We often learn individual Bible stories, but how do they all stick together?
This overview is meant to give a "big picture" sketch of the Bible's Story.
The Promise movement of the Bible begins in Creation, tells of God’s promises to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and ends with the people Israel escaping famine and living in Egypt.
Key Stories: Creation (Genesis 1:1-2:4a; 2:4b-25)
The Bible begins by telling not one but two stories of creation. They are distinct but also compatible, faithful, and rich with meaning. The first creation story tells of a certain kind of order in creation, stamped with God’s declaration that “it is very good!” The second creation story tells an intimate story of relationship between people and creation.
In the first story God makes all things in 6 days, rests on the 7th, and says it is all very good.
DAY 1: Separated light and dark into day and night. It is good.
DAY 2: Sky. It is good.
DAY 3: Separated land from sea, filled the land with vegetation. It is good.
DAY 4: Sun and stars. It is good.
DAY 5: Living creatures, animals. It is good.
DAY 6: Humans. It is very good.
DAY 7: Rest.
God makes humankind in God’s image.
In the second creation story, God makes humankind out of the dust of the earth – people and nature are deeply connected. God created the person and set him to be part of a vibrant, dynamic, and colorful environment, in close relationship with animals and plants and other people. This story highlights our connectedness to all of creation.
In both creation stories God sets up a beautiful balance in creation, filled with promise, hope, and life. Humans are called to tend and to care for all of creation.
Key Stories: Rules & Temptation (Genesis 3:1-24); The First Murder (Genesis 4:1-16)
God sets up rules for humanity. Humans – Adam and Eve – break the rules. This event is traditionally referred to as “the fall.” The balance in creation is now broken. Things aren’t going to be as God intended them to be just a few verses earlier in the Bible. Sin and death have now entered the world.
While The First Murder story is not technically part of what we traditionally refer to as “the fall,” in just the fourth chapter of the Bible we witness the first murder in the Bible. Jealousy caused Cain to kill Abel. Cain is punished for this deed. Yet, our God is a God of mercy. Death is not the way of life, even in a world now marked by sin. God intervenes to protect the life of Cain.
Even with the arrival of sin and death, God’s love and promises continue. That is part of the PROMISE of this first part of the Bible’s story.
Noah & the Flood (Genesis 6-9);
Call of Abraham (Genesis 15, 17);
Birth of Isaac (Genesis 21);
Jacob & Esau (Genesis 25-28);
Joseph (Genesis 37-50).
God makes promises to his people.
God’s people are doing bad things, falling far from God’s intent.
God decides for a “do-over,” to flood the earth but save Noah, his family, and animals of every kind.
God speaks judgment and promise to Noah, gives him instruction.
Noah builds an ark, saves animals and family, and waters flood the earth.
After the flood, God promises never to destroy the earth again. God’s love is bigger than God’s anger. God gives a sign of this promise – the rainbow.
God promises to give Abraham more descendants than there are stars; to give his descendants land; to bless the world through him.
Abraham would have two children; Ishmael, with his servant Hagar, and Isaac, with his wife Sarah.
Isaac would later become father to Jacob and Esau, twin brothers who were rivals. Jacob is a trickster who steals his brother’s blessing and negotiates for his birthright. Jacob would be re-named Israel, and be the father of the nation.
Jacob and his wives would have twelve sons who become the twelve tribes of Israel. One of those sons, Joseph, would be jealously sold into slavery by his brothers. He would later become a leader in Egypt, and show mercy on his brothers who come to Egypt seeking food during a famine.
The Exodus movement of the Bible tells the story of God’s people as slaves in Egypt, God’s dramatic work to lead them across the Red Sea, and God’s giving of the Law while in the wilderness. This is perhaps the most formative period in Israel’s history.
Oppression of the Israelites (Exodus 1);
Moses is saved (Exodus 2);
God calls Moses (Exodus 3);
Plagues (Exodus 7-11);
Passover (Exodus 12);
Crossing Red Sea (Exodus 14)
The Israelites had gone to Egypt because of a famine. An Israelite named Joseph became a trusted leader in Egypt. But many years later, the rulers of Egypt forgot about Joseph and made the Israelites their slaves.
