It’s one of the world’s most influential books, and virtually everyone on earth has at least heard about it. Especially those who live in a first world society.
A large number of people own it, but have never read it. You probably have a copy in your house somewhere, or someone in your family or neighborhood does.
It is simultaneously one of the best-beloved, and most hated books in the world.
What is it?
The Bible, of course.
Whatever your personal thoughts about it, the Bible has undeniably influenced the world in general and Western society in particular, more than just about any other book ever published.
Some people love it; others love to hate it. But many on both sides have never actually read it.
(Which makes for some verrrryy interesting debates whenever the two sides begin to argue)
But if you are interested in understanding why certain people or societies think and work the way they do (including, most likely, your own society), it stands to reason that you ought to be at least somewhat familiar with such a book.
Whether you think or say you love it or hate the Bible, or how the Bible has influenced the world, there are two undeniable facts:
- The Bible HAS influenced people in this world deeply, and
- You can’t honestly love or hate a book unless you’ve read and understood it.
The thing is, the Bible is composed of 66 smaller books and over 800,000 words. It’s not the kind of book you can read in an hour or two, or even a day or two.
But you CAN read a summary of the most important plot points in less than an hour. Right here.
Consider this the CliffNotes version of the entire Bible:
I’m not a theologian, so I did my best to stick to the facts (that can be verified by looking in the Bible yourself), and refrain from interpreting events.
Also, this is a summary so I cannot include every detail, but I have tried to include details that are important for understanding the overall story, and also details that are interesting and relevant to modern culture.
(For example, have you ever heard the terms “Promised Land,” “mark of Cain,” “Goliath,” or “Philistines,” but don’t know what they mean or where they come from? Keep reading…)
For a shorter, more digestible summary of the Bible, see The Story of the Entire Bible, Part One: The Super Short, Ten-Minute Version.
And I recommend The Bible Project for audio-visual overviews on the books and themes of the Bible. They make professional animated shorts on every book of the Bible and more that are easy to watch and understand.
(Things in parentheses are concepts or ideas not explicitly written out in the Bible, but rather thoughts and comments for clarification).
And anything in italics is a direct, word-for-word quote from the Bible.
(In case you’re curious, I’m using the NIV 1984, not for any particular reason beside the fact that that’s the one I happen to have).
The story of the Bible in one sentence
God created everything, but humanity rebelled against Him, broke the world, and messed up their lives — so God sent Himself in the form of Jesus in order to pay for humankind’s sins and save broken humanity, and He will one day restore both humans and the world to its original perfect state.
The story of the Bible in two paragraphs
God created the world, and mankind, and all was perfect. Man sinned and ruined it. Then they sinned some more — so badly that God flooded the world and started over with a man named Noah and his family. Noah’s descendents were still not great, so God called one of them, a guy named Abraham, out of the milieu to be the father of a special nation of people. Abraham’s son was Isaac, Isaac’s son was Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel). Jacob/Israel had twelve sons with four women, and they became known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The Israelites ended up enslaved in Egypt for a few hundred years before God miraculously freed them using a guy named Moses. Israel traveled back up to the forefather’s homeland (aka the Promised Land/Canaan), but they repeatedly failed to be faithful to God on the way home, and even when they reached home they still tried God’s patience with their rebellion. Eventually, God allowed them to be defeated and captured by foreign nations. After some years, some of the exiled Israelites were able to return home once again.
Jesus was born during a time when the Romans had taken over the known world, including what used to be Israel. Jesus went around preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, healing people, performing miracles, and confronting hypocritical religious leaders. Jesus told people that he was God and would be killed for their sins. Jesus was crucified, then he resurrected on the third day. When his followers saw this, they became passionate missionaries, going through the known world and spreading the news about Jesus’ message of repentance and salvation proven by his resurrection — in spite of deadly persecution by people opposed to their message and beliefs.
And now, The Summarized Story of the Bible
Creation (Genesis 1–2)
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
God created this world in 6 days (and rested on the 7th):
- An expanse between the waters to separate water from water, known as “Sky”
- Dry ground “land” and gathered water “seas,” vegetation on the land
- Lights in the sky to separate day/night and seasons/days/years: The sun, moon, and stars.
5. Living creatures in the water and sky (birds)
6. Living creatures on land: livestock and wild animals. Human beings too.
7. God rested.
God made man (Adam, in Hebrew), out of dust and breathed life into him. He placed him in the garden of Eden to care for it, and gave him the fruit of the trees in the garden to eat, but forbade him from eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the Bible never says it was an apple, contrary to popular tradition). Adam was also given the task of naming the animals.
God made woman by putting Adam to sleep and taking a rib from him, out of which he formed a partner for the man. Adam called her “woman,” and the two of them lived in the garden of Eden.
“They were naked and felt no shame.”
The Fall (Genesis 3)
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.”
The serpent tempted the woman to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, by saying: “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So the woman ate the fruit, and gave some to her husband “who was with her, and he ate it.”
When God called for them, they hid, then blamed each other and the snake for their disobedience in eating the fruit.
God cursed the snake for tempting the humans, and cursed the ground because of Adam’s sin.
Adam named the woman, his wife, Eve (Havah, in Hebrew, possibly meaning “living”). God made them garments of skin, and the two were banished from Eden so that they would not take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.
The First Murder: Cain and Abel (Genesis 4)
Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer, Abel a shepherd. In the course of time, Cain offered “some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord” while Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” The Lord “looked with favor on Abel and his offering,” but not on Cain and his offering.
Cain was angry, and God spoke to him, asking “why are you angry?…If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not…sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Next, Cain got his brother Abel to go out into the field with him, and killed him there.
God confronted Cain, and said “now you are under a curse and driven from the ground…when you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
But when Cain said “my punishment is more than I can bear” and stated his fear that he’d be killed, God put a mark on Cain, saying: “if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.”
Generations After Cain and Abel (Genesis 4–5)
Adam (who lived a total of 930 years) and Eve had another son named Seth, who lived a total of 912 years. And they had lots of other sons and daughters.
These are the descendants that followed Seth (each of these men lived hundreds of years; Methuselah living the longest):
1. Seth’s son was Enosh, who lived 905 years, and Enosh was the father of:
2. Kenan (910 years total), who was the father of:
3. Mahalel (895), who fathered:
4. Jared (962), (you get the idea)
5. Enoch (365), who “walked with God 300 years…then he was no more because God took him away.”
6. Methuselah (the oldest human in history at 969 years. Also the meaning of his name is really interesting. Look it up)
7. Lamech (777)
8. Noah (950)
Noah and the Flood (Genesis 5–9)
In Noah’s time, people became extremely wicked. God told Noah to build an ark because He was planning to wipe out humanity and start over with Noah’s family. Noah took a few centuries to build this ark. Noah had 3 sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Before the flood, God told Noah to take 7 (pairs? The translation is slightly unclear) of each type of clean animal, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate; and also 7 of every kind of bird, into the ark.
The waters flooded the earth for 150 days. The four men and their wives survived the flood in Noah’s ark.
After they landed, Noah built an altar to God and sacrificed some of the clean animals and birds.
God told Noah: “just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything…that lives and moves…[as] food for you.”
God promised to never flood the earth again, and set a rainbow in the clouds as a sign of this promise.
Ham’s Indiscretion and Canaan’s Curse (Genesis 9–10)
Noah planted a vineyard, made wine, and became drunk, lying uncovered in his tent. Ham saw this and told his brothers, who covered their father without looking.
When Noah awoke, he cursed Ham’s son Canaan.
Shem, Ham, and Japheth’s descendants increased and populated the earth.
The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)
“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar (aka Babylonia) and settled there.”
