Brunel Merilus and I took the young boys in our Wednesday evening Bible class through the Story of the Bible in 2009. Our purpose extended beyond identifying the dozen or so major turning points in the Story. We also wanted them to know the stories we thought any informed person would know.
I designed handouts for each of the lessons and converted them into pdf files. Each lesson contains the story under consideration and a few questions for interacting with the students. You will also find art work, diagrams, charts, or maps along the way. If you want to teach a shorter course, just download the lessons marked “Turning Point.” There are nine such lessons.
I have included a brief overview of each lesson with teachers in mind. The purpose of these overviews is to help you see how each lesson fits into teaching that particular lesson as part of the whole Story. If you have any questions, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
01 The Beginning (Turning Point)
There are a dozen or so major turning points that make up the story of the Bible. This is the first major turning point. Imagine, ifyou can, how different the story would be without the creation account. There would be no story—at least where mankind is concerned. There is more of significance to the beginning of the story of the Bible than meets the eye in the opening pages of Genesis.
02 The Fall (Turning Point)
All stories center on conflict. It is an essential element of a story. No conflict/no story. One writer has even said that to get to the heart of the meaning of a story, identify the conflict as soon as possible. The main conflict, the cosmic conflict, of the story of the Bible is introduced in Genesis 3, commonly called The Fall. Again, there is more to the story in Genesis 3 than meets the eye, but that’s what the rest of the story is all about. This is one of a dozen or so major turning points. So, consider how this changes the course of things prior to itself.
There are three catastrophes recorded in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. The first is the Fall, the second is the flood of Noah’s day. The third is the Tower of Babel. All three events affect all of mankind.
First, there is the Fall (Genesis 3), then the Flood (Genesis 6-9), and then the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). These three show mankind going from bad to worse. The Prologue to Genesis (1-11) does not paint a pretty picture of mankind’s beginning. But there is light at the end of the tunnel (Genesis 12).
05 God Calls Abram (Turning Point)
After a rather bleak beginning (Genesis 1-11) we come to the beginning of God’s solution. After
cursing mankind by means of the ground in the garden, and the flood (Gen 6-9), and confounding his language at Babel, God calls one man through whom He will bless all the nations. Some have suggested that the Old Testament is a record of the preservation of the seed of Abraham. Fail to see the significance of this man or to trace him and his family through the Old Testament, and you will miss the gist of the Old Testament.
Embedded in the texts of these stories is important information about God. As the Lord seeks to reassure Abraham of the promise He made to him in the previous lesson, we learn something about the God of the Bible. What is it? The answer is in v 7.
It is an easy thing to extract individual stories from the Bible and turn them into nothing more than a moral tale. The morals are there, but to reduce them to strictly telling a moral tale would, in most events, be a mistake. The lesson here tells us something about what God approves of and disapproves of, but it is also embedded in the prolonged story of Abraham. How does it fit into the story of Abraham as told in Genesis 12-25?
This is a great story, not just for its drama, but because it illustrates precisely what I have tried to say in previous comments. It is easy to make a moral tale out of this, but it is a peculiar moral tale because God asks Abraham to offer Isaac, his only begotten son, as a sacrifice. I do not know how anyone can make sense of this story independent of the Abraham story as a whole. Don’t forget to factor Hebrews 11:17-19 in your study.
The promise to bless all nations or families was initially given to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). It was then given to Abraham’s son according to promise, Isaac, and then to Jacob. Think about it: the entire book of Genesis, after the Prologue (Gen 1-11), is about Abraham (12-25), Isaac (22-35), and Jacob (25-50). The reason these three men play so prominent a role in Genesis is the promise given to all three. Keep that in mind in your study.
The story of Joseph is sandwiched in the middle of the story of his father Jacob. Why was so much ink expended on him? You can test the proposition of an earlier lesson here. If the Old Testament is a record of the preservation of the seed of Abraham, what role does Joseph play? There are moral tales to explore, but do not reduce them to merely moral tales. Learn to see each part in light of the whole.
