What Truth Does Old Testament History Reveal?


The child who is forced to learn names and dates may think history is nothing but a needless weight hung around his neck to pull him down into the depths of mental distress.  Actually, history is a valuable teacher.  Martin Luther stated that histories revealed God’s works and judgments, informing us how God preserves, rules, checks, furthers, punishes, and honors the people of the world as each deserved good or evil.  See What Luther Says, Vol.II; E. M. Plass, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri, second printing, 1972; page 648.

This discussion briefly reviews Old Testament history to observe from the Garden of Eden to the coming of Christ the regress of the human race from its holy state and to trace the progress of the gospel about the Descendant of the Woman who would come to save it.

1. From Eden to Babel (From Creation to about 2200 B.C.)  Genesis 3:22-11:26

Adam and Eve were created holy and lived in a blessed innocence in the Garden of Eden.  Shortly after, however, they fell into sin.  To punish them God drove them out from the garden.  When Eve gave birth to her first son, she thought it was the Lord, the Savior promised in Genesis 3:15, which is how the Hebrew text in Genesis 4:1 could be translated.  They named him Cain.  He committed the first murder when he killed his brother Abel.  For the first time death occurred in the world.  Cain’s descendants occupied themselves with worldly pursuits and initiated polygamy, corrupting the divine design of marriage.  Seth was also born to Adam and Eve, whose descendants feared the Lord and began proclaiming his name in the world.

The human race multiplied, as did its wickedness.  Grieved by the abounding wickedness, God planned to destroy the human race.  Only Noah and his family were God-fearing people who remained in his favor.  Through Noah God planned to bring the Savior into the world.  God foretold Noah of the coming flood and told him to build the ark that would save him and his family.  By saving Noah’s family, God was also insuring that his promise to Adam and Eve of the coming Savior would be fulfilled and that his plan for saving the sinners of the world through Christ would be completed.  According to God’s design Noah built the ark over a period of about one hundred and twenty years.  It was four hundred and fifty feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high.  When the ark was completed, God caused a flood that covered the whole earth.  It destroyed all the creatures of the earth except for those in the ark.  The same water that brought God’s judgment on the world lifted the ark to save Noah’s family.  After the flood Noah’s son, Shem, became the father of the Semitic races.  He followed Noah as the next man from whom the Savior would come.

The flood, however, did not destroy the inherited sinful nature which Noah and his family passed on to their descendants.  Wickedness abounded once again.  Sinful pride moved men to disobey God’s command to inhabit the whole earth.  They remained in one place after the flood, where they built the city of Babel and its tower to glorify themselves.  God stopped their building of the tower by confusing their language, which brought about the many different languages in the world to this day.

2. The Patriarchs (About 2200-1900 B.C.)  Genesis 11:27-50:26

God was pleased to choose Abraham to become the father of his people, the Israelites, and to become the next man through whom the Savior would come.  He called Abraham out of the land of Ur to dwell in the promised land of Canaan.  God blessed him with an eight fold blessing (Genesis 12:1-3), which centered in the promise of the Savior through whom all nations would be blessed.  This blessing revealed that God’s plan of salvation was intended, not just for the Israelites, but for the whole human race.  Though his wife, Sarah, was barren, for twenty-four years Abraham looked forward to the birth of his son who would be the next descendant in the messianic line.  During that time God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone for the wickedness of their homosexuality.  God blessed Abraham with a son when he was ninety-nine years old and Sarah was ninety.  Later God tested Abraham’s faith, telling him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  Abraham’s faith stood firm in God and his promises.  When he was ready to plunge his knife into Isaac, God stopped him and provided a ram for the sacrifice.

Isaac married Rebekah from among Abraham’s relatives.  She gave birth to twins, Esau and Jacob..  God chose Jacob to be the one from whom the Savior would come and to receive the blessing God had given first to Abraham and then to Isaac.  When the time came for Isaac to give that blessing to Jacob, however, he planned to give it to his favorite son, Esau.  Rebekah and Jacob then deceived him into giving the blessing to Jacob.

Jacob fled from Esau, who wanted to kill him.  He ran to his uncle Laban in Haran.  There Jacob served Laban for twenty years, who deceived him in turn.  In spite of the unfair things Laban did to Jacob, the Lord caused Jacob to prosper, making him a wealthy man with wives, children, flocks, and herds.  The Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel, after whom God’s people, the Israelites, were named.

