ImmerseBeginnings NLT - Page 12


Promise. The first five books have a special status of their own and in
Christian tradition are known as the Pentateuch (meaning “five books”
in Greek). But its ­ancient Hebrew name, Torah, reveals the purpose of
these books more clearly.
Torah is probably best translated as “instruction.” As God’s covenant community follows these instructions, they not only receive God’s
blessings but also are uniquely positioned to bring renewal and healing
to the world, as implied in God’s promises to Abraham. God’s instructions to his people are the catalyst for their movement to show all
peoples the true character and nature of God. The community of God’s
people is being sent on a mission to renew the world, and these instructions are its marching orders.
This Torah is conveyed through a variety of literary genres, or kinds
of writing. About two-thirds of these first five books consist of laws that
instruct people on how to live the life that God intends. These laws
appear both in general terms (“love your neighbor as yourself”) and
in specific cases (“If you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey that
has strayed away, take it back to its owner”). These laws were given
to govern the covenant relationship between God and his people. It is
important to understand that these laws are for God’s people in a particular historical and cultural setting and in an early stage of God’s story
with respect to the world. Many of the particular laws are not God’s
final, timeless answers about how we should live. The entire Bible tells
this ongoing story, and more light is shed as the story moves forward.
In addition to stories and laws, we find songs and poems that celebrate special events or anticipate the future. There are family trees (genealogies) listing people in relation to their ancestors and descendants,
locating their historical place in the community that experienced God’s
faithfulness generation after generation. Other kinds of lists appear as
well, detailing kings, spies, stopping points along a journey, job assignments, and so forth. These books also contain elaborate blueprints for
a place of worship and its furnishings, and even census reports for the
population of Israel.
All of these different kinds of writing are woven together into a
single work, whose overall purpose is to describe the formation of the
covenant community. This community—the ancient nation of Israel—
will constitute God’s people on earth for the first three-quarters of the
Bible. Over the course of these first five books—Beginnings—we follow
the community from its earliest ancestors to the moment it is poised to
enter the land God promised them. There, the community can begin
living a life that will lead the surrounding nations to exclaim, “How wise
and prudent are the people of this great nation!”

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