When Moses asked Pharaoh to let God’s people go, Pharaoh asked, “Who is the Lord that I should hearken to him?” The Lord instructed Pharaoh Who He was by chastening Egypt with 10 plagues. The tenth of those plagues was the death of the 1st born in all of Egypt. Israel was spared the brunt of this plague by the Passover. This event is remembered throughout Israel’s history. Why was it so significant? How does it fit into the larger story of the Bible?
Most Bible students agree that the departure (exodus) of the children of Israel out of Egypt is one of the most significant events in Israel’s history. It was brought to their remembrance every Sabbath day. The three events around which the book of Exodus is written are: the Exodus, The Giving of the Law, and the building of the Tabernacle.
13 The Giving of the Law (Turning Point)
God made Israel a special people and He gave them a special law and sent them to a special land, the land He promised Abraham. There are ten fundamental laws recorded in Exodus 20 (and Deut 5), but there are around 600 more given in the books of law.
There was no place quite like the Tabernacle. It is the place God manifested His presence among the children of Israel. If you will recall, the presence of the Lord was lost to man in the fall (Genesis 3). But, in selecting the seed of Abraham as the people through whom He would right the wrongs of the world, He made His presence known through the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that supernaturally took their place over the Tabernacle.
14b The 12 Spies (Added)
After the episodes surrounding Mt. Sinai, 12 spies were sent into the land promised to Abraham. The report of their findings was mixed. It was a land flowing with milk and honey, as evidenced by the grapes they brought with them. But the inhabitants of the land were of great height. Ten of the spies discouraged the people from entering. Joshua and Caleb were ready to take possession of it on the spot.
The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years due to their unbelief. But then they entered the Promised Land, the land God promised Abraham. This land consisted of everything between the Euphrates River and the River of Egypt. Taking possession of the land is recorded in the book of Joshua.
One writer describes this period in Israel’s history as their nadir, meaning the low point of their history. If you have the time, read the book and list all of the peculiar deaths that occur in the book. This list will help you see why it is considered as a low point in Israel’s history.
17 Give Us a King (Turning Point)
When Israel asks for a King so they can be like the nations around them, they are rejecting God as being King. No doubt, this functions as one of the major turning points in the Bible.
Israel’s first king did not work out well. The history of his reign is recorded in 1 Samuel. The book as a whole shows how ill motivated Israel was in rejecting God as their king, and how dangerous it is to want to be like those around you.
The account of David slaying Goliath further demonstrates the lack of faith Israel as a whole had in their God, YHWH. David viewed this entire event in terms of the reputation of God being at stake. Rejecting the oversized armor of King Saul and armed with a sling and five smooth stones, David slew the giant. It was not for personal fame or notoriety that David faced Goliath.
David wanted to build a house for the Lord—a Temple. The Lord granted him permission to do so, but the Lord swore to build David a house.The Lord swore with an oath to David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne forever. In the grand scheme of things, and the story of the Bible as a whole is concerned, this is a very important event.
This is not one of the major turning points in the story of the Bible, but it certainly fits into the category of stories I think someone ought to know to be considered “informed.” It may serve you well to make a list of your own of stories you think any well informed person in the Bible ought to know to be considered such. Perhaps we can consider this as one of the many stories of kings, even the best of them, and their flaws. I am personally persuaded that the entire history of kings of Israel prepare us appreciate the King the Lord provides in Jesus, who is described as Lord of lords and King of kings.
In this series of lessons we have already looked at the first two kings of Israel prior to the point in their history when they divided into two kingdoms. Solomon is the third, and last, of the kings to rule under a united Israel. I have already suggested that the Israel asking for a king (lesson 17) functions as a major turning point in the story as a whole. How did Solomon measure up as a king?
King David wanted to build a house for God (a temple). God told him that a house could be built, but that David could not build it. He had shed too much blood. So, David’s son, Solomon built the temple, which replaced the tent like structure of the Tabernacle. When the Temple was built in Jerusalem, God made his presence to dwell there. This lesson consists of the speech Solomon delivered when the Temple was dedicated.
