A Run Through the Bible

Old Testament

The first 11 chapters of Genesis cover the time from the creation of the world to Abraham.
God creates everything, including human beings - Adam & Eve.
The are given the command to multiply and fill the earth.
Adam & Eve rebel against God, they are thrown out of his presence, they die spiritually and physically. Their descendants spread, but so does their sin.

By the time of Noah, God has had enough. All life is wiped out and life begins afresh (an image of Baptism - cleansing through water).
Again the descendants of Noah multiply and spread, but so does their sin.
By the end of Genesis 11 the world teams with life and with rebellion.

From Genesis chapter 12 onwards the focus switches to Abraham, he is nothing special, but God chooses him and calls him to leave his homeland.
When Abraham is homeless and childless he is promised a land and descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky. When Abraham died the only land he owned was the field where he and Sarah his wife were buried.

Abraham had two sons. Ishmael and Isaac. Both are blessed and promised descendants but there will always be animosity between them. Ishmael is the father of the Arabs and Isaac the father of the Jews. The word of God can be seen in that 4,000 years later both these peoples are thriving and still there is animosity.

The Bible now follows Isaac, he has two sons.
Esau becomes the nation of Edom which was destroyed about 500BC.
Jacob, is a bad lot, but God chooses him and changes him. By the end of his life Jacob has turned to the Lord. Because of this new start his name is changed to Israel. He has twelve sons, who become the twelve tribes of Israel.

Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, is sold as a slave by his brothers.
Behind the evil, God is a work, he uses this, prison, Jospeh's faithfulness, dreams and famine to raise Joseph to be the highest official in the land of Egypt. Through the famine Jacob and his family all move to Egypt - seventy people in all. Over the next 400-500 years they grow in numbers.
The people of God are now numerous, but they have no land.

The book of Exodus explains how, through fear, the Israelites become slaves to the Egyptians. They are oppressed and eventually turn to God for help - they cry out to the Lord. God raises up Moses to deliver them.
At first Pharaoh will not let them go. Through a series of plagues and miracles God shows his power and hardens Pharaoh.
The final plague is the death of the firstborn when the angel of death passes over the houses marked with the blood of the lamb.

Moses leads the people out and through the Red Sea to Mount Sinai.
At Sinai the ten commandments and the rest of the law is given. These are set out in the books of Exodus and Leviticus.
God has brought the people out to serve him. The tabernacle is built and the sacrificial system begins. Aaron the brother of Moses becomes the first High Priest, his descendants are to be the priests who minister in the tabernacle. The whole tribe of Levi (the tribe of Aaron and Moses) are to be ministers in the tabernacle. Leviticus is the rules for the Levites.

The people constantly moan and sin against God. The history of the people during this time is set out mostly in the book of Numbers.
In his wrath God declares that none of these people will enter the promised land. For 40 years they camp in the desert, kept alive by manna and quails.
Moses is allowed to lead the people to the edge of the land, the river Jordan, but he also cannot enter. He speaks to the people a final time - a parting sermon - the book of Deuteronomy. His assistant Joshua now takes over.

They enter the land and in obedience to God's command drive out the nations already in the land because of the evil of those nations. The book of Joshua tells how the land is captured, and then divided up between the twelve tribes. The tribe of Levi are not given territory, just cities, they are the ministers of the tabernacle, to be provided for by the other tribes. As the book of Joshua goes on, it becomes clear that for one reason or another not all the land is taken.

At the start of the book of Judges the failure of the conquest is made plain. In almost every tribes allocation there are people who were not driven out and one tribe is almost entirely unable to occupy their land.

The result of this is that the people begin to try out the religions of the people they now live with, they turn away from the Lord.
For the next 400 years the nation disintegrates, the commands of God are ignored (there is no mention of the law in Judges) and everyone does 'what is right in his own eyes'. Religion becomes corrupt and time after time nations invade and conquer the Israelites. Each time God raises up a deliverer - the Judges, they save their people, they are all unusual leaders in some way, leaders to fit dark times. The strangest is perhaps Samson.

One bright spot is the story of Ruth, a non-Israelite who turns to the Lord.

The people believe their problem is that they have no King and so they long for a King like other nations. This really means that they are rejecting God as their King. The book of Samuel marks the transition from judges to King. Samuel is a judge who anoints both of the first two kings.

From now on there is a peculiar situation with regards leadership.
The nation has Priests, and particularly the High Priest, who lead the religious life of the people. They also have a King, some of the Kings overstep the mark and in their arrogance try to be priests too.

But, both the Kings and Priests are a mixed bunch, many are good, but many are bad. From now on, alongside the Kings and Priests we find the Prophets.
The Prophets speak the word of God, they are often isolated and persecuted, but though they have no earthly power, they have a spiritual authority over the Kings and Priests.
The history of the Kings of Israel and Judah is told in the book of Kings (1 and 2 Kings in our Bibles). The book of Chronicles, which comes last in Hebrew bibles, goes through the history again but only for Judah (see below).

