Living God's Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture

Living God's Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture

by J. Scott Duvall, J. Daniel Hays

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Christians resolved to study the Bible more fervently often struggle to grasp the progression of Scripture as a whole, instead encountering various passages each week through unrelated readings, studies, and sermons. But once they see the Bible as a Great Story, they begin to see how their own lives fit into what God has done and is doing in the world. New


Christians resolved to study the Bible more fervently often struggle to grasp the progression of Scripture as a whole, instead encountering various passages each week through unrelated readings, studies, and sermons. But once they see the Bible as a Great Story, they begin to see how their own lives fit into what God has done and is doing in the world. New Testament scholar J. Scott Duvall and Old Testament expert J. Daniel Hays wrote Living God’s Word to help Christians consider how their lives can be integrated into the story of the Bible, thus enabling them to live faithfully in deep and important ways. They survey the entire Bible through broad themes that trace the progression of God’s redemptive plan. Each section deals with a certain portion of Scripture’s story and includes reading/listening preparation, explanation, summary, observations about theological significance, connections to the Great Story, and written assignments for further study. These features—combined with the authors’ engaging style—make Living God’s Word an ideal introductory college text, Sunday school elective, or small group study.

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Living God's Word

Discovering our place in the great story of Scripture
By J. Scott Duvall J. Daniel Hays


Copyright © 2012 J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-29210-4

Chapter One

CREATION AND CRISIS: Who Am I and What Is Wrong?

Enter Here

Who am I? Why am I here? What is wrong in the world? Who is God? What is he like? What does he want from me? What is the meaning of life? These are critical questions for us. The answers you come up with will shape your life. If you haven't asked these questions yet and thought seriously about the answers, it's time you did. The beginning of the Bible tackles these questions head-on.

Be Prepared

Read or listen to Genesis 1–9, 11.

The Story Begins

The Bible is basically a Story about God and people ... and the often troubled relationship between them. The Story is told through the lives of individual people (Adam, Eve, Abraham, David, Mary, Peter, etc.), but the central plot of the Story is universal in scope and much bigger than just the individual human characters in the Story. It is your Story and my Story as well ... and the Spirit of God invites us into the Story. In other words, this is also a Story about you and God and the relationship you have with him. Hang on to your hat! This is quite a ride! It is a fascinating and exciting Story, and the most important Story in all of human existence. We will call it the Great Story.

As we mentioned in the introduction, most stories have five basic parts or "movements":

1. The story starts out with a description of the setting, including an introduction of the major characters and a description of the initial situation; usually things are going well.

2. Then something happens that produces tension or some type of crisis; often one or more of the characters are threatened.

3. The characters struggle to resolve the crisis or tension (this part usually comprises the majority of the story).

4. The story reaches a climax or critical point where everything comes to a head.

5. The story comes to a conclusion or ending as the tension or crisis is resolved, often leaving the characters better off than in the beginning.

The Great Story follows this same basic pattern. Within the overarching plot of the Story, Genesis 1–11 plays a particularly important role for it covers the first two parts of the Story. Genesis 1–2 presents the description of the setting (God's creation), an introduction to the major characters (God and the people he creates), and the initial positive situation (close fellowship between the presence of God and his people in a wonderful garden).

Genesis 3–11 then describes the disruption of this situation. The people God has created rebel against him and repeatedly disobey him. Thus the close fellowship between people and God is broken and the wonderful life in the garden is lost, to be replaced by separation, disorientation, fear, and death. A crisis arises and there is tension. How will wayward and rebellious human beings ever be reconciled to God and be able to return to a situation of close fellowship and blessing?

Part 3 of the Great Story, the struggle for resolution of the crisis, begins in Genesis 12 as God takes the initiative and begins unfolding his great plan of salvation. The plot for most of the rest of the Story revolves around how God works to resolve the crisis and restore the close relationship between people and God that was enjoyed in the garden. The Story reaches its climax (part 4) in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through whom the resolution comes. The final, ultimate resolution (part 5), however, comes at the very end of the Story (Revelation 19–22) as God puts an end to all evil, death, and alienation and restores his creation. People once again will live a wonderful and blessed life in close fellowship with God in a gardenlike paradise.

God Creates a Wonderful World and Places the First People in a Fruitful Garden

The opening words of the Great Story are profound: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). This is the most basic and foundational description of the setting for the Great Story and how we fit in. The implications of this opening statement are extensive and critical. We learn that God, the central character in the Story, is the Creator. We learn that people, the secondary characters in the Story, are part of the "creation." The most fundamental issues of life and the major questions about the meaning of life are tied up in this verse. If we accept this short opening statement, then a lot of things clear up. Our life will take on a certain ordered existence, much like the move from chaos to order depicted in Genesis 1. Our basic relationship to God will be defined: he is the Creator and we are the "created beings."

