First Testament Summary
The first five books of the Old Testament are commonly called the PENTATEUCH. The first eleven chapters of GENESIS cover the events of Creation, Fall, Flood, and Nations. They are set in primeval history and their theological concern is to demonstrate the genesis of sin and its growth. Genesis 12-50 begins the narrative section of the Old Testament and begins with Abraham moving from Ur to Haran to Canaan. There are four important characters within these chapters: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The author’s theological interest is demonstrated in these stories and centers around the areas of the faithfulness of God, the covenant, and the circumstances of humankind cast alongside the promises of God and how they work together. At the end of Genesis, the family moves to Egypt.
At this point, the EXODUS begins and the story continues with a lapse of time of four hundred years. Moses now becomes the main character until the end of Deuteronomy. Joseph had died and the Pharaoh who had come to power did not know Joseph and brought his family who lived in Goshen into captivity. The first eighteen chapters of Exodus recount the story of the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. The children of Israel leave Egypt and cross the Sea of Reeds and come to Mount Sinai. There they live for a year. During this period they receive instructions from God about being his people.
The second and third sections of Exodus, LEVITICUS, and the first section of NUMBERS relate these instructions. In Exodus 19-24 they receive what is often called the Law but more appropriately should be called the Covenant. Built like other covenants of the era, it demonstrated that God was their Lord, and because of his action toward them, i.e., bringing them out of bondage, the stipulations given would keep them in harmony with him as well as each other. Exodus 25-40 informs us concerning the building of the tabernacle. This was a place that God told Moses he would abide and his children could gather around him. These two sections of Exodus disclose the theological thought which was needed by Israel. The covenant section explains their need for a relationship with God, while the tabernacle section demonstrates their need for access to God.
Leviticus concerns itself with holiness which can be defined as being set apart for God. Leviticus 1-16 informs us about the sacrificial system. This section assumes that a relationship with God that had been provided by God would be broken. It gives instruction, then, about obtaining a relationship with God once it has been broken. Breaking the covenant stipulations would break the relationship with God. The sacrificial system, in which something had to die in order for others to be brought back to a relationship, sets up for us at the deepest level the meaning of the death of Jesus in the New Testament. Chapters 17-27 instruct the reader concerning the maintenance of his relationship with God. In Numbers 1.1-10.10 Moses teaches the children of Israel about everything which has happened to them up to that point. He recites their history.
At Numbers 10.11-21.35 the narrative which ended at Exodus 18 is resumed. The children of Israel moved from Mount Sinai toward Kadesh Barnea. There, twelve spies were sent into the land which God had promised. When they returned, the majority report was that they could not conquer the land. The people decided that the ten spies’ report should be accepted. This did not sit well with God. He was not pleased with their response and cursed them to wander in the wilderness until that unbelieving generation died. The last section (Numbers 22.1-32.16) shows the Israelites on the move toward Moab where they will cross the Jordan River and enter Canaan.
To this new generation, Moses gives the covenant. This is recorded for us in DEUTERONOMY. They were now ready to begin taking the land which God had promised.
We come now to the division of books which in the Protestant Bible is called the HISTORICAL BOOKS. The first of these books is called JOSHUA. The narrative continues as the children cross the Jordan River into the land and conquer it. They begin by moving into the South and then to the North in their campaigns. At the close of Joshua, we are told that God had provided for them all the land that he had promised (Josh. 21.43-45). The promises of God concerning land which was given to Abraham had been completely fulfilled. Joshua is a positive look at the blessing which occurred when the stipulations of the covenant were kept. At the close of Joshua, we find two important ingredients that help the people of God continue in fellowship and relationship with him. There is a recital of the things God had done and a recommitment to the covenant by the new generation of people.
JUDGES can be best understood by comprehending the continual actions of God’s people in their relationship toward God. There is a pattern that reoccurs at least six times involving six generations. They break covenant with God and he sends a nation to chasten them. This surely is a preview of their final rebellion toward God in which they lose all that God had given them. RUTH is set in this period of time and shows the contrast between the nation who finds itself breaking the covenant and an individual who is in harmony with God.
From 1 SAMUEL through 2 KINGS we encounter the period known as the UNITED and DIVIDED KINGDOMS. There are four main characters during this period of time: Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon. They dominate the United Kingdom’s narratives. The kingdom divided at Solomon’s death in 921 B.C. The Divided Kingdom was made up of ten tribes in the North and two tribes in the South. The Northern Kingdom was conquered in 722 B.C. by the Assyrian Empire and is not spoken of in the rest of the First Testament period. The Southern Kingdom was taken into captivity by the Babylonian Kingdom in 586 B.C. They had twenty kings respectively over the span of time that each existed. During this time span all the prophets, except the restoration prophets, were continually calling out to the children of Israel to keep the covenant they had established with God. These prophets included JONAH, AMOS, and HOSEA in the Northern Kingdom. The prophets in the Southern Kingdom were JOEL, ISAIAH, MICAH, NAHUM, ZEPHANIAH, JEREMIAH, and EZEKIEL. This is roughly the order in which they lived and spoke.
We now enter the EXILE period. During this time there were two prophets: DANIEL and OBADIAH. Israel had ceased from existence in its own land. Israel had disobeyed God though he had kept the promises which he had made in the covenant. For 47 years they remained captive and a new generation found itself being sent back to the homeland to begin again.
The period of RESTORATION begins in 539 B.C. and lasts for a little over a hundred years. The historical books which are written concerning this period are EZRA, NEHEMIAH, and ESTHER. They tell of the people beginning again and their call to commit to the covenant. They rebuilt their temple, dedicated it, and the worship of God is restored to Jerusalem. During this time the highest office in the nation came to be the High Priest. The prophets who were speaking to the people during the restoration were: HAGGAI, ZECHARIAH, and MALACHI. FIRST and SECOND CHRONICLES were written during this time period, giving the details of the United and Divided Kingdoms from a different perspective. The Biblical story of God’s people ends with a promise of the Messiah. The story awaits its completion in the coming of Jesus in the Second Testament.