The Old Testament in Seven Sentences
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The Old Testament in Seven Sentences

A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic

Christopher J.H. Wright

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eBook - ePub

The Old Testament in Seven Sentences

A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic

Christopher J.H. Wright

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Über dieses Buch

Some people find the Old Testament to be confusing, out of date, and essentially replaced by the New Testament. They are missing out. The Old Testament offers us a grand narrative that reveals God's work, God's purposes, and God's wisdom. Christopher J. H. Wright fits the pieces together and shows us the coherent whole. Using seven key sentences drawn straight from the Old Testament, he connects the dots and points us toward Jesus.- "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."- "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you."- "You shall have no other gods before me."- "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news."Such sentences as these are not merely beautiful or helpful (though they are that). They are part of the great drama of Scripture, the story of God's plan of redemption that embraces all nations and the whole of his creation. Wright starts from the beginning, describing God's promises and covenants with his people and his mission to bless the world. At the end of this short survey, readers will clearly see God's faithfulness and love for his people and will understand how the Old Testament scriptures prepared for the identity and mission of Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord.The accessible primers in the Introductions in Seven Sentences collection act as brief introductions to an academic field, with simple organization: seven key sentences that give readers a birds-eye view of an entire discipline.

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- one -


It’s a good place to start, don’t you think? The first word of the first sentence of the first part of the first book of the first section of the First Testament—“In the beginning” (it’s all one word in Hebrew). Each of those firsts is important.
Our first word, translated “In the beginning,” reminds us that the Bible as a whole is a story, or rather the story—the true story of the universe. The whole Bible begins with creation in Genesis 1–2, and it ends (or begins again) with the new creation in Revelation 21–22. And in between it narrates the vast, sprawling narrative of how God has reconciled all things in heaven and earth to himself through the Lord Jesus Christ.
The first book in the Bible is Genesis, the book of beginnings. And the first part of the book, Genesis 1–11, tells us of the beginning of the world and the beginning of the nations of humanity. It tells us of the beginning of sin and evil within human life and their effect on the earth itself. All of this is called the Primal History, since it describes things that, although they happened in a historical sense, cannot be placed in a precisely dated historical time frame. These people and events are primal in the sense that they come first, before the sort of recorded history to which we can give specific dates. Then, in the remainder of the book, Genesis 12–50, we read about the beginning of the people of Israel, through whom God promised to bring blessing into that world of nations and to heal their fractured relationship with God.
The first section of the Old Testament, starting here, comprises the five books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books are the foundation block of the whole Old Testament—indeed, of the whole Bible. In historical terms, they take us from the creation of the universe to the moment when the people of Israel reach the borders of the land God promised them. In terms of our seven acts of the great drama of Scripture (see the introduction), they take us through acts one and two and then launch us into act three.


The point about the Bible being one whole big story (or metanarrative) is that it provides our worldview as Christians. A worldview is the way we look at life, the universe, and everything. It is the lens of assumptions through which we interpret all that surrounds us in our daily lives, consciously or (more often) unconsciously within our cultures. Worldviews are formed from the answers given to certain key questions that all human beings ask and answer in some way. Here are four such worldview questions:
  1. 1. Where are we? What is the material universe we see around us? Where did it come from, or has it always been here? Is it real? Why and how does it exist, and does it have any purpose or destiny?
  2. 2. Who are we? What does it mean to be human? Are we just the same as the rest of the animals on this planet or different from them in some way? What (if anything) makes us special or unique? Why are we the dominant species, and is that a good or bad thing?
  3. 3. What’s gone wrong? Universally, humans believe that things are not how they are supposed to be, or at least not what they could or should be. We live in the midst of a world gone wrong, between ourselves and between us and the natural order. Why is this? What caused this wrongness to be the dominant reality of human life on earth?
  4. 4. What’s the solution? Universally, humans also seem to believe that things could be fixed and made better, and all kinds of solutions are proposed—by religions and philosophies, by politicians and reformers, even by revolutionaries and anarchists. Who is right? Is there anything we can do to solve the human predicament? Is there any escape, or salvation, from the mess we are in? Is there any hope for the world?
Whether you are a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or a secular modern atheist, you will ask and answer these questions, in different ways according to the narrative of reality that you hold—the great story that you and your culture tells. But if you are a Jew or a Christian, you will answer all of these questions from the Scriptures. For a Christian that means the overarching story of both Testaments of the Bible. It is the Bible that tells us where we are, who we are, what’s gone wrong, what’s the solution—and points to a future filled with hope. It gets on with that job very quickly: the Bible sketches in answers to the first three of those fundamental questions within the first three chapters of the Old Testament, expands on the third question for a while in the rest of Genesis 4–11, and then goes on to launch God’s answer to the fourth question in Genesis 12. In other words, the Bible answers those fundamental worldview questions by telling us the true story from the very beginning. Here is the setting (God’s creation), the characters (God and the human race), the problem (evil, sin, death), and here is the promise of a solution (through Israel and the Messiah, Jesus).
It will take the rest of the Bible to fill out those answers in multiple ways, of course. But the basic framework of the biblical worldview is set out in the first quarter of Genesis. Here is God’s executive summary of his big book, if you like.


