They Spoke from God
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They Spoke from God

A Survey of the Old Testament

William C. Williams

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eBook - ePub

They Spoke from God

A Survey of the Old Testament

William C. Williams

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Weaves together Old and New Testament passages to show how they tell the story of God at work to redeem His people. Provides students with a basic grasp of relevant Scriptures and relates them to historical, theological, and ethical questions.

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Ronald Wright
What Is the Old Testament?
• In What Sense Is the Bible the Word of God?
• How Was the Word of God Given?
• What Does “Revelation” Mean?
• What Is Meant by the “Inspiration” of Scripture?
• How Should Inspiration Be Understood?
• What Value Did Jesus Place on the Old Testament?
• What Are the Characteristics of a Divinely Inspired Scripture?
• What Is Meant by Describing the Bible as “Canon”?
• What Is Hermeneutics and How Is It Used?
Septuagint (LXX)
The Old Testament is the first major part of a unique collection of writings called the Bible. The Bible has often been rightly acclaimed as a literary gem and prized for its contribution to the study of history. Many have pointed to its ability to elevate values within a culture. It can enrich personal and societal views of life and overall worldviews. Some have found comfort in its pages when they were pressed by the problems of everyday life. But these and a host of other claims for the importance of the Bible, even taken collectively, do not get to the heart of how valuable the Bible is. The Bible is prized because it is the Word of God to humanity. It reveals God and candidly describes humanity.
The English word “bible” comes from the Greek word biblion. This word was originally used in a general sense of any book. With the passage of time, however, “Bible” (capital “B”) became a term used by believers to identify the Holy Scriptures. It still has this meaning. Yet not all who claim that the Bible is the Word of God are in agreement as to what such a claim means. Two individuals may use identical words to state a position and yet have vastly differing interpretations of that position. It is necessary, therefore, to carefully define one’s claim, or confession of faith. The believer needs to ask, “What is Scripture?” Biblical understandings, personal convictions, and resulting commitments can come only after having first studied the nature of Scripture itself.
In What Sense Is the Bible the Word of God?
Every book of the Bible came through human agency; none of them was dropped from the sky. The first five books of the Bible are called the Books of Moses or the Pentateuch (Gk. penta, “five,” plus teuch, “work” or “book”; Heb. Torah). The prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the twelve minor prophets are all identified by the name of their human authors. Each writer has a personal style, which includes vocabulary, sentence structure, and the tone the writer adopts toward his subject matter. Once this is recognized, two major questions must be addressed. The first is centered on human imperfections and asks, “How can fallible people write an infallible book?” The second asks, “Since humans are involved in writing the Bible, how then can it possibly be God’s Word?”
Too often, unfortunately, people answer these questions without any regard to what the Bible says about itself. The Scripture is a definitive source for doctrine, including doctrine about God, humankind, salvation, and the Church. It is just as important that Scripture be consulted for the doctrine about itself. Scripture repeatedly and consistently testifies about its nature. It declares that, though written by ordinary people, its ultimate author is God.1 This testimony of Scripture not only informs the mind but also produces in its readers a sense of wonder, about both God’s person and his work.
The witness of the Bible to itself is not confined to explicit statements about inspiration, such as 2 Timothy 3:16 (“All Scripture is God-breathed”). It is also implied in how the Bible treats its various subjects: Rather than representing the perspective of a people, it consistently speaks on behalf of God. In a sense, then, all the Bible is a witness to itself.2
Here by Accident?
Christian philosophers use the term “open universe” to indicate God’s continued activity in his creation. In such a universe, he works to bring his design to fulfillment in human redemption by his Spirit through his Word. Since he planned in creation to have a people called by his name, it follows that his plan will be executed. Because a great gulf exists between the Creator and fallen humanity, an authoritative word from him for sinful and sinning people is needed. Such a word speaks to a fundamental question of human existence: Are we here by accident or by divine design and purpose? Christians answer, “By divine design and purpose!”
