Session 1: Five People The Old Testament
Welcome to Open the Bible. We’re going to take a journey through the entire Bible story in just three sessions.
We begin with the Old Testament, where we’re going to meet 5 people. Then in the Gospels we will look at 5 events. Then in the New Testament letters were going to consider 5 wonderful gifts.
With so much to cover we’re going to move quickly. But I hope that this brief introduction to the Bible will help you grasp who God is, who you are, who Jesus is, and what He offers to you.
Taking a journey through the Bible is like taking a tour of a castle, where great events have taken place in the past. Some things may seem strange, and that’s not surprising, because they are from another time.
But I’m inviting you to come into this world of the Bible and look around. Discover this world with its awesome God, His often confused and messed up people, and His great promise to bring blessing to all.
Now, if you are thinking, “I’m not sure I believe the Bible,” I want to say, I’m glad you’re taking the tour. Please, listen to what God has said, look at what He has done, and you may find that far from being a relic of the past, the Bible is the means by which God speaks to you today.
Now, imagine yourself at a theater for the first performance of a new play. The author walks onto the stage and introduces himself to the audience. He tells you who he is, why he wrote the play, and what it is about. The author does not present an argument for his own existence. He simply walks onto the stage and begins to speak about himself and his work.
God is the Creator
The Bible begins with God walking onto the stage and introducing Himself.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… (Genesis 1:1)
The first thing God tells us about Himself is that He is the Creator. Now, a creator is always an owner. What you create you own, and since God is the Creator of all things, God owns all things. This world is His. It belongs to Him. And so do you!
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
You were made by God, you are made like God, and you are made for God. And you will come to know yourself as you come to know Him.
And this brings us to the first of the five people we need to meet in the Old Testament.
- Abraham (2000)
- Moses (1500)
- David (1000)
- Nehemiah (500)
Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,
and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7)
God formed a corpse from the dust of the ground. Then God breathed His own breath into this corpse. He gave Adam the kiss of life, and the corpse became a living being.
Think of what that meant for Adam. In his first conscious moment, he was looking up into the face of God! He knew that God had brought him into being. God gave him life. He belonged to God.
God gave Adam four wonderful gifts
The gift of a home
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east,
and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Genesis 2:8)
God was saying, “This is the place I have prepared for you. This is where I want you to know and enjoy my blessing.” Adam was at home in the garden.
Home is where God sets you down. No home is perfect, but the best place to flourish is the place God has prepared for you.
The gift of work
The Lord God took the man
and put him in the garden of Eden
to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)
Work is a good gift from God, and God was involved in Adam’s work. He brought the animals so that Adam could name them (2:19).
The work God gives reflects the work God does. God brings order out of chaos. He creates what is beautiful. He protects and He provides. When you do these things in your work, you reflect the work of God.
The gift of marriage
And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man
he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:22)
God created Eve, and then He brought her to Adam. The first wedding service was conducted by Almighty God. God takes her hand and puts it into his hand, and says, “Love each other. Help each other. Share the life that I am giving you together.”
The first marriage had its share of troubles. But whatever their problems in the future, Adam and Eve could never have doubted that they had been joined together by God. And if you’re married, knowing that God has joined you together will help you to weather any storm.
The gift of fellowship with Himself
And they heard the sound of the Lord God
walking in the garden in the cool of the day… (Genesis 3:8)
God appeared in a visible form in the garden because He wanted Adam and Eve to know Him. We call these appearances theophanies, and they show the intense desire in the heart of God that we should know Him.
At the heart of the Bible story, God became a man in Jesus Christ. So it should not seem strange that in the Old Testament we find God making these appearances in visible form. It is almost as if the Son of God could not wait to come.
God gave Adam four wonderful gifts, but…
Adam and Eve sinned against God
And here we come to the heart of the human problem, which is in two parts.
We’ve got a knowledge of evil
God had given Adam and Eve a single command:
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
you shall not eat,
for in the day that you eat of it
you shall surely die. (Genesis 2:17)
This commandment was a wonderful expression of God’s love. Adam and Eve already knew about good. But God says to them, “You need to understand that with all the good that you enjoy, there is another terrible reality, and I want to protect you from it. It is called evil. And I don’t want you ever to experience it, so don’t touch it!”
