The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days, and God of Love;
Jehovah, great I AM! by earth and Heav’n confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred Name forever blessed.
“The God of Abraham Praise” by Thomas Olivers, c. 1775, v.1. From Cyberhymnal.org.
The story of God’s chosen people, Israel, known in these latter days as the Jews, takes up most of the Old Testament. It is full of tale after incredible tale, a saga that is mind-boggling to try to cram into one “Act” of the Bible’s story (let alone into one knitted clue). If you are skeptical of this move, stay tuned.
The Old Testament, with its stories and poems and proverbs and prophecies, has been so formative to those of us who grew up in the Scripture, and seems so foreign to those who didn’t. But honestly, it seems foreign to me sometimes, too. I wonder, a little, what God was up to. Why did the all powerful God of the Universe, who’s supposed to be Lord over everything that is, choose just one people to make His own for so long? What do all these stories, that happened so long ago and to people of a completely different culture, have to do with my life and my spirituality? This week, I hope we will have opportunity to dig into some of these questions, while following the story of God’s relationship with his chosen people.
While we do so, take some time to review a few of the biggest stories of Israel’s history. There’s no replacement for just reading the whole thing. (Or at least the backbone narrative of the history books: Genesis, the 1st half of Exodus, Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, Ezra, & Nehemiah. Feeling determined?) But I’ve given you a few of the crux points of the story, attempting to give you enough background to follow if this story is new to you.
- Abraham – Genesis 12:1-9 – The story of Israel begins with the story of Abraham. Out of a world full of sinners, God re-initiated his relationship with humanity with a relationship with one person. But as this passage reveals, God’s intention was always to bless “all families of the world.”
- Moses – Exodus 14-15 – God built up Abraham’s family through Isaac and Jacob. But a famine in Israel (where Abraham’s family were just a nomads at the time) drove them to make a new home in Egypt. They were eventually enslaved, until God raised up Moses to lead them out. After God sent the 10 plagues on the Egyptians, the Israelites were finally released, but even while they were on their way out, Pharaoh changed his mind. With Israel’s back’s to the Red Sea and facing the Egyptian armies, God showed his power by parting the sea for them to pass then bringing it back down on the Egyptians. This rescue, and the ensuing years of wandering in the desert, made Israel into a people – God’s people. The rescue through the Red Sea, and the song Jews still sing to remember that event, are recorded in these two chapters.
- David – 2 Samuel 7 – After forty years in the desert, God led Israel to conquer the inhabitants of the land of Caanan to establish a nation. For many years, they were ruled directly by God, under the guidance of Judges, with mixed results. Finally, the people demanded a king. 1 and 2 Samuel record the story of the last judge (Samuel), the first, failed king (Saul), and the second, paradigmatic king (David). Though David was certainly a screw up in his own way, he was “a man after God’s own heart,” and this passage records God making an unfathomable promise to David – that his dynasty would continue forever. This came true and is coming true in Jesus, a direct descendant of David, who will be Lord of all forever.
- Temple – 2 Chronicles 6:1-7:3 – Since David was a man of war, God chose not to let him build God a temple in Jerusalem. That duty was passed on to David’s son, Solomon. This passage records the first worship in that completed first temple, when God’s presence descended, the law was shared, and the nation worshiped. This temple worship is the realization of the ultimate goal of Jewish spirituality – how God chose to relate to his chosen people.
- Exile & Return – Lamentations 1 – All too quickly, Israel’s kings descended into serious sin, a story told in 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. The kingdom split into northern and southern halves – the northern part still called “Israel” and the southern part called “Judea.” Before they had entered into the land (way back in Exodus), God had promised that if they obeyed the law he gave them and worshiped Him, they would be blessed, but if they turned their backs on Him to worship other gods and abandoned the law and justice, they would be cursed. God followed through on this – first Israel was captured by Assyrians, who scattered the Israelites to the four winds, then Judea was conquered by the Babylonians, who transported the entire people to Babylon for 70 years. Lamentations records the tragedy of seeing Jerusalem and the temple destroyed. Yet Israel returned, rebuilding their temple and re-establishing the law, though their nation was not the same since.
- New Covenant – Jeremiah 31:31-40 – Throughout this history, God sent prophets to speak his word – revealing Himself, reprimanding sin, and continuing to promise hope. No matter how much God’s people messed up on their end of the bargain, God would never go back on his promise to Abraham, which he renewed to Isaac, Jacob, and David. Even before the Exile, a prophet named Jeremiah was prophesying about a new covenant that looked totally different from Israel’s story thus far. This looked forward to Jesus, whose new covenant would realize God’s original promise to Abraham that the whole world would be blessed through that initial relationship.
Another way to approach the massive task of comprehending the significance of this chapter would be if you are reading along in The Drama of Scripture. Bartholomew and Goheen do an excellent and thorough job of covering the whole thing in “Act 3: The King Chooses Israel: Redemption Initiated,” pp. 47-112. It’s a very long chapter, but shorter than the whole Old Testament.