Many of us are not as familiar with the Old Testament as the New Testament. However, it is the foundation of our Christian faith. It introduces us to God, the Father. It establishes His reasons for creating us and what He expects from us. It lays the path for the coming of Jesus. The Old Testament tells His relationship with His chosen people, the Hebrews, later to be known as the Jews. The Old Testament contains God’s promise to us.
The Old Testament tells a wonderful tale. Many wonderful stories in fact. Most of us have heard bits and pieces of these stories. But only a few of us have really studied these wonderful books. Few of us have gone much beyond the great Bible stories we learned as children.
The Holy Bible, originally written in Hebrew and Greek, with some Aramaic has undergone many, many translations. This is both a blessing and a problem. The blessing is that having the Bible translated into our primary language allows us to read it! The problem, as is always the case, lies in the translation. The original complete translation, the King James Version, had a lot of political motivation and there was a very limited knowledge of the ancient languages and the context in which the original was written. Later versions have made a great deal of headway in addressing these problems, but we are still limited by language which does not translate well.
The Bibles I use are study Bibles. These are full of explanatory notes and additional “articles” that help me to understand the context and meaning of many words. There is also a wealth of books and other resources that dig deeper into the Bible if there is a subject where you want to dig deeper. Of course, the internet has a few million references as well.
The Holy Bible is the most widely read, the most widely studied and written about book in history. For various reasons, most Christians focus on the New Testament only.
Some of us, like me, are fairly new to the study of the Old Testament. Some have studied the Old Testament in great depth.
OK, that’s the preliminary stuff. Let’s get started! Open your Bible and follow along.
The OT contains 39 books written over roughly 1000 years by many different authors. It contains virtually every type of literature. If you enjoy mystery, history, war, poetry, words of wisdom, stories of brutality, wonder and hope… it’s all there.
The OT covers a very long period of time, from the very creation of the universe to approximately 400 B.C.E. (Before Common Era, equivalent to B.C.) It helps tremendously to have a study Bible because the notes explain the context of the world (universe) at the time of that particular book and some of the nuances of translation.
If you have access to a Study Bible, read the introductory section on the OT. It explains much more than I could write here, and much better than I can.
The Books of Moses (Torah)
The first five Books of the Christian Bible are known as the Pentateuch by Christians and the Torah by the Jews. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the Books of Moshe (Moses.) These five Books establish the foundation of Christian, Jewish and Islamic faith. One God, the Creator of all things.
These Books cover “From the beginning (creation), the establishment of God’s chosen people (the Hebrews), the Hebrew Captivity in Egypt, The Exodus and instruction for Godly living (The Law). They are full of names and events that have familiarity: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the serpent, Cain and Able, Abram (Abraham), Isaac, Joseph, Moses and the Exodus and so much more. Fascinating reading! Leaf through these Books reading at random. Do you recognize some of these things? Did you find anything surprising? Make some notes of your insights, questions and Ah Ha’s.
The Books of History of the Hebrews
The next 12 Books contain History. Included are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. You probably recognize the titles of these books, but do you know what they contain? What do they add to our understanding of God? Christianity? What guidance do they give us for living Godly lives today?
There are many names here that we are familiar with: Joshua at Jericho, Saul, David, Solomon being primary. But what do we actually know of these men? How did they rise to positions of importance? What about their lives? Were they always faithful to God? What was the importance of the judges in Hebrew history? Why did the Hebrews select judges? Why did they later select kings?
What roles did women play in the OT? Who were Deborah, Ruth, and Esther? Ezra, Nehemiah? Who were these men and why were they important?
Again, leaf through these books, read sections at random. What piques your interest? What do you want to find out?
The Books of Wisdom and Poetry
This section contains five books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastics and Song of Songs. Some of content we know well, like Psalms 23 and 51. Others we know little about like Ecclesiastes or Song of Songs.
Again, leaf through these books. Note the difference in writing style. What is the Bible trying to tell us in these books? What makes them relevant to us as Christians? Any Discoveries? Questions? Jot them down so you can seek answers later.
The final 17 books of the OT are the works of the Prophets. They are generally broken down into two sections; the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel) and the 12 books of the minor prophets (all the rest). This division is arbitrary, relating more to the length of the books than their content or importance. Most of us know very little about these men. Daniel in the lion’s den or Jonah and the whale. These are familiar stories, but what about these men’s lives or the context of what happened to and through them?
The prophets spoke for God. They conveyed His desires and frustrations to the people. They often spoke directly to the leaders, kings and administrators about what God expected and what the consequences would be if people did not follow God’s will.
The prophets also paved the way for the coming of Jesus. They were laying out God’s plan.
Once again, leaf though the books of the Prophets. Some are very long, some short. What thoughts do you have as you read random passages? Do you see any patterns or connections? What questions would you like to answer? Write them down for later.
The Context of the Old Testament
The Old Testament covers a very long period of time. Depending on what source you use, this time is either someplace around 3,500 years or about 14 billion years. A lot happened during this time. The entire universe was created. Dinosaurs lived and died. The climate of the earth changed many times. Continents shifted and either crashed together or separated.
Civilizations came and went on every continent. Wars were fought. It’s tough to cover 3,500 years in a few paragraphs, let alone 14 billion years. So we won’t try here. As you study each book of the Bible, look more closely at its context.
In the midst of all this, a relatively small group of people, the descendents of Abraham, the Hebrews, became God’s chosen people. The story of the Hebrews is the Old Testament. Why did God choose these particular people? What promises did He make to them and what did He expect of them in return? How well did the Hebrews follow the will of God and what were the consequences when they did not? How did the world they lived in effect the life of the Hebrews and their relationship with God? These are just some of the questions you might want to think about as you study the Old Testament.
What does it mean today?
The Holy Bible, the foundation of our faith, is at least as controversial in the world today as it has ever been. For Christians, the Bible lays out how we are to live, what we believe. It is the foundation of our relationship with God the Father and God the Son.
Whether it is removing prayer from schools, removing the 10 Commandments from statues and public buildings, the teaching of creation (or intelligent design), our faith is under attack in the USA. There is even strong movement to deny the role of Christianity in the foundation of our country. The same is true in many other countries around the world.
Terrorism threatens civilization. Much of it is based on religious differences.
Idolatry, the “worship” of material things, status, wealth and the degradation of moral values threaten us and our children. We are at war to protect our beliefs.
At the same time, churches are growing. In some sectors of our society, the importance of “people of faith” is becoming greater and greater.
As we study the Old Testament, look for how the content of each book has meaning to us today. Important areas include basic morality, the interface between science and religion, how human nature has changed or not changed over the entire history of humankind. How can the Old Testament help you to live your life? What direction and expectations does it set for you? How does it help you to better understand The Father? How does it set the path for the Messiah?
So, what do you do?
This seems like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, it is! Take it in little chunks at a time.
You can’t “study” scripture passively. You must be active in your study, become ALIVE in the word. That means reading it, thinking about it, asking and answering questions about it.
Alive in The Word