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BIBLE INTRODUCTION: Part 1

Introduction to the Bible

There are 2 axioms to adopt in regard to the Bible. (The second is possibly a corollary of the first.)

1. The God of the Bible exists.
2. The Bible is God’s word.

If you are unsure of these axioms, you are invited to read the Bible for yourself and make up your own mind. A study of fulfilled prophecy may help you to believe those 2 propositions. However, we hold that the validity of these 2 axioms is self-evident. And it is more obvious to us that those 2 propositions are valid than it is obvious that the evidence from fulfilled prophecy is valid.

The Bible, as it is in print today, consists of 66 sections called “books,” even if many of those sections are too short to be called “books” in every day language. The first 39 books comprise the “Old Testament”; the last 27 books comprise the “New Testament.” (39: 3x9 = 27!)

For convenient memorization, one can divide the OT into 5 major parts, which have the following numbers of books in each respectively: 5, 12, 5, 5, 12: (law, history, poetry, major prophets, minor prophets):

5 books of the Law (Moses)
12 books of history
5 books of poetry
5 major prophet books
12 minor prophet books.

Not all of the Bible is stories. If you want to read Bible stories, you can start at Genesis and read about half way through Exodus. Genesis has stories about creation, Noah, the Tower of Babel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s 12 sons (including Joseph).

Exodus begins with Israel in Egyptian bondage and Moses. But about half way through Exodus the stories stop and a long description of the Tabernacle is given. (Most of us need a commentary or a picture book commentary interpreting the Tabernacle, in order to get maximum enjoyment from its study).

Leviticus begins with a long description of how to kill animals and make sacrifices. The Tribe of Levy had the priests, so the name Leviticus is appropriate. Leviticus also has holiness rules. There are a few stories in Leviticus, but they may be hard to find.

Numbers has a major story about Israel blowing its opportunity quickly to enter the land. At a place called Kadesh-barnea, the Lord seemed ready for them to enter the land; but bad Israelite spies discouraged the people with a report about giants in the land. Then Israel lacked the faith to enter the promised land. Thus, the Lord made Israel stay in the wilderness for 40 years, until the rebels at Kadesh-barnea died. So there are stories about Israel during Israel’s “wanderings” in the wilderness in Numbers. It also has a long series of countings. The counting or census of the population of Israel in the wilderness is done twice. The second census shows that all but 2 of the adult population has died since Israel left Egypt; thus Israel is now eligible to enter the Promised Land. In order to find the stories in Numbers, you may need to leaf through the book to pass all the pages spent on counting.

Deuteronomy consists of about 4 speeches by Moses before he dies. Most of Deuteronomy is a second recitation of the law. Near the end of Deuteronomy, is the story of Moses death.

Collectively, the first 5 books are called the Law or the Five Books of Moses.

After the 5 books of the law are found the “12 Books of History.” To memorize these 12 books one may divide them into 3 groups: 2 men and a woman, 3 twins, and 2 men and a woman:

I. 2 MEN AND A WOMAN = Joshua, Judges, & Ruth.
II. 3 TWINS = 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles
III. 2 MEN AND A WOMAN = Ezra, Nehemiah, & Esther.

Actually, these are just memory aids. Actually one of the “judges” is a woman, Deborah.

2 MEN AND A WOMAN

If you want stories, the stories continue in Joshua, as with the Battle of Jericho. But about half way through Joshua, the stories stop, and we get a detailed description of the boundaries of the tribes of Israel. Then we get what has been called Joshua’s Farewell address or swan song.

However, with Judges, the stories resume, and very entertaining stories they are. The judges are quasi-rulers, but not kings. The story of Ruth takes place in the days of the judges.

3 TWINS: 1& 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles.

1 Samuel starts with the story of Samuel, who is actually the last “judge” of Israel. Then we find stories about Israel’s first real king, Saul. And David, who would become the second king, enters the story.

From 1 Samuel through 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings, there is one continuous story ending with Israel exiled from the land of Israel and the Babylonian Captivity of Israel. After Israel’s 3rd king (Solomon) dies, the kingdom splits into a northern kingdom of Israel and a southern kingdom called Judah. There are 19 kings of (north) Israel and 19 kings of (south) Judah. 1 & 2 Kings covers both north and south, though the northern kingdom is taken captive by Assyria long before Judah falls to Babylon.

