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The Old Testament in 1000 words

The Old Testament is the Christian Bible from Genesis to Malachi. It begins with a magisterial description of God creating the universe, the world, and everything in it. Stars, the sky, fish, “things that creepeth upon on ground,” birds, and humans, too. The first pair of humans, Adam and Eve, live in bliss among a perfectly-functioning world. But quickly the picture deteriorates. Adam and Eve, famously, eat the forbidden fruit, signaling disobedience against God and the fracture of the perfect-functioning world. Suddenly people die, they feel shame, and they avoid God. Deeply dissatisfied with this, God promises that he will destroy the evil unleashed in Eden, though, in an unclear statement, he says that that evil will harm God first. 

Adam and Eve have children, who eventually get bad enough that they all must die, spare the few that will then repopulate the Earth. This is Noah’s Ark. Those ones that are spared destruction, as planned, repopulate the Earth and then fade into history.

One of their descendants, Abraham, is told by God to leave his hometown and travel West. Abraham obeys, despite not having much to gain from following this God’s instructions. And so God sees his trust, his faith, and blesses him, saying that Abraham will have many, many descendants. Which does, in fact, happen. This was a promise, and God cannot break his promises.

Unfortunately, a couple generations later, there is a bitter famine in the Palestinian land and the descendants of Abraham have to move south to Egypt. They remain there for several hundred years, by which time they are basically slaves. They have a slave revolt led by Moses, filled with all kinds of miracles and plagues that only God could have orchestrated. In fact, God was with the descendants of Abraham the whole time, and he leads them out from Egypt, and back into the Palestinian land that once belonged to Abraham.

Along the way God gives them Laws. These are contained in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Together the first five books of the Old Testament are called the Torah, and they are chock full of history and laws. When Moses dies, God promises to send someone even greater than Moses to the people. But this doesn’t happen, at least, not yet. A class of religious leaders are established, who serve as Priests, sacrificing the animals of the people as acts of submission to God. They have no temple, though, and carry around a portable tent instead.

The people arrive in Palestine, things settle for a while, but then the people start to stray from God and adopt some of the gods of the surrounding countries. This results in destruction and chaos, until someone (called a “judge,” though not in the usual sense of that word) convinces them to return to God. So it continues: the first generation follows God from the heart, the second from routine, and the third not at all, and repeat.

In time the people start to ask for a king. (God strongly dissuaded from them doing this). They get one, named Saul, though he starts to go off the rails in a few years. Then a prophet named Samuel selects a new king, named David, who is much better — though, in at least one notable extramarital-affair-and-murder-plot, David is seen to be imperfect. David wants to build a temple, but God, slightly out of the blue, turns the tables and promises that God will build “a temple” (a house, a lineage, i.e. descendants) for David. This is a repeat of the earlier promise to Abraham. God symbolically defers the building of the temple to David’s son, Solomon.

Solomon is okay, but he also worships the regional gods and goddesses. Then, unable to retain power of the whole Palestinian territory when Solomon dies, the kingdom fractures in two. Now the north, called Israel, is ruled by one set of lousy king, and the south, called Judah, is ruled by a different set of lousy kings. Awful, really, just awful rulers.

Then, calamity. The northern kingdom starts worshiping more gods than God alone, so God withdraws from them. They are promptly destroyed. The Assyrians swoop down and destroy most of them, carrying some others off into exile.

Then, 136 years later, calamity. The southern kingdom does the same as the north had done, and God withdraws from them, allowing the Babylonians to cart them off into exile/slavery. (A few prophets had predicted all of this, but nobody listened).

In exile, the people retain their previous culture and religion, refusing to integrate. This almost gets them killed, especially Daniel and friends. However, God miraculously saves them from death. After a regime change, the Persians control the whole area, and Esther and friends convince the Persians to allow them to return to home, which they do…

…only to find the old homeland in shambles, the temple destroyed, the city without walls. A major rebuilding efforts begins that restores the Temple and the city walls, though not to their original glory. Ezra and Nehemiah are the leaders of these important projects.

Then, things settle down.

All throughout this time, mysterious, shadowy figures called Prophets have been writing long books of commentary on the history of Israel and the future of Israel, along with interpretations of current events. These make up a large portion of the Old Testament. Along with some books of poetry, these prophets cry out in confusion: God promised to destroy the evil from Eden, to make Abraham’s descendants great, numerous, and powerful. He promised to send someone after Moses, he promised to give David “a house,” and so on. But all they saw was destruction and failure. Is God a liar? Clearly not! So, then, God will fulfill his promises. The prophets predicted that God would send someone else, a selected one (Hebrew word: Messiah), who would fulfill God’s promises.

This is how the Old Testament ends. Everything is calm, but the people are confused, concerned, and expectant of more to come.

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