They worked hard, and wondered about God’s promises. Was God going to be faithful to his people?
Hebrew families were forced to give up their children. Many of the children died. One child was put in a basket in a river, and Pharaoh’s family found him. They named him Moses, and made him part of their family.
Moses grew up as part of the ruling family of Egypt, but as he grew up he saw the suffering of the Hebrew people.
Moses left Egypt, heard God’s call to save his people, got married, and returned to Egypt.
Moses spoke God’s word to Pharaoh, commanded him to “Let my people go!” Pharaoh refused.
God caused nine plagues to come upon Egypt. Pharaoh still refused to let the Israelites go.
God instructed the Israelites to prepare a meal, and to watch for God’s hand to free them from the Egyptians. This meal is called the Passover.
God struck the Egyptians and the Israelites fled.
God’s people escape Egypt (Exodus 14);
Moses, Miriam, and everyone sings (Exodus 15);
People get grumpy, God provides (Exodus 16)
The Egyptians chased the Israelites as they fled, but they got stuck in the mud of the Red Sea.
The water closed on the Egyptians after the Israelites made it to dry land.
When they realized what had happened, the people were overjoyed. They sang and danced and celebrated.
But shortly after their celebration, they got hungry, and kind of wished they were back in Egypt. The complained that they didn’t have food or water. God provided.
It was a new life of freedom, but it was also a bit scary. It was unfamiliar. They weren’t yet in their Promised Land. But they were also no longer in slavery. They were living in an in-between time.
The Giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20);
Making the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25);
The Golden Calf (Exodus 32);
Renewing the Covenant (Exodus 34)
As they walk in the wilderness, God gives laws to the people through Moses.
In total, 613. The 10 most famous we call “The Ten Commandments”.
Laws were given to the people to show them the way of life; to show them how to live with each other and with God; and to distinguish them from other tribes and peoples. It establishes the system of sacrificing animals for the forgiveness of sins, a priesthood, and the plan for a tabernacle where God's presence will dwell.
It also establishes a sabbath system, a justice system, and a system for taking care of people who are vulnerable.
Jesus says the law can be summarized as loving God and loving other people.
God told the people to make an ark, a chest they would carry, to hold all the laws and decrees he gave them. They were to carry that around carefully and with reverence, to honor the Spirit of God that dwelled in the words contained in that ark.
Sometimes the people forgot God and didn’t follow the laws. Once they made a golden calf to be their God. That made God – and Moses – angry. Moses busted the tablets.
God renewed the covenant with Israel anyway, because “The Lord is a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6).
The Kingdom movement of the Bible tells of the People Israel arriving in their promised land and the challenges they had in getting settled. We see the eventual establishment of their Kingdom, the construction of the temple, its split into northern and southern kingdoms, and their eventual conquest by the Assyrians and Babylonians.
Crossing the Jordan River on dry land (Joshua 3);
The fall of Jericho’s walls (Joshua 6);
Settling the land (Joshua 13-21)
After 40 years in the wilderness, God calls the people Israel to cross the Jordan River into the promised land. Priests carry the ark of the covenant into the Jordan River, and the water stops – recalling the crossing of the Red Sea from the Exodus story. The people cross over on dry land.
The land was already occupied. God led the Israelites to conquer the peoples there and take the land. The first major conquest was at Jericho, where the people walked around the city walls blowing trumpets for seven consecutive days. On the seventh day the walls fell, and the Israelites took Jericho.
They continued and took more cities and more land. Sometimes they won easily. Sometimes they faced trouble. Sometimes their own sin and internal divisions kept them from achieving success (see Joshua 7).
The land was distributed among the tribes of Israel. Certain cities were set up as “cities of refuge” for those seeking asylum before their legal case could be heard. These were safe places designed to prevent a sort of mob or vigilante justice from prevailing (see Joshua 20).
