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90 Days Thru the Bible
A DEVOTIONAL JOURNEY FROM WALK THRU THE BIBLE
By Chris Tiegreen
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2012 Walk Thru the Bible, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter One DAY 1 THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Old Testament can be intimidating, not only because of its size, but also because of its complexity. Some of its stories seem simple, but the lists of laws and rituals and the chronicles of kings and prophets—many of them not presented in chronological order—make for dense reading. Beneath the surface are layers upon layers of meaning that we don't see. The heart of the story can get lost in the details, as can the God who authored it.
When reading the Old Testament story, it's important to look at the way certain characters and themes develop. We see human beings, made in the image of God, become rebels and then wanderers. Out of these disconnected people, God chooses a man, gives him a family, and then grows his family into a nation. After the nation is chosen and cultivated, the people are disciplined harshly for years because they give their hearts to lesser gods, but then they are restored—all of which sets the context for and leads up to a supernaturally new creation.
We can see a story line with God, too—first as Creator, then as Judge, and as powerful Lord. But His more personal characteristics begin to come through as He shows Himself to be a Deliverer, Redeemer, Healer, and Provider. As the story continues, we see God portray Himself not only as Master but also as a gentle Shepherd and a compassionate Father. In the New Testament, this progression of intimacy continues all the way to Friend and then Bridegroom. Again and again, God pursues closeness with His people. What began as a rescue turned into a courtship, a betrothal, and eventually a marriage between the human and the divine. There are times of separation, the greatest of which—an exile—occupies the attention of many of the prophets.
But chastisement is only one side of God's love, and certainly not the dominant side. Throughout the Old Testament, God wants His presence to be known among His people. This connection was broken with the Fall, but the distance was bridged by God's presence in a Tabernacle and then a Temple, and the prophets foretold a time when it would get much closer than that. In every instance, God reveals Himself very personally as someone who zealously wants to be known.
This relationship is a partnership, too, with a mission that begins at Creation—to fill the earth and subdue it—and continues with God's people being set apart for Him as a nation of priests for the world, a light that reflects His glory, and bearers of His truth. This mission develops into a full-blown Kingdom agenda that, at the end of Scripture, involves our not only serving God, but also ruling with Him. This is a God with a purpose.
Central to this purpose, the key to the rescue, is the sacrificial death of God made manifest in human flesh, Jesus Christ. The Crucifixion wasn't a backup plan; it was God's way to achieve His desire for ultimate closeness with us, His creation. God's saving work through the promised Messiah can be seen in virtually every book of Hebrew Scripture—in symbols, signs, and stories, and in living parables that God arranged but whose participants could not have known what they were representing. Everything in Scripture points either toward the coming Messiah (Old Testament) or to the risen and living Lord (New Testament). He is the centerpiece of God's story—God Himself stepping personally into the world He created.
But before God, in flesh and blood, steps into human history, He prepares the way over the course of centuries. He works through His people, speaks through His prophets, and lays out pieces of His plan. He calls and cultivates, chastens and refines, and progressively reveals glimpses of His true nature. Over time, He draws all of His people back to Him.
Questions for Reflection
What first comes to mind when you think of the Old Testament? How important do you think it is to our understanding of the New Testament? Why?
DAY 2 GENESIS 1–3
In a sense, the whole Bible is contained in the book of Genesis. Granted, much of it is veiled—there are only subtle hints of God's plan of redemption and His ultimate purpose for humanity—but the scope of Scripture is remarkably foreshadowed by the fifty chapters of Genesis. The seeds of every major facet of our faith are planted here. We read of a Creator who was greatly pleased with His original creation; we learn why life is so hard now; we get profound pictures of our own struggles in the lives of the people portrayed; we glimpse the big-picture plan of a God who has the whole world on His heart and a particular people in His strategy; we take comfort in the fact that God works through people of enormous dysfunction to accomplish His purposes; we see pictures of the One coming to redeem what was lost; we confront the fundamental questions of life.
Genesis gives us answers to those questions—not complete, systematic answers, but answers nonetheless. Whereas some religions view cosmic history as a never ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and the nonreligious view it as purely a material existence, the Bible tells us that human life has a supernatural beginning, progresses in a linear fashion, and will reach a fulfilling climax that lasts for eternity. There is purpose and direction in this story. Our nagging questions—"Why are we here?" "What is the meaning of it all?" "If there is a God, what is He like?"—are all dealt with coherently. Genesis is the Rosetta stone of the human experience, the key that cracks the code on all the big questions. We still have some interpreting to do, and many details will be filled in later, but the template is there.
