About two thousand years ago, men began to compose the narratives that have come down to us in the form of the New Testament. Much of what they had to say referred to even older materials that had been passed down from about fifteen hundred years earlier, assuming that Moses authored and/or collected those documents and put them in the form of the Pentateuch. If this was the work of Moses only, then he compiled the collection from even older records. While there are problems of selection, of translation, and so forth, what we have today is a remarkable book. Paul instructed Timothy that all of the scripture we have is useful to us. Even in its antiquity, it is still a record of the dealings of God with man.
Yet many Christians today essentially toss out the older records for a variety of doctrinal or theological reasons. They seem to believe that there is a difference in kind between the God who provided what we call the Old Testament and the One who provided the New Testament. While this may resolve what some perceive as problems of interpretation or theology, it would seem to ascribe the property of inconsistency or schizophrenia to God Himself. It has always seemed to me that this is not a wise course of action. A somewhat more charitable point of view would be to claim that God simply changed His mind or that He had to somehow rescue His plan from failure. Again, however, this explanation seems to me to demean God, which is another course of action that appears imprudent. Arguments about inclusion remain, as do arguments about alternate partial texts. All in all, though, the book stands on its own, and I am happy to leave resolution of those matters to persons far more able than myself.
A long time ago during an interview for a position as a summer missionary to Israel, I was asked the question, “Why does Israel matter to you?” (paraphrased) I know now that I should have expected just such a question, but at the time it surprised me. On the spot, I had to come up with an answer. Interestingly, the answer came to mind immediately. It was simple. Israel matters to me because it is at once the land in which nearly all the activities of the Bible took place and because the people there are very directly descended from the patriarchs. The way I answered the panel was, “Because Israel is the cradle of Christianity.” I had not previously considered such a question, but I still remember my answer today.
I received the appointment that summer, and it was a very meaningful time in my life. At the time, I had basic Sunday School ideas about the land and people of Israel—stories sufficient to support a point of view—but no real knowledge to build on. After I got there, my knowledge bucket started filling faster than I could process it. I went to places where people like King David had gone before me. I stood in the waters of the lake called Galilee and the river called Jordan. I drank water from the brook Elisha changed from salt to fresh. I saw the tomb where Abraham and his family are interred. I went to the top of the mountain called Tabor that many scholars believe was the one upon which Jesus was transfigured to be with Moses and Elijah. I visited many sites at which things are reputed to have happened that really may have happened elsewhere, so I remain not too dogmatic about where a specific event occurred. But in every case, I was near where the event occurred. The people among whom I walked spoke a language resurrected to use after centuries of disuse. They call it Hebrew. These things marked me so deeply that when I returned home I began a lifetime pursuit of knowledge that would enable me to understand (at least to some degree) the total historical context of God’s now written revelation of how we got to this place and time. Intrigued as I was by that ancient language being spoken, I began to take classes and learned the basics of reading and writing biblical Hebrew.
My pursuit has largely been self-guided. I did not attend a seminary or a Bible college, although I almost did at one point. Rather, I pursued a “secular” education and in time began my academic career, which will soon end. All through those years, I pursued the Living God and the contexts and processes of His recorded revelation through the sons of Abraham in their ancestral home. I am an amateur in these matters, although better-read than many who are not considered amateurs. My amateur status accords me a different point of view than that of a Bible scholar. I ask questions that, I assumed, they were already prepared to answer. What I have found over the years is that many of them do not know the answers to some of my questions because they have not heard the questions before. But I persisted in search of knowing these things, wherever that search took me.
When Isaac was asked to leave the land of the Philistines because his success there provoked them to jealousy, he went toward the place his father had long occupied previously, a place called Beer-Sheba. He did not proceed straight there but went in stages over some time. As he began the journey, he found that several of the water wells his father had dug had been filled in by the Philistines. When his servants re-dug the wells, they immediately came into conflict with Philistines who now wanted them. In a couple of cases, his servants dug wells in new places, and the Philistines claimed them too. Finally, he was far enough away from the Philistine cities that no quarrels emerged, and used that to determine the end of his “moving away” from the Philistines, thus “negotiating” a border. It is important to note that he re-dug old wells at the beginning of the process. I don’t mind revisiting old wells if I believe they are important today, even if they have been stopped up by time and theology.
There are many things that have been virtually forgotten over the centuries. Theologians have settled on topics for discourse and discarded others along the way. Today there is a grace to go and re-dig those wells for the truths still deposited in those places—truths that have been forgotten or abandoned in terms of the nourishment they contain for us in this time. This grace of re-discovery challenges me mightily. It has been an avocation of mine for over four decades of my life. It is my contention that in my current stage of life, I have been given part of the responsibility to rediscover much that has been lost, and to re-examine other things to find their relevance anew for the times in which we live.
It is to that end that I have written this study, in two volumes, that deals with the promise God gave to Abraham to make of him a great nation, the precursor of the one about which heaven sings in the fifth chapter of the Revelation. That this is a consistent theme of God is tangible to me. That it was His purpose when the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world indicates a divine will that cannot be commuted. In these works I hope to be able to conduct you through that wondrous start-up in human history. After all, the precursor kingdom was built on a childless, wandering shepherd who was in a land that was not his own, from whom God molded such a mighty work. May you be blessed as you read and consider these things.
I begin with a simple, but very important idea. That idea is that God could do this thing however He willed, but chose to do it by building on the relationship between a father and a son. After all, it was in the divine mind of a Father and a Son to begin with.