THE TORAH – THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES
The Torah or Pentateuch
The Torah is made up of the first 5 books of the Bible – written by Moses – covering the history of creation, the growth of the nations and God’s people from the call of Abraham to the arrival of the Hebrews at the entrance to the Promised Land.
What is the Torah and what is it about?
Torah comes from the Hebrew word meaning teaching, often incorrectly translated law. God’s “law” was not intended to be like the demands of a dictator but instructions by a loving Father for the best way to live. By following God’s teachings, His people would experience a long life of peace, prosperity and safety.
Proverbs 3:1 – “My son, do not forget my teaching (torah), but keep my commands on your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity (shalom).”
The Torah sets the stage for all of God’s dealings with His people and for understanding the Bible. It contains the seed ideas of all the major doctrines in the Bible. Everything that follows is the outworking of the Torah. It describes the two major covenants of the Old Testament, the covenant with Abraham and the Mosaic covenant with the people of God at Mount Sinai.
It records human history from the creation of the earth, the first human pair and the fall of man. It traces the effects of man’s disobedience from one act of rebellion to the depravity of the entire human race, destruction of the earth with a flood and a new beginning through Noah and his family.
The whole process begins again. The people multiply and wickedness increases until they set up a false religion at Babel. God scatters the nations by confusing their languages.
It follows the history of the Hebrew people from the call of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, the growth of the family of Abraham, first in Caanan and then in Egypt, their slavery in Egypt, their miraculous deliverance from the Egyptians and their journey through the wilderness to the edge of the Promised Land.
Divisions of the Torah
The Torah has two main parts:
- Primeval History: Genesis 1 -11
- The Beginning of the Hebrew Nation: Genesis 12-50
- Primeval History: Genesis 1-11
1.1.1. Creation and the fall of man: Genesis 1-3
Without the first three chapters of Genesis, we would have no idea how the world began, where the human race came from and why there is evil in the world. Without this knowledge man is left to figure it out for himself – hence the many mythical explanations that form the framework of many false religions.
The record of creation is simple, straightforward and without the embellishments of myth or fantasy. God created a suitable home for man and made the first pair to resemble Him, to reflect Him and to manage the earth as His representatives. He gave them one test to see whether they would trust Him and they failed.
Their failure changed their allegiance from God to Satan, their nature from being loving like God to Satan’s nature of rebellion and alienation from Him and their environment from order to chaos. They lost the awareness of God’s presence and were so selfishly self-aware they lived in constant conflict with one another.
1.1.2. Increase of sin, the flood and the growth of the nations: Genesis 4-11
This section records the birth of the first children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the murder of Abel, Cain’s punishment, Adam’s genealogy from Cain to Lamech and his offspring who were all wicked. (Lamech was a brutal killer). Adam and Eve had another son, Seth, who was a godly man.
Noah was from the line of Seth, also a godly man who was chosen to build the ark and rescue the animals from extinction when God sent the flood. Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. Chapter 10 records the descendants of Ham and Japheth and finishes with Shem, Noah’s firstborn who was the ancestor of Abraham.
Chapter 11 describes the refusal of the tribes to fulfil God’s command to fill the earth. They congregated in one place and set up a rival false religion by building a city and a tower as a symbol of their rebellion. God confused their languages and scattered them across the earth.
- History of Abraham and his descendants: Genesis 12-50
- 2.1. Abraham: Genesis 12-25
Genesis 12-25 describes in detail the call of Abraham and his spiritual journey from an idolater in Ur of the Chaldees to the father of faith and of the Hebrew race, living as a nomad in the land God promised his descendants.
1.2.2. Isaac: Genesis 21-24; 26-28:9; 35:27-29.
Abraham had one son in his old age – Isaac. Isaac was the bridge between Abraham and Jacob. His story is not told in the detail that we read about his father and son. Isaac had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. He favoured Esau, causing trouble between the brothers. His life was more settled than his father, Abraham’s.
1.2.3. Jacob: Genesis 25:19-34; 27:1-35:29; 46:1-50:14
Jacob stole Esau’s birthright and blessing through deception and had to flee from Esau’s anger. He went to his uncle, Laban, who cheated him so many times that he decided to return home to face Esau’s wrath.
Although Esau welcomed him, Jacob did not trust him and chose to live at a distance from him. Jacob had four wives and fathered twelve sons who were the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. He favoured Joseph who was the son of Rachel, his favourite wife.
When Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers in Egypt he sent for his father and his brothers’ families to live in Egypt near him. Jacob died in Egypt at the age of 147.
1.2.4. Joseph and his brothers: Genesis 37:1-36; 39:1-30:26
Joseph’s brothers hated him, sold him as a slave to passing traders who took him to Egypt.