These men decided to build a tower to “make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
God confused their language so they couldn’t understand each other and scattered them over the earth so they stopped building the city. The city was called Babel (sounds like “confused”) because this was where God confused the languages of the world.
Shem’s descendants (Genesis 11)
Shem lived a total of 500 years. His son was…
- Arphaxad (lived 403 years), who fathered:
- Shelah (403 years), (and so on and so forth…)
- Eber (430)
- Peleg (209)
- Reu (207)
- Serug (200)
- Nahor (119)
- Terah (205)
- Abram, Nahor, and Haran
Haran was the father of Lot. Haran died before his father Terah did, in the land of Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor both married. Abram’s wife was Sarai.
Terah took his remaining sons and grandson Lot to go to Canaan, but when they arrived in Haran (the place, not the person’s name, obviously), they stayed.
The Call of Abraham (Genesis 12–15)
God called Abram, son of Terah, and told him, “leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Abram took Lot with him and his wife Sarai and set out for Canaan, where God promised to give the land of Canaan to his descendants. There, Abram built an altar to God and “called on the name of the Lord.”
There was a famine in the land, and Abram took his family down to Egypt. He made his wife Sarai lie about her relationship to him, because she was beautiful and he was afraid the Egyptians would take a fancy to her and try to kill him and steal her. But when the Pharaoh took her, God beset Pharaoh with diseases until Pharaoh returned Sarai to Abram.
Later, Abram and Lot, whose flocks and herds and servants were getting too numerous to stay together, separated.
Lot gets kidnapped by some kings (including the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah), and Abram rescues him.
Abram is still childless, but God promises that he will have a son and his descendants will be many. God also tells him that his descendants will be enslaved for four hundred years, then rescued by God.
Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 16)
Because Abram and Sarai were childless, Sarai gave her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, to her husband to have a children with her.
When Hagar became pregnant, she and Sarai’s relationship deteriorated, and Hagar tried to run away. The angel of the Lord met her in the desert and told her to go back, and also promised that her descendants would also be numerous:
“you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael [meaning “God hears”] for the Lord has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him and he will live in hostility toward [alt. translation: “to the east of”] all of his brothers.”
Ishmael is born when Abram is 86 years old.
Circumcision is introduced (Genesis 17)
When Abram is 99, God appears and changes his name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah. God also reminds Abraham of his promise to give Abraham a son through Sarah, and establishes circumcision, which is a sign of the covenant [like a promise] between God and Abraham.
Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed (Genesis 18)
Three men visit Abraham. The Lord reminds Abraham of his promise of a son through Sarah, saying it will happen in one year.
Then the Lord tells Abraham that he’s planning to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because “the outcry against [them] is so great and their sin so grievous.” Abraham begs that God will spare the cities if there are 50 righteous people living in it, and God agrees. Abraham keeps haggling until he gets the number of righteous people down to 10.
(Apparently, there aren’t even 10 righteous people living in Sodom and Gomorrah, because) God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah by raining sulfur on the cities.
Before that, however, some angels are sent to Sodom, where Abraham’s nephew Lot is living. The men of the city attempt to molest the angels, who strike them blind. Then the angels tell Lot to get out because of the imminent destruction. When Lot hesitates, the angels grab him and his wife and two daughters and get them out.
They tell Lot and his family not to look back, but his wife does, and is turned into a pillar of salt. (some translation confusion here. May or may not be a literal pillar of salt, or so I’ve heard).
Lot’s Descendants (Genesis 19)
Lot’s daughters decide to get their father drunk and commit incest with him to “preserve [their] family line.” They give birth to sons Moab and Ben-Ammi through this act. These two boys become the forefathers of the Moabites and Ammonites (who will cause trouble for the Israelites later — keep reading).
Abraham lies some more (Genesis 20)
Abraham calls Sarah his sister instead of his wife, and Abimelech, king of Gerar tries to take her, but God stops him, and Sarah is returned. (Note: Gerar is in Philistine territory — Philistines play a part in the later King David’s story. Keep reading)
Isaac is born (Genesis 21)
When Abraham is 100, he and Sarah finally have a son, Isaac. Sarah sees that Ishmael is “mocking” and tells Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham is reluctant but God tells him to go ahead and do it, because “it is through Isaac that your offspring/seed will be reckoned,” but that Ishmael will be a great nation too.
So Hagar and Ishmael go off. God provides water for them on the way. Ishmael grows up in the desert and his mom gets a wife for him from Egypt.
Abraham makes a treaty with Abimelech at Beersheba to live in peace with each other. Abraham lives in the Philistine’s land for a long time.
The Near-Sacrifice of Isaac, aka Abraham’s Test (Genesis 22)
God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac to Him. Abraham complies, and God stops him at the last minute, providing a ram instead as a sacrifice.
Isaac marries, Abraham dies (Genesis 23–24)
Sarah dies at 127. Abraham buries her. Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac from the women of his (Abraham’s) own relatives and his old country. The servant brings back Rebekah, daughter of Abraham’s nephew Bethuel (son of Nahor, Abraham’s brother).
Isaac marries Rebekah.
Abraham dies at 175. But before this, he has taken another wife, Keturah, who bears him six sons, including Midian (who is the ancestor of the Midianites. Later on, the Midianites have a complex relationship with the Israelites: Moses marries the daughter of a Midianite priest, but the Midianites later also cause the Israelites lots of trouble by tempting them with women and idols. Keep reading)
Abraham sends his other sons away from Isaac to the land of the east. Isaac and Ishmael bury Abraham with Sarah.
Ishmael also has sons, 12 of them, who lead 12 tribes. Ishmael dies at 137.
Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25–28)
Isaac and Rebekah have some trouble having kids. But after Isaac prays, Rebekah has twin sons, Esau the firstborn, then Jacob.
After they grow up, Esau becomes a hunter and Jacob a “quiet man, staying among the tents.” One day, Esau sells Jacob his birthright (the right of a firstborn to have the lion’s share of the financial and spiritual — but mostly spiritual — inheritance) for some food, (because he’s hungry and impatient).
Isaac (does the same thing as his old dad Abraham and) lies about his relationship to his wife, afraid that people will try to kill him to steal her. But Abimelech king of the Philistines sees them embracing and scolds him for lying and putting them all in danger (since God protected Sarah by making those who tried to take her fall ill). Isaac moves away from Abimelech and the Phillistines.
When Isaac is old, he tells Esau to prepare some of his favorite game-meat stew for him, and he (Isaac) will bless Esau. While Esau is off hunting, Rebekah helps Jacob trick his father (who has bad eyesight) into giving the blessing to him (Jacob) instead.
Esau is furious and wants to kill Jacob. Rebekah tells Jacob to run for his life to her brother Laban.
Jacob Leaves Home (Genesis 28–29)
Jacob goes to find his uncle Laban, Rebekah’s brother. On the way, he has a famous dream at a place called Bethel, of angels ascending and descending a stairway resting on earth reaching to heaven.
God tells Jacob that his descendants will be numerous and a blessing to all people on earth (same promise given to Abraham). Jacob calls the place Bethel (“house of God”) and promises to give a tenth of everything God blesses him with, back to God.
Jacob arrives at his uncle’s place. He sees his cousin Rachel and falls in love. He promises to work for Uncle Laban for seven years in exchange for marrying Rachel.
Battle of the Baby Mothers (Genesis 30)
When the seven years are up, Laban tricks Jacob by giving his older daughter Leah to Jacob as a wife instead of Rachel, claiming that the younger daughter cannot marry before the older. Jacob is furious, but agrees to work seven more years in exchange for marrying Rachel as well.