The implications are far-reaching. As Creator, God has the right and the authority to rule and to determine what is right and what is wrong, what is pure and what is corrupt, what constitutes obedience and what constitutes disobedience. Furthermore, if we accept this opening statement, we are acknowledging that God is sovereign and powerful, able to intervene in human history in miraculous ways. If we accept Genesis 1:1, we should not have any trouble believing that God parted the Red Sea, that Jesus fed more than five thousand people with two loaves of bread and a few small fish, or that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Genesis 1:1 also serves as a summary statement for the entire creation account of Genesis 1–2. The specific description of the creation actually starts in Genesis 1:2 with the mention of a chaotic watery world. That God creates the world out of "nothing" is certainly implied in Genesis 1, but the actual description in Genesis 1 focuses more on how God separates things, bringing order out of chaos and life out of nonlife. Genesis 1:2 also refers to the "Spirit of God" hovering over the waters. This is an early introduction into the Story of the close connection between God's Spirit and creative power, a theme that runs throughout the Story.

Notice that the creation episode in Genesis 1:2–31 is not told in a cold, boring, or mechanical manner. Rather, it is poetic and lyrical. There is rhythm, structure, and repetition ("evening and morning," "it was good," etc.). This chapter depicts God as totally unconstrained by the "laws" of nature, freely shaping his beautiful creation as an artist creates a painting or sculpture. Furthermore, the unfolding story of creation does not take place in a straight linear fashion but instead consists of two parallel cycles. During the first cycle (days 1–3) God establishes the critical domains of the creation, while during the second cycle (days 4–6) he goes back and establishes the occupants of those domains. This is illustrated by the following chart:

The Domains The Occupants

Day 1 (Gen. 1:3–5) Day 4 (Gen. 1:14–19) God separates light from darkness. God creates the sun, moon, and stars.

Day 2 (Gen. 1:6–8) Day 5 (Gen. 1:20–23) God separates the sky from the sea. God creates birds and fish.

Day 3 (Gen. 1:9–13) Day 6 (Gen. 1:24–31) God separates dry ground from water. God creates livestock, wild animals, and people.

Just as an ancient priestly king might build a temple and then assign positions to people and define their functions, so God creates the world, assigning positions to entities and closely defining their functions. At the end of the creation process and serving as the climactic event, God makes man and woman in his image. A summary of this task is presented in Genesis 1:26–31, and a more detailed account is provided in Genesis 2:4–25. Adam and Eve, the first two human beings, are not associated with any human tribe or race. That is, they are not called Hebrews, Israelites, or some other nationality. Instead they are described as being made "in the image of God." This implies that the "image of God" is "imprinted" on all people, regardless of culture, socioeconomic standing, or ethnicity. Everyone has this special status and value. Being in the image of God suggests that we all are similar to God in several aspects (spiritual, emotional, relational). Furthermore, it suggests that God appoints human beings as his representatives to administer his creation. That is part of their assigned function.

In Genesis 2 God places the first man, Adam, in a lush garden, made even more wonderful with the addition of Eve, the perfect match for him. Indeed, the creation account concludes with the institution of marriage. The man and the woman are together in a perfect match, living in a beautiful, bountiful paradise, and enjoying close personal fellowship in the very presence of God himself. Who could want anything more?

Sin, Rebellion, Separation from God, and Death

Of course, as you know, we spoiled it all. This is the part of the Story that dominates Genesis 3–11. God places his people in a wonderful world and desires for them to live happily in close fellowship with him and with each other. The human response? Genesis 3–11 chronicles four major sinful episodes that characterize the human response to God's great blessing. The result? Sin and rebellion by people against God have consequences. They produce separation from God and antagonism between people. They also result in death. So not only does Genesis 3–11 describe four major, representative sinful responses to God, but it also describes the tragic consequences. Throughout this section people move further and further away from God, scatter further and further away from each other, and die. The paradise is indeed lost. These four sinful responses and their terrible consequences are as follows:

Sinful response #1: Adam and Eve rebel against God's boundaries for life in the garden (Gen. 3:1–24). We believe that Adam and Eve were real people, but their Story, while historical, is also representative for all people. Adam and Eve reflect the attitudes and behavior of all of us. God gives them a great life in the garden. They have each other, close fellowship with God, plenty of delicious food to eat ... the good life! Yet they throw it all away. They fall for the lies and half-truths that the serpent, Satan, tells them, and they eat from the one tree that God had forbidden. When God confronts them with this, they each try to blame someone else.

