I registered for a class on the Old Testament, and didn’t know when class started, so I missed the first couple weeks. I’ve been trying desperately to catch up with my reading and weekly assignments, hence my absence here (and neglect of all my other books). But even though I’ve read the Old Testament before, I’ve learned a lot more this time around. God doesn’t just establish a Law and a covenant, He lives by it. It’s constantly taken away (through man’s wickedness) and rebuilt (though His mercy). So here’s a summary of my first assignment, cut down to suitable blog length, on the first two books of the Bible.
The overarching theme of Genesis is creation. Most obviously of the world and humanity itself, but also in God’s covenants with His people: Noah; Abraham; Jacob, who becomes Israel. God continues to break down and recreate after the initial seven days of the first chapters, creating these covenants with His people. Even more than creation, though, it’s a record of God’s love for those made “in His image.”
That love can only be of God, because throughout Genesis we see continued evidence of humanity’s flaws. It begins with Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit, and these flaws are most obvious in the great Flood. But through Noah, God’s great love is seen even in this mass destruction. Noah and his family are saved from the waters, and once they recede receives the same commandment as Adam: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1)
If God’s promises are slowed down or halted, it is humanity’s own fault. God desires to be in union with mankind, despite its continued tendency to betray Him. Even the flood failed to erase these faults, for Noah himself is shown succumbing to drunkenness. But this doesn’t stop God from creating a great nation. Abram is promised this “great nation” (12:2), blessed with a child at an advanced age. And later, Jacob’s descendants become the twelve tribes of this very nation—despite his sons selling the youngest, Joseph, into slavery. The God of the Old Testament is often viewed as one of wrath and punishment, but Genesis shows otherwise: The patriarchs fall again and again, but God continually renews His covenants with them. It’s not a story of wrath, but of love.
In Exodus, God—and His divine love—seem absent at first glance. The Hebrews now live in slavery and oppression in Egypt. But despite this initial perspective, Exodus’s main theme is still a covenant, and one greater than before. This is shown not only in the Israelite’s eventual freedom, but how they are established as the chosen people with great responsibility.
Moses bears the weight of this responsibility at first, being a prime example of both man’s faults and his loyalty to God. Though Moses accepted his divine calling, he never ceased complaining: of a speech impediment, his inability to lead, and of Pharaoh’s stubbornness, to name a few. But God continues to guide him (sometimes sternly) and is unchanging in His promises.
But God also provides more than the Hebrews think they need—a moral code to live by, beginning with the Ten Commandments. Here, God’s promises are accelerated in this culmination of a covenant that builds the foundation of modern society. Now, the people are expected to live by God’s expectations in this new Law.
But with great responsibility comes greater judgement for disobeying. Though God is patient, He remains a God of justice. While Moses receives the divine Law, the people grow impatient and create their own god in the golden calf. God’s answer to this is similar to that of a wicked earth prior to the Flood—the calf (the people’s sin) is destroyed, and those that worshipped it (the wicked) are put to death. His promises continue to be put “on hold” as He cleans up mankind’s mess.
But the remaining loyal are blessed. They have a greater responsibility in building the tabernacle and the establishment of the priesthood. Here, their journey toward a settled land can begin with God as their guide.