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|Bible Old Testament: Pentateuch (Torah)
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1989, 1999
Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using The New International Version Study Bible (NIV translation 1973--84, published Zondervan 1985). Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary--thus the notes reflect the devoutly evangelical flavor and point of view of that commentary. Other sources are explicitly cited below.
The first five books of the Bible ("The Books") are termed the Pentateuch (also the Torah or the "Law") and are traditionally said to have been written by Moses after the forty year period in the desert c. 1406. Others date these books to much later and deduce multiple sources: "Jahweh / Elohim / Deuteronomic / Priestly", etc.
"Birth" or "History of Origin": It covers the period c.2500- c. 1406. It speaks of beginnings and is firmly monotheistic. The origin of sin and man's fall from grace are attributed to the act of the woman Eve. It explains the origins of the peoples of the Middle East and establishes the chosen lineage through Seth to Shem (Semites) to Eber (Hebrews) to Abraham and Israel.
God creates the heavens and the earth; day and night; the sky, seas, and dry ground; vegetation; the sun, moon, and stars; living creatures; and man (in his own image). God creates man from the dust and then, using a rib from Adam, creates Eve as a helper, saying "a man will...be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." Because Eve eats of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they lose their innocence and are ashamed of their nakedness. God curses the serpent [Satan] and foretells painful childbirth for women and painful toil for men, ending with a return to the dust from which they came. Cain slays his brother Abel and asks "Am I my brother's keeper?".
God punishes the wickedness of man with the great flood but covenants with the righteous Noah to save his family from destruction. Noah is told not to eat meat with blood in it. The rainbow will serve as the sign of God's covenant to never use massive flood to destroy all of mankind again.
A confusion of languages arise from the Tower of Babel episode. Terah, Abram's father, migrates from Ur of the Chaldeans (in Mesopotamia) to Haran. Abram is called by God to "go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you...." In Canaan, God says to Abram "To your offspring I will give this land." Because of famine, he is driven to Egypt, later returning to Canaan. He divides the land with his nephew, Lot, who selects the plain of the Jordan including Sodom and Gomorrah while Abram keeps Canaan. After Lot is captured, Abram rescues him and gives thanks by tithing one-tenth to Melchizedek, the king-priest of [Jeru]salem. God promises to Abram innumerable descendants. Abram expresses his faith in God: "Abram believed the Lord and he [God] credited it to him as righteousness." But God also warns him of four hundred years of enslavement of his people to come.
God again covenants with Abraham: "You will be the father of many nations.... The whole land of Canaan...I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." Abram sleeps with his maid Hagar and she bears Ishmael, "a wild donkey of a man" [and the ancestor of the Arabs]. The covenant requires circumcision of every male.
God destroys the wicked Sodom and Gomorrah after his angels are threatened by the local homosexual men but spares Lot and his relatives (his wife is turned to a pillar of salt for looking back). Lot's incest with his daughters yields the Moabites and the Ammonites. God also causes Sarah to conceive Isaac despite their great age. She expels Ishmael and his mother and they travel to the Sinai desert. God tests Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, which Abraham would do willingly. Isaac travels to Mesopotamia to find a wife, encountering Rebekah with a jar on her shoulder.
In old age, Isaac is deceived by the second-born Jacob to bless him over his first-born brother Esau, saying "Be lord over your brothers...." Jacob also goes to Mesopotamia to find a wife, bringing back Leah and Rachel. God wrestles with Jacob on the road at night and renames him Israel ("he struggles with God"). Jacob's favorite son Joseph flees to Egypt after his brothers try to sell him in into slavery [this is probably during the reign of the Semitic Hyksos tribes in Egypt]. After he interprets the Pharaoh's dreams correctly and attains prominence and favor, the others of the twelve tribes of Israel (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Joseph's sons Manasseh and Ephraim, Benjamin, and Naphtali) follow during a time of famine. Jacob blesses his sons in Egypt and predicts their future, saying of Judah "You are a lion's cub, O Judah.... The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his." Joseph reassures his brothers and reminds them of God's promise to return them to "the land he promised" after which he, like Jacob, dies in Egypt.
"Exit or Departure": It tells of the flight of the Israelites from bondage under the Egyptians into the desert under the leadership of Moses (1446 or 1290). But embedded in this narrative is a foundational theology in which God reveals his name, his attributes, his redemption, his law, and how he is to be worshipped. Redemption and salvation from sins are emphasized.