The terrible consequences of sinful response #1: Sin disqualifies Adam and Eve from living in the paradise and they are banished from the garden. They no longer have the close fellowship with the presence of God that they once had. Driven from the garden, they no longer have food provided for them; now they must work hard in the hot fields to produce food just to stay alive. In fact, they will no longer live forever. Separated from God, death is now their destiny. Life will continue through childbirth, but even that will be difficult and painful.

Sinful response #2: Outside the garden, a man kills his brother (Gen. 4:1–26). Driven from the garden, Adam and Eve start reproducing more human beings. This is a miracle of life and a blessing from God. But how do the people in this new fledgling family society behave? One brother, Cain, kills the other brother, Abel. This is a terrible, yet unfortunately true, foreshadowing of human behavior. The pages of human history are filled with murder and war. Just watch the news. We continue to kill each other with some regularity.

The terrible consequences of sinful response #2: Cain is driven even further away from God, and he is now terrified that other people will try to kill him.

Sinful response #3: Human society embraces wickedness as the norm for behavior (Gen. 5:1–9:29). As the human population grows, the emerging societies accept immoral and unrighteous behavior as the norm. Genesis 6:5 sums up the grim situation: "The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time."

The terrible consequences of sinful response #3: God destroys the world with a flood and starts over with Noah, the one righteous man he could find. Remember that back in Genesis 1 the phrase repeated over and over in reference to the new creation was "God saw that it was good" (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Now, in ironic contrast, God sees "how great the wickedness of the human race had become." The world is not so "good" anymore. So God decides to destroy much of the creation and start over. Genesis 6–9 describes in detail the great flood that God sends. It is important to read this against Genesis 1, for the flood is described in terms that depict it as a reversal of the creation in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1 the waters above and waters below were separated (1:6–7), but now they collapse together into a great flood (7:11). In Genesis 1:9 God commanded the dry ground to appear, but now this is reversed and the dry ground is again covered with water (7:17–20). Most of the life created in Genesis 1 is destroyed and watery chaos returns. But in the midst of this, God preserves Noah and his family, along with representative animals, in the ark, and in essence the world is "re-created" as the waters recede (separate) and the animals and people once again inhabit the dry ground.

Sinful response #4: In defiance of God, people build a great tower to make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:1–9). Unfortunately, Noah's descendants do not remain faithful to God for very long. Soon they reject the reality that they were created in his image and thus are integrally connected to "his name" (1:26–27; 4:26). They desire to be great independently of God and to make their own "name" by which to be identified. They strive to accomplish this by uniting together to build a spectacular tower (probably a temple) that celebrates their own name instead of God's. They want to live separately and independently from God.

The terrible consequences of sinful response #4: God is offended by the tower and he confuses the language of the people (different languages emerge) and scatters this proud people into different groups. Genesis 10 is probably a description of the resultant scattering in Genesis 11:8–9, even though it is presented first. That is, Genesis 11:1–9 explains how the peoples of the world came to be so different and divided as described in Genesis 10.

Aspects of hope: Genesis 3–11 deals primarily with sin, rebellion, and the consequences—separation from the presence of God, enmity between people and God, scattering, death. But sprinkled faintly across this section are also glimpses of hope—short verses that imply something hopeful beyond the judgment and the dire consequences. For example, even as God announces the terrible consequences for Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:14–19), he also decrees judgment on the serpent (i.e., Satan), indicating that through one of Eve's descendants the serpent will eventually and ultimately be crushed and defeated (Gen. 3:15).


Excerpted from Living God's Word by J. Scott Duvall J. Daniel Hays Copyright © 2012 by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

J. Scott Duvall (PhD. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is professor of New Testament at Ouachita Baptist University. He is the coauthor with George H. Guthrie of Biblical Greek Exegesis: A Graded Approach to Learning Intermediate and Advanced Greek and with Terry G. Carter and J. Daniel Hays of the textbook Preaching God's Word: A Hands on Approach to Preparing, Developing and Delivering the Sermon.

J. Daniel Hays (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary; PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is dean of the Pruet School of Christian Studies and professor of Old Testament at Ouachita Baptist University. He is the author of From Every People and Nation, and he has coauthored Grasping God's Word; Preaching God's Word; Journey into God’s Word; The Story of Israel: A Biblical Theology; Iraq: Babylon of the End Times?; Apocalypse; and The Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy. He teaches adult Sunday school at his local church in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and preaches frequently throughout the nation.

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