Lesson 2 – Setting the Compass
Lecture: Setting the Compass
Welcome back. I hope you survived the first sprint through the biggest picture of all, of the structure of the whole Bible. I hope you have been reviewing and working on it. We are going to review in just a second. As I mentioned, as we ended last time together, that this time we are going to spend a whole session in the foundational piece of The Old Testament books, five books : Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. What I am going to do is give you some ideas regarding the content that are in these books. I want to talk to you a little bit about some key people that show up because people are very important in this foundational section in terms of creating momentum toward the lives being lived out in the historical section and these people will be key to that. We’ll talk about a few themes that show up because these themes in the foundational section will be seen to show up in the whole Bible. We will begin to recognize them as early as possible.
A couple of other things we’ll do early on is, I want to talk with you about three key words that sort of play their way out, not just here, but through the whole Bible; and a sense of the flow of these books, these five books in the foundational section. So we have a bunch to do in a short amount of time.
The first thing I would like to do, however, is to give you a short review. Let’s review the whole big picture. The Bible has how many books, 66, right? The Old Testament has 39 and The New Testament 27. We have three sections on each side: Foundational/foundational, historical/historical, instructional/instructional. On the Old Testament side there are five books in the foundational section, 12 historical, 22 instructional. We know these: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Next session we will look at Joshua through Esther. Next two sections we’ll look at Job through Malachi, the first part looking at Job through Song of Solomon; next part looking at Isaiah through Malachi. So this will be a big one; we will handle it in two sessions together.
Over in The New Testament we have four foundational books, we know them as the gospels. Those are about the life of Jesus. There is one historical book called Acts and 22 other letters – books we call them, but they are really letters – from key people addressing people living out this history. We have a pattern now. I think that pattern will help you in thinking your way through the biggest possible picture along the way.
Right now we are in this foundational section and I am going to be calling it the Pentateuch, Pentateuch meaning just simply “five books.” It is oftentimes referred in other literature as the law, or the five books of Moses, or the Torah. But for our occasion, we will just call it the Pentateuch, which is the word that probably most frequently shows up in some of the literature that you might look at.
The introduction to the dictionary of The Old Testament/ Pentateuch has some interesting words about this section. Let me just read them to you. This kind of underscores the importance of this, why we are going to focus on this for this session. The author here states: “The first five books of The Old Testament lay the foundation on which the rest of the scripture stands.” Did you hear that? That is why this is such an important section. “Its great themes, its epochal events and its towering figures set down vectors – paths, if you will – on which the Biblical story is played out. The very shape of the rest of The Old Testament” – listen – “the very shape of the rest of The Old Testament would collapse were the Pentateuch removed. The structure of The New Testament thought would be barely intelligible without it.” That is how important this section really is.
So even though we can only give it 30 minutes together, we want to make those 30 minutes count and lay down some things that will indeed help you all along the way. Remember, we are looking at big picture, so while we have a few details, we’re going to stay at the broadest possible level, again trying to create that management system for ourselves in terms of, how do we manage the pieces of scripture, to create this picture, this box top lid, if you will, that helps us then wherever we are, begin to connect the pieces in ways that do not just have meaning, but have life-changing importance.
Here we are in the Pentateuch. Let me talk with you just about three words that are going to be important, not just here, but all through the scripture. The first word I want to underscore is the word “culture.” The reason culture is important is because we need to understand that the Pentateuch, indeed the rest of the Bible, is written into the culture. That is, it isn’t something that is separated from, it is directed into. In this case, it is related to a culture within a culture. That is, when God sets Abraham apart and says to him that He is going to make of him a great people and a great nation and a blessing to all people, He is now setting apart Abraham and through generations, groups of that ancestry that have a role. They become a culture within a larger culture and they become a very different culture, the culture that they are going to be in; and that they are going to be called the influence. It is a culture that frankly has no clue as to the foundational things that get set down here. The job of Abraham and his followers, generations after, will begin to infiltrate this larger culture with these foundational things. This culture is very powerful, it’s not a one-God culture, it is a multiple-God culture. It is not a service-oriented culture, it is a me-oriented culture. It is not a kind culture, it is a mean culture. It is not a logical, orderly culture, it’s a chaotic culture. It is not a you-help-me and I-help-you culture, it is a no, you-help-me and that is the way it’s going to work. It is a culture that is so outside of this, it is almost hard to understand. Except that we, too, live in that reality. If we are followers of Christ, we are a culture within a culture. We have to manage the same realities that these people had to manage. So you need to remember when you are reading Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, that this is not written separate from this. This is written with the idea that these people doing foundational things have to work their way out in these cultural realities.
