Old Testament Overview*

Old Testament Overview*

Genesis: The book of beginnings describes creation, the first rebellions against God and God’s choosing of Abraham and his offspring.

Exodus: God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and led them to the desert of Sinai. There he gave Moses the laws to govern the new nation.

Leviticus: God set up laws for the Israelites, mostly regarding holiness and worship.

Numbers: Because of their rebellion and disobedience, the Israelites had to wander in a wilderness for 40 years before entering the promised land.

Deuteronomy: Just before his death, Moses made three emotional farewell speeches, recapping history and warning the Israelites against further mistakes.

Joshua: After Moses’ death, Joshua commanded the armies that conquered much of the territory in the promised land.

Judges: The new nation fell into a series of dismal failures. God raised up leaders called “judges.”

Ruth: This story of love and loyalty between two widows shines out brightly in an otherwise dark period.

I Samuel: Samuel became a transition leader between the time of the judges and that of the kings. He appointed lsrael’s first king, Saul. After his own failure, Saul tried violently to prevent God’s king-elect, David, from taking the throne.

2 Samuel: David, a man after God’s own heart, brought the nation together. But after committing adultery and murder, he was haunted by family and national crises.

1 Kings: Solomon succeeded David, with mixed success. At his death, a civil war tore apart the nation. Successive kings were mostly bad, and the prophet Elijah had dramatic confrontations with King Ahab.

2 Kings: This book continues the record of the rulers of the divided kingdom. None of the northern kings followed God consistently, and so Israel was finally destroyed by an invader. The southern kingdom, Judah, lasted much longer, but finally Babylon conquered Judah and deported its citizens.

1 Chronicles: The book opens with the most complete genealogical record in the Bible, then adds many incidents from the life of David (often the same as those in 2 Samuel).

2 Chronicles: Often paralleling the books of Kings, this book records the history of the rulers of Judah, emphasizing the good kings.

Ezra: After being held captive in Babylon for decades, the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland. Ezra, a priest, emerged from one of the first waves of refugees.

Nehemiah: Nehemiah returned from the Babylonian captivity after the temple had been rebuilt. He concentrated on restoring the protective wall around Jerusalem and joined Ezra in leading a religious revival.

Esther: This story is set among captive Jews in Persia. A courageous Jewish queen foiled a plan to exterminate her people.

Job: The most godly man of his day suffers the greatest personal tragedy. The entire book deals with the question “Why?”

Psalms: These prayers and hymns cover the full range of human emotion; together, they represent a personal journal of how to relate to God. Some were also used in public worship services.

Proverbs: The proverbs offer advice on every imaginable area of life. The style of wise living described here leads to a fulfilled life.

Ecclesiastes: A life without God, “under the sun,” leads to meaninglessness and despair, says the Teacher in a strikingly modern book.

Song of Songs: This beautiful poem celebrates romantic and physical love.

Isaiah: The most eloquent of the prophets, Isaiah analyzed the failures of all the nations around him and pointed to a future Messiah who would bring peace.

Jeremiah: Jeremiah led an emotionally tortured life, yet held to his stern message. He spoke to Judah in the last decades before Babylon destroyed the nation.

Lamentations: All Jeremiah’s warnings about Jerusalem came true, and Lamentations records five poems of sorrow for the fallen city.

Ezekiel: Ezekiel spoke to the Jews who were captive in Babylon. He often used dramatic stories and enacted parables to make his points.

Daniel: A captive in Babylon, Daniel rose to the office of prime minister. Despite intense political pressure, he lived a model life of integrity and left highly symbolic prophecies about the future.

Hosea: By marrying a loose-living wife, Hosea lived out his message: that Israel had committed spiritual adultery against God.

Joel: Beginning with a recent catastrophe in Judah (a locust plague), Joel foretold God’s judgment on Judah.

Amos: A country boy, Amos preached to Israel at the height of its prosperity. His grim warnings focused on materialism.

Obadiah: Obadiah warned Edom, a nation bordering Judah.

Jonah: Jonah reluctantly went to Nineveh and found Israel’s enemies responsive to God’s message.

Micah: Micah exposed corruption in every level of society, but closed with a promise of forgiveness and restoration.

Nahum: Long after Jonah had stirred Nineveh to repentance, Nahum foretold the mighty city’s total destruction.

Habakkuk: Habakkuk addressed his book to God, not people. In a frank dialogue with God, he discussed problems of suffering and injustice.

Zephaniah: Zephaniah focused on the coming day of the Lord, which would purge Judah, resulting in a remnant used to bless the entire world.

Haggai: After returning from the Babylonian captivity, the Jews began rebuilding the temple of God. But before long they set aside that task to work on their own homes. Haggai reminded them to put God first.

Zechariah: Writing around the same time as Haggai, Zechariah also urged the Jews to work on the temple. He used a more uplifting approach, describing how the temple would point to the coming Messiah.

Malachi: The last Old Testament prophet, Malachi faced a nation that had grown indifferent. He sought to stir the people from apathy.

 

*This overview is from

The NRSV Student Bible

c.1994, 1996 by Zondervan

used by permission

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