Leah is unloved by Jacob, but she gives birth to four boys, and gives them names that all have special meanings:
- Reuben (Name means “see, a son” and sounds like Hebrew for: “he has seen my misery”)
- Simeon (Name probably means “one who hears” since Leah said “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too”)
- Levi (Name may mean “attached.” Leah: “Now at last my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons.”)
- Judah (Name may mean “praise.” Leah: “This time I will praise the Lord.”)
When Rachel has no children, she gives her maid Bilhah to Jacob as a wife (apparently, this is a thing. Remember Sarah/Hagar?). Bilhah bears two sons for Jacob:
- Dan (Name means “he has vindicated.” Rachel: “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.”)
- Naphtali (Name means “my struggle.” Rachel: “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.”)
Leah, who has stopped having children, does the same thing and gives her maid Zilpah to Jacob to have more kids. Zilpah’s sons through Jacob are:
- Gad (Name means “good fortune”)
- Asher (Name means “happy”)
Then Leah has more sons:
9. Issachar (Name sounds like Hebrew “reward.” Leah: “God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband.”)
10. Zebulun (Name probably means “honor.” Leah: “This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons”)
And Leah has a daughter named Dinah.
Finally, Rachel has a son.
11. Joseph (Name means “may he add.” Rachel: “God has taken away my disgrace. May the Lord add to me another son.”)
(Rachel has another son later, but he doesn’t show up for a couple chapters. Keep reading)
Jacob Leaves His Uncle to go Home (Genesis 31–33)
Jacob tries to leave his father-in-law/uncle Laban, who attempts to cheat him out of his fair wages. Jacob gets rich in spite of his uncle’s tricks, and finally runs away with his wives, children, and flocks. Laban chases him, but when he catches up, says that God told him not to say anything good or bad to Jacob. They agree to treat each other peacefully, and split up.
Jacob sends messengers to his brother Esau, and hears that Esau is on his way to meet him. Jacob is terrified that Esau might still be mad at him and want to kill him. So Jacob prays.
That night, Jacob wrestles, physically, with God, and insists on a blessing. God changes his name to Israel (Name meaning “he struggles with God,” whereas the name Jacob meant “heel-grabber,” since that is how Jacob came into the world — grabbing his brother’s heel when they were born).
When Esau arrives, he embraces Jacob and they part on good terms.
Dinah and the Shechemites (Genesis 34–35)
Jacob/Israel and Leah’s daughter Dinah gets raped by Shechem, the prince of the city Shechem.
When he wants to marry her, her brothers trick him: they claim that they want the men of Shechem to get circumcised first.
When they agree, Simeon and Levi kill every male in the city while they are recovering. Jacob tells them that they’ve made themselves a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites (the people who live there).
Jacob/Israel returns to Bethel and builds an altar.
Rachel dies in childbirth. Jacob’s last son is born:
12. Benjamin (Name means “son of my right hand.” Rachel named him “Ben-oni” at first, meaning “son of my trouble,” but Jacob/Israel changed his name to Benjamin)
Reuben, Jacob’s oldest son, sleeps with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine. (Obviously, a shameful thing. Because of this act, Reuben loses his recognition as firstborn)
Isaac dies at 180. Esau and Jacob bury him.
The Story of Joseph and the Coat + Judah and Tamar (Genesis 37–50)
Joseph is his father Jacob’s favorite son. Joseph has some symbolic dreams that seem to indicate that his brothers will one day bow to him. Jacob gives him a special coat. Because of all this, Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him, and decide to kill him. (The modern musical, Joseph and the Technicolored Dream Coat is loosely based on this story)
Instead of killing him, they sell him into slavery and he ends up in Egypt, the slave of an official of Pharaoh, named Potiphar.
Meanwhile, Judah, fourth son of Jacob and Leah, has three sons. The first son marries a woman named Tamar but was “wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death” and this son had no children. (According to tradition) the second son then had to marry the widow, but he too died before having a child. The third son was also supposed to marry the widow, since there are no children.
But when Tamar sees that this is not happening, she dresses up as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law, Judah. She has twin boys, Perez and Zerah. (This odd side story is important because Perez is one of Jesus’ ancestors)
In the meantime, Joseph is doing well as Potiphar’s slave, but Potiphar’s wife lusts after him and tries to get him to sleep with her. When Joseph refuses, she falsely accuses him of attacking her and he is thrown into prison.
While in prison, Joseph interprets dreams for two of Pharoah’s servants, the cupbearer and the baker. His interpretations come true. One day, Pharaoh has a couple horrible dreams and the cupbearer recommends Joseph as a dream-interpreter.
Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that Egypt is going to have seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Impressed, Pharaoh places Joseph second-in-command of Egypt.
When the famine hits, Joseph’s family in Canaan are starving, so they go down to Egypt to buy food. Joseph recognizes his brothers but they don’t recognize him. He plays several tricks on them, and eventually reveals his identity, forgives them, and invites them all to go live in Egypt with him.
Jacob is reunited with his favorite son before he dies. He also blesses Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, who are counted as Jacob’s. (This means that when you talk about the 12 Tribes of Israel, there is no Tribe named Joseph. Instead, there’s the Tribe of Ephraim and a Tribe of Manasseh).
Jacob blesses the rest of his sons, and dies, after asking his sons to bury him with his fathers, where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah are buried.
Eventually, Joseph dies in Egypt at age 110, after making the sons of Israel swear to bury his bones in the promised land (Canaan).
The Story of Moses/ How the Israelite Slaves are Saved from the Egyptians (Exodus 1–13)
After a few centuries, the Hebrews (aka Israelites, aka Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s descendants) grow numerous, making the Egyptians uneasy. The Egyptian Pharaoh tries to kill all the boy babies (in a terrible form of birth control), but a baby named Moses is saved by his mother: she puts him in a watertight basket and floats him on the river. Moses is found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, who hires his birth mother as his nursemaid.
When Moses grows up, he kills an Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew, then runs away to Midian (in the desert), where he meets a priest of Midian and marries his daughter Zipporah.
While Moses is tending sheep in the desert, he sees a burning bush. God speaks to him through the bush, telling him to go back to Egypt and free the Israelites. Moses argues, but eventually goes.
In Egypt, Moses confronts Pharaoh who refuses to let the people go until God sends ten plagues that pretty much ruin Egypt:
- Changing the Nile River water into blood
- Frogs overrun Egypt
- Gnats overrun Egypt
- Flies overrun Egypt — but the land of Goshen, where the Hebrews live, is spared.
- Livestock suffer a plague and die — except for the livestock belonging to the Hebrews.
- Festering boils break out on men and animals
- The worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt destroys crops and fieldhands and animals — but Goshen again is spared.
- Locusts overrun Egypt and eat all the plants that survived the hail.
- Darkness falls over Egypt for three days
- The firstborn of every Egyptian resident is killed*
*Except for those who follow rules given to Moses by God: to paint their doorposts with the blood of a lamb, eat certain symbolically significant foods. This is the first Passover. (Huge symbolic significance! One of the — if not THE — major Jewish holy days…[Well I suppose there’s also Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, but that’s another story]… Hanukkah can’t even hold a candle to this one.)
Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go, but then changes his mind and chases after them. God parts the Red Sea and the Israelites walk through on dry ground, but when Pharaoh and his men try to follow, they drown.
The Israelites Travel to the Promised Land (Canaan) in a Very Roundabout Way (Exodus 14-Deuteronomy 34)
…and a lot of things happen. Including:
- The Israelites complain of hunger and God sends miraculous food: tons of quail, and a mysterious substance the people call manna (meaning “what is it?”)
- The Israelites complain of thirst, and God produces water from a rock to quench their thirst.
- Moses receives the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets on Mt. Sinai. They are as follows:
- You shall have no other gods before Me (God).
