The Essential Bible Companion: Key Insights for Reading God's Word (Essential Bible Companion Series)

The Essential Bible Companion: Key Insights for Reading God's Word (Essential Bible Companion Series)

by John H. Walton

ISBN: 9780310266624

Publisher Zondervan

Published in Christian Books & Bibles/Christian Living, Christian Books & Bibles/Bible Study & Reference, Religion & Spirituality, Reference

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Sample Chapter

Chapter One


Key Concepts

* The covenant is God's program of revelation.

* The focus of creation is the establishment and maintenance of order and operation.

* The stories in the Bible are stories about God.

Key Terms

Cosmology-Study of how the world works.

Fall-The result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve that brought sin into the world and alienated God from humankind.

Flood-God's judgment on the world due to the lawlessness and violence of humanity. Only Noah, a righteous man, and his family were spared.

Tower of Babel-Building project that offended God and prompted him to confuse the language.

Covenant-God's agreement with Abraham and his descendants by which he would bring blessing to the world.

Patriarchs-The founding ancestors of the nation of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Yahweh-The personal name for God.

Key Teachings about God

* God established and maintains order in the cosmos.

* God overcomes obstacles to carry out his purposes.

* God reveals himself to his people.

* God's grace exceeds all logic.

People to Know

Adam and Eve Rebekah Cain and Abel Laban Noah Jacob Abraham Esau Sarah Rachel Melchizedek Leah Isaac Judah Ishmael Joseph


The purpose of this first book of the Bible is to begin the story of God and his continuing relationship with his creation, including his disappointments and the actions he takes to overcome obstacles. God shows his mastery as he creates order in the cosmos and as he brings order to his relationship with people through the covenant. Though God created everything just right, sin alienated people from God so that they no longer had an accurate idea of what he is like. This is why God made a covenant with a chosen people, Abraham and his family, a relationship that gave God a means for giving people an accurate picture of what he is like. Genesis tells how, despite many obstacles, the covenant was established.

Genesis 1-11 traces the blessing recorded in Genesis 1:28-30. The genealogies show people being fruitful and multiplying. At the same time these chapters depict the advance of sin, first in the disobedience of Adam and Eve, then in Cain's murder of his brother Abel, and finally in the escalation of violence and corruption that results in the flood. After the flood, the people not only continue their movement away from God but make a vain attempt to reestablish his presence by building a stairway for him to come down from heaven and be worshiped on earth (the Tower of Babel).

Now in addition to the problem of bringing people back to God (Eden problem), there is the problem of restoring the lost knowledge of what God is like (Babel problem). Human initiative, first by Adam and Eve, then by the builders of Babel, has had devastating results. God's covenant with Abraham represents God's initiative to provide a means by which God can reveal himself to the world through Abraham and his family and how the entire world could be blessed through them. The covenant blessings that serve as benefits to Abraham and his family are extensions of the original blessings in Genesis 1. The patriarchal narratives in Genesis 12-50 trace the advance of the covenant and its blessings and, at the same time, show the many obstacles. As these obstacles are overcome, one by one, God demonstrates his mastery.


Gen. 1:28: "Be fruitful and increase in number."

Gen. 12:3: "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you [Abraham]."

Gen. 50:20: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish ... the saving of many lives."


Key Concepts

* The law is part of God's revelation of himself; giving it is an act of grace.

* God's presence comes on his terms and in his time.

* Deliverance is God's business.

* "Then you will know that I am the Lord your God."

Key Terms

Exodus-When God delivers the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and brings them to the land he promised them.

Plagues-Ten acts of judgment against Egypt to persuade the Egyptians to let the Israelites leave.

Passover-The commemoration of the tenth plague when God punished the Egyptians with death of their firstborn sons but spared the Israelites.

Decalogue-Another name for the Ten Commandments-the central laws that God gave to Moses on stone tablets.

Election-God's choice of individuals or groups to serve as his people in relationship with him.

I AM-The name God gives himself at the burning bush. It is from the same verb ("to be") as the name "Yahweh" and identifies God not only as the one who is but also as the one who "causes to be."

Burning Bush-The place where God revealed himself to Moses, identified himself, and explained his plan and Moses's role in it.

Pharaoh-The title of the supreme ruler of Egypt. No name is given in Exodus, so we do not know which pharaoh let the Israelites leave.

Tabernacle-The portable tent sanctuary constructed by Israel according to God's instructions.

Ark of the Covenant-A chest made of wood overlaid with gold that contained important signs of God's favor, including the stone tablets of the covenant. It was the most sacred object of Israel, as it represented the footstool of the invisible throne of the invisible God. The cherubim adorning the cover were guardians of the throne of God.

Holy of Holies-The central area of the sanctuary where the ark was kept and where God's presence dwelt. The only access was by the high priest once a year.


