“Major Themes of the Old Testament”
By Clifton Moffat
Carson City Correctional Facility, Carson City, MI
Introduction: The Old Testament of the Hebrew Scriptures is a compilation of 39 books covering over 4,000 years of the history of our cosmos, the very essence of the existence of the universe and the metaphysical realities of mankind. God, Creator of everything physical and spiritual, spoke through select men and women for the glory of His name and His name’s sake, and for delineating the purposes and benefits extended to everyone in every nation.
God, He identifies Himself as Yahweh, explains briefly how He created the universe (Gen. 1, 2) and the first man and woman (2), who made their first grave mistake while exercising their power over freedom of choice (3). This led to catastrophic consequences for all mankind (6) as well as the entire universe (Rom. 8:19-22.). God is the God of covenants, which are made for the purposes of Spiritual and physical blessings toward humanity in governing the present as well as the future. Through God’s sovereignty some covenants were designed for
certain peoples, mainly the Israelites, and others for all people of the earth.
Through petition God can, and sometimes will, actively intervene to make provisions for humanity even when they were never part of His will (e.g., 1 Sam. 8). God established order through legislative rules and cultic sacraments for everyday life (Exod.-Deut.) and provides salvation to everyone who chooses to know Him. History records that, in the absence of knowing and trusting God, humanity generally brings prophetic calamity upon a nation, which is followed by utter destruction – or repentative correction for obedience unto salvation (Isa.- Mal.) .
Creation: Creation of the universe occurred sometime before 4,000 B.C. as delineated in Genesis chapter one. Here, we learn that there was a beginning (1:1), that God represents Himself as Spirit (v.2), that God speaks (vv. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29), that when He spoke in the beginning there was instantaneous light formed out of darkness (v.3), then sky (v.6), land and seas (vv.9, 10), seed bearing vegetation (v.11), the sun, moon, and stars (vv.14-18), sea creatures and birds ready for multiplication (vv.20-22), both domestic and wild land creatures (vv.24-25) , and finally, mankind–made in God’s image
for ruling over the whole earth (vv.26-28; 11:7). All creatures, man and
animals, were, at first, vegetarians (vv.29-30). After God saw everything He had created, He deemed it good (vv.l0, 12, 18, 25,31). God created the universe and all that was in it in six days (v.31), after which He designated the seventh day holy, a Sabbath day to rest from all of His work (2 :1-3). We also learn something unique about God: that He refers to Himself in the plural, as “us” and “our” (1:26). This points toward the doctrine of the Trinity.
In chapter two of Genesis we learn that God planted a garden with many trees in the land of Eden, where He placed Adam for tending to it (2:15). The trees were not only pleasing to the eye but also served as a food source (w.8-9). Two specific trees accompanied the middle of the garden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (v. 17). God commanded Adam to partake of the fruit from any tree except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else he would suffer physical death (v.17). In the interim God supplied a wife, Eve, to Adam. She was created from Adam’s rib after God put him into a deep sleep, and she would be a suitable helper and companion to Adam (vv.18-22). From Adam and Eve’s union the institution of marriage was ordained (vv.23-24). At that time there was no shame over their nakedness (v.25).
Corruption: Sin and the resultant fall of man is delineated in Genesis
chapter three. The crafty serpent, known as Satan, deceived Eve and Adam into eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil over their desire for wisdom (3:1-6). With the sin they committed came shame in their nakedness, which they then had to cover with some sewn fig leaves, hence the institution of clothing for human beings began (v.7). Adam and Eve, shame now exposed, sought to avoid God (vv.8-11). Then they started a blame game (vv. 12-13). Angered, God cursed the serpent for life and lowered the serpent’s
position to that of a belly-crawler, below every animal on earth. God put enmity between every offspring of the woman’s and of the serpent’s (vv.14-15).
This prophetic reality symbolically manifested in Christ’s crushing Satan’s head while Satan struck at Christ’s heal on His way to the cross of Calvary. God’s curse extended to women as well, who would forever suffer painful childbearing (v.16) and servanthood toward men (v.16). In addition, men would now have to work hard tilling a cursed ground to produce food to eat (vv.17-19). Physical death entered humanity as well (v.19). Eve was pronounced mother of all the living and man was banished forever from the Garden of Eden and the tree of life (vv.22-24). However, God provided atonement for Adam and Eve by sacrificing animals, for their skins, to provide coverings for Adam and Eve’s nakedness, which began the institution of blood atonement.
Catastrophe: As Adam and Eve and their kin populated the earth, the
wickedness of man became so profound that pure evil permeated everyone’s heart at all times (6:1-5). God’s heart was excessively troubled over His creating man so He caused a flood over the entire earth for 150 days and wiped out almost everyone (6:6-7:24). But God saved faithful Noah and his family – a remnant – and promised never again to cause such a devastating flood (8:21-22). Like before, God charged Noah and his sons, Ham, Shem, and Japheth, to multiply on the earth, and provided a rainbow in the sky as a sign of his covenant to abstain from flooding the earth (9:1-17). With that, God also permitted man to kill and consume animals for food in addition to mere fruit-bearing vegetation (9:2-3), but reiterated the image bearing value within man and the relative importance in forbidding the shedding of any innocent blood, man or animal’s (9:4-6).
