Lecture 3: Living the Law
Lecture: Living the Law
Welcome back. We have covered a lot of ground in two sessions. An hour together and we have worked our way through a big picture of the whole Bible and then a big, but somewhat lesser picture, the important picture of the Pentateuch – the first five books that set foundational things that really are not just foundational to The Old Testament, but are foundational all of the way through the scriptures. If you recall, we talked about some important people, people like Adam, Noah, Abraham, all the way down to Moses. We talked about some really important themes that show up, things like creation, judgment and covenants. You have the list. Those are things that you want to put in your mind because as you read, you have these kinds of words. Remember, we talked about it. You are going to be able to see these things. You are going to fill in details that relate to these things. It is hard to understand, but you learn this way and you hang onto things this way. So we want to insert these things. I am counting on what you experience here in the ten sessions we are together, that you will hang onto it for the rest of your life. You will not just hang onto it, but you will build into it.
Remember, I reflected on Walk Thru The Bible and how significant it was to me; of all the events that I learned from beginning to end, from creation clear down to the very end in Revelation – event, after event, after event. Those have been my building blocks throughout the course of my life, from 1976 to now. I can say to you that it is not as important, it is more important than it was to me at the beginning, because I now have things filled into it, all along the way. I remember sitting through ordination and having someone after the fact come up to me and say, “You know, in the Bible session they asked you questions and I watched you do the same thing all the time. You would wait about maybe 30 seconds and then you would answer the question. What were you doing?” I said, “Well, I was really going through my Bible filing cabinets in my mind. Those filing cabinets I built through Walk Thru The Bible, so I just ran the list.” I know that is about hearing the scripture, what I know, and I would go through the cabinets and I would find it, and I would answer. I don’t know that is the perfect usage for it, but that is one of the examples that I have. I am grateful for the way that this works. If you are a teacher, one of the values of this as you build the system, is you will find yourself teaching maybe in the Psalms and all of a sudden you will think of something that you learned that is a piece that relates to this, that is in your filing cabinet, way down in the gospels. And you will be able to say in a moment, “Wait a second, let’s go here, I want to look at this because it relates.” And it changes the whole way, for instance, that you teach and even study. I want to underscore just how important this is.
In this session we are in the historical books, 12 books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, 1 Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. I’m hoping that you are learning the names of the books and learning them in order.
Today I’m going to talk about one of the big picture pieces that is in the historical books and I want to connect that big picture to the books that it relates to. So we are beginning to use some of our skills, if you will, to make this live and grow.
In the Pentateuch, let me remind you that there were five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Remember, we wrote down some words. In Genesis we have lots of beginnings we want to keep track of; and we have generations of people who become followers of the Lord. We want to remind ourselves of the importance of those generations, but also understand that this generational thing continues. So for me today, it is not just enough for me to follow the Lord, though that is important; but I need to invest in generations beyond me, because that is God’s pattern and plan.
Proverbs, where we will get to in another session in the instructional books, the writer of Proverbs says, “A righteous person leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” Among the things that means is that people who understand this don’t just think about their own time, but they think about what their influence can be, not just in the next time ahead of them, but actually the time after that. They are always looking ahead. That is why this becomes important. So generations is a big deal. After this is slavery and then redemption. What a beautiful picture of the reality of life, both at a corporate level and an individual level.
Leviticus. Rituals and relationships. Here we have rituals that help the people relate to God and aspects of the law that help them relate to one another through those rituals. This is a very difficult book, but very important. I relate it, for instance, to The New Testament where Jesus calls us to a ritual and that ritual we oftentimes call communion. He asks us to remember a covenant. There’s another key word out of the foundational books. That is his new covenant that he pays for with his blood, so that we could have a relationship with Him. We take the bread and we drink the cup. He says, “Do this in remembrance of this covenant.” That is what this is about here. They are doing these things in order to remember how they worked in the way of God; and then, working together as it were, to fulfill this covenant, to make sure that it comes about. Principles don’t change. Specific details of these things change, but the principle itself stays in place.