- You shall not make an idol in the form of anything in heaven or on earth.
- You shall not misuse the name of God
- Remember the Sabbath day — work for six days, but the seventh is holy. Don’t work.
- Honor your father and mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet [any of] your neighbor’s [stuff].
- Moses also receives a bunch (hundreds) of other principles and rules and such to teach the Israelites.
- God tells Moses to build a tabernacle (basically a tent that has holy things inside…like a portable temple), and also tells him how the priesthood is going to work (priests are people specially dedicated to serve God in the tabernacle. Aaron, Moses’ brother, and his descendants are designated as the priesthood).
(The ark of the covenant — you may have heard of it if you’re familiar with Indiana Jones movies — is the holiest item in the tabernacle. It is basically a box that represents God’s throne. And contains the tablets that the 10 Commandments are written on)
- While Moses is on Mt. Sinai getting all these instructions, the people build and worship a golden calf idol, resulting in a plague.
- At this time, the tribe of Levi proves their loyalty to God and are “set apart to the Lord.” (in other words, they are honored for their loyalty to God when all the other tribes were busy worshipping the idol).
The Book of Leviticus mostly talks about more laws related to offerings and things that are holy/unholy, forbidden, etc.
Also, two of Aaron’s sons die when they mess around with God’s incense.
The Book of Numbers includes a census, more rules and laws.
Then the Israelites finally leave Mt. Sinai. Along the way, they complain some more about hunger, etc., many die/are killed. Even Moses’ siblings Miriam and Aaron grumble against Moses, and are punished.
Finally the Israelitese arrive outside Canaan (aka the Promised Land), but of the 10 spies who are sent to check out the land, 8 of them are terrified to go in, and they scare the people with stories about how scary the Canaanites are.
Only Joshua and Caleb try to encourage the people to trust God, that God will help them win Canaan.
The Israelites don’t listen to Joshua and Caleb, and rebel against Moses. As a result, God tells them they will wander in the desert for 40 years until the adult generation passes away, before the children will be able to enter the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb will enter the land.
There are more rules scattered through the stories.
One story that happens during this time involves some rebels named Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who try to impugn Moses’ leadership and are swallowed alive by the ground.
Moses loses his temper at the Israelites and as a result is punished: he will not enter the Promised Land either, although God lets him see it from afar.
The Israelites whine again and there is a plague of poison snakes which kills a ton of people. God provides a (strange) way for them to be healed: Moses makes a bronze snake on a pole. Those who look at the snake survive.
The Israelites wander around, occasionally fighting battles, and winning. Those who try to hurt them or curse them find themselves stymied again and again — including a prophet named Balaam whose donkey speaks to him at some point (long story. Read it in Numbers 22)
There are more rules given, more fights undertaken.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses retells the story of the Exodus and rebellion and wandering in the desert to the people and warns them to be faithful to God before he dies. He also appoints Joshua as the next leader.
In summary, the Israelites have a hard time being good, and anger God over and over again as they make their way to the Promised Land, creating lots of problems for themselves.
The Israelites (Finally) Enter the Promised Land (Joshua 1–24)
God encourages Joshua to “be strong and courageous,” promising to be with him.
Joshua sends a couple spies in to check out Jericho (one of the best-fortified cities in the land), and they are taken in and hidden by a prostitute/innkeeper named Rahab. They promise to spare her and her family when they destroy the city. (this is important because Rahab later marries an Israelite and becomes an ancestor of Jesus)
Joshua and the people cross the Jordan River when God stops the water upstream so they can walk across the river on dry ground. They make a monument of 12 stones taken from the middle of the riverbed (to remind themselves of this miraculous event — like a mini Red-Sea parting), and camp at a place called Gilgal, on the eastern border of Jericho.
All the men are circumcised at Gilgal, since those born during the wandering days in the desert did not get circumcised (A whole generation has lived and died since the Israelites first left Egypt).
The Israelites celebrate Passover and eat some produce from the land of Canaan, and the (“magic”) manna stops coming the day after.
God tells Joshua to have the people march around Jericho once a day and seven times on the seventh day. When they do this, the city walls fall down and the Israelites defeat the Canaanites in Jericho.
One of the Israelites disobeys God and steals some loot, resulting in an ignominious defeat at the next city (called Ai) that they try to attack. The man is stoned as a punishment, and on their second try, the Israelites win the battle against Ai.
The rest of Joshua is about the Israelites fighting their way through the Promised Land, reclaiming Canaan as their own. Joshua assigns different territories to the different tribes. Some highlights:
- Some neighboring Canaanite peoples called Gibeonites lie to the Israelites, pretending they come from somewhere far away from Canaan and get the Israelites to sign a treaty promising not to hurt them.
- In the battle against the people of Jerusalem, the sun stands still so Israel can finish fighting.
Before Joshua dies, he reminds the people to stay faithful to God and has them renew their covenant (promise) with God at Shechem (Remember this place? From Dinah’s story in Genesis?).
After Joshua’s death, and that generation dies, the Israelites kind of fall apart. They stop worshipping God and start turning to idols, betraying God.
As a result, they get oppressed over and over by idolatrous nations, until they humble themselves, and then God raises up champions who save them for a time. These people are known as the Judges.
(Although God told them to go through Canaan, fighting to get their land back from the Canaanites who’d settled there after their forefathers went off to Egypt, the Israelites never actually finish doing this. As a result, they get roped into their neighbors’ idolatry and anti-God practices, which, unsurprisingly, angers God and results in lots of problems for the Israelites)
The list of Judges, in order:
- Othniel: nephew/son-in-law of Caleb (one of the two spies from before — Joshua’s fellow buddy, remember?). When the Israelites start worshipping the pagan gods Baal and Asherah, (God allows) the king of Aram to oppress them for 8 years. The Israelites cry out to the Lord, Othniel defeats Aram, and there is peace for 40 years, until Othniel dies.
- Ehud: The Israelites leave God again, and God lets the king of Moab (remember Moab? The product of incest between Lot, nephew of Abraham, and his own daughter from the Book of Genesis) oppress them for 18 years. When the Israelites cry out, a left-handed Benjamite named Ehud assassinates the king and there is peace for 80 years.
- Shamgar: the Bible doesn’t say much about him, besides “he struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad.” (Sounds a bit like Samson…see below)
- Deborah: When the Israelites mess up again, Jabin, a king of Canaan, oppresses them for 20 years. Prophetess Deborah sends for a guy named Barak to be the deliverer. But Barak acts a little wishy-washy, so Deborah prophesies that a woman will kill the king’s general and win the honor. A woman named Jael does, by driving a stake into the guy’s head while he sleeps. There is peace for 40 years.
- Gideon: This time the Midianites (Remember Midian? Abraham’s son, Isaac’s younger half-brother? Moses’ wife was a Midianite) are the oppressors, for 7 years. God tells Gideon (who is of the clan of Manasseh) to deliver Israel. But Gideon is unsure of God’s calling and asks for several signs as proof. God gives him the signs, and he defeats the Midianites with only 300 men. (He started with 22,000 but God made him trim it down to 300 to prove that it is God’s power, not man’s, that delivers people from their enemies).
After Gideon dies, his illegitimate son Abimelech kills nearly all of Gideon’s other sons, because he wants to be the leader. Later, Abimelech is killed by a woman who drops a millstone on his head. After that…
- Tola: “led Israel 23 years,” then…
- Jair: “led Israel 22 years,” then…
- Jephthah: Israel is oppressed by the Philistines and Ammonites for 18 years. Jephthah, an illegitimate son of a prostitute and a Gileadite, is asked to fight the Ammonites. He does, and wins, but makes a vow to give the first thing that comes out of his house when he returns as a sacrifice to the Lord. His daughter is the first to come out.