What Does the Bible Say About Itself?
The Old Testament teaches that God has communicated with humankind from the dawn of human history. After creating Adam and Eve, he spoke to them, both before and after the Fall (Gen. 1:28–30; 3:9–19). God chose Abram to be the father of a people that God would later commit himself to. God spoke to Abram and called him after the death of his father (Gen. 12:1–3). God later reconfirmed his covenant with Abram and encouraged, strengthened, and directed him,3 eventually changing his name to Abraham (Gen. 17:5). God spoke to Isaac, guiding him and confirming with him the covenant promises first made to his father, Abraham (Gen. 26:1–5). God spoke to Jacob, calling upon him to build an altar (Gen. 35:1). In this way God reconfirmed to him the covenant given to Abraham and confirmed to Isaac. The voice of God was so vivid and convincing that Jacob had his son Joseph vow not to bury him in Egypt. Instead, the Israelites were to carry his body up to the land promised them (Gen. 49:29–30; Heb. 11:22).
God spoke to Moses. Almost two-thirds of the Pentateuch, or Torah, is a direct record of what God said to Moses. He first heard the voice of God from the flaming bush when God commissioned him for service (Exod. 3 through 4). As Moses obeyed, God repeatedly spoke to him. Clear statements of God’s words to Moses occur throughout the story of the exodus (Exod. 6:1 through 14:18).4 When the people wailed because there was no water, God instructed Moses to strike a particular rock (Exod. 17:5–6). Later, when the Amalekites came to war against Israel at Rephidim, God gave His people victory. Afterward He instructed Moses to write the account as a permanent record (Exod. 17:14). In preparation for Moses and the Israelites to receive the covenant at Sinai, as well as in the giving of the covenant itself, God spoke to Moses. Moses then wrote down God’s revelation (Exod. 19 through 24). God gave him detailed instructions regarding the tabernacle (Exod. 25 through 31). Some of the most passionate verses in Exodus describe this intimate communion. Inside the sacred tent where Moses went for his meetings with God, God spoke to him “face to face” (Exod. 33:11; Num. 12:8). Moses also talked to the LORD (Exod. 33:12). In all these instances, it is obvious that God’s communication is direct and clear. It often involves dialogue between him and human beings.
So far, only the first two books of the Pentateuch have been examined. Nevertheless, divine authorship has consistently been stated and restated. Applying the question of origins to the rest of the Old Testament produces similar results. The prophets are not identified so much by what they foretell. Their distinctive is that they forthtell, that is, that they tell forth, or orally publish, the word of God. The Hebrew words for “prophet” in the Old Testament help the reader to understand the role the prophet played in Israel’s life. Ro’eh and chozeh mean “one who sees” and nabi’ means “one who calls.”5 A recurring assertion by the prophets was that they were chosen and commissioned by God to speak for him. Over and over they make statements such as “the Lord has spoken” (Isa. 1:2).6 Henry C. Thiessen observes, “Statements like these occur more than 3,800 times in the Old Testament.”7
His word—No Doubt
Think about it—God affirms Scripture as his Word on average almost one hundred times per book. Do you suppose he wants us to get the point?
How Was the Word of God Given?
The great word associated with God throughout Scripture is “holy.” He is the Creator. When considering his creation, specifically human beings, one word that comes to mind is “creature.”8 And what follows is an awareness of the great distance between creature and Creator. If this were not enough, the Fall (see chap. 3) has widened the gap. Humanity is now fallen and sinful. The Bible paints a dismal picture of an abyss between the righteous God and selfcentered humanity. Fallen humanity is self-deceived and deceitful. Human beings are alienated, not only from God but also from themselves (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 1:18 through 3:20). It is also very clear that God has bridged that abyss. He has chosen to disclose himself to the sinner in gracious acts of redeeming love.
The elements in this process, which God uses to convey his truth to us, may be diagrammed thus:

revelation (unveiling the truth)

inspiration (transmission of the truth)

Scripture (the record of the truth)

illumination (understanding the truth)

Some elements, or categories, overlap. Revelation, for example, does not have to cease in order for inspiration to begin. Nonetheless, there is a logical and historical order to God’s making himself known. Each category stands as a separate area of study.
A Demonstration of Love
The Christian has n...