Last week I mentioned that I had a relatively accurate understanding of each Bible story – I just didn’t know where the pieces went. I mean, I could probably tell you where in the bible each is found, and maybe a general idea of when they occurred in history, but I didn’t know how they fit God’s story. My purpose today is to give you that framework of God’s story. (For this interested in looking into this more, this is called the redemptive-historical hermeneutic.)
The opening movement has God creating everything, with mankind as the crescendo. As long as the distinction between creator and creation was kept in view, God said everything was good.
Adam and Eve were placed in a garden. It’s where they lived and worked and carried out the vocations God created them for. The garden was also the first place that man met with God – the first temple. As such, their maintenance of the garden made them priests of a sort. The rule God gave them also made Adam something like a king of the garden, ruling as God’s representative. This garden was not the whole world, by the way. The description of its location makes that clear. It was a “holy” place, a place set apart as a temple. Adam and Eve were to serve and guard (Gen 2:15), which are the same tasks of the priests and Levites in the tabernacle ( Num 18:1-7).
Be Fruitful & Build the Kingdom
God commanded Adam and Eve to make more image bearers. Not just pop out miniature humans – but build kingdom citizens. This was essentially a means to establish the city of God on earth - a city that would grow through reproduction and eventually fill the earth with more priests and rulers.
Don’t eat that fruit
There was a good treein the garden we call the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We don’t think of it that way though, do we? I’ve always thought it was “the bad tree”. But God created it and said it was good. The tree itself wasn’t some corrupting influence. The point was not the tree, but God’s command.
By the way, I doubt that God gave it that long name. I bet you it’s a name that humans gave it. I’m trying to think of a parallel. Say that Aubrey tells Mack that he can play virtually anywhere in the house as long as he doesn’t touch things on the counter. Then let’s say he disobeys. Hypothetically. From then on, he may refer the that counter as “the place of cutting and burning”. It’s a silly name, but it’s what he remembers. I think the tree in the garden is the same.
So, we have two things that happen when Mack – I mean Adam and Eve – get into what they were told not to. One thing is the hammer comes down. They fought the law and the law won. The other thing that happened was the natural consequence of their actions: they changed. The fruit didn’t change Adam and Eve – their disobedience did. So, the reason the tree got that name forever was because of the way that they experienced their life changing.
The happy-go-lucky blinders of youth were off. Innocence was lost. They now knew what guilt felt like. Can any of you remember a time when you experienced guilt firsthand and wished you could rewind the clock an hour? That is what actually knowinggood and evil feels like. It has to do with experiential knowledge rather than just head knowledge.
We didn’t have tofeel those consequences though. The smart choice would have been to trust God when he said don’t touch. But we aren’t smart. We have to learn the hard way. We don’t want to be told what to do.
Identity: Man or Beast
God had relatively few rules. Man was supposed to act like God, or “image” him. While other cultures would build dead stationary figures to represent their deities, God’s people were to be living and mobile image bearers, carrying a tangible glimpse of him wherever they went.
Acting like God, or imaging him, is all about bringing glory to him. But instead of imaging God, mankind first listened to a beast (the serpent) and then acted like a beast, which is all about satisfying our fleeting desires. We’re hungry so we eat. We want so we take. That is beastly living. Watch for this choice between God and beast in scripture, because it’s a major theme.
Upon sinning, this was all lost. No more uninhibited communion, no more priestly access, and no more dominion as co-rulers. As a result of their rebellion, the rule they were given over, the rest of creation was forfeited, the city they should have built was lost, and the authority theyshould have had fell to a beast, while they became slaves. Life would be difficult outside of the place that God made for man.
. Throughout the Old Testament, “east” will be the direction of exile. The river in Eden flows from west to east; Adam and Ever are sent east of Eden. Cain goes east; Noah’s descendants go east; Lot goes east; the children of Abraham’s concubines go east; the entrance to the tabernacle faces east, guarded by Levites with swords (ala the cherubim in Eden), as if knowing that the exiles will come from that direction; in Ezekiel’s vision, God’s glory returns from the east, where it was with the exiles (Ezekiel 10); in Hosea 13:15, the east wind is a blast of judgment from God – which makes sense, because it comes from the parched wilderness. Jesus came from the east of Golgotha, from the land of the exiles, to be our sacrifice.
Hints of the Gospel
When Adam & Eve followed the example of a beast, God stepped in and killed another beast. The blood of that beast spared them from shedding their blood. The skin of that beast covered their shame, but it also made their beastliness that much more obvious. It’s an early warning: if you want to have the heart of beasts, you will look like them.
