Bible 101 Part 2
Walk Through the Old Testament
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 2, 2003




It’s the all-time best seller. It’s the most influential book in history. When Gutenberg invented the Printing Press, it was the first book to be printed. It was written over a period of about 1500 years and contains 6000 years of recorded history. It’s made up of flowing poetry, riveting prose, and incredible prophecy. It’s not just one book, it’s a collection of many books. These books were written by a variety of people, but we believe that these people were working under the inspiration and direction of the Almighty God, making God the author and allowing the Bible to be completely consistent, divinely insightful, and entirely without error.

Let’s review some basic stuff. The Bible contains 66 books divided into two major sections, the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament contains 39 books, and the New Testament contains 27 books. These books together are the Word of God, and God speaks to us even today through the words in this Book.

Now, the Bible does talk about a lot of events that happened long ago. Just for a point of reference, let’s look at this map. The action really takes place all over this part of the world, and even a little beyond. The Garden of Eden is believed to be over in the area Iraq, Noah’s Ark is commonly thought to have landed someplace in the Ararat Mountain range in modern-day Turkey, The Israelites lived for a time in Egypt and wandered around the Sinai Peninsula for forty years, but most of the action happens right in here, just along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.

Today, we’re going to concentrate primarily on the Old Testament and over the course of the next 23 or 24 minutes we’re going to attempt to take a broad look at what we find there. We’re not going to be able to go into anything in depth, and we’ll have to skip over a lot. But the goal is to give you a basic understanding of what the Old Testament is about and how you can find your way around it.

If you were to come into my office and look at my bookcases, you would discover that I organize my books according to their content. I keep my theology books together, my reference books together, my youth ministry books together, my children’s ministry books together, my books on spiritual growth together, my fiction together, my computer books together, my history books together, my leadership books together, my music books together… That’s just the way I like to organize them.

The Bible is put together in much the same way. Not all the books are in chronological order from start to finish, but they are put together in categories. Let me give them all to you and then we’ll look at them more in detail:

The first five books are called The Pentateuch.
The next twelve books are called the Historical Books.
The next five books are called Poetry and Wisdom Literature.
The next five are called the Major Prophets.
And the final twelve are called the Minor Prophets.

Let’s take them again, one at a time. The first category, or shelf, is called the Pentateuch.

 

The Pentateuch

 

It’s a Greek word which literally means “five scrolls” and refers to the first five books of the Bible. The Jews call these books the Torah, meaning the Law. On this shelf, you’ll find these books:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Most people agree that Moses wrote all five of these books, although there is a bit of debate about that. Obviously, someone else wrote the last part which tells about the death of Moses. Whether or not Moses wrote the rest, we’re not 100% sure. But Moses was an educated man and knew how to write. So it would be possible for him to be the writer. Plus, he was the organizer and leader of the Israelites, and he knew that they would be around for a long, long time, so it would be fitting that he would have wanted to record their history for future generations.

But however these books came to exist, it’s believed they were written about 1500 years before the birth of Jesus.

In Genesis, you’ll find many of the stories you may have learned as a kid. You’ll find the stories of creation, Adam and Eve, and how sin entered the world when they rebelled against God. You’ll read about how over time the world became so corrupt and evil that God instructed Noah, the only good man left in the world, to build a big boat to house him and his family along with all the varieties of animals. Then God kept them safe in the boat (or the Ark) while a flood wiped out all the evil.

You’ll read about how God made a promise to a man named Abraham to build his descendents into a great nation. This despite the fact that Abraham and his wife Sarah didn’t have any children until their old age. And even then, God tested Abraham by seeing if he would be willing sacrifice his only son Isaac on an altar if God asked him to.

You’ll read about Isaac’s children Jacob and Esau. Jacob, also known as Israel, had 12 sons, which would eventually become the twelve tribes of Israel. Of course, this rather large family was also a bit dysfunctional. So much so that many of the sons ganged up and sold their brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt. The last part of Genesis talks about how God took Joseph from being a lowly slave to being the second in command of all Egypt, and how Joseph was able to save everyone from a terrible famine, including his family which had sold him into slavery. And by the end of the book, the whole family had moved to Egypt to be with Joseph and to survive the famine.

The book of Exodus picks up about 400 years after Genesis ends. By this time the family of Israel has grown to probably over 1,000,000 people. A new king, or Pharaoh, in Egypt saw how the Israelite population had grown and he was afraid they would rise up against him. So he started to kill all of the males born to the Israelites. But one of these baby boys escaped execution by being adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace. This was Moses. A great movie called “The Prince of Egypt” came out a few years ago and tells his story. Moses would grow up and eventually lead the Israelites out of what had become an oppressive slavery in Egypt. This is when God parted the Red Sea to provide them a way of escape, a miracle so well reinacted in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.”

