A Study Outline of the Old Testament
James E. Cooper
The editor of Truth Magazine has requested me to write a series of articles about the Old Testament. Since this is such a broad field, I shall choose subjects at random, and trust that our studies of these themes will be profitable to the reader.
Do You Need To Study It?
How much do you know about the Old Testament? Most of you will be fairly well acquainted with the stories in the book of Genesis about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a few more Old Testament stories, such as the story of David and Goliath, David and Bathsheeba, Jonah and the whale, etc. These are stories that you heard in your childhood about the great heroes of the Old Testament. But, outside of these stories, how much do you really understand about the Old Testament? Who were the children of Israel? To whom was the Law of Moses given? What land did God promise to Abraham and his seed? Did they ever actually dwell in that land? How did the nation of Israel come to have a king? Who were the great kings of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah? Did you know that the kingdom divided, and why the kingdom was divided? What happened to the kingdom of Israel? What happened to the kingdom of Judah? Where did the Jews worship God? What was the nature of their worship? What relationship did the prophets have to the rest of the nation? When did Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Haggai, etc. do their work? These are but a few of the many interesting questions that must be answered in order to have even a limited understanding of the Old Testament.
It Is a Library
Many have undertaken the pleasure of reading through the Old Testament and they do fairly well as long as they remain in the first seventeen books except for occasional bog-downs with unfamiliar names of persons, places, and the description of unfamiliar rituals. But, when such persons reach the prophets and wisdom literature, they are at a complete loss because they do not understand the very nature of the Old Testament. They think it should read like a novel, and when it does not, they become confused.
Many do not understand that the Old Testament is really a library of 39 books. The realization of this fundamental principle will help to reduce the confusion of the beginning student of the Old Testament. As in most libraries, there are various types of books. In the library of the Old Testament there are seventeen books of history, sixteen books of prophecy, and six books of poetry and wisdom literature. Thus there are three general classifications of the books of the Old Testament. Jesus recognized this three-fold classification when he said: "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:44).
The Theme Is God and Israel
The books of the Old Testament contain the history of God's dealings with man, and especially with the nation of Israel, from the beginning of man down to about four hundred years before the Saviour were sent into the world. It traces Israel's history, "with its discouragements, triumphs, and apostasies, its return to God's love, and its eternal hope through righteousness" (Harper's Bible Dictionary, page 502).
All historical details of the Old Testament relate to these times, except for prophetical statements concerning the Messiah and his mission in the world. The central point of the Old Testament is the giving of the Law to the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai, just as the death of Christ and the establishment of His church are the central themes of the New Testament. All events prior to the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai are preparatory to it, and all subsequent events in the Old Testament look back to it. It was an event that was always central in the mind of God's people in that era.
No Substitute for Reading
One may read books and articles about the Old Testament (and the New Testament), but there is no substitute for reading the Inspired books themselves. We should be happy for any assistance we can find in understanding the contents of God's Word, and profit from the study of others, but we should not allow the study of others to be the end of our study. There is no substitute for reading the text of the Bible itself.
In order to help the student to organize his study of the Old Testament, we shall present a brief study outline. This outline, in the main, follows the three-fold division recognized by Jesus.Brief Outline of the Old Testament
I. The historical books, containing the Law (17 books).
A. Introduction . . . Read Gen. 1-11.
B. Call of Abraham, and journeys of the Patriarchs . . . Gen. 12-50.
C. Exodus and the Law . . . Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
D. Conquest of Palestine . . . Joshua, Judges, Ruth.
E. United Kingdom, under Saul, David, Solomon . . . 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel,
1 Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 1-9.
F. Divided Kingdom ... 1 Kings 12-- 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 10-36.
II. The prophets, consisting of both Major and Minor (16 books).
A. Pre-literary and undated prophets read in the historical books about prophets who did not write, and also the books of Obadiah, Joel and Jonah.
B. Prophets of the 8th Century B. C. Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah.
C. Prophets of the 7th Century B. C.... Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk.
D. Prophets during the Exile... Ezekiel, Daniel and Esther.
E. Prophets after the Exile... Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, as well as Ezra, Nehemiah.
Note: This listing of prophets puts the books of Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah in their proper historical setting.
III. The Psalms and Wisdom literature (6 books) . . . Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations.
Truth Magazine VIII: 5, pp. 117-118 February 1964