Chapter OneTHE LORD GOD
O Lord my God, you are very great. Psalm 104:1
Reading this book will help you get acquainted with some personalities in the Bible whose life experiences will help you better know God and yourself as well. You will meet them in the order in which they appear in Scripture so you can better follow the plot.
The Bible presents a true story with a cast of thousands and an amazing plot that covers thousands of years. The story is so simple a child can grasp it yet so profound that it challenges the most brilliant theologian. In the Hebrew text, fourteen books of the Old Testament begin with "And" as if to remind us that each book is connected with the others, like links in a living chain.
The record begins in the garden of Eden where our first parents ate the fruit of the forbidden tree and brought sin and death into the human race. The story climaxes in a garden city called heaven where the citizens of the city eat the fruit of the Tree of Life that grows along the banks of the River of Life (Rev. 22:1-2). The Bible opens with the garden of Eden and closes with the garden city of heaven. It goes from sin and death to holiness and life. What caused the change?
Between those two gardens is the garden of Gethsemane where the Son of God prayed "not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42) and went forth courageously to die on a cross. Because Jesus died and rose again, the curse caused in the first garden has been overcome. The last book in the English Old Testament ends with the word curse (Mal. 4:6), but in the last book of the New Testament we read, "No longer will there be any curse" (Rev. 22:3). The gift of eternal life is available to all who put their trust in Jesus. The Bible records this remarkable story so that you and I may read it, believe it, and experience all that God has for us.
But before we look at these selected personalities, we must begin with God. Why? Because our quest isn't for the facts of history and biography, but for the truths of reality and eternity, and that means we must start with God. The story of the Bible is about God, not just the activities of people. God put the key to Scripture at the front door: "In the beginning God" (Gen. 1:1). Apart from God, history is a mystery, a puzzling drama with pages missing from the script and a plot that doesn't always make sense to us. We must begin with God because He devised the plot, wrote the script, and chose the cast. He isn't an absentee director out in the wings; He's on stage at all times whether we recognize Him or not. Nobody will miss a cue or flub a line. It will all come out just as He planned. History is His story.
This doesn't mean that human history is a puppet show, with God manipulating people against their will and then lightly tossing them aside when He is through with them. In His sovereignty, God is able to move characters and change scenery successfully, even though the cast has the freedom to choose otherwise. The drama will go on. God operates by decree, not by consensus or committee. "Our God is in heaven"; wrote the psalmist, "he does whatever pleases him" (Ps. 115:3). The atheist denies this, the agnostic questions it, but the follower of Jesus Christ accepts it and rejoices in it.
Nobody knows all about God. But there are some basic truths about God's relationship to humankind that we must grasp if we are going to understand the people in this book and, as a result, better understand ourselves and what God wants us to do.
GOD THE CREATOR
The worshiping Israelite said, "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker" (Ps. 95:6). The skeptical materialist asks, "Where did God come from?" and the believing disciple asks, "Where did matter and life come from?" The materialist replies, "Pure accident" and invokes his sacred trinity of matter, time, and chance. The disciple answers, "Divine appointment," and invokes his sacred Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no way to avoid "In the beginning God" (Gen. 1:1).
God was not only at the beginning of creation and at the beginning of the Hebrew nation that taught us about God, but He is also at the beginning of each individual life. "For you created my inmost being"; wrote David, "you knit me together in my mother's womb.... My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body" (Ps. 139:13, 15-16). The people we meet in the Bible were all prepared and equipped by God for the special purposes He had ordained for them. This is also true of the people we meet today-and it's true of you and me!
GOD THE PROVIDER
It is significant that the Lord formed and filled the heavens and the earth before He made the first people. Just as expectant parents lovingly prepare their home for the arrival of their baby, so the Father lovingly prepared this world for us. Everything we need is here, and God wants us to use it wisely and not waste it or destroy it.
God also provided us with the abilities to understand and appreciate this immeasurable wealth, for He made us in His own image. We have bodies so we can use and enjoy the physical world, but we have spirits so we can fellowship with God and enjoy the riches of the spiritual world. We have minds to think with, wills to decide with, and hearts to love with, and God has appointed us to "have dominion" over His creation and work with Him in accomplishing His wonderful purposes. "You made him ruler over the works of your hands," said David (Ps. 8:6), and this fact utterly overwhelmed him. "Who and what are we," he asked, "that almighty God should pay any attention to us?"
The people we will meet in the Bible are of two kinds: those who trust God, obey Him, and discover that He meets every need, and those who disobey God-or even worse, rebel against Him-and rob themselves of the riches of His wisdom, power, grace, and glory. Like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24), they starve in the pigpen of their own proud self-sufficiency when they could be rejoicing and feasting at the Father's table.
That leads us to a third basic truth about God: He is Father.