We’ll see when we get into the historical books that those cultural realities are forever causing problems. Idolatry of the larger culture will cause great problems to the culture of Israel. Failed leadership will cause great problems as leaders become more like the larger culture and less like the foundational things. We will see those kinds of things going on; and I hope that you will say to yourself many times, “Wow, this is just like now.” Because that is the thing about foundational things. They don’t lose their importance. They continue to have importance era after era, season after season, generation after generation. They may be applied differently. They may have to work their way out somewhat differently. But the foundational aspect of them does not change.
The second word is “creation.” Of course, this begins with God creating. But what I want you to see here is in these foundational books there is a lot that is created. It isn’t just the days of creation of what God puts together, but there are other things created that have not been seen maybe, at least in particular ways. God creates nations. God brings into being judgment that maybe had never been seen before. God makes faith a piece of an issue. God creates agreements between Himself and people. God sets people aside to do a particular work that probably had not been seen before. God creates the law, that had not existed before. He does all sorts of things. These books are filled with the creative work of God. So we need to watch that through all the foundational things. All of these things will have importance. Creation itself will be a theme that will go all through the scriptures, until we finally get to the book of Revelation where God re-creates. He creates a new heaven and a new earth; and we, in a sense, go back to the garden and to what we were originally created for and to be. So you see, this creation theme is all the way through.
The third thing is “character.” That is, that from the get-go, from Abraham on, the crucial aspect that is going to play out within the influence of this culture, is going to be the character of the people. The character of the people is going to be based upon the character of God. No matter where we are in the scriptures, one of the cues we should be paying attention to is the notion of character. What is the character of God? What do you know about that? What is the character of the people we are looking at? How are they reflecting that character? How are they not reflecting that character? Character becomes a crucial tool in representing the Creator in a culture that is largely devoid of His influence, but desperately needs it; a culture for whom God will eventually send his Son, Jesus, to die, to create His ability to forgive sin, the rebelliousness of people and to bring people back into that garden-like relationship with Him, not just for the life they are in, but for eternity.
These are big-deal words that play out all the way through scripture, that have foundational aspects here. The other thing is the flow of these five books. You can think of it this way: If I put in the middle, the exodus. I would say that is roughly about 1500 BC, actually. Everything that is in Genesis, basically the flow of Genesis, takes this in answering the question, “Why are they in Egypt?” Because what happens is, these people called Abraham through Genesis, they eventually worked their way into slavery in Egypt. This whole flow through Genesis will help us understand how they got there, why they are there. They are there in this situation for a long time. Actually, they are in Egypt about 400 years, that’s a long time. What happens through the exodus, God brings His power to bear to free his people from this slavery and to take them somewhere else. The rest of these books in the Pentateuch will begin to tell us why and how they got out of slavery.
Genesis, from Abraham, actually from Adam on, you have the same taking place, gradually moving these people toward this reality in Egypt and toward an event that will get them out of Egypt, called the exodus. Afterward you have Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy showing us why and how they got out of slavery and where that is all headed. Listen to me. This is hard to see at first. Let me give you the big picture of this. This is very much like a spiritual journey; in fact it is. You think of your own journey, I think of my own journey.
