Today is the 50th anniversary of my completing the reading of the Christian Bible for the first time as a 16 year old. I have re-read it daily ever since. Wondering how best to commemorate this day, I decided about a month ago to complete my brief online summary of the Bible. It is fitting that it is also the third anniversary of my brother Andrew’s death who had a significant role in my spiritual pilgrimage.
My post on the Summary of the New Testament is frequently consulted on this blog. I was asked to do the same for the Old Testament but this is a bigger task. Whereas I summarised the New Testament in one sitting on one day, I didn’t find the time to attempt the same for the Old Testament.
As my New Testament summary grew in popularity, it has proven to be one of the most accessed posts, second only to the Leaven of Herod about the conflict between manmade law and God’s moral law. So my Old Testament summary rose up my list of priorities and has conjoined with this notable anniversary.
So let us begin. The Old Testament is a Christian term for the Jewish Bible given to and preserved by the Jews before Jesus Christ came into the world. The Jews deny that their Bible is an ‘old’ testament, although their Bible at Jer 31:31 plainly asserts that there will be a new covenant in due course. They do not acknowledge this term, calling their Hebrew Bible the Tanakh, a word composed from the first letters of the Torah (the five Books of Moses), the Navi’im (the Prophets – major and minor) and the Khetuvim (the Writings) – the three sections of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, is acknowledged and adopted by Christians as the Old Testament because Jesus Christ told His apostles that the Holy Spirit would enable them Jn 16:7,13-14 to compose the Christian New Testament. Jesus did not write the New Testament but His Jewish followers, or disciples, wrote it during the decades after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven and it was completed in the first century AD within living memory of Jesus’ time on Earth. The writers used the Greek language, which was the international language at the time, just as English is the international language nowadays. The Old Testament had already been translated into Greek, called the Septuagint (LXX) and it is often quoted in the New Testament, to show that the New is the fulfilment of the Old. Thus the whole Christian Bible is a Jewish book, comprising 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament – remembered with this mnemonic – 39 and 3×9 = 27. When quoting the Old Testament, the New Testament writers sometimes quoted the Greek translation (LXX), sometimes they translated the Hebrew Bible directly into Greek, sometimes they gave their own explanation of the Old Testament passage in their own inspired words and sometimes they simply used the Old Testament passage or a phrase in it to develop the point that they were making, just as a public speaker often does with quotations. Now for the summary.
The Torah – the five books of Moses at the beginning of the Bible – is a Hebrew term and it is also called the Pentateuch, a Greek word meaning ‘five scrolls’ because the Old Testament was written on scrolls at first.
- the Book of Genesis is the book of ‘beginnings’ or ‘origins’: it details the origin of the Universe, the Earth, mankind, marriage, a vegetarian diet and a host of other things including the origin of human sin that led to the Fall of mankind in Adam, God’s curse upon man, upon labour in childbirth and labour in the field, followed by God’s proclamation of the Gospel for sinful man and the first divine promise of a Saviour, the Protevangelium, explained by animal sacrifice, which symbolically taught the penalty of sin and its solution. Genesis describes human murder, genealogy, geology, hunting, arts and crafts, apostasy, Noah’s ark and the global flood, which demonstrates the natural course of human sin, after which God began again with a divine promise not to repeat such a global flood, sealed by the periodic appearance of the rainbow. In the post-diluvian world man became a meat-eater and built the Tower of Babel which led to the origin of languages. God called Abraham, “the father of the faithful” out of idolatrous Ur of the Chaldees into the land of Canaan where the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were taught about God’s purpose for them as the inheritors and guardians of the land of Israel for all time to come, being symbolical of God’s providential dealing with His church till the end of time. Abraham enacted the Gospel message as a father sacrificing his only son Isaac, whom God substituted with a ram to teach substitutionary atonement. Isaac’s twin sons Jacob and Esau illustrate domestic favouritism, murderous jealousy, deception and the resultant division from such behaviour. Jacob fled for his life from the murderous intent of Esau and he met with the “God of Bethel” where the dream of Jacob’s Ladder reaching up to heaven, with angels going up and down it, teaches the need of a Mediator between heaven and earth in order to reach heaven. Jacob’s long life is the most detailed in the whole Bible from before his birth till after his death. His marriage to sisters Leah and Rachel, living at a distance among his grandfather Abraham’s relatives, produced twelve sons and began the twelve tribes of Israel. When Jacob eventually returned to the land of Amorites, on the east of the river Jordan, across from the land of Canaan on the west of the river, he is renamed Israel by the angel of the Lord, a unique name meaning ‘a prince of God’. The life of Joseph, Jacob’s favourite son, to whom Jacob gave ‘a coat of many colours’, is developed concurrently with his grieving father who thinks that he has died, but Joseph’s unknown rise to become the Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and his reconciliation to his eleven brothers and his father as their benefactor is one of the most emotional stories in history and full of spiritual lessons. He provided for his family during an international famine by relocating them from Canaan to Egypt where they were to remain for hundreds of years and grow from a family into a nation of twelve tribes. Genesis finishes with the death of Jacob followed by the death of Joseph, each referring to the return of the children of Israel to the land of their fathers buried in the land of Canaan. Thus the first book of the Bible covers 2000 years of human history. The remaining 38 books of the Old Testament will cover the next 2000 years until Jesus Christ arrived as the God-man Redeemer promised, explained, developed, revealed and identified throughout the pages of the Old Testament.