Jacob had twelve sons.  His favorite son was Joseph.  For this reason Joseph’s brothers hated him.  They sold him into slavery to some Midianite traders, who resold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh.  The Lord was with Joseph and caused him to prosper.  When he was Potiphar’s overseer, he ran away from Potiphar’s wife’s sexual advances.  She in turn accused him of raping her, for which reason he was then imprisoned.  While he was in prison, Pharaoh had a dream.  Pharaoh’s cupbearer told him that Joseph could interpret dreams.  Pharaoh called for Joseph, who explained the dream meant there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.  After also suggesting that food be stored during the bountiful years to provide for the years of famine, Pharaoh promoted Joseph to prime minister of Egypt.  During the famine Joseph’s brothers came to buy grain.  He recognized them, though they did not recognize him.  After testing them, Joseph revealed his identity to them.  He invited his father and brothers to move to Egypt with their families, where he would provide for them.  They moved to Goshen, being seventy in number.  Before Jacob died, he foretold that his son Judah would be the next descendant from whom the Savior would come.

3. From Egypt to Mount Sinai (About 1900 -1450 B.C.)  The Book of Exodus

After Joseph had died, a Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph.  He enslaved Jacob’s descendants, now known as the Israelites, and treated them harshly.  To prevent the further growth of the Israelite nation, he ordered that all the boys born to the Israelites must be killed at birth.  The infant Moses, however, was saved from death by the providence of God.  His mother hid him for three months.  She then placed him in a basket and set him afloat on the Nile.  Pharaoh’s daughter discovered him.  Deciding to raise him herself, she hired Moses’ mother to nurse him.

When Moses was forty years of age, he defended a fellow Israelite and killed an Egyptian.  He then fled to Midian, where God appeared to him in a burning bush when he was eighty years old.  God told him to lead his people out of Egypt.  Together with his brother Aaron, Moses went to Pharaoh and told him the Lord had said to let his people go free.  Pharaoh refused.  God persuaded him to release the Israelites by means of ten plagues, the last of which resulted in the death of all the firstborn of Egypt.  In connection with this last plague God established the Passover, which the Israelites were to celebrate each year.  The evening of that plague of death a lamb without defect was killed by the Israelite families.  Its blood was painted on the doorposts of their homes.  For the sake of the lamb’s blood the angel of death passed over them.  The Passover lamb pointed ahead to the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who would shed his blood to take away the sins of the world.  After the plague of death Pharaoh begged the Israelites to leave Egypt.

The nation of Israel, then numbering about two million people, was guided on its journey by the Lord, who led them in a pillar of cloud and of fire.  Pharaoh, whose heart was hardened, changed his mind about releasing the Israelites.  He pursued them with his chariots, following them into the Red Sea, which the Lord had split so his people could cross it on dry land.  The Lord then drowned Pharaoh and his army when he caused the walls of water to fall down on them.

En route to Mount Sinai, the Israelites began to complain about hunger, revealing their lack of faith in God to provide for them.  God gave them the bread from heaven, manna, which formed on the ground from the dew.  This bread from heaven was a figure of Christ, the true bread from heaven, who came from heaven to give eternal life to the sinners of the world.  At Mount Sinai, which quaked in God’s presence and was covered with smoke, God gave the Israelites his law, which he introduced by reminding them that he was their loving and merciful God who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  His law included three kinds of laws for his people: the Moral Law, which he summarized in the ten commandments; the Ceremonial Law, which governed the forms of worship for his Old Testament people; and the Civil Law, which governed the lives of his people in the land of Israel.  After Moses was with the Lord on Mount Sinai for forty days, he returned and found them worshipping a golden calf, which they had made to be their god.  Moses smashed the tablets of stone, which contained God’s ten commandments, and had three thousand idolaters put to death.  God rewrote the commandments on new tablets of stone and gave them to Moses.


The Ark of the Covenant


4. The Forty Years in the Wilderness    The Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy

The Israelites began their journey to Canaan, the land God had promised to the patriarchs.  God led them in the pillar of cloud and of fire.  But the people rebelled and grumbled about the lack of water and the steady diet of manna.  They aroused God’s anger.  After he had filled the land with quail a yard deep in all directions for a distance of a day’s walk, and when the people were about to eat the quail, he punished them with a severe plague.

Twelve spies were sent into Canaan when the Israelites were near its borders.  Ten spies reported how terrifying and strong the people of Canaan were.  They said the Israelites could not enter the land without being destroyed.  Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, encouraged the people to move into Canaan, for the Lord would go before them and conquer the people of the land for them.  The Israelites refused to trust in God’s promise to give them the land.  They refused to enter it.  They complained they would do better dying in the wilderness than enter Canaan.  So God gave them their desire.  He made them wander in the wilderness until all those who were twenty years of age or older had died.  Only Joshua and Caleb were permitted to enter the promised land.

