Old Testament Survey

By James M. Rochford

We believe that we should certainly teach more from the New Testament (NT) than the Old Testament (OT). The author of Hebrews tells us that God’s fuller revelation is found in the person of Christ (Heb. 1:1-3). However, many Christians use this as a justification to never read or study the OT. For them, the OT is in many cases a confusing enigma. As a result, much of the inspired word of God (2 Tim. 3:16) is left misinterpreted, misunderstood, or simply left unread.

The OT narrative takes place over thousands of years, while the NT narrative takes place over hardly 60 years. For this reason alone, the OT is more difficult to study and comprehend. How are we to approach reading and interpreting the OT?

Many people are not sure how to split up the OT into a teaching rotation for a small group, let alone how to study the OT for themselves. We have seen great fruitfulness in our men’s Bible study by using a specific method for studying the OT. Recently, we had 17 men in our small group and all 17 spoke up multiple times during discussion. We feel that this method helps members to engage the Bible personally and interpret the text accurately.

Introduction to each OT book

Before studying each book, read these short articles that give an introduction and background. In each article, the reader will find information regarding authorship, historical background, theological themes, and a teaching rotation. Additionally, the reader will find a series of discovery questions that are helpful for teaching and leading discussion. To teach through these books, make sure to read through our earlier article on “Inductive Bible Study.”

These articles might be helpful for personal Bible study or for teaching through these books. In each article below, we offer a thorough discussion of:

  • Authorship
  • Date
  • Audience
  • Historical background
  • Bible difficulties
  • Critical scholarship
  • Verse by verse commentary

This will really be an ongoing, lifelong project. As we continue to read, study, and teach through the Old Testament, we will continue to develop and add to the material in each article.

Ultimately, the authority and exegesis of the text drives the interpretation of these commentaries. We agree with Charles Spurgeon when he said that he would rather be wrong about his systematic theology, than contradict the clear teaching Scripture.[1] At the same time, we feel that systematic theology and exegetical theology are not enemies, but allies. That is, these two disciplines (done well) serve to correct one another: We cannot have the part without the whole, nor the whole without the part. For our work in systematic theology, see our work “Systematic Theology.”

Be prepared to scroll! Some of these articles are over a hundred pages long, so you’ll need to scroll down to find whatever passage you’re looking for. We have listed the verses in BOLD to make it easier to find a given passage.

Genesis

This is a book about beginnings: The beginning of the universe, the human race, and the nation of Israel. We also see God respond to the Fall of humanity by enacting his plan through the nation of Israel.

Exodus

This is a book about God’s rescue. It demonstrates how God freed the Jewish people from the evil tyranny of a foreign king—the Egyptian Pharaoh—and they are led toward the Promised Land. It serves as a picture of how God rescues his people in the New Testament through Jesus.

Leviticus

While Exodus is a book of rescue, Leviticus is a book of holiness. It has been said, “It took one night to get the Jews out of Egypt, but forty years to get the Egypt out of them.” Leviticus explains the ceremonial, civil, and moral laws given to Israel.

Numbers

This book explains why the Jews needed to wander for 40 years in the wilderness: When the spies reconnoitered the land, they came back in fear regarding the people of the land. While God had promised them the land, they were too afraid to take over what God had promised.

Deuteronomy

Deutero means “second,” and nomos means “law.” Thus Deuteronomy is the “second law.” It takes place at the tail end of the 40 year wandering. Since an entire new generation had come forward during this time, Moses needed to repeat the law to them (since none of them were there when it was originally given). Moses dies, and he passes the baton to Joshua, who takes them into the Promised Land.

Joshua

This book is about the military takeover of the Promised Land. After 40 years of anticipation, the Jews finally take over what was promised to them. Joshua is a book of war, bloodshed, and battle. It is also a book that connects the promises of God made in the time of Abraham (Gen. 15:13-16) with the rest of biblical history.

