah would come.

Genesis forms the first book of the five books of Moses, and it should be seen as giving the introduction, and setting the background to the Exodus from Egypt, which was the real beginning of the nation of Israel.

The book of Genesis is divided into two distinct parts:
1. The Dawn of Creation (Chapters 1-11)
This consists of four major events: Creation, The Fall, The Flood, and The Tower of Babel.

2. The Patriarchs (Chapters 12-50)
The focus is on four main characters: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

Creation (Gen 1-2)

The Bible begins with the declaration that the universe and everything in it was created by the spoken word of God. The question to ask is why did God do it? The reason is that although God is complete in himself and is in need of nothing, God is a God of relationship and wanted relationship with his creation.

When God created the world, he declared that it was good (Gen 1:31). He made a perfect world, without sin, without death and without sickness, so that mankind could live in unbroken fellowship with God. We see this fellowship in the description of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The fall of man (Gen 3)

When we look at the world today, we realise that we are far from that situation now. This is because we are fallen, sinful people and we live in a fallen world, subject to death and decay. Genesis chapter 3 is one of the major turning points in the Bible. If there had been no fall, we would still be in the Garden of Eden, with an uninterrupted relationship and fellowship with God, and the created world would still be 'good'.

We only need the Bible because of the fall. This is because, following the fall, there is a barrier of sin between man and God, so it became impossible for mankind to find God through his own efforts. The Bible is the story of God taking the initiative to reveal himself to fallen humanity and making the provision through the death of Jesus for us to come back into that relationship with him which was lost in the Garden of Eden.

However, even in the account of the fall of man, there is a ray of hope, as it gives the first prediction of the Messiah, that the seed (or offspring) of the woman will strike the serpent (Gen 3:15).

It is most enlightening to compare the beginning of Genesis with the end of Revelation. Genesis begins with Adam and Eve in that perfect fellowship with God, yet unbroken by the fall. Revelation ends with that fellowship restored, when God's people will see his face, and there will be nothing more accused (Rev 22:3-4) when they live and reign forever in the heavenly city. In Genesis, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and prevented from eating of the Tree of Life. In Revelation, the Tree of Life is once again available (22:2). After the fall the ground was cursed (Gen 3:17), in Revelation, there is nothing more accursed (22:3). This is the wonderful future hope that Christians can look forward to.

Paradise lost - Genesis Paradise regained - Revelation Heaven and earth (1:1) New heaven & new earth (21:1) Division of light and darkness (1:5) No night there (21:25) Division of land and sea (1:10) No more sea (21:1) Sun and moon (1:16) No need of sun or moon (21:25, 22:5) Man in a Garden prepared by God (2:8-9) Man in a city prepared by God (21:2) River flowing out of Eden (2:10) River flowing from God's throne (22:1) Gold in the land (2:12) Gold in the city (21:21) Tree of life in midst of Garden (2:9) Tree of life throughout the city (22:2) Bdellium and onyx stone (2:12) All manner of precious stones (21:19) God walking in the Garden (3:8) God dwelling with his people (21:3) World under curse - Genesis Curse removed - Revelation Death because of disobedience (2:17) No more death (21:4) Serpent - the tempter and deceiver (3:1) Devil thrown into lake of fire (20:10) Sin enters in garden (3:6-7) Nothing unclean (21:27) Pain multiplied (3:16) No more pain (21:4) Ground under a curse (3:17) No more curse (22:3) Daily sorrow (3:17) No more sorrow (21:4) Death - returning to dust (3:19) Death destroyed (20:14) Sweat on face (3:19) Tears wiped away (21:4) Coats of skins (3:21) Fine linen, white and clean (19:14) Driven out of garden (3:23) Free entry to city (22:14) Tree of life guarded (3:24) Access to tree of life (22:2)

After the fall, the Bible records how mankind grew in population, and increased in their technology and abilities, but unfortunately it also describes a progressively downhill deterioration in morality. Here we see the fundamental incompatibility of the Biblical record with the theory of evolution. The foundation of evolutionary thinking is that man is basically good and getting better, in contrast with the Bible which shows that mankind without God is basically bad and getting worse (Rom 1:18-32).