It begins with a voice—God's voice speaking into the dark nothingness and creating a vast universe that includes at least one small planet teeming with life. Like an artist's brush, the voice paints light and shadows, colors and continents and seas, plant life and animal life, and the right environment for life to thrive. Then, to form the crowning piece of creation, He breathes life into dust and puts His own image into human beings. At every stage of creation, the artist is pleased with His work. It is good—until He sees that the man is alone. That isn't good. So He creates a companion, another bearer of the image. Now, as male and female together, they reflect the strength and beauty, the power and grace, the conquering and nurturing aspects of God's own character. Human beings are told to fill the earth with plenty of offspring—more pictures of God's image—and to tame the wildness of the world. In other words, the beauty and order of Eden is meant to spread.
But instead of the goodness of the Garden spreading outward into the world, the chaos of rebellion wells up in the form of a deceptive serpent. The tempter casts shadows on God's goodness. Perhaps the good Creator is holding out on His image-bearers. Are they really like Him? Not if they don't have His knowledge, the serpent suggests. Not if He put really good-looking fruit right in front of them and told them not to eat it. Not if His words can be twisted enough to make it seem as if He is keeping secrets that would be good for them to know.
So they eat—first the woman, then the man. And the serpent was right. They know things. They see the distinction between good and evil. Now they can judge right and wrong, each other, and even God. History will now be filled with accusations against God's goodness, all because the image-bearers fell for a lie, invited evil into their own lives, and then turned their newfound ability to judge back at Him. Never mind that their perspective is limited; the world is broken, and they know it. And for generations to come, the bearers of a now-distorted image will wrestle with each other, the world, and the God who created it for allowing the pain and suffering that is now a part of their existence.
Even so, God has a plan. If we read closely enough, we sense that His reaction to the Fall is premeditated, that His plan was already in place. We're told much later in Scripture that the Lamb had been slain from the foundation of the world; the sacrifice for our rebellion was an eternal fact before our rebellion even happened. Just as God knows all our mistakes before we make them and weaves them into His purposes, He knew that this is how His world would turn, and He had already made provision. The rest of Scripture is the story of how that provision unfolds.
Questions for Reflection
How did God demonstrate in Genesis that He had already planned a solution for humanity's fall? Do you think God already has solutions for the crises we face today? Why or why not?
DAY 3 GENESIS 4–11
The pages of Scripture between the Fall and the story of Abraham are few, but they cover thousands of years of human history. Life outside of Eden isn't pretty—brother kills brother; an entire generation becomes so evil that God feels compelled to wipe it out, except for a man named Noah and his family; another curse immediately follows the rescue in the ark, as one of Noah's sons exposes the shame of his father; and a prideful people on the plains of Shinar, one day to be known as Babylon, come together to make a name for themselves and ascend to godly heights. Their tower project is abandoned when God scrambles their languages. Babel becomes a symbol of the futility of human effort, the place where self-exalting plans are foiled. By God's design, history is filled with such frustrations. There is no way to get to God or solve our problems on our own.
We tend to think of the Bible primarily in terms of how it relates to us: what it tells us about ourselves, what it commands us to do, and so on. But it is first and foremost a revelation of God. Think of what God shows us about Himself in just the first eleven chapters of Genesis—primeval history from the moment of creation to God's choice of Abraham as a father of nations. God has incomprehensible power; His spoken words can create entire worlds. He takes great satisfaction in His works—every "it was good" in the Creation story makes that clear. He gets angry over evil and grieves its effects—the fiasco in the Garden of Eden and the events leading up to the Flood show us that. He gives us a sense of His "otherness" in the Creation story and in the fact that He has to "come down" to Babel to see humanity's highest accomplishment. And we see His foresight and His mercy in the fact that He has a redemption plan ready even before His image-bearers distort the image through the Fall. Even before evil's earliest intrusion into His creation, God demonstrates His relentless love. His nature breathes from the pages of this first book of Scripture.
We also learn a lot about ourselves from these first eleven chapters. We know, for example, that we are created in God's own image. In other words, we are uniquely designed to be able to relate to God intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. We can connect with Him at the deepest levels of relationship. Why? Because God apparently wants to share who He is with creatures who can not only appreciate Him—angels can do that, too, to a degree—but also engage with Him in some semblance of a give-and-take dynamic.
