The Story of the Bible

Today’s post is the first installment in a series that breaks the story of the Bible down into ten ‘chapters’.

Most of the books I read are divided into chapters. The chapters help me understand and follow the story line as it advances step by step. The Bible is a bit different. Instead of being divided into chapters, the Bible is divided into books. But the sixty-six books of the Bible can be divided up into ten major sections based on their literary form and content. We can understand the Bible better if we understand how each section advances the Great Story of God’s redeeming fallen humanity, reestablishing His kingdom rule and judging rebellion and sin.

Chapter One: The Books of Moses

The first five books of the Bible form “chapter one.” This section of Scripture is known as the Pentateuch, a Greek word meaning “five books.” The Hebrew Bible refers to this section as the Torah, a Hebrew word that means “instruction.” I prefer the Hebrew name because it says more about the content of this section. The Torah is God’s “instruction.” Here God reveals the beginnings of the human race, how humankind fell into sin, the consequences of sin, and how God has undertaken to restore His blessing on a creation cursed by sin.

The Torah also instructs us about God Himself. Here God reaches out His hand to humanity and says, “Here I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Then He proceeds to tell us about Himself. The first thing God wants us to know is that He is sovereign. This truth is revealed in Genesis by God’s work of creation and His providential involvement in the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God speaks and things happen; God commands and people obey; God promises and His promises are fulfilled. God is the King of His creation! He is sovereign over all.

Next, God wants us to know that He is the Savior of His people. God demonstrates this truth in Exodus by God’s work of delivering the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. Moses and the Israelites left Egypt singing, “Yahweh is my strength and son, and He has become my salvation! (Exodus 15:2).

Many people are confused by the many laws and regulations that fill many of the pages of the Torah. We should understand that these laws were never intended as a means of securing salvation.

The holiness of God is introduced in the next book, Leviticus. God declares to His people, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Leviticus reveals the sacrificial means of approaching a holy God and the kind of conduct a holy God expects of His people. The Lord instructed Israel to set aside special days and seasons as “holy convocations” to receive instruction in holiness and provide cleansing through the ritual of temple sacrifice.

The next thing God wanted to say about Himself in the Torah is that His holiness demands that sin and wickedness be judged by divine wrath. This is the focus of the book of Numbers. God’s wrath is the natural expression of His holiness in the face of willful sin. Numbers also teaches that God’s wrath may be propitiated or satisfied by the offering of a sacrifice or by intercessory prayer.

The other side of God’s wrath is revealed in the last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. Here we learn that since God has demonstrated His love through the deliverance of His people, the redeemed are obligated to demonstrate their love for God in return (Deuteronomy 6:5). This love is best expressed in terms of loyalty, service and obedience to God.

The Torah begins with the humanity’s sin and failure (Genesis 3), but throughout this section of the Bible we see evidence of God’s gracious plan to redeem fallen humanity and restore blessing to the earth (Genesis 3:15, 12:2-3, Exodus 6:2-7, Leviticus 26:3-5, Numbers 23:20, 24:9, Deuteronomy 30:1-6). Many people are confused by the many laws and regulations that fill many of the pages of the Torah. We should understand that these laws were never intended as a means of securing salvation. They were given to a people who had already experienced redemption from bondage in Egypt and simply needed to know how to live and prosper as the people of God. The laws, or better “instructions,” provide counsel and direction for a redeemed community who want to enjoy the fullness of God’s blessing and avoid the devastating consequences of going their own way.

The Torah concludes with the death of Moses, which marks the end of a great era of the people of God. Now Joshua, a man “filled with the spirit of wisdom” (Deut. 34:9), assumes leadership of the nation. Joshua will bring us into the next chapter in the story of the Bible.


About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Discipleship: Training from the Master Disciple Maker” (2018).