Don’t you love a good story? Whether in the form of a great book, a movie, or just a conversation with friends around a fire, powerful stories can pull us in, delight us, teach us, catch us off guard, scare us, frustrate us, or give us a great deal of satisfaction when the ending turns out “just right.” What many people don’t realize is that the Bible’s 66 books weave together an amazing, cohesive story, a Grand Story that God has written on the world, and, believe it or not, you and I are a part of that story. Yet, you and I can’t understand our place in the story until we understand how the Bible’s Grand Story fits together, how it develops, where it’s climax comes, and how it invites us to join in a never-ending script that God continues to write in and through the lives of real people like you and me.
As you read Reading God’s Story, let me make a few suggestions for getting the most out of the experience.
Read at a specific time and place each day, and do so until it becomes a habit. Like other aspects of our lives, developing a rhythm really helps. It takes three or four weeks to develop a habit, but once that habit is established, you will look forward to the time set aside for reading God’s Word. Also, we have given you six readings per week, so if you miss a day, you can make it up. Just pick back up and keep going.
Always keep the Big Story in view. We have laid out this Chronological Bible in three “Acts” and seventeen “Scenes.” At the beginning of each Act and Scene you have an introduction that will help orient you to what is going on at that point in the story, and there are markers on each page to remind you which Scene you are in. Let this framework for the Bible’s Grand Story sink in and shape how you think about God’s Word.
Don’t get bogged down in the passages you don’t understand. Focus on getting the big picture of how the Bible’s story develops. There are parts of the Bible that are just plain difficult, that bring to mind more questions than answers. Just know that it is normal to struggle with understanding some parts, and some aspects of the story become much more clear as the story develops.
Read in community with others. The Bible talks a lot about community, and Bible reading is best experienced in community. It helps if you have family or friends who also are reading the Bible at the same pace, for they can encourage you, keep you on track, and discuss the Bible with you. If you do not attend a church, find one so you can have a place to celebrate what you are learning and to pose questions that come up in your study.
Pick up tools to help you read the Bible better. Reading God’s Story is part of a broader emphasis on biblical literacy called Read the Bible for Life. On the Read the Bible for Life website (www.readthebibleforlife.com) you can find various tools, some of them free, to help you grow in the skill of Bible reading.
I love a good story, and one of my favorites is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. At one point in the story, the hobbits Sam and Frodo are in a difficult spot in a darkening world. As they travel towards Mount Doom to destroy the ring of power, Sam says to Frodo, “I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say, ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’ And they’ll say: ‘Yes, that’s one of my favorite stories. Frodo was really brave, wasn’t he, dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits. And that’s saying a lot.’”
Laughing, Frodo picks up the conversation, “. . . you’ve left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the Stouthearted. ‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. . . . and Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?’”
The humble Sam is embarrassed. “Now Mr. Frodo, you shouldn’t make fun; I was being serious.”
And Frodo answers, “So was I.”
Friend, my prayer is that, as you read Reading God’s Story, you will realize that you are a part of this wonderful story we find in the Bible. Once you get drawn in—your life will never be the same.
The Bible contains the best story ever told, providing true answers to important questions such as: Who is God? How does He relate to the world? How can humans know Him? How did we get here and why? How will things end for us and our world?
Like every good story, the Bible has a memorable setting, interesting characters, and a grand plot that climaxes in a glorious conclusion. The plot plows ahead with conflicts described at many levels, but ultimately the conflicts are resolved as God moves history toward its appointed purpose. As you read the passages we have designated as Act 1, bear in mind that they are the foundation for Act 2 (God’s Covenant People) and Act 3 (God’s New Covenant People).
The Settings for Act 1
The settings for Act 1 are broad, beginning with the entire universe and then narrowing down to specific locales on earth. Although places such as Eden, Ararat, and the Tower of Babylon are named, we don’t know exactly where they were. This really doesn’t matter, for the narrator describes seminal events and conditions that apply to all humans no matter where they live. Further, this part of the story is written in a way that makes the events hard to date. The account starts “in the beginning” and extends to the time of Abraham, which was the dawn of recorded history. Clearly it’s more important for us to know that these things happened to our ancestors than to know when and where they occurred.
Main Characters for Act 1
God—He is the Creator of the setting and of all the other characters involved in the plotline. He is known through His words and His works. He will remain the central character throughout the whole Bible; after all it is His story. His greatness and goodness are on display in creation and in the pages of Scripture. His justice and mercy are especially seen in the way He responds to human sin. Without diminishing the gravity of sin, He provides a way for sin to be pardoned.
