God Unfolds a Nation's Destiny: Israel's journey from slavery to a new identity in God.
How to Read Exodus A spectacular escape and a hair-raising chase scene are only two of the many epic adventures in Exodus. But this book is much more than an adventure series; it recounts the supernatural rescue of an entire people by their God. Despite God's intervention, the Israelites seem unable to remain loyal to him. Seeing their faltering faith can actually encourage us with a vivid lesson: Even imperfect people can get to know God, who loves them perfectly.
Exodus can be separated into two sections. The first 19 chapters describe the Israelites' journey from bondage to deliverance, and the last 21 chapters record laws by which God wanted his people to live as they worshiped him and followed him. As you read Exodus, be alert to the marvelous teachings about God contained within its pages. God is revealed as powerful, caring, awesome in glory and majesty and worth of exuberant worship, forgiving and merciful, and passionately loving.
Exodus spotlights God's direct involvement in human history - how he goes to astonishing lengths to reach those he loves. For example, he helps Moses overcome an incredible inferiority complex to become a great leader in Israel. Repeatedly, Exodus shows how much God enjoys people who, aware of their weaknesses, trust him as their only hope.
Who wrote this book and when? Moses wrote it around 1440 BC.
Why was it written? To remind the Israelites how God had rescued them from oppression.
What was its historical setting? Jacob had migrated to Egypt with his family to escape a famine in Canaan some four centuries earlier. But the 'land of escape' became a 'land of bondage' as the Egyptians sought to maintain dominance over the Israelites by forcing them into slave labor. Shortly before his death in the desert, Moses reflected on and penned the swirling events of Israel's escape from Egypt.
Set Apart for Intimacy: A radically different lifestyle in response to God's holiness.
How to Read Leviticus: Rules...who needs them? A fast look around and within gives us a quick, clear answer. WE DO! The Israelites have known nothing but slavery for hundreds of years; God knows they must learn to govern themselves and build a nation. He pulls his people aside into the wilderness to give them the clarity they need to live with justice, good health, loving families, honest business, wholesome arts, etc. So while Leviticus may seem like an out-of-date legal document full of distasteful customs, it's really about maintaining a right relationship with God and neighbor.
As you read Leviticus, think about how important holy living is to God. Be alert to the essential truths the book teaches about God, and let it challenge you to walk more closely and more humbly with your God, as you hear his call: 'Be holy because I...am holy.' (Leviticus 19:2)
You'll discover that God wants us to be free from sin and its fatal effects. You'll find that he wants to have a personal relationship with us. You'll see that he wants us to be set apart for him.
Who wrote this book and when? Moses wrote it around 1440 BC.
To whom was it written and why? God wanted the people of Israel to have instructions for their social and religious life. He wanted to show them how to live in harmony with each other and with him.
What was its historical setting? Moses had led Israel out of Egypt into the desert. At the foot of Mount Sinai, they built the tabernacle to worship God. It was vital time to train them to listen, to obey, and to learn to function as people without the influence of other nations and their ways. While they waited for orders to march toward the promised land, God gave these instructions so they could build their lives and the nation on strong foundations.
Wanderings of a Faithless Generation: Fear keeps Israel from entering into its inheritance.
How to Read Numbers: A title like Numbers sounds about as exciting as 'dictionary' or 'phone book'. That is not the case at all! Get ready for a surprise. This book is loaded with powerful stories of Israel's rebellion and God's judgement and mercy.
Numbers begins at Mount Sinai, as the Israelites wait on God for directions to the promised land. As the book unfolds, be alert to the change in attitude from eager anticipation to petty grumblings and outright revolt. Numbers ends with a new generation of Israelites about to enter the promised land. As you study Numbers, reflect on the temptations in your own life to grumble, complain, or rebel. Consider as well the lengths to which God goes to restore his people.
Who wrote this book and when? Moses wrote it about 40 years after the exodus from Egypt (1406 BC).
