Understanding the Old Testament - Lesson 21

Intro Writings

You know from our introductory lectures that the Hebrew Bible falls into three parts, the law, the prophets, and the writings. This lesson is on our third section, the writings, which comprises diverse literary forms and intentional divisions mirroring the former and latter prophets. The books within this section explore life in the land and life in exile, covering genres from poetry to narrative. Despite the varying dates and authors, these books collectively convey the theme of living in covenant with Yahweh amidst challenges and uncertainties. 

Miles Van Pelt
Understanding the Old Testament
Lesson 21
Watching Now
Intro Writings

I. Introduction to the Writings

A. Overview of the Hebrew Bible Sections

B. Perspectives on the Nature of the Writings

II. Structure and Composition

A. Two Groupings: Life in the Land and Life in Exile

B. Intentional Design and Structure

C. Historical Placement and Composition

III. Literary Genres and Themes

A. Poetic Books: Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations

B. Narrative Books: Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles

C. Emphasis on Worship, Wisdom, and Faith in God's Sovereignty

IV. Exposition and Illustration

A. Life in the Land

1. Psalms: Lament as Primary Genre

2. Job: Representation of Suffering and Glory

3. Proverbs: Wisdom for Living

4. Ruth and Song of Songs: Illustrations of Proverbs

5. Ecclesiastes: Reflection on Life's Meaning

B. Life in Exile

1. Lamentations: Mourning the Fall of Jerusalem

2. Esther and Daniel: Faithfulness in Exile

3. Ezra through Chronicles: Return from Exile and Restoration

V. Theological Themes and Continuity

A. Hope and Mercy in the Face of Exile

B. Continuity with Genesis and Former Prophets

C. Journey of God's People Towards Restoration

  • Engage with the Old Testament to grasp its Gospel-centered nature. From Genesis to Ecclesiastes and Psalms, discover foundational truths, wisdom, and insights on suffering. Strengthen your faith and find enduring hope in God's Word.
  • Gain insight into the Old Testament's theological core, centering on Jesus Christ. Explore its diverse genres, languages, and authors, unified by Jesus as its focal point. Understand how biblical evidence supports Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, shaping interpretation.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles Van Pelt provides the thematic framework for the Old Testament. The Old Testament's thematic core is the Kingdom of God. Through this lesson, you'll understand its covenantal nature, from pre-temporal arrangements to various administrations like redemption, works, and grace, unveiling God's salvation plan in Christ.
  • Discover the intricate covenantal structure of the Bible, revealing its theological depth and unity, from the division of the Hebrew Bible to its mirroring in the New Testament, all centered around Jesus Christ.
  • Gain insight into the Pentateuch's covenantal structure, Moses' authorship debate, and evidence supporting it. Understand its significance as the foundation of Israel's relationship with God and its relevance for biblical theology.
  • Through this lesson, you will understand the theological, structural, and thematic intricacies of the book of Genesis. You'll grasp its role as a foundational text in both the Old and New Testaments, exploring themes of covenant, creation, fall, redemption, and the fulfillment of promises. You'll gain insights into the genealogical structure of Genesis, its portrayal of key biblical figures like Adam, Noah, and Abraham, and its connection to the overarching narrative of the gospel.
  • Exodus reveals Yahweh's promise—"I will be with you"—unfolding divine presence and covenant. It anticipates Jesus as fulfillment—a better Moses and Tabernacle—ushering in God's eternal presence among humanity.
  • Studying Leviticus unveils the intricate system of laws and rituals at Mount Sinai. It explains sacrificial atonement, priestly consecration, purity laws, and the theme of holiness, prefiguring Jesus as the ultimate priest, sacrifice, and source of holiness.
  • Discover the Book of Numbers' insights on Israel's journey, God's faithfulness, consequences of disobedience, and parallels to Christ, cautioning against questioning God's holiness and emphasizing His desire to dwell among His people through the Holy Spirit.
  • Gain insight into Deuteronomy's covenant renewal for Israel entering Canaan, emphasizing obedience, typology, and its relevance for Christian living.
  • Gain deep insight into the former prophets, exploring themes of Yahweh's faithfulness, Israel's unfaithfulness, and the typological significance of the Mosaic covenant. Understand its relation to the Abrahamic covenant and its fulfillment in the New Covenant under Jesus, revealing God's plan for restoration.
  • Joshua unveils Joshua's leadership, divine promise fulfillment in Canaan, obedience's significance, and Jesus as the ultimate fulfiller of God's promises.
  • Discover the Book of Judges, detailing Israel's history and faith journey. Learn about judges as deliverers from oppression and idolatry, portraying parallels with Christ's ministry. Uncover a pattern of uncreation due to idolatry, emphasizing the need for an eternal judge—Jesus Christ—to save from corruption.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles Van Pelt provides insights into the book of Samuel, exploring its characters, themes, and the transition from judgeship to kingship in Israel. Learn of the significance of the Davidic covenant, culminating in Jesus as the ultimate King of Kings.
  • Gain insights into the Book of Kings, revealing its historical and theological significance. Discover the fulfillment of Davidic covenant, reasons for Israel's exile, and anticipation of the new covenant. Recognize Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of its promises.
  • This lesson reviews latter prophets' insights into Israel's exile for breaking the Mosaic Covenant, the prophetic office's nature, diverse prophecy genres, and the execution of covenant lawsuits, all pointing to God's judgment and hope for restoration.
