Unlocking the Old Testament Part 1 – Overview of the Old Testament

Now for the first two talks on this video we’re going to tackle things in a rather different way. Instead of taking a book of the Bible, I want first of all to give you an overview of the whole Old Testament. Here we have a collection of books covering about 1000 years written by many different authors and many different types of books. There are history books, law books, song books. How do they all relate together, all 39 of them? I think it’s so important to have an overall picture of how these books fit together. God has not given us a topical Bible. Wouldn’t it be nice if he had? You know, if the book of Genesis was all about God, and the book of Exodus all about Jesus, and the book of Leviticus all about the Holy Spirit, and if he’d put all the text together under one topic it would save us buying concordances and looking things up from all over. He deliberately didn’t give us a Bible like that. He didn’t want us to have a Bible like that and so the teaching on any one topic is scattered over the whole Bible. And he didn’t want to give us a box full of texts though since chapter and verse numbers have been added to the Bible that’s how we treat it, and we pick a text out from here and a text out from there, and just ignore the context so often Well now, God has given us actually a library of books. The word Bible is a plural word; it comes from the Latin biblia and it means books, not book, so the Bible is not a book it’s a library of books and each book is a separate entity. And God wants you to learn his word book by book because that’s how he chose to give it to us. If he just wanted to give us a lot of texts, he’d have done that; if he wanted to give us a lot of topics, he’d have done that, but what he did do was give us these books and every text – as we call each verse – is in a context of that book and that book is in a context of history God gave us his Word in time and space and it’s very important to get both dimensions, so that we understand at what time he said this, and in what place he said this, and the time and place give it its meaning because his word was given in life situations. He was always saying something to a particular situation in time and space and those are the two contexts we need. So I thought in this talk I’d give you something of that context Let’s begin with space, and to do that of course we need maps. There is a geography of the Bible as well as a history of the Bible that we need to hold in our minds when we’re reading it. And there are really only two maps that we need, a map of the whole Middle East and a map of the Promised Land in the Middle East, and we need to hold these if we can as a picture in our minds. Now the familiar name that is given to the overall map of the Middle East is The Fertile Crescent and that’s a phrase you’ll read in many books on Bible background. If you can see I’ve drawn the Crescent, a sort of new moon shape – I’ve drawn it on this map and what it does is it links two very large rivers at each end – the River Nile and the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates, and those two major river basins produce fertility So these are very fertile valleys, the Nile Delta and the Nile Valley and then the Tigris and the Euphrates, what used to be called Mesopotamia which means the middle of the rivers: ‘Meso’ – middle and ‘Potamia’ – rivers, so between the two rivers – a very fertile plain, very flat. Now then these two fertile areas were the centres of power in the ancient world; these were the east and west world powers. So the whole Old Testament is a struggle between these two world powers – between Egypt and the different empires that arose here notably Assyria and Babylon That’s where Saddam Hussein is now, that’s where Iraq and Iran are now. Iran is here,

Iraq is over here but they are divided by this river So we have two world powers in the ancient Middle East and in between, the Promised Land Now you notice that the Arabian Desert covers all of this and the Sahara there, so when these two big powers attacked each other or tried to overcome each other they had to travel through this narrow bit of land here. I don’t know if you can see a rather purply patch here, that is actually black basalt rock which is very sharp and very hard, even camels can’t cross it. Which means that all the traffic was directed down this narrow coastal strip If you didn’t want to cross the desert which most didn’t, but if you wanted to keep feeding your troops you had to go through the Fertile Crescent, you had to go round that Crescent to the other end to attack your enemy. Which means that this was the crossroads of the world actually. And somebody has said about Israel if you will live in the middle of a crossroads you’re bound to get run over – which is exactly what happened. They were constantly being run over. In Jesus’ day they were run over by the Romans but before that they’d been run over by the Greeks and the Syrians and the Egyptians and so it goes on. And so here we have two world powers at either end of this Crescent with a narrow corridor down the coast in between and that is the narrow corridor. And God gave them a land at the crossroads of the world. Actually, the road from Europe to Arabia comes down through that corridor and the road from Africa to Asia goes through that corridor. On this map the road from Europe