11.20.2008

Basic Bible History (Part 3)

A Basic Bible History

Part 3 - The Desert Years


After the dreadful night of the Passover - which the Bible makes clear even affected Pharaoh's own house, taking his own firstborn - Pharaoh relented and let God's people go. Four hundred and thirty years had passed since the time Israel (Jacob) and his family joined Joseph in Egypt, and during that time their numbers had swelled to about 2 million people. That very night Pharaoh called for Moses and his brother Aaron and instructed them and all of their people to "up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds as you have said, and go. And also bless me." The Bible further records that the Egyptians themselves gave the departing Hebrews, who had been only slaves, silver and gold and articles of clothing, so great was their fear because of all the plagues that had recently taken place.
In this way, God delivered the entire nation of Israel in one night. They were one day slaves of a cruel and unrelenting taskmaster, and the next day a free people with great wealth and possessions. The Lord impressed upon the entire nation of Egypt his protection and blessing over this people, and was true to His word spoken to Abraham hundreds of years earlier (Gen. 11), "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."
The Angel of the Lord Himself guided the Israelites out of Egypt, in the form of a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Pharaoh's heart was once again hardened, and he and his armies pursued the Israelites with the intent to bring them back. But the Lord again delivered them, this time with the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea - over two million people plus all their herds and livestock passed safely across the river bottom on dry ground, while all of the Egyptian pursuers were drowned when the waters flowed again. The worship among the Israelites, as recorded in the book of Exodus chapter 15, was great that day.
However, in what was to become an unfortunate pattern for this nation and for God's people - both Jewish and Christian - throughout history, they quickly forgot about the great miracles they had witnessed with their own eyes, and about God's great mercy and provision and instead began to grumble. They began to doubt that God was with them. Yet every time they complained, God provided - with manna each morning to eat and plenty of water to drink - and remember that it was plenty for 2 million people plus livestock. However, the time came when God's patience had been pushed to the limit. Only three months after they came out of Egypt, Moses spent a total of forty days on Mount Sinai, receiving the law as handed down from God Himself. Moses, Aaron and his sons, and seventy priests ratified this new covenant with God on the mountain. Yet when Moses returned from the mountain at the end of the forty days, the people had convinced Aaron that they needed to make an idol of gold for themselves to follow, as forty days without direct contact with God or "that fellow Moses" was evidently too much. He came down the mountain to find the people engaged in frenzied worship of a golden calf.
This was the beginning of forty very long years in the desert for the nation of Israel. Throughout that time they learned - the hard way - that they must walk by faith and trust the Lord and His promises if they are to move forward. They struggled through those years with many problems: discontent as a people in general, the grumbling and complaining of Miriam and Aaron, the refusal of the all the people (except two men named Caleb and Joshua) to enter the Promised Land because of fear, Moses' own failure to obey God, and with the people's idolatrous worship.
During those desert years, God instituted the Covenant of the Law with the Israelites. It was a conditional covenant; the book of Deuteronomy records the great blessings that will come to the people if they obey God's plan as well as the horrible curses that will befall them if they choose to disobey. The office of priest and judge were instituted, and the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant were built. The greatest moral code ever known to men, which continues to influence many nations - including the United States - was instituted among the Hebrews. God gave the Israelites what amounted to a constitution for the theocracy He would establish among them in the Promised Land.
Except for two faithful men, the entire generation that experienced the miraculous deliverance from Egypt died out during those years in the desert. Even Moses, who spoke with God face to face, was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of an episode of anger and disobedience. After forty years of wandering and learning had passed, the nation stood poised on the plains overlooking the land "of milk and honey", and God raised up a great man named Joshua to lead the people into their inheritance.