Numbers. Failure and fulfillment. Remember, in Numbers they know what to do, enter the land. They don’t do it. We have learned that judgment, among other things, means that God means what he says. They ignore what God instructed them to do, so God exercises judgment in their lives. They don’t get to enter the land, they spend 40 years outside of the land in the wilderness. But in that wilderness, even though they are under judgment, God teaches them and prepares them to come back, to make a decision – listen carefully – a decision of faith again. It is the same decision. “Even though the land still has giants, even though the land still has walled cities, you know now enough about Me to have faith in Me and what I tell you, to enter the land.” And they do, as we will see.
Deuteronomy is preparing them for that again by giving them the law again. They need to know how to relate to the Lord. Then showing them the promise, and that is the land that they are going to enter into.
So we have these things that were in the foundational section. Pretty significant. But the historical section, remember, is the living out. It is the selective history that is the living out of these things. So this is a very important section for us now, to see how the people do.
David Howard wrote an introduction to The Old Testament historical books. I am going to quote him, trying to underscore the importance of these things. Other authors and students at times do it very well. He says of this section: “The Old Testament historical books contain much more than delightful, strange stories. They are an important depository of God’s revelation of Himself in the details of the stories, as well as at the higher levels of groups of stories.” That is what we are going to do today, we are going to look at groups of stories. “We see great things unfolding, things that tell us about God and His love for his people in the world; His holiness, His worthiness and His unfolding plans for his people and the world. In the end, these things are much more important than the fortunes or foibles of individual characters. These larger themes bring The Old Testament historical books into proper focus and into harmony with the other books of the Bible.”
I love that statement because that is exactly what we are trying to do and are doing through all of these sessions together. We are trying to take stories and themes that are individually significant, but we are trying to offer them in such a way that they begin to come into harmony with the rest of the scriptures. We begin to understand how they match, how they amplify one another, how they expand an idea, how they fulfill an idea. These become very important things. Today we want to take these foundational things, bring them into real life and talk about one aspect of it, which is all we can do in this time frame. It will help you understand these very, very significant books.
Let me therefore just take you directly into these. Let’s spend our time talking a little about this. I want to talk time frame for just a minute. I have not done that very well with you. As we get into the historical section, it would be helpful to get the big idea of time frames.
If you back up to Genesis and to Abraham, let’s put Abraham at about 2,000 BC. You detail guys need to relax because I am going to just generalize. I want to give you something that you remember. Maybe it really should be 1976 BC, I don’t know. Just give yourself a sense of the time frame, how this extends out. That is what I want to have for you. Moses shows up at about 1500 BC. If you come into the historical section and find David, David shows up at about 1000 BC. If you go to Ezra, he shows up at about 500 BC. The Old Testament with Nehemiah and Malachi comes to a close at about 430 BC, as we enter about a 400-year period we call “the silent years.” Then we pick up in The New Testament.
By the way, The New Testament has 27 books, three sections: The foundational section, the historical section, the instructional section; four books called the gospels in the foundational; one in the historical, the book of Acts; 22 in the instructional section – letters written by key people giving instruction to people who are trying to live out the Christ life and be the community of faith in the world that God puts them into. We have that going on. In The New Testament one of the challenges we have is a sweep of history. I think you have already felt it, it’s like, “My goodness, this is so dynamic.” It is dynamic in The Old Testament, but in The New Testament it is packed into about 100 years, in The Old Testament it is in thousands of years. So you can see, there is going to be a little bit of difference when we get to The New Testament in terms of the feel of it. I want to give you a warning for that because while it has dynamic history and it is really important, it is life-changing, crucially important and contains the center part of God’s plan for you and me, one of the last things we looked at in the big picture format. The picture is a little smaller historically than there, so this has a different feel to it, be warned. It is still going to be great.