Joshua (Joshua 23-24);
The Judges (Judges 2, Judges 4-5, Judges 6, 13);
Monarchy Established (1 Samuel 1-2, 1 Samuel 8-10, 1 Samuel 17, 2 Samuel 5, 2 Samuel 11, 1 Kings 2-3, 1 Kings 8, 1 Kings 11)
God called Joshua to lead his people into the Promised Land. Joshua led people to cross on dry land, and spoke to the people on God’s behalf, much like Moses.
After Joshua died a series of judges ruled over Israel. The fortunes of Israel rose and fell during this period. A strong judge ruled faithfully and the people prospered. Then, when the judge died and they didn't have a leader, the people acted wickedly. This cycle went on for generations.
One judge was named Deborah. She was also a prophetess. She ruled over Israel for forty years of prosperity, and oversaw the defeat of a Canaanite army that threatened Israel.
In this book we meet many of the heroes of the Old Testament, including Deborah, Gideon, and Samson.
A prophet named Samuel is called as a child and would later anoint Saul as the first King of Israel. God and Samuel tried to warn the people not to get a king, but the people insisted.
Saul unites what had become a divided and fractious nation.
David and Solomon (David’s son) would also be king over a united Israel. David was smaller and weaker than his brothers, yet God chose him to be king. As a youth, David defeated a Philistine giant named Goliath (1 Samuel 17).
David becomes King of Israel.
David led Israel in many military victories. David also once sent a military commander to a near certain death in battle so that he could marry that man’s wife.
Tradition says that David wrote many songs. One example is found in 2 Samuel 22.
Solomon was a wise leader. He built a permanent temple as a special place where God would dwell with God’s people. The temple was grand and beautiful, but also taxed the people. Solomon went into debt with some foreign nations in order to acquire the materials needed for the temple. This would cause problems for Israel down the road.
Near the end of his life Solomon started worshiping other gods, and was not faithful to the Lord. The kingdom divided underneath him into two – a northern Kingdom called Israel, and a southern Kingdom called Judah (1 Kings 11).
Construction of the Temple (1 Kings 6-7);
Solomon enters into agreements with foreign leaders to build the temple (1 Kings 5);
Solomon dedicates the temple (1 Kings 8)
King David had a vision to built a temple, but was not able to do it. Solomon, his son, carried out that vision.
The temple was built with amazing detail and ornamentation. The cedar and many of the bronze items were provided by the King of Tyre, Hiram.
It is peculiar that to build a temple for the God of Israel that Solomon would partner with foreign leaders. Much of Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people is about being set apart and super devoted to The Lord. Yet Solomon’s partnerships distracted his focus on Israel’s relationship with God. By the end of Solomon’s life we see that he has many foreign wives and business relationships, turning his attention from the Lord. He would come to worship other gods, too.
The temple was a special place where God promised to dwell and be with his chosen people.
The Exile movement of the Bible tells the story of the People Israel as captives in Babylon. They grieved the loss of their promised land and the destruction of their Temple. They struggled to live their faith in a foreign land. Some Babylonian and Persian rulers made it illegal for Jews to worship their God. Yet God sustained them, and ultimately led them back to rebuild their Temple.
Division of the Kingdom into Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) (1 Kings 12);
Fall of Israel (2 Kings 17);
Fall of Judah and destruction of the temple (2 Kings 25)
Solomon’s errors led the united Kingdom away from God’s calling. God divided the Kingdom as a punishment (1 Kings 11:9-13). Yet, God kept a king over Judah (which included the city of Jerusalem) to keep the promise he made to David (1 Kings 11:13).
Different kings ruled in the north and in the south. They often fought with each other. Like Solomon, they often turned their hearts to foreign gods and neglected their calling.
During the period of the divided Kingdom, God raised up prophets to speak God’s Word – often words of judgment – to the kings. The kings often did not like this. One prophet, Elijah, chased out the prophets of another god. This upset the king (1 Kings 18).