comes down the coast, it crosses the Plain of Esdraelon, goes down into the Jordan Valley and up on to the other side and down to Arabia. The road from Africa comes up the coastal plain and it crosses over the same Vale of Esdraelon or the Valley of Jezreel and goes up through Capernaum and up through Damascus and on to India and China So that the actual crossroads of the world is precisely there at a little hill called Megiddo and the Hill of Megiddo in Hebrew is Hamageddon; and that’s why most of the big battles in history took place there at the crossroads of the world. Overlooking that crossroads is a little village called Nazareth and a boy of Nazareth could watch the world go by. Literally he could lie on the hill as a boy could Jesus and it was like being in an airport lounge where you see all the nationalities coming and going. That’s why they call this northern part Galilee of the Nations because it was an international crossroads Whereas further south up in the hills it was very isolated and very Jewish, and Jerusalem is right up in ‘them there hills’ just about here. So you had two parts of the Promised Land, the international part where all the nations came and went, and this very Jewish isolated part up in the hills with Jerusalem So you can see the importance of this land God was going to plant his people at the crossroads of the world where everybody could see them, where they could be a model of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. So the whole world could see what blessing comes to people living under God’s rule, but they would also see what curse comes of disobeying God’s rule So you can see why God chose this land. Now it’s a very fertile strip. Here’s that black basalt. If you’ve ever been to Capernaum you’ve seen the black basalt rock, they used it to build the houses of Capernaum, terribly hard, sharp stuff. And so it was impassable so there was this barrier of sand and basalt rock on the east and the barrier of the sea on the west. All the traffic went down the coast here and through this little break in the hills which we call the Vale of Esdraelon or Hamageddon. Then we have this huge crack right down the earth’s surface, right through to Africa, and here is its deepest point The white bit is below sea level and the Dead Sea is way below. You have the Jordan coming in to this valley and going nowhere, just evaporating from the intense heat So in this little area the size of Wales you have the entire world in miniature. You’ve got every kind of climate and every kind of scenery. You will find somewhere in Israel a place like home. In fact the place most like England is just south of Tel Aviv down here, it’s just like England. But they call Carmel Little Switzerland and you can always go skiing at any time of year on the snow-capped

Mount Hermon up here, and yet 10 minutes later you can be down among palm trees here. All the fauna and flora of Europe is to be found here, all the fauna and flora of Africa is to be found here, all the fauna and flora of Asia is to be found here. So you can have Scottish pine trees growing next to palm trees from the Sahara and in the Bible days all the wild animals were here – lions, bears, crocodiles, camels – you’ve got the whole world squeezed in to this little point where they all join. Fascinating! I could go on for hours but I must stop Once you’ve got a feel of the geography and especially a feel for the shape of the land… Now, this is a relief map of the Promised Land. Can you see that deep valley running north-south with a little bit of green on that side and a little bit of green on that side and then the desert? If you master that map and hold it in your mind, you will be able to read every Bible story that takes place in the Promised Land very easily, and you’ll know why things happened as they did. And why Samaria was in the middle and why Jesus’ main ministry was up in Galilee Why he was put to death by the Jews – that doesn’t mean by all Israelis, it means the people of Judah. And when you read in the Gospel of John that the Jews killed Jesus that doesn’t mean all Israel it means the Southerners up in the hills. The Galileans were all for Jesus. It was the Jews, the Judeans, who were against him in the south. So that’s the geographical background for the Bible In the Old Testament we’re moving around that Fertile Crescent from one end to the other Sometimes the people of God are slaves in Egypt, other times they’re taken away into Assyria or Babylon at this end, but there they were right in the middle of it all, at the crossroads of the world Now the other dimension that you need to master is the dimension of time and I’ve tried to reduce this dimension of time to a very simple pattern that’s easily held in your mind. And at first sight that chart must look horrific to you, but as we go through it I think you’ll find it’s actually very simple. Basically, the Old Testament covers 2000 years of history – BC Before Christ, but there is in Genesis 1 to 11 what we might call the pre-historic part, that means pre-historic to Israel and so in Genesis 1 to 11 we have the creation of the universe, the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the flood and the tower of Babel It’s all about man generally. It’s not about God’s chosen people yet; it’s about man – the human race – and that’s the pre-historic history of Israel – before their history really began But their history