It’s amazing the things you discover when you pay attention to the chronological things in the Bible. That may sound crazy, but so often, we tend to focus on a single passage or even on a single verse and don’t necessarily pay attention to the overall time frame of the history.
Some students and I discovered this last week in a class I was teaching in Biblical Studies here at the seminary. The guys are required to take a course in Biblical History and Culture. They learn about biblical culture because so many of the details of the Bible can only be understood by being aware of the things that they were concerned about. And giving us an understanding of the chronology of the Bible gave us insight into certain characters inthe Bible that may not surface when we look only at a single episode in their life.
One example of this is Isaac. In Genesis 27, we read that Isaac had grown old, and that his eyes were ‘weak’. This is the chapter where Jacob deceives Isaac and gets Esau’s blessing. Then starts the long story of Jacob – going to his uncle’s house, spending years working for his uncle, marrying the uncle’s two daughters. And then in chapters 32 and 33, Jacob returns and meets Esau after all those years. Everything is fine. Jacob’s children grow older. Rachel dies.
All this goes on up through chapter 35. And then at the end of chapter 35, it was long about this time that Isaac died. After all these years! This man has been ‘dying’ for more than 20 years!
This is not like a situation with modern medicine. With ancient medical conditions, you don’t usually stay a ‘little bit sick’ for a long time. But I have these visions of Isaac, people walking past him for 20 years, and he just says, ‘Oh, I’m dying over here, any day now!’
It just seemed a rather strange discovery after the urgency of the birthright business back in chapter 27, back when his eyes were weak and he couldn’t even tell one son from another.
Another example is from Ezekiel 33. Ezekiel puts dates on many of his prophecies. In Ezekiel 33:21, he says, “In the twelfth year of our exile… a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, ‘The city has fallen.'” Jerusalem had been destroyed.
The next six chapters are about the sins and judgment of Jerusalem. And then in chapter 40, he begins what are some of the most hopeful chapters in the Bible. It’s a vision of the future, of the new temple, of the new Jerusalem. What’s interesting is, he begins chapter 40 by saying, “In the 25th year of our exile…”
This is 13 years later. There were 13 years of silence. And what must those 13 years have been like? But after 13 years, God brings a message of hope and a vision for the future.
This just renews in me the joy of discovery. The Bible is an ocean. It’s always exciting to explore new places that give a greater understanding of the whole.