Why God Gave Us The Bible

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big_ten_std_t_nt“All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). These words were written by Paul the apostle to a young pastor named Timothy. Paul is instructing him to be faithful to what God has revealed in the scriptures in the face of opposition and pressure from others who have abandoned the Word of God. How did these Scriptures come to be, and why was it necessary for God to reveal Himself through written words? The answer is as old as time…

In the original design of creation, man had fellowship with God in Eden. That fellowship was lost in the Fall and all humanity was separated from God in that one act. All Adam’s descendants are born estranged from God, aliens to truth and righteousness and in such a sinful state that we only rebel against God. Even when men try to worship what they think God is, the result is false religion, paganism, polytheism, and creature worship. We are often convinced from creation and conscience that God exists, but we cannot know Him on our own.

From Adam till Moses, humanity continues to sin, die, and live in separation from God. Paul says that during the time from Adam to Moses “death reigned.”“Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses…” (Romans 5:14 KJV). There is no written revelation from God to show what God expects of humanity and people are left to grope in the darkness and to die in their sins. Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes and is in bondage to sin and enslaved to death.

During this time, God revealed Himself personally to individuals as He chose. God revealed Himself to Abel, Seth, Enosh, Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Melchizedek, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and others. The faith of these individuals was based on their personal experiences with God. They had no Bible, no law to guide them; only their own consciences and personal revelation from God and perhaps, oral traditions passed down about God.

But in Moses’ lifetime (approx. 1500 BC) something very important changed. God began to break the reign of death by providing mankind with His written Word. God wrote His law on tablets of stone, delivered them to Moses who gave them to Israel. Moses would record all of God’s laws and ordinances for Israel, ultimately writing the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. For the first time in human history, God had given His holy, inspired, written, indisputable Word to humanity. God would continue to inspire men to write Scripture from this point forward until about 400 years before Christ. Malachi was the last prophet to write under the inspiration of God in the Old Testament. It is believed that Ezra the scribe was the first to formally organize the Old Testament canon as we have it.

After 400 years of silence from God, God started speaking again. He began speaking through John the Baptist, continued through Jesus Christ who is the supreme revelation from God. He is called the Word of God (John 1:1-3). After Jesus’ ascension, the church began growing and men began writing. The four gospels tell of Jesus’ life and ministry, Acts gives the history of the early church, while the epistles contain the inspired teaching of the prophets and apostles of the New Testament. The final contribution to the New Testament canon is the Revelation, or Apocalypse of Jesus Christ penned by the Apostle John. With the completion of this book in 94-96 AD, God again ceased speaking written revelation. The Bible is complete.

The reason God inspired men to write the books of the Bible was to perfectly reveal Himself to us and provide a means of redemption and reconciliation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible makes this great plan of redemption known and tells us how we can be reconciled with God. Without the Bible, we would have no message to share with the world, and we would have no hope ourselves because the only reason we are saved is because we have believed what God says about Jesus. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). God’s revelation of Himself through the Bible is His way of reconciling fallen, sinful humanity to Himself based on the redemptive work of Christ.

Christian Themes in the Books of Moses

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 Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – the first five books of the Bible are kind of a set called the Pentateuch which means “five books.” These books were written by Moses. These books have much to teach us about God and how we relate to Him. These lessons are taught through God’s relationship with early humanity, the fathers of Israel, and the nation of Israel itself. I see three main themes in the Pentateuch. They are: election, covenant, and worship.
    

 God’s sovereign election is glaringly obvious throughout the Pentateuch. A quick outline would go something like this: God chose Abraham out of all the people of the world, He chose Isaac instead of Ishmael, Jacob instead of Esau, and from Jacob he chose Judah as the Messianic tribe and Levi as the priestly tribe. Out of the tribe of Levi God chose the family of Aaron to be the priests among the Levites. All of these choices were made by God, without regard to human choice or morality. The people God chose were not all nice people. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were liars. Abraham and Jacob were polygamists. Jacob’s sons were unruly, sexually perverse, and vengeful. God’s choice is powerfully obvious in the Pentateuch.

     Covenant comes right on the heels of election. When God elects individuals, He brings them into the covenant. God first makes His covenant with Abram (Gen. 12). From there, God never violates or diminishes the covenant, but He does add to it throughout Abram’s life and reconfirms it with every generation. We see the power of God’s covenant as He is bound by His own word to bring Israel out of Egypt and establish them in Canaan (Gen. 15:12-16; Exod. 1-14). God establishes His covenant with Israel at Sinai (Exod. 20 ff.), and reveals the conditions, curses, and blessings of it throughout the remainder of the Pentateuch. Everything God does is on the basis of His covenants. Covenant is an indispensable theme in the Pentateuch.

     Worship is an important theme in the Pentateuch. This is obvious because there is an entire book dedicated to laws and ceremonies regarding Israel’s relationship with God – Leviticus. We see worship as early as Genesis 4 where Cain kills Abel (can anybody say “worship wars?”) over the issue of worship. Abram builds altars and worships God wherever he goes. Isaac also is a worshiper. We see Jacob first encountering God and worshiping Him on his way to Paddan-aram (Gen. 28:10-22). After the Red Sea crossing, Israel stands on the seashore and worships God (Exodus 15). God spends much of the latter part of Exodus giving the measurements and specifications of the tabernacle which would be the place of worship for Israel. Leviticus pertains to the ceremonial laws of Israel and the regulations of the priests. Again, this deals with worship. Worship is a huge theme in Numbers as well. We even see the wrath of God against the Israelites who worship Baal (Numbers 25). Deuteronomy serves as a repeating of the law of God with much mention of the subject of worship. As Moses ends his ministry and passes the mantle on to Joshua, he sings a song in the presence of Israel (Deuteronomy 32).

