The book of Ruth

Most commentators put Ruth and Judges together because they are set in the same period. But that’s about where the similarities end. The book of Ruth is a gentle and romantic story about two inseparable women and two prominent men. The obvious messages of loyalty, kindness and generosity are easy to find. But the book has more than just that, however.

There’s a subtle thread of the providence of God in the narrative. We can’t believe that Ruth by ‘chance’ happened to be in the field of Boaz, can we? (Ruth 2:3). God was there, directing events in the background.

And not just for Ruth but for everyone and all of human history. The book presents Boaz has a kinsman-redeemer, a picture of Jesus Christ, which we see more clearly when we think of the New Testament. Ruth is also one of the first Gentiles to come to the Hebrew God in the Old Testament.

Christ is our kinsman-redeemer. We are his bride and he is the bridegroom. The bride of Christ incorporates both Gentiles and Jews. These are the main pictures we can see being presented in the book of Ruth.

The book of Judges

No one can read through Judges and think it irrelevant for us today. We will see aspects of ourselves reflected in the narrative and the characters. As you go through the reading plan, it’s probably becoming obvious that our general knowledge of the Bible is often very narrow. Most people have a sanitised and flawed, almost ‘superhero’ view of Judges – that it’s all about people who have done great exploits. The majority of people have no clue about the main theme and purpose of this book.

Judges deals with a period of about 260 years between the death of Joshua and the rise of the monarchy under Saul, the first king of Israel. It looks at the history of Israel in relation to their behaviour before God. God had promised they would dwell in the Promised Land with great blessing as long as they obeyed Him. The history is told by looking at several characters that God raises up to keep the nation from self-destruction.

Calling the book ‘Judges’ in modern English is probably not the best. None of the ‘judges’ were judicial officials. They were more like charismatic personalities given profile and authority by God in the eyes of the people. Their roles were different but all were given to save Israel (or parts of it) from themselves and their enemies in the surrounding nations.

Reading Judges can be a rather gloomy affair if we simply look at the nation and the spiral of failure and repentance which never seemed to go anywhere other than to a worse state. But the people are not the only ones on the stage. God is there. God is the only one who is called ‘The Judge’. He is there in the midst of His people. He is there, the perfect judge, allowing sin and issuing redemption to bring about obedience. God is at work in every detail of failure and success.

There is one thing that all the judges did right. They placed their faith in the right place: God. Hebrews tells us God commended them for their trust in Him. Failures, mistakes, serious errors and sin can all be dealt with. People can be used warts and all, but not if they don’t have a rich and true trust in God. Misplace our faith and we will fail and fail indeed.

Picture: “Poussin La Victoire de Gédéon contre les Madianite” by Nicolas Poussin – Aiwaz. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The book of Joshua

The mighty salvation promised to Abraham way back in Genesis 12 comes to pass in Joshua. After the unnecessarily long wandering in the desert, Joshua records how they come into the Promised Land. The story is one of conquest and distribution of the land.

The book of Joshua comes to us in three pieces. The three parts relate to Joshua between the ages of 80 and 110. Chapter one talks about Joshua being set in place to lead. Chapters 24 & 25 cover Joshua’s final message and death. The middle portion breaks up into three parts as well.

  • Chapters 2-5 follows Israel entering into the land
  • Chapters 6-12 tells of Israel’s conquests
  • Chapters 13-22 explain the distribution of the land

As with all the books of the Bible there are many layers and beautifully rich stories that intertwine. These stories and perspectives will keep us in God and keep us busy with the Bible’s infinitely deep message.

Joshua is about two very important elements in life: God and us. Its teaching shows how they and we come to inherit what God has promised us. Each of us has been given promises from God. Some of them are general promises. Everyone who loves Jesus has been promised heaven forever with God. Each saved person has promises of being useful to God in their life. People are like Israel – saved from bondage to come into inheriting all that God has for them. But this inheriting is not automatic. Israel had to trust and to remove the inhabitants of the land, who were idol worshippers. We, too, will have to follow Jesus in absolute trust and remove old behaviours.

The book continues to emphasise these two elements – man’s part and God’s part. We trust and we obey. God gives the means, the power, the directives and pretty much everything else! Joshua also defines the type of courage we need – courage is dogged determination to do what we know is right, especially when there is no cheering on from anyone else.

