This is the first post in a series called, “In Your Facebook Bible Feed.” On the first Monday of the month I will be hosting a Facebook Life event where I teach through the Old Testament. In this inaugural post I take you through a survey of the Old Testament from 30k feet.
The Old Testament is not a collection of fables or myths. It’s not a collection of fictitious stories designed to teach lessons. It is a collection of historical accounts, songs, poems, prophecies that use imagery to communicate actual events, all of which is primarily based around one extended family, and primarily about one member of that extended family who wouldn’t be born until 400 years after the last writings in it. The family is Israel and the person is Jesus.
I want to give you a 30,000ft perspective of the whole Old Testament; how it’s organized, the purpose of the different authors and sections, and why it is still relevant today.
One Book With Many Parts
The Bible is a library of 66 volumes written by over 40 people in three languages on three continents over thousands of years. It can be proven to also be one book with One author and one story. Find your place in God’s story.The Bible is a library of 66 volumes written by over 40 people in three languages on three continents over thousands of years. It can be proven to also be one book with One author and one story. Find your place in God's story. Click To Tweet
Time wise, the Old Testament spans about 3,600 years of time, while the New Testament (NT) spans only 100. This difference alone tends to explain why people see God as one way in the Old Testament and another in the NT. He’s often seen as a God of wrath in the Old Testament and a God of love in the NT. That’s only because you have thousands of years and generation after generation repeating of cycle of loving God, rejecting God, God then dealing with their sin, the people repent, then repeat. There is a whole lot of loving God in the Old Testament!
The Old Testament wouldn’t make sense without the NT, and the NT wouldn’t make sense without the Old Testament. Anyone who says that the Old Testament isn’t relevant to Christians today is trying to make the Bible into something that it isn’t for whatever reason that is to their advantage.
To me, the label “Old Testament” is a misleading label to people who aren’t familiar with The Bible, though I understand why it exists. A better label that communicates what it is and its relationship to the New Testament is, “The Beginning of the Testament or Covenant.” Because that’s what it is; the beginning.
In a Jewish Bible there is no Old and New Testaments. It only contains what Christians would call The Old Testament. The New Testament is about Jesus who is The Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior. But since they do not believe in Jesus as Messiah it isn’t a part of their scriptures.
A Jewish Bible is referred to as the TNK, pronounced tanak (with a little phlegm there at the end). It’s an acronym that defines the three sections of the their scriptures. In fact, in Luke 24:44 in the New Testament, Jesus makes reference to all three of these sections.
Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” (NKJV)
T – Torah
The first five book written by Moses. Torah means “law.” This is sometimes referred to as the Pentateuch, penta meaning five. It’s also called The Law, or The Laws of Moses. They are
- Deuteronomy, to use their Greek titles.
In broad brush strokes, these books record
- the creation of the physical universe,
- the fall of mankind,
- the flood of the world,
- the zooming-in on the family through which God would save mankind,
- how the Israelites got to Egypt,
- how God used Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt,
- the establishment of a civil and ceremonial system of laws that would govern God’s people and provide a way to overcome their sin therefore provide access to God,
- and the purging of a generation of people who didn’t trust God.
After the Torah is where the organization of the rest of the books differs between a Jewish Bible and a Christian Bible. I’m going to highlight the Jewish organization then swing back around to the Christian Bible’s organization. It’s all the same stuff, just organized differently.
N – Nebhi ‘ im
In a Jewish Bible, the next section is the Nebhi ‘ im, the N in Tanak. It means The Prophets. It contains what Christians would call
- 1&2 Samuel,
- 1&2 Kings,
- and then Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Zechariah, and Malachi.
K – Kethubim
Lastly you have the K in Tanak, Kethubim or The Writings.
- Song of Songs (or Solomon),
- 1&2 Chronicles.
When Jesus or others in the New Testament refer to The Law, or The Prophets, or The Writings, it is a reference to this TNK organization. After all, that was their Bible at the time. The New Testament hadn’t been written yet. It was being written, literally as they spoke.
The Christian Bible
The TNK organization makes sense in some ways. The Christian Bible organization also makes sense. It’s not better than, but it kind of makes more sense to a western-thinking sensibility.
After the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, you have the Historical books from Joshua through to Esther. It begins with the extremely-partial-conquering of the land promised to their ancestor Abraham. The entirety of the promised land goes from the Nile in Egypt to the Euphrates in modern day Iraq. At best, Israel only every ruled over all of modern day Israel and part of Jordan.
Though these books the kingdom of Israel is established, a line of Kings is setup, there is a civil war and the nation divides with kings in the north and south. These books cover Israel’s history through the Babylonian and into the Persian Empires.
The thing is, the rest of the Old Testament isn’t arranged chronologically. It’s divided by kinds of writing. That means that what you read in the next sections occur during the events of these books.
After the Historical books are the Poetical books. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs (Solomon), and Ecclesiastes.
The events of Job are thought to be amongst the earliest events of the Bible, after creation of course. Then why is it in the poetical books? Let’s save that one for when we get there.
Psalms is like the hymn book of Israel, written largely by King David and others around his time.