I had a journey outside of the reality of God in my life. That journey very literally for me, took me increasingly into the realm of slavery, enslaved to things, enslaved to habits that were bad, enslaved to relationships that were unhealthy, enslaved to a bunch of things. I was in slavery. Literally, I can tell you the moment in my life where I felt like that was the case. I began to cry out for help to people; and eventually some people directed me towards The Lord. As I began to cry out to The Lord, actually I began to find, much to my surprise, things happening in my life that felt like Someone external from me was intervening in my behalf. Eventually I came to faith in Christ. It is not like I immediately became this shining new thing. I actually waded through an odyssey just like Israel did, sometimes doing well, lots of times not doing so well; all of the time learning what it was like to take this new walk, now that I had been freed from slavery. I can tell you that there eventually came a day, I liken it in my own life to standing at a river, still wrestling with some difficult things from my past, and basically saying, “I have arrived at the day when this all needs to be laid down, I’m going to cross this river.” I won’t go into the details of how that happened, but it was very much when I read this, I see me in this; and I think when you read this through those eyes, you are going to see you in this. This is a journey that we take. Eventually these people will come to a river, they will have to make a decision. They will have to make the same decision that they didn’t make early on. We will talk about that in a little bit. That is often the case in our spiritual journey. We come to a decision, we don’t make it, God walks us back through and brings us right back to the same decision and says, “Okay, have you grown up enough that you can do this now?” That is exactly what happens. That is the flow of it. It is a very practical flow. Have you done it? This is a very exciting setting for all of this.
Let me take you into some of these key people and key themes. Then we will wrap it up with some broad ideas related to this. We will do a review and we will be out of the Pentateuch.
Let’s look at some people that come to play in this flow. Of course, it starts with Adam in the garden. I am going to give you little phrases to help you think of these people. Remember, we can’t go deep, we can only think big. But I want you to see how important these are. I am going to have you remember Adam by thinking of him as “the father of firsts.” Everything that Adam does is going to be a first. He is going to begin to experience things that are first-time experiences. He is going to set things in motion, good things and not-so-good things. He is going to be an example of the spiritual wrestling that takes place in the realm of firsts. When you and I come to Christ, we will experience that same wrestling. We will begin to experience firsts. We will have to come to grips with many things like Adam had to come to grips with. I am going to give you an application at the end of this section that will help you think this through. As you look at Adam from now on, I want you to look at Adam as the father of firsts. I want you to ask and answer the question, “What are the first things that he had to deal with? And what was the key to his dealing with them rightly, so it kept his life on track and healthy?”
Noah walked with God. At a time when not many people walked with God, Noah walked with God. I’m not going to say much about Noah. You probably know the story of Noah well. I would just say this, that in a period of time when there probably weren’t many followers of The Lord, it is interesting to have this story of a man within this culture who takes a very contrary direction; and who, in spite of opposition, carries through with what he understands to be a word from God. So Noah has a personal walk with God. I use Noah to remind me that even in the most difficult cultures, even in the most difficult cultures, God has his people. There are days when I think there is no-one around like me, that is not true. There are those people, in the most difficult and often surprising places.
Abraham, I’m just going to say, “the father of faith.” This becomes the big key for Abraham. We might also could have said, “made a blessing” because he was indeed made that. His intent was that what he would start would become a blessing to lots of people.
Isaac, this is a really cool one. I’m going to use the phrase, “provided a Lamb.” I’m going to capitalize “Lamb” here on purpose because this is one of those Jesus pointers. It’s hard to understand this story in this context. You can see it, you can see that God intervenes, that Abraham was going to follow the Lord’s direction in taking Isaac and Isaac was going to become a sacrifice; and God provided the sacrifice so that Isaac was spared. But when we turn the focus to Jesus and look back, we get the picture that this is one of those pointers toward Jesus. That is what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples, for instance on the road to Emmaus, that “the scriptures speak about me,” almost chiding them. “Don’t you get this?” This is one of those places where that happens. This is one of those Jesus pointers.
