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Survey of the Old Testament - Lesson 1

Introduction

Knowing the purpose, structure and theological center of the Old Testament, will help you understand more accurately the character of God, and his purpose in the world and in your life. The Old Testament teaches you about Christ and describes his ministry. Colossians 3:15-16 reads, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly."

Miles Van Pelt
Survey of the Old Testament
Lesson 1
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Introduction

I. Nature of the Old Testament

II. Five Part Thesis

A. The Bible is a God-breathed book

B. Both living and life giving

C. Its human authors were guided by the Spirit of Christ

D. It has a theological center, unified thematic framework and a covenantal structure

E. This book is a Christian book. It was written for Christians

III. The Bible is Written For Us, Not About Us

IV. The Old Testament teaches about Christ


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  • Knowing the purpose, structure and theological center of the Old Testament, will help you understand more accurately the character of God, and his purpose in the world and in your life. The Old Testament teaches you about Christ and describes his ministry. Colossians 3:15-16 reads, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly."

  • What you decide is the theological center of the Bible will determine how you understand the Bible and apply it to your life. You can see unity in biblical authorship by the number of times the phrase, “thus says Yahweh” is used in the Old Testament.  The person and work of Jesus is the theological center of the Old Testament. The living force of the canonical word must be the incarnate word. The proper nouns used in the Bible indicate the important characters and themes.

  • Jesus claims that the Old Testament finds its ultimate meaning in him. After his resurrection, Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus and gives them a lesson in biblical interpretation. The Father and the Scriptures testify about who Jesus is. In Romans 1:3, Paul refers to the Gospel being revealed through his prophets, in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son. Every book in the Bible teaches about Christ so every sermon should teach about Christ. Hebrews 11 refers to the great cloud of witnesses.

  • The Kingdom of God is the over-arching theme of the whole Bible. God governs his kingdom by his covenants. The covenant of grace is in effect throughout the Bible and has different administrations.

  • The form that our Bibles come to us in is meaningful for interpretation. The Hebrew Bible has a different order of the books than the English Bible.  

  • The order of books in the English Bible and the Hebrew Bible is different because the criteria for determining the order is different. The order of the books in the Hebrew Bible reflect an emphasis on covenant, and also teaching important concepts then giving a practical example to illustrate how to put it into practice.

  • The three divisions in the Old Testament are the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Genesis and Revelation are the introduction and conclusion to the Bible and have parallel themes. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are the four covenant books that record the birth and death of the covenant mediator and contain his life and teachings. The former prophets record the history of Israel. The latter prophets call people to repent and return to God.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the authors who wrote the books of the Bible were inspired by God will influence your position the authorship of the Pentateuch. The traditional view is that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament at about 1200 to 1400 B.C. The documentary hypothesis claims that there were four or more separate authors that wrote beginning in about 900 B.C.

  • Genesis is the covenant prologue and is both protological and eschatological. It is the most covenantal book in the Bible. One way to outline the book is into twelve parts, each beginning with the phrase, “these are the generations.” Creation is described using a theological order.

  • Chapter 2 is a detailed description of the sixth day of creation, culminating in the creation of woman. Chapter 3 describes the Fall and the consequences. Hebrew homonyms link the passages and intensify the descriptions.

  • Noah functions as a prophetic covenant mediator. God promises a remnant in his covenant with Noah and also renews the covenant of common grace. God continues his redemptive covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The book of Genesis ends with the narrative of Joseph.

  • This is the beginning of the formal documents of the covenant of God with the people of Israel. It begins with the birth of Moses and ends with the people of Israel coming out of Egypt.

  • Leviticus is primarily instructions to promote the holiness of God’s people. It provides a system that allows for a holy God to live among an unholy people. In the sacrificial system, there are 5 kinds of offerings. Jesus is the fulfillment of the observance of the Day of Atonement.

  • The book of Numbers is a record of the events of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The purpose is to contrast the faithfulness of God with the faithlessness of the Israelites. The time in the wilderness was a period of testing for the people of Israel.

  • This is a renewal of the Mosaic covenant in preparation for entering the Promised Land. It’s an encouragement to keep the Law and a reminder of blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience. Deuteronomy points us to Jesus who ultimately fulfills the Law.

  • Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings describe the nature and purpose of the Sinai Covenant and the historical events of the occupation of the land. God know that the people of Israel would fail to obey the Mosaic Covenant, so he had planned from the beginning to establish the New Covenant when the time was right.

  • Joshua was the successor to Moses. The book of Joshua focuses on the Promised Land. The people of Israel enter the land, conquer the land, divide the land between the tribes and then renew their covenant with God. Holy war and covenant obedience are important themes.

  • Judges has two introductions, two conclusions, six major judges, six minor judges and one anti-judge. It can be described as the, “uncreation” of Israel. Their purpose was to judge the nations and to deliver the people of Israel from their oppressors.

  • The book of Samuel provides the answer to the crisis of kingship. Samuel, as the last judge and first prophet, anoints Saul as king. The people of Israel reject Yahweh as king. Saul is anointed by Samuel and serves as king but is later rejected because of disobedience. David is anointed king because God acts according to his own will. Solomon begins well and ends badly.

  • The book of Kings is the story of the monarchy in the nation of Israel. It begins with the united monarchy under Solomon, then after his death, is divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. We can learn about God’s character and the importance of living in a covenant relationship with God.  

