I remember the first time I saw Bible timeline in seminary. It’s stretched from one end of the classroom to the other, making it over 20 feet long. My professor held this timeline up for us, so that we would have a visual of what would be included on our semester final. My heart dropped. A pit formed in my stomach. A lump nearly formed in my throat.
If I’m honest, what intimidated me in that moment was not that I might fail the final, but that there was so much to know in the timeline of the Old Testament that I didn’t already know. Here I was, a second year seminary student, having already graduated with a four year Bible degree, and looking at that chart, I realized that they were still so much for me to learn!
Bible timelines didn’t seem like my friend at our first introduction, but as I have grown as a Bible student, I have found that the Bible timelines have shaped my ability to study God’s word. In particular, they have grown me in three profound ways.
1) Bible timelines help us trace the big story of the Bible from beginning to end.
The Bible tells us lots of stories, and these are the stories that our Bible timelines are preoccupied with. These are stories of kings and queens, of prophets and priests, stories of siblings who fight and families who reconcile. Particularly in the Old Testament, we read many stories of kingdoms that are conquered, armies preparing to fight, battles that are won and others that are lost. When we read each of these stories that make up the timeline of the Old Testament, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. But when we put them all together, or when we look at an Old Testament timeline, it’s much easier to see how these stories fit together in order to tell us the one great big story that the Bible proclaims from beginning to end. This story is the story of redemption! This is the story of how God is the truest King, how he came to save those who couldn’t save themselves (us!), how he is a perfect Priest, and the ultimate Messenger of God. When we see the timeline of the Bible in a concise way, we are much more empowered to see the story of redemption.
2. Bible timelines enable us to see God’s mercy and sovereignty.
If you’re anything like me, you might read the Old Testament and find it more difficult to see God’s mercy on display than when reading the New Testament. But Bible timelines enable us to see God’s mercy towards his people on every page of the Old Testament! When we see Israel’s cycle of rebellion and repentance and restoration, we see God’s mercy. We see his unrelenting love for his people. We see how he never gave up on them, even though they strayed from him 1,000 times over. These Bible timelines piece together the cycles for us, allowing us to see God’s mercy and his sovereignty throughout the entire Old Testament.
3. Bible timelines tie the story of the Bible to today.
It’s easy to study scripture and forget that these are actual events taking place! We are actually more prone to thinking of these historical narratives as theoretical stories, stories that teach us about a moral principle without teaching us about actual history. But the events on our Old Testament timelines teach us that these were real events, and that they really took place. By placing a date next to each event, to the very best of our ability to do so, we remember that these events took place in real time. They involved real people, real nations, real kings, real rulers. As we trace the timeline from beginning to end, we see how the timeline ties into our own, we see how the events in history run into the timeline in which we are living.
Bible timelines make Scripture come alive! In these ways, but also in so many more. By using a Bible timeline when I study the Old Testament, or when I study the New Testament, I am pushed into a deeper study of God‘s word. And I have never looked back! Be sure to check out the Old Testament Study Notes, and the New Testament Study Notes, as each has multiple timeline cards that will lead you as you study scripture.