The great flood (Gen 6-9)

Because of the sinfulness of mankind, God despaired that he had ever made mankind. So he decided to bring judgement and make a new beginning. God sent a flood which covered the entire earth and killed all mankind, except Noah and his family who were preserved on the ark.

The implication of this is that all of us are physical descendants of Noah. A few years ago, scientists proved through studying Genetics that all human beings are descended from one individual - amazing, but the Bible told us that 4000 years ago!

Following the flood, God made a covenant with Noah, promising that he would never again destroy all life from the earth by a flood, and confirmed that promise by setting a rainbow in the sky, to remind us of God's faithfulness.

The tower of Babel & the nations (Gen 10-11)

The fourth event is the building of the Tower of Babel, when sinful mankind wanted to show how clever they were by building a tower that would reach the heavens. God saw this pride and stopped the tower building by mixing the people's speech and scattering them over the face of the earth. This was the origin of the languages of the earth. Genesis chapter 10 lists the 'Table of the Nations', showing the origin of the different peoples making up mankind as they spread around the world from Babel.

One group is particularly highlighted, the descendants of Shem, the ancestor of Abraham, who would become the father of the Jewish people, from whom the Messiah would eventually come.

The Patriarchs (Genesis 12 - 50. Approx. 2000 - 1600 BC)

¦Gen 12 ¦ ¦ ¦ ¦ Haran to Canaan To Egypt ¦ ¦ ¦ ¦ ¦ ¦ Abraham Isaac Jacob Joseph ¦ ----------------------------------------- ¦ ¦ c.2000 Promise (Land, Descendants, Blessing to nations) (Gen 12)

The Geographical Setting

All of the events in the Old Testament took place in quite a small area of the world. Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf there is a lower, flatter area known as the 'Fertile Crescent'. North of this are inhospitable mountain ranges, and south of this is a desert. Most of the Fertile Crescent lay between the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, an area known as 'Mesopotamia' (meaning 'The land between the rivers' in Greek), where many of the ancient civilisations grew up. At this time, there were three major civilisations: Babylonia, Egypt, and the Hittite empire (in what is now modern Turkey). The land of Canaan, which became the Promised land, lies at the south western end of the Fertile Crescent.

Abraham (Gen 12-23)

From chapter 3 to chapter 11 of Genesis, there is very little good news. We see mankind continually rebelling against God and living his own way - a downhill progression. But in chapter 12, God stepped in and began his whole plan of salvation.

He did this by calling one man, Abram, from a pagan background in the city of Ur. Ur was a city in Babylonia near the top of the Persian Gulf. Archaeologists have found that Ur was quite an advanced city, with highly developed commerce and libraries, so that Abraham probably lived in a two-story house with central heating.

Abram's family left Ur, and settled in the area of Haran, the area where Jacob later returned to work for Laban, the father of Leah and Rachel, whom he married. God called Abram to leave his land and gave him a promise, which had three parts:

1. Land
God promised Abraham the possession of the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.
2. Descendants
God promised that he would have so many descendants that they would be as many as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore. From Abraham the nation of Israel would be born. The Jews look back to Abraham as the father of their nation.
3. That the nations would be blessed through him.
The promise to Abraham was not just for himself and the Jewish people, but this promise would also benefit the nations or Gentiles. The ultimate descendant of Abraham would be the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of Abraham (Matt 1:1), through whom the blessing to Abraham would reach the Gentiles, through the Gospel.

In this narrative, we are told that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). Paul picks this up as the foundation of his argument in Romans and Galatians to show that justification has never been by keeping the law, but has always been by faith, even in the Old Testament. In Galatians he showed that Abraham came into a right relationship with God through his faith in God who keeps his promises, 430 years before the law of Moses was even given (Gal 3:6, Rom 4:3).

Both Abraham and Sarah were very old, and had never had any children. However, God had promised that they would have a multitude of descendants, something which seemed impossible in natural circumstances.

