For many readers, the Bible can seem like a big, intimidating book –mysterious, tedious and often hard to understand. Stan Guthrie’s new book “God’s Story in 66 Verses,” is a spiritual tool that helps readers understand the entire Bible by focusing on just one verse in each book. These verses which serve as the chapter’s themes can make reading the Bible less confusing, and feel as if you’ve read the entire book. This excerpt provides a glimpse into the Bible’s first three books: Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus.
He believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
THE BIBLE STARTS NOT WITH ADAM AND EVE BUT WITH THE LORD, who creates the universe (Gen. 1:1), setting up the natural (1:3– 31) and moral laws (2:16–17) to govern it. Our first parents, however, listen to the serpent and reject God’s law in favor of their own (3:1–6), plunging the world and the human race into a cycle of sin and death that continues to this day (3:7–19). But the Lord graciously provides an animal sacrifice to cover our sin (3:21). This promise comes in the context of God’s promise of an ultimate Savior who will fatally crush the serpent’s head while sustaining a painful wound to himself (3:15).
Pursuing this plan, the Lord saves a reprobate human race (“every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” [6:5]) from ultimate destruction in the Flood by providing an ark for Noah and his family (6:6–8). After scattering a dangerously proud humanity at the Tower of Babel (11:1–9), the Lord gets specific in how he will save us. He calls Abram from the pagan land of Babylonia into Canaan, the land bridge of the ancient world, to “bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (12:2). Part of God’s promise to Abram, who is an old man without an heir, is the provision of offspring as numerous as the stars in the night sky (15:3–5). Abram responds in faith: “He believed the Lord, and [the Lord] counted it to him as righteousness” (15:6).
It is a pivotal moment in the history of salvation, revealing how God graciously deals with his people. The verse and all sub¬sequent salvation history make clear that people are counted righteous by a holy God not on the basis of their good works but on their trusting faith in him. The book of Hebrews says,
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (11:8–10)
And God is faithful to his promise to Abraham, providing Isaac as his son (Gen. 21–22) and Jacob and Esau as his grandsons (25). Jacob is a scoundrel who, despite God’s promised blessing, cheats his older brother, Esau, out of his birthright (25) and is forced to flee from the promised land, acquiring wives, children, and wealth (28–31). Jacob returns to the land, wrestles with God, and is a changed man (32), finally making peace with Esau (33).
One of Jacob’s sons is the precocious and self-confident Joseph, who alienates his jealous, cutthroat brothers and is sold into slavery in Egypt (37). Joseph, with God’s hand of blessing, rises to politi¬cal prominence in Egypt (39–41). Back in Canaan, his brothers are forced by a killer drought to head for Egypt (42:1–5), where Joseph welcomes them (42–50). God has placed Joseph as second in com¬mand in Egypt for their protection (50:20). Their descendants, as evidence of God’s promise to Abraham, grow into a mighty nation, presenting a strategic problem for Egypt, which eventually will send them back to the land promised to Abraham.
Abraham’s faith, credited to him and his descendants as righ¬teousness, is amply rewarded in the history of God’s people, who grow into a dynamic kingdom that points the nations to God. When that kingdom falters through the people’s unbelief, God remains faithful to them, eventually sending Israel’s ultimate King, Jesus Christ. Abraham’s faith, credited to him as righteous¬ness, is also a model for the faith in Christ that is required to be in a saving relationship with God:
No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justifica-tion. (Rom. 4:20–25)