Another prophet was Elisha. He performed mighty acts that gave hope to the people who were living in difficult times. One miracle helped a woman get out of crushing debt (2 Kings 4:1-7). Another miracle restored a woman’s deceased child to life (2 Kings 4:32-37).
The Assyrians defeated and took the northern tribes of Israel into captivity in Syria. They also besieged, but did not conquer, the southern kingdom of Judah. Later, the Babylonians conquered Judah and took its people into captivity. They also destroyed the temple (2 Kings 25:9).
Songs of lament (Psalm 137, Psalm 80, Psalm 130, Lamentations 1:1-7)
Jewish identity was wrapped up in being God’s chosen people and living in God’s promised land. Now the temple where God dwells, and the land given by God, were taken from them. Can they still sing God’s song in a foreign land?
The grief the people expressed wasn’t always a resolved grief. They were in captivity. They were suffering. Psalm 80, for example, highlights a cry to God that doesn’t have a clean ending. It’s simply a cry, a plea, a laying before God of the people’s pain.
The people’s pain was real, and at times comes out in ways that make us uncomfortable. Psalm 137 includes some detailed cries for revenge that speak to real pain and anguish that God’s people – past and present – sometimes feel. Yet these words in Scripture do not mean that God endorses their call for violence. Vengeance, and justice, belong to God.
Ezekiel speaks of unity, hope, restoration (Ezekiel 20:33ff; Ezekiel 37:15-28);
Esther saves her people (Book of Esther); Cyrus of Persia promises to return the Jews to Judah, rebuild the temple (2 Chronicles 36:22-23);
Ezra oversees the building of the Temple (Ezra 3:1-13)
In the midst of their suffering and exile, all hope wasn’t lost. The people remembered God’s promises, and clung to them. Ezekiel spoke God’s words telling of the restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 37). Isaiah spoke God’s words of hope that the exile is nearly over (Isaiah 40).
During captivity the people of God were in danger. One leader wanted to further oppress the Jews by punishing any who would not worship the king of Persia. He tricked the king into passing a law that any who wouldn’t worship him should die. Esther, a Jewish woman who was chosen by the king to be his queen, intervened to save her people. Hope in the midst of the ordeal of exile.
When King Cyrus came to rule, the Lord anointed him (Isaiah 45:1, Hebrew term, “messiah”) to restore the Jews to their land and to rebuild their temple (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).
There was always a smaller group of God's people who remained faithful even as others followed the ways of idolatry and injustice. God promised to restore the people if they would reject idolatry and injustice.
The Savior movement of the Bible begins several hundred years after the re-construction of the Temple with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. His ministry lifted the lowly and challenged the powerful, and he revealed to the world a way of love, mercy, faithfulness, and self-giving. This led to his death on the cross, and a resurrection that took away the ultimate power of sin and death.
Key Stories: Jesus is descended from faithful ancestors (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38); Jesus is baptized (Luke 3:1-22; Mark 1:2-11; Matthew 3:1-17); Jesus preaches with authority (Mark 1:21-22; Luke 4:31-37); Jesus performs mighty acts (John 2; John 9:1-12; Mark 5:21-24, 35-43); Jesus tells stories (Matthew 13:31-32 [mustard seed]; Luke 15:8-10 [lost coin]; Mark 4:26-29 [seed that grows]); Jesus shows special concern for the poor (Luke 6:17-21) [beatitudes] Matthew 25:34-36 [to the least of these]; Mark 10:21-22 [sell what you have, give to poor]).
Jesus is descended from ancestors whose lives were witnesses to God’s promise, God’s power, God’s wisdom.
Jesus’ arrival was heralded by the prophet John the Baptist, who told of the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus would continue this theme of the Kingdom in his preaching and teaching.
Jesus taught in the synagogues, in homes, on hills, plains, beaches, and in towns. He spoke to religious leaders and to religious outsiders. He often spoke of God’s vision for humanity as “the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus performed miracles. These miracles demonstrated Jesus’ power and compassion. The miracles often restored those who had been outcast to the community. Jesus’ healing had both physical and social aspects.