Judges

This book begins with the death of Joshua. In the absence of strong leadership, the nation falls into moral and spiritual anarchy fairly quickly. Judges contains a constant cycle of rejection, ramifications, repentance, and rescue. Modern people typically think of “judges” as men in robes who preside over legal cases. While the judges of Israel did adjudicate legal disputes, their primary function was to serve as leaders or “deliverers,” who rescued Israel from apostasy and judgment: “Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them” (Judg. 2:16). God is the ultimate “Judge” (šôpēṭ) who ruled the nation (Judg. 11:27), but he sovereignly worked through these ad hoc leaders to deliver the nation of Israel.

Ruth

This book tells the story of King David’s great-grandmother, Ruth. It takes place during the time of Judges, and it is a love story about a Moabitess widow who marries a good man, Boaz.

1 & 2 Samuel 

These two books (originally one book: Samuel) explain the rise of the monarchy in Israel, as well as the archetype for the messiah: King David.

1 & 2 Kings

These two books explain how we get from the death of David (in a united monarchy—970 BC), to a Temple system (under Solomon), to a split kingdom (under Jeroboam and Rehoboam), to the exile in Babylon (in 587 BC).

Ezra & Nehemiah

While Nehemiah describes how God restored his physical kingdom to Israel (e.g. the wall, the defenses, the city, etc.), Ezra describes how God restored his spiritual kingdom (e.g. the Temple, the scribes, etc.). These books explain how the Jews got back into their land, restored their collective faith, and repaired their city walls from their enemies.

Esther

This book answers the question of what happened to the Jews who didn’t return from the exile (with Ezra and Nehemiah). It shows God’s sovereign protection over his people from their evil enemies who are trying to wipe them out.

Job

This might be our earliest book in the Hebrew canon. It tells the story of a cosmic debate between Satan and God, and it provides tremendous insight into spiritual warfare and the problem of Evil.

Psalms 

The NT cites the Psalms 116 times. (Isaiah is the only book cited more than the Psalms.) As followers of Christ, we should immerse ourselves in the book that Jesus and his disciples were absorbed in. David wrote roughly half of the Psalms. In his writings, we see inside the soul of a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). The psalms are not dry theological treatises. Instead, these songs come from a place deep inside of David and the other psalmists. The Psalms are books of poetry and music were written from the time of the Exodus (Ps. 90) to the time of the Exile (Ps. 137). They teach us how to give thanks, be wise, offer lament, and love God’s attributes and word.

Proverbs 

This is a book of wisdom. Solomon wrote the majority of the proverbs, though some are attributed to others.

Ecclesiastes

Solomon wrote this book. The entire 12 chapters explain the meaninglessness of living life apart from God. As one who avidly pursued women, wealth, and power, Solomon has credibility in writing on this topic! His conclusion? Live a life for God (Eccl. 12:10-14)

Song of Solomon

King Solomon wrote this book about his relationship with his wife.

Isaiah

His book has been called the “Fifth Gospel” because of its interesting details about the person of Christ. This book shows the faithlessness of King Ahaz and the faithfulness of King Hezekiah, as well as showing God’s plan for Israel during the Exile, and her redemption through God’s Servant: Jesus.

Jeremiah  & Lamentations

Jeremiah is called the “weeping prophet,” because he wept over the destruction and judgment of Jerusalem. Even though he was a sensitive temperament, God empowered him to withstand incredible persecution, slander, and abandonment at the hands of his people.

Ezekiel

God told him that the people would not listen to him (Ezek. 3:7), but he was willing to preach to Jerusalem during the Exile anyhow.

Daniel

This book explains the Exile from the perspective of Daniel, who was taken captive with his friends to be brainwashed young viceroys for the Babylon Empire. This book strategically shows how to conduct ourselves in a pagan culture. It also gives extensive prophecies about the end of human history.

Hosea

The prophet Hosea is asked to marry an adulterous woman (Gomer), so he can experience God’s pain in Israel’s idolatry and adulterous actions. Hosea preached repentance before the destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

Joel

This prophet served in the eighth century before the fall of Israel in the north. He predicted the great and terrible Day of the Lord, and Israel’s eventual protection and security from God.

Amos

This prophet served in the eighth century in the Northern Kingdom (Israel). He starts by explaining God’s judgment for the evil surrounding nations, but then turns on them by explaining God’s judgment for them, as well! He also explains that they can’t trust in the Temple sacrifices when they are living entirely contrary to the covenant. It ends with the destruction of the Temple, but also with a hopeful message that the Temple will one day be rebuilt.

