Compare the Bible to a car. What do you value in a car? For most people, the value is in driving it. We need to get places, so we just learn what’s necessary for a license: brakes, clutch, steering, rules of the road – and how to fill the tank. For others, it’s the appearance that matters most. The car is a status symbol, so the make, model, colour, styling, and ‘feel’ are crucial. For others, it’s speed and power, or perhaps safety or efficiency that matter most. But every mechanic knows that what’s really important about a car is the engine! For most of us, the engine doesn’t matter – as long as it works. But in reality, the car is built around the engine. No engine, no car.
We might think of the Old Testament as the engine of the Bible – a bit hidden away, complicated, hard to understand… yet somehow, we know it’s important. (What we really like is the New Testament – that’s what we can relate to). Yes, the engine is enormously complex, and if there’s a problem, we’d rather know a good mechanic than become one. But still, we know the crucial components: like battery, gear box, engine block, timing belt, radiator. Likewise, the crucial components of the Bible’s engine are the 5 Books of Moses, aka the Pentateuch (pente = five, teukhos = scroll or book).
For centuries, the Pentateuch was the Hebrew Bible, there was nothing more. It became known as God’s Law or Torah – which actually means ‘guidance, direction, teaching’. We don’t need to become expert scholars to understand the Pentateuch, but it does take some effort – we have to immerse ourselves into a different time, culture and worldview – the Ancient Near East – with strange ideas and practices. And each book is unique! Genesis covers over 500 years: the story of God raising up a people with a special purpose, their captivity, and growth in Egypt.
Exodus covers one generation – their miraculous escape from slavery, and the giving of the Law – a Covenant agreement with God. Leviticus explores that law in great detail, written while camped at Sinai. Numbers covers 40 years of disobedience and rebellion in the desert before God finally allowed them to enter the land he’d promised. And Deuteronomy (meaning ‘second law’) is a single speech by Moses, summarising everything that had happened up to that point – just before his death.