By Arthur T. Pierson, D.D.,
Editor-in-Chief of the "Missionary Review," New York.
Genesis, as the name implies, traces the Beginning or origin of all things of creation, man, marriage and the family, the state and the nations; of the Sabbath, of temptation and sin, sacrifice and salvation; of law and government; of language and literature, the mechanic arts and fine arts; of worship and work, promise and prophecy. Particular prominence is given here to the beginning of the history of God's covenant people.
Exodus tells of the Exode, or Departure from Egypt. The Ten Plagues, ending in the death of the firstborn, prepared for it; the Passover, with the sprinkled blood, signalized and commemorated it; and the passing over of the Red Sea completed it. Sinai, with the giving of the Law, revealed to Israel the Holiness and Authority of Jehovah their Leader. The two main divisions are, 1: Historical, chapters 1-18; and 2: Legislative, 19-38.
Leviticus is the book of Atonement, with sanctuary, sacrifice and offering, and Levitical priesthood. Sinai's thunders made Israel quake and fear to come near: here they are taught how to approach God acceptably and worship and serve Him. The great truth here made plain is Mediation.
Numbers traces the forty years' sojourn to the Wilderness. Two Numberings of the people are recorded. The host is organized, equipped and on the march. Warfare is a necessary condition of their pilgrimage through an enemy's country, and of possession of the promised land.
Deuteronomy, or the Second Law, shows Obedience as a necessity to continuance in God's favor and in their new heritage. Mount Gerezim and Mount Ebal stand as permanent types of the blessing and the cursing which are the solemn sanctions of God's Law. This book is one of exhortation to duty, and it brings us to the farewell address of Moses, and the appointment of Joshua as his successor.
Joshua is the book of Entrance, the counterpart of Exodus. Possession is by dispossession, the Land is to become the heritage of Israel by Driving out the Canaanites, and the extent of territory depends on the measure of faith in appropriation. Even promised good must be claimed.
Judges reveals Anarchy. To correct it, God raises up fifteen occasional rulers; and there are six conquests of Israel by their foes, with as many deliverances wrought by these heroes. Even in the Land of Promise there are relapses into idolatry and impiety, and captivities follow as both a consequence and a correction. We see God's people passing through six cycles of declension and discipline, correction and restoration.
Ruth is a pastoral idyl. It hides a typical meaning, hinting the double nature of the Redeemer, who must be a kinsman, to have the right to redeem, and yet belong to a higher family, not involved in the ruin, to have the ability to redeem.
The two books of Samuel present the Kingdom during the days of Samuel, the Prophet-Judge, and of Saul and David, his co-temporary kings.
The two books of Kings follow the history of the monarchy as it reaches its summit of splendor under Solomon, and its division, decline and fall under Jeroboam and Rehoboam. Here we have the double captivity; of Israel under the Assyrians, and of Judah, a hundred and thirty years later, under the Chaldeans.
The two books of Chronicles emphasize the Theocracy, and deal with Judah only; as in Kings, idolatry is seen to be treason against God as King, here it appears as apostasy against Jehovah, the covenant God. The earlier history is written from a prophetic point of view; Chronicles from the priestly. One is more like a civil; the other, an ecclesiastical history.
Ezra and Nehemiah are also companion books, and show the return from captivity, with the rebuilding of the Temple and of the City, respectively. Nehemiah is the model of organization and reconstruction. The book of Nehemiah, after a break of twelve years, continues the narrative of Ezra. Both present a picture of Reformation and Restoration.
Esther, last of the historical books, is the romance of Providence. It reveals the unseen Hand of God behind the acts and affairs of men, with the final awards of evil and good, and His all-comprehensive plan, which takes in even the sleeplessness of the King, Yet divine Providence leaves room for human resolve and freedom, as in Esther's devout and desperate decision. Haman is a singular example of poetic retribution, hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai.
Job is the book of Testing. The patriarch is subjected to five trials—loss of property, of children, of health, of wifely sympathy, and, last, of reputation. Finally, he has a vision of God, is humbled and restored.
The Psalms form a manual of devotion, where every heart experience of sorrow and joy is mirrored. The first three or four poems index the contents of the whole book. Whatever reveals personal need, or its supply in God, here finds expression, and there is a movement, as in an oratorio, from minor strains to more hopeful outbursts ending in a Hallelujah Chorus. There are five divisions, each marked by a double doxology or Amen, at the close.
Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are books of Wisdom: the former full of precepts for practical life, compiled from many sources; the latter, giving the author's experiences of the vanity of all things "under the sun," and his grand conclusion that the completeness of man—the symmetry of character—is found only in the fear of God and the keeping of His Commandments.