  • The Latter Prophets are covenant lawyers. They are executing the lawsuit of God against Israel for unfaithfulness to the covenant. Prophets use both oracular prophecies and sign acts to communicate their message.

  • Isaiah is sometimes described as the, “fifth gospel” because it is quoted so much in the New Testament. The themes in Isaiah are both timely for his generation and also point to their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus and the end of time.

  • Jeremiah’s call was to tell the people of Judah why they were going into exile and also to give them hope for future restoration. The book contains oracles, accounts of visions and symbolic actions, prophetic laments and historical narratives.

  • One key to understanding Ezekiel is the glory of God in the temple. The book begins with God appearing to Ezekiel, then God leaves the temple and, in the end, God returns. Ezekiel’s oracles and signs illustrate each of these.

  • In the Hebrew Bible, these 12 minor prophets are treated as one book. Each one is a covenant lawyer that is prosecuting God’s lawsuit against the unfaithful nation of Israel and also preaching a message of hope for restoration. The Day of the Lord is the day of the king’s victory over his enemy, either to crush an enemy or to save a people.

  • These books are about how you think and live in light of the covenant. The genres include narrative, poetry and prophecy. The Hebrew Bible order emphasizes teaching then example.

  • Covenant life is a life of worship. The book divisions in the manuscripts were purposefully arranged so the book as a whole has a meaningful narrative. It emphasized the kingship of Yahweh, the Davidic line and the temple. You can use specific patterns of construction for understanding lament, thanksgiving and hymns of praise psalms. You can also use the same patterns to help you respond to God and worship him.

  • Job deals with the issue of human tragedy and suffering. Job never knows what happened in heaven that resulted in his suffering. His three friends made correct theological arguments but they were misapplied. Job speaks about suffering and hope. God challenges Job at the end of the book, and also restores his possessions and children.

  • Solomon created a collection of practical wisdom sayings. Some were for instructing children, some for instructing kings, but they all are applicable to help everyone live in the light of the covenant of grace in the context of common grace.

  • Ruth follows Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible. Even though she is from Moab, she lives in Israel with her widowed Israelite mother-in-law to take care of her. She marries Boaz and is included in the genealogy of David and Jesus.

  • Marriage should be both rock solid in terms of covenant commitment and white hot in terms of sexual intimacy. If it is both, you can better resist temptation, endure hardship and promote wholeness.   

  • The message of Ecclesiastes is that true knowledge, wisdom and meaning in life begins with the fear of the Lord. The author of Ecclesiastes, likely Solomon, tests this conclusion and is unsuccessful in finding ultimate meaning in activities, “under the sun,” like wealth, relationships, power, projects, etc.

  • Lamentations is a collection of funeral dirges lamenting the fall and exile of Jerusalem. The elegant structure of the book is a contrast to the chaos and destruction of the events that are taking place. Each poem gives you a different perspective on God’s character and his covenant faithfulness.

  • Esther is a story of living a life of faith in exile. It Bringing “shalom” into a hostile environment sometimes even requires risking your life. The festival of Purim commemorates God saving his people and is still celebrated today.

  • Daniel and Esther are examples of living a life of faith while in exile. Daniel was different than the writing prophets because he is not primarily a covenant lawyer prosecuting God’s lawsuit against the people of Israel. The first six chapters are biographical stories highlighting God’s power to save and his sovereignty over the nations. The second six chapters are visions of the future.

  • The book of Ezra-Nehemiah records the last events, chronologically, in the Old Testament. Ezra returned from exile with authorization to teach the Law of the Jews and institute the sacrificial system. Nehemiah returned to rebuild Jerusalem. They fail in their human attempt to rebuild heaven on earth, which encourages you to look forward to the city built by God.

  • The return from exile is not the greater one prophesied by the prophets. We still look forward to the return from exile with them in the resurrection. Chronicles traces the seed that was promised and gives an account of the return from exile.

Take this opportunity to study with Dr. Miles Van Pelt as he shows you patterns and themes that will help you understand the Old Testament and the whole Bible. He will give you an overall view of the Old Testament then discuss specifics about each of the books. 

For instance, you might ask, "What kind of book is the Old Testament?" The OT is a single story told three times over: once in Genesis, once in Exodus through Nehemiah, and once again in Chronicles (just like day 6 in Genesis 1–2). The OT loves to repeat itself, repeat itself, repeat itself. This is how it teaches us. The Old Testament is about 2/3 of the Bible and is the basis for everything you read in the New Testament. The better you understand the Old Testament, the clearer you will understand the message of the Bible. 

What is the Message of the Old Testament? The Old Testament points to the New Covenant. The teachings, prophecies and examples of covenant life point to Jesus who makes the New Covenant possible and inaugurates it. There are also examples in the Old Testament of how human efforts to create heaven on earth fall short, so that we will anticipate and yearn for our ultimate deliverance from exile.

What is the Structure of the Old Testament? The structure of the Old Testament, and the Bible as a whole, is covenantal. God offers to live in the covenant of grace with him and compels them to make that choice. The administrations of the covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus demonstrate God's patience and perseverance to include as many as are willing.

 

Recommended Books

Survey of the Old Testament - Student Guide

Survey of the Old Testament - Student Guide