Why Read the Old Testament

Why Read the Old Testament?

 

Over the last two weeks I’ve been looking at the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible. While this is not a review per se, my first impressions are that the Bible is very promising: great articles, helpful study notes, and full color on every page.1

In his article “Introduction to the Old Testament,” T.D. Alexander provides a compelling description of the Old Testament’s role in the biblical storyline:

The Bible is built around a grand story that starts in Genesis with the divine creation of the earth and ends in Revelation by anticipating the coming of a new earth. The OT contributes to this story by explaining the origin and nature of the human predicament, which, in essence, is our alienation from God. From the early chapters of Genesis onward, the OT describes how God sets about redeeming and restoring creation after the tragic rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Not only is God’s redemptive activity evident throughout the OT, but by pointing forward to Jesus Christ, the OT introduces the ultimate means by which the tragic consequences of human sin will be reversed. (p. 3)

Alexander then goes on to provide a brief summary of the Old Testament narrative. He concludes this section, writing:

While the grand story of the OT moves through a series of distinctive stages, these stages are closely linked to one another as God’s plan of redemption unfolds. From the Garden of Eden to the return of the exiles from Babylon, God is at work, seeking to restore to himself an alienated humanity and to reclaim the earth from the powers of evil. In all of this, the OT prepares for events that come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. With good reason the NT cannot be fully understood without an intimate knowledge of the OT. (p. 6).

What a great reason for reading the Old Testament! Sure, the stories seem bizarre, the names unpronounceable, and the genealogies monotonous; for the Christian, the Old Testament is required reading, helping you better understand the events and writings of the New Testament. Moreover, as Alexander writes in the last paragraph, in the Old Testament we see God at work, bringing restoration and reconciliation to both mankind and the entire cosmos.


  1. Now if they could only work on the size. My copy—which is the Personal Size—makes the ESV Study Bible look thin! 

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How Harry Potter Helps Illustrate Biblical Theology

How Harry Potter Helps Illustrate Biblical Theology

Here at A Greater Story, I am all about showing how the Bible is to be read as one overarching narrative—one that tells the story of how God saves his people. Biblical theology is the task of studying how every part of the Bible—from Genesis to the chronologies to Revelation—contribute to this grand story.

Recently, Andy Naselli shared how reading and listening to the Harry Potter series helped him better understand biblical theology. In this video, he highlights how J.K. Rowling intentionally builds key themes within every book; these themes might be small in the beginning, but fully blossom in the end.

The study Bible that he mentions—NIV Zondervan Study Bible—looks very promising. It is coming out next week, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

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The Downfall of Shiloh

The Downfall of Shiloh in the Bible

The Downfall of Shiloh in the BibleAs we continue through the book of 1 Samuel, we see Hannah and her family going to Shiloh. This yearly pilgrimage by Elkanah and company was to the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, which was housed in Shiloh. Shiloh becomes an important location in the story of Samuel, the son promised to Hannah. To better understand how Shiloh fits into the storyline of 1 Samuel, we need to look at the history of Shiloh in the Bible.

Location of Shiloh

Shiloh was part of Ephriam’s territory, in the northern hill country of Israel. It is south of Shechem, Mount Gerizim, and Mount Ebal, and to the north of Mizpah and Bethel. Shiloh was situated on a road between Bethel and Shechem, used by travelers in this hill country (Judges 21:19).

Shiloh in Joshua

In Joshua 18:1, Shiloh is first mentioned as a centralized meeting place for Israel during the northern conquest. They set up the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, making Shiloh the first center of worship in the Promised Land. Shiloh is where Israel met to divide up the land among the tribes (18:10) and make further war plans (22:12).

Shiloh in Judges

In the book of Judges, the events at Shiloh take a turn for the worse. In the first few generations of Israelites living in the land, a rival worship site has already been established. Located in Dan to the north, this rival site housed idols carved by Micah. In Judges 18:31, this site is said to last as long as Shiloh housed a temple. Just as Israel created an idol while in the presence of the Lord (Exodus 32), so too this generation creates a false worship center to rival the true one at Shiloh.