We look around ourselves as humans and wonder at the astonishing environment of our lives. We look up at skies, clouds, birds, sun, moon, stars. We look around at mountains, rivers, forests, oceans, deserts. We look down at soil, crops, animals wild and domesticated, insects, depths of earth and sea, fish and creatures of the deep. Maybe, with Louis Armstrong, we think to ourselves, “What a wonderful world!”—and it is. Awe, fear, admiration, curiosity, gratitude, affection, surprise, expectancy—all these arise in our response to simply being in this world. And the questions arise: Where did all these things come from? Who or what made them? Who or what controls them? How should we relate to them for best results?
Israel lived in a world of nations that had plenty of answers to those questions. The stories of the ancient Near East (especially in Egypt and Babylon) attributed the origins of the natural world to a variety of gods, whose squabbles and needs (mirroring their very human inventors) produced this or that feature of the universe. Certain features of the earth matched the demand of the gods for a home, or temple, within which human beings could serve their needs. Others resulted from battles between deities when things got split apart.1
In clear and conscious distinction from these surrounding stories, Genesis 1 tells us where we are. We inhabit the dry land of the earth, which owes its existence to the one single Creator God, along with the seas, the skies above, and the swarming creatures that fill these three great spaces of land, sea, and sky. This one God created all these massive entities and abundant creatures solely by his own powerful word, not in collaboration or conflict with any other deities. This affirmation leads to some vast additional truths about the creation in which we live.
Creation is distinct from God but dependent on God. Our sentence for this chapter, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” tells us that there is a fundamental ontological distinction between God as Creator and everything else as created.2 The heavens and the earth had a beginning. God was there before the beginning. God and the universe are different in their being. This duality between the creator and the created is essential to all biblical thought and a Christian worldview. It stands against both monism (the belief that all reality is One, with no differentiation—as in Advaita Hinduism) and pantheism (the belief that God is somehow identical with the totality of the universe; everything in nature put together is God). This biblical teaching stands against New Age spiritualities, which adopt a broadly monistic or pantheistic worldview.
Creation, then, is distinct from God its Creator, but it is also totally dependent on God. Creation is not independent or coeternal. The world is not, in biblical teaching, a self-sustaining biosystem. Rather, God is actively and unceasingly sustaining its existence and its functions at macro and micro levels (Psalms 33:6-9; 65:9-13; 104; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). This is not to deny that God has built into the earth an incredible capacity for renewal, recovery, balance, and adaptation. But the way in which all these systems work and interrelate is itself planned and sustained by God.
Creation is good. This is the unmistakable message of the opening chapter of the Bible. Six times God declares what he has just done to be “good,” and the seventh time “very good.” At least three things follow from this volley of goods.
1. The good creation reveals the good God. In other ancient Near Eastern accounts, creation is the work of multiple deities, in varying degrees of conflict and malevolence. By contrast, in the Old Testament creation is the work of the one single living God and therefore bears witness to his existence, power, and character. Creation reveals its Creator, though he is not part of it. Just as you can hear Beethoven in his symphonies (though a symphony is not the composer), or see Rembrandt in his paintings (though a painting is not the artist), so we encounter the living God in creation (though the creation is not God). Creation has a living voice that speaks for God.
We learn that the heavens declare the glory of God, without human speech but a voice that is heard to the ends of the earth (Psalm 19:1-4). Furthermore, “the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice” (Psalm 50:6). It is not only farmers who care for the land. God does so continuously as evidence of his generosity (Psalm 65:9). It is not only humans who receive their food ultimately from God’s hand; so do all creatures (Psalm 104:27-30). Paul points to the kindness of God on the evidence of his gifts of rain and crops, food and joy (Acts 14:17). He affirms that all human beings can see the evidence of God’s existence and power in the creation of the world (Romans 1:20).
2. Creation is good in God’s sight. The repeated affirmation “God saw that it was good” is made quite independently of us human beings. It is not initially our human response to the beauty or benefits of creation (though it certainly should be) but God’s evaluation of God’s own handiwork. It is the seal of God’s approval on the whole universe in all its functioning. Creation has intrinsic value because it is valued by God, who is the source of all value. To speak of the goodness of creation is not, first of all, to say that it is valuable to us (which of course it is), but to say that it is valued by God and was created fit for purpose—God’s purpose.
Psalm 104 celebrates not only those aspects of creation that serve human needs (crops and domestic animals) but also those that have no immediate connection with human life—the wild places and wild creatures that live there, simply being and doing what God created them to be and do. They are good too, because God values them.
3. Creation is good as God’s temple. In the ancient world generally, temples were envisaged as (literally) microcosms—that is, small representations or replicas on earth of the shape and order of the cosmos itself. A temple was where heaven and earth came together. Meanwhile the cosmos could be seen as a macrotemple—that is, the dwelling place of the gods (or in Old Testament terms, of course, of the one, true, living Creator God).3
From this perspective, when God says that his work of creation is good, it is a way of saying that he sees and approves the whole creation, functioning in all its ordered complexity both as the place prepared for him to install his image (humankind) and as the place for his own dwelling (“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool,” Isaiah 66:1-2—temple language). That is why the imagery...