Even in the midst of all this despair, God gives his first hint of one who would come and set everything right. Over time, he repeats this promise and elaborates. Eventually the message becomes clear that one day we’ll be reunited with God without barriers. He will somehow remove our beastliness and restore our Godliness. We will live at peace with him in a city of rest that he will bring to earth.
The First City of Man
But that is all future. In our story, we see that Cain sins like his parents and gets kicked out of Eden. As punishment, God condemns him to wander the earth. In disobedience ,though, he sets out to build a city. He essentially followed the instinct God gave to man, but instead of honoring God, he built it to satisfy his own desires.
This continues until the world is full of beastly people who have forgotten God - except one man. The bible describes Noah as being perfect and blameless, though he was a sinner like the rest of us. The point in using this language is because the bible wants you to see him as a new Adam of sorts. It’s setting up the expectation for one who will succeed where Adam failed.
God presses the reset button and pours out his judgment on humanity. Through an onslaught of rain, the beastly world built on Adam, Eve and Cain’s disobedience is undone.
All are gone but the new Adam and his family. This new family passes through certain death, protected from God’s judgment by God’s covering, and exits the ark safely on the other side. It’s a rebirth of sortsthat foreshadows baptism. Like the first family, this family is told to be fruitful and multiply. There are many more similarities, but it’s quickly evident that Noah is not going to offer humanity much more hope than Adam did. His descendants go “east” just like Adam’s descendants.
The Archetypal City of Man
The next city mentioned was Babel. Babel was intentionally built so people could gather in one place and not be dispersed over the earth. This was a violation of the creation mandate to fill the earth. They also built it to make a name for themselves, in violation of God’s command to image him. This was not to be a temple to meet God, but a tower to glorify themselves. It was built on pride, rebellion, and idolatry.
Babel was the opposite of what God intended a city to be. No communion with him, no rest, no obedience. Man doesn’t seem to need a beast to lead him away from God. Man is now a beast himself, running from God on his own.
After the scattering, English bibles call this place Babylon. It was a real historical place, but the name would be used metaphorically as well. “Babylon” would come to represent “the city of man” – an upside-down version of the city God intended, one where Christ was the center and man lived in peacewithout struggle or frustration. That is what Revelation and Isaiah describe and Eden foreshadowed. Babylon became a metaphor for humanity’s obsession with glorifying itself and pretending its creator doesn’t exist. God separated the people of the first Babylon by geography and language, but they continued their city-building across the earth, worshiping creature rather than creator.
The City of God
In Genesis 12, Abraham is introduced. His life is pointed away from Babylon to go to a different land with a different purpose. Just as Babylon was a real city that also stands-in for rebellion against God, the land Abraham had in view would eventually contain a real city called Jerusalem that would also become a stand-in for the people united by their identity in Christ. Babylon and Jerusalem – both real, yet both metaphorical (which is kind of the idea of archetypes).
The author of Hebrews speaks of a “New Jerusalem”. He also calls it “the city of God”. He makes it clear that Abraham knew he was to set out toward the physical location God directed him to, but that the true destination in Abraham’s mind was this heavenly Jerusalem. And using similar language, the NT authors make it clear that believers today look forward to the same eternal destiny that Abraham had in mind – and which the Jerusalem in Judah merely foreshadowed.
A New Adam?
In Abraham we have an upright man who trusts God. Another new Adam. This new Adam receives the same mandate: Image God, be fruitful and multiply, subdue the earth, have dominion.
God promised Abraham a family, a land for his family where God would restore the rest of the garden, and a future blessing where that garden rest would be extended to all the nations.
Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness, but it was not his own righteousness. Like Adam, Abraham was not the perfect man. Like Adam, he sent children “east.”
Abraham looked forward to another who would come. But before the blessing to all nations came, the nation from Abraham would come.
Abraham fathered Isaac, who fathered Jacob. His offspring would be called the people of Israel. One of Jacob’s sons was named Joseph. Through a series of events, he became a respected ruler of Egypt. Because of his powerful connections he was able to bring the rest of his family to Egypt to avoid famine.
Due to a change in Egyptian leadership, this massive family called “the people of Israel” became slaves to Egypt. This gets us through the book of Genesis.
