“Story is the most natural way of enlarging and deepening our sense of reality, and then enlisting us as participants in it. Stories open doors to areas or aspects of life that we didn’t know were there, or had quit noticing out of over-familiarity, or supposed were out-of-bounds to us. They then welcome us in. Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.” (Eugene Peterson).
In this series we are briefly surveying the Bible with a view to showing it is a story – one continuous story that encompasses the whole time of man from his beginning to his ultimate destiny. It is not man’s story, but God’s. Man figures in the story because of what God is doing and will do for us. As the quote above suggests, the story shows that we are intended to be participants and invites us to become part of that story. The importance of seeing ourselves as participants in the Bible story is emphasized by Stephen Shoemaker…
“Our lives must find their place in some greater story or they will find their place in some lesser story.”
The story is told in several acts or chapters. We are looking at it as consisting of six, (Creation/Fall/Israel/Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection/Church/New Creation), while others say seven, separating the life of Jesus from His death and resurrection. However you look at it, it is important to understand and read the Bible from this perspective, not only to see how it is all connected, but that we might connect with it in the way God wants us to be.
We have come in our discussion to the third act – the story of Israel. This, by far is the lengthiest part of the Bible story. It reaches from the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 all the way to the end of the Old Testament and even beyond to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
As we discussed yesterday, the family of man, with few exceptions, was characterized by either indifference toward God or an outright rebellion against Him. Now the story turns as God begins to develop a family who, following the faith of their father. Abram (later to be known as Abraham) is specifically singled out from all other people of his homeland because of his faith in God.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1).
With this command God also made promises to Abraham – promises that, as the story unfolds, become significant for all people of all time to come. But in order for God to do this Abram had to be separated from the influence of the idolatrous people of his present surroundings.
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (vs.Genesis 12:2-3 ).
This promise of blessing all the families of the earth becomes an echoing theme down through the pages of the Bible. Years later, Moses told the descendants of Abraham, the Israelites, who were poised to enter into the promised land, that that promise had been reiterated to their forefathers, Isaac and Jacob and to their families and “all the families of the earth.” Moses told them that God was making a covenant (a solemn agreement) with them…
“…that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 29:13).
Throughout his life, Abraham trusted in the promises of God. As a human, his understanding of God and His plan for his life was not always perfect. But Abraham was a man whom God could trust and a man who was worthy of becoming a model for his family and for all people of faith for all time to come. God said of him,
“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:19).
So the promise extended to all the descendants of Abraham, but not to them only. As Abraham had been faithful to God, he would become the “father of the faithful” – not just the nation of Israel, his fleshly descendants, but of all people of all nations who would be faithful to God like Abraham. In Romans 4:16, when speaking of Christ, the descendant of Abraham in whom salvation realized by all nations, Paul wrote,
“That is why it [salvation, mr] depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”
Through Abraham and through the promise of blessing to all nations through the seed of Abraham, God was beginning the process of preparing men for the salvation He would make possible for all. God was using this righteous man Abraham and his descendants to begin the process of healing the damage sin had done. It would take a long time with many deviations from the path to the goal.
The problem is that sin is such a pervasive influence in this world and man has been so far removed from God as a result of sin. It was – and still is – very hard for man to grasp how serious the problem of sin is, not only in our individual lives, but also how it affects the world around us. Not one man of all the billions who have lived on earth has brought about his own salvation. Through long, hard experience humanity had to learn this lesson – otherwise he could not comprehend the depth of God’s love nor the necessity of His grace in dealing with the problem of sin.
Tomorrow we will continue with a look at the nation of Israel as they muddled, often reluctantly, along the way toward an understanding of God and of His love and grace.