Obadiah

This is the shortest book in the OT. Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, and as the people were scattering, it would have been tempting for the Edomites to take advantage of the people. Obadiah warns Edom that God will destroy the city, if they do this.

Jonah

The story of Jonah shows the reluctance of a prophet to spread God’s mercy on the Pagan Assyrians at Nineveh. It shows the incredible mercy of God on the most unlikely of people.

Micah

This prophet brought a formal, legal case against Israel, warning them about God’s judgment.

Nahum

This prophet predicts the destruction of Nineveh. While God spared them for 100 years after Jonah’s preaching, he eventually judged them in the seventh century BC.

Habakkuk

This prophet wrestles with God’s judgment for Israel, because it is being carried out by an even more wicked nation: the Babylonians.

Zephaniah

This prophet speaks for God before the destruction of Jerusalem in 605 BC, urging the people to repent before it’s too late.

Zechariah

This prophet served as the Temple was being rebuilt. He predicts the judgment of the Gentile nations, as well as a considerable amount of material on Jesus’ first and second coming (chapters 9-14).

Malachi

This prophet’s main message was that the people needed to be faithful and authentic in their love for God. It ends with a hopeful anticipation of the Messiah coming to Earth.

Bible Difficulties for the Old Testament

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Joshua, Judges, Ruth

1 & 2 Samuel, Kings, Chronicles

Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job

Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel

Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos

Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Additional Resources

Hebrew Study. Admittedly, we are not strong in our understanding of biblical Hebrew, and we mainly rely on commentators to aid us in this regard. That being said, the best Hebrew lexicon is HALOT (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament). For free online resources, see www.blueletterbible.org, www.preceptaustin.org, or lumina.bible.org.

Bible Difficulties

We have written over 1,000 articles on Bible difficulties on this site.

Geisler, Norman L., and Thomas A. Howe. The Big Book of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008.

We find Geisler’s book on Bible difficulties to be the best on the market. It isn’t the most in-depth, but it is the most readable and cuts to the chase pretty quickly.

Archer, Gleason L. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1982.

Kaiser, Walter C. Hard Sayings of the OT. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988.

J.P. Holding’s website (Tekton Apologetics Ministry)

Holding is an internet apologist who has a wealth of answers to Bible difficulties. We disagree with him on Preterism, Young Earth Creationism, and his views on genre criticism. But his website is extensive on Bible difficulties, and he has good material to consult and consider.

Apologetics Press (Apologetics Press):

This site has an extensive resource of Bible difficulties. We disagree with Apologetics Press on baptismal regeneration and Young Earth Creationism, but their site is an excellent resource for answers to Bible difficulties.

OT Survey Materials

Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of OT Introduction. Chicago: Moody, 1998.

Archer’s survey is a tour de force against critical scholarship. His rebuttal of the JEDP theory is excellent. The first 12 chapters are great reading for understanding higher and lower criticism. Each chapter afterward addresses the common criticisms of authorship, dating, and Bible difficulties in each book.

Merrill, Eugene H., Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti. The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011.

Harrison, R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004.

Waltke, Bruce K., and Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007.

OT Survey Audio

My friend Jim Leffel has a free class on OT Survey which I found very helpful in putting this study together (Found here).

Xenos Christian Fellowship OT teachings (found here).

Pastor Joe Focht OT teachings (found here).

Pastor Skip Heitzig teachings (found here).

Dr. Douglas Stuart has a free class on OT Survey here. We found Stuart to be an excellent scholar and lecturer. His audio is definitely worth listening to.

OT Survey Video

When starting a less understood book, we have benefited from watching The Bible Project videos, which give animated introductions and explanations of each book of the Bible.

[1] Spurgeon said, “The fact is that the whole system of truth is neither here nor there. Be it ours to know what is scriptural in all systems, and accept it.” Richard Ellisworth Day, The Shadow of the Brim (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1934), 144. Cited in Jerry Harmon, “The Soteriology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and How it Impacted his Evangelism,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Spring 2006), p.56.