Chapter 1: The Beginning of Life as We Know It

Q: Why is the Triune God not seen in the TORAH? (First five books of the Bible)

A: The Holy Triune God has always been, and always will be.  That we know God as three persons in one essence is most clearly seen in New Testament passages such as Matthew 28:18-20, that is true.  But if you look closely, the creation account of Genesis 1 does state the “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2)  Also, it is commonly held that one of the three visitors to Abraham in Genesis 18 was the pre-incarnate Son of God in human form. The other two were angels.  For those of you with a Lutheran Study Bible, keep an eye out for the symbol of three interlocking circles in the footnotes of that Bible.  This indicates reference to the Trinity.

Q: If everyone/everything was vegetarian, what was Abel raising animals for?  Why sacrifice animals?  Why did God look down on Cain’s offering?  How did Cain know that God was disappointed?

A: Both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to thank or praise God.  We are simply not told why God favored Abel’s. (Gen.3 and Hebrews 11:4)  Later, in the worship life of Old Testament Israel, both animal and grain sacrifices were among those commanded by God.  The mention of Abel being a keeper of the flock is the first mention of domestication of animals.  As for God’s disappointment here’s a quote from the Lutheran Study Bible notes on Genesis 4: “Although the text does not say so directly, the language implies that the offerings were accompanied by prayer requests, and that Abel received that for which he prayed but Cain did not.”

Q: Where did all the people come from?  Did God create any other people?

A: All people descended from Adam and Eve.  Eve is called “the mother of all living.”  (Gen. 3:20)             

Q: Was a day at Creation the same as we measure now?  

A: Short answer is yes.  The Biblical use of the word “day” in contexts like that of Genesis does not give any indication that it means something other than one 24-hour period.  

Q: Why did people live so much longer?  How could people live 900+ years?

A: While the lifespans of the people at the beginning exceed ours today, the numbers given are actually shorter than some of the very large ages given in other Near Eastern genealogical lists.  Many theories have developed about diet and environment, but the Bible remains pretty quiet about this.  Why people lived longer then remains a mystery, quite frankly.

Q: What about God before Creation?

A: He always was.  His self-identification to Moses at the burning bush is tough to translate, but usually comes out as “I AM who I AM.”  God’s name is the equivalent of the verb “to be” in Hebrew.(Ex. 3)

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Chapter 2: God Builds a Nation(No questions left)

No questions left.

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Chapter 3: Joseph

Q: Are the Midianites and Israelites the same people?

A: These are two distinct people groups, but they are related.  Sort of distant cousins.  Midian was a son of Abraham by Keturah (Gen. 25:1-6).  Israel (Jacob) was the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham by Sarah.

Q: Explain Ephraim and Manasseh – half-tribes of Israel?

A: Jacob had twelve sons.  Later, the people of Israel were categorized into twelve tribes, one named for each son.  But Levites were not counted in the tribes because of their special duties regarding the tabernacle and worship.  That would have left 11 tribes, but Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh had received special blessings from Jacob before he died.  So rather than a tribe named for Joseph, you have the two, which brings the total number of tribes back to 12.

Q: Does God just choose people to do his will and then they can do so or refuse his direction?

A: I know that this one got special discussion time at the table I sat with that day.  God’s will includes all of us who believe.  We constantly pray (think Lord’s Prayer) for his will to be done, not just “out there” somewhere in the world, but in our lives and through us.  Can you choose against doing his will?  Yes, that’s possible.  But you and I have been chosen by God, and that choosing of his includes his desire for us to bear fruit that comes from faith.  (John 15:16)

Q: Why did God, already knowing what would happen next, make Joseph so powerful?  (Bringing all the Israelites to Egypt where they would become slaves.)

A: Joseph’s part of The Story is one of the many episodes in which God demonstrates his power and strength through the most unlikely of people who come from the most unlikely of backgrounds.  God prepares individuals for lives of service by many means, and in distinctly powerful ways.  How has he been preparing you to serve?  (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Q: How did Joseph end up leading inside the prison after the incident with Potiphar’s wife?

A: Short answer: prison life was much different in ancient times.  Prisoners were often given jobs that might seem uncharacteristically filled with authority by our standards. (Consider St. Paul’s house arrest in Rome much later during which he often had visitors and communicated by letter frequently with the outside world.)

Q: How old was Benjamin compared to Joseph?

