The Bible is my favorite book. Every time I read something out of the Bible, I see and learn something new. That is the power of the scripture. God’s Holy Spirit will speak to us, in different ways and at different times, a message we need to hear whether we have read that particular passage or not.
This is the beginning a two part series on an overview of the Bible.
One of our challenges is it is too easy to go to the Bible for the informational—Bible Study type—content. But the Bible is not merely for us to consume information. No. The purpose of the Bible is to transform us to God’s people who reach out to a world in need. To be God’s people who can trust God has always been working, is always working, and will always work to bring about his kingdom glory all around us.
If I were to ask you what some of your favorite Bible verses are, more often than not, I would hear verses from the New Testament. But, if I ask what your favorite Bible stories or characters are, I would hear things like David, Moses, Enoch, Noah, etc. We would hear about the Old Testament.
It’s interesting we can think about the Old Testament stories and love them, and, at the same time, think of the New Testament as practical applications for living.
So let’s begin talking about the Old Testament (really the Hebrew Bible).
The entire Protestant Bible is comprised of 66 books (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament). This is important for us to remember because our Bible is not just a single book. Our Bible is, in fact, a collection of books…a library. We get the name Bible from the Greek word biblios, meaning books.
66 books combined
40 different authors
1500-2000 years of writing span
1 seamless story of God working, moving, and calling his people in the world
Reading the Old Testament can be tricky. It speaks about ancient beliefs and practices. It speaks of sacrifices. It speaks of customs that are foreign to us. Because of these reasons, we can begin to think we don’t want to read or study the Old Testament because it’s difficult.
But, to understand the New Testament we need to understand the Old Testament on, at least, a basic level.
Bird eye view of the Old Testament:
We can think about the Old Testament as a series of covenants (unbreakable, binding “agreements” between God and humanity).
- Adam is the covenant of working the ground and being stewards of the earth
- Noah is the covenant of not destroying the earth by a flood again
- Abraham is the covenant God is with his people always…God’s people are “set apart” (circumcision)
- Moses is the covenant of how to live as God’s people
- David is the covenant God will always have a ruler for his people
Adam. Noah. Abraham. Moses. David.
This is a good way to help recall the flow of the Old Testament.
Now, looking at the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), we can see the different genres of literature that comprise this account (think Act 1) of God’s working in the world.
The different genres are important because we get to see a big picture view of how God relates to his people and how the people related to God.
Genesis – Deuteronomy: This is the Torah. This is the “law.” The Torah defines God’s covenant relationship to make sure God’s people have a place they can worship and live in covenant community. EVERYTHING throughout the rest of the Old Testament is calling the people back to this kind of life. (You can almost think of the rest of the Old Testament as a commentary on how the people lived up to or failed to live up to the Mosaic covenant.)
Joshua – Esther is classified as the historical books. They are meant to show, through narrative story, how the people lived out their lives and how God was working in the midst of the people and helping them become the “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” (Exodus 19) to be a beacon of light to share and show God’s presence and kingdom to ALL people…ALL nations. God was, and still is, calling his people to his representatives in the world, for the world, and to the world.
Job and the Psalms is poetry. These books show how to use the language, we know, to describe God’s working in the world. Because of these books, we can understand God through different metaphors. PLUS we can understand how God is calling us to remember where we have come from and to trust him completely.
Proverbs – Song of Songs (Solomon) are wisdom books which deal with practical applications for how to live in this world…how to live as the people of God who are living with the wisdom God gives.
Then Isaiah – Malachi, which are the books of the prophets. These are described as Major prophets and Minor prophets, meaning longer books than the others. The prophets called God’s people to repentance (realigning their life back to God), and called the outside nations to come to know the Living and True God. The prophets also reveal God’s heart the outside nations know who God is so they can come to live in his presence. There are some hard truths and declarations in the prophetic writings, but there is also enough grace to show how God is compassionate and graceful and desiring to forgive.
Knowing what kind of literature we are reading is vital to help us interpret. We can easily get bogged down in the individual passages and verses that we miss the grand narrative of scripture
God’s people are his kingdom of priests and a holy nation in the world, for the world, and to the world.
Knowing this identity, we can see how God is asking us to live.
Okay. We’ve talked about how to think about the Old Testament in terms of major characters and covenants. We’ve even talked about how the Old Testament is divided and what genre of literature we’re reading.
So what do we do with all of this?
We take time to listen to the guidance of the Spirit to see what God is continually trying to teach us today.
Think about it this way (using a timeline of scripture):
God creates us (we are made in his image) and we begin with a perfect relationship with him.
Then, we get too full of ourselves and find we are living a part from God.
So, God has to show us and teach us how to live (the law).
But we keep messing up, so we have to listen to wise teachers and prophets.
The whole point of the Old Testament is we cannot fully live this life without God and his working in and through our lives. We cannot trust the other gods to give us what we need.
Notice, the Bible does not negate the existence of other gods. The Bible, especially the Old Testament continually say those other gods have no power.
The scriptures are one grand narrative that show God has not and will not give up on this world…give up on you and I. The scriptures demonstrate God constantly reaching out to his people to live the life they were intended to live.
It really is a good thing the scriptures do not leave without hope.
Next time, we’ll hone in on Jesus and the entire New Testament and how God has made it possible to be redeemed and made holy.
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3 thoughts on “What Does the Old Testament Say?”
Thank you for an understandable explanation 😊
I’m glad it helped!
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