The Book of Exodus
The book of Exodus talks about life in Egypt and Israel’s escape from slavery. It’s the book where we meet Moses, the burning bush, and the ten commandments. Exodus ends with construction of the tabernacle.
The Books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy
In the book of Numbers, God leads his people through the wilderness – which simply means an uninhabited and unforgiving land. He was leading them out of Egypt to the rest he had been promising. It could have been a much shorter journey, but the people refused to believe God and follow his instructions. Sound familiar? As a result, the trip took them 40 years longer than necessary.
The next generation started down the same rebellious path.
All they had to do was believe God, but they thought they were smarter than him. (You’re seeing these themes, right?)
Why didn’t you leave us in Egypt? We had it so good there! (Keep in mind that most of these knuckleheads were too young to remember what Egypt was actually like.)
And can’t we get some better food than this stuff that you cause to miraculously fall from the sky.
More repeated themes:
They could have mirrored God’s character and expressed some patience, obedience, and gratitude, but instead they acted like beasts.
Had they feared the Lord, they could have gained wisdom from God. But since they foolishly chose the “tree of learning from experience”, painful life lessons would be their poor substitute.
All that is left of the books of Moses are Leviticus and Deuteronomy. They cover essentially the same time period as Numbers, but they are concerned with recording the laws and rituals given by God.
After the complaining people of Israel repent, they begin the process of taking the Promised Land. That is the topic of the book of Joshua.
One notable story speaks of a woman named Rahab who lives in the enemy country and helps the Israelite spies. For her faith in the true God, she is saved even though she was not an Israelite. God establishes clearly that He has never been a respecter of persons, pedigrees, or anything besides trust in him.
Though they had driven out most of the enemy and settled in the Promised Land, Israel still had plenty of trouble. Due to the remaining beastly influence of the Canaanites, Israel eventually looked just like them. An endless cycle ensued:
The people would follow the Canaanite influence in sin.
God would allow them to be conquered and oppressed by the Canaanites.
Eventually, the people would repent.
God would raise up a judge (not our use of the word) to deliver them from the enemy and initiate a period of peace.
Eventually, they would fall back into the same pattern.
Over time, the judges themselves became corrupt. They had wandered so far from God that they didn’t know the slightest thing about him. They often confused him with the Canaanite deities. It continually got worse until, eventually, Israel didn’t just need deliverance from Canaan, but from themselves.
So, to recap – we’re now looking for someone who would succeed where Adam failed, who was a descendant of Abraham, who would bless all the nations, and who would be a deliverer who would permanently save the people.(And keep in mind, I am skipping A LOT.)
After Judges comes the book of Ruth. On the surface it looks like a love story – and it is. But that’s such a small part. Here’s a quick overview:
Ruth is a foreigner living among the people of Israelduring very hard times. Her only connection to the people is through her dead husband’s relatives. She is poor and lives on scraps. One day, Ruth meets a rich man who gives her access to resources that others did not have. It turns out that he is a distant relative of Ruth’s mother-in-law, which in their culture qualifies him to marry Ruth. They get married and their baby would be king David’s grandpa. Done. (In the interest of time, that story glossed over a bit.)
The story is nice, but the symbolism is fantastic. In this story, the Israelite family represents all of Israel. The food shortage was real, but the famine was primarily spiritual – as we saw in Judges, everyone had abandoned God. A very wealthy Israelite relative was to come. He would marry a bride who had been adopted into the Israelite’s family. The wealthy relative to come would be Jesus. Ruth represents the church – outsiders who would be made insidersthrough marriage. The story of Ruth is a picture of the love of Jesus, the redemption he would offer, and the unification of all believers, whether Israelite or Gentile, under a new covenant which he would instate.
But they wouldn’t have seen this, because Jesus was still centuries in the future. So add to our list of expectations a redeemer who would save all those who joined his covenant.
The books attributed to the prophet Samuel are fascinating. About 1000 years before Jesus, we have a woman named Hannah who dedicated her son Samuel with a prayer. In it, she refers to a future king. At this point in history, Israel had never had a king, so that seems an odd thing to say. She also makes the first reference to a coming Messiah. These words both refer to Jesus, but again, no one would know that for centuries. I mention this in case you have not yet noticed that the entire bible points forward to Jesus!
After that trouble with judges, the people demand a king, so God gives them Saul. Saul seems to start ok, but he goes off track fast.
Next came king David. If Saul was the king the people wanted to have, David was the king God wanted them to have. If you’ve heard about anyone in the Old Testament, it’s probably David. He was small. He was a dirty shepherd. He was eighth-born. He was not what anyone expected in a ruler. But in many ways, he prefigured Jesus.