begins around the year 2000 BC, so just as far as we are after Christ, the history of Israel starts before Christ – 2000 years either side, alright? That’s our opening date for the history of Israel and I divide it into four equal parts of 500 years each, and we take those four quarters as distinct periods. We mark each of the four dates – 2000, 1500, 1000 and 500 BC with events and people, and I like to give names of people and events to these dates so I fix them in my mind. And so the first four words I’ve written down are events – Election, Exodus, Empire, Exile – and you’ve got the four events that mark the four quarters of their history. That’s when God chose Abraham and Elected Abraham and his descendants to be his people; that’s when Moses led them out of Egypt; that’s when they had all the land God promised to them and had a time of unparalleled prosperity and peace, and I’ve called it the Empire because they not only had their own land but many other nations were now under their control. And then the lowest point of their history – Exile. And roughly speaking those four events fit those four dates. Then I attach a prominent person to each of those dates. Abraham is the man to attach to 2000, Moses to 1500 or thereabouts, David to 1000 – he was reigning in the year

1000 BC – and Isaiah is the most prominent man associated with the exile. So, you’ve got four events and four people. But also, the leadership of Israel changed and the leadership in each of these four periods was different In the first period they were led by Patriarchs, that’s a word for forefathers really – patriarchs from Abraham to Joseph. In the second period they were led by Prophets from Moses to Samuel; in the third 500 years they were led by Princes from Saul to Zedekiah, and in the fourth period they were led by Priests from Joshua who came with Zerubbabel back from the exile right through to Caiaphas in our Lord’s day So you can see that the leadership changed from Patriarchs to Prophets to Princes and then to Priests. Now it doesn’t mean there weren’t prophets at other times or priests at other times, but the leadership of the nation passed from one group to the other – until Jesus came who was prophet, priest and king all rolled into one. So they tried three different kinds of leadership in their history but they were really looking for someone who could combine all these things in one, and all the leadership failed in the Old Testament So have you got those four basic periods in your mind? Now once you’ve got that, the next thing is to put in two gaps – each of them 400 years. The first gap is here, the second gap is here, and during those 400 years, on both occasions God said nothing and he did nothing so there is nothing in your Bible from those two periods. Now of course there are books written in those two periods but they’re not in our Bible because they do not cover the time when God was saying and doing things. You see when we read this phrase in the Bible the living God, do you realise what that means? Well did you realise a few years ago what it meant when some theologians started saying God is dead – you heard that phrase? Well, do you realise what they meant? They did not mean that God has ceased to exist – that was a popular misunderstanding. What they meant was God is no longer active in this world; he still exists but he’s somewhere else now. As you know my wife and I lost our daughter last July, she was 36. She’s dead; that doesn’t mean she’s ceased to exist She’s alive, she’s conscious, she’s communicating though she can’t communicate with us now But she’s not living now, by that we mean she’s not speaking and acting in this world as she was, but she’s fully conscious and communicating elsewhere and she’s with the Lord, you see? So she’s alive but she’s not living in this world; as far as this world goes she’s dead. Now that’s what the living God means and during these two periods God was dead if you like. You see he was not acting in this world he was out of touch and so the books written in these periods – well, the books written in this gap were the Apocrypha and you won’t find them in our Bibles. The Catholics put them in their Bibles because they find prayers to the saints, and purgatory in the Apocrypha; that’s why they put it in But in fact it doesn’t belong to the Bible because those books were written in a day when God was not living but in these periods he was the living God – he was speaking and acting in our world Now once you’ve got those two gaps – that gap occurred in the first quarter, and this gap occurred in the last quarter, and that’s why Malachi is the last book in your Bible though there’s a 400-year gap before Matthew comes along – because God wasn’t saying anything, he wasn’t doing anything so we’re not interested in the history. It’s just like any other history then and similarly here we’ve got nothing between Genesis and Exodus though there’s a 400-year gap there, and we often miss that when we read straight on but Exodus makes it clear there’s a 400-year gap. It’s interesting what happened during the gap… in the gaps when God was silent and inactive. The Egyptian, the Indian and the Chinese culture developed in that gap, and in this gap, you had people like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and the Greek philosophy that’s influenced the western