Shiloh makes another, more tragic appearance in Judges. After the tribe of Benjamin is nearly decimated during a civil war (Judges 20), the rest of Israel looks to provide wives for the remaining men. So they turn to Shiloh, where virgin women had gathered to celebrate a festival of the Lord (Judges 21:19). The men from Benjamin kidnap the virgins celebrating at Shiloh and marry them, thus keeping the tribe of Benjamin alive.

Shiloh in 1 & 2 Samuel

At the beginning of 1 Samuel, we are introduced to Eli and his sons, who are the priests ministering before the Lord. The Ark of the Covenant remains in Shiloh, though a more permanent temple structure may have been built to house it1. This is where Samuel is taken when he is weaned from his mother (1 Samuel 1:24). He is left under the care of Eli, who serves as a surrogate father.

It is at Shiloh that the Lord first speaks to Samuel (1 Samuel 3). He gives word to Samuel about the pending judgement against Eli and his sons. This is not the only time the Lord would speak to Samuel at Shiloh, and word spread of this throughout Israel (1 Samuel 3:19–21).

Shiloh is where Eli dies. During the battle of Aphek (1 Samuel 4), Israel wanted to use the Ark of the Covenant as a talisman against the Philistines. So Hopni and Phinehas brought the Ark from Shilo to the battlefield. When they were killed, the Ark was captured by the Philistines, and Eli dies back in Shiloh when he hears of its capture (1 Samuel 4:18). When the Ark is returned by the Philistines, it is stored in Kiriath-jearim instead of Shiloh (1 Samuel 7:1–2).

Shiloh in Later Stories

Once the Ark of the Covenant is removed by Hopni and Phinehas, Shiloh falls out of the biblical narrative. All during the stories of Saul, David, and the later kings, and not one mention of Shiloh. It is as if it fell off the face of the earth.

At some point, Shiloh was destroyed. Some think it was by the Philistines, with a date of destruction around 1050 BC2 This destruction is used by both a psalmist (Psalm 78:60–72) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:12, 14; 26:6, 9) as an example to the rest of Israel. If God would destroy Shiloh—the first center of worship in the Promised Land—because of sin—could not the same happen to the rest of Israel and the Temple in Jerusalem?

Summary of Shiloh in the Bible

For a brief moment in Israel’s early history, Shiloh was a central place of worship for the nation. It was where the Ark of the Covenant was housed, and where the Lord first spoke to Samuel. Yet the sins of Eli, his sons, and others—unnamed and forgotten to history—led to the destruction of Shiloh. What was once a center of worship became but a memory in Israel’s history.


  1. 1 Samuel 1:9 mentions doorposts 

  2. “Shiloh” in New Bible Dictionary, p. 1094. 

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context of Book of Samuel

Context of the Book of Samuel

context of Book of SamuelWhen I walk into a bookstore, I love seeing a series of books in order. The covers line up perfectly, the titles are facing the same way, and sometimes even a pattern emerges. More importantly, however, is the order in which you read the stories. To the author and editor of a series, this is the way it is meant to be read. If a reader starts reading halfway through a series, he or she will miss out on the backstory, the events that shaped the main character’s journey, and the context in which the current story resides.

The same is true for the Old Testament narrative books. There is a continuous narrative of Israel, dating back to the founder (Abraham) and continues to the exile at the end of 2 Kings. The bulk of this narrative1 deals with Israel taking and living in the Promised Land.

As we have seen before, there are several ways to order the books of the Old Testament, including the Hebrew and Protestant orders. One place where the order differs between the two is found in the order of these history books. In English Bibles, the story of Ruth is situated in between Judges and the book of Samuel. In the Hebrew order, however, Samuel comes right after Judges, with Ruth found in the Writings.

How does this order affect how we read the book of Samuel? I would argue that the book preceding Samuel—either Judges or Ruth—has a direct impact on the context of how we read Samuel; these stories draw out different parallels or connections. Here is how the order of the canon affects how we read Samuel.

Ruth

In our English Bibles, the book of Samuel is preceded by Ruth. This is the story of a young, poor Moabite widow who moves to Israel and is looking for a husband. At the end of the short book, it is revealed that she is an ancestor to David, the future king of Israel.

