EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from What Does God Want of Us Anyway? A Quick Overview of the Whole Bible ,chapter nine "A Particular History," by Mark Dever (Crossway).

We will understand nothing about the Old Testament—or the God it reveals—if we do not understand that it is about a particular history. I know that I only have to say the word history and every other person will fall asleep. I know that history has a bad reputation as being quite boring. Perhaps in school you were taught to memorize long lists of dates and names. I am sorry about that. Not all of this chapter will be long lists of dates and names! Really, the story of the Old Testament is quite amazing. 

The Storyline 

Our text for this chapter begins, not surprisingly, on page 1 of your Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). Notice, this amazing story begins with nothing. And then the most extraordinary thing happens: from nothing we get something. 

In that something, we see God's marvelous creative work. First, there is inanimate creation—water, earth, sun. Then God brings life—vegetation, fish, birds, animals. Perhaps you read in the newspapers about how excited scientists became when they thought they might have found water on the planet Mars, because where water exists, life exists. That might be exciting for secular people, but for Christians the most amazing thing is what God did next: he made people in his image, to reflect his character. All of this happens in the first two chapters of the Bible. 

In the third chapter, God's first humans disobey him, and the whole cosmos falls into ruin as a consequence. 

From chapters 4 to 6, we read a story of disintegration, beginning with the first son, Cain, who murders his brother, to the people of Noah's day, who are so bad that God decides to wipe out all the earth. You may think, "Maybe if we start over with just one righteous man and his family, human history will fare better." Of course, humanity did not fare better. 

Beginning in chapter 10, the world is repopulated and then disintegrates again, epitomized by chapter 11's story of the Tower of Babel. At Babel, proud man tries to strike out independently from God, to which God responds with more judgment. 

God then calls Abraham, in chapter 12, which marks yet another new beginning. 

Before we get any further, we should note the vast scale of history contained in the Bible. I personally think that most of the history of the world may have happened before the days of Noah as recorded in Genesis 6. In the apostle Peter's second letter, he refers to the world before the flood as the "ancient world" or "the age that then was" (2 Pet. 2:5, author's translation). It's possible that whole empires that we have not even dreamed of rose and fell in the time before Noah. Also, the time from Abraham to Jesus was as long as the time from Jesus to us today. 

Anyway, God calls Abraham to be the first of God's new people. He gives Abraham descendants. Through Abraham's grandson, Jacob (also called Israel), God's people begin to experience prosperity. After a series of providential twists, these people end up as slaves in Egypt, yet they also quickly reproduce to become a vast nation. 

Moses then brings the nation of Israel (named after Abraham's grandson) out of Egypt. God first gives Israel the law, which marks them off as his very special people. Second, he gives them the land he has promised, where this marked-off people are to live and display God's character to the nations. But instead of their displaying God's character, moral and political confusion follows during the rule of leaders called judges.