There’s so many ways we could do a Bible overview, because there’s many themes that run throughout the Bible. But the important thing to remember, however you go do your overview, is that you bear in mind that Jesus Christ is at the heart of the message of the Bible, wherever you happen to look.
Sometimes we give the impression that God had a plan ‘A’, which we read about in the Old Testament. God’s plan A was that through obedience to the Old Testament law, people would be saved. However, when that failed, he brought in plan ‘B’ which was Jesus Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth! What is exciting about this journey through the Bible, is that it becomes incredibly clear that there was only ever one plan, and that plan was centred around Jesus Christ.
Our journey through the Bible then will be a long one. We will compress thousands of years of history into about 30 minutes. We’ll reduce around 800,000 words into less than 3,000. Like most journey, we’ll start of driving slowly around little local streets near the home, but soon we’ll start speeding down the highways, watching the countryside whizz by. At a couple of points, we’ll stop to take a rest, or to admire the view, then we’ll quickly be back to full speed. As we reach the end of the journey we’ll start to slow down once more as we near our destination.
A perfect beginning
You know that the Bible begins by telling us how God made the whole universe. Importantly, running throughout the opening chapters of Genesis is that recurring phrase. ‘And God saw that it was good’. It’s a very important phrase for two reasons. First, because it reminds us that there was once a time when that could be said. Secondly, because it shows us that there is a pinnacle of creation, and we find that in chapter 1 and verse 31. When God creates man, the creation is complete. It is finished. Man has been made in God’s image. We are not animals, not highly-evolved apes, but we bear a family resemblance to our heavenly father. All of the creatures were made by God, but only one was made like God.
That means human beings have a dignity and purpose. God himself sets us above creation, to lovingly rule over it, as verse 26 makes clear. As our story continues, we’ll that God’s concerns rests with the whole of his creation, but principally with humanity.
But this opening section of Genesis shows us not just the pinnacle of creation, but the goal of creation. We see that in the beginning of chapter two. God rests. And notice that day seven differs from all the previous days. Every other day ends with the phrase ‘there was morning, there was evening, the second day’. But not day seven. God’s day of rest did not end that first Saturday evening. God’s work of creation stopped right there at the end of day six. He continues to sustain the universe, but is creative work was perfectly accomplished, and is over. He now wants the human beings to share with him in that rest, and enjoy life with him.
Here then, is life as it ought to be. An unblemished relationship with God. A wonderful garden to call home. Sadly, it won’t last long.
A painful fall
As we move into Genesis 3, things start to go wrong. God has made just one rule - they are not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But one day, Adam and Eve disobey. They are tempted by the serpent, who distorts God’s words, casts doubt on God’s integrity, and Adam and Eve are taken in. They are no longer happy to live in God’s rest, no longer happy to have God as their ruler. They wanted to be like him (v4). They want to be able to decide what is good, and what is evil. So they rebel against God’s authority, and they eat the fruit.
The result? Primarily, a broken relationship between men and God. Adam and Eve are ashamed and hide from him when they once walked with him. But the effects of sin don’t stop there. The relationship between Adam & Eve is also broken, indeed man’s tendancy towards harshly ruling over women, and women’s desire for independency is a direct consequence of the fall, as 3:16b makes clear. The relationship between humanity and the rest of creation is also spoilt. Work will now be difficult and painful (3:17-19). The land will be an enemy as well as a friend. The whole of creation has been affected by the fall.
In our long journey through the Bible, we’ve now reached the edge of our housing estate. We’ve gone fairly slowly through these opening few chapters, but as we approach the open road, we’re going to have to speed up though the next few chapters. As we continue, we see what a fallen world, and fallen humanity actually looks like.
In Genesis 4, the first child born to sinful Adam and sinful Eve becomes a murderer. In chapter five we have Adam’s family tree. It’s interesting for the genealogists, but it’s purpose is deeper than that. Eight times in that chapter we read, ‘and then he died’. God had promised back in chapter two that death would come as a result of sin, and chapters four and five have shown that to be true.
Just in case you still haven’t realised the enormity of the fall, our story continues into chapters 6-9. Look particularly at 6:5: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”
Imagine reading this for the first time, not knowing the rest of the story. Imagine being Noah, hearing these words for the first time. The promised flood, that will destroy the world, except those on the ark. It’s a terrible judgement, but perhaps this fresh start will solve the problem. If all the wicked men can be destroyed, surely then the problems of mankind will be over.
Of course you and I know that is not the case. Even the terrible judgement that was poured out on the day cannot undue the wickedness that is ingrained in men’s hearts. By the time we get to chapter 11, the men and women are repeating Adam and Eve’s original mistake - they want to be like God, and so are banished from the land, just like they were. Genesis 11 marks a low point. But from now on, things can only get better.
A promise of hope
We were a little bit naughty charting our miserable decline in Genesis 3 through 11. The decline is clearly there, but there are glimmers of light along the way. For example, in that awful chapter, Genesis 3, where so much damage is done, we musn’t forget verse 15. Here it is promised that the offspring of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. It’s only a faint hint of what’s to come, but it’s an encouraging hint, and we know that it is a veiled prophecy of the work of the Lord Jesus, Mary’s son who crushed Satan on the cross.
