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What is the Old Testament?

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart...

Deuteronomy 6:4–7
What is the Old Testament? Book Cover

Beginning with Genesis, the Old Testament is comprised of thirty-nine books written in Aramaic and Hebrew over the span of approximately 1,000 years. While God declares in his Word that he is sovereign over all of humanity (Isaiah 45:22–24), Genesis through Malachi is the story of his relationship with the people of Israel.

The Old Testament is a cautionary tale. But it is a cautionary tale filled with hope. It is a record of God’s covenant relationship with a particular people through whom he would reveal himself to all of humankind. It is story of humanity’s struggle to choose faithfulness to God. Our desperate need for a redeemer is woven through every covenant, every sacrifice, every generation. It is an epic story, and in weeks two, three, and four, we’re going to do a deeper dive into the books of the Old Testament. Before we get there, let’s look at a big picture overview of the first thirty-nine books of the Bible:


(Genesis 1 and 2) “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth . . . Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . .’ And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:1, 26, 31).


(Genesis 3) Humanity rejected God. Adam and Eve questioned God’s love for them; they questioned his goodness. God gave them everything they would need for a full life in fellowship with him, but they believed the lie of the enemy when he suggested God was a cosmic killjoy. Stained by sin, humanity could no longer have fellowship with God.


God made a covenant, or an unbreakable promise, with Abraham to bless him, give him land, and make him into a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham’s line continued through Isaac and Jacob, and God declared he would be their God and they would be his people” (Genesis 17:7). Through Jacob’s son, Joseph, God’s people were saved from famine by moving to Egypt.


Eventually, a Pharaoh came to power that did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8), and the Israelites endured four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. But “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:23–25).


God never forgot his promises. Israel arrived in Egypt as the twelve sons of Jacob, but they set out for God’s promised land, led by Moses, with more than a million strong. After they wandered the desert due to their own disobedience, God led them into the promised land through Joshua. God delivered the people of the land over to them, and they ruled there for many generations. Again, God promised he would be their God, and they would be his people. He told them if they kept his ways, he would bless them with peace and abundance. But if they abandoned his ways, he would give them over to their enemies (Leviticus 26).


Because Israel turned away from the one true God and turned to false gods and foreign kings for provision and protection, he gave them over to their enemies and they lived in exile for seventy years. Then, just as they endured four hundred years of slavery in Egypt before entering the land promised to Abraham, God’s people now waited through four hundred years of silence before Isaiah 11:1–5 would be fulfilled.


We live in an age when the concept and consequences of sin are dismissed as an outdated guilt trip. And according to today’s culture-makers, God—if he exists at all—is distant and unaware of the daily details and decisions of our lives.

But the siren call of the Old Testament is Remember! Remember who God reveals himself to be. Remember his faithfulness even in the face of our sin, rebellion, stubbornness, and doubt. Remember that God is mighty to save. He is “. . . a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and [who] did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:17). If we are to have a real appreciation for how far we have fallen in our sin and how powerless we are to rescue ourselves, we must remember the lessons of Old Testament Israel. You will be surprised at how much of yourself you see in their journey!

But the siren call of the Old Testament is Remember! Remember who God reveals himself to be. Remember his faithfulness even in the face of our sin, rebellion, stubbornness, and doubt. Remember that God is mighty to save. He is “. . . a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and [who] did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:17).


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Daily Question

Even though Jesus is the centerpiece of Christianity, why is the Old Testament essential to a full understanding of God’s plan for salvation?

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Comments (42)

I never fully understood the Old testament growing up but resources like this have helped me to begin to piece together and build on the limited understanding I had. It is essential to have a full understanding so that we see through time that humans were screwing up all along, some listening to God, some not. There are consequences to choices, both good and bad. The overarching theme paints a picture we can certainly relate to today and the worsening of our humanity. God is our source. No a preacher, teacher or whatever. I love your summary above!

This is difficult for me as Jesus is not the centerpiece my my understanding of God. Jesus would not have made an appearance without God. So why is only the person of God who is Jesus the centerpiece of Christianity when God is the backbone? I’m confused.

We have to understand our fall, and need for, salvation. God is a loving, providing, protecting God. However, He cannot abide with sin. We have to read the Old Testament to know why we are in a place of needing Jesus’ blood to restore our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

It shows us that no matter what time we live in God remains right there, relevant! God knew from the start that He would need to show his people the way, show direction, keep them humble. But most of all – show His people grace, mercy and compassion. Imagine all that history not happening – what would have happened to us if not for God’s great plan!

Jesus can be seen throughout the Old Testament. He was the Jewish hope. He was there when God created the heavens and the Earth, and animals and us.

The Old Testament expresses why the New Testament is essential: it explains WHY Jesus, why this walk is necessary, why this race and this fight. It is ripe with opportunities to reap knowledge, wisdom, & understanding, to KNOW Who God is and thereby who you are. To comprehend God’s plan for salvation, we must grasp first Who He is, who we are, what good is, what Truth is, what evil is, what life is, what sin does, what freedom/love/grace looks like, etc. Such a beautiful way to re-member Him as He re-members us into His Bride. It is rich with the history (His Story) of God & humanity & the Promise of His Relentless Pursuit for His Beloved…His sons & daughters.

Understanding the level of his faithfulness in times we don’t see the potential. God always took care of his people, no matter how many times they walked the other way.

Great reminder, Sister! I know we’re talking about the OT, but I love that the Heart of God you mention here is stated clearly in 2 Timothy 13–when we are faithless, He remains Faithful. ?

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