God gives them what they want - Saul from the tribe of Benjamin is the first King, and he is an ideal King, tall and strong. He soon falls away from God and is rejected.

Next David from the tribe of Judah is appointed, he is a shepherd boy who is chosen by God to be the shepherd king of Israel - but of course David knew 'the LORD is my Shepherd'.
The kingdom is established by David. He finally takes the city of Jerusalem and makes it his capital, he plans to build the Temple but is forbidden.
He is promised that his descendant will sit on the throne of Israel for ever - this is Jesus, the Son of David. Many of the Psalms are the work of David.

David too sins against God, he is rebuked by the prophet Nathan and punished by God. His sin and weakness leads to problems with some of his sons and causes turmoil for a while. It is David who wrote many of the Psalms.

David's son Solomon is made King, he prays to God for wisdom and receives it. Solomon builds the Temple and under him the kingdom reaches its greatest bounds. He is famed in all the world for his wealth and wisdom.
Solomon is the author of the Song of Solomon (also called Canticles or Song of Songs) many of the Proverbs and the book of Ecclesiastes.
In later life, Solomon too turns from the Lord to other religions.

As a result the kingdom is torn in two after Solomon's death.
His son Rehoboam becomes King of Judah at Jerusalem and the tribes of Levi and Benjamin also look to Judah - the Jews are the Judahites.

But the other, northern, tribes set up their own king Jeroboam - this kingdom is known as Israel, Ephraim or Joseph, it is the Northern Kingdom.

From now on the Kings of Israel (the North) are almost entirely evil. They set up golden calves at Dan and Bethel so that the people will not go to Jerusalem to worship. From the start Israel is under assault from outside.

The first great prophets Elijah and Elisha are sent to warn Israel, as are prophets like Hosea and Amos. All is to no avail. After 300 years of turmoil and rebellion, God hands them over. The Assyrians over-run all of the northern tribes and their leaders are carried off into captivity.

The history of the northern tribes is then uncertain. Other peoples move into the land and inter-marry with the few Israelites left. They eventually adopt a form or religion which is similar to Israel, they set up their own Temple and become the Samaritans. In the time of Jesus, the Samaritans are despised by the Jews, they are not accepted as true Israelites but they are also not Gentiles. Many Samaritans became Christians.
Today there are still Samaritans living near the site of their Temple at Nabolus on the West Bank. They number probably around 50,000.

The Southern tribes of Judah faired better. Their Kings were by and large good leaders, faithful to God. However slowly things change, the Kings get worse and problems come.
Again God sends his prophets, Isaiah and Micah at around the time Israel fell. Isaiah makes it plain that judgement will come eventually.

After another one hundred and fifty years Judah is on the edge of collapse. Jeremiah is the prophet who calls the people to repentance. The book of Jeremiah is almost entirely negative.

In a series of assaults by the Babylonian army Judah is crushed, Jerusalem taken, then the Temple is destroyed and the city walls flattened.
The message of all this is plain, God has rejected his people, because they have rejected him. But the prophecies of Isaiah made it clear that this would not be forever.

For 70 years (a complete life-span) there is no nation of Judah. They are captives in the land of Babylon (modern day Iraq).
The books of Daniel and Esther show how even in captivity, when apparently rejected by God, God was at work to protect his people.
The visions of Daniel and Ezekiel speak of the future.
The Babylonians finally fall to the Persians (and Medes). Cyrus the King of Persia has a policy of repatriation so many Jews return to Judah. At this time are the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah and Obadiah.
Some years later Ezra returns to rebuild the temple. This is the second temple, but it is nothing compared to the glory of the temple in Solomon's day.
Also Nehemiah leads the people in rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem.

The Old Testament closes with the prophecies of Malachi. The nation is restored according to the promise of God, but things are not what they were.
They have a land, but are small and vulnerable.
They are a people, but greatly reduced in number.
They have a temple, but it is not what they expected.
They have kings, but they are generally weak and subject to other nations.

Therefore the Old Testament closes with the promises of God still unfulfilled in their glory - the people are waiting - waiting for the Messiah, that is the expected King.
The Old Testament closes around 400BC, from around that time there appears to be no prophets in Israel. This is called the Inter-Testamental Period. The books of the Old Testament Apocrypha belong to this period. They tell of the history of God's people, but they were never regarded as scripture by the Jews.

During this time the Persian empire is defeated by the Greeks and the Greeks by the Romans. In this time come the Maccabees and the beginning of the Herods. The temple of Ezra is destroyed and eventually a third temple, the temple of Herod is built. During this 400 years there was great turmoil and much suffering of the Jews.

In our Bibles the Old Testament closes with the prophecy of Malachi:
'Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.'

