Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch

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In the Pentateuch one finds all the themes that would later be expanded upon by other inspired writers. You will learn how these books reveal God's character and requirements for a relationship with Him.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802441294
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/28/1991
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

HERBERT M. WOLF (Wheaton College, Dallas Theological Seminary, Brandeis University) was a well loved and respected professor of Old Testament at Wheaton Graduate School in Wheaton, Illinois. A translator for the Old Testament section of the New International Version, Dr. Wolf is the author of a number of books including Haggai and Malachi, in the Everyman's Bible Commentary Series, An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch, and Interpreting Isaiah as well as numerous journal, magazine, and encyclopedia articles.
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Moody Publishers

Copyright © 1991 Herbert M. Wolf
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8024-4156-0

Chapter One


The five books of the Pentateuch are foundational to all of Scripture and rank as one of the most important sections in God's Word. Just as a knowledge of the four gospels is essential for understanding the New Testament, so the content of the Pentateuch is crucial to the rest of the Old Testament and for that matter the whole Bible. The four gospels tell us about the incarnation as the Son of God came to dwell among men. In Exodus 40:34-38 the glory of God fills the tabernacle as the Lord dwelled among Israel to speak to them and to guide them in their travels. Even though we usually think of the wrath and power of God in connection with the Old Testament, Moses told Israel that God was near them whenever the people prayed to Him (Deut. 4:7). The Lord marvelously protected them from danger and revealed to them His laws and decrees, and even the pagan prophet Balaam had to admit that

The Lord their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them. (Num. 23:21)

God worked in a wonderful way in the family of Abraham, not only to make of that people "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex.19:6) but also so that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen. 12:3). Ultimately that blessing came in the person of Jesus Christ, who was the mediator of a better covenant than the one established by Moses, so that salvation might come to the whole world.


The first five books of the Bible are commonly referred to as the "Pentateuch," a word derived from the Greek penta ("five") and teuchos (a case for carrying papyrus rolls but in later usage the scroll itself). The five-volume book corresponds to the Jewish description of the "five fifths of the Law" found in the Talmud. This division of Moses' writings into five separate books may owe its origin to a practical consideration. No scroll could hold all of the words, whereas the five leather scrolls could be handled quite easily Such an explanation also fits the division of the book of Psalms into five sections, since the 150 separate hymns likewise took up too much space.

The fivefold division of the law is also attested in the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint, both of which have five names for Moses' writings. The Jewish historian Josephus also spoke of the five books of the law in the first century A.D. Origen was the first to use the word Pentateuch in his commentary on John, and he was followed by Tertullian in his disputes with the Marcionites.

Scripture itself refers to Moses' writings as "the Book of the Law" (Josh. 1:8; 8:34), "the Book of the Law of Moses" (Josh. 8:31; 23:6; 2 Kings 14:6), "the Law of Moses" (1 Kings 2:3), "the Book of Moses" (Ezra 6:18; Neh. 13:1; Mark 2:26), "the Law of God" (Neh. 10:28, 29), "the Law of the Lord" (Luke 2:23, 24), "the Law" (Ezra 10:3; Luke 10:26), or simply "Moses" in the phrase "Moses and the Prophets" (Luke 16:29; 24:27).

To the Jews the single word Torah best described this part of Scripture. Torah means not only "law" but also "teaching" or "instruction." These five books contain God's teaching about the origin of the world and of Israel and explain how a sinful people can meet with a holy God. For the Jew the Pentateuch contained an authority that the rest of the Old Testament-the prophets and the writings-did not seem to match, just as the importance of Moses exceeded that of any other Old Testament figure. When the Jews were driven from their homeland to take up residence in exile, it was the books of Moses that were read most frequently in the synagogues. It was common to read through the Pentateuch every three years, whereas other books were covered less systematically.


The books of Genesis through Deuteronomy present a coherent picture of the origins of mankind and the birth and development of Israel as a nation. Except for the book of Genesis, these volumes focus upon the life and ministry of Moses, a man called by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. Shortly after their release from slavery -a release predicted in Genesis 15:14-the people stopped at Mount Sinai, where God revealed to them His law and the principles of holy living. This important encounter lasted almost a year and is described in Exodus 19-40, the whole book of Leviticus, and Numbers 1-10. From Mount Sinai the Israelites journeyed to Kadesh Barnea, where they wavered in unbelief and refused to trust God to bring them safely into Canaan. The rest of Numbers quickly covers the forty years of wandering in the desert prior to the arrival of the Israelites at the plains of Moab in Numbers 22:1. There they barely survive the machinations of Balaam and Balak and were given instructions by Moses about life in the Promised Land. While situated there on the eastern banks of the Jordan River, Moses delivered his final addresses to the people, summarizing God's work on their behalf and encouraging them to be faithful to the Lord in the coming years. These final messages given by the great leader constitute the book of Deuteronomy, which ends with the account of Moses' death.