- the Book of Exodus shows the birth of the nation of Israel when the family of Jacob, the children of Israel, multiplied and grew into a great nation during their time in Egypt. This growth alarmed the Egyptian pharaoh who began a policy of genocide of the male children but Moses escapes this and he is adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter as her own son. The Hebrews are treated as slaves and the Book of Exodus begins with the children of Israel being enslaved by the Egyptians and God’s calling Moses at the Burning Bush to lead the children of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, out of ‘the house of bondage’. Exodus is a Greek word for ‘a way out’, like ‘exit’. God commissioned Moses to tell Pharaoh: “Let My people go that they may serve Me”. When Pharaoh king of Egypt refused to “let My people go”, God visited the Egyptians with the Ten Plagues of Egypt until Pharaoh reluctantly let them leave. The Jewish Passover originates in this seminal event, which prefigured the Lord’s Supper instituted by Jesus Christ as the Passover Lamb Whose death made atonement for human sin. The children of Israel escaped Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and stopped at Mount Sinai where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments as well as Levitical Laws that set up the levitical priesthood, named after the tribe of Levi – a ceremonial system for teaching us by symbols how sinners can have their sins forgiven and be justly reconciled to God. God gave Moses instructions how to build the tent-like tabernacle where priestly activity was centred. This Old Testament symbolism teaches us to the present time how to find forgiveness, peace and reconciliation with God by the method He has appointed through His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the great High Priest Who fulfilled all that this levitical priesthood symbolised.
- the Book of Leviticus is about the sacrificial laws taught to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. As a nation, they needed laws and God gave them the Moral Law in the Ten Commandments, the ceremonial law about their form of worship and levitical laws about civil life as a nation dedicated to God. This book explains the different sacrifices for different types of sin, reminding us that sin is a great evil in many forms. However, animal sacrifices could not truly atone for sin but they only symbolically and ceremonially Heb 9:12-13 taught that “the wages of sin is death” Rom 6:23. They pointed to God’s method of forgiveness through substitutionary atonement, which found its real fulfilment in Christ’s sacrifice for sin Heb 9:14-18. We need Jesus Christ as our great High Priest Heb 3:1 Who has gone into “the holiest of all” in heaven itself Heb 9:3,8, having offered Himself Heb 1:3 as the one and only effective substitutionary atoning sacrifice for sin for ever Heb 9:24-28. We approach God boldly with confidence through Jesus on the mercy seat Heb 4:14-16, because prayer in Christ’s name is coming to God by a blood-sprinkled way Heb 10:19-22 that secures access and acceptance “for Jesus’ sake”. The Old Testament ceremonies remind us that we cannot simply approach God any way that we please but God warned Moses Ex 25:40 and Paul repeated and applied it in Heb 8:5 “to make all things according to the pattern” showed to Moses in mount Sinai. This reminds us about the Regulative Principle in divine worship. We should be thankful that we have this “way of access” to God. Jesus informs us: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” Jn 14:6 because He is the great High Priest Heb 4:14. Leviticus teaches the need of an effective priest to approach God with an effective atoning sacrifice, which the New Testament explains is Jesus Christ Himself, God’s promised Messiah.
- the Book of Numbers shows that God has us all numbered and knows every one of us. Some people do not like this, and some people do not like numbers, yet God does and He is the Supreme mathematician. The whole Universe is based upon numbers. The name of the Book of Numbers refers to the two censuses of the children of Israel, one at Sinai after coming out of Egypt, at the beginning of their journey, and the second at the end of their 40 year journey, during which the unbelieving Hebrews, later called Jews, thought that they would perish in the wilderness. Later in their history, king David was punished for numbering Israel because his motive was wrong, but the Book of Numbers reminds us that God records everything in His Book, down to individuals and even the numbers. The tribe of Levi was set apart for the priesthood and Aaron, the brother of Moses, was appointed the first high priest to be followed by his descendants. Various levitical laws are explained and once the tabernacle was built, a portable tent for the worship of God, the children of Israel began their journey from Mount Sinai to the promised land. The book records their journey through the wilderness from Egypt to their native land of Canaan. However, rebellion set in against Moses’ leadership and Aaron’s priesthood but the Lord nipped it in the bud with a singular judgment Num 16:29 upon the ringleaders and a devastating plague upon more than 14,000 of their supporters Num 16:45-50. Unbelief continued and there was resistance to fighting their way into the promised land. Moses sent a spy from each tribe to scout the land and they brought back a report that it was indeed a good land but there were giants in it. Ten of the twelve spies declared further progress to be too dangerous but the other two, Caleb and Joshua, disagreed. Dissent and unbelief prevailed to such an extent that God turned them back into the wilderness, where they remained for 40 years until that generation died off and a new generation arose with more faith to enter the land. The book records their wandering in the wilderness during these 40 years. Towards the end, Aaron died and Moses then led a more faithful generation northward from Arabia. Initial resistance from the Canaanite king in the south created panic among them again, which the Lord arrested by solemn judgments Num 21:4-9. By ordering Moses to make a brass serpent to deal with their sin, God demonstrated that He was still with them, an incident to which Jesus famously referred in Jn 3:14-16, as illustrating His own crucifixion as the means of saving sinners and of belief as the means of its application. Peaceful approaches to the tribes of Edom and Moab to the south and east of the Dead Sea for right of passage to their native lands were repulsed and, after bypassing these distance relatives, finally warfare broke out with the Amorites along the east of the river Jordan. Moses captained the capture of the land of the Amorites as far north as the land of Bashan, the area that is now called the Golan Heights on the east of the Sea of Galilee. When they turned south again to cross the river Jordan opposite Jericho, Balak the king of the Moab took fright at their progress and hired Balaam to curse Israel, but instead Balaam blessed them. However, Balaam employed a more subtle method to attempt to stop their progress and taught Balak to use the Moabite women to entice the children of Israel, flush with their military success, to fall into debauchery, immorality and gross idolatry and a plague destroyed 24,000 of them at Baalpeor. God commanded a second census but the lessons from the plague were not laid to heart and had to be relearned the hard way. Before crossing the Jordan, two and a half tribes, Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh, who had much cattle, arranged with Moses that they would have their inheritance on the east of the river Jordan in the land of the conquered Amorites with the proviso that they would help their brethren to secure their inheritance on the west of Jordan in the land of Canaan. In the Book of Numbers, Moses records a summary list of their journey from Egypt to Canaan and maps out their territorial borders in the land of Canaan, making provision of cities for the tribe of Levi, which had no land territory but were scattered among the other tribes in order to teach the people. Six of them were appointed as cities of refuge for those who accidentally killed someone to live in, three cities on each side of the river Jordan to help those fleeing for their lives. The epistle to the Hebrews teaches us that the Exodus, the wilderness journey and their entry into the land of promise illustrates the spiritual life of the godly and of the church collectively journeying towards heaven as ‘the promised land’, but some in the church failed and will continue to fail to “enter in because of unbelief” Heb 3:19 and Heb 4:6. There are many lessons here, not least being that often it takes a whole generation to effect change in national affairs and in the church.