A: Benjamin was the 12th and last son born to Jacob (wife Rachel, who died giving birth to Ben.)  It appears that Benjamin was born some time after the other brothers, but was alive when Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt when he was 17. (Gen. 37:2)   So there was an age “gap” between the two, but likely not more than 17 years.

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Chapter 4: Deliverance

(No questions left)

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Chapter 5: Moses – New Commands and a New Covenant

Q: Was Aaron a Levite?  If so, why didn’t he get killed?

A: Aaron, Moses and Miriam were all descendants of Levi.  Aaron became Israel’s first high priest, and played a pivotal role in the formation of the people of Israel.  He also led these people in fashioning an idol out gold while they waited for Moses to come down from Mt. Sinai.  If the event you are referring to is the punishment after that act of idolatry, it is actually the Levites who executed about 3,000 people on behalf of a very angry Moses (and the Lord.)  Why would God spare Aaron, who had led the way into that sinning?  We can only surmise that it was that God needed to keep Aaron in his role as first of the priests, at least for the time being.  (Along with others over a certain age, Aaron, Moses and Miriam are among the thousands who never enter the promised land.)

Q: Was 40 years the same as we count it today?

A: Short answer is simply yes.  (see previous question regarding “day” – week 1)

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Chapter 6: Moses - Wandering

Q: How many people left Egypt originally?

A: 600,000 men were counted in the census conducted at Mt. Sinai shortly after leaving Egypt.   More accurately, 603,550.  (Numbers 1)  Add women and children, and you have a very large camping party!

Q: Were Caleb and Joshua over 20 years old when they left Egypt?

A: Yes.  (Joshua 14:7)  Caleb  claims he was 40 when sent to spy out Canaan in the early days of the wandering period.  He was 85 when he requested his portion of that land.  (Joshua 14:10)

Q: What were the Nephilim?  Are they related to the Greek/Roman gods and mythology?

A: The term is Hebrew for “giants.”  Referred to often in the lands of Canaan and surrounding countries.  (Joshua, 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles)  Most famous “giant” man – Goliath - is actually not termed a giant, but is described as huge of stature and possessing great strength.  Comparing Biblical descriptions and phenomena with those of other ancient writings is an interesting occupation, but I’m afraid is beyond the scope of these pages.

Q: When punishment for sins go out to the third and fourth generation, does it keep going after that?

A: At the giving of the 10 Commandments God says that he will visit “the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but show(ing) steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex. 20:5-6)  The key here is that God pictures his mercy as being much greater than his wrath.  (see also Psalm 130)

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Chapter 7: Joshua - The Battle Begins

Q: Who were the Canaanites descended from?

A: Ham.  (Gen 9-10)

Q: Was Rahab’s lying to the men of Jericho acceptable or sinful?  Does God ever oppose war?

A: Both of these approach the question of whether there can be a “just war.”  The conquest of Canaan stands out among so many wars that history records in that this is one undertaken at God’s command.  Even though we know that murder and lying are sins, it’s pretty clear when you read the entire book of Joshua that this was going to go according to God’s plans.  He was giving them the land he had promised to Abraham 6 centuries before, and it would take exceptional means to accomplish.  For further explanation on this, try p. 92 of the 2017 edition of Luther’s small catechism, and look also to Romans 13.

Q: Why did the Israelites have to destroy all the animals in Canaan?

A: I’ve been able to talk with several of you about God’s great desire for his people to have a “clean slate” when they went in to inhabit that land of promise.  Could the people have been tempted - by having even the animals kept by former inhabitants - into those peoples’ old ways of sacrificing to false gods? 

Q: What was the significance of God stopping the sun in the sky? 

A: The significance of the event is connected to Joshua’s prayer and faith, and the need for battle to continue while daylight remained.  Both the stopping of the sun (Joshua 10:13) and the later returning of the sundial (2 K. 20:11; Isaiah 38:8) display God’s power over his creation at any and every point in time.

Q: Was Jericho one of the oldest cities?  Is it still in ruins today?

A: Yes, it probably is one of the oldest recorded cities of the world.  There is a modern-day Jericho, near the site of the old one, with a population of around 10,000.  The ancient Jericho has been a rich archaeological dig for many years now.  There is a lot of historical significance that has been unearthed there.

Q: Did Martin Luther have anything to say about all the killings in the book of Joshua?

A: No doubt he did, but I haven’t located it yet.  Anyone?

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Chapter 8: A Few Good Men . . . and Women

Q: What temptation was Samson facing that caused him to reveal his secret? Was Samson just an idiot?  What was the root cause of his fall?