But Adam and Eve wanted to have this knowledge of evil. So, they did what God had told them not to do. They disobeyed the command of God,
and in that act of disobedience, they got the knowledge of evil, and we have all lived with it ever since.
We’re excluded from paradise
Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden
to work the ground from which he was taken.
He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden
he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword
that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:23-24)
Cherubim were angels that represent the holiness of God. And there was a flaming sword that turned every way – up, down, right, and left. It slashed at every angle, so getting past it would be impossible. The flaming sword represents the judgment of God.
The sight must have been terrifying for Adam and Eve. They were excluded from the place where they had known the blessing of God and there was no way back.
So here is the Bible’s diagnosis of the human problem: We have a knowledge of evil, and we are excluded from the presence of God, but…
God brought hope through a curse and a promise
God cursed the serpent who had tempted Eve:
Cursed are you… (Genesis 3:14)
A curse is an utterance of deity consigning a person or thing to destruction, so when God uttered this curse, he was saying, “Evil will not stand. It will be destroyed.” That is really good news!!
Then God turned to Adam and said, “Cursed…” (3:17). Adam must have held his breath. God had cursed the serpent, and now it seemed He was about to curse Adam too.
But instead of saying to Adam, “Cursed are you,” God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (3:17). What did the ground do?
This is telling us one of the most important things we need to know about the God of the Bible. God will always deal with sin and destroy it. But He deflected His judgment away from the man and the woman, creating room for them to be reconciled to God.
The curse for Adam’s sin must go somewhere. At the heart of the Bible story, God will send His Son, and direct the curse onto Him. He bore the curse so that it would not fall on us.
Then God promised that a deliverer would come:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15)
The rest of the Bible story is all about this Deliverer. Who is He? When will He come? What will He do? And how can we share in the blessing He will bring?
- Abraham (2000)
- Moses (1500)
- David (1000)
- Nehemiah (500)
After Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden, the human family grew. And as the family grew, evil and violence increased.
God restrained human evil by sending a flood, and by confusing human language. But then God stepped into human history and revealed Himself to a man called Abraham.
Why should we be interested in Abraham?
God made a promise to Abraham
God made a marvelous promise to Abraham. He said,
I will bless you… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:2, 3)
Notice that the promise to Abraham is a promise for us. In Abraham all the families of the earth will be blessed.
The reason the Old Testament focuses on the line of Abraham is not because the rest of the world doesn’t matter. It is because the rest of the world does matter, and God’s plan is to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham.
The Bible tells us that in his early life Abraham “served other gods” (Joshua 24:2). Abraham didn’t know God, he didn’t seek God, and he didn’t obey God. But God appeared to him and said, “I will bless you… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2, 3).
God took the initiative. It is as if God said, “If I wait for these human beings to seek Me and find Me, they will never come. I will seek them, I will find them, and I will bless them.”
That’s what the Bible calls grace. God was looking for Abraham long before Abraham was looking for God. And God was looking for you long before you were looking for Him.
Abraham believed God’s promise.
And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
What did Abraham believe? Roll the Bible story forward, and you find that Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
Abraham lived 2,000 years before Jesus was born. But he understood that out of all his descendants, God would give him One through whom God’s promise to bless the world would be fulfilled. That descendant is Jesus, who was born into the line of Abraham.
Abraham was saved, as we are, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. He didn’t know the name of Jesus or the details of the cross, but Abraham’s faith looked forward to what Jesus would accomplish, just as our faith looks back on what Jesus has accomplished.
It is by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ that we are made right with God. It has always been that way, even before Jesus came into the world.
God’s promise would be fulfilled at unimaginable cost
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him,
“Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you
love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there
as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I
shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:1-2)
Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it
on Isaac his son… And Isaac said to his father Abraham…
“Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for
a burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:6, 7, 8)
Isaac would have been a young man at this time. So, forget any artistic impressions you may have seen of a child lying helpless on the altar. Isaac carried the wood on his shoulders (22:6). He was a man in the prime of his life, and he could easily have overpowered Abraham, who was an old man, if he had wanted to.
But Isaac didn’t do that. He was willing to lay down his life. So, what you have here is a father willing to give up his son, and a son who is willing to give himself. And they are at one in what they are doing so that blessing will come to the world.