- the Book of Deuteronomy is named from the Greek words for ‘second Law’ because in three major sermons Moses reviews the Law given by God at Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy records Moses’ leadership in the first stage of their warfare against the Canaanite tribes, who began to hear of reports of the exploits of the children of Israel Deu 2:25. Moses captured the trans-Jordan area, overrunning the land of the Amorites and capturing 60 walled cities of the Bashanites in the far north, along with many unwalled towns Deu 3:5, which was called the land of giants Deu 3:13. Moses finished his lengthy leadership by recalling the Ten Commandments and various other lessons during their time together. Deuteronomy is the last of the five books of Moses and finishes with his death, obviously completed by someone else. It is the fifth of the five books that form the Torah, which the Jews read in their synagogues. However, the authoritative and primary text of Jewish religious law and theology is not the Torah but the Talmud, a compilation of Jewish commentaries on the Torah, completed hundreds of years after the Christian New Testament was completed. Few non-Christian Jews read the whole Old Testament on a regular basis whereas Christians treat all 39 books of the Old Testament as equally authoritative, along with the 27 books of the New Testament.
12 historical books Joshua to Esther
- the Book of Joshua carries forward the history of the children of Israel under their new leader Joshua, identified as such by Moses Deu 31:3. The book is about their entry into the land of Canaan Jos 24:3 that God promised to Abraham. It begins with God’s promise to Joshua – “as I was with Moses, so will I be with thee” Jos 1:5, which the children of Israel recognised when the walls of Jericho fell down Jos 3:7. Moses led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and conquered the land of the Amorites on the east of the river Jordan Jos 24:8. The Lord encouraged Joshua, “Be strong and of a good courage” Jos 1:6-7,9, and then Joshua led the children of Israel through the river Jordan from east to west into the land of Canaan where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had lived, which became known as the land of Israel after Joshua defeated 31 kings with their armies Jos 12:24. The book documents the gradual but incomplete occupation of the land, for which the Lord gives several reasons, one being their continued ungodly tendencies, including the idolatry they had practised in Egypt Jos 24:14 and which continued with them through their 40 years in the wilderness. The book finishes with Joshua challenging their idolatrous practices and he asserted that “as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah” Jos 24:15, the unique name by which God revealed Himself to Moses Ex 6:3 as the covenant God of Israel. Joshua is a Hebrew name, shortened from Jehoshua meaning ‘Jehovah saves’, which is translated in Greek as Jesus, the name given to the Lord Jesus Christ by the angel of the Lord because ‘He shall save His people from their sins’ Mat 1:21. The apostle Paul makes use of this in Heb 4:8 to show that the history of children of Israel is illustrative of the individual Christian and of the Christian church coming out of ‘the land of bondage’ in Egypt, see Exodus above, under the blood of the Passover Lamb, which John the Baptist and Jesus taught, journeying through the wilderness of this world and finally going ‘over the river Jordan of death’ with the New Testament Joshua into ‘the promised land’ in heaven. Paul took Jesus’ teaching about the application of the Passover Lamb to His own crucifixion and death 1Cor 5:7, and the Psalmist’s application of their unbelief in the wilderness Ps 95:6-11 and he used this as a spiritual warning about failing to believe that Jesus is the Christ (Heb 3) and the danger of coming short of heaven (Heb 4) just as the first generation of the children of Israel failed to enter the promised land because of their unbelief and died in the wilderness.