Proverbs is interesting in that it’s largely written by David’s son Solomon, but it’s like a collection of themed Tweets. There is no central organization within the book itself. There are themes spread throughout.
Song of Solomon is, well, why don’t you read it and you tell me.
Ecclesiastes is also written by Solomon and is labeled by some as a very depressing book, when in fact it’s all about the realization that the only thing that matters in life is loving and serving God.
Finally we have the Prophetic Books; Lamentations through Malachi. This is further broken down into two sections, also with unfortunate labels; the major and minor prophets.
The only difference here is the length of the book. Lamentations, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel make up the major or longer prophets, while the rest make up the minor, or shorter ones. Historically these cover a time from about 100 years before Babylon takes over Israel, to about 500-400 BC.
There is so much going on in these books that it’s hard to summarize or even just pick a few.
The Medo-Persian King Cyrus is named by Isaiah 150 before the fact as being the one to let His people go from their captivity, well before they are even conquered by Babylon.
Jeremiah predicting that the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years, Daniel reading Jeremiah at the end of that 70 year period, and recognizing the need to pray for what’s coming.
Daniel is one I want to highlight. In that same chapter of Daniel, chapter 9, Daniel is given prophecy from the angel Gabriel, about the timing of what was to come. A prophecy with a start-date and end-date regarding when the Messiah would be presented and executed for His people was given TO THE DAY. Another specific sign referred to as the “abomination of desolation which Jesus Himself refers to in Matthew 24 is an important one because it is both past and future from Jesus’ time. Also, what would happen geopolitically in the middle east from shortly after Daniel’s own time to nearly the time Jesus was born.
In fact, that last bit is so accurate that people try to say that it was written and added in after the fact. The problem with that is that the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek in Alexandria, Egypt, in what is called The Septuagint. It means the 70 referring to the 70 scholars that made the translation. The Septuagint was completed in the early 200s BC. So we had Daniel’s book, not only in Hebrew but also in Greek, in hand during and before the events written about taking place.
The Book of Origins
While there are many ways to consider the Old Testament, one of them is the book of origins. Yes, of the universe, of the people of Israel, of the different “races” of humanity. More importantly than that, it records the origin of sin, sacrifice, and salvation.While there are many ways to consider the Old Testament, one of them is the book of origins. More importantly than that, it records the origin of sin, sacrifice, and salvation. Click To Tweet
Sin is two things at once; it is the action, and the nature that is the source of the action. Meaning, we don’t sin one day and become a sinner. We sin because we are a sinner. It’s our nature. Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to teach a child to be bad? They already know how! You have to teach them how to be good! It is because we are descended from Adam and Eve.
Since it is a problem of nature and not of actions, we cannot take actions to fix it. A change of nature is required. This is also why our own death doesn’t save us. Death is the result of sin. There is nothing we can do to pay the price on our own, and there is nothing we can do to change our own nature.
Sacrifice and Salvation
In order to pay for the price of sin for another, in order to redeem them, to buy them back, a sacrifice is required. A sacrifice that saves must be innocent. If it is also contaminated by sin or flawed in some way, it’s of no use for this purpose. In the Old Testament ceremonial law, the sacrifice for sin was a lamb. Lambs are innocent. A spotless lamb, without flaw, was also required. This sacrifice covered over the sin of the person for whom it was being sacrificed, it didn’t erase it. It was a pointer to, a foreshadowing of Jesus. Jesus, who was called “the lamb of God,” was innocent and, without flaw.
People before Jesus had to have faith in what God was going to do, to look forward to it. We, after Jesus, have to have faith and look back on what Jesus did. The only part we play in our salvation is receiving it like a gift. People don’t go to Hell just because they are “bad.” They go because they reject Jesus. There are no good or good-enough people in Heaven, just people who did receive the gift.
The side-effect of receiving this gift is the Holy Spirit now living in you, encouraging and strengthening you, filling you with God’s love which motivates you to love Him back and live for Him. It’s not out of obligation, or of guilt, it is out of love. I’ll be honest, sometimes I don’t want to and I have to choose to obey. The more you press into Jesus, the more you will tested by God for the purpose of making you stronger. But if you can keep God’s love for you and your love for Him at the center, it will be easier.
But I’m getting ahead of myself into New Testament territory. On the second Mondays of the month we will be going through the New Testament, beginning with a similar survey from 30,000 feet.
Have you ever read the entire Old Testament?
- If you read about three chapters a day you can read it all in one year.
- If you read about five chapters of Psalms and one chapter of Proverbs a day, you can finish both books in a month.
- Parts can be difficult if not overwhelming. Don’t read for 100% comprehension. Read for exposure. For comprehension you need to study.
What is something you have a difficult time with, or perhaps understand the least, in the Old Testament?
- On paper, try to define exactly what it is in as simple of terms as possible what exactly you have a difficult time with, or don’t understand about it.
- If you can reduce it down to a word, use a website like blueletterbible.org to search all of the places where that word occurs in the Bible. What new insights does this give you, if any?
- Find someone you can trust and ask them help you understand it better or connect you with some resources. I’d be happy to help. Click over to the Contact page and drop me a line.
What is your favorite person, passage, or principle from the Old Testament? Find a way to share it with someone today.