The Old Testament
The word genesis means “beginnings,” and that makes it a fitting title for the first book of the Bible. The book of Genesis, which is commonly believed to have been written by Moses, contains the stories of the beginning of the universe, the beginning of the planet Earth, the beginning of humankind, the beginning of human civilization, the beginning of sin, the beginning of the Jewish race, and the beginning of God';s plan for the salvation of all humankind.
Also commonly accepted to have been recorded by Moses, the book of Exodus tells us the story of how Moses, despite his own misgivings about his ability to lead, obeyed God';s call to lead the Hebrew people out of Egyptian slavery. It also tells the story of how God gave His people the Law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments.
The third book of the Bible, Leviticus, was also recorded by Moses, and it deals with the laws, regulations, and commandments concerning sacrifices to God, the priesthood, ceremonial purity, and dietary and other laws the people of Israel were to observe.
The book of Numbers is important historically because it gives the details of the route the Israelites took out of Egypt and also their important encampments on their way to the Promised Land. Numbers includes the numbering of the Israelites, an account of the journey from Sinai to Moab, and the Jewish people';s rebellion because of their fear.
This book, which was also recorded by Moses, consists of four addresses to the Israelites by Moses shortly before his death. The first address (chapters 1–4) covers the historic events during the Israelites'; forty years in the wilderness. This book also contains the laws and guidelines for the Israelites'; conduct in Canaan, the Promised Land. As Deuteronomy closes, Moses prepares himself for death and appoints Joshua to take his place.
Moses, who led the people of Israel out of Egyptian captivity, has died, and in his place God has raised up Joshua as the leader who will now — forty years too late because of their own rebellion — guide the people of Israel into the Promised Land. This book covers the conquest of Canaan (chapters 1–12), the allotment of the land to the twelve tribes (13–22), and the farewell speeches from Joshua (23–24).
This book, which contains some of the greatest stories in the Bible, tells us the history of Israel from the death of Joshua to the beginning of the monarchy under Saul, Israel';s first king. The book gets its name from the fact that it records the history of Israel';s government under fourteen judges who ruled over the nation prior to the monarchy.
The story of Ruth is set during the time of the judges — a time when the nation of Israel had plunged into a time of unfaithfulness to God. Ruth, on the other hand, was faithful, and she was rewarded with a new husband, Boaz, and with a place in the lineage of King David (she was his great-grandmother) and, eventually, Jesus Christ.
First Samuel records the leadership transition in Israel from judges to kings. It is named for Samuel, the last judge and first prophet of Israel, and it includes the account of the monarchy of Saul and the preparation of David, who has been anointed but wasn';t yet recognized as Saul';s successor.
The book of Second Samuel records the highlights of the reign of King David — first over the territory of Judah and later over the entire nation of Israel. It records David';s ascension to the throne, his sin of adultery and murder, and the consequences of those sins for himself, his family, and his nation.
This book tells the story of Solomon, the son and successor of King David. It was under Solomon';s leadership that Israel rose to the peak of its power and influence worldwide and the holy Temple was constructed. This book also tells the sad story of how Solomon';s zeal for God faded in his later years.
Second Kings picks up where 1 Kings leaves off, and it tells the terrible story of a kingdom divided into two nations — Israel and Judah — and of those two nations'; rebellion and their path toward captivity. Second Kings also records the ministry of the prophet Elisha, who ministered during terrible times.
1 and 2 Chronicles
These books cover the same period in the history of Israel as 1 and 2 Kings but with a different emphasis. The books of Chronicles are not just repetition of what has already been recorded. They give the reader a more spiritual look at the terrible events that led to the fall and captivity of a once great and blessed nation.
The book of Ezra, named for an important priest by that name, tells the story of the two returns of the people of Judah from captivity in Babylon. The first of those returns was led by Zerubbabel, and it was to rebuild the temple (chapters 1–6). The second was led by Ezra, and it was to begin a spiritual awakening or revival of the people (7–10).
This book, which is thought to be an autobiography of Nehemiah, can be seen as a continuation of the book of Ezra. It tells the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (chapters 1–7), the spiritual state of the Jewish people at that time (8–10), and other events, including the dedication of the wall around Jerusalem and the spiritual reforms carried out by Nehemiah (12–13).
The inclusion of the book of Esther in the Scriptures has been a source of debate for centuries. For one thing, God is not mentioned at all in the book, and there are only passing references to any kind of spiritual disciplines. However, if you read closely, you';ll see that the hand of God in the affairs of His people is evident throughout the book.
This is believed to be the earliest written book of the Bible. The story is set during the time of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph) and tells the story of a man whose faith and devotion to God is challenged when he loses everything he has — his wealth, his family, even his health — and is left asking why.
Written over a period of several centuries, the book of Psalms is a collection of individual writings — by several authors — that cover the full range of humanity';s interactions with its Creator. There are many themes in the Psalms, the most prominent ones being prayer, praise, and worship of God. Outside of Isaiah, the Psalms are the most quoted Old Testament writings in the New Testament.