Joshua is a high point in the life of Israel. It is supposed to be that for us: A high point in our understanding that we are saved from bondage but saved to come into some amazing promises. As Peter says ‘what precious promises’ we have! (2 Peter 1:4.) Let us learn from Israel and get all we are supposed to in God! He has an amazing inheritance for you!

Picture: “Poussin Nicolas – The Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites” by Nicolas Poussin – Hermitage. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The book of Deuteronomy

If you’ve made it this far in our Bible reading plan don’t let anything stop you from completing it! Well done so far. We hope this has been deeply meaningful to you.

“Deuteronomy”, translated into English, simply means “repetition of the law”. The book is a series of final addresses given by Moses on the plains of Moab. If Moses wrote a ‘last will and testament’ this would be it. Moses was preparing and reminding the people to obey the covenant way of life they promised to live by. It is essentially a repetition of the Law from Leviticus and Numbers but is concerned more with the ‘spirit’ of the Law than the definite details.

Therefore it tends to be less technical than the previous books. You can hear Moses ‘preaching’ and applying the Law to the people. It contains reasons and encouragement that the other accounts leave out. If you listen carefully you can hear Moses saying, “Come on! Please obey the Lord with your whole heart.” He was doing this especially because they were about to come into the Promised Land.

Moses’ final address starts with four chapters of him reminding Israel about the key issues they faced in the desert. The failure at Kadesh Barnea, skipping past the Edomites and Moabites on their way north. He recalls God giving them victory over the Amorites. Moses summarises their position in 4:40: “You shall keep His commandments, that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land God is giving you forever.”

Chapter 5 to 30 is taken up with Moses detailing and pressing the Sinai covenant upon the people. The explanation is long and rich. Moses moves from details and pleas (5-26) to explanation of the blessings and curses in store for them (27-30). Bear in mind that the people who were now to go into the Promised Land were small children when they came through the Red Sea. They needed to be well acquainted with the Law of God. It was their ability to obey that meant success or failure.

The last four chapters are a final goodbye from Moses. Joshua is declared the new leader. The book ends with the death of Moses. Thus Deuteronomy is a grandiose view of Israel’s life at a key moment. Moses warns of the past errors, tells them how to live now, and reminds them of the glorious future they can have.

We can see ourselves so clearly in the big scope of the book. We need to know what to do with our past – mostly break from its mistakes and forget it. Then we live out our present responsibility and live for God with all our energy and passion. Then remember the future – forever in the heavenly Promised Land!

Picture: Moses Smashing the Tables of the Law (illustration by Gustave Doré)

The book of Numbers

We’re now on the book of Numbers in our Bible reading plan. If you haven’t started the Bible reading plan, it’s not too late to start! Pick it up here. If you’re lagging behind, don’t worry – getting through is what’s important, even if it takes you more than just this year!

Numbers is really important in our story of the people of God. We end the book with the new people of God on the brink of getting into the Promised Land because the generation who left Egypt failed to get into Canaan. It tells us what happened in the wilderness. Don’t forget that the whole journey of Israel is an example of our journey with God. God’s people have to learn to persist in faith to get to the Promised Land. We too will have to learn to persist in faith in order to come to achieve all we have to for God. We will all face what Israel did.

Numbers is a great example of what not to do with God. Half of the book need not to have been written, if Israel did what it should have. Israel spends 40 needless years waiting for about two million people to die so a new two million plus two from the old generation (Joshua and Caleb) can go into the Promised Land.

Scholars break the book up in different ways. Remember at the end of Leviticus God’s people now had a sacrificial system, a way of living, a priesthood, a book of covenant and a tabernacle. Now they needed to get their army and organise themselves before heading into the Promised Land. Here is one way to break up the book:

Experiences of the older generation in the wilderness: Numbers 1-25

  • Preparations for entering the Promised Land from the south: 1-10
  • The first census and the organization of the people: 1-4
  • Commands and rituals to observe in preparation for entering the land: 5-9
  • The departure from Sinai: 10
  • The rebellion and judgment of the unbelieving generation: 11- 25
  • The cycle of rebellion, atonement, and death: 11 -20
  • The climax of rebellion, hope, and the end of dying: 21- 25

Prospects of the younger generation in the land: Numbers 26- 36

  • Preparations for entering the Promised Land from the east: 26 – 32
  • The second census: 26
  • Provisions and commands to observe in preparation for entering the land: 27—30
  • Reprisal against Midian and the settlement of the Trans-jordanian Tribes: 31 -32
  • Warning and encouragement of the younger generation: 33 – 36
  • Review of the journey from Egypt 33:1-49
  • Anticipation of the Promised Land 33:50 – 36:13

Like all Old Testament writings there are many different teachings and elements on which you could focus. Just reading through Numbers to get through it is boring. Try looking at the characters. There is a lot to learn from Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Try listing their strengths and weaknesses. You could focus on the people. Notice their grumbling, willingness to follow, and grumbling again. Examine yourself in the light of them.