John Sailhamer has noted that the main narrative sections of the Pentateuch are concluded by poetic material sometimes followed by an epilogue. For example, at the close of the patriarchal narratives stands the poetic blessing of Jacob in Genesis 49 and an epilogue in chapter 50. The Exodus narratives are concluded by the song of Moses in Exodus 15, whereas the wilderness wanderings are followed by Balaam's oracles in Numbers 23-24. At the end of the Pentateuch we find the double poetic section containing Moses' song of witness and blessing on the twelve tribes in Deuteronomy 32-33 and then the epilogue in chapter 34.

Along with the overall continuity in the narrative, we can also point to the grammatical features that underscore the unity of the Pentateuch. For some reason these five books fail to distinguish between the third person pronouns, "he" and "she." Instead of using and like the rest of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch uses only the masculine form. The same is true of the words for "boy" and "girl." "Girl is normally written na'arâ, but the Pentateuch uses na'ar without the feminine ending."

In spite of strong arguments in favor of the unity of the Pentateuch, a number of scholars support the idea of a hexateuch or a tetrateuch. Julius Wellhausen thought that Joshua should be combined with the first five books to form a "hexateuch." Going in the opposite direction, Martin Noth spoke of a "tetrateuch" ending with Numbers, and he placed Deuteronomy at the head of a history that included the historical books through 2 Kings. The "deuteronomic work," as he called it, was composed during the exile, and Deuteronomy 1-3 functioned as an introduction to the entire corpus. Although it is true that Deuteronomy is closely connected with Joshua, even the first chapter of Joshua distinguishes between the "Book of the Law" and other materials (v 8). The law was given by Moses, and the unity of the five books is strongly supported by Jewish tradition and by internal considerations.


Rather than disturbing the unity of the Pentateuch by detaching Deuteronomy from the other four books, we should recognize that Deuteronomy and the rest of the Pentateuch greatly influenced the entire Old Testament. The law of Moses was intended as a guide both to the nation and to individuals within the nation, so it is little wonder that subsequent writers wrote under the shadow of the Pentateuch. The impact of the Pentateuch was greatest upon the prophetic writers, but as we shall see, it influenced the poets and historians as well.

On the Historical Books

Joshua served many years as Moses' chief aide and commanding general, and the book that bears his name reflects their close association. Three chapters in particular emphasize the book of the law given by Moses (Josh. 1, 8, 23), for Joshua was to urge the people to obey the teachings of his great predecessor. If they responded, God would bless the nation abundantly, but if they rebelled, the curses of the law would afflict them (Josh. 8:34; 23:6-13). Judges and part of Samuel recount how these curses did in fact fall upon the nation, but the rule of King David brought a return to godliness and blessing. The promise that David's son would build a house for God's name (2 Sam. 7:13) ties in with the words of Deuteronomy 12:5 that God would choose a place to put His name.

David's final words to Solomon stressed the commands and requirements written in the law of Moses (1 Kings 2:3). In subsequent centuries the godly kings Hezekiah and Josiah followed the Lord with all their hearts and all their strength, according to the commands given through Moses (2 Kings 18:6; 23:25). References to the Mosaic requirements and especially "the Book of Moses" are more frequent in 1 and 2 Chronicles (see 1 Chron. 5:15; 22:13; 2 Chron. 8:13; 25:4; 35:12). Ezra and Nehemiah also refer several times to Moses and his writings, probably because Ezra was a scribe by occupation.

On the Prophetic Books

Both the major and minor prophets contain important links with the books of Moses. Isaiah begins his majestic prophecy by calling on heaven and earth as witnesses, an allusion to the solemn call of Moses in Deuteronomy 30:19 and 32:1. Moses warned that disobedience would bring judgment, and Isaiah is about to announce the disaster soon to come. The God who will judge is called "the Mighty One of Israel" (or "Jacob") in Isaiah 1:24; 49:26; and 60:16-a title drawn from Genesis 49:24. Isaiah also calls God the "Rock" and "Savior" (17:10), names found together in Deuteronomy 32:15. God is the Creator as well as the Redeemer. Just as Israel had been rescued from Egypt, so will the remnant be delivered from Babylon. Isaiah 12:2 quotes those great lines celebrating the victory won over Egypt at the Red Sea (cf. Ex. 15:2).

Jeremiah is heavily indebted to the book of Deuteronomy for some of its concepts. The stubbornness of the people's hearts-mentioned in 9:14; 13:10; 23:17; and elsewhere-confirms the evaluation of their condition in Deuteronomy 9:27. Moses had said that an idolater was like a root that produced "bitterness" and "poison" (Deut. 29:18 [HB 29:17]). These two words-ro's and la'anâ-occur together in Jeremiah 9:14; 23:15 and in Amos 6:12. The fruit had been borne, and judgment was soon to follow. Repeatedly Jeremiah, who derives his wording from Deuteronomy 28:37, notes that Judah will be devastated and become an object of scorn and ridicule (25:9, 11; 29:18; etc.).

