The Bible tells one big story, made up of sixty-six individual books. It was written in three different languages by forty different authors on three different continents over a period of about 1,500 years. Yet, the message is consistent, and the story is cohesive.
To help keep the big picture of the biblical narrative in view, we are going to do an overview of the entire Old Testament before diving into the New Testament. Having the macro scale of the story fresh in our heads will help us understand and appreciate the significance of the events described in the book of Matthew.
The Bible narrative begins by introducing the creator God, Yahweh, who made the universe and everything in it, and of his relationship with humans, who were created with a unique design and purpose.
In Genesis 1, we get the following description of God creating humans:
Genesis 1:26–28 CSB
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image;
he created him in the image of God;
he created them male and female.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
Humans were created as image-bearers of God.
This means they were meant to represent God, by reflecting his nature, and ruling creation by his authority. They were given a specific mission: to be fruitful and multiply, and to rule the earth. This is a very important thing to remember as we continue through the story.
Towards the end of chapter 1, we see that when God finished his work, God’s creation, including humans, was not just good, it was very good.
Genesis 1:31 CSB
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day.
But God’s creation did not remain in an ideal condition.
Remember, God gave Adam and Eve a specific purpose. He told them what they must do. But, he also gave them one command about something they must not do:
Genesis 2:15–17 CSB
15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
Genesis 3 introduces an enemy, a mysterious serpent, who is on a mission to corrupt God’s creation. He uses crafty words, and manipulates the humans’ desires, and convinces Eve to distrust and betray God by taking and eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and bad.
Eve, in turn, convinces Adam to do the same.
This disobedience to God brought about immediate consequences.
Genesis 3:7–8 CSB
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
The humans fractured their relationship with each other. They saw their nakedness as something to cover up. Then they started the blame game and refused to take responsibility for their actions - Adam blamed God for giving him Eve and Eve blamed the serpent.
They also fractured their relationship with their creator. Instead of enjoying God’s presence, they were afraid of what he might do to them. Instead of walking and talking with Yahweh in the Garden, they hid from him.
The consequences of this event, which is often referred to as the fall, demonstrate how the bad things of this world are a result of our selfish desires and disobedience to God’s commands. From that point on, all of creation suffered the consequences of Adam and Eve’s actions.
But God showed his compassion for Adam and Even by seeking them out. He went looking for them when they hid. He gave them a chance to confess their wrongdoing by asking them what they had done.
They confessed, and God forgave them.
Genesis 3:21 CSB
21 The Lord God made clothing from skins for the man and his wife, and he clothed them.
God made the first animal sacrifice to help cover the shame of humans and restore some sense of dignity to them. In doing this, God demonstrated his compassion on them as well as his desire to continue in relationship with mankind.
However, life on earth would forever be different:
Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden, an ideal garden home, full of abundance, into a world of chaos and struggle.
They would toil for what they need in life, suffering pain and hardship.
They would struggle with their desire to see and take things for themselves, defining truth, goodness, and wisdom on their own terms, instead of trusting Yahweh their creator to teach and lead them as they walk with him.
Because of Adam & Eve’s failure to trust God, and instead follow their own desires, humans ever since have inherited distrust, broken relationships with each other, separation from God, and ultimately death.
In the meantime, realize that God never actually fired them from their original mission, or took back their original purpose. They were still meant to be image-bearers and rulers of creation, but they made it very difficult for themselves to do so, and ultimately were incapable of truly fulfilling that purpose.
Nevertheless, God didn’t give up on them. He still wanted them as partners, and was willing to fix the situation himself.
God made a promise in Genesis 3:15 that one day He would provide a way for the curse to be lifted.
Genesis 3:14–15 CSB
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:
Because you have done this,
you are cursed more than any livestock
and more than any wild animal.
You will move on your belly
and eat dust all the days of your life.
15 I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
The promise was that someday, there would be a descendant of the woman (a seed) who would defeat the enemy and restore people’s relationships with each other and with God.
Throughout the story of the Old Testament, while several people provide glimpses of hope, nobody actually fulfills that promise.
However, a very important term emerges: Messiah.
This term simply means “Anointed one.” “Anointing” was a ritual involving oil, and it was to officially indicate that someone had been chosen or set a part for a specific task. The prophets anointed kings that God had chosen, and High Priests were anointed when selected for their duty.
There are many “anointed ones” in the Old Testament, mostly priests and kings, but none of them are able to overcome the problem of sin and death.
I know we’re jumping ahead a bit, but it’s important to recognize this pattern that begins with the promise in the garden: humans would from that point on be looking for a messiah: a human to be chosen by God, to be both a priest and a king, to make a way to restore what was lost in the fall.
Alright, returning to the narrative, if you keep reading in Genesis after the fall in chapter 3, what follows is a tragic downward spiral of human depravity, as the effects of sin continue to wreak havoc on their relationships with God and each other.