11.13.2008

A Basic Bible History (Part 2)

A Basic Bible History

Part 2 - The Patriarchs and Egypt


Abraham was 99 years old when Sarah gave birth to their son, Isaac. This is the son of God's promise to Abraham, the beginning of the fulfillment of God's purpose and plan to show the watching world a picture of wholeness through this one faithful man. God had promised to make Abraham the father of a great nation - with children so numerous that they would be like the sand on the seashore. Now what had been visible only through eyes of faith was becoming a reality.

When Isaac was a young man - scholars are not certain of the exact age, but most agree that he was certainly not a child - God tested Abraham. The Bible is clear that God does not tempt us with evil, but He does test or try his people, as in this instance. God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." They left on the journey the very next morning, again demonstrating Abraham's devotion and obedience to God. When they reached the place that God indicated, Abraham was ready to go through with what God had asked, even to the point of grasping the knife in his hand, when the Lord stopped him and said, "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear (reverence) God because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." And God provided a ram which had become trapped in the thicket for the sacrifice.

Everything about this incident, from the fact that Isaac carried his own wood to the altar, to the fact that he laid himself down and allowed his father to bind him, to the fact that it was a lamb that was slain as the substitutionary sacrifice points to God's plan of redemption for mankind - His own Son, Jesus Christ, who would willingly lay down His life for the sins of the world. This is the plan and purpose of God, to be fulfilled through Abraham's line almost two thousand years later.

Isaac married a kinsman of Abraham's, a woman named Rebekah, and they had twin boys, Esau and Jacob. With no regard for his or his posterity's future, the elder, Esau, actually traded his birthright to his younger brother for a bowl of stew. So it was Jacob who inherited his father Isaac's blessing and all of the rights of the eldest son that came with it, including the inheritance of the Promised Land. Over the course of many years, Jacob married and had 12 sons, exactly fulfilling the promise that God had spoken to Abraham years before. Over the course of his adulthood, Jacob changed from the scheming, deceitful grandson of the great Abraham into a man who knew and worshipped God himself, and the Lord changed his name from Jacob to Israel.

When Jacob's son Joseph was seventeen, his brothers despised him for being their father's pampered favorite, who also happened to have a habit of dreaming prophetically and sometimes boasting about it. Their hatred grew to the point that they devised a scheme to be rid of him. They sold him to a band of slave traders bound for Egypt for the significant price of twenty pieces of silver, and Joseph's life changed forever. For many years he was, in turn, a slave and a prisoner n Egypt. Each time, though, the Lord was with him and gave him great favor in the sight of his captors, to the point that when Joseph was thirty years old he became the second in command of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. God used Joseph to save all of Egypt and the surrounding areas from a terrible famine, and through it all Joseph gave the honor and glory to God.

The famine was so severe that Israel and his ever-increasing family felt its effects in Canaan, and so came to Egypt for aid. In a beautiful story of reconciliation and forgiveness, Joseph is reunited with his brothers and their father. The entire clan is relocated to Egypt, numbering about seventy men, and with Pharaoh's blessing they settle in an area named Goshen.

For the next 430 years, Israel and his descendants after him lived in Egypt and greatly increased in number. Over time the memory of Joseph and what he had done for Egypt was forgotten, and the Israelites became a great slave force for Egypt, and were terribly mistreated. The Pharaoh of the day began to feel threatened by their great number and ordered that all newborn baby boys of the Hebrews be killed. One mother, however, put her little son in a basket and floated him down the river, where Pharaoh's daughter happened to intercept it. She adopted this Hebrew baby and named him Moses, and he was raised as a member of the royal household.

God had heard the cries of His people in Egypt, and raised up Moses as a deliverer, appearing to him in a burning bush in the desert and calling him to bring his people out of Egypt. Pharaoh, of course, did not like the idea of losing his force of free laborers, and refused time and again. God brought upon Egypt a series of ten plagues, which drastically affected the land and its people. The tenth plague, which Moses announced beforehand to Pharaoh, was the plague of death. God instructed all people to take a lamb and sacrifice it, spreading its blood over the doorposts of the house. Any home with the blood of the lamb would be passed over by the death angel, but any home without the blood would lose all the firstborn males - human and livestock - to death. The Bible records that there was weeping that night in Egypt such as there never had been or ever will be, and even Pharaoh's household was not spared from this last plague of death. At last he relented, and let the Hebrew people go. They left Egypt great in number -over 2 million people - and great in possessions, as all the Egyptians gave them their valuables out of fear.