- the Book of Judges shows the civil and religious anarchy among the children of Israel now living in the land of Israel. “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” Jdg 17:6 and Jdg 21:25, although Moses had warned them against this in Deu 12:8. This Book documents a recurring cycle of events in divine Providence with 1. religious apostasy; 2. the Lord delivering them into the hands of their local enemies for decades at a time, 3. their prayer to God for deliverance from their oppression, 4. the Lord sovereignly raising up a deliverer, called a judge, to deliver them. 5. after a while, they reverted to type to such an extent that the cycle repeated itself several times, with the Lord raising judges from different tribes of Israel, so that it is called the Book of Judges. Gideon and Samson are some well-known names in the long list of judges of Israel. Gideon’s fleece and his defeat of the Midianites with only 300 men shows the Lord’s interaction to teach His chosen leaders of proud and fearful people. Samson and Delilah is the subject of paintings and films and “as strong as Samson” is proverbial to the present day, incorporated even into pop culture showing the continuing force of the lessons from the life of this biblical judge. His exploits for Israel with his supernatural, God-given physical strength are neutralised by Delilah’s discovery of the source of that strength and her betrayal of Samson and his love to his enemies who blind him and make sport of him. Not only are there practical lessons here, but it illustrates Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus and His love and His mockery by His captors. However, just as Samson got the victory over the enemy Philistines in his death, Jesus got victory over death itself by His death – “the Death of Death in the Death of Christ” as Dr John Owen put it.
- the Book of Ruth is a short book about a Gentile or non-Jewish woman from the hostile, neighbouring tribe of Moab marrying into the children of Israel and becoming a believer in the God of Israel. Ruth the Moabitess proved to be an ancestor of the future king David Rth 4:17,22 and was one of the significant women in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ Mat 1:5,16.
- the First Book of Samuel begins with the birth, dedication and calling of young Samuel to be a prophet of the Lord. The earlier disorder during the time of the Judges led to the clamour for a king in order to be like the other nations. To demonstrate His displeasure at their rejection of the Lord as their King, God told Samuel to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. Saul proved to be a spiritual failure and the book ends with his being killed by the Philistines. Halfway through the book, young David is introduced when he single-handedly killed giant Goliath “in the name of the God of Israel”. Saul makes him a military commander and marries his daughter to David, but David’s success and popularity makes Saul jealous, who tries to kill David. David had to flee and a band of faithful warriors joined him.
- the Second Book of Samuel begins with king David being invited to be king over Israel and he established Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He reigned for over 40 years and lost no physical battles although he lost moral battles with sin as we all do. Nevertheless he was “a man after God’s own heart” and was “the sweet Psalmist of Israel” who composed most of the Book of Psalms. By his military victories he laid the foundation of the reign of peace for his son Solomon. The book finishes with the last words of David, the list of his mighty men and his providential determination of the site of the future temple in Jerusalem.
- the First Book of Kings begins with the death of king David and the turmoil in handing over the throne to King Solomon. David had gathered resources from his military victories to built a temple for God in Jerusalem but God told him that David would not built it because he was a man of war who had shed blood, but Solomon his son would build it. Solomon’s reputation for wisdom was international and when the Queen of Sheba visited him in Jerusalem to witness it for herself, she said that “the half had not been told her”. Jesus made use of this in His teaching, saying that by her zeal to find out for herself she would condemn others in the Day of Judgment who did not make the effort to learn about Himself, Who was greater than Solomon Mat 12:42, especially when they heard about Jesus’ resurrection from the death Mat 12:40. The name Solomon means ‘peace’ and Shalom is a common Hebrew greeting to the present day. It derives from a root word shalam ‘to pay, make peace’; in other words, to make peace by payment and this what the New Testament Solomon, the Lord Jesus Christ did when He paid ‘the price of sin’ to make peace or atonement, because ‘the wages of sin is death’ Rom 6:23. Solomon was given another name “Jedidiah” meaning ‘beloved of the Lord’, and the New Testament Solomon is God’s beloved Son Mat 3:17. After King Solomon’s died, the kingdom of Israel splits into two halves, the majority northern kingdom of Israel with its capital in Samaria, who apostasized from the worship of Jehovah and set up rival worship with idolatry, and the minority southern kingdom of Judah with its capital in Jerusalem and the priesthood continuing in its Temple. This illustrates the competitive religion that continues to the present day and competes with the Gospel of God and deceives multitudes to worship false gods. Good preachers should be able to use this history of competitive religion and the lessons and principles of national government to good effect, just as the prophets in Israel brought messages periodically to their kings, calling for repentance and reformation. The remainder of the Book gives the history of these two kingdoms with a brief summary of their kings as either doing “good in the eyes of the Lord” or doing evil, reminding us that all lives can be summarised similarly, seen with solemn effect on the Day of Judgment as taught in the Old Testament Ps 1:5-6 as well as the New Testament. None of the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel were reckoned to be good and some of the kings of Judah were also wicked kings.
- the Second Book of Kings continues the history of the two kingdoms until the kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians and carried away captive. The Assyrians invaded the southern kingdom of Judah and laid siege outside Jersualem but God delivered Jerusalem so that Judah was given a reprieve, but they did not learn from this. Their apostasy from the true worship of God continued, mixing up their Temple worship with heathen worship. This mixing of true worship with false worship continues to the present day in the Christian church, with the same result – God’s displeasure as Jesus taught the Seven Churches of Asia in Rev 2-Rev 3. God is longsuffering towards human sin 2Pe 3:9 and sent prophets to warn the king and nation what would befall them. Some of these prophets wrote down some of their prophecies, which compromise the latter part of the Old Testament; see below. Finally, the king of Babylon invaded the land in a campaign against Egypt and he successfully besieged Jerusalem carried away its king to Babylon and booty from the Temple. He left a vassal king of Judah in charge, but when he proved rebellious the Babylonian armies burned and destroyed the Jerusalem temple, the king’s house and the walls of Jerusalem. Thus ignominously ended the failed kingly rule in Jerusalem until Jesus rode into Jerusalem hundreds of years later Mat 21:5 as predicted by the prophet Zechariah Zec 9:9.