He was a slave in the household of Potiphar until Potipahar’s wife lied about him and he was imprisoned until Pharaoh’s cupbearer related to him that Joseph had accurately interpreted his dream while he was in prison. Pharaoh sent for Joseph to interpret his dreams and Joseph was elevated to prime minister in Egypt.
Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food from him during the famine but did not recognise him. After testing them for a change of heart, Joseph revealed his identity and sent for his father and his family to relocate to Egypt where they lived in the best part of the land until Jacob and Joseph’s death.
- The Importance of Genesis
When we ignore the Book of Genesis or are ignorant of its content and teachings, we can easily fall prey to the God-denying and Bible-destroying teachings of false religions including evolutionists.
If we deny the truth of the Bible and especially the first three chapters of Genesis, the rest of the Bible, science and history makes no sense and results in nonsensical and unproven theories like evolution.
The Book of Genesis is the foundation for the rest of the Bible. It teaches us that the earth and its inhabitants were created by God and for God, and He is the centre of everything. When we displace God and put man in the centre, as Adam did, everything descends into chaos.
Genesis also introduces us to God’s redemptive plan. The whole Bible from the beginning is about God’s actions to restore what was destroyed at the beginning. The stories of the patriarchs set the scene for the rest of the Bible, beginning with Abraham and the history of his offspring as the nation God chose through whom He would bring His Son into the world.
- Redemption from Egypt: Exodus 1-18
2.1.1. Increase and slavery: Exodus 1:1-22
After almost four centuries of living under the protection of the descendants of the Pharaoh who ruled during Joseph’s time, a new Pharaoh arose who did not acknowledge Joseph. He was afraid of the Hebrews because their numbers had increased so much that he thought they might join his enemies against him. He put them to hard labour and tried to stop their multiplication by killing the baby boys.
2.1.2. Birth and preparation of Moses, the deliverer: Exodus 2:1-4:31
During this time, Moses was born, third child of godly Levite parents. His mother hid him for three months then devised a scheme to save his life. Pharaoh’s daughter rescued him from the river and, through Moses’ sister, Miriam, enlisted his mother to care for him until he was weaned and could be adopted into Pharaoh’s household where he was trained to be a future ruler.
Moses tried to rescue his fellow Hebrew by killing the Egyptian taskmaster but he had been seen and reported and fled for his life to Midian in the desert of Arabia. He spent forty years caring for sheep and learning to survive in the desert.
God met him at the burning bush and commissioned him to return to Egypt and, in partnership with his brother, Aaron, to deliver the Hebrew people from slavery.
2.1.3. The process of deliverance: Exodus 5:1-11:10
Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh with the request to release the Hebrews to hold festival of worship to the Lord in the desert. Pharaoh refused and increased the workload on the Hebrew slaves. Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh a second time – Pharaoh refused again and God sent nine plagues which destroyed Egypt’s economy and exposed the impotence of their gods.
2.1.4. The Passover and Exodus from Egypt: Exodus12:1-15:21
The tenth plague took their firstborn, which were God’s by right. God set up the Passover Feast for the Hebrews as a permanent reminder of their deliverance from slavery and a prophetic symbol of the work of Messiah who would deliver them from slavery to sin.
After the tenth plague, Pharaoh drove them out and they left in haste, only to be pursued when Pharaoh changed his mind. God miraculously opened up a path through the Red Sea when they were trapped, and finally destroyed the Egyptian army when they tried to follow.
The Hebrews celebrated God’s victory over the Egyptians with a song led by Miriam.
- From the Red Sea to Sinai: Exodus 15:22-19:2
After their deliverance from the Egyptian army, God led His people through the desert to Mount Sinai, fulfilling His promise to Moses that they would worship Him there (Exodus 3:12)..
On the way, God tested their trust in Him to provide food and water for them. They complained and turned against Moses, quickly forgetting the miracles that God did to get them out of Egypt. This exposed their attitude towards God and Moses and finally brought about the death of that entire generation in the desert.
2.2.1. One year at Mount Sinai: Exodus 19:3-40:38
The Israelites remained at the foot of Mount Sinai for a year during which time God set up His covenant with them, (Exodus 19:3-25) gave them His teaching on the best way to live (Exodus 20:1-24:18), gave Moses instructions about the building of the tabernacle and the priesthood (Exodus 25:1-31:18), faced and dealt with their first breaking of the covenant with the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-34:35), and had the tabernacle built and set up (Exodus 35:1-40:33).
God took up residence in the completed tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38).
- The Importance of Exodus
The story of the exodus from Egypt, the covenant at Mount Sinai and the construction of the tabernacle form the three major sections of the book and are the foundation of our understanding of redemption through Jesus Christ. All the pictures and symbols in this book point to their fulfilment in Jesus.
The Book of Exodus is about God coming to man, setting him free from slavery, establishing a marriage covenant with him and providing a way for him to have fellowship with God. The Tabernacle is a picture of God’s desire to dwell with His people.
