Old Testament History 1.0 - Introduction


THAT the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" is also the "God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," and that "they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham," - these are among the most precious truths of revelation. They show us not only the faithfulness of our God, and the greatness of our privileges, but also the marvelous wisdom of the plan of salvation, and its consistency throughout. For the Bible should be viewed, not only in its single books, but in their connection, and in the unity of the whole. The Old Testament could not be broken off from the New, and each considered as independent of the other. Nor yet could any part of the Old Testament be disjoined from the rest. The full meaning and beauty of each appears only in the harmony and unity of the whole. Thus they all form links of one unbroken chain, reaching from the beginning to the time when the Lord Jesus Christ came, for whom all previous history had prepared, to whom all the types pointed, and in whom all the promises are "Yea and Amen." Then that which God had spoken to Abraham, more than two thousand years before, became a blessed reality, for "the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." That this one grand purpose should have been steadily kept in view, and carried forward through all the vicissitudes of history, changes of time, and stages of civilization, - and that without requiring any alteration, only further unfolding and at last completion - affords indeed the strongest confirmation to our faith. It is also a precious comfort to our hearts; for we see how God's purpose of mercy has been always the same; and, walking the same pilgrim-way which "the fathers" had trod, and along which God had safely guided the Covenant, we rejoice to know that neither opposition of man nor yet unfaithfulness on the part of His professing people can make void the gracious counsel of God: -

"He loved us from the first of time,
He loves us to the last."

And this it is which we learn from the unity of Scripture.

But yet another and equally important truth may be gathered. There is not merely harmony but also close connection between the various parts of Scripture. Each book illustrates the other, taking up its teaching and carrying it forward. Thus the unity of Scripture is not like that of a stately building, however ingenious its plan or vast its proportions; but rather, to use a Biblical illustration, like that of the light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. We mark throughout growth in its progress, as men were able to bear fuller communications, and prepared for their reception. The law, the types, the history, the prophecies, and the promises of the Old Testament all progressively unfold and develop the same truth, until it appears at last in its New Testament fullness. Though all testify of the same thing, not one of them could safely be left out, nor yet do we properly understand any one part unless we view it in its bearing and connection with the others. And so when at last we come to the close of Scripture, we see how the account of the creation and of the first calling of the children of God, which had been recorded in the book of Genesis, has found its full counterpart - its fulfillment - in the book of Revelation, which tells the glories of the second creation, and the perfecting of the Church of God. As one of the old Church teachers (St. Augustine) writes:

"Novum Testamentum in vetere latet,
Vetus in novo patet." *

* "Only in the New Covenant does the Old unfold, And hidden lies the New Testament in the Old."

That in a work composed of so many books, written under such very different circumstances, by penmen so different, and at periods so widely apart, there should be "some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest," can surely not surprise us, more particularly when we remember that it was God's purpose only to send the brighter light as men were able to bear it. Besides, we must expect that with our limited powers and knowledge we shall not be able fully to understand the ways of God. But, on the other hand, this may be safely said, that the more deep, calm, and careful our study, the more ample the evidence it will bring to light to confirm our faith against all attacks of the enemy. Yet the ultimate object of our reading is not knowledge, but experience of grace. For, properly understood, the Scripture is all full of Christ, and all intended to point to Christ as our only Savior. It is not only the law, which is a schoolmaster unto Christ, nor the types, which are shadows of Christ, nor yet the prophecies, which are predictions of Christ; but the whole Old Testament history is full of Christ. Even where persons are not, events may be types. If any one failed to see in Isaac or in Joseph a personal type of Christ, he could not deny that the offering up of Isaac, or the selling of Joseph, and his making provision for the sustenance of his brethren, are typical of events in the history of our Lord. And so indeed every event points to Christ, even as He is alike the beginning, the center, and the end of all history - "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." One thing follows from this: only that reading or study of the Scriptures can be sufficient or profitable through which we learn to know Christ - and that as "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" to us. And for this purpose we ought constantly to ask the aid and teaching of the Holy Spirit.