The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt. The Pharaoh plans to kill every Hebrew newborn. The infant Moses is placed in a papyrus basket in the Nile by his mother; eventually he is raised by the Pharaoh's daughter as her son. Moses grows up to be a leader and flees to Midian to escape execution, where he marries Zipporah. The Lord appears to Moses at Horeb, the mountain of God, in a burning bush and appoints him to lead his people from Egypt into "a land flowing with milk and honey." (God refers to himself as
"I AM" and is to be called in Hebrew Yahweh= "He is" or "He will be"). The Lord makes Moses' brother Aaron his prophet and head priest--his staff becomes a snake in front of the Pharaoh. Plagues of blood in the Nile, frogs, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and finally the plague on the firstborn sons convince the Pharaoh to let them go. The last plague occurs at night, sparing the Israelites (an event subsequently commemorated in the Passover, in which a Passover lamb is to be sacrificed and bread is to be unleavened).
They are led by the Lord in the form of a pillar of cloud and, at night, a pillar of fire. The Pharaoh later attempts to recapture them but is foiled when the Lord divides the waters at the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds). Moses and Miriam give songs of thanks to the Lord.
The Israelites are subsequently nurtured in the desert by quails and manna [a sweet bread-like material; ?aphid secretions] for forty years. Moses strikes a rock at Horeb that yields water, renaming the site Meribah and Massah. The Amalekites attack and are defeated by Joshua at Rephidim. Moses' father-in-law Jethro joins him, bringing to him his wife and sons and counsels Moses to appoint leaders and judges to divide up the duties.
The Lord affirms to Moses on Mt. Sinai "`Now if you obey me fully and obey my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.... You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'" Moses receives the ten commandments: "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol...for I...am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of their fathers;... You shall not misuse the name of the Lord;... Remember the Sabbath;... Honor your father and your mother;... You shall not murder;... adultery;... steal;... give false testimony;... covet...anything that belongs to your neighbor.'" God also gives other laws and expands on the Ten Commandments ("The Book of the Covenant"): Hebrew servants must be freed after seven years and daughters cannot be sold to foreigners; justice for domestic violence and stealing; protection of property; social responsibility; justice and mercy; laws of the Sabbath, and the three annuals Festivals. The promised land will extend from "the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the [Negev] desert to the [Euphrates] River." The Israelites accept the terms of the covenant.
Moses returns to Mt Sinai for forty days and nights, during which God instructs him in: how to create the Ark of the Covenant [Testimony], the Table, the Lampstand, the Tabernacle, the Altar, priestly garments including the ephod, the consecration of the priests, and other rituals. The Ten Commandments (called in Greek the Decalogue; also called the Testimony referring to "covenant stipulations") are inscribed by God in duplicate on two clay tablets which are to be placed in the Ark.
But meanwhile the Israelite's have run wild and engaged in idolatry with a golden calf made by Aaron. Moses persuades God to spare them and then angrily destroys the clay tablets and the golden calf. The Levites rally to Moses' side and agree to punish the errant Israelites, even their own kinsmen, and three thousand die. Moses tell the Levites "You have been set apart to the Lord today..." God brings on a plague as furthur punishment. Moses again ascends Mt. Sinai and the Lord appears to him, renewing the previous covenant and inscribing the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. Moses returns to the Israelites with a radiant face and reviews again the Lord's commandments with them.
The Tabernacle and its furnishings are constructed and outfitted appropriately. Moses places the Testimony in the ark and the glory of the Lord fill the tabernacle.
"Relating to the Levites": It concerns the service of worship to be performed in the tabernacle [by the priestly tribe, the Levites, as designated in "Numbers"]. God requires Israel to lead a life of holiness: "Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy."
It prescribes animal sacrifices, various offerings including the sin offering, and the priests' share of offerings. Aaron and his sons are ordained but Nadab and Abihu subsequently die before the Lord because they incorrectly offer fire with incense in censers to the Lord. Regulations are given concerning unkempt hair; abstinence from alcohol; clean and unclean food (certain foods are proscribed: animal fat, blood, pigs, camels, finless and scaleless water animals, flying insects, other animals that move about on the ground); purification after childbirth; infectious skin diseases and discharges; mildew; the annual Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur] (on which a sacrificial scapegoat ["goat of removal"] is to be released into the desert to bear the sins of the nation; unlawful sexual relations and other practices; punishments for various sins; feasts and other sacred days (including the Feast of Weeks [Pentecost], Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Trumpets [Rosh Hashanah, using the shophar or ram's horn], Tabernacles, and Sacred Assembly); rules for priests; unacceptable sacrifices; the Sabbath day and year; the Jubilee (the 50th year, in which everyone is to return to his own land, the poor are to be redeemed, and "liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants" is to be proclaimed); the festivals; the tithes, etc.
So named in the Septuagint because of the census of the tribes, it tells of 38 years wandering in the desert after the establishment of the covenant of Sinai and of the reluctance of the rebellious Israelites to undertake the conquest of Canaan. The wrath of God that results from disobedience is again revealed to his chosen people.
The Israelites take a census at God's request. Aaron and his remaining son Eleazar and Ithmar are the anointed priests in charge of the sanctuary; the tribe of Levi is to assist the Aaronic priests in priestly duties and be given wholly to God: "...Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary will be put to death." The Levites are to receive all the tithes.