Primary lessons from Numbers

1. God’s people only move forward when they trust his promises and lean on his strength. The census at the beginning and the end are there to prove this. Their size and strength wasn’t keeping them out of Canaan, it was their lack of trust in God.

2. We learn that God is faithful and stern. The New Testament reiterates the kindness and sternness of God in Romans 11:22. God is patient and kind. He bears up with our sins and troubles. But God also makes sure to deal with those same troubles. He will discipline us out of them.

3. The lessons on holiness continue.

4. We see God’s promise of Jesus wonderfully in Numbers.

In our Life Groups we’ll be unpacking questions and discussing the points above. For now, as you go through Numbers, consider these points. And think about Jesus’ ministry and life and how it relates to the book – there are a lot of exciting insights here!

The book of Leviticus

Leviticus is a graveyard for most embarking on reading through the whole Bible. It’s not hard to understand why. Leviticus is tough reading… well unless you have some background understanding to help!

Two towering questions receive answers in Leviticus. (1) How can a sinful people approach a holy God? And (2) how can people live holy lives?

What to do in God’s tent and what to do in your tent is the scope of Leviticus. Exodus ends with a tent filled with the presence of God. Leviticus explains what happens in and around the tent. A new people are taught how to draw near to God – their sins have to be atoned for. This new people learn how to live differently against a backdrop of total godless living. God tells them about purity and morality and how to live up to God’s high standard.

One of the reasons Christians get bored and lost in Leviticus is that the New Testament tells us that Christ has become our sacrifice and we live by the Spirit, not by the Law. He has put aside the need for all the Old Testament sacrifices and strict laws. It naturally follows that since we don’t need them, why know about them? The New Testament encourages us to think the opposite, however. It continually explains Christ’s work in terms of Levitical procedure. Hebrews 9:11-12 says, ‘Christ appeared as a high priest and entered into the holy places securing an eternal redemption’, and 1 John 1:2 says, “Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins”, almost demanding we understand Leviticus to comprehend Christ.

Sacrifices and cleanliness

The first few chapters are taken up with offerings and sacrifices. There are offerings to say ‘thank you’, others that atone for sin, and others that deal with guilt. Some do more than only one of the above. These offerings were given as compensation forwrong-doing on man’s part. The ‘sinless’ animal was given to compensate for the bad life of the person. It was only unintentional sins that were covered by these offerings. Try and place yourself in the story and understand the tremendous ordeal the Israelites had to go through to be cleansed of sin.

The rest of Leviticus is taken up with regulations for holy living. We need to realise that holy living is wholeness of life. It is living rightly in every aspect of life. Holiness extends to bodily health, food, false religions, clothing, social life, and sex. You will note the intricate detail Leviticus goes into to order holy living. Godliness consists of a total life lived for God.

It’s worth mentioning the many lines of articles surrounding ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. Many people find the concept confusing. Leviticus gives us three categories: ‘clean’, ‘common’ and ‘unclean’. The general principle to be seen through this teaching is as follows: Anything that is holy and comes into contact with something common or unclean makes it unclean. The process of moving from holy to unclean leads to death. The process can be reversed, however. Unclean matters can be made holy but this requires sacrifice. Only by sacrifice can you cleanse what is unclean and bring it to life.

Don’t give up on this book. Try and put yourself in the shoes of its Jewish people. Smell and taste what was being done. Then be prepared to experience more powerfully what has been done for you. You’ll be so glad you did.

The book of Exodus

Exodus continues where Genesis ended. We can’t date exactly the beginning of the oppression, but there is from 124 to 274 years between the end of Genesis and the opening of Exodus. Genesis ended with a large extended family flourishing in Egypt. Exodus opens with a nation-sized group living in cruel bondage and oppression in the same Egypt.

