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02. Understanding the Old Testament
 
1. THE TORAH

The first 5 books of the Old Testament is called the 'Torah' in Hebrew and the 'Pentateuch' in Greek. It includes God's creation of the world, the beginnings of the people of Israel, their descent into Egypt, and the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. It ends with the death of Moses, just before the people of Israel cross to the promised land of Canaan. The narrative also contains specific teachings, obligations and civil laws given explicitly (such as the Ten Commandments) and implicitly embedded in the narrative. The following represent some of the most important themes:

Creation
It is a fundamental assumption of the Bible that God exists eternally, has always been there and will always be there. God's name YHWH or 'Yahweh' is a participle of verb 'to be' and can be translated 'Always'. Creation has a specific sequence and different orders or species of life are created distinctly. Evolution can explain minor changes and adaptations but cannot explain how everything has come into existence.

The Fall
It is significant that God wanted to create something capable of relationship with him. Men and women are different from animals in that they have this capacity. God didn't want to make robots who can only obey Him, but rather people who can choose to be in relationship with Him. They can also choose to reject Him. The account of Adam and Eve demonstrates this choice and reveals the sinful inclination in all of us to reject God's will so that we can be our own master. God knew this would happen but also knew that this would expose evil for all to see so that people could choose to pursue it or reject it. God wants to share eternity with those who want to be with Him in eternity!

Genesis 6 reveals how depraved humanity can be. Every human inclination was towards evil and violence and God's intention for created beings was being distorted. God warned the human race through Enoch and then through Noah. God was patient giving every opportunity for repentance but finally wiped clean the face of the earth with a flood. Noah and family are saved through these waters because of their obedience to God.

The Jewish nation
While the great men and women of faith in Genesis had many failings (and we learn all about their mistakes), they had one thing in common. They believed in the God Yahweh - they had faith in Him. God chooses them and they choose Him. Abraham becomes the father of the Jewish nation and God's purpose of salvation to all peoples originates with his choice of Abraham as the father of a nation through which would come the Messiah. Jesus would be born a Jew, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and through the tribe of Judah. The Abrahamic covenant in Gen 12 (that God will bless all people through him) can be understood in this way.

The Passover
Jesus is described as the Passover lamb (or ram). His blood covers us from the death we deserve to die in the same way that the blood on the door posts of the people of God were protected from the final plague, or from the angel of death which passed over Egypt as described in Exodus. Those with the blood on the household were protected and escaped slavery in Egypt to begin their journey to the promised land. The Christian goes through the same process, escaping the slavery of sin (which leads to death) via the blood of the Passover lamb to begin a journey in which they will learn to trust in what God has promised, even when circumstances are adverse.

The Law
There are a number of covenants which God makes with his people. We looked at Genesis 12 earlier which defines the Abrahamic covenant. The Mosaic covenant is understood in terms of the laws given to Moses on Mt Sinai and according to which his people, set apart from the surrounding nations as God's own people, must live. A covenant is not a bargain but a contract which has to be accepted or rejected. As such trying to keep all the laws of God serves to illuminate how Holy God is and how unworthy we are. The cost of breaking laws (or sin) was the shedding of blood via sacrifice. The tabernacles and temples were approached via sacrifice, then via priests before the Holy of Holies could be reached. This again serves to present the privilege of the New Covenant where we have access to God the Father through the ultimate High Priest, Christ himself and his perfect sacrifice.

In Leviticus we are swamped with rules and regulations and begin to understand just what it would mean if we were to try and be Holy as God is Holy. Another picture or foreshadowing of Christ is given by the role of the goat who carries off our sin into the desert. From this ritual we get the English term 'scapegoat'. In Numbers we learn more about the failings of the people as they grumble on the journey and lose sight of the promised land to which they were heading. At one stage poisonous snakes plague them. God does not take the snakes away but gives them a rescue plan. They can look up at the snake on a pole and be cured. This is picked up in the Gospel of John (3:14) where Jesus takes on the curse of sin and is lifted up on a stake.

The Land
Deuteronomy prepares the people, initially under Moses and then under the leadership of Joshua to take the promised land. In Genesis we learn that God told Abraham that his descendants would be kept for 400 years in a foreign land until the wickedness of the Amorites was complete. Their corrupt lifestyle was allowed to grow to the point where they no longer deserved to live in the land and at this point they were to be driven out. In Deuteronomy we read "it is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you..."

Give examples of 'foreshadowings' or pictures of Christ presented in each of the five books of the Torah:

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