Old Testament Survey - Lesson 1

Introduction to Old Testament Survey

The purpose of this overview of the Old Testament is to focus on the content of each of the Old Testament books, the historical events that give context to the books, and specific questions that help draw out the overarching principles contained in the Old Testament. There is also an emphasis on identifying ways to use this material that can help people in their daily lives.

Douglas Stuart
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 1
Watching Now
Introduction to Old Testament Survey


I.  Introductory Comments

II. Prayer

III. Structure of the Course

A. Content of Each Book

B. Chronological Sweep of Old Testament History

C. Particular Answers to Particular Questions

IV. Ministry Issues

V. Bible Study Tools

Class Resources
  • The purpose of this overview of the Old Testament is to focus on the content of each of the Old Testament books, the historical events that give context to the books, and specific questions that help draw out the overarching principles contained in the Old Testament. There is also an emphasis on identifying ways to use this material that can help people in their daily lives.

  • Genesis narrates ten stories that describe origins or beginnings. These include the origin of the “heavens and earth,” and the origin of specific families that are significant in God’s dealings with Israel and the nations.

  • Themes from selected passages in Genesis about which there are interpretations that differ greatly. These include Genesis 2 regarding creation of women and their roles, Genesis 6 about the "Sons of God," and Genesis 9 about the "curse of Ham." Other themes are the story of Abraham, and God as a punisher of evil.

  • The three major themes in Exodus are Israel's deliverance from Egypt, establishment of the Covenant and the Tabernacle. Other themes are how name repetition in a sentence is significant throughout Scripture, and how humility in the Jewish culture affects the actions and responses of many biblical characters. Exodus contains both apodictic and casuistic laws. There are also paradigmatic laws which are designed to give broad guidance for specific situations that arise. The first part of Exodus is mostly stories, and the second part is mostly a record of the laws which are the basis for how they interact with God and other people.

  • In this lesson, the concept of a covenant is defined as a legal binding agreement between two parties. In the ancient world there were many covenants. There were covenants between individuals, and even between nations. For example, a superior ruling king would make a covenant with a lesser vassal king. Covenants in the ancient near east contained the following six elements.

  • Does God punish the grandchildren for what the grandparents have done? Some people read these passages (Exodus 20:5, 34:7) and assume that they mean God punishes grandchildren based on their grandparents' sins. Unfortunately, they misinterpret these texts because they fail to understand the phenomena of numerical parallelisms. The Hebrew language favors parallelism, so that numbers which are close to other numbers will often be put in parallel to exhibit literary balance.
  • The historical books--Joshua, Judges, and Ruth--are essential reading for understanding how the bible views the progress of history. These books help us understand what the basic stages are in the progress of God’s relations with humanity. There is development, and progress in history we can refer to as epochs. This lecture provides an overview of redemptive history and a summary of the book of Joshua.

  • When discussing violence in the Old Testament it is important to discuss the concept of Holy War. This lesson does not suggest that Christians are soldiers first and nothing else since Christians are also called to be peacemakers. However, this lesson does put forward the idea that God is fighting a holy war. That is, God is seeking to promote blessing for all people by eliminating evil everywhere. The final enemy is death itself, and God is resolute on destroying evil and death. Holy war is a complex set of ideas that should be interpreted in light of the entire corpus of scripture.

  • In this lesson the extent of the conquest is discussed to frame the book of Judges. The orienting data for the book of Judges helps explain how the book recounts the decline of the people of Israel. Finally, the Dueteronomic cycle which recurs in the book is explained and helps frame Israel’s history up to the time of the exile.

  • After the division of the kingdom, 40 kings reigned during this period of the divided monarchy. Only three Kings reigned during the united monarchy—Saul, David, and Solomon. We might be able to assume the time period of the united monarch to be something like 120 years with each of the three kings reigning forty years. But the term “forty” in Hebrew means something like the English expression “several dozen.” That’s why we see the idiomatic expression “forty” so often in Hebrew literature.

  • David is a man after God’s own heart. How is this possible when he made so many moral mistakes? Being after God’s own heart does not mean David is morally upright, but that he has unwavering faith in the one true God of Israel. That is unique to David in these narratives. The narratives are clear that both Saul and Solomon conjoined belief in the God of Israel with the worship of other gods. David, however, is never portrayed as worshipping other gods or setting up altars to Idols.

  • In this lesson several key elements from the lives of Saul, David and Solomon are briefly reviewed. The rejection of Saul as King is explained. The rebellions against David are highlighted. And the disobedience of Solomon is described. Although these three kings are imperfect, God keeps the Kingdom of Israel unified throughout their successive reigns.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Stuart provides an overview of the ten types of Psalms found in Scripture, a few suggestions regarding preaching through the Psalms, and addresses how we are to interact with the hystoricizing statements within the Psalms.

