Old Testament Survey

By James M. Rochford

Picture1We 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.

We agree that the OT is much more difficult to interpret than the NT. 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 or even how to study the OT in general. 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.”

Picture2Genesis 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.

Picture2Exodus This is a book about God’s rescue. The Jews are freed from the evil tyranny of a foreign king—the Egyptian Pharaoh—and they are led toward the Promised Land.

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 conquest 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.

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 idolatry, ruin, and rescue.

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 These 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

Bible Difficulties: We have written over 1,000 articles on Bible difficulties on this site. We also suggest reading articles from these resources listed below:

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. Found here.

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

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.

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.

Walton, John H. A Survey of the OT. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Walton’s survey focuses on the literary and theological themes that are crucial to each book of the OT. He doesn’t focus as much on the critical issues, as Archer does. Read each respective book for their strengths.

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).

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.

Pastor Chuck Smith has free audio on teaching through the entirety of the Bible found here.

Xenos Christian Fellowship has free audio on specific OT books here.