A: Could it be simply a weakness for women?  Maybe combine that with a false sense of invincibility?

Q: Why was drinking by lapping up the water considered a weakness?

A: Not entirely clear about this.  One suggestion is that the others (the 300) who did not lap were in a physical posture that was more alert and ready for what came next.

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Chapter 9: The Faith of a Foreign Woman

Q: Why did Naomi’s sons marry Moabites?

A: Surprise: While the Israelites were not to intermarry with almost all the rest of their neighbors, there was no such prohibition concerning the Moabites.  Moabites and Ammonites were descendants of the incestuous union of Lot and his daughters. (Genesis 19:6-8)  This made them relatives (though) distant) of the Israelites.  Elimelek and family were in Moab due to an extended famine; they probably thought they would be there for a long time, past the time for the sons to marry “back home.”

Q:  How did the Israelites know people were from Moab?  Dress?  Language?

A: Good question.  There is no apparent answer in the Biblical record.  So we can only suppose: there may have been different dialect of the Semitic language used by the Israelites, Hebrew.  Perhaps dress was different, perhaps other daily customs.  Their religious practices were very different.  That much we know from scripture.

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Chapter 10: Standing Tall, Falling Hard

Q: Is it a common thing for women to be praying at this time?  (I assume the questioner means “at God’s house.”)

A: While there are not numerous mentions of this happening in the Old Testament, there is also nothing that seems to prohibit women’s public prayer such as Hannah’s, or anything to make it seem “out of place.”  Also, when Jesus is presented at the temple in Luke 2, both Simeon and Anna are indicated to be very “frequent fliers” when it comes to prayer at the temple!

Q: Why did they not bring the ark back to the city?

A: The Ark of the Covenant has a story unto itself.  Constructed by the people under Moses’ direction while they were wandering in the wilderness, it itself seems to have had a “wandering” in 1 Samuel, when it is taken into battle with the Philistines and captured by them.  They soon understood its divine power (all sorts of calamities came their way while it was in their possession) and after a few months literally sent it on its way.  1 Samuel 6 details how the Philistines got rid of it.  When the Israelites saw it coming back “home” there was much rejoicing, but some of them also paid the price for irreverence.  The ark is finally brought into Jerusalem by David and company, but not placed in a permanent temple until the reign of Solomon.

Q: Why did Saul leave King Agag alive?  Why was he not killed along with everyone else?  Do we know that possibly others may have been left alive?

A: Saul may have thought he was doing right by sparing Agag, even though God had been pretty clear about not leaving a single Amalekite alive.   There was also that issue of cows and sheep that Saul had in mind to sacrifice, but which was a clear violation of God’s command.  Maybe Saul was “showing off” to the people that he was really in control of the situation.  Contrast this with David’s relentless crediting God with his successes.   Sidenote:  Haman, the evil character of the book of Esther, is described as an Agagite, with the implication that either he was descended from Agag or had his character.

Q: Why, all of a sudden, were the Philistines a dominant force?  Were they not there all along?

A: “The Philistines were known in the ancient world as the ‘sea people.’  Originating in Crete, this nation swept into Canaan and pushed on toward conquering Egypt to establish a new empire.  But Ramses III, the Egyptian Pharaoh, turned them back.  Nevertheless, the Philistines were still able to establish a federation of five city-states in the land of Canaan: Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza.  Their presence in the land was a constant threat and a source of irritation to the people of Israel.”   From Exploring the Story: A Reference Companion   p. 51

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Chapter 11: From Shepherd to King

No questions left.

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Chapter 12:  The Trials of a King

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Chapter 13:  The King Who Had It All

Q:  How old was Solomon?

A:  It’s not clear how old he was at the time he became King of Israel, but like both his father David and King Saul, Solomon’s reign lasted 40 years.  (1 Kings 11:42)

Q: The numbers we read about; sacrifice of all the cows and sheep – were their “numbers” the same as we think they are?

A:  From the Concordia Study Bible footnotes: “Some critics suggest that scribes may have exaggerated the number of oxen and sheep (1 Kings 8:63) while recopying the text.  Yet the large number of people at the 14-day ceremonies makes the figures plausible.”

Q:  Who was responsible for and how did they handle such a large sacrifice?

A:  This huge task of temple dedication and sacrifice would have been no doubt an “all hands on deck” situation for the priesthood.  Remember, the tribe of Levi had become the priesthood for God’s temple, and would have numbered in the hundreds, perhaps thousands at the time.