In Genesis 4, we see the full extent of the breakdown of the family unit and the badness of mankind. Cain and Abel (the sons of Adam and Eve) brought sacrifices to God. God accepted Able’s and did not accept Cain’s. Cain got really upset!
Genesis 4:6–8 CSB
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? 7 If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” 8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
God confronts Cain and he outright LIES to God and is cursed and banished to the East of Eden. He was even more distant from God than before. But God protected him from being killed for his actions:
Genesis 4:15 CSB
15 Then the Lord replied to him, “In that case, whoever kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” And he placed a mark on Cain so that whoever found him would not kill him.
So the spiral of death, destruction and disregard for God that started with Adam and Eve is multiplied with Cain. That downward spiral continued and gained momentum.
In chapter 4 we also get a snapshot of one of Cain’s descendants, Lamech. He was Cain’s great, great, great, great grandson, and he’s a great example of that downward spiral. Lamech is the first guy on record to take more than one wife. And it literally describes him as “taking” or “acquiring” them.
He was also a violent man and a very arrogant man.
Genesis 4:23–24 CSB
23 Lamech said to his wives:
Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
wives of Lamech, pay attention to my words.
For I killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
24 If Cain is to be avenged seven times over,
then for Lamech it will be seventy-seven times!
In his arrogance he even goes so far as to take the words of God and say that he can do better! If God said THIS about Cain, then I say THIS about myself! He’s bragging about how he’s even more violent than Cain was!
Adam and Eve had another child, Seth. And from this line we find hope. Seth has a descendant, Enoch, who walked so closely with God that God just took him away. This is the first person we read of that avoids the punishment of death.
Enoch was the father of a DIFFERENT Lamech, and that Lamech had a son, Noah.
Genesis 5:28–29 CSB
28 Lamech was 182 years old when he fathered a son. 29 And he named him Noah, saying, “This one will bring us relief from the agonizing labor of our hands, caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.”
THIS Lamech was looking for the human that would undo the curse that came from the fall. But while there is some hope in God’s promise, there is a very ugly reality of the violence and wickedness that was multiplying on the earth:
Genesis 6:9–13 CSB
9 These are the family records of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among his contemporaries; Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah fathered three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with wickedness. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth was, for every creature had corrupted its way on the earth. 13 Then God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to every creature, for the earth is filled with wickedness because of them; therefore I am going to destroy them along with the earth.
It got so bad that God wiped out everyone but Noah and his family by flooding the earth. After that, God promised he would put up with humans even though he knew their hearts would always be corrupt.
Genesis 8:20–21 CSB
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord. He took some of every kind of clean animal and every kind of clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 When the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, he said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground because of human beings, even though the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth onward. And I will never again strike down every living thing as I have done.
In the meantime, Noah’s sons did begin the work of repopulating the earth, but unfortunately the spiral of sin repeated itself, culminating in the story of the Tower of Babylon (Babel). Humans had organized themselves enough to build cities, and form technologies like the brick, to create large structures. And that in itself wasn’t a problem, the problem was the motives and desires they had which led to them building this large tower. Basically, they wanted to, instead of representing God as image bearers, become their own gods and assert their own power and authority over those around them, instead of doing thing’s God’s way.
God puts an end to this, not by destroying them, but by breaking them up. He confuses their language so they can’t communicate with each other, and they are forced to scatter to different regions of the earth, which they were supposed to do in the first place.
Babylon did still end up becoming a large and powerful city, though. And Babylon continues to represent sin and opposition to God throughout the rest of the story.
Eventually, God selected a man named Abram, who was from the region of Babylon. He called Abram out of Babylon, and said that through Abram, God would display his generosity and power, and eventually bless everyone else through Abram’s descendants.
He made a promise to Abram, a covenant:
Genesis 12:1–3 CSB
1 The Lord said to Abram:
Go from your land,
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you.
2 I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
When God said, “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” God was reminding Abram of the promise of the Messiah. He would be a descendant of Abram to restore God’s relationship and blessings to mankind.
God did bless Abram. He changed his name to Abraham (which means “father of many”) and made him the father of an entire nation. They were God’s chosen people and experienced a relationship with God like no other group on earth.
Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Normally, it would be the firstborn to carry on the father’s inheritance and blessing, but it was Isaac who was chosen to carry on this covenant.
Isaac also had two sons, Jacob & Esau. The promise of their grandfather ended up being passed down to Jacob, and God changed HIS name to “Israel.” It was his descendants who would become known as the people, the nation, of Israel.
Israel had 12 sons, and each of those 12 sons and their descendants became known as the 12 “tribes” of Israel.
One of his sons, Joseph, was his favorite, and he got special treatment, which didn’t go over very well with his brothers. They ended up selling him as a slave and he was taken away from their homeland, into the kingdom of Egypt.