- The First Book of Chronicles is named from the chronicles of names beginning the book. They are not strictly genealogies but ancestral lines of significant people. The two Books of Chronicles go over the same period as the four previous books but only from the viewpoint of the kings of Judah. When the list of chronicle reached David’s generation the story of Saul’s reign is told in one chapter and then the story of David and “his mighty men” begins. David’s piety and success as king is documented. He established the true worship of God and brought to Jerusalem the ark of the covenant constructed under Moses’ direction. He told Nathan the prophet of his desire to build a Temple for the ark, but God told David that the Lord would build a house for David, meaning the Davidic dynasty of kings. The Gospel theme developed in relation to David, his piety, his Psalms and the everlasting covenant that God made with David “ordered in all things and sure”. The prophet Isaiah would later refer to this and finally the Lord Jesus appeared as “the Son of David”, Whose throne would not be in Jerusalem but at the right hand of God in heaven, as foretold in David’s Psalms – Ps 2:7-12 and Ps 110:1 quoted by Jesus Mat 22:41, The Book ends with David charging his son Solomon 1Ch 22:6 to build the Temple with the resources he had gathered, according to the plan he had made, at the site the Lord had determined in Jerusalem 1Ch 21:18, 1Ch 22:1 and 2Ch 3:1. The Book finishes with several chapters detailing David’s organising the priestly service of the Temple worship, reminding us that rulers should not be indifferent to the true worship of God – known as the Establishment Principle. The last two chapters describe a public assembly of Israel’s military at which David asserts that Solomon will succeed him as king 1Ch 28:5 who will build this temple 1Ch 28:6. There is a beautiful fatherly and solemn charge from David to his son: “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts. If thou seek Him, He will be found of thee; but if thou forsake Him, He will cast thee off for ever” 1Ch 28:9. The Book finishes with David’s death after a 40-year reign: “he died in a good old age, full of days, riches, and honour”.
- the Second Book of Chronicles begins with Solomon’s building the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicating it to the Lord and His worship. After David’s reign establishing the kingdom of Israel by warfare, Solomon had a reign of peace in which the splendour of the Temple and of his own house in Jerusalem became renowned internationally and the Queen of Sheba’s visit is described 2Ch 9. Thereafter the division of the kingdom is described but the history of the apostate northern kingdom of Israel is ignored and the Chronicler, who may have been the post-exilic scribe and priest Ezra, records only the history of the kings of Judah. He records the general decline in national spirtuality on the framework of the lives of the kings, with material from God’s providence for Gospel preachers to use. The spiritual decline under some kings and the revival under others shows a stepwise decline in spiritual life in the nation. Godly king Hezekiah had an exceedingly wicked son Manasseh who reigned for 55 years and caused such havoc that even though he was converted in his old age, the enormous efforts of godly king Josiah could not reverse the detrimental spiritual declension in the land and finally the kingdom of Judah was subjugated by the Babylonians and the principal rulers of Judah were transported to Babylon where the children of Israel were to languish for 70 years as prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah. When eventually, and surprisingly, they were released by Cyrus the Persian, Ezra the scribe led the returning delegation and not only did he write a book bearing his name but he probably completed these two Books of Chronicles. He may have added other annotations to other books and as the authorised priest and scribe he seems to have gathered all the manuscripts together that make the Hebrew Old Testament. This collection is given the technical term ‘the canon’ of Scripture, meaning those books that are reckoned to be ‘canonical Scripture’. Thus it is that this is the last book in the Hebrew Bible and its Greek translation (LXX) with the prophets (Navi’im) coming before them chronologically. English translations have rearranged the order of the Books, putting these historical books together. This is why Jesus speaks about murders from Abel to Zacharias in Mat 23:25 because these are the first and last murders of righteous people in the Hebrew Bible. By ignoring Israel the Chronicler in effect intimates that the history of the ungodly did not matter and his writing after the Babylonian exile reminds us that the ungodly have no future. However, the Lord had not forgotten northern Israel although they had forgotten Him, as we shall see in the Prophecy of Ezekiel.
- The book of Ezra was once joined to the book of Nehemiah as one book but the focus of their accounts is different although related. The narrative first person is used in Ezra 9:3 to refer to Ezra, and in Neh 1:11 to refer to Nehemiah, so it is appropriate to separate the two books. Ezra is about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem while Nehemiah is about rebuilding the protective wall around Jerusalem much later. Both relate to the post-exilic period, after the return to Jerusalem from their captivity in the Babylonian exile. The book of Ezra is in two sections and begins with the decree by Cyrus king of Persia allowing the Jews to leave Babylon and to return to the land of Israel, fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah, and to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem in fulfilment of Isa 45:13. The religious and civil leaders of the first group to return were Joshua the high priest and Zerubabel the governor. They laid the foundation of a new temple, but local opposition delayed the work for about 20 years until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah stirred up the people in the second year of the reign of Darius, the new king of Persia. The prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah expand more details of the events in Ezr 5:1-2. Another attempt to stop the building was repulsed by zealous elders who successfully appealed to Darius who located Cyrus’ earlier decree in the archives and the work progressed. There is a period of time between Ezra 6 and 7 during which the events in the book of Esther occur. The second section of the book is about a second group returning to Jerusalem under the leadership of the Ezra the priestly scribe Ezr 7:11-12. This was during the reign of Artaxerxes, another king of Persia Ezr 6:14, called Ahasuerus in the book of Esther, translated Artaxerxes in the Septuagint (LXX), which may have contributed to Ezra being able to write his own job description Ezr 7:10 and successfully negotiate with Artaxerxes king of Persia the return of this second group of Jews. Artaxerxes wrote a letter of support for Ezra’s group returning to Jerusalem from Babylon. As so often happened, the Jews had ignored the law of Moses and Ezra interceded with God for them and began with a reformation among the priests. He assembled the people to Jerusalem where Ezra taught them publicly and as a result they made a covenant with God to reform their behaviour in accordance with the law of Moses. As a priestly scribe Ezra probably collated the books of the Old Testament into the canon of Hebrew Scripture, which was later translated into Greek as the Septuagint (LXX). This Greek translation is very useful because it shows that the prophecy in Dan 9:24-27 about Messiah’s substitionary death before the destruction of this second Temple in 70AD was not written up after the event because it was translated into Greek hundreds of years before Jesus Christ came into the world.