  • This lesson provides an overview of the structure of Proverbs, which seems to be the most secular book of the bible. Proverbs is a book of wise memorable sayings collected by Solomon. These sayings are collected from various individuals in Israel and the Ancient Near East and serve to provide wisdom for how to live in the world.

  • There is a chiastic structure to the book of Job that begins with the prologue and ends with the epilogue. In a chiasm, the middle portion is a convenient hinge of the book, it is not necessarily the most important piece of textual material. The main question the book is asking is, where do you find wisdom? The answer is, wisdom is found in the LORD. Proverbs is monological wisdom, whereas Job is dialogical wisdom. People are debating back and forth throughout the book about the nature of wisdom.

  • This lesson briefly describes existentialism as a philosophical movement in order to frame Ecclesiastes as an ancient type of existentialist literature. Existentialism tends to argue that this life is all there is. Ecclesiastes entertains these various perspectives in the first six chapters, which serve as a literary foil, before ending with a surprise for the reader—life does have meaning because there is a God who will judge our actions.

    There is a storyline to the Song. A clue is found in the term Shulamite, which in Hebrew can be translated as Mrs. Solomon. So this is a story about Solomon marrying his wife. It conveys some of the challenges Solomon and his wife face in coming together in covenant marriage. The beginning of the book outlines their engagement. In the middle of the book they get married, and the end discusses their honeymoon. What we see in the Song is the biblical ideal of a monogamous marriage, which, ironically, Solomon failed to live up to.

  • While it is difficult to preach through the prophets it can be done well if some basic views are taken regarding the prophetic books in general.

  • This lesson provide an overview concerning three contemporaries Prophets during the period of the divided monarchy at the end of the 8 th Century BCE.

  • The passage discusses a period of time when great materials are produced, including the Book of Isaiah. The rise of the Assyrian Empire becomes a significant concern, as they expand their territory across various regions. Tiglath-Pileser III, also known as Pul, leads the Assyrians into the domain of Israel, Palestine, and Syria. The expansion is driven by economic considerations, as kings seek wealth for grand projects through tribute, tax, and tolls. The cycle of conquering and resistance repeats itself, impacting the Israelites. The passage also highlights the importance of 2 Kings, focusing on Elijah and Elisha, Jehu’s massacre of Baal worshippers, the kings of Judah, the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.

  • Historical context is vital when one moves to reading the prophets. After Solomon’s death in 931 BCE, the kingdom of Israel undergoes an extended period of civil war as rivaling leaders take control of the northern and southern regions of the kingdom. Unfortunately, this split eventually becomes permanent. In the north the kings reigned for short periods and when compared with the southern kingdom of Judah this shows a tremendous amount of upheaval. This may have to do with the fact that the north is never ruled by a descendant of David. In addition, the north fails to worship at the Jerusalem temple, and decides instead to worship idols.

  • In this lesson an overview is provided for the prophetical books of Isaiah, Micah, and Nahum.

  • An overview of the revival under King Josiah, the fall of King Josiah, and the subsequent fall of Jerusalem to Babylon.

  • Jeremiah begins his ministry in 627 BCE. This is five years before the great revival under Josiah in 622 BCE. So Jeremiah spans the time from the Assyrian domination to the invasion of Judah by Babylon. Unlike other prophets who predicted a short exile, Jeremiah preached a long, though not unending exile. Because of this Jeremiah was not popular with the government establishment of Jerusalem.

  • Dr. Stuart provides an overview of Joel, Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah and how they each relate to end times and God’s eternal reign.

  • Lamentations is a massive, huge, compound, complex lament that seeks to help God’s people see God’s goodness in the midst of tragedy.

  • Dr. Stuart provides a brief overview of Ezekiel, his difficult message of impending judgment on Jerusalem and his uplifting message of the hope to come.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Stuart describes the characteristics of apocalyptic literature and gives an overview of the books of Daniel. Esther, and the latter half of Isaiah.

  • An overview of the background to the post-exilic books including the necessity of the temple and the role of the Persian empire in it’s rebuilding.

  • An overview of Haggai and Zechariah, the beginning of the rebuilding of the temple, the encouragement of God’s people to put the things of God first, God’s sovereignty, the need to be faithful, the nature of God’s covenant, and God’s promises being fulfilled.

  • A look at the latter days, the closing of the prophetic cannon, and the books of Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

Did you know that the Old Testament contains more than 2/3 of the text of the Bible? Did you realize that the Old Testament timeline covers thousands of years of history and tells us the stories of people whose lives still affect world events today? Are you familiar with the Old Testament prophets that describe in detail the characteristics of the Messiah and the events that happen when he comes, hundreds of years before they take place? Have you ever read the Old Testament books of poetry and wisdom literature that contain inspirational and instructional passages that we still use today to inspire, comfort and inform our lives during life events, and are ubiquitous in both classic and contemporary literary works?