11.11.2008

A Basic Bible History (Part 1)

A Basic Bible History


Part I - In the Beginning

The Bible is undoubtedly the inspired Word of God, powerful as a double-edged sword, inspired by God to pierce and change the hearts of men throughout the ages. It is living and active, filled with ultimate truth, wisdom, and prophecies - most of which have already been fulfilled. In addition to all of this, it also serves as an excellent historical account of the most fascinating people group on the planet, the Israelites. They are God's people, chosen by Him thousands of years ago to be an example for the rest of us of a nation and a people who are led by God Himself; a light in a dark world. Over the years, the story of Israel has unfolded before the eyes of a watching world as the greatest of all dramas, unlike anything else. Though many are not pleased by this fact, the whole world revolves around this tiny nation and its past, present, and future. Understanding the history of Israel is a great help in understanding everything that we read in the Bible.

The history begins, of course, at creation, when the great Creator - God in Three Persons - brought into existence the heavens, the earth and all its myriad creatures. The crowning glory of creation was man, Adam, made in the image of God Himself on the sixth and last day of creation, for on the seventh day God rested. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone and so created woman, Eve, also in His image, using one of the man's own ribs. They lived in the most beautiful place, totally unspoiled and perfect, called the Garden of Eden. The Creation was perfect, and needed no coaxing or working to produce - it did not even need rain to fall. It was totally sufficient and right in the beginning. Man was to tend the Garden and care for all its creation, with permission to eat and use everything except for one tree, called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This is a pivotal moment in the Bible, in the history of mankind. When tempted by a very real and present Tempter, Eve in her own free will takes a bite of the fruit of the forbidden tree then passes it to her husband who also partakes willingly. No, they did not physically die, but a worse death took place. A creation that was perfect and in perfect working order, from that moment on is to be broken and imperfect, forever to be only a faint shadow of its former glory and beauty. Nothing will ever be as it was created to be again – sin and its accompanying feelings of shame, guilt, hatred and wickedness have entered the garden.

Here is the great problem of mankind’s history. The creation of the Holy God freely chooses to disobey, and thus severs the perfect relationship with the Creator forever. Man, by his own choosing, can no longer be in fellowship with God. But because of God's grace and love for them, they are clothed and covered by God Himself, through the implied sacrifice of an animal for its skins, and banished from the Garden of Eden. It is to be guarded from that point on by angels with fiery swords, so that man will not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in his new state of alienation from God. The perfect creation God intended to spread across the planet has been replaced by a fallen and problematic one. All of creation is ruined by sin.

Man must now work hard to provide food, and woman will now suffer great pain in bringing forth her children; life together will now be difficult. They settle into their new and very different life outside the Garden of Eden, and have the first of many children – three sons, Cain, Abel and Seth. From here, the population of the earth swells for many generations, and the knowledge of God is all but lost over the years. The Bible records the names of the few righteous men throughout the early years of mankind's history, such as Enoch who was taken straight to heaven by God and never faced death. But two generations after him, only one righteous man was left on the entire earth-- Noah. The Lord spared Noah and his sons and their wives (as well as a sampling of all of the animals of the earth) in an ark while all of the rest of the living things were destroyed by a flood, so great and widespread was the wickedness of mankind. The population of the earth again begins with one man, yet the problem of sin was not erased by the flood.
In Genesis chapter 11, the Bible records that men still had a common language, all having descended from the three sons of Noah. At this time, the men of the earth gathered together and began construction of a tower (in Babel) with the desire to commemorate their own greatness, and intended to construct a city in which they could all live and not be scattered all over the earth as the Lord had instructed. It was at this point in history that God confused their language and dispersed the nations all over the earth. Mankind was scattered, and so began the languages from which all modern languages and dialects are derived.