Although his name appears only as the very last word of the book, the story of Ruth is more about David than Ruth. In this way, it sets the canonical stage for David, a main character in 1 & 2 Samuel and one of the most important figures in the Old Testament.

But there are other similarities to Ruth and the book of Samuel. In the first chapter of each book, the narrative zooms in to look at the domestic troubles of one family. For Ruth, the narrative looks at how Naomi and her two daughters-in-law handle the loss of all three spouses. For Samuel, the narrative shows Hannah’s struggle with feelings of jealousy and insignificance, brought on by her husband’s other wife Peninnah. God uses both situations to bring new life and a new leader for his people: Ruth will give birth to the grandfather of David, Hannah gives birth to Samuel. And in both stories, the narrator draws attention to the greater plight facing Israel; Ruth’s story highlights the famine in Israel, while the birth of Samuel coincides with the failure of Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 2:12).

Judges

But what about Judges? How does Judges fit with Samuel?

Even better than Ruth.

The book of Judges describes the few hundred years after the conquest of the Promised Land described in Joshua. Unlike the previous leadership transition, there is no record of Joshua appointing a successor. In the leadership vacuum, a succession of local leaders—called judges—step in to lead for a time. When a judge dies, a new threat emerges from an outside invading force. The resulting conflict leads to a new judge appearing, and helps lead the people out of oppression.

Only the leadership and character of the judges diminishes over time. In the beginning we see great judges like Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah; by the end the hopes of the nation are pinned on the playboy with an anger problem: Samson. And after the last judge, the whole nation turns to anarchy: tribes are moving to their own land, people are cutting up their concubines, and tribes are battling one another. In the last few chapters, a common refrain appears: these were the days before the kings. Four times in the text2 the reader is reminded that these were the days before the monarchy. This is a later editorial remark, explaining how the times of the judges3 were akin to the wild, wild West days in American history: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25). The hope implied in this statement is that the monarchy would bring stability, a centralized government, and peace from external enemies.4

The ending of Judges segues directly into the beginning of 1 Samuel. In this book, Samuel serves as a transitional leader, recognized as both the final judge as well as kingmaker. Like many other judges, Samuel brings the nation peace after defeating an invading force (1 Samuel 7:5–14). He also acts as an itinerant arbiter (1 Samuel 7:15–16).

Which One?

I think the narrative story flows better when Judges and Samuel are next to each other. Ruth provides important historical context, especially for the introduction of David, but it feels more like an aside or narrative interlude when placed in between Judges and Samuel. Regardless of where you prefer placing these books, it is important to see how each book fits within the greater story of Israel’s time in the land—and ultimately in God’s greater story of redeeming his people.


  1. Referred to as the Former Prophets; others refer to these books as the Deuteronomistic History. 

  2. Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25 

  3. and their aftermath? 

  4. One interesting view, posed by Keith Bodner, reads the closing statement as ambiguous. “Does this” writes Bodner “suggest that once a king arrives in Israel things will be better? Or worse?” (Bodner, 1 Samuel, 3). 

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tower of babel day of pentecost

The Day of Pentecost as Undoing the Tower of Babel

tower of babel day of pentecostIn previous posts we have noted how the New Testament constantly recalls the events of the Old Testament. Largely this is done because God—through Jesus Christ—is undoing the evils noted first in the Old Testament.

We have also seen how the building of the Tower of Babel, described in Genesis 11, is the culmination of the devolution of religion.

In the aftermath of Jesus’ work on the cross, God begins his work of drawing all the nations back to him. And as J. Ryan Lister notes in his book The Presence of God, the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) serves as a perfect foil to the Tower of Babel.

Undoing the Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel represented the culmination of mankind’s unified attempt to reject and replace God. They had come a long way from the Garden, where the man walked freely with God. Now, at Babel they were building a temple as a display of their unity and independence from God. As a result, God confuses their languages and scatters them throughout the earth.

But as Lister notes, at the Day of Pentecost God seems to be reversing this act from Genesis 11. In Lister’s words:

Through his presence in the Spirit, God speaks to the nations in their own tongues in order that those once driven from him would return to their Creator. In Acts 2, we see that God is removing his judgment and is bringing the nations back together again through the work of Christ by the power of the Spirit. (Lister, The Presence of God, 305).