The second generation of Israelites grumbled and rebelled against the Lord and Moses as their parents before them had done.  The Lord then punished them with various kinds of plagues.  One plague was poisonous snakes.  When the people asked Moses to pray to the Lord to deliver them from the plague of snakes, the Lord had Moses make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole for the people to see.  The Lord promised that all who looked at the snake, believing his promise to deliver them from death, would live.  Jesus said this bronze snake was a figure of himself.  He would be lifted up on a cross, and all who believed they were saved through his sacrificial death for the sins of the world would have eternal life.

Moses and Aaron failed to uphold the glory of the Lord before the Israelites at the waters of Meribah.  For this reason the Lord did not permit them to enter the promised land either.  Aaron died on Mount Hor.  Moses died on Mount Nebo after seeing the promised land from a distance.  The Lord appointed Joshua to be the next leader of the Israelites.

5. Israel under Joshua and the Judges (About 1400-1050 B.C.)  The Books of Joshua and the Judges

After the Lord had appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites, he stopped the flow of the Jordan River.  The people then crossed on dry land into the promised land of Canaan.  One after another the Lord delivered the enemy cities into the hands of the Israelites.  The first city to fall was Jericho.  By the Lord’s command the people marched around the city each day.  On the seventh day he caused the huge walls of Jericho to fall down when the people shouted loudly.

When the land was conquered, it was divided among the twelve tribes of Israel.  Each tribe received a portion of the land, except the tribe of Levi, which served as priests before the Lord.  They were supported by a tithe (an offering of ten percent of a person’s income) given to the sanctuary by the other tribes.

The Lord had commanded his people to drive out all the heathen in the land to prevent the Israelites from falling into the worship of their idols.  But the heathen were permitted to remain in the land.  Soon the people fell into worshipping their idols.  This aroused the Lord’s anger.  He used their enemies to punish them and ceased driving those enemies out of the land for them.  When the people repented and cried out to him, the Lord raised up a judge, a deliverer, to free them from their enemies.  Time and again the Israelites turned from the Lord, and time and again when they called out to him the Lord delivered them.  In all the Lord raised up fifteen judges: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson, Eli, and Samuel, who was the greatest of the judges.

6. The United Kingdom of Israel (About 1050-975 B.C.)   The Books of Samuel 8:1 to 1 Kings 11:43

When Samuel had grown old, the Israelites demanded to have a king of their own like the other nations had.  Their demand rejected the Lord, who was their true king.  But the Lord permitted them to have their wish and gave them Saul.  After becoming king, however, Saul disobeyed the Lord’s commands.  The Lord rejected him in favor of David, a shepherd and son of Jesse.  David was secretly anointed king by Samuel according to the Lord’s directions.  Saul continued serving as king for some period of time.  The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit tormented him.  Because David was an excellent harp player, he was called to soothe Saul with his music.

The Philistines invaded Israel and made fun of the army of Israel with their giant warrior Goliath.  David turned the course of the war by killing Goliath.  Afterwards, the people honored David more than they honored Saul, their king.  Proud and jealous, Saul was angered.  He spent much of his remaining years as king pursuing David to kill him.  After reigning for forty years, Saul, and his sons, and the army of Israel were defeated by the Philistines.  Saul fell on his sword, so he could not be captured.

David was declared the king of Israel.  God caused David’s reign to prosper and enabled him to defeat the enemies of Israel.  During David’s reign Israel entered its golden years, which lasted through the reign of Solomon, David’s son, who was born of Bathsheba.  David prepared for the coming construction of God’s temple in Jerusalem by Solomon.  When the temple was built under Solomon, it was a magnificent structure of stone, cedar, and cypress, with the inner sanctuary and its floors overlaid with pure gold.

The Lord informed David that the Savior would descend from him and his descendants.  During his life David wrote many psalms about his coming Savior.  Those messianic psalms are 2, 8, 16, 22, 23, 24, 40, 41, 45, 47, 68, 69, 72, 87, 89, 110, 118.  But David was a sinful human being too.  He committed adultery with Bathsheba.  When he learned she was pregnant, he tried to cover up his adultery by bringing her husband Uriah home from the front lines to make love to her.  When Uriah refused to go home to his wife, David ordered his general, Joab, to have his soldiers desert Uriah in the thick of the fighting so he would be killed.  Having murdered her husband, David then married Bathsheba.  The Lord later sent his prophet Nathan to set before the impenitent David his sin.  David repented and the Lord forgave his sin.  But the punishment David suffered was having his son Absalom lead a rebellion against him, start a civil war to overthrow him, and sexually defile his secondary wives before all Israel.  When the revolution and civil war were defeated, Joab, contrary to David’s orders, killed Absalom.