Pre-Kings 1400-1150 BC
In the historical section, this period of time with David and Ezra and many others, we are going to basically talk about a pre-king section. We are talking about a time in Israel when there were no kings – we’ll get there in just a moment. That is going to start about 1400 BC. By the time we get down to the people of Israel returning from exile – you will learn what the exile was – we are going to be down in the 530 to 420 BC category. We are going to take quite a sweep of history in this particular portion. So, hang on, we are going to have to go fast.
When we open this particular section, we are going to find ourselves in a period I am going to choose to call, “pre-kings.” There are no kings ruling over Israel. The 12 tribes are ruled over initially by an assigned leader, Moses. His assistant, Joshua, becomes the key person to lead the people into the land of Israel. Then for a long season there are no kings. There are various types of leaders for a long time known as judges. May I say this up front, it was not a particularly good period of time.
During this period of time, in the historical section we are going to be looking at some specific books. We have Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. We are going to look at leadership in this period of time because leadership becomes so critical for the people living out the foundational things. Here is the principle, I will say it again at the end of this session, you can write it down. It is the principle that we will see through all of this. It is very important in our leadership perspective that we said we were going to look at. It is this: As the leadership goes, so goes the people.
We are going to find that when we think of those big words we talked about - culture, creation and character - we are going to find these people living out their God relationship in culture and it is going to be very much connected to the character of the leadership. When the character of their leadership is in sync with the character of God, the people are going to do way better than when the leaders’ character basically is totally out of sync with the character of God. So character plays a huge part in the impact of these people in culture or the impact of the big culture on them.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at this. We are going to break this into five big sections. I am going to take you through a little bit of the thought related to the period of time when there were no kings in Israel. Then there will be a period of time where all of Israel will be united under one king. There are three kings in this united kingdom period: Saul, David and Solomon. They will all rule over Israel about 40 years. Then the kingdom will divide. We will talk more in detail about this. It will divide into a northern and southern kingdom. The northern kingdom will be Israel and it will contain ten of the family units of the tribes of Abraham’s descendants. There will be a southern kingdom called Judah and Judah will have two of those tribes, basically Judah and Benjamin. We will talk again about that. Eventually these two units, Israel and Judah, will both depart so far from the Lord that God will bring judgment. There will be a period when they will not be in the land. Then there will be a period when some of them will return.
We are going to take it apart like that and for all of this history, I will show you how it fits. We want to talk about it from the perspective of leadership. How did the leaders do?
In pre-kings we have Joshua, we have judges. Then we have a book called Ruth. Ruth does not advance the story. Ruth actually fits in the period of the judges. We will handle that when we get there. This period is going to cover from about 1400 to about 1150 BC. It is going to be a long period of time. Joshua is going to take the people of Israel from the wilderness into the promised land. He is going to be the one who takes them in. Remember, Moses had failure in his life. He isn’t a great leader when he has the failure, he reaps the consequences of those failures. In Moses’ case, it meant that he would not go into the promised land at that point in time. Later, when Jesus was on this earth, Moses would show up in that land; but that will have to wait for later. At this time Moses goes off the scene and Joshua becomes the leader; and Joshua takes the people into the land. Joshua leads them well and the elders who followed Joshua seemed to lead them well. But eventually we enter the period of time called “the times of the judges” when various people rule over the people of Israel, people called “judges.” Those judges had a wide range of character qualities, mostly not to the good. So in the period of the judges the people began to drift away from the Lord. If you could characterize the period of the judges, you would use this phrase: “Every person did that which was right in his own eyes.” In other words, everything went. If I thought it was right, I did it. So this period becomes very chaotic and crazy.
In the midst of this very chaotic, very simple culture that had departed really from the foundational things mostly, we have the book of Ruth. Ruth, who was not a Jew, but who gets connected to a Jewish family, begins to exhibit all of the characteristics that God would hope for in a wife. There is not much love here in the book of Judges, but Ruth is all about love. There is not much servanthood in the book of Judges, but Ruth is all about servanthood. There is not much faithfulness in the book of Judges, but Ruth is all about faith; and why that is, is that Ruth is not a Jew.
