GETTING TO KNOW THE BIBLE
The Bible is comprised of what we call the Old Testament and the New Testament, though “Covenant” is a better word than “Testament,” which is not actually found in the Bible. The Bible is really a collection of books that tell the story of God’s different covenants with the same people, Israel. All we know about God can be found in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. All the books were written by Jews with one exception. Both the “Gospel of Luke” and “The Acts of the Apostles” were written by a proselyte to Judaism, (a non-Jewish man named Luke who chose to identify with Israel and their God.) There are sixty-six books in the Bible written over a period of approximately 1,500 years, by forty men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what God wanted written. The Bible itself assures us that God is the ultimate author of it. That so many of the predictions spoken by Israel’s prophets, which include Moses and King David, have come to pass, validates the writings as being of God. We can be sure that “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation…but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) The Holy Spirit will give you insight into God’s Word (the Bible) as you read it so that it becomes as alive to you as divinely-imparted insight, not just as information. It also has a way of bringing us to a place of accountability before God and is His way of making us aware of what He wants us to be aware of for good in our lives. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit…and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Bible is not like any other book you will ever read. It is a loving encounter with God, even if sometimes it’s a means for God to bring some correction to us. Even so, He always does it lovingly and to bring us to a place of being able to receive more of His goodness.
THE “OLD” COVENANT
The Old Covenant, or Tenach was written between the years of 1450 BC and 430 BC. The first five books of the Tenach (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) are together called the Torah. The Torah was written by Moses who received these words from God when on the mountain with God for forty days. Torah is the foundation of both Judaism and the Christian faith. The first book, Genesis, contains the explanation of how God created the world. God would have had to explain it to Moses – Who else would have been there to know what had happened? The Old Covenant is the story of Israel’s life with God, of the blessings He blessed them with when they obeyed and loved Him, and the tragedies that took place when they betrayed Him and walked after the gods (idols) of other nations, or simply disregarded His words to them. Always we read of how God wooed His people back to Himself again and again with a heart of love for them. Even when He was very angry with them, He loved them and worked to draw them back to Him. Until God revealed Himself first to Abraham and then to his descendents and especially through Moses as God’s instrument to accomplish His purposes, the world had no idea of the one and only True God. Many religions have developed to try and make sense out how the world came to be in the first place, but also of the vast concerns of life and of death. God chose to make Himself known to the world through Israel. We also learn through Genesis how God created mankind to be innocent and sinless, and to live in a perfect environment. The Bible tells us of the first two humans whom God created, Adam and Eve. In Hebrew their names are “Adahm” meaning mankind and also red clay or earth from which he was formed, and “Hava” meaning life or living one, because she is the mother of all living persons). These two experienced all the goodness of God and unhindered joy in His presence – until they disobeyed God. That came about when the evil one, the devil, disguising himself in the form of a snake, came and tempted them to distrust God’s good intentions toward them. (More on how the devil got there later.) Their first real sin was in doubting God’s goodness to them. Subsequently they disobeyed His words to them and ate of the forbidden fruit, the fruit against which God had warned them not to eat, “lest they die.” The disobedience came after they doubted, at the devil’s instigation, that God’s goodness to them was sufficient for all their needs and desires. (You can read the encounter in Genesis 3.) If you are ever in doubt of God’s goodness, you can be sure the devil is behind it. Ignore those thoughts. They will not lead to peace! Sometimes people blame God for bad things that happen, but God is good always and always good. In hard times, He is the One to trust, not the one to blame! In times of confusion, He is the One to look to for truth, not the One to run from to look elsewhere. Once Adam and Eve did what God warned them not to, they suddenly lost their innocence and perfection and felt fear and guilt for the first time. How horrible that must have been for them, so much so that they hid from God who had been their greatest source of pleasure and delight until then, not to mention security. Not only did they feel fear, but without the glory of God upon them, as God had withdrawn His presence upon them due to their sin, they now saw themselves as naked. It would appear that the spiritual insight and wisdom they had always known would also have left them, leaving them with the limits of their own human intelligence. We know that we humans use only a portion of our brain capacity. As God does not create emptiness or vacuums, it would seem that human beings were originally created with a greater intelligence capacity than we are capable of accessing, presumably since The Fall. As Spirit filled believers, however, we are able to “know things” by the Spirit of God. Perhaps we are operating out of areas of our brain by God’s Spirit that remain dormant without Him. As God cannot dwell with sin, He drove Adam and Eve out of the perfect environment of the Garden of Eden to live in the world as we know it. Now man had to work for our provisions and try and sort out truth for ourselves. Haven’t we been occupied with those very things since? But God did not abandon them. The unfolding story of the Bible is that of humankind’s sin and God working with us to restore us to Himself. In time, God