- Ibzan: “led Israel 7 years”
- Elon: “led Israel 10 years”
- Abdon: “led Israel 8 years”
- Samson: is born to a childless couple during a time when the Philistines are oppressing Israel. Before his birth, an angel of God tells his parents to set him apart as a Nazirite, meaning (among other things) that he can’t drink alcohol or cut his hair (see Numbers 6).
Samson (apparently has a problem with lust, so he) marries a Philistine woman against his parents’ advice. Many things happen, fueled by Samson’s temper, resulting in his wife being killed, and in revenge, Samson kills a bunch of Philistines.
The Philistines hate Samson but can’t beat him because of his tremendous physical strength. (At some point Samson kills a bunch of Philistines using only a donkey’s jawbone. Another time, he rips the gates of the city out of their sockets, bare-handed)
Next, Samson hooks up with a prostitute named Delilah who gets the secret out of him about his hair/the Nazirite thing/and how that is related to his crazy strength — and when she has someone cut his hair, his tremendous strength is gone, and he is imprisoned and his eyes are gouged out. During a festival for the Philistine god Dagon, Samson is brought out for sport, but he prays once more for strength, and pushes down a pillar holding up the temple — killing himself and all the Philistines in the temple.
After Samson, Judges ends with a couple (bizarre) stories about a guy who makes himself an idol, and another guy whose concubine is raped by Benjamites, sparking a civil war and mass kidnapping. (Not sure what the point of these stories is, except to show us how messed up things were at the time).
The Story of Ruth (Ruth 1–4)
During the time of the judges, there is a little story about a woman named Ruth.
Ruth is a Moabite (remember Abraham’s nephew Lot and his incestuous daughters back in Genesis? Their childrens’ names were Moab and Ammon. Yep, same Moab) who marries an Israelite.
When her husband and father-in-law die, Ruth leaves her home behind and goes with her mother-in-law Naomi to the land of Israel, where she eventually marries her deceased husband’s relative Boaz (per the tradition of having male relatives marry childless widows in order to preserve the family line. This story is important because Ruth and Boaz are also ancestors of Jesus).
The Story of Samuel (1 Samuel 1–7)
Around the end of the time of the Judges, a childless woman named Hannah begs God for a child, because her husband’s second wife has many children and constantly bullies her.
God grants Hannah’s prayer request and Hannah has a son, Samuel, whom she dedicates to God, bringing him to live with the priest and his sons in the temple as soon as Samuel is weaned.
Samuel grows up to be a powerful prophet. During his growing-up years, the priest Eli’s sons offend God and die in a war against the Philistines.
During this war, the Philistines capture the ark of the covenant (remember the holy box? See Exodus 40), but wherever the ark goes, the Philistines are afflicted with diseases, so finally they send the ark back.
Israel’s First King + David’s Rise to Fame (1 Samuel 8–15)
Israel asks for a king, (which pisses Samuel off, because God is supposed to be king, but) God agrees and has Samuel anoint Saul, a Benjamite, as Israel’s first (human) king.
Saul wins some battles and the people’s loyalty and praise. Saul grows arrogant, though, and does a bunch of things he isn’t supposed to do. God rejects him as king, and has Samuel secretly anoint David, a shepherd boy and youngest son of eight, as the next king.
Meanwhile, Saul is being tormented by an evil spirit, and a servant recommends David, who is a good musician. David’s music helps Saul feel better.
At some point, the Philistines and their giant champion Goliath march against Israel. David is offended by their insults and volunteers to fight Goliath. He wins with a slingshot. The people love David.
Saul becomes jealous of David and tries to kill him repeatedly. But Saul’s son Jonathan becomes best friends with David (not to mention Saul’s daughter Micah is in love with David and later marries him), and Saul’s attempts to destroy David are foiled repeatedly, including by his own children.
David runs around hiding from Saul, and occasionally fighting battles and saving Israelites. A couple times, Saul falls into David’s hands, but David refuses to kill him.
David hides among the Philistines. Saul consults a witch/spiritist to see if he will win a battle against the Philistines, but he gets bad news and during the battle he gets injured and kills himself. His son and David’s best friend Jonathan also dies in this battle.
David Becomes King of Israel + David’s Fall (2 Samuel 1–24 + 1 Kings 2)
After Saul and Jonathan’s death, David consolidates his rule with a little trouble. God promises that “your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me.”
David takes care of Mephibosheth, the crippled son of his deceased friend Prince Jonathan.
One day, David sees a woman named Bathsheba bathing on the roof and sends for her. When she becomes pregnant, he has her husband killed. God sends the prophet Nathan to rebuke him, using a poignant story about a poor man whose beloved sheep is killed by a rich man.
David angrily condemns the rich man of the story to pay back four times what he stole, and Nathan reveals that he was talking about David. David repents, but thereafter, he loses four sons:
- David and Bathsheba’s first infant son (conceived in adultery) dies.
- Another one of David’s sons, Amnon, rapes his half-sister Tamar and is killed in revenge by Tamar’s brother Absalom.
- David’s son Absalom rebels against his father, causing David to flee for his life. Absalom is eventually killed.
- After David dies, another son, Adonijah, offends King Solomon, who has him killed. (1 Kings 2)
Solomon Becomes King (1 Kings 1–11)
Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba, is chosen as king. But before David dies, another son, Adonijah, tries to set himself up as king, until David officially designates Solomon as king.
David dies. Solomon establishes his throne after killing his father’s old enemies and Adonijah.
God offers to give Solomon whatever he asks for in a dream Solomon has in Gibeon, and Solomon asks for wisdom to rule the people well. As a result, God grants his request and also promises riches and honor above all other kings. God also says that if Solomon walks in His ways and obeys his statutes, Solomon will live long.
Solomon becomes famous for his wisdom, riches, and for the massive, super awesome temple he builds for God.
He also builds a palace and marries Pharaoh’s daughter, who is one among his eventual 1000 wives and concubines. In his old age, Solomon’s foreign wives lead him to worship other gods, and several enemies rise up against Solomon, including Jeroboam son of Nebat, who is prophesied to be the next king of Israel. Solomon tries to kill him, but fails.
Israel Divides Into Two Countries (1 Kings 12–2 Chronicles 36)
After Solomon dies, the people rebel against his son Rehoboam.
Jeroboam son of Nebat (remember, from the last section?) becomes king of the new northern country of Israel, which consists of 10 of the original 12 tribes of Israel, while Rehoboam continues to rule the southern kingdom of Judah, which consists of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
Jeroboam wants the people to stay loyal to him and fears that if they go down to Jerusalem in Judah for the annual Passover and to worship God, they will turn on him. So he creates a couple idols and sticks them in Bethel and Dan and tells the people to worship those.
Throughout the rest of the Book of 1 and 2 Kings, Israel has a succession of kings who go from bad to worse, as the people become more and more idolatrous.
Judah continues to be ruled by David’s descendants, and manages to produce a few decent kings among a bunch of bad nuts (mentioned in both the books of the Kings but more details are found in 1 and 2 Chronicles), but they don’t do well for long either.
Below is a list of the kings of Israel and Judah. Israel is first, and the names of kings are given with the names of their fathers when available, to show when the line of succession was broken.
David’s line, the kings of Judah, are listed after Israel. Only king’s names are listed, until the end, as they are (almost) all descended from the king directly before them (except right before the Babylonian exile, when some brothers/uncles end up succeeding each other).
The 19 Kings of Israel
- Jeroboam son of Nebat: creates 2 golden calf idols and leads Israel into idolatry.
