Putting Together the Puzzle of the Old Testament
Authentic, 2007, 224 pp., ISBN 1-932805-94-9
Most of us are familiar with Bible stories. They are like colorful interesting puzzle pieces. Jones does a masterful job of fitting the pieces together to show us the picture on the box. Bill Jones has been teaching the Bible to both seminary students as well as people unfamiliar with the Bible. He is currently the president of Columbia International University as well as the president of Crossover, a church planting missions organization.
The book shows how the theme of God's heart for the whole human race permeates the Old Testament. At the end of each chapter there are several preparation possibilities for the next chapter. Each chapter questions the what, how, where, when, who, and why of an era. It picks one key character and provides an excellent personal application study. This is a very practical book, done in a way that facilitates remembering and applying what we learn. I recommend it for individual study or small groups.
Biblical history before Christ can be divided into eight eras: something/nothing, exiting/entering, united/divided, and scattered/gathered. (Preface)
The completed puzzle is a picture of God and His glory. It shows God's love for man and His judgment toward disobedience. The theme of the Old Testament is "God receiving glory by restoring fellowship between all people groups and Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ." (2)
The Old Testament books are divided into three categories, the books of history, the books of the prophets, and the books of poetry. The first 17 books are Historical Books. The next 5 are Poetical Books (Job on suffering, Psalms on worship, and Proverbs on wisdom). The last 17 books are Prophetical Books. (4-6).
Historical content is provided by 13 books and historical commentary by 4 (Ruth, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Esther). (6)
Here are the brief descriptions of the eight eras:
Nothing Era The human race out of nothing
Something Era The Hebrew race into something
Exiting Era Exiting Egypt
Entering Era Entering Canaan
United Era United Kings stand
Divided Era Divided kings fall
Scattered Era Scattered Judah
Gathered Era Gathered Judah (8)
For the most part, the Poetical Books occur during the United Era and the Prophetical Books throughout the Divided, Scattered, and Gathered Eras. (9)
The Nothing Era (Genesis 1 - 11). God creates the human race. Man disobeys God and falls out of fellowship. As corruption increases, God brings judgment, destroying all but one man and his family. Over time the human race forgets God and builds the tower of Babel. God confuses the language and divides the human race into a variety of people groups. This occurs in the Fertile Crescent from creation to about 2090 BC.
Satan subtly tempts Eve to question something that God has clearly said. Second, the devil twists God's words, minimizing the consequences and maximizing the perceived benefits of disobedience. Initially they try to hide from God and then they try to relocate the blame. This leads to five key lessons. (24-27)
The Something Era (Genesis 12 - 50). The Nothing Era sets the context for the entire Bible. In the Something Era, "He sets in motion a plan so glorious it would be unbelievable if God Himself were not the author."
God chose the Hebrew race and turned it into something. Key players are the four patriarchs. It takes awhile for the race to grow because the patriarchs keep marrying barren wives. Abraham is the key figure chosen for us to learn several spiritual lessons. For example:
● "You grow your faith when you trust God to do what He said He would do."
● "Sometimes God waits a long time (from our perspective) to do what He said He would do. So be patient." (43)
Genesis 12:2-3 can be seen in 3 parts.
● "God's promise for His people: I will bless you
● "God's plan for His people: So you shall be a blessing.
● "God's purpose for His people: In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (45)
Don't confuse God's promise for His plan. His plan was for them to focus not on themselves, but on others. They were to be a blessing. (45)
This era shows that Christ is coming from the seed of Abraham. (45)
The Exiting Era (Exodus-Deuteronomy). The focus is on delivering the Hebrews from Egypt between 1445 and 1405 BC. Moses is the main character and we can learn several lessons from him. For example,
● "When we disobey God, He disciplines us to win us back, not to pay us back." And
● "You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose the consequences of your sin. (Notice Exodus 32.35.)" (61)
"The Passover Lamb serves as a powerful picture of Christ." (62)
The Entering Era (Joshua-Judges). The focus is on conquering Canaan. The Hebrews were to drive out all the peoples and destroy their places of worship. They didn't quite finish the job. "While the book of Joshua focuses on the Hebrews conquering the Canaanites physically, the book of Judges focuses on the Canaanites conquering the Hebrews spiritually." (74)
A four step cycle is repeated: sin, suffering, supplication, and salvation. (75) This era occurs in the land of Canaan about 1405 to 1043 BC. (79)
The application study comes from the life of Joshua. Many Christians confuse learning Scripture with living Scripture. "We cannot be satisfied until we grow in Christlikeness. Putting it another way, we must make our ultimate objective not mastering the Word of God, but letting the Word of God master us." (82)
"Applying Scripture to our lives comes from meditating on its meaning in order to move it from our head to our hearts." (82)
"God's judgment comes not from a lack of love on the part of God, but a lack of obedience on the part of man." (86)
The United Era (I Samuel - 1 Kings 11). Key figures are Saul (with a heart for himself), David (with a heart of God), and Solomon (with a divided heart).