Confusion: As Noah and his sons populated the earth, nations developed around men, whose inhabitants naturally shared in one language (9 :18-11: 1).
Unfortunately, the pride of men grew uncontrollable to the point that it was self-honoring, and they decided to utilize combined efforts to construct an idolatrous tower project in the plain of Shinar, known as the Tower of Babel (11:2-4). Since they never sought God’s guidance or approval in this, God took one look at man’s brick and tar tower and decided to confuse their language, which caused them to stop building an entire city at Babel and scatter over the face of the earth (vv.5-8). As new languages had to be developed and implemented, and with faint knowledge of God, sinful, pagan practices became the norm in newly developed nations. At this point in time, everyone on earth was a Tower of Babel refugee.
Call of Abram: Around 2,000 B.C., from out of the pagan city of Ur of the Chaldeans came 75 year-old Abram, a descendant of Shem, with his barren wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot. Abram was called by God to the land of Canaan (11:27-12:1). God made a series of promises to Abram, that: Abram would become a great nation that would be granted the land of Canaan, he would be blessed, he would have a great name, he would be a blessing to everyone, God would bless those who blessed him, God would curse whoever cursed him, and all peoples on the earth would be blessed through him (12:2-3, 7). After a short period in Egypt to avoid a famine (12:10-13:2), and territorial separation from Lot (13:3-13), God reaffirmed His promise to provide Abram and his offspring the land of Canaan (vv.14-17). Next, after defeating Kedorlaomer and his allies for taking captive Lot and all of his possessions, including women and other people from Sodom, Abram initiated the tithe of ten percent of everything he owned and gave it to the king of Salem, Nelchizedek, priest of God Most High (14). Still worried about being childless, Abram was assured by God that his offspring – or seed – would be as numerous as the stars, and Abram’s believing God in this matter was accredited to him as righteousness (15:1-6). After that, God used a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove, and a pigeon to solidify the covenant for the Canaanite land grant promised to Abram’s descendants, which extended from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia (w.7-21). At 86 years old, and through Sarai’s prompting, Abram committed marital and spiritual unfaithfulness by bearing a son, lshmael, to Sarai’ s maidservent, Hagar. This resulted in Ishmael’s descendants suffering hostility toward their future brother’s descendants (16:9-16).
At 99 years old, Abram’s covenant with God was confirmed as Abram, his household, and Ishmael were circumcised. At that point, Abram’s name was changed to Abraham and Sarai’ s name was changed to Sarah. Abraham and his descendants-to-be were charged with keeping their end of the covenant, identified by the sign of circumcising every male child when they turn eight days old, less they be cut off from the people for violating the covenant.
Abraham was again guaranteed by God to become the father of many nations who will possess a great land – all to the glory of God (17). God specifically chose Abraham’s descendants, through their righteous obedience and justice, to be a great and powerful nation who will bless all other nations of the earth (18: 18-19). At 100 years old, God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled as he and Sarah bore a son, Isaac, the offspring of reckoning (21:1-13). Isaac bore Jacob (25), to whom God appeared for the assurance of his status as seed bearer, land grantee, and blessing provider to all nations on earth (26:1-6; 28:10-15; 46:3).
Jacob also received assurance from Isaac regarding Abraham’s blessing of promise given in 12:1-3. (27:27-29). To continue the institution of tithing, Jacob paid respect to God with ten percent of his possessions as did Abram in 14:20 (28:22). God then used Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons who made up the twelve tribes of Israel, to preserve the genealogical remnant in Egypt during a worldwide famine (41:57; 45:4-8). This Israelite remnant or 70 people, filled with prophetic blessings and Messianic proclamations, is delineated in chapters 48 and 49 of Genesis.
Worship: Approximately 400 years later, circa 1446 B.C., God revealed
Himself as “I Am,” i.e., Yahweh, from a burning bush, to Moses, the son of Israelite slaves in Egypt (Ex. 3). God instructed Moses to take his brother Aaron to voice to Pharaoh that the Egyptian slaves – now 2,000,000 strong – be released from slavery so they can worship God in the desert and be delivered to the promised land of Canaan (3, 4). This deliverance, through miraculous signs and plagues (7-11) was for making God fully known to the Israelites, ensuring that they were collectively God’s son, and for showing the rest of the world
that God is Redeemer, Judge, and wholly faithful to His covenanted people – by furnishing them the land flowing with milk and honey (5;22-6;1-8). Once the Israelites were freed from the hand of Pharaoh, God initiated a series of static regulations for honoring and worshiping Him, including the Ten Commandments and Tabernacle construction plans (12-31; Deut. 5-26). Following God’s legislation would distinguish Israel, as a holy people – a Theocracy – from all other nations on earth to God’s glory (Ex. 33:12-23). It also acted as a preventative against idolatry (24:24-32), and kept the Israelites from blatantly sinning (20:20).