The Lord states a test for an unfaithful wife, the Nazirite vow (in which an especially devout man does not shave or cut his hair), and the cleaning of the dead. Moses receives the Aaronic benediction: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace [shalom]." They celebrate the Passover for the second time. Two silver trumpets are made that will lead them into all battles.
They leave Sinai and begin to complain of the hardships. They are tired of the manna and want meat, upon which quail again appear. But the Lord is angry and brings a plague on them. Miriam and Aaron plot against Moses and God makes her leprous in punishment.
Men are sent to explore Canaan but after they return, many of the people express unwillingness to attack Canaan. Because of their lack of faith, God condemns them to remain as shepherds in the desert for another forty years. Of those over twenty, only Joshua and Caleb will survive to enter the promised land. They launch an futile invasion but are repulsed by the Amalekites and Canaanites. The Lord describes more offerings to be made. A man breaks the Sabbath by gathering wood and must die (according to the Lord)--he is stoned by the people. Korah and others rebel against Moses and they are swallowed up when the ground splits apart. False priests are consumed in flames, confirming that only the descendants of Aaron should burn incense before the Lord. Many more die from a plague. Aaron's staff, representing the Levites, buds and blossoms. The Aaronic priests are to be the high priests, responsible for offenses against the priesthood, and they alone may go near the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, assisted at a distance by other Levites. The Levites will own no land but will receive all tithes as their inheritance, of which the best one tenth must be sacrificed to the Lord through Aaron.
Moses again responds to the peoples need for water and the Lord's instructions by striking a rock, from which issues the waters of Meribah. But God is displeased that Moses did not speak first to the rock as requested and as a result he tells Moses that he will not be allowed to enter the promised land.
Edom refuses passage to Israel. Aaron dies and is succeeded by Eleazar. The Canaanite king and his followers are destroyed. The Israelites complain in the desert and God sends venomous snakes against them--they are spared by looking at a bronze snake placed on a pole by Moses. The Amorites are conquered and settlements established in their land. Balak the king of Moab summons the false prophet and pagan diviner Balaam and his more perceptive donkey; his four oracles to Balak reveal to the pagans God's love and praise of the Israelites as well as the Lord's kingship and ultimately the coming Messianic ruler: "A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel."
But Moab women seduce the Israelites and they turn to Baal worship. The priest Phinehas slays with a spear the adulterous Israelite Zimri and the Midianite woman with him. The second census is taken. The daughters of Zelophedad, who after their father's death have been left without property, seek justice. Moses allows them to retain their inheritance of land, as long as they marry within their own tribe, and provides other laws of inheritance. Joshua is selected as successor to Moses. The rituals of the Sabbath and other offerings are again described as well as the feasts. The Lord through Moses provides rules on vows: A man taking a vow to the Lord or pledging himself must not break his word (but a woman's similar vow may be nullified by her father or husband).
They attack and slay the Midianites, sparing only the virgin women, and divide the spoils. The tribes Reuben and Gad settle Transjordan (Jazer, Gilead, etc) but agree to help in the conquest of Canaan. God commands the Israelites to drive out all the current inhabitants of Canaan and to destroy their idols and altars. The boundaries of Canaan are detailed. The six cities of refuge are named--cities in which men accused of murder may live in safety awaiting trial--and rules for handling the accused are given. The Levites will receive towns spread throughout the land.
"Repetition [Copy] of the Law": It is so named because it repeats much of the Law already stated. Its repetitiveness suggests a compilation of more or less extemporaneous addresses but it also is a covenant renewal document.
As his followers prepare to cross the Jordan, Moses recounts their journey and their goal, the rebellion, the wandering in the desert, the battles, the division of the land, God's prevention of Moses from crossing the Jordan, the ban on idolatry, God's selection of the chosen people and their need to uphold the covenant, and the Ten Commandments. He commands "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." He restates the command to destroy the current inhabitants of Canaan and the prohibition on intermarriage (but women captured outside of Canaan may be married). "Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." Moses restates many of the prohibitions and ritual requirements, feasts, etc. and commands "...Fear the Lord your God.... Love the Lord your God...." He predicts that "the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet [Jesus?] like me from among your own brothers" and he states how to distinguish a false prophet from a true one. Transvestism is forbidden. A nonvirgin woman marrying as a virgin may be stoned. Moses predicts Israel's future rebellion and prostitution to foreign gods and the dire consequences that will follow: They will be scattered among all nations, but God will "gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you...to the land that belonged to your fathers and you will take possession of it.")
Moses writes down a song inspired by and praising God but also predicting His wrath and vengeance ("He is the Rock.... He guarded [Jacob] as the apple of his eye... ") Moses blesses the tribes and, after seeing the land promised to Abraham from Mount Nebo, dies in Moab and is buried.