To whom was it written and why? To God's people - the children of Israel. Number is Moses' memoirs about the Israelites' 40 years in the desert. He wrote it to document their story, a story of their past to shape their future, to show God's judgement against sin, in the context of his constant faithfulness and patience with his beloved Israel.
Where does it fit in the big story? Numbers covers almost 40 years - specifically, 38 years and 9 months - of Israel's wanderings in the desert, from Mount Sinai to the Jordan River. After Israel came out of Egypt, Moses sent spies into Canaan. The spies' report was met with fear rather than faith. So for every day the spies spent scouting in Canaan, the people spent one year wandering in judgement for their unfaithfulness (Num. 14:33-34).
Seize Your Destiny: What's it take to live your dreams?
How to Read Joshua: Do you have any unfulfilled dreams? Israel sure did...for 38 years they had paid a steep price for their lack of faith and obedience. Now the next generation has a chance at it, and they are not going to blow it! As they walk in obedience, a river stands still, walls fall, enemies are defeated, and their long-awaited dreams come true.
The book of Joshua divides into two sections. The first sections is an amazing story of courage, faith, miracles, and innovative strategies to win one impossible battle after another. Fulfilling our dreams doesn't depend on our skill, size, or resources, but on faith and obedience!
Once the enemies are routed, God's plan continues to unfold through the second section. God doesn't leave his people to squabble amongst themselves over who gets what. He gives them a very detailed description of the land he'd selected for each tribe, ensuring a foundation for peace and justice. Be encouraged as you read this book that even as God had a specific plan for the twelve tribes, so also he las a particular dream in mind for each of us.
Who wrote this book and when? Joshua wrote it probably about 1390 BC. The final section about Joshua's funeral may have been composed by the priest Eleazar, son of Aaron.
How does it fit into God's big story? Joshua records the transition of the Israelites, from a nation of desert nomads, to a conquest of their promised land. It shows how the lands were divided among Israel's 12 tribes and reminds the nation that they owed their existence to God.
Tragic Cycles of Sin and Redemption: A nation suffers the horrific consequences of deserting God.
How to Read Judges Judges' stories are as sensational as today's tabloids: gruesome murders, sexual depravity, superhuman feats of strength, a bizarre mutilation. But beneath the sensational stories are eternal lessons you will never find in a tabloid. The book of Judges shows what can happen when a society slides into moral anarchy. It also shows how God displays his mercy when people cry out to him in repentance.
Judges describes the Israelites' life in Canaan after the death of Joshua and before the time of the kings. In chapters 1-16, you will read a recurring tale that recounts how the Israelites related to God and the impact it had on their national destiny. Each story:
begins by telling of God's blessings;
then speaks of how the Israelites fell into wayward idolatry;
which resulted in them being conquered by their enemies and suffering greatly.
In the midst of the anguish they would return to God in repentance;
and then experience God's merciful deliverance through one of the judges.
This sequence of events repeats itself in various ways six times in this book! The result is a series of poignant stories that are both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. They speak of God's abiding faithfulness and unrelenting love toward his wandering people. By the end of this book, you long for the intervention of yet another judge who will come to save - a longing that will only be fulfilled with Jesus' advent.
As you study the book of Judges, you may want to examine your own life and identify areas where you have been disobedient. Then ask God to forgive you and to deliver you from the consequences that have occurred as a result of having strayed from a passionate pursuit of relationship with God.
Who wrote this book and when? Tradition credits the prophet Samuel, but we don't know for sure who wrote it. The author may have been one of Samuel's associates, perhaps another prophet.
It was written perhaps as many as 380 years after the events it describes - probably as a reflection on the nation's story during one of Israel's first kings, Saul or David (around 1000 BC). The book covers a period of about 350 years.
To whom was it written and why? To the people of Israel, to recount the stories of Israel's heroes - called judges - and to give the nation's history prior to the time it became a kingdom.
A Surprising Love Story: An outsider's loyalty shapes the destiny of future generations.
