Bible Summary: Overview of the Old Testament
Before we begin to delve into each separate book of the Old Testament, let me offer a unique way of looking at that portion of God’s Word, something that came from my study in graduate school during the time I pursued my masters degree in biblical studies, prior to studying for my doctorate. By the way, you do have the order of all books of the Bible committed to memory, right? A fairly easy thing to do.
The Old Testament, containing thirty-nine separate books incorporates eleven of these as chronological: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra and Nehemiah. These books together cover a period of roughly 3600 years.
The remaining books of the Old Testament fall into one of the following categories:
- Complementary books
- Wisdom books
- Prophetic books
Together, the 39 individual books make up the entire Old Testament of the English Bible. In order to appreciate the chronological history of the Hebrew nation (prior to even becoming the Hebrew nation), until the Intertestamental period, it is important to gain a solid understanding of each of these eleven chronological books; their themes, the period they cover and how they connect. Once these are understood, then the blanks can be filled in so to speak with the complementary, wisdom and prophetic books.
Genesis unfolds for us the beginnings of everything. Covering a period from 4004 BC to 1900 BC, Dr. Christopher Cone sees the overall theme of Genesis as being how “God relates to man.” Certainly, this is the case as God goes through the process of His creation, with His crowning achievement being man, made on the 6th day. So monumental was this aspect of God’s creation that He literally breathed into man, and man became a “living soul.”
A good deal of ground goes quickly by from the first chapter of Genesis to the twelfth, but God seems intent on getting to his chosen man, Abraham, who “…marks a new beginning in history. He is the founder and father of what is called the Jewish Race; and the only man who was ever called ‘the friend of God’ (2 Chron. 20: 7; Isa. 61:8; Jas. 2:23).”
When God first “called (Abram) out of Ur, (He gave) him no promise (Acts 2:4). He later called him out of Haran, giving him rich promises (Gen. 12:1-5).” God’s covenant promised to make Abraham’s name great by giving him a people that would be the number of the sand, give those people an inheritance of land forever and through Abraham, bless all the nations of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:3-21).
What’s interesting to me is how God’s chosen line continues from one individual to the next throughout the Old Testament, in spite of the many actions that take place to keep this very promise from being fulfilled, both from Satan’s attempts and through the cooperation of human individuals. From Abraham, we see that God’s covenant continues through Isaac. Prior to the birth of Isaac, Abraham ran ahead of God and at the suggestion of his wife Sarah, slept with and impregnated her handmaiden Hagar. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael (and ultimately to Islam), and there has been nothing but problems for Israel ever since. Oh that Abraham would have rejected his wife’s suggestion.
Isaac eventually marries and he begets two sons; Jacob and Esau. Esau was rejected by God even before his birth, with God choosing Jacob to be the one to continue with the Abrahamic covenant; “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
It is from Jacob, whose name is eventually changed to Israel that God brings forth twelve sons. These twelve sons become the Patriarchs of the eventual nation of Israel. From these Patriarchs come the twelve tribes of Israel, with Judah being chosen as the tribe of royalty from which the Messiah, Jesus Christ would ultimately come.
One of these Patriarchs is Joseph, who, under God’s divine election, was mistreated by his jealous brothers and sold into slavery. They did this to get rid of him, not realizing that they were fulfilling God’s plan. Joseph, who went from being a slave to becoming essentially the Prime Minister of Egypt just under Pharaoh, was providentially placed in that position in order that the people who would become the nation of Israel would not disappear off the face of the earth during the terrible famine that was to come. To save his family, Joseph had his entire family; brothers, father and relatives to relocate to Egypt. All of this leads us to the next book in our chronology.
Exodus takes place roughly between the time of 1525 to 1440 BC and highlights Israel’s leaving Egypt. There is a break of approximately 400 years between the time of Genesis and the time of Exodus and that is solely due to the fact that God’s chosen people – Abraham’s seed – had become captive in the land of Egypt and used as slaves. Joseph had long died and when a new Pharaoh arrived on the scene, according to the Scriptures, he was not aware of Joseph or how important Joseph had been. This Pharaoh made slaves of all of God’s people.
At the beginning of Exodus, a new character is introduced to the landscape. His name is Moses and he becomes God’s appointed man in this hour of Israel’s need to rescue God’s people from their captivity in Egypt so that God can relocate them to the Promised Land.
God, in His sovereignty, leads His people out of the bondage of Egypt through Moses to the land that He swore (originally to Abraham), that He would give them. They travel through the wilderness with God meeting their needs at every turn. Prior to entering the Promised Land for the first time, Moses meets with God on the top of Mt. Sinai and it is there that Moses is given the Ten Commandments. These commandments (along with 603 additional laws; 613 in total), were part of a covenant that God was making with Israel. This is all recorded for us in Exodus chapter 20. God’s ultimate reason for doing this is to show them that however hard they try, they will not be able to keep His commands perfectly. Nonetheless, the people responded with wholehearted agreement to these commands by stating “All the words which the LORD has said we will do.”
It is also in Exodus that God introduces the concept of the Tabernacle to the Israelites as a testament to “the fact of God’s approach to man, and the way of man’s approach to God. And as the Tabernacle is a type of Christ (John 1:14), we have reason to look for the counterparts of the type in His life and death.”