Just as the death and resurrection of Jesus removes sin and restores an individual’s relationship with God, so to does the cross repair and restore the world’s brokenness. The cross and the empty tomb mark a new era, one in which God is reversing the evils and judgment carried out in the past.

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quotation marks

Leithart on Reading and Applying Scripture

Here at A Greater Story we promote a Christ-centered reading of the Old Testament. Through this, the Old Testament stories, laws, and poetry have echoes, allusions, and typology that point to the future work of Jesus Christ.

A challenge some have with this form of biblical interpretation has to do with application: how does this Old Testament story apply to our everyday lives?

In his book A Son to Me, Peter Leithart aptly describes the concerns people have:

Jesus in the wilderness reverses the sin of Adam in the garden—lovely, but the baby has chicken pox and I’ve got to get the twins to the baseball game and help organize the reception for the new assistant youth pastor’s wife’s mother and finish dinner by six… It is certainly wonderful to know that Jesus is a new Solomon, building up His temple, but I have to close out a big contract on Tuesday, and the boss is breathing down my neck… I’m glad to know Jesus is a greater David who can fight giants, but I got a D on my final and don’t know how to tell my parents. (Leithart, A Son To Me, 19).

Leithart then notes how this idea of missing application from typology is a hermeneutical error, and to get application from the Old Testament, one needs to understand what we are doing when we read the text. We need to work on both reading and applying Scripture. His suggestion is that we need to interpret the world in light of the text, and not the other way around. To quote Leithart again:

If the world absorbs the text, as in allegorical or historical -critical interpretation, we can discover nothing in the text that we did not know before; the text can only illustrate truths we learned form other sources, and it will not challenge or rebuke us. If the text absorbs the world, as typological interpretation demands, it is useful for correction, reproof, and training in righteousness. Interpreted typologically, Scripture is unleashed to function as revelation. (Leithart, A Son To Me, 24, emphasis mine).

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presence of god new testament

Presence of God in the New Testament

presence of god new testamentIn a previous post we looked at how God’s presence in the Old Testament was found in the tabernacle and temple. These locations were built for God to dwell among his people, as he did in the Garden of Eden. But this paradigm changes in the New Testament; God’s presence among his people is seen in new, more tangible ways.

Word of God

In John 2, a small-town preacher in the streets of Jerusalem makes an audacious claim:

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:18)

The Jewish leaders do not like this talk, and even use it as evidence in his eventual trial. But this man was not talking about the physical temple; he was talking about himself.

If the temple was built to hold God’s presence in the midst of the people, then it wasn’t fulfilling that purpose. But when Jesus refers to himself as a temple, we realize that God’s presence is dwelling among the people. Only it is not in a building made of gold and stone, but rather in a body made of flesh and bone.

John highlights this in his introduction to the Gospel, saying:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The word that the ESV translates as “dwelt among” refers to pitching a tent; others have translated this verse as saying “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent/tabernacled among us.” God’s presence is not limited to the Holy of Holies in the temple, where only one priest could visit once a year. Instead, God is walking among his people.

You are the Temple

After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, one could say that God’s presence again left his people. But that is not the case. Before he left, Jesus promised his followers that God would send the Helper to be with believers. This is another monumental step in God’s plan: God’s presence would be within the believer. No longer would mankind have to go to a sanctuary or a person to find God. Instead, God would be with each believer.

Based on this new program, it shouldn’t surprise us that Paul uses temple language to describe believers. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, he writes:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

In this context, Paul is referring to the church as a whole; it is within the community of believers—with Christ being the head of the church—that the presence of God resides. So the individual, as well as the community of believers, is the new temple of God.

New Creation

The end of the biblical story has one more thing to say about temples and the presence of God. In Revelation 21, John describes a vision he has of New Creation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4)

The phrase “dwelling place” is the same word as found in John 1:14, talking about the Word tabernacling among us. So in the New Creation, mankind is living with God. The presence of God is with man.