chose one man we know as Abraham to whom He promised great blessings of a land He would give them forever, and of generations that would come through him that would bless the world. God also promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). The “you” in this verse is plural, which include all of Abraham’s descendents. Part of the recounting not only of Biblical history but of the history of mankind reflects both those blessings and curses where it is in relation to Abraham’s descendents, the Jewish people. Even today, we will see more consequences of that same promise to Abraham as Israel’s right to the land God gave them is challenged. In time, God raised up a man named Moses through whom He gave Israel the Ten Commandments along with the rest of the Torah as a covenant between Himself and Israel. There are 613 commandments altogether, the remaining showing how to live out the first Ten Commandments. These commandments, which in Hebrew are more like “instructions” than laws, taught Israel how to live as the people of God in a quality of life that would be worthy of God. As long as they followed God’s Word to them, they would live just, moral and healthy lives, with the power of God evident on their behalf, such as no other people on the earth. God anointed a number of men and on rare occasion a woman (e.g., Deborah) as Judges and prophets through whose words He would warn Israel or call them back to Himself when their hearts had wandered. The prophets foretold events that would happen in and to Israel within their life times as well as in the future. Hundreds of those prophecies predicted the coming of Messiah. Even today, all that is going on regarding Israel and the return of Jews to that land, and the nations coming against her and trying to divide her land – all that has been prophesied long ago. Reading the prophets of old is often like reading a newspaper today, because the same events are taking place now, and often with the same neighbors on Israel’s borders. We also find great comfort and security in God in the promises that God made through the words of the prophets for His ultimate victory in conquering the evil that causes so much suffering in the world and establishing His justice, mercy and goodness when “the whole earth (will) be filled with His glory” (Psalm 72:19). The miracle of the re-establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 after 1900 years reveals the sovereign faithfulness of God to bring every prophesy and promise to pass in His time. The promises are not only for the nation(s) but there are hundreds of promises you can take for yourself and believe God to make real in your own personal life. When a verse pops out to you as something God is making alive to you, write it down with the date in your God-sightings notebook and continue to pray it comes to pass until it does. Then you can write the date it did in your notebook with a big HALLEULIA! This applies to New Covenant promises as well.
THE NEW COVENANT
Through the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah God did promise Israel He would give them a New Covenant, not like the one they previously broke. This one would be an internal one, one of the heart, making it a part of their innermost beings, and would be equally available to all persons:
“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel…” declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. … They will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:33, 34). In the fullness of time, according to the fore-ordained plan of God, it was decided by God before He set the foundation of the world in place that Yeshua would be born, live to bring people back to God and then die in order to inaugurate the New Covenant. It is just like God that the Messiah was born in a stable, His cradle being a feeding trough. This characterized the humility before God that Yeshua would live His whole life. He grew up like any other person, experiencing life as we all do, but because His Father was God, He was sinless. Even so, He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). With all He went through of rejection and being misunderstood and hated, and plotted against, He never once responded in kind. He remained a man of godliness, strength and power, yet tempered by compassion and tenderness. By the way He lived His life, Yeshua summed up all the instructions or commandments of Torah as love. Torah may show us specifics but the motive behind it all is love. The greatest commandment is made clear in both the Old and New Covenants: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might ” (Deut 6:5). To this, Yeshua added, “…and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). These are not three commands to love God, others and yourself, but one of inter-dependent aspects. The only way to love truly unselfishly is with God’s love, and when we have His love in us, we will love others unselfishly and ourselves without self-degradation or pride. Even so, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s love to us personally as well as to love others through us. But just knowing these commandments does not enable us to carry them out. Like with any other relationship, the longer you know each other the deeper it grows. We know God’s love experientially in increasing measure as we spend time with Him and get to know Him better. With each experience we go through and find Him faithful, we know His love for us in greater measure and learn to trust Him at a deeper level. The New Covenant writings include four of His disciples’ accounts of His life: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are followed by an account of the Acts of the Apostles, which resulted after what took place at Shavuot (Pentecost) when the Holy Spirit came upon them. A number of letters were written to the new congregations of believers by several of the Apostles which we still find very helpful and regard them as God’s word to us today. The New Covenant writings end with John’s account of The Revelation of Messiah Yeshua in which He is revealed as Lord of the whole earth and to whom all humankind must give an account of their lives. The culmination of the Revelation, the grand finale of all the Biblical writings, is the account of the return of Yeshua when God sets up His Kingdom forever and evil is no more.