- Nadab son of Jeroboam: assassinated by Baasha.
- Baasha son of Ahijah: destroys the house of Jeroboam.
- Elah son of Baasha: assassinated by Zimri while drunk.
- Zimri: Elah’s chariot commander who kills Elah, then commits suicide when Omri lays siege to his city.
- Omri: fights with a guy named Tibni for the throne, and wins. Buys the hill of Samaria and builds a city (also called Samaria) on it. Worst king so far.
- Ahab son of Omri: Reigns in Samaria. Marries Jezebel. Ignores prophet Elijah.
- Ahaziah son of Ahab: Dies after seeking the god Baal of Ekron (a Philistine town) for help when he gets sick.
- Joram (aka Jehoram) son of Ahab: Reigns during the time of the Prophet Elisha, the apprentice of former Prophet Elijah (see note on King #7, Ahab).
- Jehu son of Jehoshaphat son of Nimshi: kills former king Joram and wounds Ahaziah king of Judah. Jehu destroys the house of Ahab and kills Jezebel.
- Jehoahaz son of Jehu: Is oppressed by the kings of Aram until he asks God for help.
- Jehoash (aka Joash) son of Jehoahaz: had a few minor victories against oppressors from Aram.
- Jeroboam son of Jehoah (aka Jeroboam II): restored Israel’s boundaries.
- Zechariah son of Jeroboam II: assassinated by Shallum.
- Shallum son of Jabesh: killed former king Zechariah, is assassinated by Menahem.
- Menahem son of Gadi: Paid tribute to king of Assyria.
- Pekahiah son of Menahem: Assassinated by his chief officer.
- Pekah son of Remaliah: attacked by the king of Assyria. Assassinated by Hoshea.
- Hoshea son of Elah: killed former king Pekah. Imprisoned by king of Assyria and during his time, Israel was deported by the Assyrians, who repopulated the country with foreigners.
The 19 Kings of Judah
- Rehoboam: at the start of his reign, Israel split into two countries: ten tribes made up Israel in the North, and two tribes made up Judah in the South. Rehoboam got Judah.
- Abijah (aka Abijam): fought against Jeroboam king of Israel, and won that battle.
- Asa: tried to cleanse the country of idolatry a bit, warred with Baasha king of Israel, scolded by prophet Hanani for allying with the king of Aram.
- Jehoshaphat: tried to reform Israel by sending teachers and Levites throughout the land. Scolded by seer Jehu for allying with Ahab king of Israel, to whom he was related by marriage.
- Jehoram: married a daughter of Ahab. Practiced idolatry. His family was taken by Philistines and Arabs, he died of a painful bowel disease and wasn’t buried with the kings.
- Ahaziah (aka Jehoahaz): Fought with Joram king of Israel against Hazael king of Aram.
- Joash: became king at age 7 after his grandmother tried to kill him but the wife of the priest saved him. Joash restored God’s temple, which had fallen into disrepair, but later in life he turned to idolatry and murdered the son of the priest who raised him and was himself assassinated.
- Amaziah: Fought king Jehoash of Israel and lost, after he won a battle against the Edomites and took their idols home with him.
- Uzziah (aka Azariah): Sought the Lord during the days of Priest Zechariah, but later grew proud and tried to burn unauthorized incense before God in the temple. This resulted in his suffering from some skin disease until his death.
- Jotham: Did not set foot into God’s temple. Ever.
- Ahaz: Paid tribute to the king of Assyria. Sacrificed his sons to idols.
- Hezekiah: Reformed Judah, purified the temple, followed God, rebelled against the Assyrians and thrived.
- Manasseh: worst Judean king ever. Extremely idolatrous, killed many innocents. Eventually arrested by Assyrians and taken to Babylon where he repented and returned to Judah to get rid of his idols and rebuild the city of David.
- Amon: Assassinated by his officials, who were then killed.
- Josiah: repaired the temple, renewed the covenant (promise) between the Israelites (well, Judeans now) and God, destroyed idolatrous practices.
- Jehoahaz son of Josiah: Chained up by Pharaoh Neco who took the throne from him and gave it to…
- Eliakim (aka Jehoiakim) son of Josiah: Name was changed by Pharaoh Neco. Became a vassal of Nebuchadnezzer king of Babylon for 3 years. When he rebelled, Nebuchadnezzer took him to Babylon.
- Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim: imprisoned by Nebuchadnezzer, who took the crown from him and gave it to his uncle…
- Zedekiah son of Josiah: rebelled against Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, the capitol, and took the Judeans into exile for 70 years, as prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah. The remnant poor left in Judah eventually fled to Egypt.
Basically, the people of northern Israel are defeated and taken away by the Assyrians. The people of Judah hang on a little longer, but they, too, are defeated and taken away from their land by the Babylonians.
They stay in exile until Babylon falls to the Medo-Persians, and Cyrus, king of Persia, permits them to return.
During the time of the kings and later the exile and the return from exile, several major and minor prophets (I think the designation of whether a prophet is major or minor is based on how long their books are) wrote books that are named after them and included in the Old Testament, including:
(a prophet during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah)
He predicted the imminent fall of Judah and Israel, and Assyria and Babylon’s role in that. Besides the Israelites, Isaiah also spoke out against the Philistines, Egyptians, Arameans, Assyrians, Babylonians, and more. The Book of Isaiah also tells more of the story of King Hezekiah and the Assyrians, see Chapters 36–39.
(a prophet during the reigns of Josiah through Zedekiah, kings of Judah)
He, too, prophesied Israel and Judah’s downfall as a result of their rebellion against God.
Throughout the book of Jeremiah, there are prophesies mixed with stories about how different people attacked Jeremiah, putting him in prison, etc., and how God spoke to him and told him what to say to the people.
Jeremiah also wrote Lamentations, a book of sad poetry where he grieves over the fate of Israel.
(a prophet during the exile of Judah)
His prophesies are along the same lines as Isaiah and Jeremiah, about the unfaithfulness of the Israelites toward their God. There are lots of metaphors in this book. Besides Israel/Judah, Ezekiel also prophesies against Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre and Sidon, Egypt, Edom, and more. But like Jeremiah, he prophesies that the glory of God will return to the Promised Land one day.
(see below. His prophesies go from chapter 7–12)
Daniel’s prophecies are interesting because they talk about past history AND the future. He predicts the rise and fall of many world empires, from Babylon and Persia to Greece and Rome, and he also has prophecies about the end of the world.
(during the time of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah kings of Judah, and Jehoash king of Israel)
Hosea was told by God to marry a woman named Gomer, who was unfaithful to him. Their relationship symbolized God’s relationship with Israel. Gomer had multiple affairs and abandoned Hosea, who later bought her back from slavery.
Uses the imagery of locusts to warn the people of Judah to turn back to God or they will be destroyed.
(a shepherd during the time of Uzziah king of Judah and Jehoash king of Israel)
Prophesies against Israel’s neighbors such as the Arameans and Philistines, and prophesies against Israel for the people’s unfaithfulness to God.
Prophesies against Edom (the descendants of Esau. Remember Jacob and Esau, sons of Isaac and Rebekah from Genesis?)
Jonah was a prophet from Israel whom God sent to warn the Ninevites of coming destruction. Ninevah was the capitol of Assyria, Israel’s bitter, bitter enemies. So Jonah decided to run away instead.
While he was on a ship heading the opposite direction, Jonah got caught in a storm that God created to get to him, and had to be thrown overboard to stop the storm. God provided a large fish to swallow him, and he was in the fish for three days before he prayed and repented.
Then, he did go to Ninevah to warn the inhabitants of God’s wrath. They repented, God forgave them, and Jonah was mad at God for being so merciful to his enemies.