  • Explore Isaiah's profound prophetic themes, from redemption to impending judgment. Unravel his life and ministry's context, review the debate around authorship, and learn essential tools for study.
  • Enjoy this lesson on Jeremiah, a second Moses figure, and his prophetic message of repentance, redemption, and a new covenant. Explore the book's chiastic structure, historical context, and theological significance, offering hope amidst Judah's fall.
  • Studying Ezekiel reveals its focus on the glory of the Lord and the temple. You learn of Ezekiel's exile, his visions, and themes like covenant theology, creation, and apocalyptic elements, offering profound insights into hope amidst crisis.
  • Discover insights into the minor prophets' diverse genres and themes, from covenant infidelity to divine restoration. Witness Jonah's repentance narrative and prophetic visions culminating in Christ's fulfillment. Embrace Yahweh's justice and compassion, urging Israel's return, leading to Jesus as the ultimate authority.
  • Understand the structure and themes of the Hebrew Bible's writings section. Explore diverse literary forms, intentional divisions mirroring prophets, and the overarching theme of exile and return, illuminating Israel's covenant journey.
  • Discover the depth of the Book of Psalms: 150 songs divided into 5 books, expressing diverse emotions and worship forms. Explore themes, structure, and practical applications for personal devotion and prayer.
  • Gain insights into human suffering and theodicy through Job's trials. Explore themes of faith, resilience, and God's sovereignty amidst adversity. Discover hope in God's incomprehensible sovereignty amid life's trials.
  • Proverbs is a book of timeless wisdom from Solomon, who was gifted by God. By studying this book, you can learn to navigate life with righteousness and discernment, rooted in the fear of the Lord.
  • Journey through Ruth, where redemption, loyalty, and divine providence intertwine. Ruth, a symbol of strength, aligns with Boaz, embodying ancient customs. Their union shapes history, reflecting the enduring legacy of faith amidst life's complexities.
  • Explore the Song of Songs for insights into marriage and intimacy. It navigates the tension between true love and temptation, advocating for unwavering commitment and passionate intimacy, reflecting God's desired relationship. Discover timeless wisdom for modern-day love and marriage.
  • Ecclesiastes reveals life's futility without God, emphasizing the necessity of fearing Him. Through Solomon's wisdom, it prompts reflection on divine purpose amid existential questions.
  • In Lamentations, mourn the fall of Jerusalem and exile, finding hope in God's sovereignty.
  • The book of Esthers contains themes of providence, hiddenness of God, and faithfulness in exile. You will uncover the intricacies of Esther and Mordecai's roles in the deliverance of the Jewish people, as well as the establishment of the festival of Purim. This study will equip you with insights into how God's providence operates amidst human events, even when His presence may seem concealed, and how faithfulness in exile can lead to unexpected outcomes of deliverance and restoration.
  • Through this lesson on the book of Daniel, you'll gain insights into its structure, themes of faithfulness in exile, comparisons with Joseph, and its significance for understanding apocalyptic literature, providing a comprehensive understanding of God's sovereignty and care for His people.
  • Explore Ezra and Nehemiah for insights into post-exilic restoration, intertwining faith, governance, and cultural renewal. These books point towards a deeper longing for true and lasting restoration and echo themes found in apocalyptic literature such as the book of Revelation.
  • The Book of Chronicles traces Israel's history, emphasizing kingship, priesthood, and divine selection. It anticipates restoration, pointing to Jesus as the ultimate priest-king who fulfills God's promises.

Understanding the Old Testament 
Dr. Miles Van Pelt
Intro Writings 
Lesson Transcript

You know from our introductory lectures that the Hebrew Bible falls into three parts, the law, the prophets, and the writings. We have now reached our third section, the writings. We've talked about this section a little bit in our introductory lecture in terms of its form and function, but it's worth repeating.

By way of introduction, I'm going to read a couple of quotes from people who have talked about the nature of the writings and all the different types of books in them, and I'll counter-propose another option for us, one that I've mentioned earlier. We'll call this section the problem with the writings, the problem with the writings, this third section of the Hebrew Bible. Paul Wagner, in his book, The Journey from Text to Translations, says this. "The books in this section, that is the writings, have few links with each other. They have diverse literary forms and many cannot be dated precisely." Graham Goldsworthy, in his Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, at one point says, "Some suggest that the inclusion of Ezra and Nehemiah in the writings is due simply to the lateness of their composition, presumably after the prophets were identified as a group, or the latter prophets specifically. There were, of course, the three post-exilic prophets in the prophetic canon, so it is possible that these narrative books were excluded from the prophets for other reasons, which we are going to agree with, other reasons." He earlier said, "The fact that narratives such as Ruth, Esther, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Ezra and Nehemiah are placed in the writings does raise some hermeneutical questions, or questions of interpretation, particularly those about the intended effects of these accounts on the post-exilic community or the community to come back after the exile. Each of the books in this third section of the Hebrew canon has to be dealt with on its own terms. There is no specific or clear theological umbrella that qualifies the writings for that grouping other than the big picture of Israel before her God." 