It’s a tragic story, which gets even worse when Joseph is falsely accused and thrown into prison. But God uses Joseph in Egypt. He raises him out of the depths of darkness, the pit of prison, and sets him at the right hand of Pharoah, the king of Egypt.
In this place of power, Joseph is able to save his family when a famine strikes. It starts with a dramatic reunion with his brothers, when they come begging for food and don’t recognize him, he eventually reveals himself and acknowledges that everything that took place was all a part of God’s plan:
Genesis 45:4–8 NLT
4 “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. 5 But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. 6 This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. 8 So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.
The story of Joseph is awesome, in many ways, but it’s especially significant that he is a messiah figure, someone who was chosen by God, and rescues Israel’s family. He foreshadows what the ultimate Messiah would look like, and in the meantime ensures that God’s covenant promise to Abraham could still be fulfilled over the course of the next few generations. Joseph ended up bringing the whole family to Egypt, where they prosper and multiply, and become an entire people group.
Eventually, they became so large, and Joseph became such ancient history, that Egypt became threatened by Israel’s presence in their kingdom. The king of Egypt oppressed and enslaved the people of Israel, and violently suppressed their population.
Israel needed to be rescued once again. They needed to return to the land which was promised to their ancestor Abraham, and they cried out to God for help.
God heard their cries, and chose a man named Moses to overcome Pharoah, lead them out of Egypt, and reacquaint them with himself, Yahweh, the God of their ancestors.
The “fall” separated us from God. Through Abraham, God initiated a restoration of that relationship, and through Moses, he took it a step further.
Throughout the epic story of the Exodus, Moses becomes the first great example of an “image bearer” since the fall. He reflected God more than anyone ever had before, and through his relationship with God, brought God’s blessing to all the people of Israel.
One of the most profound ways God blessed them was by being with them, and providing a way for humans, despite their sinful nature, to be with God. Since the fall, God had distanced himself from mankind because a holy God cannot live among sinful people. Through Moses, a new covenant was established, building on the promise to Abraham, this time it was a two-way promise. God provided a way for mankind to obey Him and to purify themselves through sacrifices, and as long as they maintained their end of the covenant, God would once again dwell among them, and bless them, and bring them into a land of abundance and prosperity. In many ways, it was a promise of a return to Eden.
As part of this agreement, the Israelites constructed a tabernacle—a mobile, temporary “dwelling place” for God while they were nomads in the wilderness. They understood that God wasn’t actually restrained to that tent, but it symbolized his presence, and it was where God manifested his glory, in a shrouded way, to prove that he was with them.
Exodus 40:34 CSB
34 The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
It was at that time that the priests were established as spiritual leaders and intercessors for Israel. Moses’s brother Aaron, from the tribe of Levi, was chosen as the first high priest, and his descendants became the priesthood. They took care of the tabernacle, and later the temple, and oversaw all the sacrifices, curating the entire covenantal system.
That sounds really nice, but from the very beginning, the Levitical priesthood was a disaster! Aaron led the people into idol worship, breaking rule #1 of the covenant, while Moses was still up on the mountain talking to Yahweh! It was a mess. And it cost them dearly.
But God did have mercy on them, because Moses interceded for them, and eventually the next generation would be allowed to enter the promised land.
Moses himself, as shining of an example as he was, still messed up in many ways, and as a result of one of his failures, he was not allowed to enter the promised land with Israel.
In his place, Joshua became the next leader of Israel, and finally led them across the Jordan, and in their conquest of the land. After defeating their enemies, they established their cities and towns by clans.
Moses and Joshua were great leaders, but they were NOT kings. In fact, for a long time Israel never had any king. That’s not how God designed their community to exist. That said, there were times when the people did need leadership.
In those times, God raised up people called judges, who led the people in civic and military matters. God raised them up to serve a variety of different needs in a variety of different roles. We went through the story of Gideon together, one of the most significant judges, but there were many others as well.
One unique aspect of the judges is that they were hand-picked by God with a specific calling. They did not inherit their position through bloodlines. This was VERY different from the way every other nation around them operated; everyone else had kings and queens who ruled and had dynasties.
Well, eventually Israel felt left out and demanded to have a king too.
Through Samuel, Yahweh granted their request and gave them Saul. Samuel warned them that it was a bad idea, but God already KNEW they were going to demand this, so he had already given them guidelines through Moses:
Deuteronomy 17:14–20 NLT
14 “You are about to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ 15 If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner. 16 “The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ 17 The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself. 18 “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. 20 This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.
Well, Saul worked out well for a short time, but it didn’t take long before he decided to do things his own way instead of obeying God, and because of that God took away the kingship from his bloodline. He sent Samuel to anoint someone else from a different family altogether. David, from the tribe of Judah.