- The book of Nehemiah is about Nehemiah’s rebuilding the broken down walls of Jerusalem and re-establishing Jewish civil and religious life history. Nehemiah was king Artaxerxes’ cup bearer and when he heard about the desolate state of Jerusalem, this godly man decided to act, praying first for the Lord’s favour with the king and pleading the Lord’s promises to Moses in the Word of God about the principles of divine providence. With the king’s authority he was given leave to visit Jerusalem and after surveying the desolate situation he organised a workforce. Because of neighbouring threats, they built the wall with a trowel in one hand and their sword in the other. Nehemiah allocated different tribes to different parts of the wall and completed it in 52 days. The book finishes with the Levites dedicating the completed wall Neh 12:27 and with reading the book of Moses, which led to reformation, which stalled again. The book finishes with Nehemiah seeking leave again from Artaxerxes to visit Jerusalem again after twelve years to give the leadership to implement further reform in their civil and religious life by clearing out the Temple and by stopping business on the Sabbath day , reminding them that for the same sins their fathers had brought the Lord’s judgments upon them. He reformed the idolatrous intermarriage, reminding that even wise king Solomon had been led astray in the same manner, laying the blame at the feet of a defiled priesthood, which he took the lead to purge and reform.
- The book of Esther is a book illustrating the Providence of God at work. Although the name of God does not appear in it, His hand in Providence does. Its time period is between chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Ezra. It tells the story of Queen Esther being providentially placed in the palace of king Ahasuerus at the very time when jealous and proud Prime Minister Haman sought to destroy all the Jews throughout the 127 provinces of the Persian empire. The providence of God is seen in the concatenation of events between Esther and her uncle Mordecai resulting in the tables being turned on wicked Haman. Mordecai sent the famous and quotable message to Queen Esther that she would not act and speak up for her fellow Jews “at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knows whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Est 4:14. The hanging of Haman for his abuse of power and the deliverance of the Jews from his intended genocide is celebrated by the Jews annually in the feast of Purim to the present day. There have been notable attempts to eliminate the Jews, the most recent being the 20th-century Holocaust, derived from the Hebrew word for ‘a burnt offering’, and antisemitism continues to the present. When Frederick the Great asked for a succinct proof of God, he was given the reply, variously attributed to his physician Zimmermann of Brugg-in-Aargau and to his godly general Zieten, “Your majesty, the Jews”, meaning that their survival as the covenanted people of God was testimony to His providential oversight over them, as predicted in Amo 9:9. Their conversion to Christianity will yet be “as life from the dead” for the world Rom 11:15. The second Jerusalem temple was finished in the sixth year of the reign of king Darius Ezr 6:15, before the events in the book of Esther, and Est 8:9 is a claimant for being the longest verse in the Bible.
- The Providence of God, like Hebrew, is read backwards. The principles of divine providence can be seen in the Hebrew Old Testament, the mismanagement of kingdoms, the role of rival kingdoms and competitive religion. In our day, even secular religion is imitating Christianity. but it is a poor rival. Scientists study the laws of nature and hope to find the Grand Unification Theory (GUT) but it is not so Grand because the scientific laws of nature do not explain why a man loves a woman why we feel emotion and appreciate beauty. Far less do they explain the principles of divine providence, which ungodly men continuously misinterpret. People need to read the Bible to have them explained to them.
Two poetical books:
- The Book of Job is the oldest and most scientific book in the Bible, as well as the oldest extant book in the world. It is a debate between godly Job living in the far east with four other people giving their opinion about Job’s spiritual state. It illustrates the oldest error in human relationships – the inability to converse properly with our neighbours. It shows the prejudicial opinions about human suffering, still the single commonest subject which turns people against God. It should teach the Christian church not to prejudge godly people and how to debate matters properly. It shows the importance of zugology in human behaviour. It was originally a poem in the Mesopotamian language and translated into Hebrew with an introductory and concluding section probably by Moses but possibly by Ezra.
- The book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible. It is God’s hymn book, which is too often ignored by the Christian Church. Many of the psalms were written by king David of Jerusalem, “the sweet psalmist of Israel”, “the man after God’s own heart”. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, they demonstrates what godly experience is, and as each thought of God is a great deep Ps 92:5, they are more profound than manmade hymns, which can be only as deep as the thoughts of the human author – “What is the chaff to the wheat?” Jer 23:28. Comprising 150 Psalms, they can be sung in about 750 sections, covering the whole of spiritual experience and theology. Jesus explained that the Psalms speak about Himself Lk 24:44. We should familiarise ourselves with godly experience by singing and learning the Psalms off by heart. The songs of any people guide their theology, so we should learn biblical theology by singing the biblical Psalms.