Solomon died in 931 BC. When he died the kingdom of Israel divided. Rehoboam ruled the two southern tribes and Jereboam led to the revolt and the annex of the 10 northern tribes. I am tempted to include this as one of the major turning points in the Bible, but it seems to be another example among many of the ways Israel put herself on a downward spiral toward Babylonian Captivity. What do you think?
I cannot imagine someone not knowing this story who is also considered to be well informed of the story of the Bible. It is one of those unforgettable stories. Elijah, a prophet of God, and the hundreds of prophets of the false deity, Baal, are locked in combat for no less reason than to prove whose god is God. Imagine what a director with the genius of Steven Spielberg could do with this episode!
I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that every child brought up going to Bible class knows the story of Jonah and the “whale.” Unfortunately, it is probably remembered solely because of the fish God prepared to swallow Jonah. It is probably better to remember it for its fantastic dimension than not to know it at all. Nevertheless, it is a story every biblically literate person should know.
27 The Glory Departs (Turning Point)
Think of the times the presence of God is manifested in the story thus far. He walked with Adam in the garden. His presence was manifested in the pillars of cloud and fire over the Tabernacle. It was manifested at the dedication of the Temple Solomon built. This was, in part, one of the ways God showed the world of his particular relationship with Israel. But, when Israel was being led away to Babylonian captivity, Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord depart from the Temple. This, I would suggest is a major turning point in the story of the Bible.
The string of texts considered in this lesson provide us with the biblical record of Israel’s history with the land. The texts in Deuteronomy record the LORD’s conditions for retaining the Land of Promise prior to Israel taking possession of it. The texts in 2 Kings record Syria’s attack against Israel (Northern tribes), and Babylon’s assault against Judah (Southern Tribes). 2 Chronicles 36 summarizes the taking of Judah and emphasizes the patience of the LORD. We will only look at 2 Chronicles in this lesson, but not without reference to the other texts.
Israel was led captive for a foreign land, the Temple razed and the people of Israel are perplexed. Nebuchadnezzar is King of Babylon and has a dream. None of his soothsayers or magicians can tell the king what he dreamed. But Daniel, a youth among the Israelite captives, can—with God’s help. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is one of those bad news/good news sorts of things. The interpretation of the dream is not good for Babylon’s king, but it is for the Israelites. The God of heaven is going to establish a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. And, unlike the kingdoms of men, its sovereignty shall not be left to another.
Jeremiah said that Israel’s captivity would last 70 years. When the 70 years passed, Israel began trickling back to Jerusalem. But to say they were a sovereign nation again, is not true. After Babylonian captivity, they were subservient to the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and then the Romans. A careful study of Daniel 9 would serve teachers well.
As individual stories go, this is among my favorites. Commentators and dictionary entries are quick to inform us that the name of God appears on no page of this book. Aside from its inherent artistry, why do you suppose this book is even in the Bible? Johnny Ramsey used to summarize the Old Testament saying it was a record of the preservation of the seed of Abraham. Reading Esther in this light will go a long way to helping you answer the question of why it is in the Bible.
Luke 1 & 2 tell stories that surround the birth of Jesus. There are seven voices, all of which declare something important. What do they declare? Gabriel (1:26-38)? Mary (1:46-55)? Zecharias (1:67-79)? Angels (2:13-14)? Simeon (2:25-32)? Anna (2:36-38)? Jesus (2:41-49)?
There are two occasions recorded in the Gospel accounts in which the heavens opened and the Voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son.”
I have often felt that the full significance of this story has escaped me—that there is more for me to understand about what went on between Jesus and Satan. I know this, Jesus resisted the Devil, and He did it, in part, with the word. I know He resisted the Devil. I know that Satan is not a good being. He is evil. I could go on. As you read this text with your class and discuss it, see if you can identify the nature of each temptation set before our Lord, and the significance of each of His responses. That our Lord was tempted in all points and resisted them all, is as astounding to me as any miracle or sign He performed. I stand amazed!