Perhaps the Pentateuch can be summed up thusly: God chose His people and brought them into His covenant blessing, and as a result they give Him worship. God has also chosen us who are born again to be His people. We are brought into the new covenant by Jesus Christ and we are called to worship our God and Savior. Much as changed in the past 4,000 years since God first chose the Israelites, but God’s nature and holiness have not. 

Which Old Testament Laws Are For Me?

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How should the Christian respond to the various laws in the Old Testament? Some of the laws for Israel in the Old Testament seem strange to us today such as dietary laws forbidding pork and shellfish or laws that forbid wearing a garment made of two materials. To help us understand them, the various Old Testament laws can be classified into three categories:
· The moral law which governs the behavior for all men
· The judicial law which was for Israel’s operation as a nation 
· The ceremonial law which was for Israel’s worship until Christ came
We know that Jesus fulfilled the law (Romans 10:4; Colossians 2:14), but what does this mean for the Christian? How does the Old Testament law affect us practically now?
The judicial and ceremonial laws were fulfilled in Christ and Christians have no obligation to observe them literally. Many of these laws, however, teach us general principles about holiness that are good for us to follow.
The moral laws are God’s eternal standards of righteousness for all people – don’t murder, steal, commit adultery, etc. They teach us of our guilt before God and our need for salvation. Jesus also fulfilled the moral law, but this doesn’t free us from observing it. It simply frees us from the punishment of having already broken it.
The lines aren’t always clearly expressed. Sometimes you’ll come to a Scripture and it is pretty obvious that it is Israel-specific, other times you’ll find one that could go either way.
A good example is the verse about tattoos in Leviticus 19:28. There’s a lot of division over whether or not that verse is for Israel-only or for everyone. I particularly think it applies to God’s people whether Christians or Jews.
So… when coming to a particular law in the OT, ask the following questions:
1. Is this law obviously meant for Israel only?
2. Does Jesus coming change the application of this law?
3. What does the New Testament say about this issue/law?
4. Is there some spiritual benefit for Christians to obey this law?
5. If this law is not to be observed literally, what can it teach me?
Ultimately, Jesus simply wasthe fulfillment of the law. Jesus had to fulfill the law because it is eternal and cannot be broken. As Christians, we are bound under the new covenant and the law of love (Matthew 22:34-40). We must love God completely and sincerely and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. God’s eternal laws are bound up in these two great commandments.

Yahweh Our God

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            Have you ever been discouraged? Has it ever seemed that God hasn’t kept a promise? Have you ever suffered for following God’s plan? You aren’t the first to feel this way. In Exodus 6:2-8, we find God confronting a discouraged Moses. Moses has just appeared before Pharaoh and not only did he not succeed in gaining Israel’s freedom, he actually made their working conditions worse! They now have to gather their own straw for bricks and continue the same level of productivity. Moses has upset both Pharaoh and the Israelite foremen. Moses is understandably discouraged, but God encourages Moses with divine promises of deliverance.

            God first reminds Moses who He is: “I am Yahweh.” God is revealing Himself to Moses with His personal, covenant name. This is the name that represents God’s personal dealings in the affairs of the Israelites. The divine name, Yahweh, is closely related to the Hebrew word “hawyah”, meaning “to be.” He is “I AM,” the only self-existent God whose promises are bound up in His true and eternal nature. God then recalls the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give them a great nation of descendants and the land of Canaan as a possession. God tells Moses to remind the Israelites that He is Yahweh, then He gives Abraham seven “I will” promises to give to the Israelites: I will deliver you, I will free you, I will redeem you, I will take you as my people, I will be your God, I will bring you to the land, and I will give it to you (vs. 6-8). God gives His people two, short statements for comfort “I AM” and “I will.” He is saying “I am God, and I will keep my promises!”

            We now fast-forward to chapter 15. God has just given Israel victory over the Egyptians who had enslaved them for 400 years. The Israelites are now standing on the shore of the Red Sea after walking through on dry ground. Pharaoh and the Egyptian army are drowned in the sea. Israel is free for the first time in 400 years. This generation had never known anything but slavery and oppression and God has just delivered them. God has kept His promises! It is time to celebrate and that is exactly what the Israelites are doing. Chapter 15 records their victory song.

            In verse 15:1, Moses and the Israelites give the reason for their praise (vs. 1); they are singing because of the victory that God has given them. Israel also recognizes that God is their salvation (vs. 2). They were not delivered by an army or their own strength, but by a miraculous act of God. Israel also does something very significant in this passage; they acknowledge Yahweh not only as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but also as their personal Lord and God. Israel is making a public, personal, and national commitment to God! In 15:11, Israel publicly acknowledges that Yahweh is unique and exclusive: there is none other like Him. The false gods of the Egyptians are seen as weak and powerless against the backdrop of Yahweh’s majesty and holiness.
Perhaps you have been discouraged like Moses when it seemed that your best efforts had failed. Or perhaps you’ve been angry like the Israelite foremen when following God’s plan seemed to land you in more trouble than you were in to start with. These are not times to give up, but rather they are times we should recall God’s promises and remember those two phrases “I AM” and “I will.” God never changes and God never breaks a promise. 

This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, November 27, 2012.