Canticles or Solomon's Song has long been an enigma. The best solution is that which construes it as a drama, in which Solomon is represented as seeking to draw to his court and harem a maiden, already affianced to a poor shepherd to whom she finally returns, turning her back on all other attractions. She is therefore a type of the church, or the believer, allured by the world, but finally cleaving to Christ as the only satisfying portion.
The Prophetical books follow, and complete the Old Testament. The prophets include seventeen books, the first five known as "major," the other twelve as "minor," prophecies. The period covered is over four centuries, from about 870 to 440 B.C. The divisions of this period are three: before, during and after the Exile, and the prophets themselves are distinguished from each other, according as their services were rendered to one or the other of the two divisions of the Kingdom, Judah and Israel, and according to the subject matter of their utterances.
Isaiah, who stands first, is called "the Evangelical prophet," because of the prominence of gospel truth in his writings. Chapters xl to lxvi form one great poem of the Messiah, the middle chapter of this section—the liii—presenting Christ as the Sin Bearer. Probably more distinctive redemptive truth is found in this prophecy than in all the rest put together.
Jeremiah, whose ministry covered forty years, sounds the note of rebuke and warning against Judah, and utters prophecies against ten Gentile nations. He was a reformer appealing to a perverse people, that allowed the worship of the Queen of Heaven and rites of Moloch to corrupt Jehovah's worship.
Lamentations, ascribed to the same author, is a kind of funeral song or dirge. The weeping prophet bewails the sins and chastisements of his people as Christ wept over Jerusalem.
Ezekiel, the Prophet of the Captivity, is a seer, who has visions of the glory of the Lord, which is seen departing from the Holy City and Temple because of idolatry and iniquity, and returning at the Latter Day. This book is especially rich in teachings about the Holy Spirit's power, as Isaiah is as to the Scheme of Salvation by Atonement.
Daniel is in two parts: six chapters of history and six of prophecy. The first and narrative portion shows six successive conflicts between God's followers and the worshippers of false gods, with as many victories for Jehovah. The prophetic half contains an unveiling of the history of world empires and the Times before the End. The time of Messiah's appearing is exactly foretold in chapter ix, as seventy times seven years after the decree for Jerusalem's rebuilding. Dating this at 457 B.C., and adding the thirty-three years of Christ's life, it just gives the full period, 490 years.
Hosea, first of the minor prophets, rebukes Israel's Sin and urges return from backslidings. Here Jehovah is seen entreating unfaithful believers to return to a forgiving God. It is the book for backsliders. Hosea prophesied under Jeroboam II, and down to Hoshea, last of the kings of the Northern Kingdom.
Joel is the prophet of Judgment. Locusts and Drought are used as symbols of invading foes, sent to punish erring Judah. He calls a fast to promote and express repentance, and foretells the future descent of the Holy Spirit, as at Pentecost.
Amos wrote for Israel, denouncing like evils with Joel, and foretelling punishment through foreign invaders. He utters threats against six nations of the heathen, but promises final deliverance for Israel, after judgment, discipline and desolation.
Obadiah, briefest of all prophetic books, *is directed against Edom or Idumea. The Edomites sprang from Esau and were, to the last, foes to the descendants of Jacob. They had helped to desolate Judah and rejoiced in the ruin of Jerusalem. God's people are encouraged by the promise that they shall he saved and Edom destroyed. This latter prediction was fulfilled under John Hyrcanus, 135 B.C.
Jonah prophesies against Nineveh. Sent there by Jehovah, he fled to Tarshish, bat was thrown overboard by his fellow-voyagers, and swallowed by a great fish. In chapter ii we have his prayer in the fish's belly, and his deliverance; and the last two chapters record his visit to Nineveh and the repentance of its people. This book is the first in the Bible containing a distinct foreign mission, and Jonah presents a singular example of a missionary unfit for his great commission. He first tries to evade it altogether, and when he fulfills it, is unmoved by Love, and impelled only by Wrath.
Micah speaks to Judah mainly, though also to Samaria. He shows how the Lord has a controversy with His rebellious people, yet is full of compassion. Bethlehem is foretold as the cradle of Messiah.
Nahum is the companion book to Jonah, and is directed against Nineveh, whose repentance deferred but did not avert judgment, because not followed by reformation. Now the full end of the doomed capital is at hand.
Habakkuk is the prophet of Faith. Judah will be invaded and destroyed by the Chaldeans, but God wills that the "just shall live by His faith." This sentence strikes the keynote of three Epistles: Romans, Galatians and Hebrews.
Zephaniah, though addressing Judah, surveys the universal government of Jehovah. The whole earth is the theatre for displaying His law and love, and the Latter Day is the chosen time for the consummation, when all nations shall be joined in His worship in consequence of the glorification of Israel.