NEW “OLD” AND NEW COVENANTS TOGETHER
As we said above, there are more than 300 prophecies of the coming Messiah in the Old Covenant Scriptures. (See the A for a partial list.) Yeshua fulfilled almost all of them. No one could have engineered all those “coincidences” but God. These include facts about His birth and birthplace, His childhood, His character, His death, His burial and resurrection. Even His divinity. Yeshua will return again and reign as King in Jerusalem one day. Only those prophecies that address His return have yet to be fulfilled. The Tenach, as you know, is often referred to as the “Old Testament” but this term gives it the sense of being “old” or obsolete, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Yeshua Himself made this clear by saying, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law (Torah) or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17, 18). Some have thought that when Yeshua used the word “fulfill” He meant He was effectively cancelling the Torah. Not so! To fulfill means to “fill full” or to make evident, to reveal, not cancel or do away with. It means to raise it to its highest level. This is a significant point because much has been lost and many have suffered as a result of this misinterpretation of Scripture. It is important to become familiar with the both Tenach and the New Covenant as the Tenach is the very foundation upon which the New Covenant rests. Without a foundation, any building is vulnerable. In reality, the Old and the New Covenants comprise one book as together they present the picture of God’s unfolding interactions with those who are His own people. But mostly, the entire Bible is God’s Self-discloser of Himself. In both, He is relating to Israel, while others who wish to follow the Holy One of Israel are always welcome by God to join them, so long as they do so on His terms. No bringing in of foreign gods or foreign ways! When the New Covenant was inaugurated by the Atoning Blood of Yeshua, it didn’t change the fact that it was still with Israel that God was establishing the New Covenant. The church has erroneously thought of itself as the New Covenant people apart from Israel. (See Appendix C for more information on how that happened.) But in truth, Christianity in its purest form is Hebrew. What God is restoring today is awareness of that fact to both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, it stands to reason that being familiar with Tenach will also give you greater understanding of many of Yeshua’s words and actions. Certain translations of the Bible will have references in the margins that link the Old Testament verses with the New Testament fulfillments of them. Much of what Yeshua had to say came out of Deuteronomy more than any other Old Testament reference He made. The Tenach will also give you a greater appreciation for what Yeshua actually accomplished on our behalf as you see His holiness in a way that you cannot grasp reading only the New Testament. It will also show you how God in His sovereign faithfulness has kept His Word and promises even over centuries and against great obstacles. They were never obstacles for God, only for man, so in this way, our faith and trust in Him is increased as we see how He has worked all things together according to His Word.