Leviticus is the record of God’s detailed instructions governing the behaviour of the people towards Him and towards their fellow Israelites. They had been slaves in Egypt for many years. They had no rights and, as possessions, their Egyptian slave masters could do what they liked with them.
God had to build into their culture a way of life that taught them how to be human again, to honour and respect one another, to be generous and fair and to live together in harmony so that the surrounding nations would understand what their God was like.
Through the terms of the covenant God also taught them the nature of sin, His holiness and what was required to deal with the guilt and pollution of sin. He also taught them, through His appointed feasts, what Messiah would do and how He would fulfil each feast in turn.
- The Sacrificial System: Leviticus 1-7
Their laws also taught them to understand the seriousness and nature of sin.
Sin was anything that fell short of God’s perfection – hence sickness, deformity or bloodshed required sacrifice.
Sin incurred a debt that had to be paid for by life of a perfect but innocent animal.
Sin incurred guilt that had to be atoned for by sacrifice…
Sin made them unclean and could only be cleansed with blood.
Sin separated them from a Holy God; they could not approach Him themselves; they had to go through the high priest, and he was permitted into the Holy of Holies once a year, and only with blood. He made atonement on their behalf which bought forgiveness for the sin of the nation for one year.
All of these were a preparation for understanding the work of Messiah.
- The Importance of Leviticus
Because the Hebrews had been slaves in Egypt for many decades, God had to teach them how to be human again, to honour and worship Him and to live in harmony with their fellow Hebrews, treating each other fairly and with dignity and respect.
The terms of His covenant included the sacrificial system and the provisions God made for cleansing them from the defilement of sin and imperfection. Sin was not only the things they did wrong that were against the nature of God but also the imperfections of their fallen world, including disease, deformities, and deficiencies that contaminated them and were able to infect others.
They had to learn that sin defiled and polluted them and their environment; for which God provided cleansing and decontamination through sacrifice. These all pointed forward to the once-for all sacrifice of Jesus that redeems us from slavery, provides forgiveness and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
God was also teaching them His requirements for treating each other fairly and with dignity, regulating marriage and morality and prescribing appropriate retribution for those who rebelled against His teaching and infected others with their bad attitudes.
The title is taken from the Septuagint version (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament done by 70 Hebrew scholars in the 3rd century BC) and refers to the census lists in chapters 1 and 26.
The Hebrew title more accurately reflects the contents of Numbers – “In the desert”. Numbers presents an account of the 38-year period of Israel’s wandering in the desert following the establishment of the covenant at Sinai.
- Israel at Sinai: Preparing to depart for the Promised Land; Numbers 1:1 – 10:10
- The Journey for Sinai to Kadesh: Numbers 10:11-12:6
- Israel at Kedesh, the delay resulting from rebellion: Numbers 13:1-20:13.
- The journey from Kadesh to the Plains of Moab: Numbers 20:14 – 22:1.
- Israel on the Plains of Moab: Numbers 22:1-32:42.
- Appendixes dealing with various matters: Numbers 33:1-36:13
Deuteronomy means “second law”. It is a record of Moses’ sermons to the children of Israel on the brink of their conquest of the Promised Land. Joshua had been appointed his successor; he was about to die but, before he went up the mountain as God had instructed him, he reminded them of the way God had led them, His covenant with them for His way to live the best life, and Moses’ impassioned plea for obedience to God so that they would enjoy His favour and blessing.
Moses repeated all the terms of the covenant that bound them to God and God to them. He reiterated the promises of blessing for obedience and warned them of the consequences of disobedience.
God had led them and been faithful to them for forty years through the wilderness in spite of their grumbling, disobedience and idolatry. The entire generation that had come out of Egypt had died because of their rebellion against God. Their children were about to go into the land to inherit God’s promises. It was now up to them to obey Joshua so that they could take the land and settle in it under God’s protection and provision.
To simplify the book, Deuteronomy can be divided into three addresses.
- First address: Deuteronomy 1:1-4:43
Begins: “These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert east of the Jordan…”
- Second address: Deuteronomy 4:44-28:68
Begins: “This is the Law Moses set before the Israelites.”
- Third address: Deuteronomy 29:1-33:29
Begins: “These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab…”
- Epilogue – the death of Moses: Deuteronomy 34:1-11
Begins: “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Mount Pisgah…”
Moses was speaking to the descendants of the generation that had left Egypt forty years before but had perished in the desert because of their rebellion and unbelief. Their children, whom they said would die in the desert, were now on the brink of entering the Promised Land.
Moses’ sermons are a record of historical events of their journey interspersed with a repetition of the terms of the covenant, and a warning regarding the consequences of the choices they would make.
It is an earnest plea for obedience to the covenant so that they would enjoy the benefits of living God’s way. They had already experienced some of the consequences of disobedience. It was up to them to choose life by obeying the terms of the covenant.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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