Ultimately, God reveals Himself as compassionate, gracious, just, and
unwilling to tolerate any form of idolatry (34:5-17). The purpose of God’s people is to provide acceptable, orderly worship with their lives set apart for God’s service (Lev.) regardless of sins that are committed (16:16). To assist with obedience in this endeavor God provided a priesthood (8-10) and a series of Holy Days for the Israelites to celebrate at certain times: a Sabbath Day every seventh day (Ex. 20:8-11); a Sabbath Year every seventh year (Ex. 23:10-11); a Year of Jubilee every fiftieth year (Lev. 25:8-55); Passover every first month (Ex. 12:1-14); Unleavened Bread every first month (12:15-20); Firstfruits every
first month (Lev. 23: 9-14); Weeks every third month (Ex. 23:16a); Trumpets every seventh month (Lev. 23:23-25); Day of Atonement every seventh month (16); Tabernacles every seventh month (Ex. 23:16b); Sacred Assembly every seventh month (Lev. 23:36); Dedication every ninth month, I.e., the purification of the Maccabean era temple, 166-160 B.C. (In. 10:22-39); and Purim every twelfth month (Est. 9:18-32). Fully knowing God entailed knowing Him with a full heart (Jer. 24: 7), which includes defending the cause of the poor and needy (22: 16; Prov. 31:8-9). Humanity is to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Mic. 6:18).
Testing: God not only revealed His glory through priests, prophets, and
kings, but He tests believers’ faithfulness on occasion. After endless
murmuring and faithlessness emerge against God’s character and promises, lost opportunity was encountered by the Israelites. In Numbers, God’ s blessings upon the Israelites (6:22-27) turned into 38 years of lost time and a national cleansing while attempting to reach the promised land, despite the fact that their leader, Moses, was the most humble man on earth (12:3). Before passing, Moses reminded the Israelites that the whole world is watching the example of obedience of God’s chosen people. Faithfulness keeps faithful followers of God
on top, never at the bottom, but curses overtake the unfaithful (Deut. 28).
Risking obedience brought Joshua to lead a victory in conquering and allocating sections of the promised land to Israel’s twelve tribes (Jos.).
Even though 17 Theocratic Judges brought temporary peace (Jud.-l Sam. 1-8), over 345 years of spiritual degeneration occurred within Israel as they did things as they subjectively saw fit (Jud. 17:6-21:25). Simply put, Israel rejected God as their king, who was moved to grant their request to start a monarchy that began with King Saul. The Israelites pridefully insisted that they needed a human king so they could be like all other nations, but with having a monarchy came detrimental consequences akin to slavery – again (1 Sam. 8). Like our democracy in the U.S. today, having a human leader over us is beneficial only if both the leader and the people exercise obedience to God alone (12:15). According to God, obedience is far better than any religious practice or ritual (15:22).
Messianic Deliverance: As civil wars between the lsraelites ensued (1-10), crimes were committed (11) and conflicts erupted (12-24). National division and decline overwhelmed Israel’s attempts at sustaining a monarchy. In 722 B.C., after 19 ungodly kingships, the northern kingdom of Israel was taken into Assyrian captivity as foretold by the prophets Isaiah (28), Hosea (4-10), Micah (1-3), and Amos (4-9). In 586 B.C., after eight godly and 12 ungodly kingships, the southern kingdom of Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity as foretold by the prophets Isaiah (29-33, 39), Jeremiah (52), Ezekiel (4-24), Micah (1-3), Habakkuk (1:5-11), and Zephaniah (3:1-7).
However, a remnant of Jewish exiles in Babylon returned to rebuild Jerusalem and carry out God’s plan of salvation that was foretold in Genesis 3:15 – that an anointed offspring (Ps. 2:2; Acts 4:26; 10:38) would be the Savior of the world (In 1:1-18) through the humblest of means (Is. 52:13-53:12) in the form of a new covenant (Jer. 31:22-40). Humanity’s deliverance is God’s purpose (Acts 19:26-28) on earth, and eternal glory awaits those who revere His name (Mal. 4:2-6; Is. 65:17-25). Our attention to this matter may be invoked through nature (Ex. 7;14-11:10; Joel 1:1-20), utter destruction (Ob.; Na. 3:8-19), answering, “Here 1 am,” when God calls (Ex. 3:4), and the holy grace found in genuine repentance (e.g., Jnh.). Essentially, we need to embrace the fear of the Lord “and keep His commands, for this is the whole duty of man. For God Himself will bring every deed into judgment, including everything, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:13-14). With this in mind it’s much easier to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Mic. 6: 8) .