|Topical Bible Study||February 1953|
Know Your Bible—Part II
The Victories and Failures of Israel
IN THE first article of this series we learned that all the subject matter of the Bible is related to its one main theme, which is the redemption and recovery of the human race from sin and death. We observed briefly the manner in which this theme is introduced early in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. It was there that God made the statement in the Garden of Eden that the “seed” of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head.—Gen. 3:15
We noticed also that the idea of Divine blessing reaching the human race through a ‘seed’ was reiterated and enlarged upon in a promise which God made to Abraham, saying to him that his seed would become the channel of blessing to all mankind. We discovered also that much of the historical data recorded in the first five books of the Bible, commonly known as the Pentateuch, is related to the descendants of Abraham.
In continuing this brief examination of the books of the Bible in order to get a general idea of its structural arrangement, we find that the next twelve books are largely historical, and also concerned principally with the descendants of Abraham. These twelve books are: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
The Book of Joshua
The Book of Joshua is so named because its narratives have to do with the period of time when Joshua was the recognized and Divinely appointed leader of the Israelites, as the descendants of Abraham were called. Joshua was the successor of Moses. Moses, it will be recalled, was used by God to lead this people out of Egypt, and to give them God’s Law.
The destination of the Israelites when leaving Egypt was the land of Canaan. This was the land which God promised to Abraham, and to his seed after him. Moses died just before the Israelites entered into this promised land, and it was at this point that Joshua, by the command of God through Moses, became the successor of this renowned leader and lawgiver.—Deut. 31:7,8,14; 34:9
When Joshua assumed the leadership of Israel, the nation stood virtually at the border of Canaan, but in order to enter the land it was necessary to cross the Jordan River. God intervened to make this possible by holding back the upper waters of the river long enough for the riverbed below to be emptied. This enabled the people to cross over on dry ground.—Josh. 3:12-14
The Twelve Tribes
It was at the death of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, that God began to deal with this people as a group, or nation. Jacob’s twelve sons were the heads of what became known as the twelve tribes of Israel, Jacob’s name having been changed to Israel. After the Israelites entered the promised land under the leadership of Joshua, they were confronted with the necessity of conquering the people of the land, and of dividing it equitably among the twelve tribes.
This was accomplished under the leadership of Joshua, and the manner in which this twofold task was accomplished constitutes the principal subject matter of the Book of Joshua. To appreciate these historical records as we should, however, it is essential to recognize that they are presented on a background of faith in God’s promises that one day there would arise from this people the seed of promise who would lead the nation to a high pinnacle of fame and power, and in God’s providence become a channel of blessing to all other nations of the earth.
The book should therefore be recognized as an inspired record, dealing with the experiences of God’s people. Thus we find that God assured Joshua of his blessing, saying, “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:9) The Lord’s people today can apply this promise to themselves, and receive spiritual strength from its reassuring words.
The Book of Judges
After the entrance into Canaan and the dividing of the land, there followed that period in Israel’s history totaling 450 years which is known as the period of the judges.
The Book of Judges records the principal experiences of the nation during these centuries. The first sixteen chapters of the book are principally taken up relating the continued conquests of the promised land, for all the enemies had not been driven out prior to Joshua’s death. The famous victory of Gideon over 120,000 Midianites is recorded in this book.—Judg. 8:10
The remainder of the book records various episodes of the Israelites having to do with their internal affairs—their sins, and their attempts at reformation under the leadership of one or another of the judges whom the Lord raised up to judge or deliver them from their enemies.
Apparently much of that period of time in the experience of the Israelites covered by the Book of Judges was one during which everyone did according to what seemed “right in his own eyes.” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25) In other words, during that period there was no central government, and no national leader or king. The record indicates that in some cases that which seemed ‘right’ to the people was quite in harmony with the laws of righteousness, whereas in other cases the decisions of the people led away from God and into idolatry.
The Book of Ruth
The Book of Ruth narrates an episode which properly belongs to the period of the judges. It is believed that this book was originally a part of the Book of Judges. It tells the story of an Israelite and his wife, Elimelech and Naomi, who left the land of Israel in a time of famine to dwell in the land of Moab. In Moab, Elimelech died. His two sons married Moabitish women, but later they died, leaving Naomi and her daughters-in-law to take care of themselves.