world so much; you had Buddha, Confucius and then you had people like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. You see, when God isn’t busy, man is. And then that’s when so much has happened in man’s history that’s really not of relevance to God because it’s what God’s history contains that is of importance to us Now then let’s look at some details. Genesis 12 to 50 picks up the first period of Israel’s history when they were led by patriarchs, and it’s possible that the book of Job comes in there as well. Everything in Job is very much the sort of life that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob lived, the life of the travelling people of those days. Then we come to the next quarter and again we only have a few books from that quarter – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy all from Moses’ lifetime, and then Joshua, Judges and Ruth continuing the history of that period. Then we have the Empire days and we have more books: we have the history of the third quarter of their history in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles but we also have some poetic books. David and the book of Psalms, Solomon and Song of Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. But after Solomon there was civil war and the 12 tribes divided into two – 10 in the north called themselves Israel, 2 in the south called themselves Judah, and from then on, they didn’t have a united nation. There were Prophets during that time, Elijah and Elisha, but they didn’t write down for subsequent generations what they prophesied so we don’t have books called by them. Then suddenly, we have a flood of books – all prophets and all associated with the Exile and that’s when the main books of prophecy are written and some of them prophesied before the exile, some of them during the exile, and some after the exile which tells us how important this event was in their history, the loss of the land God had promised them. These prophets warned them they were going to lose the land These prophets comforted them when they did lose the land, and these prophets were concerned with rebuilding the land when they came back after 70 years away. We have one or two history books from this period – Daniel and Esther were both about the Jews away from the land when they were in Babylon. Ezra and Nehemiah which we’re going to discuss later, they were the two men who helped to rebuild Jerusalem and get the people established back in their own land again Well now, does that give you a feel of the Old Testament? Unfortunately, you see the books of the Old Testament are not always in chronological order, especially the prophets The history books seem to be but when you get to the prophets they simply put the big ones first and the little ones second which is terribly confusing. And what I’m saying is that of each of the prophet books you need to ask was this written before the exile, during the exile, or after the exile? And that will give you a clue to the understanding Now I hope all is crystal clear, but if you can memorise the basic features of that with its 2000 years of history divided into 500 years each, then you’ll get a really good grasp and then you fit the books in. And of course, there are different types of books – there’s the law, the first five books and you see where they fit in, Genesis before the gap and the other four after the gap Then there are history books, you see where they fit in. Then there are writings mainly poetry books and you see that they come out of the period when they were most prosperous That’s when culture and art prosper. You see when the nation is rich and at peace that’s when things like poetry get written. It’s a luxury, is art – and culture – and you see it flourishing at the peak Now there’s one more thing on this chart which I’m sure you’ve noticed and that is this green dotted line. You see, the peak of their fortunes was the Empire under David; everything leads up to that and then everything goes downhill from then on until they lose the land. It’s a tragic story really but that is why, every Jew looks back to that period and longs for it to come back. That was the golden age -Lord send us another David, send us a Messiah like David, send us the son of David and still

to this day the Jewish people are looking for that son of David to come back and restore the prosperity. The last question the disciples asked Jesus before he ascended to heaven – when are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel? and still they’re asking 2000 years later So that’s the peak and their fortunes on the whole were up and up and up to that point but from then down and down, civil war, division between the ten tribes of the north and the two in the south. It’s all in the book of Kings which is a very sad and sordid tale when you read it through and of all the kings they had, most of them were bad, many were assassinated. They had one dreadful queen which we’re going to talk about later, just one – because it was God’s will they should only have kings – and they had one dreadful queen but we’ll talk about that on another occasion Well now, there it is and then after this 400-year gap during which they had no words from God and didn’t see a single miracle; then suddenly it all started again and John the Baptist came preaching, the first prophet for a long time. And then the miracles came with Jesus and the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus starts our New Testament which