Shortly before his death, David had his son Solomon anointed the next king of Israel.  When Solomon took the throne, he asked the Lord for wisdom to rule the people well.  The Lord blessed him not only with wisdom, but with riches and honor.  Solomon’s wisdom became widely known.  He built the Lord’s temple and wrote the Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.  But he too was a sinner.  He took many heathen wives and began to worship their idols.

7. The Divided Kingdom to the Intertestimental Period  (About 975-63 B.C.)  The Books of 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and the Prophets

Beginning with Solomon’s idolatry religious and moral decay arose within Israel.  As a punishment for Solomon’s idolatry, the Lord tore ten of the twelve tribes away from Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, who succeeded him to the throne.  The kingdom of Israel was divided.  The ten northern tribes declared Jeroboam their king and took the name Israel for their kingdom.  The remaining two southern tribes followed Rehoboam and took the name Judah for their kingdom.  From Judah the promised Savior would come.

The kingdom of Israel was ruled by one wicked king after another.  God’s people were led into the worship of idols and did much evil.  After repeatedly warning his people through his prophets to repent of their sins, God sent Assyria to conquer Israel in 722 B.C.  The people of Israel were carried off into captivity and became known as the ten lost tribes of Israel.

The kingdom of Judah, in which Jerusalem and the Lord’s temple were located, was ruled off and on by good and bad kings.  Moral and religious decay abounded in Judah as well.  After the Lord had pleaded with its people to repent and return to him, which they refused to do, he sent Babylon to conquer and destroy Judah.  In 586 B.C, Jerusalem with its temple was destroyed.  The people of Judah were taken to Babylon, where they remained in captivity for seventy years.

The Lord remembered his promise to send the Savior from the tribe of Judah.  He raised up Persia to conquer Babylon in 536 B.C., which freed the Lord’s people to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple.  In the succeeding centuries the land became known as Judea.  About 330 B.C. the Lord raised up Alexander the Great and the Greeks to conquer Persia.  After Alexander’s death his empire was divided into four parts and Judea was added to Syria.  The Jews then suffered terrible persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes.  The Jewish family of the Macabees led a revolt and gained Judea’s independence.  Its independence was short lived, however, for in 63 B.C. the Roman general Pompey marched into Jerusalem and forced Roman rule upon the Jews.

Through the periods of the Divided Kingdom, the Babylonian Captivity, and the return to Jerusalem, the Lord continued to speak to his people through his prophets.  Malachi was his last prophet, who closed the Old Testament canon about 400 B.C.  Throughout the Old Testament era the Lord called his people to turn from their idolatry and sins.  But amid the darkness of their sins and threatened punishment, the Lord also proclaimed in ever brighter detail the gospel of the coming Savior, Jesus Christ, which shone like a beacon in the gloom of the night.

The Truth Is:

1. The human race fell from its holy state at creation into sin, which multiplied on earth in the hearts and actions of people through the ages.
2. But the gracious and merciful God of heaven and earth remained faithful to his promise to send the Savior who would redeem fallen mankind.  Over the centuries of time he unfolded the details of his plan of salvation and of the Christ.

Review Questions

1. Cite some Bible history lessons that show that sin controlled people’s hearts and actions.
2. Cite some Bible history lessons that show the goodness and mercy of God to save fallen mankind.
3. Look up the following Old Testament verses to discover some of the prophecies which were made about our Savior who was to come.

a. Read Genesis 12:2,3 and Genesis 17:7,8 in connection with Galatians 3:16.  Who  was the seed, or the descendant, of Abraham whom God was referring to in his  promises to Abraham?
b. Read Genesis 49:10.  From which son of Jacob and tribe of Israel was the Savior to  come?
c. Read Deuteronomy 18:15.  What does this passage tell us about the Savior who  was to come?
d. Read Isaiah 7:14.  What does this passage tell us about the Savior and his entrance  into the world?
e. Read Isaiah 9:6,7.  What do these verses tell us about the Savior who was to come?
f. Read Job 19:25.  What did Job know about his coming Savior?
g. Read Micah 5:2  Where did this verse say the Savior would be born?
h. Read Isaiah 53:4-6.  What do these verses say the Savior would do to save us?
i. Read Isaiah 61:1,2.  What kind of a message do these verses say the Savior would  preach?