But at the critical moment, God called out from heaven, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him” (22:12). Then God provided the sacrifice:
Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked,
and behold, behind him was a ram,
caught in a thicket by his horns.
And Abraham went and took the ram
and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. (Genesis 22:13)
The ram was a substitute for Isaac. Isaac’s life was spared because the ram took his place on the altar.
Now, clearly, the life of a ram was of far less value than the life of Isaac, so God was accepting a lesser sacrifice for the time being and one day a greater sacrifice would have to be made.
Abraham must have wondered, What will it cost for God’s blessing to come to the world? What sacrifice could be greater than the sacrifice of my son?
We are meant to respond to this story in two ways: First, I hope you will feel a sense of recoiling in horror because that is what you are meant to feel. What kind of unimaginable cost is this?
Second, I hope you will gaze in wonder at the reality to which this story points. The story of a father being ready to give up his son, and a son being ready to lay down his life shows us what it cost for God’s blessing to come to all people.
- Abraham (2000)
- Moses (1500)
- David (1000)
- Nehemiah (500)
Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob fathered 12 sons, and the entire family moved to Egypt where they found food in a time of famine.
The family remained in Egypt for 400 years. In that time, their numbers grew. And as their numbers grew, they were oppressed. And that brings us to the third person we need to meet in the Old Testament story: Moses.
The first thing you need to know about Moses is that
God delivered His people through Moses
“I know their sufferings and
I have come down to deliver them…
and to bring them up… to a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:7-8)
God commanded Moses to bring His people out of Egypt (3:10). And Moses confronted Pharaoh with God’s command: “Let my people go” (5:1). Pharaoh refused. But after a series of plagues, he finally agreed to God’s demand.
When God’s people came to the Red Sea, it seemed that they were trapped.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea,
and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night
and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground,
the waters being a wall to them on their right hand
and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22)
God gave Moses the Ten Commandments
And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1-3)
There are two things to note about the Ten Commandments:
God’s commands reflect His character
The Ten Commandments are a direct reflection of the character of God.
God says, “You are my people, so I am calling you to a life that reflects what I am like.”
Why should you not commit adultery? Because God is faithful. Why should you not steal? Because God can be trusted. Why should you not lie? Because God’s Word is truth.
In these commandments, God is saying, “You are My people. Your calling is to live a life that reflects who I am, and this is what a godly life looks like.”
God gives what He commands by the power of His Spirit
And I will put my Spirit within you,
and cause you to walk in my statutes… (Ezekiel 36:27)
Years ago I came across the story of a man who served time in prison because he was a thief. This had been his lifestyle until the long arm of the law caught up with him. During his time in prison, he heard the good news of Jesus Christ and he was wonderfully changed.
When the time came for his release, he knew that he would face a great struggle. Most of his old friends were criminals, and he knew it would not be easy to break the patterns of his old way of life.
The first thing that he wanted to do when he was released from prison was to go to church, and so on the first Sunday morning of his new freedom, he slipped into a church building and sat at the back.
As he looked up to the front, he saw the words of the Ten Commandments inscribed on the wall. His eyes went immediately to the words of the command that seemed to condemn him: “You shall not steal.” That’s the last thing that I need, he thought to himself. I know my failure, and I know the battle I’m going to have.
As he read and re-read the words, they seemed to take on a new meaning that he had never seen before. Previously, he had read these words in the tone of a condemning command, “You shall not steal!”
But now, it seemed that God was speaking these same words to him as a wonderful promise: “You shall not steal!” The man had become a new person, and the Holy Spirit would give him the power to overcome his old habit of stealing.
You shall not steal, and the reason you won’t steal is that “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes…” (Ezekiel 36:27).
A new life is possible through Jesus Christ by the power of His Spirit.
God gave Moses the sacrifices
While Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments at the top of the mountain, God’s people were breaking them at the bottom of the mountain.
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people,
whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt,
have corrupted themselves.” (Exodus 32:7)
Then God said,
I will send an angel before you…
Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey;
but I will not go up among you… (Exodus 33:2, 3)
That was quite an offer! “You can enjoy a life of prosperity in a land flowing with milk and honey. I’ll even send an angel to lead the way. There’s only one problem. I will not go with you” (Exodus 33:3).
