Understanding the Old Testament
An overview the Old Testament, its basic structure and teaching.
Login to download lectures and curriculum
About this Class
The purpose of this class is to give you an appreciation for the unity of the Old Testament by helping you understand its characters, plot, structure, themes and historical settings. It is for beginner students. It is for people who may know pieces of the Bible, but who want to put the whole picture together. It’s for people who love the Bible and want to know more about it. It is suitable for people of different ages: young readers, old readers, new Christians, and old Christians. All need to understand the wholeness of the Bible.
The unifying purpose of the Old Testament is to show how God saves human beings from sin, for his glory and for his service.
An introduction to the Law portion of the Old Testament and an overview of the content and themes in Genesis from Creation to the migration of Jacob's family to live in Egypt with Joseph.
God sends Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. After God sends the ten plagues, Pharoah lets them go. God gives the Ten Commandments and instructions for the Tabernacle. Aaron and his sons are set aside to be priests.
Leviticus emphasizes God’s holiness and that his people are to be holy. Holiness means unique, set apart. God knows people will sin, so he designed a system to prevent sin from standing in the way of their relationship with God. Priests were set aside for covenant worship. The Day of Atonement symbolizes the way God forgives sin. God wants the people of Israel to move toward moral excellence, not just avoid sin.
Numbers begins with Israel ready to take the Land that God promised to Abraham. The people enter the promised land but Moses and Aaron do not. Deuteronomy emphasizes the fact that God renews his covenant with his people. Passages like Deuteronomy chapter 8 indicate that the love of God is the most important motivation for their service. Moses ends by telling the people that the words of the covenant are their lives, not just idle words.
The books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings give the history of Israel by recording what happened and state the theological factors. The main theme in Joshua is that God gives the land of Canaan to Israel just as he promised Abraham. Joshua leads the people as they go into the land. Joshua divides up the land for the twelve tribes and then leads the people in a covenant renewal ceremony. The land symbolizes the permanence of God’s love for Israel and Israel’s role as a holy nation to be a testimony to the nations surrounding them.
God disciplines and delivers his people. When everyone does what is right in their own eyes, terrible things happen. The “sin cycle” in Judges is a prominent theme.Baal worship was fundamentally the worship of sex, money and power. Turning away from God results in all sorts of chaos and suffering. 1 and 2 Samuel emphasize that God will provide a kingdom and a king with whom he will make a covenant to establish an eternal kingdom through his descendants. Samuel is the last judge and Saul is the first king. Samuel is a prophet, priest and judge and encourages the people to honor their covenant with God.
David becomes king and wants to build God a “house of worship.” Instead, God tells David that He will build David a “house” consisting of royal descendents, culminating in the birth of the Messiah who will establish an everlasting kingdom. David sins by committing adultery and murder. David repents and God forgives him, but there are consequences. 1 Kings begins by recounting David’s death and Solomon’s ascendance to be king of the nation. God granted Solomon wisdom, for which Solomon was famous. Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem that was remarkable.
After Solomon's death, the nation splits into two parts: the northern 10 tribes (Israel) and the southern 2 tribes (Judah). 1 and 2 Kings is the story of the rise and fall of specific kings as well as the rise and fall of Israel and Judah. Elijah and Elisha were influential prophets during this time.
In the prophetic books, poetic speeches replace narrative as the main type of writing. Seven themes that are common in prophetic books are word and symbol, election and covenant, rebellion, judgment, God’s compassion, redemption and consummation. These themes can be compressed into the ideas of sin, judgment and renewal. Books of prophecy stress how to live for God.
Jeremiah lived near Jerusalem and had a message for the nations from God during difficult times. God tells Jeremiah that because he is calling people to repent and return to worshipping Yahweh, he will face opposition, but that God will be with him. Jeremiah learns of the peoples’ sin and preaches to them from the temple of their need for repentance and of the coming Messiah. Only one or two people respond positively to his message, so he is lonely, but faithful. God also tells Jeremiah that he will renew his covenant with Israel and restore them. God is faithful to keep his promises.
Ezekiel is a prophet of restoration and hope. He offers hope to the exiles that God will make the future brighter than the past and has a vision of a restored and renewed Jerusalem. God explains to Ezekiel why Jerusalem falls, then promises to restore the people, the monarchy, and Jerusalem.
In the Hebrew Bible the Book of the Twelve is considered one book. In the Christian Bible, these are split up into twelve books known as the minor prophets. The major themes are the description of the sins of Israel and the nations, punishment of sin at the "day of the Lord" and restoration of Israel and the nations. This lesson covers the books of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah.
In the Hebrew Bible the Book of the Twelve is considered one book. In the Christian Bible, these are split up into twelve books known as the minor prophets. The major themes are the description of the sins of Israel and the nations, punishment of sin at the “day of the Lord” and restoration of Israel and the nations. This lesson covers the books of Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
This is the most diverse section in the Old Testament in terms of types of literature. We learn a lot from these books about how the people of Israel lived as they related to God and one another. The Psalms represent the best prayers, hymns and calls to worship that Israel produced. Psalms teaches us what true worship is.
Job teaches us how to struggle with doubt, pain, and suffering, and even with our faith. The message of Job is that we should trust the providence of God. The message of the book of Proverbs is how to develop wisdom.
In the Hebrew Bible, Ruth follows immediately after the description of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31. The book as a whole tells how to survive personal difficulties and emphasizes God’s mercy. The theme of Song of Solomon is enjoying love. Ecclesiastes describes how to search for meaning in life. Lamentations is about how to mourn national tragedy.
Esther survived in exile by the grace and providence of God. Daniel shows us how to maintain distinctive faith in exile. Ezra and Nehemiah talk about how to rebuild a nation. 1 and 2 Chronicles talk about how to view the past.