Naomi decided that she would return to the land of Israel, and Ruth, although not an Israelite, embraced the God of Israel and went with her mother-in-law. Arriving in Israel, through the overruling providence of God, Ruth became the wife of an Israelite of the tribe of Judah, and it was through the lineage of this family that Jesus was born.—Luke 3:32
The story of Naomi and Ruth is one of the most touching from the standpoint of human interest that has ever been written. Its main value among the other books of the Bible is to establish a connecting link in the genealogy of Jesus. This highlights the fact we have already stated; namely, that the entire Bible is related to the theme of redemption centered in Jesus, as are even its historical records.
I and II Samuel
The material now contained in the two Books of Samuel was regarded as a single work in the Hebrew Canon. Probably the division was made by translators for the sake of convenience in study. Samuel was the last of the judges of Israel who served the nation during the period of the judges. His birth in answer to prayer, and his training as a servant of God under Eli are recorded; as are also his many years of faithful service.
Samuel is one of the outstanding characters of the Old Testament. He was not only a judge in Israel, but one of the Lord’s holy and inspired prophets. When the Apostle Peter referred to the “times of restitution of all things” which were to follow the Second Coming of Christ, and asserted that this glorious time of the future blessing of mankind had been foretold by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets, he specifically mentions Samuel as one who had voiced this theme song of deliverance.—Acts 3:19-25
While Samuel was serving as judge and prophet in Israel, the people decided that they wanted to become as other nations and have a king rule over them. They presented their case to Samuel who in turn took it to the Lord in prayer. The prophet was greatly disturbed over this desire of the people, but he was comforted by God with the assurance, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me.”—I Sam. 8:7
The Lord instructed Samuel to accede to the demands of the people and to anoint a king over the nation. The Lord indicated that Saul was to be their first king, and Samuel anointed Saul. Saul ruled well for a time, then lost his humility and began following a course contrary to the will of God.
Meanwhile, the shepherd boy, David, enters into the story, and Samuel was instructed by God to anoint him king in place of Saul. Samuel did this, but David made no effort to assume the rulership of Israel until after the death of King Saul. The two Books of Samuel relate in considerable detail the very interesting experiences of Saul and David, and fill in the history of this people from whom the seed of promise was later to be born.
I and II Kings
These two Books of the Kings were also but one book in the Hebrew Canon. They pick up the history of the period of the kings approximately at the time of David’s death, and carry it through until the kingdom of Judah was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and the nation taken into captivity.—II Kings 25:1-7
Solomon, a son of David, was the third king of Israel. Through his wisdom and initiative the nation prospered and reached the highest pinnacle of its glory. Solomon’s own glory and wisdom became renowned throughout the then known world. The Queen of Sheba heard about it and traveled all the way to Palestine to see for herself, and was so impressed she reported that the half had not been told.—I Kings 10:7
To create this wealth and glory for himself and for the government, Solomon levied heavy taxes upon the people, and after his death his successor was petitioned to relieve the people of this burden. He refused to do so, and as a result there was a rebellion of ten of the tribes which resulted in a division within the nation.
The ten tribes became known as the kingdom of Israel, while the two tribes which remained loyal to their king, Solomon’s son, were known as the kingdom of Judah. The two Books of the Kings record the succession of kings up to the time when both dynasties were overthrown. The first to fall was the kingdom of Israel, which succumbed under pressure from the Assyrians, the people of Israel being taken captive to Assyria. About 134 years afterward the kingdom of Judah fell, and the people who had been loyal to this dynasty were taken captive to Babylon.
The reason for the fall of both Israel and Judah was their sin. As recorded in the books of Moses, God made a covenant with this nation in which he promised to protect them against their enemies. This protection was conditional upon their obedience to him. But the kings of Israel, and also of Judah, with few exceptions, were wicked, leading the people into the worship of false gods. After this had continued long enough to demonstrate that there was no hope for reform, God withdrew his protection, and the fall of both kingdoms soon followed.
The Throne of the Lord
The Israelites rebelled against God’s arrangements to govern them by means of judges which he raised up in times of need, and when they asked that they be given a king to rule over them, their demand was granted. The Lord overruled this to make a very interesting illustration for us of a much greater kingdom in which Jesus would be the king.
To make this picture, the idea was conveyed to the kingdom of Israel right from the start that the authority they exercised was merely as the representatives of God. We read concerning Solomon, for instance, that he “sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father.” (I Chron. 29:23) This was true of all those kings. Zedekiah was the last. It was concerning his overthrow, and what it signified in the outworking of the Divine plan, that the Prophet Ezekiel wrote:
“Thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.”—Ezek. 21:25-27
The ‘it’ referred to in this prophecy, concerning which the prophet says, ‘it shall be no more,’ was the Divine rulership exercised through the successive kings of Israel. In the case of most of those kings this rulership existed only nominally, but God was patient, and not until he permitted Nebuchadnezzar to overthrow Zedekiah and take him captive to Babylon, did he cause the pronouncement to be made, ‘It shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.’