Exodus is a very significant book. It is significant on a national level. Jewish people today will still celebrate in March / April the exodus and release of their people. For a follower of Jesus, Exodus has spiritual significance and teaching that forms the bedrock of our understanding about how Jesus came to save us. Exodus tells us how we get released from bondage to worship and live for God. Exodus also contains the dealings of God with one of the greatest leaders in the Bible – Moses. A character study of Moses’ life will teach us endless lessons about God and ourselves.

If you were to ask what is the biggest thing we are to learn and know from Exodus, the answer will probably be that God is The saviour and the king. To look in a little more detail, an easy way to break up the book would be to see three big sections:

  1. Israel saved from bondage (1:1-18:27)

  2. Israel given the law (19:1-24:18)

  3. Israel are commanded to build the tabernacle (25:1-40:38)

Threaded in the narrative is the promise of God. Abraham would be given a people and land. God is true to His word, the number of people is vast, and off they go to get their land.

Some lessons from Exodus

Keeping with the sections above we will focus the lessons in four sections.

1. Meeting you and I through Moses

The first thing that comes to our attention is the amazing way that God ordered Moses’ early life. It reminds us of Acts 17 where God is said to have placed us exactly where we are supposed to be. How many people know that God is organising the good and bad details of their upbringing to make sure they are set up for life with God? Many people blame their past for all their faults. Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Secondly, Moses needs preparation. Moses is a human. He needs preparation before and while God is using him. So do we. You could say in some ways that every situation we are faced with is in some ways preparation from God. Moses kills a man, hides for 40 years, fails to follows God’s specific directives with Pharaoh, focuses too acutely on his weaknesses, fails to circumcise his kids, and needs constant encouragement from God. And God gives it! God is committed to Moses through everything. And Moses emerges as one of the greatest leaders in the Bible.

We notice Moses’ great love for the people he is with. People are numbers today. Leaders just want fame at expense of followers. Not Moses. He cares about God’s people, not for himself – but for them and for God.

2. Being saved from bondage (1:1-18:27)

Exodus shows us the horror of bondage and the great power needed to escape it. The New Testament says that sin is an inescapable and horrific bondage and serious power is needed for release from it. God has such power. Moses leads Israel in God’s deliverance; Jesus leads us into God’s salvation. If God can deliver those people from an impossible escape, He can lead us out of a life of sin. A fresh trust in God as the deliverer is a message from Exodus.

Think through the things that are plaguing you: thoughts, habits, emotions – those things that never seem to change. What keeps you from trusting and pursuing God with your whole effort to release you from bondage? Who else can release like Exodus shows?

How does salvation in the New Testament relate to the story of the Exodus?

3. Learning to live for God (19:1-24:18)

The pattern of Exodus is in many ways the pattern a Christian follows. We are delivered by a mighty miracle. Next we come into the wilderness with God. Major lessons need to be learned very quickly in life with God. Israel needs to know how to live with God. Every person who seeks to live with God needs to learn to live in a way that makes for close relationship with Him. Israel needs to learn how to live for God. Restful trust, dependence and holiness are the foundations. While God has you in the place where He is teaching you these, rejoice. You’re not where you want to be or where He has promised, but you are not in bondage!

Notice how many times Israel complains in this period. Do a little check on yourself. Have you complained because you failed to see the big picture of preparation?

4. Living with God (25:1-40:38)

These chapters are concerned with the tabernacle. This is a nomadic tent that represents and contains the very presence of God on earth. God was always to dwell with man. From the garden of Eden God dwells with His people. But the tent is restrictive and imperfect. It points to Jesus “who became flesh and tabernacle with us for a time” (John 1:14) and ultimately to, “the dwelling of God is once again with man” in Revelation 21-22.

If we can get much closer to God than Israel in this age of grace, why do you think our experience can be less than fulfilling?

Hebrews tells us that Jesus has been into the heavenly tent on our behalf. What does this mean to you after reading Exodus?

Exodus trickies

The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

We are told that God will harden Pharaoh’s heart (4:21). We are also told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart six times. Only after the sixth plague does God ‘harden Pharaoh’s heart’ (9:12). Romans 9:18 tells us “God hardens whom he wills” but Paul insists God is just in v.14. It would seem then that Pharaoh had ample opportunity to soften his heart. He was given five severe plagues to change his heart toward Israel and God. This was Pharaoh’s doing. But when enough was enough, Pharaoh couldn’t soften it anymore and his opportunity had passed; he was hardened and it couldn’t be reversed. God remains just. It is much like a person who will be lost to hell. God will give more than ample opportunity for them to turn to Jesus. In the end God will receive no blame for their hardness, it was theirs alone, God allowed it to remain.