(writes during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah)
Prophesied against Samaria and Jerusalem (the capitols of Israel and Judah, respectively).
Prophesied about Ninevah’s eventual destruction. (Remember the story of Jonah and the Big Fish? And remember the Assyrians who eventually took over the Northern country of Israel?…Ninevah was the capitol of Assyria)
An interesting book where the prophet Habakkuk cries out to God and complains of the violence he sees, and God answers (kind of).
(a descendant of Hezekiah; during the reigns of Josiah king of Judah)
Prophesies against Judah, Philistia (think David and Goliath — Goliath was a Philistine), Moab, Ammon (Moab and Ammon were the children of Lot and his daughters, via incest. They caused Israel much trouble), Assyria (Think Jonah and Ninevah), and Cush (oldest son of Noah’s son Ham).
(A prophet after the return from exile, during the time of King Darius the Mede)
Scolds the returned Israelites for rebuilding their own houses while leaving the Lord’s temple lying ruined.
(A prophet after the return from exile, during the time of King Darius the Mede)
Calls the returned Israelites to return to their God. Zechariah also sees some interesting visions.
Prophesies to Israel and Judah, and talks about the Day of the Lord.
Two other pretty well-known prophets with lots of cool stories associated with them (Elijah and Elisha) never wrote any books that are named after them in the Bible.
But they were famous prophets who spoke up against the evil northern kings in Israel and performed many miraculous signs, including calling fire down from heaven, surviving famines, causing sunken axeheads to float, etc. For more on them and their stories, read the Kings.
The Story of Daniel (Daniel 1–4)
Daniel and his famous three friends were taken to Babylon during the exile of Judah. As young male members of the nobility, they were selected to go through special training and become servants of the king of Babylon.
During the training, Daniel and his friends declined the king’s choice food in favor of food that followed Jewish principles given by God in Exodus-Numbers (aka what today we call kosher food).
Daniel and his friends excelled beyond all the other trainees and were chosen to serve the king. Daniel was also a dream interpreter and helped Nebuchadnezzer interpret a prophetic dream.
Daniel’s three friends were also faithful to God, and at one point when Nebuchadnezzer tried to force them to bow to a golden idol at risk of their lives, they chose to stand for their God. As a result, they were thrown into a furnace so hot that the guards who threw them in, died. However, the three men survived the fire, and Nebuchadnezzer promoted them and honored their God.
In later life, Daniel prayed to God faithfully three times a day. His jealous colleagues tried to attack him, but could not accuse him of anything, so they got the king to decree that no one could worship anyone but the king. When Daniel ignored this decree, the king was forced to throw him in the lion’s den to be torn apart. However, God closed the lions’ mouths and Daniel survived. His accusers, however, were tossed in after him, and they did not survive.
Daniel not only survived but thrived through the reigns of not only Nebuchadnezzer and his descendants, the kings of Babylon, but also the reign of Darius and the Medes and Persians.
The first half of Daniel contains the above stories. The latter half contains more of Daniel’s prophecies concerning the future.
The Story of Esther (Esther 1–4)
The story of Esther occurs near the end of the exile period. Esther was an orphaned Persian Jew who was promoted to be queen when the king deposed his previous wife for disobeying him and fell in love with Esther’s beauty after a beauty contest of sorts.
The king’s right-hand man, Haman, hated Jews because of a Jew named Mordecai (who just so happened to be Esther’s cousin and adoptive father) who refused to bow down to him. Haman plotted to exterminate the Jews, and nearly succeeded.
But Mordecai got a message to Esther, who risked her life to talk to the king and managed to get him to help save the Jews. As a result, the Jews celebrated a festival (which is still around today) called Purim.
Israelites Return from Exile (2 Chronicles 36, Nehemiah 1–13, Ezra 1–10)
(Caveat: this is the part of Bible history I am more confuzzled about, so take with a grain of salt and double check what I say)
When king Cyrus the Persian tells the Israelites that they are allowed to go back to their home country, a few of them go back. Their leader is Zerubabbel, son of Shealtiel, a descendent of King David.
Ezra, a scribe, goes along with them and reads to the people from God’s Law (all the early books in the Old Testament). But the Israelites are very few and their enemies (the foreigners who were moved into the land of Canaan and the surrounding areas when the Israelites left it) are many. And mean. And the Israelites are so busy fending off their enemies that they don’t really get around to rebuilding their walls or the temple.
Much later, Nehemiah, former cupbearer to Persian King Xerxes, requests permission to go help his fellow Israelites build up the walls of the capitol, Jerusalem, and the king lets him go with equipment for building.
Together, Nehemiah and Ezra (and a couple other prophets and people) work on rebuilding Israel, not just physically (building the walls), but also reminding them of their spiritual mission as God’s chosen people, to return and be faithful to God and His law.
Other Old Testament Books That Don’t Tell Stories
These complement the overall narrative, but don’t contribute directly to the plot.
Contains lots of poems and songs written by King David (and some other folks). The themes of the Psalms range from despair and calling out to God for help to praising God for his greatness.
(The David Psalms were written throughout David’s lifetime, so if you have one of those chronological Bibles, you can read them alongside the narrative in 1–2 Samuels)
A bunch of wise sayings about life and God, mostly by David’s son King Solomon, but there are others in there too. The last Proverbs (31) describes a Godly woman.
More observations about life and wisdom by King Solomon. (They are rather dark, for the most part).
Song of Songs/Song of Solomon
Romantic poetry between a king and his beloved.
Poetry by the prophet Jeremiah where he cries about the sadness of Israel’s unfaithfulness and their coming destruction (just before the exile).
A lot of things happen in the time between the end of the Old Testament and the start of the New Testament. The Bible is silent during this time, but we know based on the historical record that the Roman Empire begins taking over the world at this point. And they are the ones in charge when the New Testament begins.
The New Testament
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
A previously childless couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth have a miracle baby named John after an angel visits to announce John’s upcoming birth and life mission.
Later, Jesus is born in Bethlehem to a virgin named Mary (Elizabeth’s cousin) who is engaged to be married to a man named Joseph.
Angels announce Jesus’ birth to shepherds who are in the fields nearby, and they come to worship the baby as well. Some important men from the east (colloquially known today as “wise men”) who have apparently been studying Old Testament prophesies, realize that the Messiah has been born. They decide to pay homage to him, and follow a star to Bethlehem.
Unfortunately, they make the mistake of asking King Herod the Great, the puppet king of Judea at the time, where they might find the newborn king.
Herod doesn’t know, but wants to kill the newborn “king,” (whom he probably views as a threat to his own power). So he tells the wise men to let him know when they found him.
Thankfully, the wise men, after finding Jesus and delivering their gifts and homage, don’t go back to Herod. And Jesus’ parents are warned by God and escape to Egypt for a time. Herod gets mad that he can’t find the baby, and slaughters a bunch of other baby boys in Bethlehem in his anger.
After Herod’s death, Joseph takes his family back to his home country, and they settle in Nazareth where Jesus has a pretty uneventful childhood except for one episode where his parents lose him for three days during a journey to Jerusalem for the annual Passover (remember Israel’s whole escape from Egypt and Ten Plagues thing that happened years ago? The Passover commemorates that)
When John (Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son, Jesus’ cousin) grows up, he starts baptizing people and preaching that people need to repent, for “the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Hence, he is often known as John the Baptist, because there’s another John in the Bible).
Then, Jesus also begins a public ministry.
During this ministry time, Jesus preaches his message, telling people that “the kingdom of heaven” is near. He gathers a group of 12 disciples, and performs multiple miracles, from healing the blind and demon-possessed, to feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish (twice), to raising dead people.
