The Continuity of the Pentateuch

The Pentateuch is better seen as five volumes of one book rather than five books, distinct and separate from each other. Ultimately they display God’s creation, covenants, and man’s inability to live up to such covenants due to their own indwelling sin. As Moses wrote in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (ESV). This was how it was since the fall.

Recently, due to a controversy in the media, I began to look into Scripture so as to come to a biblical worldview on sex. Starting with Genesis, I found every sexual sin category with which the Levitical laws deal. There was tension between Adam and Eve (Gn 3:7), rape (Gn 6:1, 34:2), homosexuality (Gn 19:4-5), incest (Gn 19:32), pleasure without responsibility (Gn 38:19), prostitution (Gn 38:15-16), and of course adultery (Gn 39:7). Each of these is dealt with in Leviticus 18 in some way, which included bestiality that I was not able to find in Genesis. You can read that article here. Thus, Leviticus links with Genesis in giving laws against the sins that had their beginnings soon after creation.

In addition, other laws that have their roots in Genesis, either by sins observed, traditions begun, or covenants made, are given or repeated in Exodus-Deuteronomy. We have the first substitutionary sacrifice made by God himself to atone for the sins of Adam and Eve. Yet by the time one gets to Cain and Abel, humanity gives their own sacrifices, but when they make their offerings, one sees the beginning of acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices to God. The proper layout of these sacrifices are dealt with in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  There is the first murder when Cain kills Abel, the accepted one, thus expressing the despair that “the woman’s seed” was murdered by the unaccepted child. This same despair can be felt in the very first chapter of Exodus as all the male babies are to be murdered. Coupling the murder of male children with the promise of the Abraham’s blessing to the world and becoming a great nation, one cannot help but wonder how God will fulfill His covenant. Thus we find a deliver, a show of God’s great might, and His protection over His son whom He called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1).

At the same time, one finds other continuities in Genesis through Deuteronomy. The promise of land given to Abraham by God included the prophecy that his people would not enter the land until after spending time as sojourners in a strange land. “Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years,” (Gn. 15:13, ESV). Genesis ends with the Abrahamic family in Egypt and growing, and this is exactly where Exodus begins. The family has grown greatly, but have experienced life in slavery for some odd years. Exodus and the following books of the Pentateuch deal in great detail (in their own way/genre) about the descendants of that Abrahamic Covenant wandering about to enter into the land that was originally promised to Abraham and then Isaac and finally Jacob. They are becoming the nation, the chosen covenant nation though still split as twelve tribes. Like Abraham who was called out of the pagan city of Ur, so Israel was called out of the pagan nation of Egypt. Like Abraham who showed at times faithfulness to God and at times distrust, so one sees–especially in the Exodus account prior to and during the Sinai visit, and the accounts in Numbers with grumblings and grievous sins–Israel wandered, semi-nomadic, learning to trust in this God who called them out.

There is a constant renewal within these books. From the six days of creation to the re-creation after the flood to the starting over with one family (Abraham), to bringing that family into a new land to be a holy nation and a priesthood to God, there is one continuous thread of God’s covenant promises and God’s covenant protection. This is due, at least in part, to God’s unfailing love expressed continually throughout the first five books of the Bible. As Alexander and Baker wrote, “The most significant thing the Israelites learned about the holy character of God is that it is ‘unfailing love.’ . . .It speaks of a favor given to someone who does not have a right to that favor by someone who does not have to give that favor,” (T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 850.)  One may even rightly go as far as God’s seventh day of rest to the Sabbath rest demanded of the people to the Sabbath holy days to the rest promised in the land of Canaan, showing a clear path that God’s revelation to Moses is interwoven with the story of Israel’s journey. Genesis shows the beginning of Israel, beginning with creation, the fall, the flood, and tower of Babel detailing the need for a covenant people. Exodus detailing the nation’s size, their being called out of Egypt and to God as His holy people, as well as Exodus setting up a system of government and worship for the newly formed tribal-nations. Leviticus is a book predominately making up the ceremonial/cultic laws that the Levites and priesthood was to make sure was followed, giving examples of what happens when those laws are not kept. Numbers is predominately a census book of the nation, detailing the number of Israelites at the beginning, middle, and end of their forty-year journey. While these volumes of books would be available for the reading, Moses condensed such books (Exodus-Numbers) into one as the restating of the law or Deuteronomy.  This was given just before Israel would enter into the Promised Land, and Moses, reflecting back on the previous forty years, reminds the new generation of all that transpired with their parents and grandparents, providing extra measures of wisdom and instruction on top of restating the basics of the law sometimes in more detail. Of course, when one reads Joshua and Judges, one will see that once again humanity fails. Each person with whom the covenant was made (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses the people of Israel, as well as the first generation in the land of promise, as well as the second and third, and all throughout Israel’s history) all failed to live up to the demands of their holy God. This ultimately shows that while the laws and covenants were made, no human has the capacity of obedience. As Alexander and Baker wrote, “The covenant did not exist to show humans that they could obey God and thus please him. Rather it existed to show them that even with the best will they could not attain his holy character in themselves,” (Ibid., 858).

It is clear that the Pentateuch, while thought of as five distinct books, should be understood more like five volumes of one book. There is one constant story and theology taking shape through varying genres: historical, legal, census, poetic, etc. To separate them as distinct books developed by persons with different agendas, motivations, and times is to disregard the evidence of succession. While, perhaps I would vary slightly with Alexander and Baker’s assessment of structure, it is clear and concise as to the Pentateuch’s formation:

The broad triadic scheme reflects (1) the transparently introductory function of Genesis 1:1-11:26 with respect to the whole; (2) the manifest concentration on God’s purposes achieved through people and events leading to, occurring at and ensuing form Sinai in Genesis 11:27-Numbers 36:13; and (3) the distinctly recollective, interpretive and transitional function of Deuteronomy with respect to the whole, (Ibid., 549).

I hope you enjoyed reading the summation of my homework in the Old Testament Survey class. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions, I would love to read them. If this was somehow a blessing to you, praise the Lord. If not, I completely understand.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.