When Exodus opens, the Israelites are near the end of their time in Egypt. They had spent more than four centuries in Egypt and had become slaves in a foreign land. God is nowhere in evidence. Their covenant with God appears to be in disarray. They no longer enjoy the benefits of having connections in high places as when they first arrived, and with no land of their own, their survival is in jeopardy. When Pharaoh orders their baby boys to be cast into the Nile River, one mother creatively does so using a basket of reeds to protect her son. Pharaoh's daughter finds him afloat, names him Moses, and raises him as her own.

We are not told the extent to which Moses was aware of the plight of his people as he was growing up. But when he saw an Egyptian beating one of the Israelite slaves, he killed the Egyptian. Fleeing for his life, he took refuge in the wilderness among the people of Midian, where he met a tribal chieftain (Jethro), met the woman who would become his wife (Jethro's daughter Zipporah), and met his God. Seeing a bush ablaze but not consumed, Moses went to investigate and received the commission God had been preparing him to take up all his life-as the deliverer of Israel.

The purpose of Exodus is to explain how God revealed his presence and his power to his chosen people through the plagues and in their deliverance from Egypt. Just as in Genesis God overcame obstacles in establishing Abraham's family as his chosen people, in Exodus he overcomes obstacles that prevented him from dwelling in the midst of his people.

God guided and protected the Israelites through the wilderness and provided for them. At Sinai he told them how they needed to live so that his presence could dwell among them. Through the law, they learned how they were to honor and imitate his holiness. He told them how to build the tabernacle and how the priesthood was to prepare so that God could take up residence with them. God had chosen the Israelites to be his people and he intended to reveal himself to them and to the world by living in their midst.

People to Know

Moses Aaron Miriam Jethro Zipporah


Ex. 3:14: "I AM WHO I AM."

Ex. 14:31: "The Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed."

Ex. 19:5-6: "If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession."

Ex. 40:34-35: "The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle."


Key Concepts

* Ritual impurity is not the same as sin, but either can restrict access to God's presence.

* Holiness distinguishes God from people and distinguishes God's people from other people.

* Sacred space must be defined and preserved (the job of priests).

* Sacrifice is a mechanism to allow people to pray to God, thank God, preserve sacred space for God, and be in relationship with God.

Key Terms

Holiness-The sum total of godly traits.

Sacrifice-Giving something of value to God (usually an animal or grain during Bible times). Some involved a blood rite intended to eliminate the effects of sin.

Sacred Space-An area established by God's presence, which had strict rules of behavior and access. If sanctity was not preserved, the benefit of God's presence could be lost. Several zones of increasing sanctity surrounded the Holy of Holies.

Feasts-Days given special meaning because of God's work among his people. These were considered sacred times and were highly regulated.

Sabbath-The seventh day set aside each week to acknowledge God's control and provision by relinquishing for the day one's own attempts to control and provide for oneself.

Key Teachings about God

* God is holy.

* God expects his people to be holy.

* God desires to live among his people but has high standards that must be maintained.

* God is serious about holiness.

People to Know

Moses Aaron Nadab Abihu


Leviticus contains information given to the Israelites while they were camped in the wilderness by Mount Sinai: instructions regarding management of sacred space (the tabernacle), sacred status (as God's people), and sacred time (in the festivals). These were considered important for maintaining holiness for God's presence, which was at the center of their lives. Sacred times must be identified, maintained by the priests, and observed. Sacred space must be guarded and its holiness preserved. The status of priests and people must be regulated by specific guidelines so they don't desecrate God's presence. God is holy, and Israel is expected to be holy so his presence can remain in their midst.

Sacrifice is treated in terms of the materials and procedures that will render it acceptable. These sacrifices constitute gifts to God or serve to purify the sacred things from the contamination of sin and uncleanness. It was more important for sacrifices to remove the effects of sin from God's presence than it was to remove sin from the people.

Priests are given their role. Though priests were responsible for teaching the people and making decisions as leaders, their primary role concerned performance of duties in the sanctuary. Instead of thinking of them as clergy, similar to pastors or priests, consider them to be the ritual experts of Israel. Their job was to do whatever was necessary to preserve the sanctity of God's tabernacle. This meant guarding access to sacred space, maintaining the pure status of the people, and overseeing observances connected to sacred times, the festivals of Israel.

Holiness is the most important theme in Leviticus. God's holiness is not a separate attribute but the result of the sum total of all of his attributes-including but not limited to his sovereignty, omniscience, love, and righteousness. Holiness is a term that implies comparison. God is holy in relation to the people he created.

When God asks his people to be holy as he is holy, he means we are to maintain distinctions between ourselves and the world around us by imitating God himself. The distance between ourselves and the world will be defined by the attributes of God that we are able to imitate. As we become more godlike in attributes such as love, grace, faithfulness, and mercy, we are becoming holy by distinguishing ourselves from the fallen world.


Lev. 10:3: "I will show myself holy."

Lev. 11:45: "Be holy, because I am holy."

Lev. 18:5: "Keep my decrees and laws."


Excerpted from "The Essential Bible Companion: Key Insights for Reading God's Word (Essential Bible Companion Series)" by John H. Walton. Copyright © 2006 by John H. Walton. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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