Jesus often speaks in parables, telling stories to proclaim the Kingdom of God. His use of imagery from ordinary life dignifies such people and places, and communicates the Gospel in accessible ways.
Jesus teaches more often about money, and people’s relationship with money, than pretty much any other topic. Jesus, standing in the tradition of the law and prophets, is concerned with the welfare of the poor.
Key Stories: Jesus is betrayed (John 18:1-12; Luke 22:47-54); Jesus is tried (Mark 15:1-15; Matthew 27:11-14); Jesus is killed on a cross (Matthew 27:32-44; John 19:16-25); Jesus is buried (Luke 23:50-56; Mark 15:42-47).
One of Jesus’ disciples hands Jesus over to the authorities.
After Jesus is betrayed, the disciples are filled with fear. Peter would deny knowing Jesus three different times.
Jesus goes on trial. Pilate doesn’t want to crucify him, but the crowd insists.
Jesus goes to the place of execution, and is killed alongside some criminals.
He dies on the cross, and is quickly buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea before the start of the Sabbath.
Key Stories: Women discover and tell of Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-10); Jesus appears to his disciples (John 20:19-23; Luke 24:36-43); Jesus promises to come again (John 21:22;Matthew 24:36, 44); Jesus blesses his disciples (Luke 24:50-53; Matthew 28:16-20).
Women go to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for proper burial. There they meet angels and/or Jesus. They go to tell the other disciples about Jesus’ resurrection. They are the first to proclaim the resurrection.
Jesus appears to his disciples several times. He gives them his peace and his spirit. He assures them that he is truly resurrected, even eating with them. He comforts and continues to teach. But, he doesn’t remain with his disciples for long.
Before ascending into heaven, Jesus blesses his disciples.
The Spirit movement of the Bible tells of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ followers, and the growth of the church. The Spirit moves to add believers, to articulate faith in new cultures and challenging situations, and to speak hope in the midst of death and despair.
Key Stories: Holy Spirit given to Jesus’ disciples (John 20:23) The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13)
In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to his disciples before his ascension. With the Spirit is given the power of forgiveness.
In Luke-Acts, which are two parts of one larger story written by the same writer, the Holy Spirit is given after Jesus ascends into heaven. The Holy Spirit gives power to the disciples to proclaim the Good News in various languages and with authority.
Key Stories: Many people come to faith (Acts 2:37-42); The Christians share what they have (Acts 2:43-47); they perform acts of healing (Acts 4:12-16)
The Spirit moved through the disciples and they proclaimed God’s Word and performed mighty acts. Stephen preached the Gospel even as he faced death for being a follower of Jesus. (Acts 7, see especially Acts 7:54-8:1).
The power of the Spirit was also shown in how the early Christian movement grew. As Peter and others preached, many came to join the new Jesus movement.
Another sign of the power of the Spirit was the transformed lives of those who received the Spirit. The early Christians lived lives of radical interdependence, sharing all they had with one another (Acts 2:43-47).
Even though Jesus had ascended into heaven, his healing power continued after the outpouring of God’s Spirit. Peter and the apostles headed many who were sick, in ways reminiscent of Jesus’ own miracles (Acts 4:12-16).
Key Stories: Spiritual Gifts (1 Corinthians 12); God is love; We have been given the Spirit of love (1 John 4); A New Heaven and A New Earth (Revelation 21:1-4, 22-27; 22:1-5);
The Body of Christ is God’s presence in the world. The body has many gifts, activated by the Spirit. God’s Spirit brings people of diverse gifts together. (1 Corinthians 12)
God is love and we have been given the Spirit of love. We share God’s presence through acts of love. (1 John 4)
A vision of God’s presence in the City of God gives hope to God’s people in the midst of suffering. (Revelation 21: 1-4; 22-27; 22:1-5)
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