In the Bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

OUR PREPARATION FOR CHRISTMAS becomes more intense on the second Sunday before the feast. We have fasted and remembered some of the prophets who foretold the incarnation of Christ. Today we remember all the “Forefathers,” those who came before and prepared the way, however remotely, for His coming.

It is appropriate today to reflect on what the Scriptures tells us preceded the Incarnation. The following timeline and reading guide may be helpful in doing so. All the dates older that 1000 BC are approximate.

Before Time – The Word was with God before anything material came to be (John 1:1-4). It is through this eternal Word that our material creation comes to be.

The Pre-History of the Israelites

Before 4000 BC – The creation of our universe, the human race falls away from communion with God, life on earth as we know it begins (Genesis 1-3). Genesis actually contains two creation stories. The first (Genesis 1:1-2:3) is a version of an older Babylonian myth re-edited to teach that creation is by the will of the only true God, not the result of warring gods and demons. It is cast in the form of a single week to promote the character of the Sabbath as a day of rest. Its narrative (creation begins with a burst of light followed by the creation of the planets, etc.) harmonizes with the modern Big Bang theory and subsequent discoveries.

Before 3000 BC – Sin prevails and increases, illustrated by Cain and Abel and Lamech, Noah and the Great Flood, (Genesis 4-9). Acconring to Jewish tradition, God makes a new covenant with Noah after the flood Man is committed to observe the seven Noahide Laws: prohibiting idolatry, murder, theft, sexual immorality, blasphemy, and the eating of meat with its blood (i.e. while the animal is still alive). They are also enjoined to establish courts of law.

Before 2100 BC – The rise of Middle Eastern peoples, the Towel of Babel (Genesis 10, 11).Jewish tradition sees the tower as an act of arrogance aimed at world domination by a particular people which God rejects.

Before 1991 BC – Abraham and his sons Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 12-36). God calls the Mesopotamian Abram, renames him and promises that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars and that they will inherit the land of Canaan. He establishes circumcision as the sign of that covenant.

Israel in Egypt

1900-1806 BC – Joseph and his brothers: the descendants of Abraham in Egypt (Genesis 37-50). Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph becomes the most powerful person in Pharaoh’s court when he favorably interprets the sovereign’s dream, averting a famine in Egypt. He is then able to rescue his father and brothers and insure the Israelites’ survival.

1800-1446 BC – The Israelites prosper, then are enslaved (Exodus 1,2)

1450-1400 BC – The call of Moses, the exodus from Egypt, beginnings of Judaism: the Ten Commandments, the establishment of the priesthood and erection of the tabernacle (Exodus 2-40, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). This is the formative experience of Israel, celebrated each year at the Passover: their liberation from slavery in Egypt and passage through the Red Sea to freedom in the Land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants.

The Promised Land

1400-1375 BC – Joshua leads the Israelites to conquer parts of the “Promised Land” (Joshua)

1375-1050 BC – Israelite tribes settle in the Promised Land. Governed by tribal elders or Judges, they extend their control of the area at the expense of the Philistines (Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel 11-7)

The United Kingdom

1050-931 BC – The Israelites form a united kingdom under Saul, David and Solomon. This is the Golden Age of the Israelite nation. Saul was chosen be God and anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the first king. In 1007, during a losing battle with the Philistines, he fell on his sword to avoid capture.

God chooses the righteous although flawed David to succeed Saul through the prophet Samuel. God makes a covenant with him that his throne would be established forever. David would be the ancestor of the Messiah, promised to come from the house of David. The third king, Solomon, was renowned for his wisdom and power. He is considered author of the earliest Biblical Wisdom Literature. Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem but ultimately turned to the idolatry of his foreign wives. (1 Samuel 8-31; 1 Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles)

Breakup of the United Kingdom

931-860 BC – The kingdom is divided in two: north and south, Israel and Judah. Unity and monotheism give way to squabbling and pagan influences (1 Kings 12-17, 2 Chronicles)

860- 722 BC – Prophets Elijah, Elisha, Joel, Amos, Hosea and Isaiah insist on a return to monotheism, justice among the people (1 Kings 17-22; 2 Kings 1-17; Joel, Amos, Hosea and Isaiah)

722 BC – Kingdom of Israel defeated. The victorious Assyrians settle foreigners in the land. The intermingling of Israelites and pagans gives rise to the Samaritans. (2 Kings 17-24)

700-590 BC – Prophets Naoum, Zepheniah Jeremiah, Habbakuk and Ezekiel warn the Kingdom of Judah that they too have forsaken God and face destruction.

The Babylonian Captivity

588-586 BC – The Babylonians attack Jerusalem, conquer it and deport the elite to Babylon. Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesy a return.

537 BC – The Persians defeat the Babylonians and allow the Jews to return to their country and rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 1-6). Many Jews remain in Babylon and prosper there (Esther)

535-430 BC – Judea is restored, the temple scrolls become the basis of the Old Testament and Jewish life is revived (Ezra, Nehemiah) under nominal Persian rule.

Greek and Roman Rule

333 BC – Alexander the Great defeats the Persians and extends Greek rule throughout the Middle East. Jews become an important colony in Alexandria, Egypt.

250 BC – Jews in Alexandria translate the Old Testament into Greek. Others books written in Aramaic, Greek or Hebrew are included (Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and parts of Daniel) in what is called the Septuagint (LXX). The books of Maccabees, written later in Hebrew, were translated into Greek and added to the Septuagint.

175-164 BC – The Jews in the Holy Land are suppressed by the Greek ruler of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes, who defiles the temple and tries to abolish the Jewish religion. The Jews, led by the Maccabees, revolt and recover Jewish independence. (1 to 4 Maccabees), which lasts until 63 BC.

63 BC – The Romans seize control of Syria. The Jewish kingdom becomes the Roman province of Palestine.