New Testament

The New Testament opens with the account of birth of John the Baptist, he is the herald, the figure of Elijah, coming before. John was such an unusual character, he created excitement.
The nation of Judah is now firmly under the control of the Roman Empire and there is considerable resentment. The people longed for the Messiah who would deliver them from the oppression of the Romans.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount details of the life and teaching of Jesus. They are not biographies and contain very few hints of what Jesus was like as a person. These three gospels contain much overlapping material but each was written for a different audience and have different emphases. All of them focus most of all on the death of Jesus.
The teaching of Jesus is largely taken from his time in Galilee.
Traditionally it was said that Matthew was written first, in the Hebrew script, meaning possibly Hebrew or Aramaic - we now only have Greek manuscripts. Matthew was one of the apostles - also called Levi.
Mark was an early disciple, he may have been a young man present when Jesus was arrested. It is traditionally thought that he relied mostly on Peter for his Gospel.
Luke became a disciple later, he was a Greek and a Physician. He claims to have researched his gospel, and it is traditionally thought he particularly spoke with some of the women. Luke also wrote Acts.

John was the last gospel to be written. John was one of the twelve apostles and very close to Jesus. The teaching in John almost entirely takes place in Jerusalem and consists much more of argument with the Jewish leaders.

The Gospels take us from the birth of Jesus to his resurrection.

The Book of Acts then tells of the way in which God stirred up the early disciples to take the gospel message to the world. There is a clear structure to Acts, the gospel first in Jerusalem, then in the rest of Judea, then to the Samaritans, then to God-fearing Gentiles, and finally to the Gentile world. (Gentiles are non-Jews sometimes translated nations)
The book begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome, the centre of the Empire.

The rest of the New Testament consists of letters and the book of Revelation.
There are letters from the Apostle John, from James the brother of Jesus who became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, from Jude the brother of James and from Peter. These letters, or epistles are to teach, about Jesus, and about how we should live as disciples. The disciples were passing on the teaching of Jesus and about Jesus, but related to the problems which faced the churches and individuals to whom they wrote.

The letter to the Hebrews does not have any author attributed to it. There was a tradition that it was written by Paul, this is possible but is by no means certain. More than any other book it sets out the links between the Old Testament and Jesus, it is not easy to understand without some understanding of the worship and outline of the Old Testament.

The remaining letters are all from the Apostle Paul, though many of them were written by Paul and others, and most were probably dictated rather than written by him.
Paul was not a disciple of Jesus. He was like the others a Jew, brought up as a Pharisee with some of the best education available in the day. He was a Roman citizen, born in a Roman city with a thorough understanding of the Greco-Roman world. There were few people better equipped for the work God called him to.
Paul persecuted the first Christians, believing them to be blasphemers. Whilst on a journey he was met by the glorified Christ, and blinded. He was told to stop persecuting the Lord and to take the message of Jesus to the gentiles.
Up to this point the disciples of Jesus had been very reluctant to take the gospel to any who were not Jews.
Paul received his sight back after a couple of days and became the Apostle to the Gentiles. Through great personal hardship he and his companions proclaimed the message of Jesus from Jerusalem to Rome and set up churches wherever they could.

Paul wrote letters to many of these Churches. In almost every cast the Church is facing some form or false teaching or immorality, Paul writes to rebuke, correct, teach and train in righteousness.
These are the letters of Paul to the Romans, Corinthians (two letters), Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (two letters).
In addition there are four personal letters. Timothy and Titus were young men who travelled with Paul and who were left as leaders of churches. The letters to Timothy (two) and Titus are written to encourage them in their work and to help them to know how a church should be run.
Philemon is unusual, asking freedom for a slave who worked with Paul.

The final book of the Bible is the hardest book of all, it is the Revelation to John (the apostle John) sometimes called the Apocalypse.
Revelation begins with messages received in a vision of the glorified Christ to seven churches in Asia (Asia Minor - modern Turkey). Then John receives a series of other visions. In these visions are revealed some of the events that will take place at the end of the ages. The visions are picturesque and there are many symbolic things, particularly picking up on Old Testament imagery.

Treating the book as a strait one event after another chronology seems always to lead to problems either within the book or with other statements in the Bible. The best explanation therefore seems to be that the end times are described in a series of overlapping visions each with a different emphasis.

From Revelation we get glimpses into the future, it teaches us many things, but also much is veiled. No book in the bible has caused so much disagreement and it is always the book picked up on by extremists and cults. They usually claim to have a clear understanding of what it means and how it fits together.

By contrast the more humble and sober approach to the book is probably best summarised in the words of the Baptist preacher C.H.Spurgoen:
"There is a whole book of Revelation which I do not understand, but which I fully believe."

By the end of the Bible we have travelled from the beginning of the world to its end. Thus the Bible does not claim to be incomplete but to cover the whole span of human history.
In it we see God choosing a people for himself and through this people preparing the way for his Son.
In the coming of Jesus, his death and resurrection the effect of the sin of Adam and Eve, and all subsequent sin is dealt with.
The New Testament teaches us about Jesus, and about how we should live now, in the 'last days' between the first and second comings of Jesus.

© David Phillips 1995-2021