And here, we come to a marvelous moment in the Bible story: “When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned…” (Exodus 33:4). They were God’s people, and they knew that if God was not with them, no amount of prosperity could make up for that loss.
But how could the presence of God come back among His people when they had broken His commandments?
God gave Moses detailed instructions for a mobile worship center called the tabernacle. At the center of this tent-like structure was the Most Holy Place.
The Ark of the Covenant was placed there. It was a wooden chest, covered by a lid, and in the middle of the lid was what God called the mercy seat.
God said that he would meet with His people there.
You shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark…
there I will meet with you… (Exodus 25:21, 22)
The high priest went into the Most Holy Place, and when he sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed animal on the mercy seat, the cloud of God’s presence came down and filled the tabernacle.
God was showing how His presence would return to His people. We lose the presence of God because of our sin. God’s presence comes back because of a sacrifice.
- Abraham (2000)
- Moses (1500)
- David (1000)
- Nehemiah (500)
After the death of Moses, God brought His people into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, Moses’ successor. What followed was a long period of chaos that lasted for four hundred years.
God’s people kept turning away from obedience to His commands. When they turned away from God, He allowed their enemies to prevail over them. And when they turned to God and cried out for help, God sent leaders called judges to deliver them. But when the judge died, God’s people turned away from Him again.
God’s people saw that other nations had a more settled leadership and they wanted to have a king. The first king, whose name was Saul, was a big disappointment. But his successor was a man called David.
David became king about a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, and he reigned for forty years (2 Samuel 5:4). During that time, God’s people enjoyed unparalleled blessing. With strong defense, a thriving economy, and stable leadership, God’s people had never had it so good.
Two things to note from the life of David, and his son Solomon:
God gave David a promise
When God’s people were in the desert, His visible presence had come down to the Ark of the Covenant. But during the reign of King Saul, the ark had been placed in storage and completely forgotten.
David wanted this symbol of the presence of God to be at the center of national life, so he brought the ark to Jerusalem. “And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it” (2 Samuel 6:17).
David wanted to build a temple to house the ark, but God had other plans. David wanted to do something impressive for God, but God was preparing to do something spectacular for David and for us.
“I will raise up your offspring after you . . .
and I will establish his kingdom…”
He shall build a house for my name,
and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (2 Samuel 7:12–14)
David was overwhelmed by the weight and glory of these promises. It was easy to understand that his son would build a temple, but how could any king’s reign last forever? And how could a son of David be described as God’s son?
Remember that the Bible story is about how God’s blessing will come to all people. God had already promised that His blessing would come through a descendant of Abraham. Now, a thousand years later, God revealed that it would come through a king in the line of David.
When we come to the New Testament, the very first verse says,
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)
Jesus is the One in whom God’s promises to Abraham and to David are fulfilled. He’s the One in whom all the families of the earth will be blessed. He is the King who will reign forever. He was born into the line of David, but God is His Father and He is God’s Son.
He is the One who will build a house for God’s name. Not by constructing a building, but by bringing together a people from every tribe and nation who love Him from the heart.
God’s presence came to the temple
When David died, Solomon, his son set about fulfilling his father’s plans for a temple in Jerusalem.
It was a massive construction project and Solomon paid particular attention to the Most Holy Place – the little room at the center of the temple where God said His presence would come down.
When the building was complete, God’s people gathered for a service of dedication. The priests brought the Ark of the Covenant into the temple and put it in the Most Holy Place (1 Kings 8:6). And when they withdrew, the cloud of God’s glorious presence filled the temple (8:10–11). The visible sign of God’s presence had come among God’s people again.
- Abraham (2000)
- Moses (1500)
- David (1000)
- Nehemiah (500)
After the time of David and Solomon, God’s people turned repeatedly to other gods, and this continued for a period of four hundred years.
After Solomon, the kingdom divided in two. Ten tribes in the north declared independence from the line of David. There were 19 kings in the north, and all of them did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Then the northern kingdom collapsed, and its people were scattered.
Two tribes in the south continued under kings in the line of David. Most of these kings led the people to worship other gods. This idolatry was so offensive to God that He gave His people into the hands of their enemies.