This is another very significant reference to the promised Messiah, or the seed referred to in the promise to Abraham. We mention it here as an illustration of the fact that even in the historical books of the Bible this hope of coming deliverance for mankind is set forth, and that the events themselves are related to this main theme of the Bible.
I and II Chronicles
After the two Books of the Kings, come I and II Chronicles. In the Hebrew the two Books of the Chronicles are entitled, The Acts or Annals of the Days, and are a single work. These are also historical books, and are largely supplemental to I and II Kings. They are believed to have been written by Ezra, a scribe among the Israelites, either during the time they were held captive in Babylon, or else after they were allowed to return to their own land.
The purpose of these books may have been to create and maintain a national spirit among the Israelites, and to remind them of their dependence upon God in view of the discouraging circumstances through which they were passing. God’s overruling providence in the affairs of the nation is frequently emphasized throughout these books.
These are more general in scope than the two Books of the Kings in that they begin with Creation and give the historical background of the nation by genealogies all the way to David, and include the account of his reign. The record is continued to Zedekiah, the last of Judah’s kings, and emphasizes that with him, as with the other wicked kings, his loss of power and prestige was because of his sin.
Ezra and Nehemiah
It is claimed by some that the Book of Ezra properly is a part of the Book of Chronicles, and that the Book of Nehemiah could well be called the second Book of Ezra. The last chapter of Chronicles tells of the Israelites being taken captive to Babylon, and of their release seventy years later by Cyrus, the Mede, who by then had conquered Babylon.
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the experiences of the Israelites in connection with their return to the land of their fathers. They tell of the faithful service of these two servants of God whose names are given to the books in leading and governing the people during those difficult years.
An Israelite named Daniel was one of the captives in Babylon, and the Lord used him mightily as one of his prophets. Through him the Lord gave a prophecy to indicate the time when the promised Messiah would present himself to Israel. This measurement was to be a period of 483 years from the time a decree would be issued authorizing the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its walls, “until Messiah the Prince.” (Dan. 9:25) One of the principal purposes served by the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah is to establish the date of this decree.
In this brief summary of the contents of the various books of the Bible we will not attempt to go into detail with respect to this important time prophecy. We mention it merely to help emphasize again that every part of the Bible is, in one way or another, related to its one great theme of redemption and restoration through Christ, the promised Messiah and Deliverer.
In these two books there is also much to encourage the Lord’s people even now, for they remind us of God’s ability to care for his own in times of great need, and to protect them from their enemies. When the Israelites were reestablishing themselves in Palestine after seventy years of captivity in Babylon, there were many enemies in the land who tried to prevent their homecoming. But the Lord was with his people, even as he is with those today who put their trust in him.
The Book of Esther
This book is also historical in nature, although it records the details of but one episode in the experiences of the Israelites while they were in a foreign land. It might be more proper to call this a storybook. The principal characters in the story are Ahasuerus, a king in Persia; Mordecai, one of the captive Jews, but highly placed in the king’s court; Esther, his cousin and ward; and a villain named Haman, who, because he was slighted by Mordecai, plotted his death and the destruction of all the Israelites in the land.
At the suggestion of Mordecai, Esther succeeded in gaining the confidence of the king, and he took her to be his wife and queen. This placed her in a position, when the proper opportunity presented itself, to lay before the king the dastardly plot of Haman, his trusted servant, to destroy her people. She did this very cleverly, with the result that Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai, and the Israelites throughout the land were saved.—Esther 7:9,10
During the many centuries, and beginning with Abraham, Satan, the great enemy of God and of his people, made repeated attempts to destroy the people of God, thinking, no doubt, that thus he would thwart the Divine purpose reflected in God’s promises pertaining to the seed. The incident recorded in the Book of Esther is one of these. The facts could have been stated very briefly, but the Lord favored his people by presenting them in one of the greatest human-interest stories ever written.
This is the only book in the Bible in which the name God does not appear. It is believed by some scholars that the writer purposely omitted this sacred name in order that the Israelites, when reading it, could give free vent to their joy over such a signal victory, without appearing to be irreverent. This deliverance is commemorated to this day by the Jews in what they call the Feast of Purim. At this feast, the Book of Esther is read. When the name Haman comes up there is said to be hissing and other indications of disapproval, and at the conclusion of the reading, hilarious rejoicing.Go to Part III