A couple of things come to play here. One, we see that God is doing his work in a larger arena that we might imagine. The other thing that comes to play is again, a reminder that we had in the Pentateuch with Noah, that even in the tough times, God has his people. Even in times when it might be tempting to look around and say, “There is nobody here following the Lord,” the truth is, there were people following the Lord; admittedly a minority, but there were people that stayed faithful to the Lord and passed that faithfulness onto other generations. So we have a significant thing going on here.
Kings United 1150 – 970 BC
In the kings, who I already mentioned, we have Saul. In I Kings he is recognized as king by a prophet who is significant here, the prophet Samuel. Samuel basically is the bridge from this period of no kings to the period of the kings. The prophet is called upon to anoint, recognize the king, and God calls upon him to anoint Saul. Following Saul is David. Following David is Solomon. We will get back to these in a moment.
Kings Divided 970 – 722/600 BC
The kings in the divided kingdom, I cannot even give you the names. I do a lot of this in my sleep, but I do not remember these names in my sleep. They are beyond me. But remember, the division is into a northern kingdom, and that kingdom is Israel. In Israel there are 19 kings during this period of time, basically 970-722, 19 kings.
In Judah, the southern kingdom, there are 20, basically 19 kings and one queen in Judah. That would extend from about 970 out to 600 BC, so a little longer. I will talk about what happens in a second.
Of the 19 kings in Israel, scripture does not call any of them good kings. Nowhere in scripture will you find a comment to lead you to believe there was anything good about these people. That should tell you something about what happens in the culture.
In the southern kingdom of Judah you have 20; and of the 20, scripture identifies eight of them as having some good qualities. So what happens in Judah from time to time, a good leader shows up and because of the character of that good leader, they lead Judah in what you might call a revival, or a renewal. They draw the people back to following the Lord, at least to some degree. Remember, it hooks up to character. So, there are a few years, eight out of 20, that fit that category. And because of those few, the kingdom of Judah is going to extend its life out beyond the kingdom in the north of Israel.
Judgment/Exile 600 – 530 BC
There is a time of judgment where Israel will be scattered. I will come back to this, remember the word “scattered;” and where Judah will be taken into exile.
Return 530-420 BC
After this period of time of about 70 years, basically of Judah in exile, you are going to have a return. That return is going to come under Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther fits here as well. Only Esther does not extend the story, Esther fits in the book of Ezra.
That is kind of the big picture of how this plays out. When you look at leadership, some pretty good leadership puts the people on track, the elders that follow keep them on track. In Judges it goes off the rails. But even in Judges there are some people who stay faithful to the Lord and the foundational things. By and large, this is a very chaotic, a very difficult, very negative period of time. Eventually the prophet Samuel comes on the scene and things begin to turn a bit and with that turning, the people call for a king and Samuel anoints Saul as the first king, who rules over the whole kingdom of Israel, all 12 tribes. He rules for 40 years. David follows him. Solomon, David’s son, follows him. There is about 120 years or so here as each ruled. Not counting Samuel, Saul, David and Solomon ruled each about 40 years. They are followed by a split in the kingdom. The family has a fight and it splits. I know that never happens anymore, but it happened here. They split into the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom, Israel and Judah. Nineteen kings, 20 kings; no good kings, eight good kings.
This is followed by judgment. Remember? If you don’t follow the foundational things, God says there are outcomes. There are outcomes of promise, there are outcomes that can be judgment. Here we have outcomes of judgment. The outcome is that the people get taken out of the land because they quit following the Lord, at least most of them do. Over a period of time there is a return, some of the people return to the land under the direction of God.
That is kind of the big picture. Now I want to go back and do something that helps you even further with this. This really kind of fits into a now sort of theme. It is also very applicable here. First, let’s attach these to books. The pre-kings piece is going to fit in Joshua, Judges and Ruth. The united kingdom is going to fit into 1 Samuel and II Samuel and I Kings. It is going to skip II Kings and is also going to be in I Chronicles.