Next in our chronological line comes the book of Numbers. Numbers begins with a census, which is a numbering of the people, and it ends with a census. In between these two censuses, two main events take place. First, twelve spies are sent out into the Land of Canaan and all but two of the spies – Joshua and Caleb – return with a report that squashes all of the Israelites’ excitement, causing them to rebel against the LORD. Joshua and Caleb are confident in the LORD, stating “The land we passed through today is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey.”
That doesn’t go over well and the two spies are outnumbered. The people even turns on Moses and Aaron, stating “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.” They are ready to kill Moses and Aaron and God intercedes ready to kill all of the people, stating to Moses that He would use him (Moses) to create a nation for Himself. Moses intercedes for the people and they are spared, however their punishment is twofold:
- they are destined to wander in the wilderness for 40 years
- all those who rebelled eventually died in the wilderness
Having come full circle starting with a census, wandering for forty years, then another census which ensured that those who were with them at the first census were now gone, God is once again ready to bring the people into the Land of Promise. Are the people ready this time?
This leads us to the book of Joshua and the conquest of Canaan begins. However, it isn’t long before Israel fails to obey all of God’s dictates by refusing to destroy and/or cast everyone out of the Promised Land. Instead they allow some to stay, even making some slaves, to their own detriment because they become idolatrous, just like the people they did not eradicate from the land.
Joshua gives way to Judges as Joshua dies and the people are ruled by a series of judges who make decisions and help to keep order. There is a continued cycle for Israel which goes through sin against God, then God bringing in a nation to chastise them, then Israel crying out for deliverance, and finally God bringing a deliverer for Israel. Israel then enjoys peace, happiness and prosperity, until the entire cycle begins all over again.
This continues for several hundred years until finally Israel decides that they want to be like their neighboring nations who all have kings. Israel wants a king to rule over them. An angry Samuel (who is the judge at this time), complains to God and God tells Samuel that Israel has rejected Him (not Samuel), because they want an earthly king to rule over them.
1 & 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings continue our chronology in order, beginning with Samuel being the last judge prior to a monarchy being established in Israel. Saul is appointed by God to be their first king. Saul is eventually rejected by God because Saul does what he is not supposed to do – he takes on the role of a priest who sacrifices a burnt offering and peace offerings to the LORD. The narrative tells us what happens next, “Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him. And Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul then recounts to Samuel how he had waited but that Samuel hadn’t arrived, so he did what he thought he must do, stating that he “felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”
By the way, how many times have you heard Christians say something like they “felt” like they should do or say such and such? Feelings can be extraordinarily deceptive. What we might think of as something good may not be good at all. We have to be extremely careful when our feelings try to dictate to us. We can easily fall out of God’s will if we are not careful.
Unfortunately for Saul, he should not have done what he did because he was not a Levite and therefore not a priest. God began to remove Saul’s kingdom from him, having rejected Saul. Saul ruled for 40 years.
Another man is appointed to be the next king. David, a son of Jesse eventually replaces Saul and it is with David that God makes another covenant. God promises that the Eternal King – the Messiah – would come from his seed and that His throne would be established forever. This is ultimately fulfilled in the coming Millennial Reign of Jesus that the Bible speaks of throughout. We’ll get to that as it comes up.
King David’s son Solomon eventually becomes king, replacing David after his 40 year reign. Solomon who is seen as very righteous and upright at first makes a few mistakes that cost him dearly. Among them, he marries more than one wife and unfortunately for Solomon, at least some of these women came from idolatrous backgrounds. Solomon gives into them and has places built so that they can worship their gods. He himself becomes an idolater as well because of his wives. In his case, tremendous wisdom did not keep Solomon from sinning.
It is after Solomon dies that the kingdom is divided between the north and the south. Not once is there a good king of the north and there are only a few good kings in the south. This division takes place in roughly 931 BC. During this time, God brings prophets to warn and instruct Israel, but Israel continues in her unfaithfulness, eschewing God’s chastisements.
Because of Israel’s continued unfaithfulness, God declares that He is going to remove them from the Promised Land for 70 years and He eliminates the Northern Kingdom in 721 BC and the Southern Kingdom in 586 BC.
This leads us into the book of Ezra, which is primarily a historical record of Israel’s return from exile to the southern area.
From Ezra, we come to Nehemiah where the record of return is continued. Nehemiah leads in the effort to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and it ends here with the people back in the land awaiting the promise of the Messiah. In fact they are looking for the one who would come just prior to the Messiah, making way for Him.
From this point, there is a 400 year silence before we come across John the Baptist, Christ’s forerunner, announcing the coming of the King, Jesus Christ.
We will likely delve into Genesis next time, but will also introduce the various covenants that God entered into with members of the Hebrew nation. Join me then.
 Christopher Bryan Cone, The Promises of God (Ft. Worth: Exegetica Publishing 2005), 16
 Genesis 2:7 (KJV)
 W. Graham Scroggie, The Unfolding Drama of Redemption (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications 1994), 99
 Ibid, 100
 Genesis 25:23 (ESV)
 Exodus 24:3b (NKJV)
 W. Graham Scroggie, The Unfolding Drama of Redemption (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications 1994), 171
 Numbers 14:7b-8 (NKJV)
 1 Samuel 13:10-11 (NKJV)
 1 Samuel 13:12b (NKJV)
Entry filed under: Atheism and religion, christianity, dispensationalism, Dr. Fred, eternity, Islam, israel, Judaism, Political Correctness, Politically Correct, Politics, Radical Islam, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation, second coming. Tags: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Samuel, exodus, Ezra, genesis, joshua, Judges, Nehemiah, Numbers, old testament.