Church Education Trust

Church and the Bible

The Pentateuch

The Pentateuch.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, numbers & Deuteronomy. 


The first five books of the "Old Testament" (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) are known as the "Pentateuch". The word "Pentateuch " is derived from two Greek words which simply mean the "five scrolls".

These five books reflect a deep unity of purpose. Each has it own particular right to exist and plays a significant role in the over arching meaning of the Pentateuch which clearly indicates and reflects the Divine purpose for a created world and its inhabitants.


The historical and primary events recorded for us in the Pentateuch surround the lives of those who lived from Abraham to Moses. This period reflects some 600 years of history from 1900BC to 1250BC. The dating of the lives of those who lived pre-Abraham is essentially very difficult.


There are four major themes which straddle the Pentateuch; those themes are concerned solely with God’s involvement in the lives of individuals in particular and the Hebrew nation in general.


A.H.Strong in his Systematic Theology defines election as, " that eternal act of God, by which in His sovereign pleasure and on account of no foreseen merit in them, he chooses certain out of the number of sinful men to be recipients of the special grace of His Spirit and so be made voluntary partakers of Christ’s salvation."

Therefore "Election" reflects the way God chooses individuals in His creation for special attention, causing them to become recipients of His grace while carrying out His word and works of goodness which reflect the purposes of God. Look closely at the calling of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and reflect on the idea of election, specially chosen for a divine purpose.  

2. Covenant.

The idea of "Covenant" is very clear in the scriptures; it is a very important word and has a very important meaning for God’s people. The word "covenant" comes from the Hebrew noun "berith" which has a foundational meaning, "to eat with" or " to fetter" giving the idea of a relationship agreement in something that is chosen to be done together.

The Hebrew word "berith" translated "covenant" suggests a number of meanings. Firstly it reflects a two way agreement of terms that allows a friendly relationship or covenant to be established. It could be political, marriage, commercial or friendship relationship that is being entered into as a "covenant".

When used in conjunction with God relating to man it is never seen to be an equal partnership, for God never enters into a covenant of equality. God’s "covenant of redemption” is something that he entered into with Christ so that His son would undertake to provide humankind’s salvation.The covenant is at the very heart of God’s special revelation to humankind, that covenant becomes the very centre of humankind’s spiritual hope. 

A progressive revelation of God’s covenant will be seen in the Old Testament and it will culminate in Christ’s death and resurrection. In the Pentateuch "covenant theology" begins in the promises God makes after the fall of humankind into sin, (Gen.3:15) it is also seen in Noah and the flood and again it is to be seen in the life of Abraham. The covenant is God’s unconditional love gift of mercy and faithfulness to all that He has created.

3. Law.

The heart of Hebrew belief was that the Law was the very word of God. The giving of the law as recorded in the Pentateuch began with the ten commandments, followed by the book of the covenant (Exodus 21-23), then the codes of holiness (Leviticus 17-26) and the law as discovered in the book of Deuteronomy (ch.12-26).

While the Hebrew law was very special it was not all that dissimilar too much of the cultural laws ascribed to by many of the tribes of that Middle Eastern region. The code of Hammurabi would be a good example of similar law ascribed to by non Hebrew people. Having said that there were at least three distinctives in the Hebrew people’s interpretation of the law.

Firstly and this is extremely important, they were monotheistic. They believed in only one God whereas the other tribes tended to be polytheistic believing in multiple Gods. 

Secondly, Hebrew law allowed the nation to develop deep concerns for the underprivileged, orphans, slaves, women and strangers.

Thirdly, through the covenant with God and the law that supported that relationship, a deep and lasting community spirit was born.

Because of their interpretation of the law of God Israel became unique among nations, they followed God based on the outworking of his law. God gave the law not to hinder and control the nation; on the contrary he gave the law to liberate them.

The law was given to liberate the people in their worship, marriage, family life, work, their commercial relationships etc.The righteousness of the nation and its witness was heavily influenced by the ceremonial and ritualistic law of Leviticus. These laws were given for the perfecting of the nation.

God was impressing on the nation through these laws the need to be holy in all their ways. Ultimately the law was given so that the Hebrew people would not be contaminated by the life style and practices of other nations. God wanted a people who would be moral and distinctive in the way they lived their lives. The Pentateuch delivers an understanding of the role of the law in the life of the Hebrew believer.

4. Exodus.

A majestic event that is constantly found at the core of Hebrew belief. In Hebrew religious thought this was the greatest moment in their historical journey when God intervened and delivered them out of Egypt into the promised land of Canaan. It was an event riddled with miracle and divine presence as God released the enslaved Hebrew nation from the dominating grip of the Egyptians.

It was not only a moment of victory for the Hebrew people but a demonstration that their God’s power was in fact the supreme power. This great event has annually been celebrated as the feast of the Passover.The power of the exodus from Egypt is one of those life and future defining moments that would change the history of a nation forever. Our journey into the Old Testament will commence with the book of Genesis which is the first book of the Pentateuch.


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