Haggai, who heads the post-exile prophets, urges the returned captives to rebuild the ruined Temple. He rebukes their idleness, selfishness and apathy, and encourages them by promising greater glory for the latter than for the former house, and prophesying that the Desire of All Nations shall tread its courts.
Zechariah, Haggai's companion, second of the Prophets of the Restoration, prophesies the Advent of Christ. The foes of Jerusalem are to be destroyed, her idols abolished and her Messiah revealed.
Malachi, third and last of the Restoration Prophets, utters the message which closes the Old Testament. He belongs to Nehemiah's day. Robbery of God is the keynote. Idolatry had been cured by the Captivity, but formality and hypocrisy had taken its place. God was defrauded of His dues and His poor of their rights. The people here appear as in constant controversy, with God, disputing even the reasonableness of His Rebukes, and the book significantly ends with the word, Curse.
The New Testament begins with the Four Gospel Narratives, which give the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ from four different points of view.
Matthew wrote for the Jew and shows Christ as the Messiah and King, in who, as God's anointed, were fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament and in whom, as His Royal Law-giver, David's kingdom is revived.
Mark addressed the Romans and exhibits Christ as the mighty God, the Man of divine power, the miracle-worker.
Luke, who wrote for the Greeks, shows Him as the Son of Man and Servant of God, the divine Teacher and Friend of the race.
John especially dwells on the divine nature of Christ as the Son of God, who gives eternal life to every believer.
The object each writer had in view largely determines the contents of his narrative, what it includes and excludes, and thus many differences are explained. There is unity in diversity, Matthew is especially rich in the public discourses of Christ and His parables; Mark, in His doings; Luke, in His gracious ministries; and John, in His private conversations or interviews with disciples. Matthew is the gospel of the Messiah and His Kingdom. Mark dwells upon the mighty deeds of Christ, Luke shows the Divine Man, the Last Adam, and John reveals Him as the Lord of Life, the Divine Word made flesh.
The Acts of the Apostles gives the history of the Church during the first generation after Christ's ascension. It is the book of the Holy Spirit. It opens with Pentecost and records a similar descent of the Spirit on the Samaritans, the Romans at Caesarea, and the Greeks at Ephesus. The two prominent characters are Peter, to whom it was given to open the door of faith to Jews and Gentiles, and Paul, who was the great apostle of the Gentiles. The actual work of Foreign Missions starts from Antioch and reaches to Rome before this book closes, following the exact order given in chapter 1:8.
The Epistles follow, in which the germs of truth, found in Christ's teaching, are expanded and applied. There are five epistle writers, Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude. Paul's great theme is Faith; Peter's, Hope; John's, Love; James deals with Good Works, which are the fruits of these graces; and Jude warns of the Apostasy, when false doctrine displaces truth and evil works displace good works and threaten even the life of the Church.
Romans treats of the Righteousness which is by faith, with much stress on Righteousness. God's Law condemns all men as sinners; God's Love offers to all Justification through Christ, and Sanctification by the Spirit, and final Glorification. Chapter xi gives a grand forecast of the ultimate restoration of the Jews to God's favor.
The two Epistles to the Corinthians are full of the Holy Spirit as indwelling in believers, uniting them to God and hallowing even their bodies and their common toil; this same Spirit becomes to them Life from God, Light upon His Truth, and transforming Love.
Galatians is the companion Epistle to Romans and dwells upon the Righteousness which is by faith, with strong emphasis upon faith. In Romans, Righteousness is shown from God's point of view; here, from man's; and the danger of mixing up faith with the works of the law is plainly shown. He who is justified by faith must by faith be sanctified.
Ephesians presents the Oneness of believers with Christ and in Christ. It shows Jew and Gentile believers as one body, with Him as the Common Head, and gives rapturous glimpses into both the present powers and privileges, and the future glory of true believers.
Philippians presents the voluntary self-denial which counts all things loss for Christ, and the ultimate gain or compensation that repays such renunciation. It is the Christian's balance sheet. Christ is seen so absorbing all love and devotion as that even suffering for His sake is joy.
Colossians reveals the completeness of all believers in Christ, as Ephesians does their oneness in Him. Its word is "pleroma," or fulness. All, the fulness of God is in Christ, and hence, through Christ, in the believer, who has therefore no need of anything that this world, with its boasted wisdom, can offer.
The Epistles to the Thessalonians both treat of the Second Coming of the Lord, with its preparatory and consequent events. There is to be first a falling away and a revelation of the man of sin, but at His coming He will destroy Antichrist and save and transform living saints and raise the holy dead. We are to turn from all idols, serve God, and wait for his Son from heaven.