In Dr. Stuart’s Old Testament Survey class, he guides you through each of the Old Testament books by giving you the historical background, major themes and insight into the stories, characters and teaching of the book. In the historical books, you will become familiar with Old Testament Names like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph and David. In the Old Testament prophets, Dr. Stuart will introduce you to the lives and messages of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and others. When you study the Old Testament books of wisdom literature, Dr. Stuart will give you insights into the teachings, structure and creativity in Proverbs, Psalms and other books in the Writings.

From the description of Creation in Genesis, to the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, the Old Testament contains stories and teachings that can inform, inspire and transform your life. Dr. Stuart’s years of training and his skill in communicating, provides you with this opportunity to study and learn from one of the best. Now it’s up to you!

You may download a syllabus for the class including the Course Outline by clicking on the link in the Downloads section. We do not have access to the notes or the 130 exam questions that he mentions in the lectures. The Syllabus is from the SemLink class that was originally offered online through Gordon-Conwell Seminary so you can see the class outline and suggested readings. The links are not active. If you want to participate in the assignments and tests and earn credit, you may contact Gordon-Conwell Seminary to find out if they still offer this class.

Thank you to Charles Campbell and Fellowship Bible Church for writing out the lecture notes. Note that they do not cover every lecture.

Recommended Books

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

Did you know that the Old Testament contains more than 2/3 of the text of the Bible? Did you realize that the Old Testament timeline covers thousands of years of history and...

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

A. Introductory Comments

What we will do tonight is several things. First, I will lead us in prayer. Then I want to just explain a little bit about the way the course operates. I will be commenting for a while on the syllabus and then hope not to spend too much time on that and hope to get right into to talking about Genesis and Exodus and about the Old Testament in general and try to give a feel for the way that we will operate from now on in this class and what its purposes are.

B. Prayer

Join me in prayer as we begin. Father, we thank you that we are very privileged to be able to study your word with all the resources that are available in the modern day, with all of the relief from pressures that we have living in a place like this with all of the relative comforts, and yet we know that we are to be just as diligent as those who had to study it on the run and had to study it in days of great persecution and had to study it mainly by listening and trying to memorize. We appreciate all our advantages and pray that we will be nothing but grateful and all the more diligent. We thank you that you have given to each of us the potential to do your work on earth and included in that is passing along your truth to others so that they too can be shaped by it and guided by it. We pray then that everything we learn will not simply be a thing that we take pride in as an asset but everything we learn will be something we ask about the possibility of using for the benefit of others as we try to be loyal and obedient to you. And that we ask in Christ's name. Amen.

C. Structure of the Course

I will start to comment about things we do and hope that by the time that everybody gets a syllabus it will be all the clearer. We, first of all, will take a look at the Old Testament with a lot of emphasis on trying to read through it. I would like to encourage you, as much as is possible for you to do, actually to read the Bible. Now, I know sometimes you are going to have to basically skim rather than be able to read in detail, but a big part of the course is just trying to read the material; just get through it. You will notice that there are assignments all the time; read this, read that, read these books, read these chapters.

1. Content of Each Book

The theory is that a lot of what the course covers is really just gaining a sense of the content of the material. We will not spend a lot of time on what are called "Introductory" issues. Now the word introductory means something special in biblical studies. It means what might be called critical issues, debates about authorship, debates about dating, debates about structure and so on. It is not that we will not ever touch on these but you can deal with questions of "Introduction" at very great length. When was the Gospel of John written? Is it written by John the disciple or somebody else? What kind of Christology does it reflect as over against the other gospels and what does that tell you about its probable origin in time and origin in place and so on? Those are questions of introduction. We are going to talk much, much more about content. When you read the Bible what are you reading? What are the big themes? When somebody says to you, "How do you like the Book of Habakkuk?" What does your mind say, "The what!?" or does it say, "Yeah, Habakkuk, okay." I would like you, by the end of the course, to be able to say, "Well, Habakkuk is okay because …. But I really like Haggai because …" One of the nicest things that can happen is that you get to know at least something that is really accurate and useful about each book of the Old Testament and that is part of what we are trying to make you do the way we offer it.