David eventually became king, and through him we once again get a glimpse of messianic hope. He was “a” messiah, an anointed one, and brought great prosperity and success to Israel. He established a strong kingdom, with Jerusalem as their capital city, and through him God’s presence was made known inside of Israel and outside of Israel.
He also messed up big time, which sent a shock wave of destruction through his family, and disqualifies him from being THE ultimate messiah who could defeat even sin and death.
Nevertheless, God did establish yet another covenant through David, saying that through David’s bloodline a permanent, eternal, unshakable kingdom would be established.
David’s son Solomon built a more “permanent” structure to “house” God’s presence in Jerusalem. A beautiful, ornate temple where people could worship Yahweh and offer sacrifices to maintain their relationship with him.
Solomon also brought unprecedented wealth and abundance to Israel, and it felt like the return to Eden was being fulfilled through Solomon, the temple, and their prosperity.
Unfortunately, the bliss was short-lived, as Solomon fell into every single one of the downfalls we just read through in Deuteronomy. Eventually that leads to the kingdom splitting in two, a fractured kingdom and a fractured people. Some still followed Yahweh, but many chose to follow other gods.
The rest of the Old Testament is filled with more of this pattern of Israel’s kings and people both following and failing God: trusting him, then betraying him to follow other gods; worshipping him, then worshipping themselves as gods. The effects of the fall seem to be unstoppable.
It’s yet another downward spiral, leading to another “flood” of sorts. God hands them over to their own desires. They follow the gods of other nations, and Yahweh allows those nations to defeat Israel and take them away from their land, in a period called the “exile.” BUT he preserves a remnant. Again.
Throughout this entire period of kings and exile, God used the prophets as his chosen or anointed ones to bring the message of God to the people. Some brought messages of judgement. Others brought messages of hope.
Isaiah 53 is a chapter of hope that talks about the one who will come and undo the fall. SO MUCH of Isaiah’s writings talk about the reason a Messiah is needed.
And the prophets give us a reminder of the promise of God from Gen 3:15 and encourage us not to lose hope:
Isaiah 61:1–3 CSB
1 The Spirit of the Lord God is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and freedom to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of our God’s vengeance;
to comfort all who mourn,
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion;
to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair.
And they will be called righteous trees,
planted by the Lord
to glorify him.
There will be a day that the glory will be restored, where the beauty of creation, the majesty of the Creator and the mission of the created are all returned to their former glory.
But, we get to the end of the Old Testament, and that day still hasn’t come.
The Old Testament ends with God’s people, the Jews, scattered and defeated, distant from God and waiting for him to fulfill his promise of the Messiah. It’s a depressing, anticlimactic, unresolved cliffhanger of an ending!
The book of Malachi contains the very last writings of the Old Testament (both chronologically and how they’re organized in your Bible). It is NOT a comforting book. It reads more like a legal brief of charges against Israel. At the end of Malachi, we read this:
Malachi 4:1–6 CSB
1 “For look, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the Lord of Armies, “not leaving them root or branches. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall. 3 You will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing,” says the Lord of Armies. 4 “Remember the instruction of Moses my servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
There is a promise of judgment against the wicked and blessings for those who follow God. A promise that God will send another prophet to prepare the way.
Notice, too, that in verse 6 the results include the restoration of families! It’s a hyperlink back to the fall and a foreshadowing of the ultimate Messiah to come.
The words of Malachi were written around 450 BC.
Though humans were given everything, they messed it up. The Old Testament shows us the patience and compassion of God with a people who continually get it wrong. In his justice, we see God handing humanity over to their own evil desires, and in his mercy we see God relentlessly pursuing his creation to restore what was lost in the garden.
But, again, it ENDS without resolution! There is about a 450 year pause where we do not hear from God, and then we have the New Testament events.
Much like a season finale, we have a plot that is unresolved and we have to wait for the hero to arrive and resolve it.
That man was made to reflect God, rule with God and recreate like God - and we messed that up and now we suffer fractured relationships with each other, separation from our creator God, and ultimately death. Left to our own, we will live for selfish, evil and even destructive purposes. But God, in his great compassion, has promised that there will be a human (seed of the woman) that will come and undo what has been done, restoring relationships, reconciling us to God and bringing LIFE.
Of course, that’s where Jesus comes in, and we’re excited to dive into that next week.
But for now, that wraps up our review of the Old Testament! This may have been a LOT to take in, for some of you! But, our goal over the last few years has been to make the Old Testament stories a little more familiar, our understanding of them a little more rich, and to piece together the entire Old Testament as a cohesive story. If you’ve been with us that whole time, or even part of it, then hopefully this review was not too overwhelming; hopefully it was, in fact, a review! A reminder of where we’ve been, and a chance to see it all together.