As I referenced in the Intro, somehow I came away from my adolescent years of church and Sunday school with a very fragmented view of the Bible. I am embarrassed to say it was closer to my mid 20s when, through studying on my own accord, I began to connect some of the dots, particularly of the Old Testament of the Bible.
I figured I would start by making myself vulnerable so that no one need feel inferior. Wherever you’re at in your Biblical knowledge, you have nothing to be ashamed about.
For example, I was definitely older before I ever connected that the story of Joseph directly connected to the story of Moses. As in, the Israelites end up in Egypt in the first place because Joseph brings his family there to save them from a famine. Then the Israelites become enslaved later on and Moses is the man God chooses to help free them. I think the first time I pieced that one together, my mind was blown. Likewise, it was most certainly only in the past 5 years that I realized the kingdom of Israel, God’s chosen people, actually split in two at one point! It became two nations, mad at each other! I’ve led Bible studies for 15 years and it still took time to figure some of those things out– and hey, no judgment! It’s a big Bible, ha!
Now, some of you may be laughing at me wondering, how did you not learn that earlier? As I said to my husband, I will now say to you: we didn’t all have the privilege of attending Christian school growing up. So seriously, count that a blessing and don’t take it for granted if you did. But I will also assume that there were others of you, like myself, who went “OOOOOHHHH! Now I get it!”
As I prepared this, there were so many MORE things I wanted to include, but it was just too much for an already lengthy topic. So we’ll dive into more overarching Biblical themes and important events in the future. Today, the purpose is to lay the groundwork and understand the larger picture.
The Bible is really one big love story about a Creator God wanting to restore relationship with his people and creation. Everything in the Old Testament points to Jesus, and at least ⅔ of the New Testament references the OT, so it is so important to understand both. They do not exist within a vacuum. Each informs the other.
In the beginning, God created this world and mankind, all operating under his shalom (peace). Then man rebelled and broke that peace, bringing about suffering and chaos. But almost right away, in the book of Genesis, God already kickstarts his rescue plan. It begins with a man named Abraham. God establishes a Covenant with Abraham and says “I will be your God and all nations will be blessed through you.”
Descended from Abraham comes the people of Israel. When they first make their exodus out of slavery from Egypt, they no longer know Yahweh God, whom their descents followed. So God again establishes his Covenant with them and says “I will be your God, you will be my people, all nations will be blessed through you.” God promises to be their God and secure blessing upon them, but Israel is supposed to live in a way that reflects the heart of God. For their side of the Covenant, they are to be a beacon to the nations around them, displaying the generous and compassionate heart of their Lord.
The rest of the OT is waiting to see if Israel can hold up their end of the Covenant relationship. Can they be ambassadors of Creator God to the surrounding nations? Can they bring redemptive living to the world? We, of course, know they fail in this mission. They abandon Yahweh and live in the most detestable of ways, and the Covenant relationship is broken. Yet even in the bleakest of moments, when impending Babylonian conquest is upon the Israelite people, God already speaks of his continued rescue plan, of sending a Redeemer and establishing a new covenant, which will not be written on tablets of stone but on their minds and hearts.
When we open the book of the New Testament, the rescue story comes to a pinnacle. The Creator God, knowing his creation cannot rescue and atone itself, humbles himself and comes to the very world he created as God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus, fully God, but also descended from the line of Abraham and the Israelite nation, is for all people what they could never be for themselves, never able to fulfill the Old Covenant. He presents a New Exodus, where now all peoples of the world are invited to come out of slavery from sin and into freedom under a New Law, a New Covenant. For the first time since the fall of Adam and Eve, Jesus restores right relationship between God and man by becoming their sacrifice, the final slaughtered Lamb,the last atonement needed. He dismantles the Old Law and establishes a New Covenant.
The most central part of the story has occurred, but it is not over. Jesus’ death and resurrection was the bridge to restoring the relationship between people and their Father God, but the final restoration of the world has not yet come. We will not be swept off to heaven someday and this world destroyed in a final judgement. One day, Jesus will return, and this world that God so lovingly created, he will make new. Heaven will come down to meet earth, and our Lord will dwell among us. And the ultimate peace, the beautiful and orderly shalom that God always desired for this world and for his relationship with his children, will be restored.
In the waiting, Jesus makes it very clear in the Gospels that we do not have to wait for God’s Final Restoration. When Jesus came, he ushered in the Kingdom of God. He displayed and taught what it means to live in a such a way that reflects the heart of the Father. And so in the meantime, while we wait, we can bring the Kingdom of God to this world each and every day by choosing to display God’s shalom, by choosing to reflect his love and mercy and compassion. In the same way the Israelites were supposed to be a light to the nations around them, but failed without access to relationship with their Heavenly Father, we are invited to partake in God’s story by being ambassadors of King Jesus to the world around us.
Now that we have the plot of the story and ultimately know the ending, where God restored relationship at great cost to himself and where God’s love and peace will prevail, we can begin to fill in some of the details along the way.
Below you will find a bullet-point, cliff-notes version of the major events in the Bible. It’s like reading it in fast forward and it can make it easier to see how the pieces fit together. This isn’t all-inclusive, but it provides anchor points. A downloadable pdf of this will be at the end. Following that, there will also be a printable Timeline. I find it to be handy to reference, because even the best of us can forget things along the way.
