December 02, 2003

Toward a metanarrative of the Old Testament

I am nearing the end of a seminary night course, General Biblical Introduction, taken through Heritage Theological Seminary. A couple weeks ago we wrote our midterm exam, which included a lengthy essay question: a metanarrative of the Old Testament. Here is my answer, unedited, for your interest:

The story of the Old Testament begins with creation, culminating in the creation of Adam and Eve, the first people. God blessed them, promised them they would fill the earth, and gave them the Gard of Eden to live in - conditioned upon their obedience to one rule. The devil deceived Adam and Eve into disobeying God, resulting in curses and expulsion from Eden. However, God promised that a descendant would one day accomplish redemption from sins.

After several generations, the world was so wicked that God purposed to destroy mankind in a flood. The sole exceptions were Noah and his family. God promised Noah that he would not repeat the flood, and singled out his son Shem for a special blessing. When the descendants of Noah settled in one place and became arrogant, God scattered them.

In approximately 2100 B.C., God commanded Abraham, a descendant of Shem, to leave his home and travel to the land of Canaan. He promised Abraham an heir (in spite of his advanced age) and that his descendants would be a great nation. This promise was reiterated to Abraham's son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob, whom God renamed Israel. Jacob had 12 sons; 11 of them hated their brother Joseph and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Years later, providentially Joseph was appointed to a position of power in Egypt, from whence he was able to save the family of Jacob from starvation. They settled in Egypt where Jacob, about to die, blessed his son Judah with the promise of greatness given to Abraham.

The children of Israel lived for 430 years in Egypt, where despite slavery and oppression God molded them into a nation, albeit one without land. When their oppression became too much, God raised a leader, Moses, to bring Israel out of Egypty. At Sinai, God made a covenant with the Israelites, promising them they would live peacefully in the land of Canaan if they kept his laws.

After 40 years of wandering due to disobedience, Moses brought Israel to the borders of the land. But it was his successor Joshua's task to bring the people into the land and remove its inhabitants. He accomplished this incompletely, and the pagans that remained were a constant stumblingblock to the nation.

Following Joshua's death Israel was ruled by a succession of judges for about 400 years. This lawless period had continuous cycles of disobedience followed by distress from the other nations and deliverance by God's servants, the judges. The last of these judges was the priest Samuel, whose two sons wee so corrupt that the people clamoured for a king, and so began the monarchy in Israel.

The first king of Israel was Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. He proved to be a failure as a king, arrogant and disobedient, so Samuel transferred the royal family from Saul to David, a shepherd from the tribe of Judah. David was the paradigm of a godly ruler. He unified the people of Israel into a single kingdom. God established a new covenant with David, promising him that one of his descendants would be enthroned perpetually and would be both king and priest.

Unfortunately, though an excellent king, David could not rule his own family well, resulting in civil war between his sons. As a result the kingdom remained united only to the end of the reign of David's son Solomon. It was then divided, with the northern ten tribes breaking away under Jeroboam and the southern two remaining under Solomon's son Rehoboa. For approximately three centuries both kingdoms were ruled by wicked king after wicked king, with rare exceptions - to the point that not even religious and political reforms instituted by later monarchs could avert the judgment of GOd on the two kingdoms. The consequence was that Israel in the north fell to Assyria in 722 B.C., and Judah in the south was conquered and depopulated in 586 B.C. The children of Israel remained in exile for 70 years.

Through the monarchy and exile periods, the prophets ministered to Israel. They warned the nation of the coming judgment and called God's people to repent and return to covenant faithfulness and righteous living. But they also assured Israel that God was still in control and had not forgotten them, and if they would remember him, he would return the blessings to them.

Seventy years after the exile began, in 532 B.C., Cyrus king of Persia gave permission for exiled peoples to return to their homes. Over the next hundred years, the children of Israel returned to Palestine in three waves: under Zerubbabel, then under Ezra seventy years later. These first two groups rebuilt the Temple and restored worship of God in Jerusalem. Thirty years after Ezra, Nehemiah led a third wave of returning exiles to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Here the history of the Old Testament ends.