Jesus’ 12 disciples are:
- Simon Peter*: hotheaded fisherman, Andrew’s brother.
- Andrew: Peter’s brother, also a fisherman
- John son of Zebedee*: brother of James, also known as Boanerges (“Sons of Thunder”…maybe for their forceful personalities?)
- James son of Zebedee* (aka James the Elder): brother of John. Also had the nickname “Boanerges.”
- Simon the Zealot
- Levi Matthew: former tax collector
- James son of Alphaeus (aka James the Lesser/Younger): writer of the book of James in the New Testament, according to tradition.
- Nathanael Bartholomew
- Thomas Didymus: colloquially known as “Doubting Thomas” because he famously said he wouldn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection unless he got to touch the scars on Jesus’ physical body. Which he did.
- Jude/Judas Thaddeus
- Judas Iscariot: the one who betrayed Jesus. Later replaced (after Jesus’ death and resurrection) by Matthias via drawing of the lot.
*(These three were Jesus closest friends, and spent more time with Him than any of the other disciples)
Jesus also confronts many religious leaders for their pride and hypocrisy. These religious leaders get deathly jealous of Jesus and plot to have him killed.
At the end of Jesus’ approximately 3.5-year ministry, Jesus returns to Jerusalem (where the Temple is located), and has one last meal with his disciples before he is betrayed by one of his 12 closest disciples (Judas) who hands him over to the jealous religious leaders who arrest him and give him to the Romans to be tortured and crucified.
After three days, Jesus’ women followers discover that his tomb is empty. They run and tell the disciples, who at first don’t believe them. But Jesus appears in person to the women, to the disciples, and to hundreds of others. He tells them to “go and make disciples of all nations” and then returns to heaven.
After Jesus returns to heaven, the disciples wait and pray. One day, (which we today call Pentecost), the disciples are praying when the Holy Spirit descends “like tongues of fire” and enable the disciples to “speak in tongues” and start preaching the gospel everywhere.
During this time, a devout Jewish guy named Saul of Tarsus persecutes the new Christians, going out of his way to find and imprison and even kill them because of their beliefs.
But one day, Saul is on his way to persecute some more Christians when a blinding light from heaven knocks him off his feet and Jesus speaks from heaven, asking Saul why he (Saul) is persecuting him (Jesus).
Saul realizes that he’s been living life all wrong. He is temporarily blinded, during which he stays with a Christian, repents for his murderous ways, and begins to learn about Jesus and the kingdom of God.
Saul is given a new name: Paul. Paul reconciles with the Christians and eventually becomes one of their strongest advocates and leaders. He also ends up writing half of the New Testament.
Paul and other followers of Jesus like Barnabus, Philip, Peter, John Mark, and many more, start traveling all around the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and beyond, preaching the good news about Jesus.
Peter, Paul, & Co. face multiple hardships — shipwrecks, imprisonments, stoning, and eventually martyrdom — but they also successfully preach the gospel to many people, start churches all over the Mediterranean, and perform many miracles, including healings and raising people from the dead just like Jesus did.
Meanwhile, the Romans, Jews, and other nonbelievers, try to persecute, kill, torture, and shut up the Christians, but in spite of their best efforts, the faith continues to spread without stopping…as it has to this day 🙂
And that, in a sense, is the end of the story.
However, there are more books in the New Testament. These include:
The Pauline Epistles
Contrary to a cute story I once heard about some earnest but not-yet-fully-educated kindergarteners, the Epistles were not the wives of the Apostles.
Instead, the word “epistle” means “letter.” As in, snail mail. As in, the following books were letters, written by Paul and other Jesus followers, to various churches located throughout the Mediterranean area.
These letters/epistles are generally named after the city in which the groups of believers lived, to which the letters are addressed.
So Romans is Paul’s letter to the Christians living in Rome; 1 and 2 Corinthians are the letters Paul wrote to the Christians living in Corinth, and so on and so forth.
Written to the believers in Rome. Paul reminds them that Gentiles (non Jews) are also able to receive righteousness before God through faith. But that does not make Gentiles better than Jews. All humans are saved through God’s mercy, not their ethnic identities. He also reminds the Roman believers of other basic tenets of their faith, encouraging and warning them.
In his first letter, Paul scolds the Corinthians for some serious misbehaviors, and talks about other things, like how the church is to work (a body with many parts, of which Christ is head). 1 Corinthians 13 is the famous chapter on love “Love is patient, love is kind…”
In his second letter, Paul softens his tone a bit and tells the Corinthians that after punishing someone for sinning, they should also “forgive and comfort” him when he repents. He reminds the believers that they are to look forward to heaven, encourages them to be generous, and talks a little about his own sufferings during his missionary journeys.
Paul warns the Galatians against turning to “a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all,” and warns against legalism. There’s a famous passage in Chapter 5 on the Fruits of the Spirit “love, joy, peace, patience, etc…”
Paul tells the Gentile believers in Ephesus to promote unity and leave behind their old sinful way of life. There’s a famous passage in Chapter 6 on the armor of God “belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, etc.”
Paul writes to the believers in Philippi to warn them not to depend on human efforts to follow the law, but to depend on the righteousness that comes by faith.
Paul gives the believers in Colosse some helpful tips on living a Godly life.
Paul tells the Thessalonians to be ready for Jesus’ coming whenever it comes, and not to worry, be fearful, or lose heart as they wait.
Paul encourages his young protege, Timothy, teaching him how to interact with other church members, how to select elders, overseers, etc., and how to care for the “weaker” members of the church (widows, slaves, etc.)
Paul advises another Christian named Titus on how to organize and help the churches in Crete.
Paul writes on behalf of an escaped slave named Onesimus, to his master Philemon. Paul asks Philemon to forgive Onesimus for running away, and to treat him well for Paul’s sake.
The Other Epistles
…consist of letters written by writers other than Paul.
Hebrews (may or may not have been written by Paul)
In this letter, the writer teaches the believers about various aspects of the faith, and relates the gospel of Jesus to Old Testament symbols that the readers are familiar with: high priests and covenants and tabernacles, etc. There is a famous Faith Hall of Fame in this book, Ch. 11, which lists many famous Old Testament people who lived by faith.
James, the brother of Jesus, writes to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations,” reminding them that faith is not only based on talk, but on action. He reminds believers to care for widows and orphans, watch what they say, and pray for each other.
In his first letter, Peter writes to “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” telling them to be holy, encouraging wives and husbands to love each other, encourages them not to be afraid of suffering, etc.
In his second letter, Peter warns believers against false teachers and reminds them that Jesus will come soon — but that the reason he doesn’t is not because he’s procrastinating, but because he is waiting on humans, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
John writes eloquently about God’s love and encourages believers to love and obey God and love and serve each other.
He also writes to several individuals directly, with words of encouragement and reminders, again, to love each other.
Jude, “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” writes to believers to be careful of “godless men” who use the grace of God into “a license for immorality” and “deny Jesus Christ our…Lord.” He then encourages believers to persevere in their faith no matter what, and to “be merciful to those who doubt.”
The last book in the Bible is a book of prophesy describing the end of the world. Revelations begins by addressing seven different churches in the province of Asia, then talks about the final judgment and goes into a lot of stuff that, I must confess, is mostly over my head for now.
But there are a lot of images in there that have sometimes leaked into popular culture: three angels, for instance, and horsemen, and beasts.
Revelations also says that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where there will be “no more night” and “no longer will there be any curse.”
John, the writer of Revelations, ends with these words:
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
The story of the Bible is an epic, tragic, disturbing, and inspiring story. It’s the story of humanity. It is our story. And personally, I think everyone who can should get to know it. Hopefully this will help some people get started 🙂
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