Q:  All the wives of Solomon – were they actually wives as we think of, or what was the difference?  Why was it OK in God’s will to have all those wives?

A:  Solomon’s 700 wives were princesses from other countries and the result of the many contacts and alliances he forged with neighboring nations to Israel. These wives eventually led him into idolatry, the very thing his father, David, had worked so hard to eradicate throughout the nation.

Polygamy was common in the times of Old Testament history.  We’ve already seen it in the lives of Abraham (Sarah & Hagar), Jacob (Rachel, Leah and maidservants), the Judge Gideon and King David (Michal, Bathsheba and others).  This is not to say that multiple wives was ever God’s will.  In fact, monogamy was what received the sanction of Mosaic law (Exodus 20:17, 21:5).  Jesus also taught traditional Hebrew monogamy (Mark 10:4-5).

Adam and Eve’s original sin is the place to which we return to explain this aberration of the marriage relationship.  Original sin has tainted every human relationship, including what seemed to be pretty common in Old Testament times, multiple marital and other sexual relationships.

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Chapter 14:  A Kingdom Torn in Two

No questions left.

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Chapter 15:  God’s Messengers

Q:  Was the raising of the Shunnamite boy the 1st recorded raising of the dead?

A:  No, actually, Elijah had raised the widow’s son in Zarapheth. (1Kings 17)  While rare, some resurrections are recorded prior to that of Jesus in the Gospels.  Most prominent perhaps is that of Lazarus in John 11, which, by the way, incited a great resentment and desire for Jesus’ death among Jewish leaders of the day.  At the time of Lazarus’ death we hear Jesus declare, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  What a great comfort that is to each Christian believer!  Because he lives, we too will live eternally.

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Chapter 16:  The Beginning of the End

Q:  How many prophecies foretold of Jesus?  How many of these were Isaiah’s?

A:  The exact number is very difficult to pinpoint, since different people have different interpretations of such prophecies.  But the volume of such Messianic prophecies and its variety of sources may surprise you.  One Bible handbook (Halley’s) has a separate section devoted to just such a topic.  There it is called “The Messianic Strain of the Old Testament,” and in this section of the book 25 of the 39 Old Testament books are listed as having specific Messianic prophecies, many of them containing multiple such prophecies.  Halley’s lists at least 14 sections (not just verses, but sections) in the book of Isaiah alone.

The Old Testament books, though written over many centuries in several languages and by multiple authors, are clearly pointing ahead to the ultimate salvation of God’s people through the Messiah, whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth (through the New Testament Gospels especially!) 

Discovering these Old to New Testament connections is one of the great reasons I love being engaged with you in The Story!

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Chapter 17:  The Kingdoms’ Fall

Q:  Why did Ezekiel not die when he saw the Lord?

A:  In the beginning of Ezekiel’s story, it says that he “saw visions of God.”  In general, prophets like Ezekiel saw the glory of God, but not God himself.  1:28 specifically states, “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.  And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. . .”  So the difference here may be that Ezekiel saw the glory of God but was spared a life-threatening face-to-face meeting with God himself.

Q: Why is Job not mentioned in the Story?

A:  I can’t answer this one well.  Except to say that by virtue of choosing some episodes from the Bible, you automatically exclude others.  Would a study on the book of Job be of interest to anyone?

Q:  Does God have any prophets today?

A:  In the narrow Biblical sense, no.  In fact, the book of Hebrews in the New Testament opens by saying that long ago “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1)  So you could say that, with Jesus’ arrival, the time of the prophets has closed.

But in a much wider sense, there is mention of the spiritual gift of prophecy in New Testament times.  In fact, there are as many mentions of prophets in the Gospels and epistles as there are in the Old Testament books.  Care should be used when considering if someone has this gift of prophecy, however.  Many of the Bible’s references are warning against false prophets and their predictions.

Q:  Where did all the people come from?  Cain & Abel to 185,000+?

A:  Remember that by the time the Israelites left Egypt at the time of the Exodus, they numbered into the hundreds of thousands.  The progeny of Adam and Eve were pretty numerous, (there was that original command to “be fruitful and multiply” after all!) and you can read more to get a sense of all the numbers in places like Genesis 5, 9 and 10 or the census reports in Numbers. 

Q:  Do the “living creatures” have any significance?

A:  In Ezekiel 1 the living creatures are pretty fantastic.  The vision has an overarching theme of revealing the glory of the Lord.

