A Guide to Bible Study by J. W. McGarvey

Chapter 4: Outline of the Pentateuch

1. Genesis. It is a singular fact that many of the titles of the Hebrew books are Greek words. This grew out of the circumstance that the ancient Hebrews were not accustomed to giving titles to their books, but when they were translated into Greek, the translators, according to the custom in that language, gave titles to them. The title Genesis (creation) was given to the first book, because it begins with an account of creation.

Starting with a brief account of creation, the first general division of this book gives a very few incidents in the history of our race till the birth of Abraham. This division includes the first eleven chapters. The events which it records are chiefly connected with the increasing wickedness of men by which God was constrained to destroy all except Noah's family in the waters of a flood. After the account of the flood there follows an extremely brief account of the re-peopling of the earth by the descendants of Noah, and of their unwilling dispersion into different communities through the confusion of tongues. In the course of this brief record, we find two genealogies--that of Noah, which is traced back to Adam, and that of Abraham, which is traced back to Noah; and by means of the two we trace back to Adam the ancestry of Abraham. At the close of chapter eleven the narrative changes from a general history of men, to a biography of a single man. This biography of one man, who lived only one hundred and seventy-five years, occupies one and a half times as much space as the previous history of all men. We thus discover that the author's main theme thus far is his account of Abraham, and that the preceding portion was tended chiefly as an introduction to this.

The story of Abraham contains much that is interesting and edifying; and it should be studied in connection with the many references to it in the New Testament, which are all pointed out on the margin of any good reference Bible; but the chief interest in it to the mind of the author of Genesis, seems to be centered upon certain promises made to him by God. One was, that he would give to him and his seed the land of Canaan, in which he was then living as a stranger; another was, that his posterity should be as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands in the seashore; and another, that in him and in his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed. In connection with the second of these, he was commanded to circumcise all the males born in his house, or bought with his money, and was told that this ordinance should be observed by his posterity forever. This rite served to distinguish his posterity among men, so that it might be seen in subsequent generations that God's promise was kept. These promises necessarily looked forward, and the author kept them in mind as he wrote the remainder of this and the other books of the Pentateuch.

In connection with the first of these promises, God told Abraham that before his seed should possess the promised land, they should be in bondage in a foreign land four hundred years, but should come out a great nation, and then take possession of Canaan. The rest of the book is taken up with the various fortunes of his descendants, many of which are thrillingly interesting, till his grandson Jacob, with a family of sixty-eight living descendants, is led by a mysterious chain of providences to take up his abode in Egypt, preparatory to the fulfillment of the last mentioned prediction. The book closes with the death of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob, through whose instrumentality the family had been brought into Egypt, and who in dying spoke of the promised return to Canaan, and gave his brethren charge to carry his bones with them for final burial in that land.

A glance backward will now show the reader that the main design of the author of Genesis was to give the history of Abraham's family down to the migration into Egypt; that the previous account of the whole world was preparatory to this; and all this was preparatory to an account yet to be given of the fulfillment of predictions and promises made to Abraham.

We find that the author goes over in this short book nearly twenty-five hundred years of the world's history; and yet the book, if printed by itself, would be only a small pamphlet.

2. Exodus. This book is called Exodus (going out), because a prominent event in it is the departure of Israel out of Egypt. The name, like Genesis, is Greek. The book is divided into three distinct parts. The first traces the steps by which the Hebrews, whose coming into Egypt was warmly welcomed by the king, were finally brought into bondage; and those by which, under the leadership of Moses, they were delivered after a residence in that land of four hundred and thirty years. Nearly the whole world had at that time fallen into idolatry; and the method which God chose for the deliverance of Israel was also intended to make himself once more known to the Egyptians and the surrounding nations, while it also made him much better known to his own people. Moses was the first missionary to the heathen. The second part shows the wonderful way in which God sustained the people in the wilderness; how he led them to Mt. Sinai; and how he there entered into a covenant with them, and gave them a set of laws, civil and religious, to govern them as a nation. The third part describes a sanctuary, or place of worship which he caused them to erect, and which could be easily moved with them through all of their subsequent journeys. By these events was fulfilled the promise to Abraham, "That nation whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance" {Genesis 15:14}; for the fulfillment of the various promises to Abraham runs like a thread through all the subsequent history of his people.