Did you also notice that anomaly in chapter five, the chapter of death? Look at verse 24: “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” Even in this fallen world, it is possible to know God, and escape the penalty of death.
By the time we get to chapter six, the chapter of judgement, we’re introduced to another important concept: grace. It’s there in 6:8 - ‘Noah found grace in the eyes of the lord’. Our of that grace comes a covenant, or promise (v18) that judgement will not fall on God’s chosen man. In 9:11 there is another promise: ‘never again will there be a flood’, and there’s a glimmer of a new start in the parallels between chapter 9:1-3 and 1:28-9. Finally, a rainbow is given as the sign of the covenant.
But these glimmers of promise pale into insignificance when faced with the beacon of hope that we see in chapter 12. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” There’s no ambiguity there, is there?
God makes another covenant, with another of his chosen people. This time the man to receive the promise is Abram. Nothing that was said to Noah is cancelled out, but there is a great deal added.
God makes clear his promise will be about a relationship between him and Abram’s descendants. This becomes even clearer in 17:7 where the covenant is reiterated. But the promise is also about a homeland, and its about a wonderful blessings. It’s about human beings interacting and becoming a blessing to one another. It’s as if God is looking to undo the effects of the fall, isn’t it? The broken relationship with God: restored. The loss of the paradise of Eden: returned. The break-up of human relationships: rebuilt. The rejected Kingship of God: reclaimed.
A partial fulfillment
Well, we’re are now on the motorway. The road is wide and clear, and we can start to speed up. God has made his clear promise. All we need to know now, is how that promise will be realised.
As Genesis continues, we do see clearly how some of these promises appear to be fulfilled. Admittedly there are problems. Do you remember Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is barren in chapter 16. Abraham takes matters into his own hands. If Sarah cannot bear a child, the he will have a child through another woman, through Hagar. The resulting son is Ishmael, a substitute for the child of promise, and God is not pleased. Eventually aged 90, Sarah has her child. But by the time we get to chapter 22, Sarah’s child, Isaac, is to be sacrificed. The son of the promise is to be killed. At the last moment, however, God provides a substitute. A ram, caught in the thicket is sacrificed instead, and Isaac’s life is spared. Abraham had learned to trust in God’s promise, even when he couldn’t understand God’s ways.
The story moves on to Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau. God chooses the Jacob, the younger. Why? We are not told, though Paul tells us in Romans 9 that it was not through any merit. It’s a reminder of God’s purposes in election.
In the next generation, ten brothers are passed by until the youngest, Joseph, is chosen. Yet soon he is a slave in a foreign country. He is away from the promised land., but even there God is in control as 50:19 makes clear. He has overruled to make is promises clear. The faithful servant in a foreign land is blessed, whilst the disobedient servants in the promised land suffer. It’s another tiny glimmer of the story to come.
But as the people of God grow in Egypt (we’re in between Genesis and Exodus now), slavery is the result. If God’s promises are to be fufilled, there must be freedom and a return to the promised land.
So how does this freedom come? You know the story of as well as I do. God sents Moses as his mouthpiece (called a prophet) who speaks His word to Pharoah. There is a struggle, where God shows his power, then finally the people are allowed to go. Yet here in this story are powerful reminders of the glories to come. The nine plagues have been ignored by the Egyptians, and God warns of a final, terrible plague in Exodus 12. Every firstborn is to die. But God’s people are graciously given a way of escape. If each family kills a lamb and spreads its blood on the doorposts, the Lord will passover that house and they will be spared. In chapter 16 a ram was the substitute for one boy. Now a lamb is a substitute for a household. Already we’re starting to see a Biblical principle, aren’t we? God saves by substitution. His people deserve to die for their sin, but another dies in their place.
The people escape, cross through the waters of the Red Sea, which crash down behind them, assuring them of victory over the Egyptians. They proceed to meet with God at Mount Sinai. As they do so, they need only look around to see that the ‘Great Nation’ promise appears to be fulfilled. There’s probably about 2 million of them making their way out of Egypt.
On Mount Sinai, in Exodus 20 and following, the law is given. The law teaches the people how to live as God’s people. The law was never intended to save them, we already know they are only at this point because of God’s grace - that was demonstrated right back in the days of Noah. But the law does reveal sin, it does reveal our Saviour (Paul says it ‘leads us to Christ’), and it does reveal God’s standards.
Wonderfully, part of that law deals with the tabernacle from chapter 25 onwards. It would be great to stop our car and admire the view at this point, but sadly, there isn’t time. I’ll leave that to one of the people who looks at Exodus, Leviticus or Deuteronomy. There is just about time to slow down, though. Suffice it to say that the tabernacle shows God’s presence with his people: 25:8-9: “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.”