only covers 100 years or less. So your whole New Testament was written in 100 years whereas the Old Testament was written over 2000, and if you go back to creation, how long? Now, that is the chart that I hold in my mind and, by the way, a friend of mine called Professor LaGard Smith who is the Professor of Law in the Pepperdine University in Malibu (and my wife was Pepperdine before I changed her name), he has produced a Bible – quite unique – a New International Version – no chapter and verse numbers – did I hear a Hallelujah!? No? No chapter and verse numbers, and the Bible is in chronological order so that you get to the prophets at the right time and you read the story in the order in which God spoke and acted, and it’s quite a book. The only divisions in it are there is a star in the margin every so often and all together there are 365 stars in the margin – guess why? It means you can read the whole story of God in a year; it’s about 5 pages each day and you will get the Word of God in its proper context of time and place with some very helpful little notes of introduction It really is a fascinating production and it’s now available. I don’t have a commission on selling it but there it is, he is a friend Well now, that’s perhaps put us into the history side, and we’ve looked at the geography side, but let’s now look at one other complication and that is there is a big difference between our English Bible and the Hebrew Bible, a very big difference. And I’m afraid those who arranged our English Bible didn’t do us a very great service because we have therefore tended to think of books rather differently to the way the Jew thinks of the scriptures in the Old Testament. We tend, in English to divide the books between three categories and I partly did that on the previous chart We tend to think of the history books – and all the history books are put together in English from Genesis through to Esther, and they are all at the beginning of our Old Testament and they are in chronological order and that’s helpful to get the history line, but it’s not helpful from another point of view The next group of books in our Bibles are poetry – the book of Job which is all poetry, Psalms, Proverbs – Poetry, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. So the poetry books have been pushed together as the second grouping Now even though they’re in groups, it’s very rare for an English Bible to have a heading History or Poetry, so the books just run on one after another and we tend not to realise we’ve moved in to a different group of books And then all the prophetic books are listed and they are divided between the major and the minor – I’m sure you’ve heard those words, major prophets, minor prophets. All it means

is they’re big ones and they’re little ones – not people or in message – but just how much they spoke or how much we have of their message. We have a lot of Isaiah, a lot of Jeremiah, a lot of Ezekiel, but very little of Joel or Obadiah so they’re called major, the big books and minor, the twelve smaller books and that’s how the English Old Testament is arranged and frankly it is not very helpful Pity, but there it is When you read the Hebrew scriptures, they have three very clear divisions, very different from one another. The first five books are not regarded as history at all but as law, and I’ve already explained that and therefore they’re not called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; they are given the titles of the first words on the scroll as you unroll it so that you recognise it straight away to read it. And these books were read and still are every year in the synagogue right through on electionary. Then the big surprise comes that the next group are called the prophets, and they put into the prophets what we call history – Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings we call history but they call them the former prophets. And then they call these that we have here the latter prophets. Now why should they call those books prophets? Well of course there are prophets in them, Joshua was a prophet, Samuel was a prophet – that’s not the reason why. The reason is that this is prophetic history and prophetic history is quite different from other history and I need to explain why All history is based on two principles. Selection is the first, and Connection is the second, and when anybody writes a history book, the first thing they must do is select what they’re going to put in and what they’re going to leave out. Nobody can write a complete history about anybody or anything. In fact, John’s gospel says if everything Jesus did and said was written down, the world couldn’t hold the books. So every bit of history is a selection of some events and every historian selects what he thinks is important. And the second principle is the principle of connection – having selected the important events the historian then tries to show the connection between those events – that this led to that, and that led to the other. Do you follow me? And all history books are based on those two principles – what to select, and how to connect. Now prophetic history has its own answer to those two principles. Prophetic history only selects what is important to God – that’s why there’s nothing about Buddha or Confucius in the Bible It only selects what is important to God and then it connects up what happens to people with God, and that’s the