2. Chronological Sweep of OT History

We also will hope to try to help you as we go along get a feel for some of the sweep of Old Testament history. Many of you will find as you minister that people do not have much of a sense of biblical history at all. I have done this and I challenge you to do it to your youth group or to your Sunday school class or to your Board of Deacons or to anybody. Take a few sheets of paper or 3 x 5 cards and just say, "Okay everybody, this is helpful to me in my study. Write down the date when King David lived." Look at the wild range of answers you get. Most people do not know. They do not know that he lived right around 1000 B.C and probably reigned from 1011 to 971. That is useful. It is something you can put things on. David is roughly a thousand years before Christ and it is a very interesting thing just to know that much and to realize a lot of biblical history in there between those two great figures. Or ask people, "Which came first, Abraham or Mephibosheth." It is just real interesting. They may not know who Mephibosheth is. It turns out he was a descendant of King Saul who was briefly considered in the line for the kingship, so in that sense even a potential rival to King David. But ask them that. Or ask them, "Tell me one fact about Zechariah." It is very interesting the answers you will get. He was the guy whose head was cut off in the movie by Mel Gibson. You will realize then, this will be insightful to you, you will realize these people are not stupid; they are good people and they love the Lord and they are trying to be his disciples but they do not know the facts. God put those facts in a book to help us see how he has worked in history and God knows that knowing that would be good for us; it would be helpful, it would make us more confident in Him, it would give us reassurance to live when times are tough as they often were for God's people. It will give us a sense of how He continues to work in our day as we extrapolate from the way He worked then. This has a lot of value to it. So we are going to try in this course to go chronologically. If you could just remember where we start and where we go week by week you will realize that we are moving through the books in a generally chronological order. We want to read the Bible, we want to appreciate the history of Israel, the basic passage of time and events in the Old Testament scope.

3. Particular Answers to Particular Questions

We will also try to bring to your knowledge a lot of particular answers to particular questions. The way we will do this is visible on page two and following of the syllabus because you will see that you get a lot of the exam questions in advance. It's a great method. Almost every seminary student is sufficiently obsessive-compulsive that if you give them an exam question in advance they will kill themselves to be sure they know the answer and in the process if you make the questions intelligent enough they will learn a great deal. That is what we have done in this case. We give you about one hundred and thirty questions and as we are going along in class a lot of these will be answered. As you are reading through the Old Testament a lot of them will be answered. As you do the assigned reading in the New Bible Commentary and so on, a lot of them will be answered. But some of them will still require you to look it up, to begin to use the tools like Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries and so on to find out the answers and that will be part of the process of just forcing you in a nice, friendly but definite forcing way to learn the material. It is a lot to cover. This is not a bonehead course. This is not some kind of remediation course for people who do not know much. It is a course that has a special purpose to give in one semester an overview of the entire Old Testament. I know as I look around the room that some of you are graduating seniors. You are not taking this because you have not studied a lot of Bible yet, you are taking it because you want the overview that a course like this provides, a way of integrating what you have been studying already in a variety of other Old Testament courses. Many of you are brand new to this seminary and to the Old Testament, and I would wager that some have probably not yet had a chance to read the Old Testament through before. This is a great chance to do it, and under pressure it is amazing how well many of us perform when we would not otherwise. Somebody just makes you do it and finally you do it. I really do hope it will be a nice and useful all your life orientation to the Scriptures. I hope it will support what you already know and allow what you already know to be fitted into the big picture. Yet, I expect there will be some things I will say that no matter how much you study you might not have had a chance to think about or consider before. Let us hope that it meets everybody's need in some way.

D. Ministry Issues

I also will take the liberty to talk to you about ministry to some degree. Most of you, I know, are going to go into some kind of ministry, going to go into youth ministry or pastoral ministry or counseling ministry or something. You are here to prepare to serve the Lord and to help people. The ministry that is described in the New Testament is "The ministry of the Word." That is the terminology that is used. In some way or other the Bible is at the heart of all ministries that are real ministries. It is very hard to imagine saying, "I have a ministry but the Bible ain't in it." That just is not a Christian statement. Accordingly, I will from time-to- time just talk about how you can use this material. I have had the joy of pastoring now for a lot of years and hope that once in a while I have actually learned something that I can pass on to you. We will do that too. I will try to suggest from time-to-time ways in which you can actually employ what you are learning for the benefit of people; just suggest things, emphases, ways to do it that might just pay off for you.

E. Bible Study Tools

Many of your answers that you cannot find elsewhere you can find in something like the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE). I think it is the best, most useable of all of the multivolume Bible encyclopedias. But there are others that are excellent. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia (ZPBE) is excellent. The Anchor Bible Dictionary is a massive thing that should be called encyclopedia but it is huge and it is excellent. There are a number of others. Almost in every case if you cannot find a name or a theme or a fact, any of the multivolume Bible encyclopedias will do the job. I have found over the years that students relate the best to and find the highest quality on average, not necessarily in every case but on average, in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, so it is a good one. Many of you will find that just one of the simple one-volume Bible encyclopedias, InterVarsity has a real good one, The New Bible Dictionary (one-volume Bible dictionary), it might have eighty percent of what you are looking for.