Overview of the Old Testament – Vacation Post

I am on vacation until August 5th. While away I will post some of my notes from a series I have started at the Church on the Overview of the Old Testament…..



The Old Testament, on the one hand, is very easy to understand. It is really one story – that of God’s interaction with humanity and how humanity went from the fall back into relationship with God. It deals with what man was, what happened when he rebelled against God and how God rescued man from the consequences of the rebellion, and what happens when man chooses to follow God, and when he chooses not to follow God. That is the Old Testament in a nutshell.

The intricacies and depth of the Old Testament rest fundamentally on this foundation.

There are some fundamental things to remember when approaching the OT. These always need to be kept in mind even when you read what at first may appear to be a hard passage.

1. This is the word of God.

ALL the OT IS THE WORD OF GOD and therefore every passage is the O.T is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

2. God is righteous, true, loving and compassionate

There are not two God’s, one of the OT and one in the NT. It is the same God, with the same characteristics, so when we read something troubling, or disturbing we need to approach it with this in mind.

3. The OT contains different genres of writing.

There is narrative, prophecy, wisdom literature, law and poetry all wrapped up in the OT. We need to recognize when something is poetic, rather than narrative (story based) or prophetic. Not to do so can lead to problems when interpreting passages.

4. There can be two meanings to a text – the meaning for the time and the meaning for all time

As we read scripture we must understand that the OT has a context – a historical context. Hence the prophets speak into a situation, just as the Psalmist is relating a specific issue that he had experienced. But also, because this is the inspired word of God, the meanings have universal meaning – speaking to us today. Eg. Ps 22; Is 9

5. Jesus is the center of the OT

The whole OT is a testimony for and towards Jesus Christ. Jesus told the Pharisees that if they believed Moses they would also believe in him.

Background To The Pentateuch

What is the Pentateuch? They are the first five books of the Old Testament – known as the Torah. The word Pentateuch means five books – Pente (five) teuchos (scroll).

These five books are written by Moses and are the foundation of the Jewish faith. Why do we say Moses wrote them?

Jesus says that Moses wrote the Law – John 5:45-47: Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

When you hear the word Law spoken of in the New Testament it is often referring to the Five Books.

Excluding Genesis 1-11, the Pentateuch is about a family that grew by God’s grace into the nation of Israel – God’s people. God delivers his people from Slavery and entered into a commitment of intimacy with them.

Genesis – Deuteronomy is a self-contained story with a clearly defined beginning, an intricate plot with sub-plots and a decided ending.

But the Pentateuch is more than just a history of God’s people. It is meant to be an encouragement to faith in God, both for those to whom it was first written and to all to came after. It’s core purpose is to show us God’s faithfulness to his people which in turn should encourage us to believe and trust in the Lord.

The Pentateuch and indeed the whole Bible shows us God’s dealings, his faithfulness, his love, for his people and for the world, even when his people go astray and disobey him.

We would summarize the Pentateuch as follows:

Genesis is a book of origins – it describes the beginnings of the universe and the origins of God’s people; Exodus traces the salvation of his people, who are helpless to save themselves; Leviticus calls for holiness as the only lifestyle for the Israelites and as the only possible response to God’s grace; Numbers is a book of wanderings in which God’s people suffer the consequences of their unbelief and Deuteronomy concludes the Pentateuch on a positive note, presenting a program of renewal as the nation prepares to enter the promised land.

The theme of the Pentateuch is found in Genesis 12:1-3:

Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Here God promises Abraham 4 things:

1. A Land to live in
2. Numerous descendants
3. Blessing (divinely granted success)
4. Blessing through Abraham for all the nations of the world.

God’s benefit for the nations is the climax or goal of the promises: promises 1-3 are steps on the way to the final goal of universal blessings.


The first book of the Bible is of course Genesis. The Hebrew Bible named it’s books after the first word of the book – the first word in Genesis Bereshith = beginning or origin.

Genesis has two basic parts – Chp 1-11 = a prehistory, while chps 12-50 is the story of the beginning of redemption with three main characters – Abraham, Jacob and Joseph.

Moses writes Genesis for the people of Israel whom he has led out of the land of Egypt. His purpose was to encourage the Israelites with a number of truths:
1. Yahweh is the creator of the universe
2. Humanity is created in God’s image
3. The nature and consequence of human disobedience
4. The beginning of the divine covenants
5. God’s choice of a people through whom he will bless the nations

The major plot of Genesis has to do with God’s intervening in the history of human fallenness by choosing a man and his family to begin the line from which the chosen seed would come. While Abraham, Jacob and Joseph have major roles you are never to forget that God is the ultimate protagonist. It is HIS-story.

Alongside the major plot, there are three important subplots:
1. The occurrence of the first two covenant between God and man. The covenant with Noah has God promising never again to cut off life from the earth. While the covenant with Abraham promises the gift of the seed and the gift of the land.
2. Holy War – a more subtle subplot is that of the Holy war. The curse that God puts on Satan talks of the enmity that will exist Satan and the woman’s seed. Of course that seed is Jesus but also includes humanity. There is a battle – Cain & Abel; Ishmael and Isaac; Esau and Jacob; Pharoah and Moses; idolatry and worship of Yahweh.
3. God’s choice of the younger / weaker / or most unlikely to bear the righteous seed. God regularly bypasses the firstborn in carrying out his purposes 9a considerable breach of the cultural rules). Also, the seed is often born of a barren woman – Sarah (18:11-12); Rebekah (25:21); Rachael (29:31). Finally, the chosen ones are not chosen because of any goodness within them. Indeed they have flaws – flaws that are fully exposed in the scriptures. What makes them the godly seed is that in the end they trusted God and his promise that they would be his people.

So, what is the big picture of Genesis? We see God’s power in the creation, we see his anger over sin, we see his plan to redeem man from his sin, we see how God fulfilled his promises to Abraham and how he guided and protected those who trusted in him, even in difficult times (Joseph).

Our response to Genesis? It should lead us to worship. God is strong. God is faithful. God is just. Genesis tells us that under every condition the failure of man is met by the salvation of God. Alleluia!


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