In that same chapter is the genealogy of Shem, the son of Noah that was blessed by God for honoring his father. Ten generations of Shem are listed – these are the beginnings of the people now commonly known as the Semites, the descendants of Shem. Here the narrative of the book of Genesis becomes very specific. The problem of sin and the resulting separation from God leads to rampant wickedness all over the world time and again. Man left to his own devices is evil, selfish, hateful and destructive. At this moment in the history of mankind, God looks down among all the people of the earth and chooses one man to become an example for the rest of the world – to become a picture of what real life, wholeness and safety in the Lord looks like. To become an example of what redemption means. To become a people through whom God's ultimate plan of salvation for mankind can be brought to fruition.

In the tenth generation after Shem is found a man named Abram, whose name means “exalted father”. God spoke to Abram and said, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 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; all the peoples on earth will be blessed by you.” At this time, Abram was living in a place called Haran (in modern day Syria) with his wife Sarai, and they had no children. But Abram believed God, so he obeyed and left just like God told him to with his wife and with his nephew Lot. He was 75 years old when he left Haran and went to Canaan (just north of present-day Jerusalem). In Canaan the Lord appeared to him and said, “To your offspring I will give this land”, and that is why the whole area is later referred to as the Promised Land.

During his journey, he came into contact with an interesting figure named Melchizedek, the king of Salem, called the High Priest of God. Evidently a group of people who knew and worshipped the true God lived in Jerusalem at this time under this king. He is referred to again later in Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7, and is commonly understood to be a “type of Christ” in the Bible, or someone who foreshadows and exemplifies Christ. Also interesting is that in this chapter, Abram is first referred to as a Hebrew, a name referring to his ancestor Eber.

After this, God appeared to Abram in a vision. Abram questioned God as to how this blessing would ever come to be since they had no children, and even went so far as to suggest his servant as his heir. But the Lord confirmed again his promise that his own son would be his heir, not an adopted servant, and made a covenant - a solemn and binding agreement - with Abram that day. God actually came down to Abram, His presence evident by fire and smoke, and swore fidelity to His promises to Abram, placing the obligation for their fulfillment on Himself. The Bible says that Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Unfortunately, Sarai grew impatient with the fact that she remained childless, and tried to take matters into her own hands. She suggested to her husband that perhaps her maidservant could bear children for her – this was a common practice of the day – and her husband seemed to think this was a good idea. Her maid, Hagar, conceived and, not surprisingly, quickly became at odds with her mistress Sarai. She was confronted by the Angel of the Lord - the Angel of the Lord is inferred to be a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ Himself, and this is called a theophany – a self-manifestation of God. He said to her, “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” Hagar bore Abram’s son Ishmael, and Abram was 86 years old. Many Arabs claim Ishmael as their forefather and therefore also claim Palestine (Canaan) as their land. The very well known quarrels between the Jews and the Arabs can be traced back to this point in history.

When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord again appeared to him and reaffirmed His covenant - the promise to make him into a great nation, to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and to bless all the nations through him. That day, the Lord changed Abram’s name to Abraham which means “father of many nations.” God established the covenant between them as an everlasting covenant, including the everlasting possession of the land of Canaan. Abraham’s part in the covenant-making process was to be circumcision, for himself and all the males in his household, and then for every male thereafter at the age of eight days. God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah, and specifically told Abraham that Sarah would within the year bear a son to be named Isaac, and that he would be the father of twelve great rulers and the beginnings of a great nation. Abraham took Ishmael and all the others males in the household (servants, workers, etc.) and all were circumcised that very day, so great was his devotion to the Lord.
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