3. Leviticus. This book is filled with a set of laws, regulating the sacrifices and purifications which were connected with the worship at the sanctuary, together with a few ethical precepts intended to cultivate holiness and righteousness among the people. It is because these ceremonies were to be administered by the priests, the sons of Aaron and other Levites, that the book was named by the Greek translators, Leviticus.

4. Numbers. This name was given from the circumstance that the numbering of Israel twice by the command of God is recorded in it, the first numbering near the beginning, and the second near the close. The book gives an account of the journeyings and other experiences of Israel, during the period of about thirty-eight years, in which they were wandering from Mt. Sinai to the eastern bank of the river Jordan, whence they finally crossed over into Canaan. Many of their experiences were of the most thrilling character, rendering this a most interesting book. In the course of these events many new laws were given, God having reserved these to be given in connection with events which seemed to call for them, and to this make the enactment of them more impressive than it otherwise could be. It was a time of wonderful divine discipline, in the course of which the whole generation of grown persons who crossed the Red Sea perished, with the exception of two, and a new generation was brought up under the training of the Lord. These could be expected to serve God in their new home more faithfully than their fathers would have done. Even Moses and Aaron were among those who died in the wilderness. God had now, according to the promise to Abraham, brought them out of their bondage in Egypt and judged that nation.

5. Deuteronomy. This name means the second law. It was given because the Greek translators found in it a repetition of some laws previously given, and the enactment of some new laws. The main body of the book is made up of three discourses delivered by Moses in the plain of Moab over against Jericho, beginning on the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year, or just two and a half months before the close of forty years since the start out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 1:3). The first discourse, beginning with Deuteronomy 1:6 and closing with Deuteronomy 4:40, would be called, in our modern style, a historical sermon; for it consists in a rehearsal of all the leading events of the previous forty years, with practical lessons drawn from them, and exhortations based on them. It is an admirable specimen of that kind of preaching, and it should be studied as such by the preachers of the present day.

The discourse is followed by a brief statement about the cities of refuge east of the Jordan, and this by a kind of introduction to the second discourse. The second discourse begins with chapter fifth, and closes with chapter twenty-sixth. In it Moses rehearses many of the laws which had been given in the previous years of the wanderings, beginning with the ten commandments; adds a few new statutes; and warmly exhorts the people to keep them all and to teach them diligently to their children. In this discourse, much more than in any other part of the Pentateuch, there is a constant appeal to the love of God as the one great motive to obedience; and the ground of that love is pointed out repeatedly in the unexampled goodness of God toward Israel.

The third discourse, beginning with the twenty-seventh chapter and closing with the thirtieth, is prophetical; proclaiming a long and fearful list of curses which would befall the people if they should depart from the service of Jehovah, and of the blessings if they should be faithful to him.

The last four chapters are occupied with the announcement of the approaching death of Moses; a formal charge to Joshua as his successor; a statement about his committing the law to writing and charging the Levites with its preservation; two poems; an account of his death; and some comments by a later writer on his career.

These discourses and poems, like the exhortation which ends a long sermon, bring the Pentateuch to a most fitting conclusion; for they gather up and concentrate upon the heart of the reader all the moral power of the eventful history from Adam down, by way of exalting the name of Jehovah and filling the hearts of his people with gratitude. Especially was this so with the Israelites who saw in the past the unfolding of God's gracious purposes toward them as declared in his promises to their father Abraham. When Moses disappeared from among them he left them with nothing but the narrow channel of the Jordan between them and the land of promise to which God had now, after dreary centuries, brought them in exact fulfillment of his word. The teaching of that fulfillment constitutes the unity of the Pentateuch.

The time covered by the Pentateuch, according to the figures given on its pages, is 2,760 years. This is nearly twice as much time as is covered by all the rest of the Bible.

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