connection. And therefore, these books are written from a prophetic point of view – they only select what is important to God and they connect everything with God And that’s why they’re called by the Jews, former prophets. You notice the book of Ruth is not there and the books of Chronicles are not there because neither Ruth nor Chronicles are prophetic history. Certainly, the story of Ruth came where the English Bible puts it between Judges and Samuel. That’s where it happened, but if you read the story of Ruth, God says nothing in it and he does nothing in it, have you noticed? It’s a lovely story, and it’s the story of David’s ancestor but there’s not a single ‘Thus saith the Lord’ in the book of Ruth; and Chronicles also – though it sounds like Kings, when you study it carefully it’s quite different from the book of Kings and it’s not a prophetic book; it’s written from an entirely different point of view So, they have the former and the latter prophets and then they put everything else in the writings That’s where they put Chronicles though they call it ‘the words of the days’, that’s where they put Ruth, they also put the poetry books. They put Ecclesiastes though they call it the preacher, and Lamentations is just called ‘How’! – How! That’s the first word of the book actually, and Esther is there, even Daniel – Daniel isn’t among the prophets he’s down here. There’s a reason for all that Now it’s interesting that on the road to Emmaus, and during his resurrection Jesus did Bible

studies. He never did that during his life but after he rose from the dead he gave Bible studies for the first time, and it says he took them through the law, the prophets and the writings, and showed them everything concerning himself. So for Jesus, that was the Old Testament and I personally believe it should be that for us as well because it helps us to realise that it’s not straight history. It is prophetic history and it has therefore, a message for us The books of the Apocrypha are history books and for example there’s a fascinating little bit of Hebrew history or Israeli history in the days of the Maccabees when they rebelled against the Greeks who were occupying the land and it’s been made into Oratorios hasn’t it? “Maccabees” – and it’s very moving history but it’s only history; you can read it if you’re interested, but it will not speak to you from God because it’s not prophetic, and prophetic history speaks to us today And that’s why God was able to speak to you yesterday through the books of the Old Testament, God was speaking to you. But if I was teaching you the book of the Maccabees that would not happen, it would be interesting, but that’s all. So can you see the importance of seeing this not as history at all, but as seeing it as God’s law and God’s prophecy and seeing these as a kind of miscellaneous thing. Then what was the principle behind the selection of these? Why didn’t they put the Apocrypha in here? The answer is that all these books were written during the period when God was living – meaning by that when God was active in this world. And so all these books came out of that same prophetic period, that same time when God was busy. None of these books were written in the gaps. And so we’ve got in our Bible the law of God, the prophetic history, and also all the other books that came out of the period when God was busy with his people Now, can you see the shape of the Old Testament? I think it would be helpful if our Old Testament reverted to this because then we’d get the message more clearly; but it’s not too bad like this. But now we can how it all fits in. Just let me remind you of a chart that we used when we looked at Genesis. The first five books of the Bible are very special; they are basic to the whole Bible. They are the law of Moses, the five books of Moses, the Torah. There’s a very interesting pattern – what did you used to call those things that you did with a string shaped like that? Not a yoyo. Diabolo that’s it – well keep the diabolo shape in your mind when you look at the first five books of the Bible. Genesis which means beginnings, Exodus means going out, Leviticus as it says is about the Levites, Numbers is self-explanatory, ‘Deutero’ means second and ‘nomos’ means law, second law – the Ten Commandments were given here and here a second time; but look at this amazing pattern, take who – Genesis is concerned with the whole human race, Exodus is the beginning of their national life, Leviticus is concerned with one tribe, the Levites, Numbers is concerned with national life, and Deuteronomy looks again to the history of the whole world. So you’ve got a kind of diabolo shape. Then look at the places – it starts in Chaldea – Canaan – then Egypt, then at Sinai, then through the Negev and Edam, Moab and back into the Promised Land. Look at when – Genesis covers centuries, Exodus only covers years – 300 – Leviticus covers only one month, Numbers covers years again, and Deuteronomy covers centuries again. It’s an amazing pattern when you see it all put beautifully together, but those five books are in a sense the most important part of the Old Testament and the more you know about them the more you’ll understand the rest of the Old Testament and indeed the New. So the Jews are right to put a special emphasis on these five books. They are the foundation of the Bible and particularly the book of Genesis to which we are going to devote a whole video