The Epistles to Timothy and Titus are called "pastoral" because written to those in charge of Christ's flock. They warn against heresies in doctrine and iniquities in practice; they urge sound preaching and teaching, and a conduct and character becoming ministers of Christ; they lay stress upon that sort of life which God approves and rewards, and which even ungodly men cannot but admire, even while they oppose.
Philemon is the idyl of the New Testament, as "Ruth" is of the Old. A slave who had robbed and run away from his master, but was converted through Paul, was by him sent back to his master, to be received henceforth as a brother in Christ.
Hebrews urges converted Jews to hold fast their new-found faith. The keyword of this epistle, found eleven times, is "better." Everything Christ offers is superior to any previous privileges, however great. Hence the folly of going back to Judaism and the corresponding danger of apostasy.
James dwells upon Holy Living—the morality side of the gospel. Faith here appears, producing fruits in Love and Loyalty; the tongue is to be tamed and the temper transformed. A divine wisdom should guide the life.
The Epistles of Peter, like that of James, are especially addressed to the Pilgrim people of God. The figure of Pilgrimage is found throughout. The attire and attitude of a pilgrim, his food and drink, his joys and fears, foes and fellow pilgrims, his sustaining hope and his final goal, all these are suggested.
John writes to those who, by believing, have eternal life, that they may know that they have it. The first epistle is therefore the counterpart of the gospel, written by the same hand. In both three short words give the key—"Life," "Light" and "Love."
John's second epistle is, like Paul's to Philemon, a private and personal letter.
John's third letter is to a man, Gaius, who is commended as a "fellow-helper to the truth."
Jude warns against apostasy. Faith demands faithfulness. The word "kept" is prominent. Believers are to keep themselves in the faith and in the love of God, and trust God to keep them from falling and even from stumbling.
Revelation or the Apocalypse, corresponds to the book of Daniel, and, as Daniel casts light on the Former days—between the Captivity and the Fall of Jerusalem under Titus—this book casts light on the Latter days, from the Fall of Jerusalem to the Lord's second coming. Several systems of interpretation exist, but, whatever one we adopt, one great truth is here undoubtedly taught: the Final Victory of Christ and His Kingdom over all forms of error and evil.
It is peculiar to notice how, at the close of the Bible, we find ourselves again at the beginning. In Genesis, and again in Revelation, we have the Tree of Life, the River, God tabernacling with man; here Paradise is regained, Innocence, Beauty and Harmony restored. But the curse of sin which blasted the first Eden shall no more blight the new Paradise. "Alleluja! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!" The Ruin of the Fall is now no more, and Redemption has brought the Final Restoration. What more sublime proof of the Unity of the Word of God than this, that with over forty different human writers, and over sixty different books, one grand testimony is everywhere borne, and from Genesis to the close one structure is building that now finds its Capstone!
Essenes, an ascetic order, known to have existed from about 150 b. c. In the time of our Lord numbering about 4,000, they were settled in monastic communities near the Dead Sea, and in villages throughout the country. The Essenes endeavored to reach absolute religious purity through strict abstemiousness and cleanliness. They are not mentioned in the New Testament, and by the time of our Lord appear to have had little or no influence on the life of their nation.
Pharisees (Heb. "separatists"), the name given (like "Puritans") by their opponents to the party that arose among the Jewish scribes after the victory of the Maccabees, and devoted themselves to the most scrupulous fulfilment of the Law as expounded by the scribes. They were strictly a sect, in Herod's time numbering over 6,000, affording a pattern to all thorough Jews and moulding their ideals through the synagogues (Matt. 23:2-7).
The greatness of the Pharisees was their confidence in God, and expectation from Him alone; and their weakness lay in their ignorance of His free grace, and expectation of reward as the payment of a debt. They kept alive in the nation the hopes of the Messiah and of the resurrection, but were blinded by a carnal prejudice to the fulfilment of both in Jesus Christ.
Sadducees (Zadokites), a party attached to the aristocratic priests who traced their lineage to the sons of Zadok (cf. Ezek. 40:46), the chief ministers of the Temple from the time of Solomon. Their main interest was political, and their guiding principle was to keep in with any power that secured to them their monopoly of office.
They acknowledged as binding only the written Law, rejecting the traditions of the scribes; ignored the Messianic hope and the doctrine of the resurrection; and denied alike the existence of angels and spirits and the overruling or co-operating hand of God in the actions of men (cf. Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27 ff.; Acts 23:8).
Samaritans, the mixed population, partly of Israelitish descent, which the restored exiles found in Northern Israel. They were the hated neighbors and rivals of the Jewish theocracy. "Samaritan" was to the Jew a name of contempt and reproach (John 8:48).
They had no longer (since 130 b. c.) a temple on Mount Gerizim; yet they maintained that it, not Jerusalem, was the place where men should worship (John 4:20).