Now, I think Graeme Goldsworthy is on to something there. We've entitled this section in our covenantal structure of the Bible lecture as Law, Prophets, and Writings, which are Covenant, Covenant History, and Covenant Life, and that's exactly right, life before Israel's God. Like the former prophets, you can see on the slide, there are two groups within the writings. There are those books that talk about life in the land, Psalms Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, and then those that talk about life in exile, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. This grouping matches those of the prophets.

The former prophets, Joshua to Kings, deal with life in the land, and the latter prophets, Isaiah to the Twelve, deal with the whole issue of life in exile. So the writings have an intentional structure behind them that matches the former and the latter prophets and their divisions. It's nice to have a division of six and six, it's a nice balance, even though we understand, we'll talk about this later, that Ezra and Nehemiah are considered a single book, but in terms of its balance here, it's nice to have these books as six and six.

So the first section, Life in the Land, and the second section, Life in Exile. Many of the books in this section are poetic, Psalms, the interior of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations, but we have a lot of narrative books here, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. So there's a mixing of genres in these particular places like no other place in the Hebrew Bible.

This collection of books came together after the first two sections of the Hebrew Bible. So first we had the books of Moses, then we had the former latter prophets. Historically speaking, the writings came last. But some of the material in this section contains material older than some of the other materials that came before it. So for example, many of the Psalms date back to David, and one Psalm, Psalm 90, goes back to Moses. As for Job, some think he may have written around the time of the Pentateuch, but that's also a debated issue. So some of the books, we don't know who wrote, some of the books we can't date them, but we do know that they're in this little corpus here that has kind of an intentional design and structure that we had talked about.

You can see here that I've highlighted four books in red on the slide, and we've talked about earlier how we have this working arrangement in the writings where we have exposition and illustration, exposition and illustration. The book of the writings, or the section of writings, begins with life in the land, and the first thing we need to know about life in covenant with Yahweh is that it's a life of worship in the book of Psalms. The number one genre in the book of Psalms that we'll see coming up is the lament, that is, living between promise and fulfillment, experiencing suffering but hoping for glory, and not knowing how to maintain kind of a balance of emotional weight during that time. And the Psalms provide constructs for our affections in that way. If the number one type of psalm in the book of Psalms is lament, it's no accident that Job follows because Job is the number one lamenter in the Hebrew Bible. He is the one who suffers for Yahweh's glory and doesn't know why.

Following that is the book of Proverbs, that is, how do you live wisely in God's world according to God's word? Proverbs terminates or ends with the acrostic poem, the wife of noble character or the wife of valor, the eshet chael. The only woman ever described as such in the whole Hebrew Bible, as we mentioned earlier, is the book of Ruth, so she is the illustration of Proverbs 31. The book of Psalms, lament, Job is the illustration. 

The book of Proverbs, the height of Hebrew wisdom, get a great wife. What's that wife look like? Proverbs 31 and Ruth. The song of songs also betrays a wife of strength, that's the woman who forsakes the temptation of harem life with Solomon and clings to her one and only beloved shepherd. And it ends with Ecclesiastes which says, if you don't want to think this way, that life in the land under God's sovereignty is worth it, consider life without God, life under the sun, and that life is vanity of vanities.

So we have that little narrative to approach those first six books. Life in exile begins with lamentations. Lamentations, as we will see, records the fall of Jerusalem and laments the fall of Jerusalem in five funeral songs called Kenometer songs or dirges, right? Following that, we have Esther and Daniel as two examples of what it looks like to live a life of faith in exile.

Both Esther and Daniel take place entirely in exile and they live lives of faith, faithful unto death. Finally, Ezra through Chronicles records the return from exile, the restoration of the temple and the city walls of Jerusalem, and the failure of that system to meet prophetic expectations, therefore the need for a second or another return from exile. So the book of Chronicles ends with God's people in exile. Think of this, Genesis chapter three ends with God's people in exile. The book of Genesis in chapter 50 ends with God's people in exile. The book of Kings, the last book of the former prophets, ends with God's people in exile, right? 2 Kings 25, and the end of the canon right before the New Testament ends with God's people in exile.

All the way, these points are punctuated by the hope of coming home from exile based on God's mercy and the New Testament is that place finally where we get to come home at least in the beginning fashion. So that's this whole theme of exile and these punctuated exile points at climactic moments means that from Genesis chapter three when Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden, all of the Old Testament is kind of recording God's people's journey home in that fashion. So we're going to look at each of these books one at a time beginning with the book of Psalms in our next lecture.