The Bible contains lots of different stories and lots of different sorts of books. Books of history, books of prophecy, songs and poetry, advice and letters, but the whole thing does tell an overall story. I’m going to attempt to tell that story in under 10 minutes. This will inevitably cut a few corners and skip a few bits, but I think I can give you the general gist!
In the beginning God made the world and God loved what he had made, andGod had a plan for teaching the world to love him back. First he revealed himself to one man – Abraham – pretty much the first to understand there was one God – not just a load of different spiritual forces. God promised Abraham that through him and his descendents all the world would be blessed. With God’s help Abraham had many descendents including Isaac and Jacob, who became known as Israel and had 12 sons who became the fathers of the 12 Tribes of Israel.
But the Israelites ended up in slavery in Egypt. God sent Moses to rescue them in the story of the Exodus and the first Passover. Moses received the 10 Commandments and God’s laws for his people, and he led the people in the desert for 40 years where they began, as a people, to learn about the one Holy God, who though, he was so Holy he was dangerous to approach, wanted a relationship with his people. God made a Covenant – a Testament – with his people – a promise to be their God if they would be his people and show the world, by the way they lived, what God was like.
After 40 years in the desert God brought the people into a land of their own – the land of Canaan – through Moses’ assistant, Joshua. But when the people settled in the land things started to go wrong. When they were settled they forgot about God and things went wrong and they were oppressed by neighbouring tribes and peoples. So God sent Judges to rescue them – people like Gideon, or Deborah, or Samson. This happened over and over.
Eventually the people wanted a King like the nations around them instead of trusting in God to fight their battles. The first king was Saul. But Saul failed to trust God and was eventually replaced by David. David – for all his faults – and they were many – was God’s ideal king – his anointed one. And God promised David that one of his descendents would reign over God’s people forever.
But after David things went rapidly wrong. King Solomon, David’s son, built the Temple in Jerusalem as a focal point for God’s Covenant with his people who were to reveal God to all the world. But under Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the kingdom was split into two – the Northern kingdom of Israel, ruled from Samaria, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, ruled from Jerusalem. And David’s descendents carried on ruling in Jerusalem. But the Kings of Israel and Judah were a pretty mixed bag. Some trusted in God, others did not and kept worshipping the idols of the nations around them as well, provoking God to anger. Also they didn’t care for the poor and needy, but the rich and powerful exploited and oppressed the poor. They were supposed to be showing the world what God was like but they were giving the world a very distorted picture.
God couldn’t put up with this forever or the world he loved would never know him and be able to love him back. God sent prophets to the people of both Northern and Southern kingdoms, like Amos and Hosea, Isaiah and finally Jeremiah. Sometimes the kings and the people listened, but mostly they didn’t. Eventually God acted, through the political situation of the day. The Assyrian Empire conquered the Northern Kingdom and sent many of the people into exile, never to return, and replaced them with the people who eventually became the Samaritans. But when the Assyrians attacked Jerusalem, King Hezekiah, supported by the prophet Isaiah, trusted in God, and the Assyrians were struck with a plague and fled.
Jerusalem and the line of the kings descended from David continued. But only for a bit over 100 years when the next great Empire arose, that of Babylon. God’s people were warned to turn back to God by Jeremiah, but they wouldn’t, and king Nebucadnezzar of Babylon captured Jerusalem and exiled the king and the wealthiest citizens, leaving a puppet king (still a descendent of David) in charge. The people still wouldn’t listen and tried to rebel against the Babylonians, and in 586BC the Babylonians returned and destroyed Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, and exiled all but the poorest of the people.
It was a disaster. The line of Davidic Kings had ended, the Temple, the symbol of God’s Covenant with his people was destroyed. Where was God and his promises? The Exile lasted 70 years and the people with the help of the prophet Ezekiel and others, began to return to the worship of God, and realized that the Exile had happened because they weren’t showing the world what God was like. It was during the Exile that most of the Old Testament books took their final form. After 70 years Babylon was suddenly conquered by king Cyrus of Persia and the Jews were allowed to return home. Under Ezra and Nehemiah they restored the Temple, and rebuilt Jerusalem. But what about God’s promise that one of David’s descendents would rule God’s people forever?
They studied the writings of the prophets and new prophets like Zechariah and Malachi encouraged them, and they began to believe that God’s promise could be fulfilled not just by an earthly dynasty of kings, but by a single king who would reign himself forever. Though they lived under other powers, particularly Rome, they began to hope for an anointed one – a Messiah, or Christ – descended from David who would save them and reign forever.
That was the Old Testament – the old Covenant – the Old Promise. When Jesus came he seemed to fulfil much of what the prophets had written about and though he turned out not to be an earthly ruler who would conquer their enemies, but one who would conquer our sin, our lack or love, and would conquer death itself. Jesus taught and healed, and took all our sin on himself, died on the cross and rose again. In raising Jesus from the dead God confirmed him as the Messiah – God’s true king. And what God had always intended, that through this people, and now through this man, Jesus, all the world would be blessed – it happened. The promise widened into a New promise, a new covenant, a New Testament.
But the story doesn’t end with Jesus. The risen Jesus sent the Holy Spirit on his disciples sending them out to make disciples of all nations and fulfil God’s first promise to Abraham. Also he taught them to look out for his coming again, when the promises of a new creation would be fulfilled. The book of Acts recounts how the mission to make disciples began with the 12 apostles, and others, and particularly through Saul of Tarsus, who after he met Jesus on the Damascas Road became St Paul, who carried the Good News of Jesus to non-Jews all over the known world and set up churches everywhere he went.
The rest of the New Testament part of the Bible consists of the letters of Paul and others to churches all over the known world about how to carry on and live as God’s people and show the world that God is love. The odd book of Revelation at the end of the Bible encourages churches undergoing persecution, and teaches them to look for Jesus’ coming again.
What do you say, normally, when you finish reading a story? “The end.” When I finish reading the Bible I say, “The beginning.” The story carries on, and we are part of it. God’s promise to bless all the world keeps on growing and being fulfilled, and it carries on in and with you and me.
The first words of the Bible are: “In the beginning…” The last words of the Bible are a prayer saying, “Come Lord Jesus!” The middle word of the Bible falls – so I’m told in Psalm 118 and it is ‘Trust’. Trust in God.
Alastair 3/11/13 All Age