Q:  Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones – was this a vision or a real location?  Transport by the Spirit?  And what happened to the renewed army of people?  Maybe a foreshadowing of Resurrection – Judgment Day?

A:  This vision given to Ezekiel is prophetic of the renewal of the Israelite people, which will come to pass only through God’s Spirit at work.  In the bigger sense, it does point to the resurrection power God always has, and which he displayed most fully on Easter!

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Chapter 18:  Daniel in Exile

Q:  Is the “day of visitation” a reference to the end of the world?

A:  the book of Daniel does contain some literature that is “apocalyptic” in nature, and as is the case with other prophetic writings, Judgment Day is often called simply, “that day,” or “that great day.”  So for Daniel to refer to this as “day of visitation” can easily be linked.

Q:  Was praying while facing Jerusalem a common Israelite practice?

A:  1 Kings 8:30 is part of Solomon’s prayer when he dedicated the first temple in Jerusalem.  This says, “And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place.”

Q:  Is 900 years in Old Testament the same as it is today?

A:  Yes, see other questions from previous sections (Genesis).

Q:   Why was the king’s food defiled?  Kosher diet?  Were there more details on why Daniel didn’t want to eat the king’s food?  The way it is prepped?  Forbidden food?

A:  Daniel 1:8 is probably referring to food that was forbidden for Jews to eat.  (see places like Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14:3-21)  But more than diets and food choices, the test of Daniel 1 is to show the king the faithfulness of the one true God.

Q:  What is the difference between a vision and a dream?

A:  It’s a hard thing to draw a line between the two.  Although visions in the Old Testament times seemed to appear mainly to holy people of God, while dreams were had by all sorts of people.  (Think Pharaoh in Egypt, the king of Babylon, etc.)

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Chapter 19:  The Return Home

Q: Why allow the distraction of his people?  (after giving them everything?)   Why did He allow them to stop building the temple instead of continuing?

A: Sometimes the people of God do get distracted from achieving the purposes set before them by God.  While we live on this earth we will always be contending with sin and its effects.  Since God can use anything (and even unbelievers) to accomplish his purposes, even distractions and wrong turns taken can be brought into the Upper Story workings of God. 

Q: Was Satan present in the Old Testament?  (serpent in Genesis, and then. . .?)  What object do we see in rest of OT that shows the devil?

A: Satan has always been present since his fall from grace.  The serpent in the garden, and Satan as he appears in Job’s story are some of the unique “sightings” in Old Testament times.  His minions, evil spirits and demons especially come forth during the ministry of Jesus, which is not surprising when you consider that Satan knew his defeat by Jesus at the cross was fast approaching.  Good question; there are not that many “appearances” of Satan in the Old Testament record.

Q:  What is the timeline of the kings Cyrus – Darius?  What happens to king Cyrus?

A:  Cyrus entered Babylon on October 29, 539 B.C. and presented himself as the liberator of the people.   He was followed by Cyrus II, Cambyses II and Darius I (the “Great”).  This early era of the Persian   Empire lasted until 485 B.C.  He is the only non-Jew to be termed God’s “anointed one.” (Isaiah 45:1)  His reign lasted some 30 years.

Q:  How is it that God can use “evil people” to accomplish ultimate good?  Why was Cyrus’ heart moved?

A:  While Cyrus was probably not a believer, he tolerated many people groups and their respective religious practices.  He learned the name of Israel’s God from the Judean captives.  The fact that his heart was moved in the way it’s recorded in Ezra chapter 1 can only be ascribed to the power of the Holy Spirit working.  God’s Upper Story – his plan to save his people – is powerful stuff!  (Remember also the work of God in and through Pharaoh in the Exodus accounts, other historical figures such as Pontius Pilate, and even Caesar of Rome and other Roman officials who play a part in the Acts narrative.)  What we are really talking about here is called the Sovereignty of God. 

Q:  How can we really “know” that our first things are in line with God’s plans?

A:  This is a great question to conclude with in this section.  I often use the analogy of God’s will being like a train going down the tracks.  In that imagery, this question becomes simply, “Am I on board or simply at the station watching it go by?”  But this analogy, like all analogies, breaks down.  Because even if you “miss the train” of God’s will with a decision you make about your life, (where to live, job choice, school, etc.) every day there is a new opportunity to “get on board.” 

Repentance and forgiveness are the rhythm of the Christian life.  New chances abound.  So, I believe that whenever we are seeking God’s will in our life, even if the choices we make don’t seem to go well in every respect, God is always, always able to work through them and work his will out.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

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