The divided kingdom piece is going to fit into II Kings and II Chronicles. The judgment piece is also going to fit here in II Kings and II Chronicles. The return piece is going to fit in Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. So when you are dealing with these, you kind of have an idea of what the leadership is like, who is leading, what books that applies to; and that helps you to watch the foundational things unfold in these times. I hope this is making sense to you.
The last piece I want to give you, I want to ask the “all about” question. When you think of leadership, when you watch a leader even today, you ought to ask the question, “Who is it all about?” When this leader leads, who is it all about? Is it all about us? Is it all about you? Am I leading, but it is really about us? Or is it all about me? Really, it’s about my benefit. You are just there to make it about me. Do you see the difference? You have done selfish things in life, I know you have. That plays here. I want to give you a quick look at how that plays out. It is so important to understand this, how the people were led to fulfill these foundational things; and the importance of leadership in all of this. It is all about leadership perspective. With Joshua you will discover that basically Joshua was all about us. He is one of the people, he calls the people to join him in following the Lord. He leads as a servant. He leads as a conqueror. He leads as an encourager. He leads in ways that make it about us.
In Judges it shifts over to basically all about me. Remember the theme verse that I shared with you: “Every person did that which was right in his own eyes.” That starts with leadership. When it is all about me, the people make it all about me as well. In Ruth we have a person that basically is pretty much a “you” person. Her focus is on this family, this Jewish family that she gets attached to by marriage. Even though things come apart, her husband dies, she remains faithful to that family. It’s all about you for her. She makes a huge difference and God honors her in various ways as she, though she was not a Jewess, follows the foundational things. God honors his promises in her life. So that is what this looks like.
You are thinking through your own times, aren’t you? In thinking of people you’ve known, is it all about you? Is it all about us? Is it all about me?
In the divided kingdom, we’ll leave Samuel out of the picture for a little bit. In terms of these leaders, Saul was all about me. Saul could never get past himself. Saul’s heart for the Lord was negligible. The sad part of it is, in my opinion, he was the most potentially competent of all of these three. He came from the best family. He had a great bringing up. He was big, he had the stature of a king. He had all sorts of things going for him. But he never could bring himself to fully follow the Lord. He just could not cross that river. He was brought to that many times, but he could not get himself to do it. So his season is a difficult season for Israel. Eventually he is removed from the kingship and God anoints David.
David becomes pretty much an “us” person. He leads his people pretty well. If you are jotting a note – I hope you are – you need to put, “not all the time.” While he was good much of the time, he had some huge failures that impacted his people. He was mostly about “us” but sometimes the “me” got in the way. Sounds very human of him, doesn’t it?
When we look at Solomon, it gets worse. Because this mostly about “us” and sometimes about “me” translates to Solomon to mostly about “me” and sometimes about “us.” Solomon becomes more of a “me” person. He starts out really well; but as he goes on, he becomes further and further from the Lord. It becomes more and more about him. While I cannot linger on it, largely the problem for Solomon was compromise. Solomon was willing to compromise. In Deuteronomy God says to these kings, they will be one-woman kind of men. My kings will have one wife. The only king who had one wife was Saul, by the way, which is interesting. My kings will not build big houses for themselves. My kings will not create great armies and collect horses, and money and gold and silver. My kings will be totally different from all of the kings in the cultures around them. Solomon collected money and fame and collected houses, and Solomon collected armies, and Solomon collected wives, nearly a thousand if you count concubines. Pretty scary. No wonder his life fell apart because he was willing over time to make it about him, not about the nation and to begin to do things that were outside of the foundational stuff.
In the divided kingdom, the northern kings were pretty much “me” oriented. When you think of this time frame, between 970 and 722, it is not that long. Think of having a turnover of 19 leaders in that period of time and that will tell you some of the chaos that existed in the northern kingdom. In the southern kingdom it is a little better. They last a little longer. They have eight good kings. There is kind of an “us” and “me” combination, but the “me” tends to be bigger. Over that time, that wins out.
