Years ago, I got a job as a barista. It was exciting as someone who loves coffee. Yet it was intimidating as someone who can quickly feel overwhelmed. I wondered if I could keep up when customers ordered their “Skinny, half-caff, upside-down, three-pump vanilla…” (well, you get the idea).
But I did fine, and here’s what helped. I first learned how to make a simple latte: put in espresso, then add steamed milk. My “Ah-ha” moment came when I realized that most orders revolved around that basic framework. When this clicked, the complex drinks became more manageable.
We can approach the Bible the same way. We’re excited to read the parts we know and love. Yet we’re also intimidated, because other parts seem strange and confusing.
But there’s good news: the Bible tells one, unified story. And there are parts of that story which—when understood—will provide a framework for understanding the whole Bible. In this entry, we’ll consider the Old Testament and look at five major events that its story revolves around.
Creation and Fall
In Genesis 1–3, God creates a beautiful world, as well as people to populate and rule over it. We also see that God desires to have an intimate relationship with His people. Tragically, people rebelled against God, and the results were catastrophic: people now experienced alienation from God, from nature, and from each other. Sin and death had now entered the human story.
The Promise to Abraham
Hope comes in Genesis 12 when God appears to a man named Abraham and promises to give him countless descendants, a land for them to live in, and to bless all nations through him. This means that God’s solution to the problem of sin and death will come through Abraham and his descendants. It’s not a stretch to say that the rest of the Bible shows us how God fulfills these promises.
Moses and the Law
Abraham’s family grows exponentially, becoming the nation of Israel. But they are eventually enslaved in Egypt. In faithfulness to Abraham, God sends Moses to Egypt to rescue Israel and bring them to the land—called “Canaan”—that God had promised them.
Before they get to Canaan, God gives Israel His law, which teaches them how to live. In passages like Deuteronomy 28, God lists the blessings Israel will enjoy in Canaan if they obey God’s law and the curses they will experience if they disobey—the worst being removal from Canaan. As we read the rest of the Old Testament, these blessings and curses should be on our mind.
The Nation of Israel
The Israelites enter Canaan, and eventually God establishes kings over them. The greatest of these kings is David, and God promises that one of David’s descendants will sit on his throne forever. God’s solution to sin, then, will not only come through a descendant of Abraham, but through a King descended from David.
During the reigns of David and his son Solomon, many of God’s promises to Abraham seem to have been fulfilled: the Israelites are numerous, living peacefully in the land, and they’re blessing surrounding nations.
The Exile to Babylon
After Solomon’s death, the kingdom of Israel splits in two, and both sides repeatedly break God’s law. God’s messengers—called “prophets”—try to remind the Israelites of what will happen if they disobey Him, but to no avail. So, as warned in Deuteronomy, judgment comes. The northern kingdom is destroyed in 722 BC. The southern kingdom—where David’s descendants rule—is exiled to Babylon in 586 BC. It may look like God’s promises to Abraham have failed; Israel has few survivors, no land to dwell in, and they’re not blessing the nations. As for God’s promise to David, there’s no longer a throne for one of his descendants to rule from.
But In this dark moment, God promises hope. God tells the Israelites in exile that He will keep His promises to Abraham. And He will keep His promise to David by sending them a faithful ruler, or “Messiah.”
The Bible tells a big, complex story, but understanding the foundational elements of that story will go a long way toward helping us appreciate everything in between.
So as you read the Old Testament, ask yourself questions like:
How do I see God pursuing a relationship with His people?
How is He fulfilling His promises to Abraham (land, descendants, blessing)?
Of the paths laid out in Deuteronomy (obedience or disobedience), which is Israel walking on?
How do I see God keeping His promise to David?
In the prophets, how do the promises to Abraham and David comfort Israel in their exile?