How to Read Ruth If you have ever felt like an outsider, struggling to fit in, then you will identify with Ruth, the heroine of this book. In the culture in which she lived, Ruth had three strikes against her: At that time people honored women with children; she had none. Women were dependent on their husbands; she was a widow. Communities were close-knit; she was a foreigner. But this story shows how God helped this outsider, bringing her in and saving her from poverty and exclusion. So you'll find hope in this book - a picture of God, who wants 'outsiders' to come to him for help.
Ruth is such an exquisite love story that you won't want to put it down once you have begun reading - so don't. Take special note of the deep love that binds Ruth and Naomi, a love strengthened through suffering. Observe also God's providence in the beautiful way in which Ruth and Boaz meet and fall in love with each other, a love that weds Jew and Gentile into the kingly line from which King David and his most famous descendant, Jesus, would be born.
Redemption - the theme permeates this book: Ruth is transformed from poverty to wealth, widow to wife, barren to fertile, and foreigner to Israelite. Boaz, a kinsman-redeemer who gives Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, a new life, is also a key figure in the book of Ruth.
Who wrote this book and when? Jewish tradition points to Samuel, but it was likely written later by an unknown writer. The events probably took place during the period of the judges (1375-1050 BC). The date when the story was written down is not known, although it was most likely after 1000 BC.
To whom was it written and why? To the people of Israel, to retell an important story and perhaps to encourage the Israelites to include foreigners in their nation (see Isaiah 56:1-8).
A Crisis of Leadership: Two leaders contrasted: God's way or man's?
How to Read 1 Samuel In the two books ascribed to Samuel there are many colorful characters who deal with issues similar to our own. As you experience their tragedies and triumphs, their emotional highs and lows, you will learn more about yourself - and how God wants to work in your life. A common thread running through all these stories is God's undying faithfulness to his people.
As you read this book, consider the impact of godly or ungodly leadership upon the destiny of the Israelites. This book sharply contrasts the life and leadership of King Saul and David. Both were anointed by God. Both accomplished some great feats. And both failed miserably, falling into grave sin. What is the difference between these two leaders? Saul tried to cover up his sin whereas David was genuinely repentant of his.
We have all failed in life, but that doesn't have to be the end of the story. We can adopt an attitude like David's and turn back to God. Or, like Saul, we can live in the fear of man and never face our sin responsibly. Which road will you choose? Consider the examples laid out here: which ones do you want to imitate and which ones do you want to avoid?
Who wrote this book and when? The author is anonymous. The prophets Samuel, Nathan, and Gad all kept records (1 Chronicles 29:29), which later may have been combined to form 1 and 2 Samuel. Some think official court historians may have chronicled these events (2 Samuel 8:16-17, 1 Kings 4:3).
Why was it written? 1 Samuel continues the history of God's relationship with his people and connects the era when the judges ruled Israel to the time of the kings.
The Making of a Leader: David's uncensored story of passion, power, failure, and forgiveness.
How to Read 2 Samuel 'After what I've done, how could God ever love me?' David had as much right to ask that as you or I ever will! Adultery, murder, rape, mutiny...David experienced much pain as a result of his poor choices. Yet, he is remembered as Israel's greatest king and one of the most intimate worshipers of God. If there is hope for David, then there is hope for us!
In the first half of 2 Samuel, David consolidates his power until he finally becomes king over all the twelve tribes of Israel. The second half of the book recounts the personal and family troubles that plague David and lead to a great national tragedy. In the big picture, this book clearly shows God's hand in human events. David rose to power because God selected him. David's heroic exploits were possible because he followed the God who had anointed him. David's moral failures show God's justice and mercy in response to sin.
Who wrote this book and when? Like in the earlier book, the author of 2 Samuel is unknown to us. It is possible the author compiled the records of Samuel and Nathan or Gad (see 1 Chronicles 29:29). It was probably written sometime after the death of Solomon and the division of the kingdom - around 925 BC. Why was it written? This book traces the history of Israel from the death of Saul to the end of David's reign approximately 1010 - 970 BC. It vividly shows the consequences of both faithfulness and disobedience.