January 06, 2004

Biblical Metanarrative II: The Entire Bible

It's over! My General Biblical Introduction course taken through Heritage Seminary ended just before Christmas.

As I had anticipated, the final exam included another essay question asking for a Biblical metanarrative, this time of the entire Bible rather than merely the Old Testament. My contribution is as follows.

The Bible begins with God creating the heavens and the earth and all within it; the pinnacle of this creation was man. God declared creation "very good." But immediately, through an act of disobedience, man fell from God's favour. Sin and death were introduced into the world. However, God promised that in the future a descendant of Adam and Eve would accomplish redemption for sins.

Nine generations later, the world was so wicked that God destroyed it in a flood, saving only Noah and his family. When the waters subsided God made a covenant with Noah, promising never again to destroy the world by flood, and singling out his son Shem for a special blessing.

In approximately 2100 B.C., a descendant of Shem, Abraham, was called by God to move from his home to the land of Canaan. Because of his faith, God counted Abraham righteous and made a covenant with him that he would have an heir (despite his age) from whom a great nation and kings would arise. This promise was renewed with Abraham's son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, whom God renamed "Israel."

Jacob's sons envied their brother Joseph and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Years later God raised him from a slave to prime minister, enabling him to bring his family into Egypt to escape famine. Jacob died in Egypt, passing on a special blessing to his son Judah that his descendants would be great.

400 years later, the family of Israel lived in Egypt as slaves to the Pharaohs. God raised up a leader, Moses, to deliver them from slavery. Moses led the Israelites to Mount Sinai where they received a covenant from God, promising rest in the land of Canaan if they would remain faithful. Moses eventually brought Israel to the borders of Canaan, but it was his successor Joshua who led them into the land.

After Joshua's death, Israel was ruled for 400 years by God's servants the judges. Because Joshua failed to remove the pagan inhabitants of the land completely, they remained a constant stumblingblock to Israel and the history of this period is consists of cycles of disobedience, resulting in trouble from the other nations, followed by deliverance by the judges.

The last judge of Israel was Samuel the priest. His sons were so corrupt that the Israelites demanded a monarch like the other nations. The first king of Israel was Saul, but because of his moral failures God removed his family from the throne and gave it instead to David, a descendant of Judah. David was a model king, a man after God's heart, who unified Israel and expanded his kingdom's borders to the extents promised to Abraham. God made another covenant with David promising him that one of his descendants would be on the throne in perpetuity. Unfortunately he did not rule his family well and as a result his successors divided the unified kingdom and lapsed into compromise and wickedness. Not even reforms instituted late in the kingdom period could avert God's judgment; in 722 B.C. the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, and in 586 the southern kingdom of Judah was overrun by Babylon and its inhabitants taken into exile, where they remained for 70 years.

Throughout the kingdom and exile periods the prophets announced the word of God to the people. They warned of coming judgment and called for the people to repent and return to faithfulness. But they also promised that God's judgment would not be permanent and that he would again restore them to fellowship. One prophet, Jeremiah, promised that God would establish a new, unbreakable covenant with his people. The prophet Isaiah announced a Messiah, an anointed messenger of God who would deliver his people as a conquering king and a suffering servant.

Following the exile the people of Israel returned to Palestine where they rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the Temple and restored worship of God.

For 400 years there was no further revelation.

Then, during the reign of Augustus Caesar, Jesus was born to the virgin Mary and her husband Joseph of the family of David, in Bethlehem. As an adult he ministered to the Jews, heralding the imminent coming of God's Kingdom and calling the people to believe in him. He claimed to be the unique Son of God and identified himself with the Messianic title "Son of Man." The miraculous signs accompanying his teaching confirmed that he was indeed the Messiah foretold in the prophets.

Jesus' escalating conflicts with the religious authorities led them to seek his death. On the night he was betrayed by one of his disciples, he celebrated a Passover meal with them and redefined the traditional elements of the meal as ratification of the new covenant promised by Jeremiah. Then he was arrested, tried on false charges, and crucified.

But on the third day after his death, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared bodily to his disciples. By his atoning death Jesus, descendant of David, Judah, Abraham, Shem, and Adam, conquered the power of sin; by his resurrection, he conquered the power of death.

Before ascending into heaven, Jesus commissioned his disciples to spread the news of the Kingdom throughout the world. This they did, announcing that God accepted everyone who put their faith in the risen Christ. In Christ was true rest. To this day no power can stop the good news from spreading throughout the world.

Someday in the future Christ will return to earth and rule over his Kingdom. He will decisively defeat the evil one. The present heaven and earth will be destroyed, not by flood, but by fire. All men will be judged and the wicked destroyed. Heaven and earth will be restored to their created state, and the people of God will enjoy perfect fellowship with him forever.

Merry Christmas to any readers who happen to be Orthodox or otherwise observing the Julian calendar. I should get to know some of you; between you, me, and my Oriental friends, I could be celebrating Christmas or the New Year practically every week of January.