Jacob, I am going to call “a rebel redeemed.” If you have read the story of Jacob, you know that Jacob rebelled just about over everything. Yet in the end, God gets hold of him. It’s like God is this bulldog that is going to hang onto this guy no matter what and eventually bring Jacob around until eventually Jacob’s name is changed to Israel. Then he becomes really the father of the Hebrew nation. This is a powerful, powerful story. Yet I love it because I was one and I know lots of them; and I look at it and go, “Yes, God is always about the business of redeeming rebels.” Sometimes those rebels end up being the most influential people that God brings to himself. I am encouraged by reading about Jacob.
Joseph. We will refer to Joseph as “sovereignty in action.” What I mean by that is, we have a sovereign God leading a life. Joseph had to live out a situation, that he didn’t know what was going on. His brothers were going to kill him, they sold him into slavery instead, which would be the equivalent of killing him practically. Egypt did not seem to work out well, it does not go so well, he ends up in prison. In prison, people recognize his qualities and say they will remember him and then they don’t remember him. On and on and on it goes. He had to live through that. He did not know the story like we know the story. He had to live through the story. What we see in the story is the sovereign God orchestrating things, lots of things which probably Joseph did not understand. But Joseph still sticks with the foundational things that he knows. He sticks with the way that God has spoken into his life and he does not abandon those things; and we see God’s sovereignty eventually working its way out in a way that not only is significant for Joseph, but significant for his brothers and for Jacob’s family and eventually for the Hebrew nation that would follow. So we see God at work sovereignly. We will take a longer look at that when we look at the book of Job; but you can see it here in Joseph’s life. Was Joseph willing to let God be God, even though he probably did not understand everything? The answer is, yes. That is a significant character of faith.
Moses, the last person, I am going to refer to as “the shepherd sent.” When the people of Israel, who have been in Egypt for a long time in slavery, finally call out to God for deliverance, God sends a shepherd. God sends a man who early on thought he would be a deliverer of his people and ended up rather running for his life. After a long sojourn shepherding, God calls him back to shepherd his people out of slavery in Egypt and toward that land and relationship with Him that God foresaw even with Abraham.
These are huge people that we need to pay attention to, with themes attached to them that are amazing. Let’s go to some key themes. I am going to mention them very quickly in passing. I trust that you can take notes.
CreationSome of the key things that come to play are creation, we have already mentioned that; and the Pentateuch is filled with creative things that we need to pay attention to all along the way as God does new things with His people.
There is the role of judgment that comes up. I always tell people that what we learn about judgment early on, among other things, is that God means what He says and He does not take what He says lightly. While he seems to be incredibly patient with Jacob, for instance, there is a time and an element where God brings judgment, so that becomes an aspect of this. Then to say, “Adam, Eve, don’t touch the fruit of that tree.” They do, and there is a consequence. So there are consequences and we need to keep that in mind as that plays out.
But fortunately there is also the theme of redemption. That is, God buys back, as it were, people who have rebelled and in a way, left his presence, in a way abandoned what they knew. He is a redeeming God, and you will see that throughout the Pentateuch as this takes place. Even with the people of Israel out in the wilderness. Even though they had a difficult time under God’s judgment, much of what He is doing there is not just judgment, it is of redemptive character. They refused to go into the land that He has promised them. He says, “Okay, you’re going to be out there in the wilderness for 40 years.” That is the judgment. While they are out there in the wilderness for 40 years, who takes care of them, who feeds them, who clothes them, who protects them, who teaches them, who coaches them, who gets them ready to make that same decision again, to enter the land? It’s God. So while you have judgment in play, you also have this redemptive reality in play.
Obviously God works his way through people. You need to pay attention to those. That is all I will say about that.
Leadership becomes the key. We see it in Abraham’s leadership with his family, both good and bad. Abraham was not all good, no-one is in these studies. Isaac, the same. Jacob, the same. Joseph, the same kind of leadership. Moses, also leading. Every one of them very different, all for different reasons called to do different things. These people begin to show us that those who lead are critically important. They have a role. They are in effect no more important than anyone else, but they have a role that is significant that touches lots and lots of lives.