Major Events of the Bible:
- Creation (Genesis 1-2)
- People repeatedly sinning against God (Genesis 3-11)
- Fall of Adam and Eve, and decline of descendants
- The Flood
- God spares Noah and the animals as a remnant
- Makes a Covenant with creation to never again destroy it (rainbow)
- Man again turns corrupt; the Tower of Babel- God confuses the languages and people scatter (Gen 11)
- God’s solution: God makes a Covenant Promise with Abraham (Genesis 12-17)
- Promises to make him into a great nation and to give him land
- Millions of descendants
- All nations will be blessed through him
- Patriarchs of God’s people (Gen 21-50)
- Abraham→ Isaac → Jacob
- Jacob’s other name- Israel, which means “wrestles with God”
- Jacob’s 12 sons become the 12 tribes of Israel
- Jacob’s son, Joseph, is sold into slavery in Egypt, which leads to his eventual position of power in Egypt
- Joseph saves his family, Israelites, during a great famine→ family moves to Egypt
- Abraham→ Isaac → Jacob
- Israelite population rapidly grows in Egypt. When the old generation dies and new pharaoh no longer remembers Joseph, Israelites are made into slaves as a means to subdue them (Exodus)
- Moses’ life is spared, raised by Pharaoh’s daughter
- God delivers his people out of Egypt in Exodus and enters Covenant relationship with them (the Mosaic Covenant) (Exodus 19 & 24)
- I will be your God, you will be my people; I will dwell in your midst
- Israelites are meant to be God’s image bearers, to represent God to the world, to be set apart
- Israelites know little about Yahweh before this point; they have to learn how to live as people set apart (hence, The Law)
- Deuteronomy (just prior to entering the Promised Land)
- God restates their covenant relationship and details their blessings if they obey him and worship him alone, as well as the terrible judgments if they do not (see Deut 28)
- Israel vows to keep the Covenant, but of course they do not
- Joshua through 2 Kings follows the Israelite’s story of entering the Promised Land and seeing if they keep that agreement (clearly they do not)
- They gradually conquest the land and then lose pieces again as they fall into sin
- Time of the Judges
- Israel’s attempt to have a leader; someone representing God, to guide the people
- Judges were political military leaders but also a judicial role (like a Supreme Court)
- It goes horribly and by the end, it’s written, “in those days Israel had no king: everyone did as they saw fit.” (Judges 21:25)
- Outrageous moral decline- rape, murder, neglect of widows/orphans/poor, worshipping pagan gods
- Samuel is the last judge
- The Cycle of Judgment: they do this all through the OT
- the people are faithful and enjoy peace→ People get complacent and rebel→ God gives them into the hands of their enemies→ People turn back to God and cry out in their oppression→ God rescues them and people are faithful under that leader→ Until that leader is gone and the people rebel again
- Israel enters monarchy- a new strategy of trying to lead the people via a king (1 Samuel)
- Saul is the first king- starts okay but can’t remain faithful to God
- Samuel is instructed to go to Bethlehem and anoints David as the next king
- David is the one who takes Jerusalem and establishes it as the capitol
- David finishes conquering the Promised Land
- Israel’s land being established; wants to build a permanent temple for God
- Solomon is the last king of Israel in its entirety– cursed because of his unfaithfulness (1 Kings)
- The Division of the Kingdom (1 & 2 Kings)
- The Northern Kingdom- referred to as Israel
- There are no good kings here in its history; they turn to idol worship
- The Southern Kingdom- referred to as Judah
- Where Jerusalem is located
- Where we get the term “The Jews”
- Has a few good kings mixed in with the bad
- On-going civil war between the kingdoms
- The Northern Kingdom- referred to as Israel
- The destruction of the northern kingdom, Israel, by the Assyrians (722 BC) – 2Kings 17
- The destruction of Solomon’s temple and the southern kingdom, Judah, by the Babylonians (587 BC)- 2Kings 24 & 25
- Exile in Babylonia and Egypt (550-450 BC)
- Return to the land- Ezra & Nehemiah
- Persian age (538 BC)- In his first year of rule, King Cyrus frees the Israelites
- Rebuilding of the temple- Nehemiah
- Intertestamental period (also referred to as the “400 Years of Silence”)
- Greek empire from 336-165 BC
- Brings the Greek language (common trading language), making for one common language
- Greek cultural influence
- Greek preference for aesthetics over content
- Roman Empire in rule by the time Jesus is born
- Greek empire from 336-165 BC
- Jesus’ Birth, Life, Death & Resurrection (The Gospels)
- Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of God and establishes a New Covenant
- Jesus becomes the final sacrificial Lamb of atonement for sins
- Jesus’ death & resurrection restores right relationship with God
- The formation of the early church (Acts)
- Jesus’ disciples become the first missionaries
- The Holy Spirit arrives at Pentecost
- The invitation to be God’s people is opened up to non-Jews (referred to as “Gentiles”)
- Saul is converted on the road to Damascus and renamed “Paul”
- Nero comes to power in the 60s AD
- Intense persecution- causes Christians to spread out and ultimately spread Christianity to other parts of the world
- Revelation: One day Christ will return and restore all things; the earth will be made new and heaven will meet earth, and God will dwell among his people.
- ….Until then, we eagerly wait and see what role we’ll play in God’s story.
I know this was a lot of information today. So take this week and simply familiarize yourself with it all.