In our opinion, the most interesting stories in the Bible (just considered as stories) are the stories of Elijah, Elisha, and Jehu, all 3 being figures in northern Israel. Elijah and Elisha are prophets. Jehu is a king noted for doing a lot of killing. The stories of Elijah start late in 1 Kings and continue into 2 Kings until his rapture (taking up) in a whirlwind in 2 Kings 2. The stories of Elisha start near the end of 1 Kings and continue into 2 Kings. Jehu becomes King of Israel in 2 Kings 9.

The third group of “twins” is 1 & 2 Chronicles. 1 Chronicles has lots of genealogical material, starting with Adam and ending with the Kingdom of Israel. There are lots of “begets” in the first of 1 Chronicles, and only a few short stories here and there. But about half way through 1 Chronicles, the story of King David begins. 1 & 2 Chronicles give the history of the House of David, including the kings who descended from him. Also, there is much in 1 Chronicles about the government system of King David and about the set up of the Temple system, much particularly near the end of 1 Chronicles. Since the Chronicles focuses on the House of David, there is much about the Kingdom of Judah, but much less about the kings of northern Israel in 2 Chronicles. So, if you want to read stories, you will skip through 1 Chronicles, leaving aside the begets at the start and the governmental organization near its end.


2 MEN AND A WOMAN (AGAIN)

When you get past the “three twins,” you come to Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. Here you find many stories, stories in particular about the Jews who returned from the Babylonian Captivity to live in the land of Israel again, but without a king of their own. Instead, in these books, Israel is under the rule of the King of Persia, starting with Cyrus the Great.

Ezra is a priest and the Book of Ezra concerns rebuilding the Temple at Jerusalem. Nehemiah, on the other hand, is a governor, and the Book of Nehemiah concerns rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. The story of the Book of Esther takes place in Persia, and the king (called Ahasuerus) appears to be known in secular history as Xerxes. Esther is a Jewess who becomes Queen of Persia and saves the Jews from being destroyed. The book gives the story behind the Jewish festival of Purim.

5 BOOKS OF POETRY

There is a lot of poetry in the Old Testament, but the rules of this poetry are not the same as our English poetry. The Bible poetry has some rhyme, but not slavishly at the end of lines. Also, Bible poetry may have meter. But the main genius of Bible poetry is parallelism of various sorts, which may amount almost to saying the same thing twice in different words, as for example, “Give ear to my words, . . . , Consider my meditation.” Or the parallel words may be antithetical, as with “A wise son makes a glad father; but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.”

The 5 books called “books of poetry” are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes.

Job is a book of debates and takes place in the land of Uz (or Edom) and not in Israel. In the introductory chapters, we are introduced to Job and his family. Then the scene shifts to Heaven, where satan is having to give account of himself to the Lord. The Lord brings up Job, but satan argues that Job is only righteous because of the rewards he gets from God. So the Lord lets satan hurt Job to prove that Job will still be righteous when things go wrong in life. In response, satan hits Job, taking away his possessions and children -- finally taking away his health, so that Job is sick with a disease that makes him uncomfortable all over. Still Job does not deny the Lord.

Most of the book then is taken up with 5 persons who visit Job during his infirmity. The first 3 are Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, three friends of Job who argue with him, even bitterly debate with him, the cause of Job’s suffering. The 3 friends argue that Job has sinned. Job argues back maintaining his innocence. A 4th person enters the argument late in the book, a young man named Elihu, who seems to speak for God and who emphasizes the beneficial nature of suffering upon the one who suffers. The 5th person is the Lord Himself, who settles the debate near the end of the book. The Lord corrects the folly of Job’s 3 friends and restores Job to health and prosperity. Thus most of the book is not so much historical narrative (stories) as the detailed chronicles of long debates.

If you take your Bible and open it to Genesis 1:1, and holding that spot go to the last verse of Revelation, then find the middle page; you will probably come out in Psalms somewhere. Psalms is a collection of the lyrics to songs, for which we no longer have the music. Psalms is the grand prayer book of the Bible, with many psalms of praise; however, there are different types of Psalms, including wisdom psalms, and calls for the punishment of the wicked (imprecatory psalms). Some of the Psalms are messianic, in that the treat of the Lord Jesus, particularly in his death and resurrection.