That brings us back to this piece. This goes all the way through scripture, the idea of character that plays out. It is the character of these people that will make a difference. When their character is more or less consistent with the foundational things and the God behind the foundational things, then things tend to go really well. When their character moves off line, when someone decides to lie, for instance, then that sets things in motion. By the way, you will see in Genesis the item of untruth, of lying, come to play; and that will carry through generations of people. So we also have that element. Character, critical.
Covenants are promises which fit together. As you watch this play out in the Pentateuch, you will see agreements that God makes with his people. He will make an agreement with Noah relating to judgment which touches the earth. He will make an agreement with Abraham that relates to being a people, to being a nation, to being a blessing. He will make an agreement with Moses that we know as the law, that fills a lot of the pages of Exodus and Leviticus and some of Numbers even and into Deuteronomy where it is repeated. He will later make a covenant with David, but that is not part of the Pentateuch. God makes agreements.
We need to pay attention to the agreements because with the agreements come promises. How the people handle the covenant relates to how the promises unfold. I will leave it at that for the moment. We will see those things over and over again.
Foundational things show up all over the scriptures. So I promise you, we will see all of this multiple times over before we are finished together. This is such a dynamic thing, isn’t it? No wonder authors of books about this say this is the platform on which all of the Bible sets. Take this away and then you are left just wondering what has happened and what is going on.
I want to finish this with two key words for each book. Key words are really important in the economy of overview. The reason they are important is that they help us remember important things about the big picture of these books. The way you use these is this. For instance, one of the key words for Genesis is “beginnings.” Then as a student you simply ask yourself the question, “What things began there?” As you grow in your ability to manage the scriptures, you will have increasing numbers of answers to that question. The key word in that question helps you get that knowledge and understanding that is important to you. So we are not just learning content. I am trying to help you learn how to manage and use that content through various tools. So you are going to write the key words that go here.
From Genesis I want you to remember “beginnings and generations.” Beginnings are things and generations are people that these foundational things work through. We have a flow here through Genesis of these generations really dealing with things, that this historical reality is also going to come about through God’s people of Israel in Egypt. After this, I want you to remember “slavery and redemption.” We talked a lot about that already, the spiritual reality of the effects. Outside of the realm of God, outside of Christ, we are in fact in slavery. The good news is that God has taken action in Christ in order to buy us out of that slavery. That, you see, is very much in the book of Exodus early on.
Leviticus, ritual and relationship. Leviticus is probably one of those books that will put you to sleep when you read it. But hopefully this will help you stay awake because what it is about is, “How do people relate to God?” They relate to God through certain rituals, all of which point to various ways that God and people meet. Then, it is all about relationship. It is really about how people relate to one another and how they relate to their God, who is now very much a part of their lives.
Numbers, I want to see you use the words, “failure and fulfillment.” Numbers is the book that starts with failure. The people are instructed to enter the promised land, they refuse to. That causes failure, that causes judgment. Forty years now their generation will be out of the promised land in the wilderness. In that wilderness they will be taught again; they will be led again; they will experience God again; they will be cared for again. Redemption will become a deeper part of who they are; and then they will be brought back to that same decision: “Will you now enter the promised land?” It is still the land of giants and walled cities. The answer will be, the second time around, “Yes, we will” because they learned, their faith grew in the wilderness.
The last book, Deuteronomy, will be “law and land.” The law, given by Moses in Exodus, will be given again in Deuteronomy. Why? Because there is a new generation that needs to be taught. Remember, a new generation always needs to be taught. So a new generation is taught the law and prepared then to enter the land. And they do. That is where we will pick up the story next time, in the historical books, where the people of Israel this time are ready to enter the land, to begin to experience the outworking of their faith in some of the promises of God.
We will see you next session in the historical books.