Judgment and exile with Israel scattered and Judah in exile. We really can’t apply that to this so much. It is a whole different period of time. When we get to the return and these people, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, they are all about “us.” Israel, ten tribes are scattered by Assyria, they are conquered by the great nation of Assyria and Assyria takes ten tribes and scatters them all over their empire. You have heard of the lost ten tribes, and this is when they got lost. Assyria brings people from its empire and settles them in Israel. So they settle people outside of Israel, other places in the empire, into Israel. The people believe this is the beginning of what we know in The New Testament as Samaritans, people that are neither Jew nor totally Gentile, but a combination.
Judah does not get scattered. Some of the key people and lots of people of Judah are conquered by Babylonia. Babylonia conquers Assyria, then conquers Judah and they take Judah into exile. That is, they take Judah to Babylonia, key people from Judah, lots of people from Judah, and they take them to Babylonia. Their political approach to conquering was to take people and take them to Babylonia and try to turn them into Babylonians. Assyria’s political approach was, take people and scatter them all over the place, and they will never rebel against you, which is probably true. Babylonia was making them into Babylonians and they will never rebel against you.
When there is a return, Babylonia is conquered by Persia. Persia’s foreign policy is, let the people live in their land. So when Persia conquers Babylonia and they realize there are people of Judah basically in Babylonia, they give them the chance to go home, and many of them do; but not all of them do. They make those choices. Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther do.
Ezra gives his life to teach the people. Nehemiah gives his life to rebuild the walls and a lot of Jerusalem. Both of these guys risk tons of things to do this. Nehemiah, who served the king, could easily have been dead by this request of his to go help Israel. Instead, the king lets him go, even funds him. Esther puts her whole life on the line to stop a plot that would have exterminated the Jews. She too risks herself - she was the queen in Persia – to go before the king and identify herself as a Jew and ask him to take action to stop that plot. This was a huge thing. These people totally in some ways disregarded themselves in order to be God’s instruments in this critical place of the people of Judah returning to the land.
So you see how this plays out and you feel the sense of how they tried with Joshua and then the judges, gradually fell apart; and it is all related to how the leadership handled things. Yet there were faithful people there, and we need to remember that. Moving through the united kingdom period, they think their problem is, they don’t have a king. Then in this period they find that really is not the problem. They have a king who does not lead them very well. Next they have a king who leads them pretty well. Kings get pretty good. They have a king that follows that is kind of a compromiser and things go off track again. All related to these foundational things. They divide. That is always what happens when people get to bickering and fighting and things begin to fall apart and leadership is off track, that is when division comes. You can see that today, too, can’t you?
They are divided into the northern kingdom, where the rulers came to be “me” oriented pretty much and the people do what they want, and things fall apart. In the southern kingdom there are a few good kings; but again, not many. The end result is that judgment comes because remember, God means what he says. God’s intent is to have things work out following these foundational things. It impacts that word we call “culture.” It impacts it through people who stand apart from that culture; not arrogantly, but who literalize under foundational things in a way that they begin to impact through their character the reality of that other culture that they live in. When that does not happen, that stops the whole thing. What He does not want is for people to misinterpret Him or His plan.
There is judgment to come. Israel is scattered and they are gone. Judah is taken into exile for a 70-year period in Babylonia. At the end they are allowed to go home and some go home; and they go home under leadership: Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, who restore them in significant ways with Ezra restoring the people with regard to these foundational things; Nehemiah restoring Jerusalem and keeping peace in the land; the temple being rebuilt again in that period of time. Then you had Esther who was literally the protector of the people, like Jesus is of us. You have these time frames that play out in this historical period.
So you begin to see how these foundational things work their way out in the role of leadership in this history. That is a lot, I know. But if you can hang onto the bigger pieces of it, it will make all the difference for you as you look at this.
Next time we are going to step into the instructional books. People are wrestling with these things, working through these things, their lives are touched by these things. We are going to see how these books: Poems written by a variety of people; wisdom literature out of the hands of many people; prophetical words from 17 authors basically; that are going to speak into this history in powerful and important ways in light of all of this. Next time, the instructional section.