Inside the Holy Place in the tabernacle is the showbread, reminding the people of God’s provision for them. There’s also the golden lampstand, reminding them of God’s constant watch over them. The altar of incense is a reminder of God’s nearness. But outside the Holy Place is a large basin of water, reminding them of their need to be cleansed from their sin. And inside the Holy Place is a thick, heavy curtain, barring the way to the Holy of Holies, and reminding them that whilst God is close, there is still a barrier between him and them, as a result of the fall.
Each day sacrifices are offered to God for the sin of the people. Do you see? More substitutes. But on the annual Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16f) the symbolism is even stronger. The sin of all the people is put on one goat who is killed, whilst the other goat is driven into the wilderness to symbolise the distance put between the people and their sin.
Do you see the progression? A ram dies to save Isaac. A lamb dies to save a family. A goat dies to save a nation. They didn’t know it, but there would come a day when the Christ would die to save the world.
But let’s look at the detail of the promise given to Abraham. Firstly, the promise of land. Is that fulfilled? Well, yes and no. The people are very slow to enter the land. Do you remember the twelves spies that were sent in, in Numbers 14. Ten were bad, and two were good. The bad spies saw opposition, and wanted to return to Egypt. The good spies, Joshua and Caleb argued that God had brought them this far, and God was able to complete his promise. They were not listened to. As a result the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, and of those who left Egypt only Joshua and Caleb actually got to the promised land. In Deuteronomy, particularly chs 28f, it’s made clear that the promise is dependent on obedience., something that is echoed in Joshua 23 as conquest is made.
But what about God’s supremacy in the promise. Do you remember His words to Abram. ‘I will do this, I will, I will’. Does God become the King of Israel. Well, again, yes and no. Throughout Judges, the people move far from God and everything goes wrong. Then they cry out to him, and he rescues them by sending a leader, a judge. This cycle of disobedience, then grace goes on and on. Even the heroes of Judges are a motley crew. Jephthah kills his own daughter because of a foolish oath. Samson is a womanising thug. Gideon erects an idol
So by the time we get to 1 Samuel, we’re ready for this cycle to be broken, and it appears that the righteous judge Samuel is just the man to do it. He’s a godly man, and rules well, and at the end of his life in ch 12 no-one can accuse him of cheating or stealing or taking bribes. Yet it is at the end of his rule that the people reject judges altogether. They demand a king, and God is not pleased, as 1 Sam 8:7 makes clear: “it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.”
Saul is appointed, and after a promising start in ch 11, everything goes downhill. Saul was chosen as king because the people had rejected God. In 15:23 Saul himself is rejected by God, because he would not follow God’s word.
Yet the promise is not dead! God has in mind another man, a man after his own heart. David is anointed by Samuel, and after a struggle with Saul finally becomes officially installed as king, and he dominates 2 Samuel. Yet even this man after God’s own heart is not perfect. You know about his sin with Bathsheeba, and his murder of Uriah. But by and large he rules under God, and in 2 Samuel 7 God’s promises to Abram are re-iterated to David. It’s worth looking that up, because once again, there is an extra part to the promise, this time we hear about a promised king vv 11-16.
The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.
Clearly there is something special in these verses, and from 2 Samuel 7 onwards, we are waiting for God’s Messiah, God’s anointed one.
At this point, the nation never had it so good. You know about the riches and wisdom of Solomon, David’s successor. 1 Kings 4:20 spells it out: “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy.” Promise fulfilled! Well, partially fulfilled. We’re still not quite sure how David is to be a blessing to the nations, though the visit of the Queen of Sheba is a little hint. And don’t forget that David’s throne is to be established for ever and ever.
But God is king. The temple is central, and worship of God firmly fixed on the nations agenda. They are blessed, and the are at rest: 4:24-5: “For he ruled over all the kingdoms west of the River, from Tiphsah to Gaza, and had peace on all sides. During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig-tree.” Ring any bells? Do you remember the promised Sabbath rest?
Everything looks so good, but of course we know that it didn’t last. By chapter 11 of 1 Kings Solomon is drawn away by his many wives and begins to worship foreign Gods. By the time Solomon dies, the Kingdom is starting to disintegrate, and civil war follows. Chapter 12 onwards is disobedience decline, death, destruction and division.
The nation of Israel divides into two kingdoms. Confusingly, the northern kingdom retains the name Israel, where the southern kingdom is known as Judah. The rate of decline is quicker in the north, and 200 years later, in 2 Kings 17:5 we read “The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.” But look at verse seven: “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
The southern kingdom soldiers on a little longer, but frankly is little better. There are a few good kings along the way, but reforms never go deep enough, nor last long enough to have any real impact. Within another 150 years the temple is destroyed and the people exiled to Babylon.
The nation, and the promises have hit rock bottom. The people are scattered. The land is lost. There is no rest only war. There is no blessings, and it appears as though God has abandoned his people. It’s is no wonder they sang, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion.”
This has taken us to the end of 2 Chronicles, only halfway through our OT literature , but almost at the end of OT history.
A prophetic deliverance
Whilst all this was going on, there were prophets who brought God’s word to the people, urging them back.
Exile in Babylon = Exile in Egypt