GOD’S PROMISES FOR YOUR GOOD
There are many promises throughout the entire Bible which we can draw upon in our needs from God. When you have a need in a particular area of your life, find some verses that speak to that issue and pray them back to God. Memorize them. Keep them in your heart and you will soon see God fulfill His own Words to you as you ask Him for what He has already made clear is His will. Praying, for instance, Psalm 91 on a continual basis, sets up a protection for you should trouble arise. Many testimonies attest to God’s protecting power from keeping verses of His protection and provision in your mind and spirit. Additionally, praying prayers you find in Scripture for God’s power in your life will take you to places beyond where you would go if you weren’t believing God for His answered prayer. As an example, praying “that the God of our Lord Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ), the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:17) is likely to open doors of revelation and wisdom to you that you might not have without asking Him for it. He put those words in there so we would come to Him to make them real in our lives. The word says, “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2). So ask! You can look at the Bible from many perspectives. Some see it as a history book of what happened to Israel and the followers of Messiah. Others see it as a book of how to obey and live out our lives before God. Both of these are true but it is also a book of God’s Self-disclosure to us. The more we get to know Him, the more we have an increasing desire to know Him even more. He wants us to know Him. He wants to make Himself known to us. The Apostle Paul tells us that “he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Nothing brings a greater reward than seeking to know God more intimately. You may want to ask God to show you Himself whenever you open the Bible. Something along the lines of Psalm 119:18 is a good thing to pray: “Lord, open my spiritual eyes that I might see and understand the wonderful things in Your Word.” If you are keeping a notebook, you might like to keep a journal of what you “see” and learn as you read His Word. Write out your thoughts and questions. Ask God for answers to your questions, then keep a record of what comes to your mind. In this way, you will develop an awareness of when God is speaking to you. Dialog with God on the page. You’ll learn to recognize His “voice” this way too. Write out what you’re reading means to you, briefly or extensively, and how you connect it with things in your own life. It’s your journal, so write whatever comes to you! It’s been said that writing helps you know what you think. It helps you process your thoughts so that you know what you believe. You can build a lifetime of wisdom and insight based on what God will show you day by day in His Word. There are hidden treasures in the Bible for you to explore and discover. Enjoy digging for them.
THOUGHTS TO PONDER
1. Read Genesis Chapter 1. Take note of how often it says “God said” or “God called.” (You may want to highlight those words in your Bible. It is not only acceptable to write in your Bible, you will find it helpful to do so when God gives you insight into a particular passage you’ll want to remember later.) Why do you think God had to say those things out loud? How powerful are His words to create? If we are created in His image, according to Proverbs 18:31, what power do our words have to create or change situations for good or bad?
2. Read 1 Peter 1:24, 25. How long will the Word of God (the words of the Bible) remain in effect? Read Matthew 5:18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; and Luke 21:33. What will His word outlast? If we find something in our lives that contradicts what God has said in His word what should be our response?
3. Read Hebrews 1:3. In this amazing see-behind-the-scenes verse it speaks of God’s word through Yeshua. What does it say His word accomplishes? What would be “all things” to God? How powerful is His word to sustain what He’s created? (Note: God exists outside of time and space, so our sense of what is significant or not is unlike His.) How powerful does God seem to you from this verse? Do you think “all things” includes what goes on in your life? How valuable then should His words in the Bible be to you?
4. Read Hebrews 4:12. What is different from God’s word than any other writings? What is its affect? Read 2 Timothy 3:16. What is the value of the word to you? In what ways will the Bible help you? (Note: There’s an old saying: The Bible will keep you from sin; sin will keep you from the Bible.) Are you willing for God to point out where you need to align with His word?
5. Read Deuteronomy 12:28. Joshua 1:8 and Jeremiah 17:7-8. What does God say is the result of valuing and trusting in His word? What will it do for you? Read Psalm 103:20. Who besides mankind is required to obey God’s word? What does that tell you about God’s word affecting both the spiritual and the natural world?
6. Read Psalm 1:1-3. What is the distinction here; between what two groups of people, both of whom seem to be seeking counsel? As a believer, where should your first line of wise counsel come from? (Note: You will find that miraculously the Lord manages to have you read what you need to know if you look to Him for wisdom.) What “paths” or “seats” are you encouraged to avoid? What do they mean in practicality to you? What is a scoffer, for instance?
7. Read John 1:14. God’s word is always true and represents Him precisely. So what does this verse mean to you? Who alone could be consistent with all that God said and is? Why? Read Revelation 19:10. What do the prophecies give testimony to even before it happened? Read Romans 1:-5. What did God promise through His prophets in the “Holy Scriptures”? Why do you think the Scriptures are referred to as “holy”? (Note: Holy means to be set apart and unlike anything else; entirely righteous and pure.) List what else these verses tell you about Yeshua?
8. Read Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 12:32; and Revelation 22: 18-19. What is God saying? Read Matthew 5:17-19. What does Yeshua say about how long the word will remain? What does He say are the consequences of disregarding any part of God’s Word? (Note: He was referring to Torah and the prophets, not the New Covenant which had not been written yet.)
9. Read John 14:23-24. What does Yeshua say love for Him is contingent upon? Can we say we love Yeshua and not follow what He had to say?