God desired the Hebrews to follow Him as their King "in order to draw the other nations into a relationship with Himself. Unfortunately, rather than wanting to influence the nations by following the King, the Hebrews wanted to imitate the nations by following a king." (94)
When David fights Goliath, he fights 'in the name of the Lord…that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.' (96)
David's whole life pivots around one particular passage of the Bible. Before his adultery everything comes together for him. Afterward everything comes apart. (100) Such a fall does not come without a weakening process first. The wood has been rotting for quite awhile. David's many concubines are an indication. (101)
"Fellowship can best be described as that special love relationship we experience when nothing displeasing exists between us and God." When we blow it, only confessing the disobedience brings restoration. "Nothing exists in life more precious than your fellowship with God." (105)
The Divided Era (I Kings 12 - 2 Kings 23) This era lasts from 931 to 586 BC and includes most of the prophetical books. The focus is on three kingdoms: Israel, Judah, and Assyria. God judged Solomon's worship of foreign gods by separating the nation into two kingdoms after his death. Because Israel continued worshipping idols, God sent Assyria in judgment. They carried off the people of Israel and dispersed them forever. (119)
We learn our personal lessons from King Hezekiah. He prayed and God routed the Assyrians "for His own name's sake." We learn, for example,
● "Fear can paralyze humans, but the prayer of faith can mobilize God.
● "If we want to know how much we truly trust in God, as opposed to our own abilities and resources, all we need to do is to examine our prayer life." (128)
● Make prayer your first choice, not your last chance.
In each era we find more specific indications of the coming Messiah. In the United Era, Psalm 22 clearly showed how Christ would die. In this era, Isaiah 53 provides a vivid portrait of Christ showing why he would die. (130)
The Scattered Era (2 Kings 24 - 2 Kings 25). The exile of Judah. We must remember why God did the things He did during these eras. "Because man's disobedience separated him from his Lord, God had to deal with man's sin in order to reconcile the broken relationship." (140)
In response to their wickedness, God declares He will deliver Judah to her enemies. Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar carries off the people in three stages, or three departures, leaving nothing of the nation's glorious past. This era covers 605 to 538 BC.
The application study focuses on Daniel but it also shows how God moves the hands of pagan kings to make decrees about the One True God. "Daniel's uncompromising obedience resulted in the name of the living God being proclaimed to people of many different languages." "We grow in our commitment to God by obeying Him right now in the little things." (152)
"Is there any area of compromise in your life with which you need to deal today?" (154) "When unbelievers take notice that we Christians actually practice in our daily lives what we say we believe, then they will tell others about us." (155)
In the Scattered Era we learn when Christ would die. (Daniel 9:25)
The Gathered Era (Ezra - Nehemiah) "In the last era He scattered them for their disobedience, in this era He orchestrates a returning of Judah because of His faithfulness." (167) The era focuses on three returns. Then there is 400 years of "silence" ending with the coming of the Messiah, 538 BC to Christ. (173) During this era we learn where Christ would die.
"Yet we know God has not forgotten the nations who desperately need spiritual deliverance. God was waiting on the fullness of time. Two future empires would soon make contributions that would allow God's people to communicate to the world that Jesus Christ the Messiah had finally come. The Greek Empire would provide a universal language and the Roman Empire would provide the Roman road system and peace (Pax Romana) allowing the Good News of Christ to cover the known world in a matter of decades." (172)
We learn from the life of Ezra. How will you continue your Bible Study? "Teaching the Scriptures without practicing them makes us hypocrites. Studying the Scripture without practicing them makes us proud. Truly practicing what we study allows us to grow in Christ-like character and provides credibility when we teach." (178)
"God values transformation far more than information." (200)
Two common misperceptions about the Old Testament (200-201)
1. They believe it does not discuss the coming of Christ. Can't you find evidence that anyone could be the Messiah? However, there are about 300 prophecies, so this is impossible. Besides, one cannot decide in advance where he will be born, etc.
2. They assume that the Old Testament focuses only on the Hebrew race. This couldn't be further from the truth. "From the beginning to the end of the Old Testament we find God's heart for the nations explicitly communicated in each of the eight eras." He provides a sample chart. (p. 201)
"For us to bring our lives into harmony with the emphasis of Scripture, we too must seek to bring Him glory. But how do we go about glorifying God? For starters we can begin to move beyond the fact that God has blessed us to the reason that God has blessed us. Just like He did with the people of the Old Testament, God has blessed us SO THAT we might be a blessing to others. We become a blessing to others by announcing not the coming Messiah, but the Messiah who has already come, Jesus Christ. Actively and intentionally participating in this great endeavor brings God immeasurable glory." (202)
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