He was God’s chosen king
He had the Spirit of God
He was poor and unremarkable
He was a servant and a shepherd
He was a wise man and a warrior
Much more could be said, but he was what theologians call a “type of Christ” – meaning a person who would show the world a glimpse of the coming Messiah.
While David was a man after God’s own heart, he had significant shortcomings. It’s starting to seem like no one could succeed where Adam failed. All are beasts who fall short of the glory of God.
Solomon too is portrayed as a new Adam.
In the story , Solomon has become king and asks God for wisdom to discern between right and wrong. He started like Adam started – by seeking after God and obtaining wisdom from him.
Solomon looked so good at the beginning. Maybe, finally, at long last, THIS is the guy who is going to be the ultimate human. But sadly, this new Adam is just like the old Adam. At the beginning we see him seeking God for wisdom, but by the end he has hundreds of wives. In fact, under Moses, God had established rules for kingsto follow, and Solomon broke most if not all. This was definitely not the guy.
Solomon inspired, and quite possibly wrote, the book of Ecclesiastes. A major theme of this book is toil and labor and how difficult and fruitless it can be in this life. Familiar at all? The curse after the fall was that now you will toil in your work – your labor will often be frustrated and fruitless.He knows how beautiful the promised garden will be and how sweet the rest will be, but the author is essentially dedicating a book to the reminder that we live outside the garden and we will die.Not exactly a hopeful message, but a realistic one. In this life you will have trouble. Period. Full stop.
The time of the kings (1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, all the prophets)
Images of Eden
Throughout this journey of God’s promises being fulfilled, he spoke of wanting to dwell again among these people he was using to accomplish his purposes. Since Moses, God’s people have traveled with a special tent called the tabernacle at his instruction. It was a portable palace to honor Israel’s God and a miniature representation of the garden where God could live among his people as he had in the beginning. Once they settled in the Promised Land, the traveling tabernacle was replaced with a permanent building called a temple that served the same purpose until Jesus came. Each was clearly reminiscent of Eden (think of the Levites who guarded the entrance with a sword). These echoes of Eden present in the Israelite holy places spoke in a language that kept the perfections of creation present in their minds. For thousands of years prior to Jesus, God used these cues to show glimpses of the new creation yet to come.
After Solomon, the nation split in two: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Over the next few hundred years, each has around 20 kings. Most of them are pretty awful.
The people in the northern kingdom of Israel have little interest in God. They have formed political alliances to protect themselves rather than finding their safety in God. This is also the period of the prophets. God spoke through numerous people. The message was pretty consistent: REPENT! Turn back to God or you will be conquered by Assyria. They did not repent. True to prophecy, in 733 BC, Assyria conquered the north, took them into captivity, and disperses them. Little is heard from them ever again.
The people in the southern kingdom of Judah were not as corrupt. But still, they were not particularly honorable either. They had their own prophets who said the same thing the northern prophets had said. Plus, they had the additional example of Israel being conquered. They too ultimately fell. For them it was in 586 BC to Babylon. The difference is that these people would not be dispersed and lost. A few of them would even return after some time. These are the folks who would be called the Jews.
We’ve glossed over a lot, but this covers the major strokes of the Old Testament. At this point there is a period of about 400 years where the bible is silent.
The Old Testament looks forward to Jesus. The gospels tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. The book of Acts gives us the history of the apostolic movement after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. And the balance of the books are letters to churches and individuals during the first 60 years of the church, which elaborate on Jesus’ teaching. This is why we can say that the whole bible is about Jesus. Beginning to end, he is the point.
Jesus is the perfect man who succeeded everywhere Adam failed.
We also know the Old Testament is full of types and shadows because the New Testament tells us so.
Jesus’ favorite name for himself was “Son of Man”. That was basically an instruction for us to turn to Daniel 7 to see who he claimed to be.
When Jesus was on the cross he cried out, “My God why have you forsaken me”. This opening line of Psalm 22 was a way to tell people to go look up that chapter and see what else it has to say.
Jesus showed the disciples on the Emmaus road“all the scriptures concerning himself”.
Hebrews tells us that Jesus is a better messengerfrom God, a better salvation, a better rest, he brings a better covenant, he’s a better sacrifice, a better high priest. Jesus said that he himself is what the temple foreshadowed, and He is the true temple.
