The Old Testament books are packed with history, prophecy, poetry, wisdom, but above all with God’s instruction and laws for mankind.
Not surprising when you consider that they cover a historical period of about 3,600 years!
These books – also referred to as Hebrew or Jewish Scriptures since they constitute the Hebrew “bible” - tell us, amongst other things
how God created the universe, and planet earth for mankind
the creation of the first humans
about the first recorded wedding
the first murder
how man rejected God’s rule
how mankind can live a happy life
Above all though, the Old Testament books bring us the story of God dealing with ancient Israel and preparing it to bring into the world a Savior for humanity.
They also tell us how God chose the ancient nation of Israel to be an example to the world, and how they failed Him.
We have 39 books in the Old Testament of our English Protestant Bible, written by over 30 people from various walks of life, including kings, shepherds, priests, farmers and prophets.
However, we see only 24 Old Testament books in the Hebrew or Jewish Scriptures.
This is because some of these books are combined together.
For example, we find 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel combined as one book, 1 Kings and 2 Kings combined as one book, and so on.
The Jewish historian Josephus further combined Ruth to Judges and Lamentations to Jeremiah, making the Hebrew Scriptures have 22 books. Apparently, this was done to make the number of Old Testament books correspond to the same number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
Some people who may have merely scanned these Old Testament books may think that several parts of the Old Testament say basically the same thing, but in a different way.
They are mistaken!
If you are really interested in studying the Holy Bible, you will find there is much to learn from these Old Testament books.
Some of these books from the Old Testament are those that many people may deem as "boring", especially when they come across genealogies, and so many names that sound very strange to us today!
However, we may simply scan through these or even skip them when we are reading the Scriptures for the story flow. But, these genealogies can be extremely informative to those making an in-depth Bible study of chronology or certain key Bible characters.
If you sit down and take the time to read it, study it, and try to understand what you are reading,you just might find that it's really not as confusing as you have been taught to believe.
Most people may not realize that the books from the Old Testament are not set in chronological order in practically all Bible translations and versions.
Consequently, this has led to some confusion among those who read and try to understand the story flow of the Holy Bible during the period covered by the Old Testament.
Another point to realize when we read and try to understand these Old Testament books is the difference in the style of literature.
We find three different types of books in the Old Testament pertaining to history, poetry (and wisdom) as well as prophecy. While some books may contain a mixture of historical, prophetic, and poetic language, each basically sticks to its general style.
For example, Deuteronomy is mainly historical but also contains prophecies. Psalms is written in poetic style but contains prophecies as well.
Purpose of Old Testament Books
Most people do not like to read any of the Old Testament books, mostly due to the typical assumption that they are boring and irrelevant to today's beliefs.
The truth is entirely different!
The apostle Paul clearly tells us that we are to learn from these past events, be corrected and have hope for the future.
“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Rom 15:4)
“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor.10:11)
Despite being composed of 39 books in our English Bible, the Old Testament is really divided into three distinct parts
The Prophets, and
The Writings (or Psalms), which contains the main 5 books of poetic style and words of wisdom
Jesus Christ made a clear reference to this when He said “Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." (Luke 24:44)[emphasis added]
This term refers to the Torah of the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. the first 5 books of the Holy Bible. They are often referred to by another term by scholars – the Pentateuch.
These books are respectively Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
These first five books provide information about the laws God mankind – though mistakenly called the Jewish or Hebrew laws.
They also address several other very important rules and principles, some of which are no longer practiced, such as the laws of sacrifices and offerings.
These 6 books, classified as the ”Former Prophets”, are: Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings.
The prophetic books themselves – referred to as the “Latter Prophets” - can be further sub-divided into the “Major Prophets” and the “Minor Prophets”.
The Major Prophets are: Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
The Minor Prophets are: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
The contents of these books are mainly prophetic, containing many predictions for the future. Were you aware that nearly 30% of the Holy Bible is devoted to prophecy?
The books pertaining to prophecy speak about the prophecies concerning several nations though Israel is the principal one concerned. Although a few prophecies have already occurred, most still remain to be fulfilled.
The Writings (or Psalms)
This third division is composed of the following books – Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles.
As you can see, “The Writings” contain several other Old Testament books in addition to the book of Psalms, mainly books of wisdom, books of history and at least one prophetic book.
If you are looking for wisdom, enlightenment and answers to life's many questions, the Old Testament books of Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Job will give you a good start.
A word of caution to the wise – The Song of Solomon is not meant for children, and it is the parents’ responsibility to guide their teens how and when to read that book.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of Israel, please read the first 17 books. These include the 5 books of the Law as well as Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.
As for the other nations mentioned in the Bible (e.g. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon), only a small fraction of their history is mentioned – to the extent that they were involved with ancient Israel.
The history of the ancient nations of Judah and Israel is also covered in some prophetic books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel.
You may be surprised to learn that so far all we have seen so far is only an overview of the Old Testament books found in the Holy Bible! There is so much more to discover.
Let us remember that Jesus Christ gave his approval on these Old Testament books when He quoted extensively from them.
Above all, let us remember that in Rom. 3:2 the apostle Paul refers to these Old Testament books as “the oracles of God”!