John reinforces this idea by showing how this city is really one big temple. In Revelation 21:14–16, he gives measurements for the city; it is a massive cube, as long and wide as it is tall. The only other cubes in the entire Bible: the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and the Holy of Holies in the temple. Both those locations were where God’s presence dwelled, and now the New Jerusalem fills that purpose. New Jerusalem contains many things found in the previous temples: gold, precious stones, and the tree of life. But there are several things missing: there is no altar, no ark of the covenant, no lamp stand, and no priests. That is because they have been replaced by Jesus Christ.

John explicitly states in Revelation 21:22-

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

There is no need for a special location to meet with God, because God fills the entire city. The whole city becomes a cosmic Most Holy Place, dedicated to hosting the Glory of God forever.

Summary

In the Old Testament God’s presence was limited and restricted; only certain people could experience God’s presence, and it was after much preparation. But in the New Testament things change; God dwells among his people in a new, tangible way. Instead of dwelling in a building made of gold and stone, God appears in flesh and bone. His presence remains with believers through the Holy Spirit. And all this points to the reality of New Creation, where mankind will dwell with God forever.

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what is the Bible?

What is the Bible? Six Views on Reading Scripture

what is the Bible?Introduction

For most of church history, the idea of a personal Bible was unheard of. The phrase “Turn in your Bible to…” would have made no sense. That’s because people didn’t have their own Bible.

But now we do. Since the Gutenberg press revolutionized the way mankind makes books, the Bible has rightly become the most accessible book in the world. If you live in America, you are lucky enough to have access to several Bibles—in libraries, hotel rooms, and even given to you on a street corner. And if you have been a Christian for a while, you are likely one of the 88% of Americans who own a Bible; you might even have a few on your shelves.

Because of the ubiquitous nature of the printed and bound Bible in our culture today, it is easy to assume that the Bible has always been like this. We can take for granted that, for most of the church’s history, copies of the Bible were handwritten. We can also take for granted the very nature of the Bible, viewing it in a very narrow light.

So what is the Bible?

  • A library?
  • A book?
  • A reference work?
  • A historical document?

It is all of these… and more.

In this post, we will take a look of each more closely to see how we should be viewing the Bible.

A Library

First of all, the Bible is a library of works. Written by at least 40 different authors and numerous editors over 1500 years, the 66 books of the Bible form a library of religious texts. Even the word “bible” comes from the Greek and can be translated as “little books”.

In the early years, these writings were combined into a canon, or a standardized grouping. While the order of this list may change, the canon has remained relatively stable.

Viewing the Bible as individual books and letters allows the reader to note the diversity found within the text. Stories, laws, poetry, personal letters, and apocalyptic writing are all part of Scripture.

A Book

For all the diversity in the Bible, it is not merely an anthology of religious texts; instead, it tell one complete story. There is a unity to the text, a storyline woven throughout the pages. The Bible is not a The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with his people, and the lengths he would go to redeem them.

There has been a recent resurgence in resources to help readers see this greater storyline of the Bible. Books like The Heart of the Story and The God Who Is There show how each part of the Bible fits in God’s greater story. And curricula like The Gospel Project guides a small group through finding their part in this greater story.

A Reference Work

Another view of the Bible is that it serves as a reference work. Instead of learning, internalizing, and memorizing Scripture, one could cite the chapter and verse of a particular passage.

The division of the Bible into chapters and verses was done in the 13th century by Stephen Langton, the future Archbishop of Canterbury. Before Langton, people would refer to the book a quote was in, but could not point to a specific part. Several of the New Testament authors cite the Old Testament by saying “as it is written” (Mark 1:2; Romans 4:17).

While the development of chapters and verses has aided pastors, authors, and readers alike in remembering the text, it has also had some negative effects. Chapter and verse divisions are not perfect, at times interrupting the original flow and argument of the author. They have also made reading the Bible fragmented, with people reading only the portion they need to, say for a reading plan or whatever verses the pastor told them to read. This lends itself to people citing a verse outside of the context of the surrounding verses and chapters. Proof-texting like this is good for boosting your own argument, but it does not help you understand the truths God may be communicating through the greater passage.