After nothing happened for several years, Abraham did what was the usual custom of the time, when a man had a barren wife. This was to bear children through his slave girl, Hagar, who had a son called Ishmael. However Ishmael was not the child of the promise, God reaffirmed his promise saying that the son would be through Sarah. Sarah's response to this ridiculous idea was to laugh, so her son was called Isaac, which is the Hebrew word for laughter.

It is interesting to see how many important figures in the Old Testament needed miracles to happen before they were even conceived in the womb: Isaac, Joseph, Samson, Samuel; and in the New Testament: John the Baptist, and of course, Jesus himself.

Eventually Sarah's son was born, the child of the promise. Later, Abraham was challenged by God to sacrifice his son to him. This was a great test for Abraham, through which God was asking, "Did he trust in the promise - Isaac, or in the promise-giver - God?" Abraham passed the test, being willing to sacrifice his son to God, who stopped him at the last minute, and provided a ram as a replacement sacrifice. This event is full of symbolism, of God providing the sacrifice, as he did with Jesus. It is also most likely that the location, on Mt. Moriah, later became the site of the temple in Jerusalem.

Isaac (Gen 21-26)

Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was the firstborn, born just a few minutes before Jacob. However, even though Esau was the oldest (only just), the promise passed down to Jacob, rather than to Esau. There was continuing enmity between the two twins, particularly after Jacob's mother Rebecca arranged for Jacob to trick Esau out of his father's blessing as the firstborn. This enmity continued down the centuries between their descendants, the nations of Israel and Edom. Jacob had to flee for his life, back to the land of his ancestors, Haran, where he worked for his uncle Laban, who in turn tricked Jacob by giving him his daughter Leah instead of Rachel, the girl he loved.

Jacob - Israel & the 12 tribes (Gen 27-35)

Jacob was not the most godly of characters. His name, Jacob, means 'deceiver', which was a good description of him. After a dramatic meeting with God, his name was changed to Israel (Gen 35:10). Jacob had children through his wives Leah and Rachel, as well as through two of his slave girls. He had a total of twelve sons, who became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. The exception was that Joseph did not have a tribe named after him, but two tribes were named after his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. God renewed his promise by making a covenant with these next two generations, with Isaac (Gen 26:3), and with Jacob (Gen 28:13).

The Joseph stories (Gen 37-50)

The story of Joseph is very well known. But its main point is to show how the family of Jacob (Israel) came to be in Egypt, and were preserved through the famine.

Also through this story we see God working through Joseph's life, often invisibly, and through all the hardships he suffered. Perhaps Joseph had a problem of pride in showing off his favoured status before his brothers, and boasting of the dreams he had. But he certainly suffered for it - being sold as a slave to Egypt, being unjustly accused by Potiphar's wife, and being left forgotten in prison after he interpreted the dream of Pharaoh's cupbearer. However following Pharaoh's strange and disturbing dream of the seven thin cows eating the seven fat cows, Joseph was invited to interpret the dream and was elevated from a prison cell to Prime Minister in one day.

Following the eventual reunion with his brothers, they were sorry for what they had done to Joseph all those years before, and wept before him. But Joseph saw God's hand in all his sufferings, and said the amazing thing that, "Even though his brothers intended to do harm to him, God intended it for good" (Gen 50:20). There is a great lesson for us today, that even if we suffer hardships in life, God can and will bring good out of it, even though we couldn't possibly see that at the time. After the difficulties are over, we can look back and see that through the hardships God has been active and has brought good out of them.

The Book of Job

Probably set during the time of the Patriarchs is the Book of Job, and the story of his sufferings. His so-called 'friends' each state that Job is suffering because he has sinned. Job is certain that he stands righteous before God, but cannot understand why he is suffering. Neither Job nor his friends know that God is allowing Satan to test Job’s faith, whether he will continue to fear God even when his many blessings are taken away (1:9-11). In the end, God honours Job's honesty and condemns the unhelpful advice of his friends. Although Job is never given the answer to his questions, he is given a much greater revelation of God, the Almighty Creator. From this book we can learn many lessons about how to, and how not to, come alongside someone who is suffering.

Also available:

1: Creation and Patriarchs 2: Exodus and Wilderness
3: Conquest and Monarchy 4: Divided Kingdom and Exile
5: Return from Exile 6: 400 Silent Years