The Serpent (Satan)—Although the details of how and why he came to be in the Garden are not explained, the Serpent alters history as the antagonist who acts in opposition to God. After his deception of Adam and Eve, his direct presence disappears for the rest of Act 1. As Satan, he will show up again sporadically in Acts 2 and 3. At the end of the Bible’s storyline his final demise is foretold.
Adam and Eve—Our first parents are known for the impact of their words and deeds rather than by any description of their appearance. They are human beings made in the image of God, and yet they choose to disobey God. This sets in motion the central conflict of the Bible: rebellion (sin) against God. Since they are the parents of the entire human race, their sin shows that 100% of humanity became rebels against the Creator. It is impossible to understand the human condition today without making reference to Adam and Eve.
Noah and his family—These eight persons, imperfect but accounted righteous by God, are set in contrast to the rest of wicked humanity. Noah and his family are best known for building the ark and riding out the flood, but the theological importance of this should not be missed: they become the means by which God provides our ancestors with a fresh start. Even so, in the aftermath of the flood, awful behavior continues with Noah and his descendants. God has given humanity a fresh start, and yet it remains true that all humans are sinners in need of salvation.
The people of Babylon—The “whole earth” is again in conflict with the Creator. Individuals go unnamed, but they all receive God’s judgment and are scattered. Sadly, in this last episode reported in Act 1, all humans are still rebels.
Plot Summary for Act 1
The plot for Act 1 can be summarized in three phases:
The action begins with God’s creation of the universe from nothing, focusing in on planet earth and then mankind. The results are said to be “very good.” But quickly the scene changes to the temptation and fall of humanity into sin. Sin leads to a death sentence for Adam and all his descendants, and the depressing refrain “then he died” resounds like an ominous drumbeat throughout the biblical genealogies and down to our own day. Later events demonstrate a pattern of broken relationships and rebellion against God: Cain murders Abel out of jealousy; the human race is so sinful that God sends a worldwide flood; people settle in Babylon (and try to reach heaven on their own) rather than scatter over the earth as God intended.
Despite the ongoing rebellion, there are glimmers of hope. God’s mercy breaks through undeserved: Adam and Eve live on to bear children rather than face immediate death for their sin; Noah finds favor with God in spite of his imperfections; after the flood God makes a covenant to preserve human life; God scatters (rather than destroys) the people despite their intention to disobey Him.
As you read Act 1, use the lens of “God’s plan for all people” to help interpret the story.
Act 1, Scene 1
Creation: The God of All of Life
With this foundational scene, the plot is set in motion. We observe truths about God, our world, and humanity that are essential for understanding the overall story. First, God is the sovereign Creator of everything. There is no speculation on where God comes from or how He became powerful. He simply is. Second, our world is created good; moreover, the world is not God. The universe depends on Him. Third, humans—male and female alike—are made in God’s image. We are not the random result of time and chance. Thus, God holds human beings in high regard and we are accountable to Him.
1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day,” and He called the darkness “night.” Evening came and then morning: the first day.
6Then God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters, separating water from water.” 7So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above the expanse. And it was so. 8God called the expanse “sky.” Evening came and then morning: the second day.
9Then God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10God called the dry land “earth,” and He called the gathering of the water “seas.” And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, “Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” And it was so. 12The earth produced vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13Evening came and then morning: the third day.
14Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs for festivals and for days and years. 15They will be lights in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth.” And it was so. 16God made the two great lights—the greater light to have dominion over the day and the lesser light to have dominion over the night—as well as the stars. 17God placed them in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth, 18to dominate the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19Evening came and then morning: the fourth day.
20Then God said, “Let the water swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” 21So God created the large sea-creatures and every living creature that moves and swarms in the water, according to their kinds. He also created every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22So God blessed them, “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” 23Evening came and then morning: the fifth day.
24Then God said, “Let the earth produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that crawl, and the wildlife of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25So God made the wildlife of the earth according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and creatures that crawl on the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26Then 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, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
27So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female.
28God 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.” 29God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This food will be for you, 30for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth—everything having the breath of life in it. I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day.
1So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. 2By the seventh day God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. 3God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation.
4These are the records of the heavens and the earth, concerning their creation at the time that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. 5No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not made it rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground. 6But water would come out of the ground and water the entire surface of the land. 7Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.
8The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed. 9The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10A river went out from Eden to water the garden. From there it divided and became the source of four rivers. 11The name of the first is Pishon, which flows through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12Gold from that land is pure; bdellium and onyx are also there. 13The name of the second river is Gihon, which flows through the entire land of Cush. 14The name of the third river is the Tigris, which runs east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17but 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.” 18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.” 19So the Lord God formed out of the ground every wild animal and every bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it. And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found as his complement. 21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. 22Then the Lord God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. 23And the man said:
This one, at last, is bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called “woman,”
for she was taken from man.
24This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. 25Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.
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