God wanted to kill Moses (Exodus 4:24)

At first it seems a radical turn of events. A closer look shows that Moses needs to learn to be more careful in obeying God. Abraham in Genesis 17 was given circumcision as a covenant sign. Moses obviously thought what God thought important to be otherwise.

The date of the Exodus

Perhaps you didn’t know this but there is considerable debate between two dates – 1446 B.C and 1260 B.C for the exodus. The ESV study Bible on page 33 presents the arguments clearly. You decide.

The book of Genesis

Welcome to the start of the Bible. The whole Bible has three main themes: (1) God  in relation to the world; (2) what is wrong; and (3) how it can be put right. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are a sort-of ‘prologue to the Bible’. Most of the principles on major matters are laid out. We will learn about God, creation, humans, sex, relationships, marriage, family, civilization, government, sin, death, murder, and war. Genesis gives us the teaching in a simple, historical story style. It is history but written in a very simple way.

For the sake of this background we will look at the broad themes in Genesis and then highlight one example of how to get deeper understanding from this foundational teaching. The major themes in Genesis are creation (1-2), the fall (3-4), the flood (5-9), Babel (10-11), the call of Abraham (12-38) and the descent into Egypt (39-50). Each of these sections plays a vital role in the story of God and his people and each of them is filled with stories packed with teaching and relevance for us.

By way of example, let’s look at Genesis 1-2 – The story of creation. The Bible starts with “In the beginning, God.” Genesis is about the God who created more than about the creation! What do we learn from Genesis then about the creator? God is personal (not an it but a he), God has always been there, God is powerful, God is creative, God is orderly, God is singular, God is plural, God is good, God is living, God communicates, God is like us, God is unlike us, God doesn’t need anything. Phew! That’s a lot! Remember to ask the question, “what is the teaching here?” That’s what we have to ask when we read the scriptures.

Enjoy Genesis. Read slowly, thoughtfully. Try your best to put yourself into the story. Pray. Ask God to show you what you need to know right now from what you are reading. He will, you’ll see.

The book of Job

As we’re going through the book of Job as part of our Bible reading plan – a very difficult, and interesting, book – we thought it would be good to provide some info on what to look for in the book.

One of the biggest questions of life is attended to in the book of Job: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Don’t we all want to know!

The book is essentially a story about a man Job. Job comes into serious suffering in his life for no apparent reason to him. We receive some background insight into a conversation in heaven between satan and God, but Job is never told about this. He essentially suffers blindly.

Many chapters are taken up with the advice and comfort Job receives from three of his close friends. Each of them has a view about why Job is suffering. Job’s discussions with them become quite heated at some points.

It’s important to know that his friends are right and wrong in their advice. This is a hard part to grasp in the book as it’s not easy to discern exactly what is right and wrong in their advice. But the main reason why they are wrong is that they essentially say to Job that he is suffering because he has sinned. ‘If he were to repent, everything would come right for him’, is their advice. But Job insists that he has not done anything so obviously wrong.

This idea of his friends is wrong because of two main reasons. (1) Some people suffer for no direct reason, and (2) if we don’t sin we are not promised a perfect life.

This is challenging because people do suffer because of their mistakes, and if we were to sin less a good amount of issues would come right in life. Nonetheless the book of Job insists the friends’ application of this truth is wrong.

The culmination of the book comes in chapters 40-41 where God answers Job. God’s answer is not as direct as many people would like. God never tells Job (and us) why he suffered. He does, however (and to paraphrase very liberally) say this to Job:

“Job, have you looked at creation lately? Are you able to make and control any of it? Is it not exquisitely made? I am in total control of the universe. I know what I am doing. Everything has purpose to me even if you don’t understand. Job, if you think you can run the universe better than me you are welcome to try. Even suffering is within my arsenal to bring about my perfect will. Job, will you rest in me being God and you not understanding everything?”

In the narrative God reveals important things about himself, yet never answers Job why he had to suffer. Yet after God reveals himself Job seems satisfied. In tragedy we don’t need answers, we need God.

And so the book ends.

Job is a rich literary work. There is more than meets the eye for us philosophically and in usage for everyday life.