Three books by wise king Solomon of Jerusalem:
- the book of Proverbs is written by wise King Solomon particularly for young men. It gives practical wisdom for temporal and spiritual things in a series of proverbs.
- the book of Ecclesiastes is the experience of the wisest of natural men, King Solomon. He was given the capacity and opportunity to engage in a personal experiment with worldly pleasure. It went out of control and this Book is his warning to us so that we do not need to repeat the same experiment. He summarises his lessons from his experiment: enjoy what you can of your portion in life but remember that you will be judged at last by God. Don’t expect justice from man but God will sort it all out eventually. There are different principles operating in God’s providence and the immediate and constant effects of the laws of nature are mistakenly thought to apply in the moral sphere Ecc 8:11, which seems not to distinguish the righteous from the wicked Ecc 9:1-2. Solomon’s experiment and analysis explains that in the moral sphere God gives time for repentance and brings judgment to bear upon different events in a timely manner Ecc 3:1,16. God will correct injustice at the appropriate time and finally at the Day of Judgment Ecc 3:17, Ecc 11:9 and Ecc 12:7,14. He asserts that we should enjoy the life that God has given us Ecc 8:15 and Ecc 9:7. Instead of spending our lives with grievance politics, like teenagers who can only complain, we should get on and enjoy what one has of life Ecc 9:7. Ecc 9:10-11 summarise Solomon’s observation and attitude towards earthly providence. Much wisdom and industrious labour goes unrecognised and unrewarded in this life Ecc 9:14-16, but God will bring everything into judgment and allocate the due reward, but not necessarily right now.
- the Song of Solomon is a love song enacted between two lovers. It uses the most intimate form of love, the emotional and sexual love between a man and woman, called the beloved and his love, with its various phases including set backs, to illustrate the union and communion between Christ and His bride, the Church in this world.
The major prophets: so called because of their length
- The prophecy of Isaiah has been described as “the fifth gospel”. It begins with God’s complaint that He is fed up with their insincere and ritualistic worship. He warns them about their social injustice and invites them to have a reasoned discussion with Him, promising to cleanse them from their scarlet-dyed sins and to make them whiter than snow if they will repent. There are two sections to the prophecy, and the first section develops God’s promise of the future Messiah. The second section begins with the prediction of John the Baptist announcing the coming Messiah Isa 40:1-10. Isaiah goes on to describe the Messiah as God’s Servant Isa 42:1-4, His righteous Servant, contrasted with Israel as His failed servant, Who by His sufferings unto death will justify many Isa 53:3-11. God laid on Him the guilt of His people’s sins Isa 53:6 and “He bore the sin he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” Isa 53:12. Jesus’ crucifixion is so graphically predicted, described and explained in Isaiah 53 that many Jews will not read it although it is in their own Hebrew Bible, and those who hear it sometimes think that it is a Christian who composed it as it so obviously speaks of Jesus Christ. This chapter shows that His sufferings and death were substitutionary to satisfy divine justice for His people’s sins. It predicted His rejection by His own people the Jews. Isa 55 is a clarion call to all who hear the Gospel to come to God through this Messiah and to enter an everlasting covenant with God, the same covenant that God made with David, that their soul would live for ever and ever. The final chapters predict Messiah’s victory over the opposition to His claims and His convincing the whole world to become Christian. The Christian New Testament calls this the Millennium. Each of the Old Testament prophecies predict this Millennium.
- The prophecy of Jeremiah shows that the godly suffer along with the ungodly during times of spiritual declension. It is the second longest book in the Bible with 52 chapters. Jeremiah’s long period of prophecy was during the religious and moral decline of the southern kingdom until Jerusalem and its temple were eventually captured and destroyed by the Babylonians. Jeremiah was sent to warn the children of Israel to repent but they trusted that as long as the Jerusalem temple was standing that Jerusalem was safe. Jeremiah warned them that this was not so and the king tore up Jeremiah’s written statement and burnt it in the fire. Jeremiah was castigated as discouraging the city’s defenders and accused of helping the enemy. For this he was thrown into a dungeon where his life was in danger. He was still in the prison when the Babylonians eventually captured the city and his life was spared.
- The Book of Lamentations records Jeremiah’s weeping over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. It is written in poetic form, with each verse of each chapter beginning with the next verse of the Hebrew alphabet. As there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, four of the five chapters are 22 verses long, but the middle chapter has 66 verses because each letter begins three consecutive verses. This is evidently a memory device and it may be how Jeremiah occupied himself in the prison dungeon, anticipating the judgment of God coming upon Jerusalem. This book shows the response of the godly to the desolation caused by false religion. There are other biblical chapters composed in such a way as to suggest that they should be memorised. Psalm 119 has 22 sections with the eight verses in each section beginning with the same letter of Hebrew alphabet and each of the 22 section working their way through the Hebrew alphabet. This long psalm is the longest chapter in the Bible with 8×22 = 176 verses, all about the Word of God, which many people know off by heart, as they do the whole book of Psalms which they sing every day at family worship as well as in church services.
- The prophecy of Ezekiel The first half of this prophesy teaches the need to expose false religious hopes. The hope of restoration to the land of Israel is prophesied as symbolical of Messiah building Ezekiel’s temple-house, which demonstrates that the Regulative Principle and the Establishment Principle are necessary for Christian principles to bring life to the spiritually Dead Sea of this world. Zadok zeal will recover the Christian church, like life from the dead.
