The Nation of Israel
Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, God gave detailed instructions to His people on how they were to live when they arrived in Canaan, the land that God had promised to Abraham. These instructions even included the kind of government they should form. At first, they would be ruled by a series of judges (hence, the book of Judges). Then, in Deuteronomy 17:14-15, God told the Israelites that kings should rule over the people, but only those kings who were specifically chosen (anointed) by God.
Although Saul, the first king of Israel, was appointed by God, he was ultimately disobedient and greatly lacking in faith. God did not continue the rule of Israel through Saul's line (Saul's son did not succeed him as king).
As we saw in the first section of this booklet, the various books of the Bible can be grouped by the type of literature (genre) they represent. The first eight books, Genesis through Ruth, relate the events of early history in chronological order (the order in which they happened). The story of the nation of Israel is told in a number of books of the Old Testament, but not in chronological order. To make better sense of what happened to whom and when, it is helpful to find a reference book (many Bibles have such references) that provides a timeline of when events unfolded and where those stories can be found in the Old Testament. Here is a very abbreviated table of the kings who ruled over Israel and where their stories can be found in the Old Testament:
|925 B.C. - 722 B.C.|
|Israel Splits Into Two Kingdoms|
The man who would become the next, and perhaps greatest, king of Israel came from an unlikely source. David was the youngest son (not the eldest, as was traditional) of a man who lived in a very remote town called Bethlehem. (Sound familiar?) It was through David's line (his descendants) that Jesus would be born!
As with all of the previous men God had chosen to help Him carry out His will in the world, David was not perfect. He committed very serious sins in his time as king. Yet, in I Samuel 13:14, God tells the prophet Samuel that David is a man after God's own heart.
A Disobedient Nation
David's son, Solomon, succeeded him as king. Solomon is known for being very learned and wise. He is also the king who led Israel to complete the building of the magnificent temple first conceived by his father, David. Solomon is credited with the writing of at least two Old Testament books: Song of Solomon (a love poem!) and Ecclesiastes.
If you will recall, God's first and foremost command to His people was that they have NO other gods. Unfortunately, Israel was surrounded by tribes and nations that worshiped a variety of gods and idols. Solomon brought many of these foreign peoples into Israel to help build the temple; along with the workers came their idols. As we all know in our own lives, it is difficult to be constantly around people who are not like us and whose beliefs are different from ours, and not begin to adopt some of their beliefs and practices, especially if our faith is weak. This is what happened to the nation of Israel.
While Solomon was a great king in many ways, his rule was often harsh. He levied heavy taxes on the people to build the temple, as well as a luxurious palace for himself. This, among other things, caused the nation of Israel to split into two kingdoms (Judah in the south, Israel in the north).
God Sends Warnings Through the Prophets
The nation of Israel had been selected by God to be His people (Deuteronomy 7:7-9), but time and again, the Jews would turn to worship the idols of the peoples who lived around them. Often, this idol worship involved practices such as infant sacrifice and sexual immorality that God just could not tolerate from His own people.
Again and again, God sent prophets to the people to warn them that there would be grave consequences for their disobedience. The final section of the Old Testament records the words that God inspired His prophets to say. Every prediction God made through His prophets for the defeat and exile of Israel came to pass.
To see the order of the writings of the prophets, we can put them into a chart similar to the one we made for the Israeli kings. The events that were taking place during the time of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles were the very ones that the prophets tried to warn the people of Israel about.
|Lamentations (written in exile)|
A Defeated Nation
Although the Israelites were allowed to return to their homeland after about fifty years in exile, those who went were little more than a remnant of the Jewish people. The glory days of Israel were over: the temple had been plundered and destroyed, and they would never govern themselves again. Their land would be under the rule of one empire or another until 1948, when the new nation of Israel was formed after World War II.
The last three books of the Old Testament, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, were written to encourage the Jewish people after their exile to revive their former faith in God and to become faithful again in their worship of Him (Judaism).
After a couple of false starts, they were even able to build a new temple. It was only a shadow of the former, glorious temple built under King Solomon; still, it was a place in their own homeland where they could finally worship the one true God again.
And, even as the prophets were predicting the downfall of Israel, their predictions were mixed with prophecies concerning a Savior, a Messiah, who would come to form a new covenant between God and His people. (Isaiah 53, 55)
God asked a defeated people to have faith that, even when things looked their bleakest, the future was still in His hands, and that He still longed to have a relationship with mankind, His highest creation.
Time Before and After Jesus
All of history is divided into two parts: before Jesus was born and after. The year on our calendar is the number of years since Jesus was born.
We now mark dates of the Old Testament and earlier with the designation B.C., which stands for "Before Christ." Dates after Jesus was born are designated with "A.D.," which is short for the Latin phrase "Anno Domini," meaning "In the year of our Lord."
There are some people, those who don't believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, who would like to take Him out of our dating system. They have begun using the designation "B.C.E.," which stands for "Before the Common Era." But our "common era" is defined by the fact of Jesus' time on earth, so it all means the same thing! As we said before, all of history is divided into two parts: before Jesus was born and after.
Judaism (Worship of God) After the Exile
Jewish worship had always consisted of offering animal sacrifices to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Do you remember that God told Adam and Eve that they would have to die for their sin? For the Jews, sacrificing an animal to God, as He had instructed them to do, was symbolic of exchanging the sacrifice of a life for their sins.
When the Jews returned to Israel after their exile, we said that the prophets encouraged the people to begin worshiping God and obeying all of His commandments again.
It seemed that the Jewish people (at least those few who had returned to Israel) had at last learned their lesson: God would not tolerate idol worship and disobedience. The Jewish priests, who rose up to rule the Jews as a natural consequence of their religious leadership, helped create a society determined to be faithful: they would not allow themselves to be influenced by outside cultures and would do their very best to obey the very letter of all of God's laws. This was the society into which Jesus, the Messiah, was born.
Under the old covenant, God had promised health and prosperity to those who obeyed His commandments. The nation of Israel had grown mighty and rich when they had trusted in God. What the Jews who returned to Israel didn't realize was that, with the fall of Israel, the old covenant was no longer in effect.
Great Men and Women of the Old Testament
We have talked about a long period of time in just a few pages, but the Bible is filled with stories of great men and women of God. You should get to know them! Here is a list to get started with; as you begin to read the Bible, you will no doubt find many others who could make this list. Why not start with these; then, as time goes by and you read further, you can add your own list of "Bible Greats"! Be sure to mark down the chapters and verses when you find them so you'll be able to locate them any time you want to!
Let's Get Started!
Before you go any further, now might be a good time to look up some of the passages above or any of those whose citations have been given so far. It would be great practice for learning to look up "chapter and verse" references.