While I am not proposing abolishing the chapter/verse divisions, reading the Bible without them is greatly beneficial. Logos readers can do this with a click of a button, while readers looking for a physical edition can turn to the ESV Reader’s Bible.

A Historical Document

Within popular culture, the Bible is often viewed as a historical document. In this view, the Bible’s value is merely that of cultural artifact, useful primarily to describe the life, culture, and belief of an ancient people. This makes the Bible something worthy of scholarly study, but of no value to modern day readers.

For Christian readers, there is great value to be found in learning more about the culture and context of the Bible’s authors and original audience. But we cannot stop there; for Christians, the Bible is much more than a cultural artifact.

Revelation of God’s Story

For Christians, the Bible is God’s revelation to mankind. Through Scripture, God reveals truths about Himself, the nature of mankind, and the redemption plan God has for His people. And it is through Scripture that we learn about Jesus Christ, the very Word of God (John 1).

This makes reading the Bible more than just something we study; when we read the Bible, God uses that to change and shape and mold us more into His image. Reading the Bible, combined with the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to learn and experience more of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Nothing

Unfortunately, for millions of people on the planet, the Bible means nothing to them. This is because they either do not have access to the Bible, or the Bible has not yet been translated into their heart language. Over half of the world’s languages do not have a complete Bible, while 26% of the world’s languages have no translation works started (source).

Fortunately there are some great organizations looking to remedy this drought in biblical translations. Here at North Baptist Church we are partnered with Wycliffe and New Tribes Mission, both of which are committed to reaching the unreached people groups with a translation of the Bible. I encourage you to pray for and support missionaries and organizations that are pursing translation projects throughout the world.

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Battle between the Two seeds

Battle Between the Two Seeds

Battle between the Two seedsThe Two Seeds

In Genesis 3, we have the story of the Fall. Mankind breaks God’s command, thus breaking their relationship with him. In Genesis 3:14–19, we have the fallout from this sin. God pronounces judgment and warnings to each of the offending parties:The man, woman, and serpent—the creature who placed doubt into the woman’s mind.

In verse 15 we read that there will be hostility between the seed (or offspring) of the the serpent and the seed (or offspring) of the woman. Because of sin and evil entering the world, there will be a struggle between the two respected descendants. This struggle will bring pain to both parties, but the serpent’s head will be crushed—a fatal blow. Sometimes called the protoevangelium, this verse describes the consequences of sin on humanity, while also setting up the victory found in Jesus Christ.

The rest of the biblical text seems to flesh out the struggle between these two seeds. Sometimes the seed is a person, a family, or a nation. At times the serpent’s seed will win, and other times the woman’s seed will win. But throughout it all, the promise of Genesis 3:15 remains, and that victory will be with the seed of the woman.

Old Testament

Early in the Old Testament, this struggle is manifested between individuals. Cain represents the seed of the serpent when he kills Abel, his brother who represents the seed of the woman.

Noah and his family are chosen as the new seed of the woman, as the rest of the world has chosen to go down the path of the serpent. Later, Abraham’s family is chosen to carry on the seed of the woman.

When Abraham’s descendants are in Egypt, they multiply to the size of a nation. And in the Exodus, the battle between the seeds is raised to a national level. Israel is shown to be the seed of the woman, while Egypt—the oppressors and enslavers of Israel—represent the seed of the serpent.

The battle between David and Goliath does a great job highlighting the battle between the two seeds. Goliath, dressed in scales like a serpent, curses David and Yahweh on behalf of his god Dagon. David, recognized as the seed of the woman, knocks the serpent-man down and removes his head.

Over time, the nation of Israel—her kings and her people—behave less like the seed of the woman and more like the seed of the serpent. So when the nation is led into exile, the biblical text focuses on individuals who are behaving like the seed of the woman. People like Jeremiah, Daniel, and Nehemiah show how the seed of the woman can be faithful in the heart of the kingdom of the serpent.

This faithfulness would lead to the return from exile. The remnant would rebuild Jerusalem and restore the seed of the woman into a nation. Unfortunately, these people were still under the rule of the empires—Babylon, Persian, and Roman.