Much of what went on between the birth and the death and resurrection of Jesus is relegated in some people’s minds to insignificant. The Apostles’ Creed highlights both His death and His resurrection, but what about all that middle stuff? The theme of many of the parables highlights what all that “middle stuff” was about. Jesus was acting out and instructing people about the Kingdom of God. Matthew clusters together a host of very brief parables on the nature of the kingdom. Study it carefully.
The text highlighted in this lesson helps to answer the question: What was the purpose of Jesus’ Miracles? John was in prison awaiting execution. Imagine what must have been going on in his mind. He sends some of his followers to Jesus with this question: “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus sends his disciples to John telling them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:” They see miracles. This was code for “The Kingdom of God is come.” (Consider this lesson in light of Luke 11:20.)
There are few questions that could be asked of greater significance than the one around which this text centers. Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” He then asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” How you answer this question will determine the end of one’s life.
Someone has wisely suggested that a study of Jesus’ transfiguration should always be studied in light of the cross, and that the cross should always be studied in light of His transfiguration. The account recorded in Matthew is unforgettable. You might want to compare it with the account of Moses going up Mt. Sinai to receive the law. There are some fascinating parallels.
It is interesting to read the Gospel accounts in light of Jewish expectation. They were looking for God to return to them as King to deliver them from the political oppression of Rome. They expected Him to rule and reign in Jerusalem on David’s throne. They expected Him to usher in the “Golden Days” of Israel, whatever days those may have been. Well, they got their King, he delivered them from the oppression of Rome and he was seated on David’s throne, but in no wise the way they expected. This tension is highlighted in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the Jewish crowds’ praise. It is highlighted on His way in, but especially, on his way out. Days later, this same crowd is crying out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” What accounts for this radical change in the character of the crowd?
The account of what we call The Last Supper is an example among many of how Jesus reconstituted some things around Himself. For example, family relationships were reconstituted around Him, which is one of the reasons we call each other brothers and sisters in the church. The Temple in Jerusalem was reconstituted around Him. And here we have the Passover Feast centering around Him—His body and His blood. Imagine the startling effect this may have had on the Apostles on that occasion. After centuries of observing it with the significance the Lord gave it through Moses, Jesus is asking them to consider what these initial emblems ultimately pointed to—Him.
There is no event the Christian is called to remember more often than the death of Jesus. We are called to remember it in the
(Turning Point)Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week—Sunday. It loses its significance apart from the story as a whole—and in particular, apart from the transfiguration and resurrection. So, try to help your students see how it fits in.
I am persuaded that the significance of the Resurrection of Jesus has not been demonstrated in many churches. In fact, it is denied by some. Do not underestimate the importance of this event.
43 Pentecost (Turning Point)
James Bales wrote an entire commentary on Acts 2 and titled it, “The Hub of the Bible.” Pentecost is the day in which the terms of salvation for Israel and for the nations around them were first proclaimed. It could be called the birthday of the church. It would be hard to over-estimate the importance of this event.
The appearance of the resurrected Jesus turned Paul’s world upside down—or should I say right side up. Nothing could have changed this man from the course he was on shy of the resurrected Christ. Paul lived his life from the vantage point of the story Israel told. The problem is Israel did not have all the details down right. What corrected those erroneous details was the resurrection of Jesus and the instructions Paul received from the Lord Himself.
The conversion of the household of Cornelius is significant because Cornelius was a Gentile. There was no love loss between theJews and the Gentiles. It constituted one of the major social, political, and religious conflicts of the day. In fact, when Paul retells the story of his conversion and concludes by saying that God had made him an apostle to the Gentiles, his Jewish audience said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” (Acts 22:22).
46 The Return of the King (Turning Point)
C. S. Lewis compares Jesus’ return at the end of the story to an author coming out on stage to take a bow at the end of the play. There are some parallels between the two that commend themselves. Mr. Lewis also said when that day comes, it will be too late to say which side we have chosen. There’s a Great Day Coming!