Speaking of “The Ten Commandments”, Exodus 20 is where Moses was given the Ten Commandments by God. It’s during this time that God lead the Israelites through the wilderness by using a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. And He provided food for them in the form of Manna and Quail and water springing out of rocks. And we discover that the disobedience and lack of faith of the Israelites resulted in them wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years before they could enter into the land God promised them.

That’s the Pentateuch. It’s in these first five books that we see the descendents of Abraham multiply into a large people, and it’s here in the Bible that the fundamental laws of the Jews were laid down.


The next shelf in the bookcase is for the Historical Books.

 

The Historical Books

 

The books that fit here are the next twelve books in our Bible: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. These books cover about 900 years of history. In their pages you can read about how the Israelites finally entered into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, under the leadership of the successor to Moses, Joshua. You’ll be told about how with God’s help they were able to take control of the land and establish the nation of Israel, beginning with a dramatic victory over the walled city of Jericho.

Now, Eventually the Israelites wanted a king. So a man named Saul was appointed as the first king of Israel. Saul started out as a godly man, but he eventually became a corrupt, self-serving and paranoid king. So he lost the blessing of God. Instead, God’s blessing went to a young shepherd boy named David. This would be the same young boy who would be sent by King Saul to battle Goliath, a man over nine feet tall. But God enabled David to overcome and kill this giant of a man, and thus began David’s rise to stardom.

As David became more and more popular, Saul became more and more jealous. So he began plotting to kill David. Eventually David had to go into hiding until after Saul died. But when that happened, David became the greatest king in the history of Israel expanding the kingdom and unifying all twelve tribes into one nation.

Of course, we also learn that David wasn’t perfect. He’s the one we talked about a few weeks ago, when he had an affair with a married woman, got her pregnant, and then arranged for the husband to be killed in battle.

David’s son Solomon became the next king of Israel. He is reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived. He build Solomon’s Temple which was an incredible structure unsurpassed in beauty, all for the glory of God. Under his rule, Israel prospered and enjoyed a time of peace.

But Solomon wasn’t perfect either. His downfall was his choice of women. One of the customs of the time was for a king to marry princesses from other nations as a way to form treaties and ensure peace. And a man could have several wives. Of course, even this past week there was a man arrested in Dartmouth for having two wives. The authorities would have had a lot of fun with Solomon, who had 700 wives and 300 mistresses. The problem was that many of them were from lands that worshipped false gods and which God had warned the Israelites not to intermarry with. So as a result of this, Solomon introduced false gods and idols into Israel and even began to worship them himself. So God became angry and removed His blessing from Solomon’s reign. And after his death Israel was torn into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.

We also see in these Historical Books a bit of a pattern that the Israelites fell into, and one that we still seem to follow today. Throughout their history, there would be times when the people would live in obedience to God and to His laws and everything would be dandy. But then they would turn away from God and become disobedient and even begin to worship other gods and things would turn bad for them, usually including military oppression. So they would turn back to God and again enjoy His blessing, and they cycle would continue. You’d think that after this happened a few times they’d get the idea. But alas, here we are thousands of years later doing the same thing.

What else do we read about in the Historical Books? Well, we read about some of the early prophets including Samuel, Elijah and Elisha. We read about how Elijah took on 400 prophets of the false-god, Baal on Mount Carmel and won. We read about how a foreign widow named Ruth finds love again and becomes the grandmother of David. We read about another woman named Esther who became Queen of Persia and was able to save the lives of all the Jews who were exiled there. We read about how the Jews were conquered, led away into captivity into the area we now know as Iraq, and how the returned to rebuild their homes and cities years later.

And just for those of you who like trivia, Ezra 7:21 in the King James Version contains every letter of the alphabet except the letter “J”.

 

Poetry and Wisdom Literature

 

The third shelf contains the books known as Poetry and Wisdom Literature. On this shelf you’ll find five books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. And that’s exactly what they are: Poetry in the case of Psalms and Song of Songs, and books of wisdom in the case of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

For the most part, these books were written during the reigns of David and Solomon, about 1000 years before the birth of Jesus. Job, though, was likely written during the time of Abraham about 1000 years earlier.

We don’t really know who wrote the book of Job. The Psalms which contain a lot of songs and poems were written by several different people, David himself being the most prolific by writing at least 73 of the 150 psalms. The book of Proverbs had a few different contributors, but was written mainly by Solomon, who I commented earlier is reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived.