GOD THE FATHER
The Lord Jehovah called Israel His "firstborn" (Ex. 4:22) and lovingly dealt with His chosen people as parents deal with their children. "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him" (Ps. 103:13). "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isa. 49:15). Like a careful parent, God took Israel by the hand and led them out of Egypt (Jer. 31:32). He led them and fed them in the wilderness, and whenever they rebelled, He chastened them the way any loving parent would discipline a disobedient child. "Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you" (Deut. 8:5). The critic who calls the God of the Old Testament a bully and a tyrant hasn't taken time to read the record and see the vivid examples of God's love, kindness, generosity, and longsuffering toward His people.
It was Jesus who made the fatherhood of God visible and real, for He said, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). If God were a bully and a tyrant, would He become like one of us, live in our world, share our burdens and difficulties, and finally, bear our sins on the cross? Would He weep with the sorrowing, receive the children into His arms, feed the hungry, forgive the sinners, and lovingly teach the common people the saving truth about God? His earthly life and ministry can be summed up in one word: love, for God is love. Today the Holy Spirit in our hearts witnesses of the Father and assures us that we are indeed His children. Those who trust Jesus Christ have received "the Spirit of sonship," and "by him we cry, 'Abba, Father'" (Rom. 8:15; cf. Gal. 4:5-6). "Abba" is the Aramaic equivalent of our English word "Daddy," and it speaks of love and intimacy.
The will of God is the expression of the love of God for each of us. "But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations" (Ps. 33:11). As we mature in love and faith, the Father's character and plans become clearer and clearer, we love Him more and more, and we want to serve Him better and better. While the expression of God's love is unconditional, our enjoyment of His love depends on our knowing His Word and obeying it. If we have surrendered to Jesus, God is our Father, come what may; but He can't be a Father to us if we deliberately disobey Him and permit sin in our lives (2 Cor. 6:17-18). Just as parents rejoice over their children and delight to see them honor their name by maturing in character and conduct, so our heavenly Father rejoices over His obedient children and the honor they bring to His name.
As we get acquainted with these Bible personalities, we will see how God loved them and by His love sought to motivate them to obedience so that He might bless them more. Some deliberately rejected His love, while others rejoiced in His love and shared it with others. "He who loves me," said Jesus, "will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.... My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (John 14:21, 23). This is one thing Paul prayed about in Ephesians 3:14-21, that Jesus Christ would feel at home in our hearts so we would be "rooted and established in love" and experience God's love in its fullness.
GOD THE JUDGE
God lovingly disciplines His children when they need it and justly allows both believers and unbelievers to suffer when they disobey Him. The Lord's judgments don't come as surprises, because He sends warnings in advance, and his judgments are not unjust. "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" asked Abraham (Gen. 18:25), and the answer Moses gave is correct: "His works are perfect, and all his ways are just" (Deut. 32:4). God's justice is the expression of his holiness and his love. "The Lord loves righteous ness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love" (Ps. 33:5). "For I, the Lord, love justice" (Isa. 61:8).
A righteous God doesn't violate his own nature or break his own laws. He warned our first parents not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for if they did, they would die (Gen. 2:17). When they disobeyed, he declared them guilty and handed down the sentence, "To dust you will return" (Gen. 3:19). God in his grace forgave their sin, but in his justice he didn't change the consequences. God's grace and God's government-John calls it "grace and truth" (John 1:17)-are friends and not enemies, for grace reigns through righteous ness (Rom. 5:21).
A pastor was preaching a series of messages titled "The Sins of the Saints," and some of the church members didn't appreciate it at all. "If you want to preach about sin," they said, "preach to the unbelievers. After all, sin in the life of a Christian is different from sin in the life of an unbeliever." "Yes," replied the pastor. "It's worse!"
"God doesn't permit His children to sin successfully," said Charles Spurgeon, and it was to his own people that the Lord said, "The Lord will judge his people" and "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Deut. 32:36; Heb. 10:30-31). God gives His people many gifts and privileges, but He never gives them the privilege of sinning and getting away with it. We shall find this truth repeated many times as we meet the personalities discussed in these pages. Even forgiven sins have consequences.
The Bible record is an honest record, and God tells the truth about His children. What is written is there to warn us not to sin (1 Cor. 10:6-12) and to encourage us to keep trusting God (Rom. 15:4). Believers do sin, and they suffer for it, but this is no excuse for unbelievers to remain as they are. "And, 'If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'" (1 Peter 4:18; cf. Prov. 11:31). If the temporal consequences of sin bring grief and pain to God's own children in this life, what will be the eternal consequences of sin for those who reject Jesus Christ when they leave this life?
Let those who love the Lord hate evil. Psalm 97:10
All who hate me love death. Proverbs 8:36