- The book of Daniel shows us how godly persons can contribute to worldly government without compromising. The prophetic element foreshadowed the major empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greek an
- A mnemonic for these books – SIJ,LED.
The minor prophets are so called because they are shorter in length.
- The prophecy of Hosea is
- The prophecy of Joel is
- The prophecy of Amos is the first of the scribal prophets who wrote down his prophecies, possibly because he was an uneducated herdsman. The speaking prophets since the time of Samuel before him did not do so. Amos prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel a few years before they went into captivity under the Assyrians in 721BC. He went to Bethel where the king of Israel had his court and chapel Amo 7:13, but Amaziah the false priest of Bethel told him to go the southern kingdom of Judah Amo 7:12 and when he did not, he sent to Jeroboam the king of Israel to complain Amo 7:10. The main themes are God’s omnipotence and role as Creator, and His divine judgment against social injustice. National Israel’s judgment is placed in an international context, detailing God’s judgment upon the capital cities of neighbouring nations. After asserting the certainty of judgment, the prophesy finishes with the certainty of God’s promise to David being fulfilled – “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old” Amo 9:11. The future was bright – “And I will bring again the captivity of My people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God” Amo 9:14-15. As they were indeed removed from Israel during the Roman empire and scattered again through the nations until the 20th century and the re-establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the partial fulfilment of Amos’ prophecy in the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile is illustrative of and a pledge of this complete fulfilment during the pre-millennial judgment of the international community going on at present in the Great Tribulation, which will usher in the biblical Millennium. This general theme is found in all the written prophesies of the Old Testament.
- The prophecy of Obadiah is a short prophecy against Edom, one of Israel’s eastern neighbours, because of its gloating over the pillaging and overthrow of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and their attempt to capture the Jews fleeing for safety from the city.
- The prophecy of Jonah is about the reluctance of Jonah to warn Nineveh, the capital city of hostile Assyria, about its coming judgment. His attempt to flee from God’s commission ended up his being swallowed by a specially-prepared whale and his repentance. Emerging from his ordeal he preached to Nineveh, which took the message to heart and repented from the king downwards and God spared the city. Jonah’s petulance that his warning seemed to fail is met with God reminding Jonah that He is merciful when His warnings are taken to heart.
- The prophecy of Micah is about the
- The prophecy of Nahum is about the overthrow of Nineveh and Jonah’s preaching gave them a temporarly reprieve. God is “slow to anger” Nah 1:3 but eventually judgment will come if people will not repent and turn to Him.
- The prophecy of Habakkuk records the godly prophet Habakkuk’s confusion and questioning why God’s providence allowed the wicked Chaldeans or Babylonians to violently overthrow the nations and Judah with Jerusalem in particular. Why did the wicked surround the righteous and therefore wrong judgment prevailed? We are not expected to understand the whole of God’s providence, but we are expected to believe that the Judge of all the earth will do right Gen 19 . Even Habakkuk had to be told that the just will live by his faith that God is in control of His providence Hab 2:4.
- The prophecy of Zephaniah
- The prophecy of Haggai explains in more detail the events in Ezr 5:1-2. Hostile opposition had stalled the building of the second temple at Jerusalem for almost 20 years but now the prophets Haggai and Zechariah stirred up the people along with Joshua the high priest and Zerubabel the governor to recommence the work, criticising the people for building their own houses while the house of God lay desolate. Haggai pointed out that they had received little benefit since the work of building the temple had ceased and he stimulated them with the vision of this second temple being more glorious than the first. This happened when the Messiah Himself visited it half a millennium later and one of the lessons is “the prophets of God” helped the high priest and the governor to begin to build the house of God at Jerusalem Ezr 5:2. The conjunction of prophet, priest and ruler in building the temple for God’s worship points not only to the Messiah being Prophet, Priest and King as He builds His church but to the conjoint role of these in the governing of a godly nation to the present time. The prophetic voice should call the government to encourage the true worship of God, a biblical principle called the Establishment Principle. Joshua and Zerubabel needed to be reminded of their duty and revival and reformation should go together in church and nation.
- The prophecy of Zechariah the longest post-exilic prophecy with significant eschatological details.
- The prophecy of Malachi the last prophetic voice before the 400 year silence till the arrival the Messiah Jesus Christ. God complains about their slovenly and disrepectful worship Mal 1:7-14. Because the priests had failed to teach the people, God cursed the blessings they had and because of their lack of social justice He sends no more prophets to them for 400 years. However, God has not forgotten His promise in the Garden of Eden Gen 3:16 , nor His promise to Abraham and to David and throughout the Old Testament period about the coming Messiah Ps 2:2 and before the prophet voice falls silent God promises a messenger will come and announce the Messiah, who will come in the spirit of Elijah, whom Jesus explained was John the Baptist. This last chapter, like Isa 40:1-10, predicted the arrival of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. The 400 year prophetic silence was a harbinger of the 2000 year silence towards those Jews who rejected their Messiah, but with their return to the land of Israel and the re-establishing of the state of Israel in 1948, more Jews have come to believe in Jesus as their Messiah since then than during the intervening millennia. Their acceptance of Jesus as Messiah will be “as life from the dead” Rom 11:15 for the global community.
- A mnemonic: learn them in phrases. HJOAJ Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah – MN Micah Nahum are the middle letters of the English alphabet – HZHZ repeating HZ, Haggai and Zechariah cover the same time period – Malachi.