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A Quick Glance at the Pentateuch
by Winn Griffin,
Understanding the Pentateuch
order to discuss the "little picture" of
1-11, we must place it within a larger picture that is called the
The Pentateuch is the Greek name for the "five books" of what the ancient
Hebrews called the
Torah, however, more properly means instruction. For the Hebrews the Torah was
interpreted less as a law code and more as a set of principles which could and
should be applied to every area of life and which was binding on all who wished
to be known as Jews.
The Torah demonstrates God as the sole Creator and
Sustainer of the universe that he created. It informs its readers that
humankind was created to worship God and to have fellowship with him.
Specifically, the Torah illustrates how the Hebrew nation was chosen from all
other nations to be the witness to the existence and power of God in the world.
To demonstrate to the world the presence of God in the life of their community,
they were to conduct themselves as a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. In a
world filled with polytheism and superstitions they were to live their lives in
obedience and faithfulness as models for other nations around them. God made a
covenant with them that promised blessings if they responded correctly and
curses if they failed to respond to its stipulations correctly.
If one is going to understand the historical,
religious, and theological of Hebrew and Church History, it is necessary to
have a firm foundation in the Pentateuch, especially the first eleven chapters
of Genesis, where it all began.
Understanding the Books of the Pentateuch: A
Genesis, which means origin or beginning, contains two parts. First, it tells
the stories of primeval history with the Creation and Fall accounts (Gen.
1.1-11.26). We must understand that no specific amount of time can
seriously be ascribed to these eleven chapters. Second, a shift occurs at
and the focus is on the patriarchal history beginning with Abraham and ending
with the twelve tribes living in Egypt [Help]
The book of Exodus discusses the birth of Israel into a nation by two decisive
acts. The first was the freeing of Israel from slavery by God's power (Ex.
1.1-13.16). The second act was his making a covenant with them that
produced a loyalty between God and Israel (Ex.
13.17-40.38). The first act bears directly on the second. It is only
because of the deliverance that covenant was established.
The third book of the Pentateuch received its name also from the
(LXX). While the Levites are largely unmentioned in the book, the Levitical
priesthood duties are discussed. It is fundamentally a rulebook for community
living. This is one of the books in the Old Testament that for the modern
reader is a problem to understand. The blood sacrifices are often repulsive to
the modern person. It is precisely this idea that finds its completeness in
Jesus. Without the understanding provided by Leviticus, the death of Jesus
would be a riddle. This system was performed daily and constantly reminded
Israel of the sin that cuts them off from God. While it was difficult for the
Hebrews to understand why they needed to obey these rules and regulations, it
is not difficult today to understand that God was working to give Israel health
and well-being (Leviticus
The Hebrews call this book "In The Wilderness." Its name, as we have it in our
Bibles, comes from the two censuses, which are recorded in it: the first in
one and the second in
26. The numbers given are a little over 600,000. While it looks like a
census to the normal reader, it is much more. In reality, it was the mustering
or organizing of its army. The numbering happens twice: first, at the abortive
attempt to enter Canaan as recorded at the beginning of the book and, finally,
at the conclusion, about forty years later. The number given included only the
males over twenty years of age. The total population would be somewhere between
2,000,000 and 3,000,000. Exception has been given to the idea of such a large
number and several attempts have been made to solve the disagreement. It is not
our task to give all the arguments and their conclusions. You can read, if
interested, in most one-volume Bible commentaries to discover the various
arguments. However the numbering is solved, it points to the fact that there
was a remarkable increase in the number of the descendants of Abraham that
entered Egypt at the conclusion of the book of Genesis some four centuries
before. It certainly is not beyond the scope of God to handle this great number
of people and supply them with their daily needs. Creating the world with just
a word would find this need supplied by a snap of a finger (Num.
Deuteronomy is a covenant-renewal document that furnishes a detailed
description of what the Sinai covenant meant for the Israelites. Its name can
be defined as "the repetition of the law." The whole of the book of Deuteronomy
finds its fullest structure in the form of the Lord-Servant Treaty (Deut.
To this new generation on the verge of conquering the
land of promise, God is seen as powerful. It suggests that Israel's future was
secure. God promised a land and he was now ready to deliver it. A call for
their loyalty in every detail of life is seen in
Quotations from Deuteronomy occur between eighty to
100 times in the New Testament. At the temptation of Jesus he quoted
4.4-7.10. Paul relates Deuteronomy to Christian experience (compare
It is a warm and touching book in which we see and
hear Moses for the last time. His great legacy outlasted the pages that tell of
his last instructions and life events.
Understanding the Flow of the Story
When you open the pages of the
Testament, the first thing you see is a God of activity. He is creating a
universe through the might of only a spoken word. Page after page causes our
excitement to grow. Within a few chapters God has set the world into existence
and begins to create a nation. From the cradle of Adam to the conquest of
Canaan the story flows.
Briefly, the events flow as follows: God creates the
world with Adam as the crown of his creation.
corrupt their relationship with God through disobedience and are expelled from
the garden. Their family grows and increasingly strays from their relationship.
finds favor with God. He builds an ark and escapes the catastrophe that batters
But the descendants of Noah violate their relationship
also and pridefully strive to reach the heavens by their own means by building
a tower called
to the heavens. Out of
] God summons
whom he takes to a new land. God gives him a promise that his family would
become a blessing to the whole world. In fulfillment of God's promise, Isaac
was born. From
], Abraham's family grows into a nation.
Deep within the bonds of slavery, God hears the cry of
his people for freedom and a new leader arises.
challenges Pharaoh to let the people of God go, he refuses, and God acts for
them. The nation is born in a redemptive exodus. On their way to a land
promised them, they camp and receive a covenant from God. Often called the
Commandments, this covenant demonstrates how they should worship God and
how they should treat each other. From the Mount called
the infant nation sets out to the Promised Land. Arriving at
they send spies to scope out the land. The debriefing session rules that it is
too great of a risk to enter this new land. The majority wins. God acts. He
brings death, destruction, and wandering for that entire generation. Their
children would inherit the land. Only the two who voted in favor of entering
the land were spared.
After the death of this first generation, the new
generation begins its move toward the land of promise. At
Moses gives them final instructions for entering the land. He reminds them of
the mighty acts of God on their behalf. Moses dies and the page turns to a new
The Pentateuch is foundation for all else that follows
in the Old and New Testaments.
It is always important to apply what you have learned.
Pause at this point and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to meditate on and
put into practice some or all of the following.
- How has the Pentateuch served as Torah to you in
your day-to-day life?
- In what ways does polytheism and superstition still
fill the world you live in?
- What is in your "rule book" for community
- Name five "beginnings" that God has created in your
- Write or tell the story of the Pentateuch in your
Read the following Dictionary Articles from
Easton's Bible Dictionary, or the International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia. Easton's is about a century old, therefore, some of
the information is not current with newer Bible Dictionaries. ISBE is
about seventy-five years old. You might read the articles off-line in a number
of different Bible Dictionaries. If you do not own a Bible Dictionary, I would
Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like lots of color pictures, try
Revell Bible Dictionary now out of print but still can be ordered from
amazon.com. One of these should suit your personal needs.
Copyright © 2001, Winn Griffin.
All rights reserved. BibleJourney: An Almost Weekly Bible Study is a service of
SBL Ministries. Unless otherwise stated, scripture quotations are from the
International Standard Version (ISV) of the Bible®. Copyright
© 2001 by The ISV Foundation, 2200 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, CA
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