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BibleJourney: Genesis

Issue 1

ISSN 1535-5187

A Quick Glance at the Pentateuch
by Winn Griffin, D.Min.

Observing the Stuff!

Understanding the Pentateuch
In order to discuss the "little picture" of Genesis 1-11, we must place it within a larger picture that is called the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is the Greek name for the "five books" of what the ancient Hebrews called the Torah. 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.

Interpreting the Stuff!

Understanding the Books of the Pentateuch: A Quick Glance
Genesis. 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 11.27 and the focus is on the patriarchal history beginning with Abraham and ending with the twelve tribes living in Egypt [Help] (Gen. 11.27-50.26).

Exodus. 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.

Leviticus. The third book of the Pentateuch received its name also from the Septuagint (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 1.1-27.34).

Numbers. 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 chapter one and the second in chapter 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. 1.1-36.13).

Deuteronomy. 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. 1.1-34.12).

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 Deuteronomy 12.1-26.19.

Quotations from Deuteronomy occur between eighty to 100 times in the New Testament. At the temptation of Jesus he quoted Deut. 6.13-16 in Matt. 4.4-7.10. Paul relates Deuteronomy to Christian experience (compare Deut. 30.12-14 with Rom. 10.6-8).

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 Old 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. Adam and Eve corrupt their relationship with God through disobedience and are expelled from the garden. Their family grows and increasingly strays from their relationship. Finally, only Noah finds favor with God. He builds an ark and escapes the catastrophe that batters the earth.

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 Babel to the heavens. Out of Ur, [ Map ] God summons Abraham 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 Isaac to Jacob to Joseph to Egypt [ Map ], 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. Moses 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 Ten Commandments, this covenant demonstrates how they should worship God and how they should treat each other. From the Mount called Sinai, the infant nation sets out to the Promised Land. Arriving at Kadesh-Barnea, 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 Moab, 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 leader, Joshua.

The Pentateuch is foundation for all else that follows in the Old and New Testaments.

Doin' the Stuff!

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 living?
  • Name five "beginnings" that God has created in your life.
  • Write or tell the story of the Pentateuch in your own words.
BibleHandbook: Resourse Stuff!

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 recommend New Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like lots of color pictures, try The Revell Bible Dictionary now out of print but still can be ordered from One of these should suit your personal needs.




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Copyright © 2001-2019, 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 92705-7016. Used by permission of Davidson Press, Inc. All rights reserved internationally.

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