(Also, notice how the Wise Men were “westward leading”? They saw the star in the east – the land of exile – and moved west, toward the Garden, toward the Holy of Holies, away from the wilderness).
He is God in flesh, come to pay the penalty due. He is the king who came from the line of David. He is the one who scattered and confused mankind at Babel to split them apart, and he is the one who bypassed the various cultures and languages at Pentecost to unite the church.
Ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, the story of the bible is one of unsettlement, destruction, enslavement, and wandering. But God promised rest. The rest he promised to the Israelites was the Promised Land of Canaan. But even Canaan was not the ultimate rest God had in mind. It was another picture. Only in Jesus do we find perfect rest.
Jesus’ disciples also want their audience to understand that Jesus was the true Israel:
Isaiah calls Israel “the servant” or “the suffering servant”. Matthew and Luke use the same names for Jesus and state that Jesus who Isaiah had in mind. Philip tells the Ethiopian eunuch the same thing.
Hosea said, “Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”, and Matthew applied that to Jesus.
Frequently in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is referred to as a vineplanted by God, or even a vineyard. New Testament references to vineyards were uncomfortable for Jews, because Jesus portrayed them as being unruly and in need of discipline. God would prune them and even cut them off if necessary, because he himself was the true vine. God would also graft in whomever he chose, because he was God.
There are so many more fascinating parallels to explore between Jesus’ life and the story of the nation of Israel, but not enough time. The point these authors want us to see is that not is Jesus the true and better Adam – he is also the true and better Israel. He passed every test that Israel did not.
Interspersed throughout the story of scripture, we’ve seen continual reminders that beasts oppress mankind. Beasts brought calamity in the plagues against Pharaoh. Daniel’s visions see the coming world powers as different types of animals. Nebuchadnezzar even livedas a beast, eating grass and beginning to look like a bird.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, we see God himself confront the accuser. The new Adamdealt properly with the beast where the first Adam had failed. Jesus was offered temples and cities. Satan appealed to man’s beastly motivations of self-preservation, rejection of God, and pride, but Jesus imaged God perfectly.
In Revelation the same story is told repeatedly in a communication technique called recapitulation. This is the process where an author says something, then says “let me explain it another way”, on and on until his point has been made. In Revelation, the same story is being told again and again. In each telling, a perfect man arises to defeat various beasts. In the culmination of history we see what was anticipated in the beginning, and what the prophets sawalong the way. Beasts are defeated. Beastliness itself is gone, as aggressionis removed. Man communes with God. Our work is no longer marked by futility. “Thy kingdom comes”. The City of God is here. Man images God rather than beasts. Eternal life in a garden-temple-city that has now expanded to envelop the earth becomes a reality. But that is still in the future.
Closing – Revisit Narrative Arc of the Bible
As I said last week, the bible contains a single, unified story. I compared the story to a bridge. If we see the original Genesis creation and Revelation’s new creation as the ends of that bridge, and if we see the major movements of creation, fall, redemption and restoration as pillars along the way, we can use the themes we’ve discussed today to lay in the pieces that build the superstructure. Once that is in place, we should be able to take any individual story or teaching and locate it along the narrative arc and have a decent idea how that piece serves the whole. And this is the best way I know to keep from making a mess of things like I did in the past. Hopefully you can take something from this as well.
So, we shouldn’t be bothered by questions like “why did God put that tree in the garden?” We don’t actually know its true purpose. But do kids need to understand how furnaces and lawnmowers work in order for the command to stay away to be valid?
The Bible likes to use the word “ambassador” to capture this idea
See also Job 27:21-23, Genesis 41:22-24 and Ezekiel 19:10-12.
Psalm 115:8 “Those who make [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them.”
Genesis 6:9, and others. Not that he was without sin, because no one is (Romans 3:23)
It’s a symbolic return to the point in the creation narrative (Genesis 1:9) where there was no dry land
Exiting the ark, then, is their “emerging out of the waters of death into a new life. They prefigure the new humanity who prevail over evil.” - Reformation Study Bible footnote, Gen 8:16
1 Pet 3:20-21
The Hebrew word is shalom: peace with God, others, ourselves and the creation.
Forty years as he waited for that unbelieving generation to die – Numbers 14:22-24
Technically Judah, but I’m trying to keep things simple 😊
1 Kings 3
Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 17:14-20
Ps 80:8-9; Hosea 10:1; Isaiah 5:1-2; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15:6
Isaiah 11, for example
animals with each other, as well as with humans