The king of Babylon laid siege to the city of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem was reduced to a pile of rubble. The temple was destroyed, and those who survived were taken into exile in Babylon.
But God always keeps His promises, and even in this darkest hour, there was still hope for God’s people. After seventy years God’s people returned from exile to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.
Their leaders were a builder called Zerubbabel, a Bible teacher called Ezra, and a brilliant strategist whose name was Nehemiah.
Seventy years after God’s people were taken into exile, Babylon fell to the rising empire of the Medes and the Persians. The new king, Cyrus, decreed that any Jewish exiles who wished to return to Jerusalem were free to do so. A group of about fifty thousand people caught the vision of creating a new community in the city of God.
Their first leader, Zerubbabel, established a new community in Jerusalem and under his leadership, the people built homes and then they rebuilt the temple. But there was a problem.
The Most Holy Place at the center of the temple housed the Ark of the Covenant where God said He would meet with His people. But when Jerusalem was reduced to a pile of rubble, the Ark of the Covenant had been lost. And despite the efforts of Indiana Jones, it has never been found!
Without the ark, the temple would no longer be the place where God’s presence came down among his people. Without the ark, the Most Holy Place was just an empty room. People gathered for worship, but the cloud of God’s presence never came down. And by the time of Jesus, the temple that should have been a place for meeting with God had become a den of robbers (Matthew 21:13).
After Zerubbabel, God raised up a Bible teacher by the name of Ezra. He was “skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel had given… the hand of the Lord his God was on him.” (Ezra 7:6).
Sometime later, God raised up a gifted planner and organizer named Nehemiah. When he came to Jerusalem, he saw that the city had no defenses, and God put it into his heart to rebuild the walls.
When the walls were rebuilt, the people gathered in the public square and called on Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law.
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the
Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law
of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. (Nehemiah 8:1)
This was a crowd of around 50,000 people, and they told Ezra to bring the Book of the law of Moses. How do fifty thousand people make a request? They chant! This crowd had a great hunger for the Word of God, and they began shouting, “We want the Bible! Bring out the Bible!”
Ezra the priest opened the Word of God and he was supported by the Levites in his task:
They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly,
and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (Nehemiah 8:8)
Reading, explaining, and applying the Word of God – that was Ezra’s strategy for building up the people of God.
The story of this day gives us a picture of what happens when the Bible is opened, as we are opening the Bible today.
When the Bible is opened God’s people grieve
When the Word of God was read and explained, the first response of the people was to weep.
For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:9)
When the light of God’s Word comes into our lives, we begin to see how far we are from Him and we feel our own need. So don’t be surprised if your first reaction to opening the Bible is to feel your own unworthiness. God’s Word will bring you there, but it will never leave you there.
When the Bible is opened God’s people rejoice
“…do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
Opening the Bible brings great joy because from beginning to end, the Bible is good news. God’s people didn’t go home preoccupied with their sins and failures. When the Bible was opened, they discovered the grace and mercy of God, and this gave them strength.
Notice that Nehemiah speaks of “the joy of the Lord” (8:9). God is supremely happy in Himself. And that is good news because there could be no joy in fellowship with an unhappy god.
If you think that God wears a perpetual frown toward his people, you will not be drawn to seek Him. But when you know that God is supremely happy in Himself, you will be drawn to Him. And as you get to know Him, the joy that is in God will increasingly be in you.
When the Bible is opened God’s people have hope
During the time of Nehemiah, God’s people gathered in the temple. They sang songs of praise. They offered prayers, and gifts, and sacrifices. But the cloud of God’s presence never came down.
People who loved God longed for His presence. So, God sent prophets who promised that one day God would come to His temple.
“Behold, I send my messenger,
and he will prepare the way before me.
And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” (Malachi 3:1)
That prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus Christ was born.
Jesus spoke about His own body as a temple (John 2:19-20). He said that this temple (His body) would be destroyed and raised up in 3 days. And in referring to His own body as the temple, Jesus was saying that He is the place where we can meet with God.
In the Old Testament, the temple was the place to meet with God. But in the New Testament, the place to meet with God is a person, Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament explains why we need Him. The New Testament tells us what happened when He came.