Solomon is also commonly recognized as the writer of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (sometimes called Song of Solomon), although we don’t know for sure. But I don’t see any reason to argue with tradition.

We’ve talked about Job over the past month in our “Disappointment with God” series. Job is the righteous man who Satan attacked to proved to God that Job only worshipped Him because God blessed him and protected him. But throughout the book Job refuses to curse God, and in the end he proves his devotion to God despite the circumstances.

Many people are familiar with the Psalms, and you may even have a favourite Psalm. Probably the best known Psalm is Psalm 23, which you’ll often hear read in hospitals and at funerals. I’m not sure that’s the best thing to associate this Psalm with, but that’s the reality of it. It’s the Psalm that contains the familiar words:

Psalm 23:1-3 (NKJV)
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake…


The book of Proverbs contains many great says such as:

Proverbs 10:26 (NLT)
Lazy people are a pain to their employer. They are like smoke in the eyes or vinegar that sets the teeth on edge.

Proverbs 12:4 (NLT)
A worthy wife is her husband's joy and crown; a shameful wife saps his strength.

Proverbs 17:9 (NLT)
Disregarding another person's faults preserves love; telling about them separates close friends.

Proverbs 25:17 (NLT)
Don't visit your neighbours too often, or you will wear out your welcome.

Proverbs 26:17 (NLT)
Yanking a dog's ears is as foolish as interfering in someone else's argument.


The wisdom in this book is so poignant that many people today commit themselves to reading one chapter a day. Since there are 31 chapters in the book, that means they read through it about once every month.

Ecclesiastes was written as the writer struggled with the meaning of life. If you’ve ever wondered “Why?”, this is the book for you. It reveals how to find spiritual significance in our world.

You may be more familiar with this book than you think. Check out these verses:

Turn, Turn, Turn
by The Byrds

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep


Now look at this:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (NKJV)
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh…



Song of Songs was written in celebration of a couple’s courtship and marriage. It’s a very intimate book and could even make you blush. It can be very provocative. In fact, a lot of young teenagers get a kick out of this book, and will often giggle when they read it. It’s better than any old Harlequin romance novel.

Many scholars feel that this book was written as an example of what our relationship with God can be. One of our Core Values here at Sunrise is Intimacy with God, and this book is a great model for that. The commitment, the love, the tenderness, the passion… that’s what we need in our relationship with Christ.

 

Major Prophets

 

The next shelf contains the books known as the Major Prophets. We’re talking about the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations (which was also written by Jeremiah), Ezekiel and Daniel. And let me give you the final shelf, too.

 

Minor Prophets

 

It’s the shelf that contains the writings of the Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

They’re called Major and Minor Prophets not because of their importance or the magnitude of their message, but simply because of the length of their writings. The books of the Major Prophets are longer than the books of the Minor Prophets.

Now let me ask you, what do you think of when you hear the word, “prophet?”

PARTICIPATION

We tend to think that a prophet is someone who predicts the future. And that can be part of it, but it’s really not the main job of a prophet. More often, a prophet was called by God to point out specific areas of disobedience or immorality in the culture. They would also point out trends in society and would be able to tell the people that if they continued to live the way they were living, this would be the result. But if they changed their ways, then this would be the result. So the prophet wasn’t so much a crystal ball as he was a compass for the people, directing them back to God. The message of the prophets in a nutshell was, “Turn or Burn.”

The prophets were people who were specifically called by God to serve as prophets. Some served for life, some were called for only a short period of time.

Familiar stories from the books of the prophets would include the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, the story of Jonah and the Great Fish, the story of a man named Hosea and his wife named Gomer, and a “Pyle” of other stories.

Oh, and one more thing: Many of the writings of the prophets as well as other parts of the Old Testament did foretell the birth of Jesus. In fact, there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament foretelling the birth and life of Jesus centuries before it would actually happen. And they all came true 100%.

In fact, consider this: these 300+ prophecies were written by 20 different writers over a 1000 year period hundreds of years before Jesus was born. The chances of one person fulfilling just 8 of the 300 prophecies has been calculated to be 1 in 10 to the 17th power, or one hundred million billion. And that’s just for 8 of the prophecies. Extend that to 48, and you’re at 1 in 10 to the 158th power. That’s a one followed by 158 zeros. I can’t even imagine that number. But Jesus fulfilled all 300+ prophecies! (from Peter Stoner’s Science Speaks, Moody Press, 1963)

And that’s the Old Testament. Next week we’ll jump over to the New Testament see what’s there.

 

 

Copyright © 2003 SunriseOnline.ca