The Bible is the most tactless book in existence. It flatters no one and draws the picture as it really is. Was there ever such a plain, unvarnished story of man’s failure and wickedness as is contained in the Word of God? It is the greatest condemnation of the human race, and, especially, the Jewish nation. From an ordinary point of view we should expect that the Jews would be glad to bury into oblivion a story which holds their race up to such condemnation. And yet the Jewish nation has preserved the OT with extraordinary care down the centuries. To this day the Jews are the jealous guardians of Scriptures which are their greatest condemnation. There can be no possible explanation of this except that these Scriptures form the first part of God’s revelation to man, and that God's protecting hand is held over His own Word.
Let us go into some details. We begin with the story of man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. The Bible is the only book in the world to give us the true origin of evil. No explanation is given why God allowed sin. An ordinary book, written by men, would have attempted some explanation to satisfy the mind of man. But God does not offer to explain everything. The bare facts are given. Nor are the widespread results of the fall foreshadowed to any great extent. Beyond the sentence of death passed upon Adam, his expulsion from Eden and the particular and immediate way in which the fall would affect our first parents, we have no foreshadowing of the tremendous consequences of sin. God patiently unrolls them bit by bit down the centuries. Of course we must not overlook the prophecy as to the enmity between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed, and the work of Christ prefigured in the coats of skin, but we need the history of the Bible to explain why these things should be so.
Take the first family, Cain and Abel. Cain murdered Abel. The first child that was born into this world grew up to be a murderer! Could anything be less flattering to the human race? Next we have Lamech, the bigamist, and then a big leap forward is made and we meet the awful description of the antediluvian world. Could anything be more sweeping than “every imagination of the thoughts of his” (man’s) “heart only evil continually” (Gen. 6: 5)? Then we have the flood. A whole world, except eight persons, refused the warning of coming judgment. Could one conceive a less complimentary picture? The new world begins with Noah, into whose hand is put the magisterial sword, and the first action recorded of him is planting a vineyard and getting drunk! A great step forward is taken again, only to bring us to the story of the tower of Babel, when men attempted a vast imperial union which would make them independent of God. The confounding of their language is evident to this very day.
We leave now what is general, and come to what is particular to the Jewish nation. Israel was taken up by God as a sample, His dealing with them serving to test the whole human race in order “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world be under judgment to God” (Rom. 3: 19). God began the Jewish nation in the call of Abraham. One verse (see Gen. 1: 1) is given to tell of the creation of the universe, one chapter (see vs 2–31) suffices to tell us of its reconstruction in six days, but we have more than thirteen chapters taken up with Abraham. Creation, when compared to man is as scaffolding is to a building. In God’s eyes man is the centre, and focal point.
A study of what God would teach in Abraham is worthy of the closest attention. He is the head of promise. He was called the friend of God. In him all nations of the earth were to be blessed. But what do we find in his history? Were an uninspired penman to write down his record we are sure he would have produced something that would have glorified Abraham rather than God. Genesis 11 tells us of Abram starting for Canaan at God’s bidding, and being stopped half way at Haran by natural ties (see Acts 7: 2–4). Genesis 12 tells us how Abram instructed Sarai, his wife, to say she was his sister. As she was indeed his half–sister, this was speaking the truth to hide the truth, the worst kind of lie. Chapter 16 tells how Abram sought in unbelief to get the promised seed through Hagar, a sad story fraught with unhappy consequences in Ishmael. Chapter 20 records how Abraham again lied about his true relationship to Sarah, this time to Abimelech, King of Gerar. Now of course there were wonderful traits of faith in the life of Abraham—episodes of true moral greatness—but would any uninspired writer have given the blots on his history as well? God's word describes man as he is. All that was grand and noble in Abraham was the product of the work of God in his soul; all that was sinful and sad, the result of the flesh.
Take the history of Jacob, whose name means “the supplanter”. Without going into details, how well he deserved his name: the intriguer, the cheat, the robber of his brother's birthright, and the man who outwitted Laban in the matter of the cattle! Still, out of such material, God could produce an Israel, a “prince of God” (see Gen. 32: 28). His children fare no better. We get the story of the ravishing of Dinah and the awful punishment Simeon and Levi meted out in consequence to the Hivites. Then in chapter 38 we get the story of Judah’s wilful neglect of his responsibilities and his daughter–in–law playing the harlot as a consequence. Thus rapidly and partially we run over the Genesis record. Is it flattering to the human race? Would an uninspired penman have put the things on record that we find in Genesis?