A few brief remarks, helpful to the study of patriarchal history, may here find a place. In general, the Old Testament may be arranged into "The Law and the Prophets." *

* Matthew 11:13, 22:40; Acts 13:15, etc. The ordinary Jewish division is into the Law (five books of Moses); the Prophets (earlier: Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings; and later: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets); and "The Writings," or sacred writings, hagiographa, - which comprise The Psalms, Proverbs, and Job; - the "five rolls," read at special festivals in the Synagogue: the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther; - Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles (called in Hebrews "Words, or Acts, of the Days," journals, or diaries). Comp. Luke 24:44.

It was possibly with reference to this division that the Law consisted of the five books of Moses - ten being the symbolical number of completeness, and the Law with its commands being only half complete without "the Prophets" and the promises. But assuredly to the fivefold division of the Law answers the arrangement of the Psalms into five books, of which each closes with a benediction, as follows: -

 Book 1: Psalm 1-41
 Book 2: Psalm 42-72
 Book 3: Psalm 73-89
 Book 4: Psalm 90-106
 Book 5: Psalm 107-150

- the last Psalm standing as a grand final benediction.

The Law or the Five Books of Moses are commonly called the Pentateuch, a Greek term meaning the "fivefold," or "five-parted" Book. Each of these five books commonly bears a title given by the Greek translators of the Old Testament (the so-called LXX.), in accordance with the contents of each: Genesis (origin, creation), Exodus (going out from Egypt), Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (Second Law, or the Law a second time). The Jews designate each book by the first or else the most prominent word with which it begins.

The book of Genesis consists of two great parts, each again divided into five sections. Every section is clearly marked by being introduced as "generations," or "originations" - in Hebrew Toledoth - as follows:

General Introduction: Chap. 1-2:3.
1. Generations of the Heavens and the Earth, 2:4-4:26.
2. Book of the Generations of Adam 5-6:8.
3. The Generations of Noah, 6:9-9:29.
4. The Generations of the Sons of Noah 10-11:9.
5. The Generations of Shem, 11:10-26.
1. The Generations of Terah (the father of Abraham), 11:27-25:11.
2. The Generations of Ishmael 25:12-18.
3. The Generations of Isaac, 25:19-35:29
4. The Generations of Esau, 36.
5. The Generations of Jacob, 37.

These two parts make together ten sections - the number of completeness, - and each section varies in length with the importance of its contents, so far as they bear upon the history of the kingdom of God. For, both these parts, or rather the periods which they describe, have such bearing. In the first we are successively shown man's original position and relationship towards God; then his fall, and the consequent need of redemption; and next God's gracious provision of mercy. The acceptance or rejection of this provision implies the separation of all mankind into two classes - the Sethites and the Cainites. Again, the judgment of the flood upon the ungodly, and the preservation of His own people, are typical for all time; while the genealogies and divisions of the various nations, and the separation of Shem, imply the selection of one nation, from whom salvation should spring for all mankind. In this first part the interest of the history groups around events rather than persons. It is otherwise in the second part, where the history of the Covenant and of the Covenant-people begins with the calling of Abraham, and is continued in Isaac, in Jacob, and in his descendants. Here the interest centers in persons rather than events, and we are successively shown God's rich promises as they unfold, and God's gracious dealings as they contribute to the training of the patriarchs. The book of Genesis, and with it the first period of the Covenant history, closes when the family had expanded into a nation.

Finally, with reference to the special arrangement of the "generations" recorded throughout the book of Genesis, it will be noticed that, so to speak, the side branches are always cut off before the main branch is carried onwards. Thus the history of Cain and of his race precedes that of Seth and his race; the genealogy of Japheth and of Ham that of Shem; and the history of Ishmael and Esau that of Isaac and of Jacob. For the principle of election and selection, of separation and of grace, underlies from the first the whole history of the Covenant. It appears in the calling of Abraham, and is continued throughout the history of the patriarchs; and although the holy family enlarges into the nation, the promise narrows first to the house of David, and finally to one individual - the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, the one Prophet, the one Priest, the one King, that in Him the kingdom of heaven might be opened to all believers, and from Him the blessings of salvation flow unto all men.