The Bible tells us that King Solomon prayed for one thing, wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:10), which can be defined as the ability and knowledge it takes to live a Godly life. The book of Proverbs gives the reader some of Solomon';s wisdom, covering such topics as work, pride, greed, friendship, anger, words, sex, procrastination, and many others.
King Solomon is traditionally believed to be the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, which has as its main theme the vanity or futility of a life — even what appears to be a successful, comfortable, happy life — outside of a real relationship with God. Nothing, we learn from reading this book, can take the place of living with and for God.
Song of Solomon
Written by King Solomon, this book — also called the Song of Songs — is a love song filled with erotic imagery and metaphors. It depicts Solomon';s joyful courtship of and wedding with a shepherdess named Shulamite, but metaphorically it has been seen as a picture of God';s love for Israel and for Christ';s church.
The prophet Isaiah ministered over a span of at least forty years and under the reigns of four kings of Judah. His book of prophecies records the dire warnings of coming judgment for a wayward people, but it also contains wonderful promises of coming redemption and salvation — salvation through the coming Messiah and Savior — for all humankind.
This book contains the prophecies of the man who has been called “the weeping prophet,” and it carries a heartbreaking message of doom and judgment on a people Jeremiah repeatedly points out have “forgotten God.” Throughout his sermons and warnings, Jeremiah staunchly declares that the only hope for the people of Judah is to return to their God.
This book, written by Jeremiah, is a continuation of the messages of the book of Jeremiah, and it describes the horrible aftermath of the invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. There is death and destruction all around, and Jeremiah is heartbroken over what has happened to this great city and to the people who lived there.
The prophet Ezekiel ministered during the worst time in the history of Judah: the seventy-year period of Babylonian captivity. His prophecies can be seen as companions for those of Jeremiah, but while Jeremiah focused on death and destruction, Ezekiel focused on God';s eventual restoration and salvation for his people.
Like the book of Ezekiel, Daniel is set during the Babylonian captivity. Daniel was one of the many Jewish people who had been taken from his home to Babylon, and he was picked for government service, a position he used to speak God';s prophetic message to Jews and Gentiles alike.
The prophet Hosea, whose name means “salvation,” ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel, which is enjoying a time of national prosperity but which is also in a state of spiritual decay. In order to dramatize the unfaithfulness of his people, God calls Hosea to marry an immoral and unfaithful woman named Gomer.
Sudden disaster has struck the land of Judah in the form of a black cloud of locusts, which devour every living green thing in their path. While it';s not clear in this book whether the locusts were literal or a vision of things to come, the prophet Joel uses the occasion to call his countrymen to repentance.
Like Hosea, the prophet Amos ministered to Israel in a time of national prosperity and expansion. But also like Hosea, he ministered in a time of religious and spiritual decay. Amos, a farmer turned prophet, speaks out fearlessly against the sin of the people, warning them of coming judgment if they don';t turn back to God.
The shortest book of the Old Testament, Oba-diah centers on a centuries-old feud between the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob, and the Edomites, the descendants of Esau. In this book, God has pronounced judgment against Edom for its continued hostility toward Israel.
Called by God to go and preach to the wicked people in Nineveh, the prophet Jonah refuses and instead boards a boat and heads in the opposite direction. But God never lets Jonah out of His sight and eventually brings him back to a place where he can minister as God had called him to in the first place.
The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, and he spoke a message of reproof for the rich and influential people of Jerusalem who had been mistreating or neglecting the poorest and neediest among them. He rebukes those who would use their power for personal gain. His message was for the people to “do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
The Assyrian capital of Nineveh, where Jonah had preached, resulting in repentance and a stay of God';s judgment, has a hundred years later turned back to evil ways and is about to feel the wrath of God. Nahum prophesies the utter destruction of the city, which will come at the hands of the Babylonians.
The prophet Habakkuk ministers to the kingdom of Judah during her final moments prior to the Babylonian invasion, which God will use to mete out His wrath on His rebellious people. Although they have repeatedly been called to repentance, the people stubbornly refuse to change their ways. Habakkuk, knowing the sinfulness of his countrymen, asks God how long it can continue.
Judah';s political and religious history included occasional reform, the kind of reform preached by the prophet Zephaniah. His book contains the twin themes of the severity and lovingness of God, and it also speaks of God';s judgment on sin and of God';s restoration and salvation of the nation He loves.
The terrible period in Jewish history known as the Babylonian captivity is past, and they have returned to their homeland and started rebuilding the temple. But sixteen years after the project is started, it has yet to be finished — all because the people have allowed their personal affairs to keep them from God';s work. The book of Haggai contains fiery calls to finish the work so that God can bless His people.
The prophet Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai, and he addressed the same issue: the unfinished temple. However, Zechariah is more positive in his tone, focusing on the presence of God to give the people strength to finish the task before them. He gives great encouragement to the governor Zerubbabel.
Years after God had lovingly and graciously returned His people from Babylon to the Promised Land, they again began backsliding and falling into the same kinds of sins that led to the Babylonian captivity in the first place. Malachi directs his message of judgment to a people who had a false sense of security when it came to their relationship with God.