Next we come to Moses, a truly great figure, the law–giver, the man who spoke face to face with God on the holy mountain. And yet after his grand record we have the incident of this meekest of men speaking unadvisedly with his lips, and not being allowed to enter the Promised Land. Surely an uninspired biographer would have suppressed such matters? How the recital of them would lower the law–giver in the eyes of surrounding nations! And yet there is the truth told in all its naked simplicity. Following on from this we have the narrative unfolded in the book of Judges of a nation continually lapsing into idolatry, yet at the same time the story of an ever faithful God, who gave them repentance and sent them deliverers. Take one of the great characters, Samson—a story of a giant and a baby at the same time, a man of God and a man of lust. Not at all flattering. Observe Eli’s sons and Samuel’s sons—how sad a record. Look at the kingdom. Read of Saul’s jealousy of David, and how ignominiously his life ended in spiritism and suicide. Next we have David, the sweet psalmist of Israel but adulterer and murderer, and then Solomon, with his plurality of wives and worship of heathen gods, in spite of his wonderful God–given wisdom. The folly of Solomon’s son caused the ten tribes to separate from the two, and the beginning of the separate histories of Judah and Israel. The chronicle of these kingdoms moved ever downwards until God allowed first Israel to be carried away captive into a foreign land and then Judah and Benjamin as well. Look back with a rapid bird’s–eye survey of the history of Israel—could there be a more disgraceful history of what man is, even when surrounded by the best environment? How it enhances the wonderful grace, forbearance, and love of God!
In the NT things are no better. When the Lord Jesus came out in public testimony, who were His greatest enemies? Not the common people for they heard Him “gladly” (Mark 12: 37). Not the officers of the chief priests, who were chided for not making the Lord their prisoner, but replied, “Never man spoke thus, as this man [speaks]” (John 7: 46). No, His greatest enemies were the people perceived as being the godliest: the chief priests and rulers of the nation. His words were the words of God but they would not have Him: “they have both seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15: 24). Thus came to pass that which was written in their law: “They hated Me without a cause” (v25). But this is not all. Look at His friends. See Peter denying Him with oaths and curses, see all the disciples forsaking and fleeing from Him. Wherever we look we see the same story of failure, all culminating in Jew and Gentile banded together in crucifying the Lord of glory. Was there ever such a crime? Was there ever such a declaration of the evil of men’s hearts?
And when we come to the Epistles what do we find? The wholesale condemnation of man in Romans 3—a veritable summing-up of the whole human race. Corinthians was written to take up matters of the gravest moral and doctrinal delinquency. Galatians was penned to combat Judaising teachings which were subverting Christianity. Ephesians, after the unfolding of the very highest truth, turns round and bids believers not to tell lies, not to steal, to put away bitterness and wrath, and to be kind one to another. Philippians tells us of preachers actually proclaiming the Gospel out of contention. Colossians, after bringing out truth of the highest order, says some sharp things about fornication, uncleanness and covetousness. And so we go on till Revelation is reached with it’s unsparing record of the church’s decline from her first love as seen in the Ephesian assembly, down to Laodicea about to be spued out of Christ’s mouth, followed by the terrible prophecies of man’s lawlessness and rebellion.
Despite all this, running through the whole Bible we see the hand of God—patient, gracious and powerful—carrying out His own purposes step by step. It does not do to dwell upon evil, but on the other hand, we lose immensely if we fail to grasp what is recorded for our learning. The utter failure of man to answer to God—whether in innocence, or under law, or under judges, or under kings, or by the supreme test of Christ coming into the world, or the witness of the Spirit through the Church—only tends to strengthen one’s faith. It brings into greater relief the wisdom of God in dealing with men and producing a brand new beginning for us altogether in Christ. He shines out as the only perfect One amidst all the imperfection. In the light of all we have so rapidly reviewed, how full of deep significance for us are the words of Christ to Nicodemus on the necessity of new birth (see John 3: 7)! Was ever a book written from such a stance, unpopular and inexplicable, as is contained in the following words, “[the] natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him; and he cannot know [them] because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2: 14)? Or again, “we preach Christ crucified, to Jews an offence, and to nations foolishness” (1 Cor. 1: 23)? And yet the Book lives—lives in the lives of multitudes of men and women. There can be only one explanation: it is the inspired Word of God. The honesty of the Book proves this.