New Testament

In the New Testament, the seed of the woman is Jesus Christ. He is born of a woman, and is the promised Messiah who will crush the head of the serpent. And in his ministry, he shows the power over the seed of the serpent, casting out demons several times.

When Jesus is arrested, beaten, and hung up on the cross, it seems as though the seed of the serpent will win. Jesus is executed at the hand of the Roman Empire and by the charges leveled against him by the Jewish leaders—both of whom are portrayed as seeds of the serpent in this story. But at his resurrection, Jesus shows that the serpent’s best bite could not keep him down.

The followers of Jesus continue this battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. As Paul describes in Ephesians 6:12, the battle against the seed of the serpent is spiritual in nature:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

The battle between the two seeds continues in the book of Revelation, but it is there that the final victory is described. The agents of evil are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20) and the seed of the woman is gathered in the New Creation (Revelation 21).

Conclusion

Throughout the Bible, the seed of the woman has struggled against the advances of the seed of the serpent. But the promise found in Genesis 3:15 remained. The victory of Jesus—the seed of the woman—over the seed of the serpent was promised in Genesis, occurred on the cross, and will be consummated in the Day of the Lord.

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Importance of Learning Biblical Geography

Importance of Learning Biblical Geography

One of my favorite classes in seminary was a seminar on biblical geography. The textbook was a Bible atlas, and all the classwork dealt with reading a passage of the Old Testament and drawing it on a map with colored pencils.

And I loved it!

The benefit of this class was that it made the biblical stories come alive. Instead of being words on a page, you could see where events happened. Names of places became tangible places, with rocks, trees, and streams. The journeys people took could be traced with a pencil or your finger.

Here are three reasons why learning biblical geography will help you better understand the Bible:

Better Understand the Story

Stories are shaped by geography. The places are as much a part of the story as the characters. And sometimes, geography is the only way to understand the story.

In 1 Kings 9:15–16, the author describes how the Pharaoh of Egypt destroyed Gezer and gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter, who was marrying Solomon. What kind of gift is a destroyed city?

When you look at Gezer on a map of Israel at the time, it is situated between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean Sea. Most importantly, Gezer was a stop on the Grand Trunk Road, a coastal trade route connecting most of the known road. Pharaoh’s gift of Gezer means that Mr. and Mrs. Solomon could rebuild the city and use it to collect tolls on this road—the gift that keeps on giving!

Better Understand the Culture

Why is it that Israel seems to keep having troubles with Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon? When you study Old Testament geography, you will see that Israel is situated at the intersection of three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. Moreover, in the days of the Old Testament, Israel was right in between these great empires: Egypt to the southwest and Assyria and Babylon to the northeast. Israel’s location was prime real estate, of which all three empires wanted to claim as their own.

Better Understand Theology

At times the biblical authors can use geography to highlight theological truths. Locations can do this, but so can overall geography. A great example of this can be seen in the geography of the Gospel of Matthew.

Another example is in the geography of the book of Acts. Jesus tells disciples to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And in retelling the acts of the apostles, Luke follows this same pattern. The narrative focus remains in Jerusalem until the end of Acts 7. Then in Acts 8 Philip finds himself in Samaria preaching the Gospel. Finally, in the rest of the book much of the focus is on Paul, the apostle who brings the Gospel to the Gentiles. Luke traces his several excursions into the Roman empire, traveling about the Mediterranean. At the end of Acts (Acts 28), Luke describes Paul as being in Rome for two years, where he is “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).

So the narrative in Acts moves from Jerusalem—where it all started—to Rome—the center of the world at the time. This also highlights a truth about the Gospel: God’s grace is no longer limited to the Jewish people (identified with Jerusalem). Instead, God’s grace is made available to the entire world, and Paul is preaching it in the capital of the world!

Summary

It is important for readers of the Bible to gain a basic understanding of biblical geography. Geography helps all readers—but especially visual and spatial learners—to make the stories more tangible, more concrete.

A good way to start is to use an ESV Study Bible; it provide some of these geographical explanations, along with big colorful maps. Of course, you can also use the maps at the back of any Bible; they might not be as detailed, but they will give you a broad picture of the world in ancient times.

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