We also know that this image was somehow fractured and damaged by human rebellion. Some aspect of our connection with God has been lost, and without it we sink deeper and deeper into skewed perceptions, twisted thoughts, misplaced emotions, and unseemly actions—all driven by a self-centered focus rather than a focus on God.
The result is that we forget the mission humanity was given in the Garden—to fill the earth and subdue it, to spread God's garden outward, to exercise dominion over a world that was once "formless and void"—and we begin pursuing our own agendas and missions. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil has given us heavy doses of independence; that's always a by-product of having confidence in our own knowledge. Carried away as wanderers and estranged from God, we subject ourselves to His opposition, not because He opposes us, but because He opposes the direction we have taken. He judges with a flood because of humanity's thorough corruption. He scatters at Babel because of humanity's attempt to unite and build a monument under the banner of self-made religion. In the first few chapters of Genesis, creation is clearly not fulfilling its purpose. Yet.
Question for Reflection
In what ways does Genesis 4–11 reflect the truth of Romans 8:20-21?
DAY 4 GENESIS 12–24
When primeval history gives way to particular history in Genesis 12, God's story gets much more personal. He chooses a single man named Abraham, makes a covenant with him, and begins to separate people for Himself. This relationship, as well as all relationships with God that follow, becomes the stage for revealing what God is like. Through Abraham, God shows us what it means to hear and know Him, implying that this kind of closeness is open to anyone who seeks it. The patriarchs are clear evidence that God designed human beings for relationship; Abraham becomes a case study in how to become God's friend.
But it's an odd friendship at first. Abraham's story begins with his wife's barrenness and his family's wandering. These are cold contradictions to the original design—fruitfulness and a garden to live in—but they make a perfect environment for a God who wants to restore His people to their design by making promises about descendants and land. How better to show His purposes and power than to take a man with no children and promise innumerable offspring, or to call a drifting nomad into a land to be passed on from generation to generation? God delights in turning contradictions into miraculous fulfillments of His plan.
This is how God works, as we discover throughout history—biblical history and our own personal stories. He steps into our crises and makes them the platform for His displays of character and power. We have needs, He makes promises, and then He fulfills them—sometimes after long and excruciating delays in which our faith stretches and strengthens. Growing in faith and in our relationships with God is a process, and rarely a comfortable one. If we learn anything from the patriarchs in Genesis, it's that being chosen by God is full of both pain and promise.
For Abraham and Sarah, the interplay between pain and promise lasts for the twenty-five years they wait for a son, with lots of questions and missteps along the way—Abraham fails to defend his wife, fathers a son with Sarah's servant, doesn't exactly honor the biological mother of that first child, suggests alternative solutions to God's promise, and laughs when the promise is reaffirmed. Nevertheless, the New Testament commends his faith and tells us he did not waver. When the child of the promise is a young man, Abraham's belief in God's faithfulness must endure the ultimate test—a sacrifice of the only visible means for the promises to be fulfilled: his son Isaac. God appears at times in Abraham's story to be a cruel tease—a promiser who doesn't follow through or a giver who takes His gifts back—yet He makes it clear that He rewards those who believe Him persistently and in spite of appearances. He looks for those who insist on trusting Him even when His will seems to make no sense. Though God certainly knows the story He is writing, Abraham cannot understand the significance of the drama as he offers Isaac—the graphic picture of a Father offering His Son as a sacrifice on a cross centuries later. Still, Abraham's faith has grown to the point of implicit obedience, the kind of obedience that we admire in retrospect but would have condemned in the moment. Surely, a man of faith would realize that God's voice would never order such a brutal act. But it is God's voice, and Abraham complies. He sees beyond the visible. Eternal kingdoms are built on such faith.
Sarah, too, is later commended in Scripture for her faith, even though she has as many struggles with the promise as Abraham does. Like Abraham, she laughs at the promise when it's resurrected after years of waiting and then denies to God Himself that she laughed. God's response—"Is anything too hard for the Lord?"—becomes a foundational issue for all people of faith. Of course nothing is too hard for Him. He can meet the needs of a servant named Hagar as she tries to survive exile in the desert with Abraham's "plan B" son. He can protect Sarah even when Abraham doesn't. He can work our worst mistakes into His plans. He can judge rebellious cities such as Sodom and Gomorrah and still show grace in the midst of the judgment. He sets Himself up for miracles to come—in the formation of the Jewish nation, in the centuries of preparation for the coming of the Messiah, and in our lives today.
Excerpted from 90 Days Thru the Bible by Chris Tiegreen Copyright © 2012 by Walk Thru the Bible, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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