A sizable number of the curses found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-29 are cited in the prophetic books, an indication that these chapters were among the best-known in the Old Testament. For example, the blight and mildew threatened in Deuteronomy 28:22 do ruin the crops in Amos 4:9 and Haggai 2:17. Droughts and insects also ravage fields and vineyards (Hag. 1:10-11; Joel 1:4), in accord with the predictions of Deuteronomy 28:23, 38-39.

On the Poetic Books

The influence of the Pentateuch is not as pervasive in the poetic books, where even the word torah can mean "teaching" or "instruction" rather than the "Law" of Moses (cf. Prov 1:8). Much of the poetic materials deal with either reflective or practical wisdom, concentrating on the meaning of life (as Job or Ecclesiastes) or on the importance of hard work and controlling the tongue (as Proverbs). Nevertheless, the book of Psalms begins where Joshua did, encouraging meditation upon "the law of the Lord ... day and night" (cf. Ps. 1:2; cf. Josh. 1:8). Psalms 19 and 119 also extol the law with its precepts and statutes. Since the priests did much of the teaching in Israel it is likely that "the strands of reflective and practical wisdom and the Temple and priests were closely associated."


The ministry of Jesus and the apostles took place in a century when the Jews were keenly interested in the law of Moses, so it is not surprising that there are numerous references to the Pentateuch in the New Testament.


Except for Psalms and Isaiah, the books of the Pentateuch are the most frequently quoted in the New Testament. Deuteronomy is a close third over all, followed by Exodus, Genesis, and Leviticus. Only Numbers with its three quotations lags behind. The chapters most frequently cited are Genesis 2, 12, and 15, Exodus 3 and 20, Leviticus 19, and Deuteronomy 5, 6, and 32. Leviticus 19:18 is quoted some nine times in the synoptic gospels (Matt. 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31, 33; Luke 10:27) as well as Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; and James 2:8. The whole law could be summed up in the one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Likewise the crucial doctrine of justification by faith is firmly rooted in Genesis 15:6 (of. Rom. 4:3, 9, 22; Gal. 3:6). When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, He quoted three verses from Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:13, 16; cf. Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).


The experiences of the patriarchs and of the children of Israel are often used as "examples" or "types" (1 Cor. 10:6, 11) to illustrate spiritual truths. Abraham's encounter with Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, enabled the writer of Hebrews to speak of Christ as a priest "in the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 7:1-17). The rivalry between Hagar and Sarah and their offspring in Genesis 16-21 was used by Paul to illustrate slavery and freedom, bondage to the law versus freedom in Christ (Gal. 4:24-31).

Israel's wandering in the wilderness formed the background to Paul's reference to drinking "from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ" (1 Cot. 10:3). The episode at Mount Horeb where Moses struck the rock emphasized the satisfaction of physical thirst (Ex. 17:6). Similarly the manna God sent to sustain Israel during those forty years led Jesus to refer to Himself as the "bread from heaven" and the "bread of Life" (John 6:32, 35). The bread was Jesus' flesh, which He would "give for the life of the world" (John 6:51). Finally those who looked in faith at Moses' bronze snake and recovered from the bites of poisonous snakes (Num. 21:9) were like those who look to Jesus for deliverance from eternal death (John 3:14-15).

Christ's death is also compared in some detail to the ministry of the high priest in Moses' tabernacle. On the day of atonement the high priest had to enter the most holy place to sprinkle blood on the cover of the ark of the covenant (Lev. 16:15-17). Hebrews 9:12 says that Christ "entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption." The "manmade sanctuary ... was only a copy of the true one"; Jesus "entered heaven itself" (Heb. 9:24-25).

Through His death, Christ became the mediator of the new covenant, a covenant far superior to the old one made at Mount Sinai. The new covenant "is founded on better promises" (Heb. 8:6) and associated with joy, not the darkness and terror of Mount Sinai (Heb. 12:18-22).


Almost from start to finish the Pentateuch contains a rich store of theological truth, touching virtually every major area of theology. We learn about God's power and transcendence, but at the same time we see Him walking in the garden of Eden or fellowshiping with Moses on Mount Sinai. God is the sovereign Creator unlike any other god, but He reveals Himself by word and deed to individuals and to His covenant people Israel. Even the Egyptians learned that Yahweh was God.


Excerpted from AN INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT PENTATEUCH by HERBERT WOLF Copyright © 1991 by Herbert M. Wolf. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction
The Fivefold Division of the Pentateuch
The Unity of the Pentateuch
The Impact of the Pentateuch on the Old Testament
The Impact of the Pentateuch on the New Testament
The Theology of the Pentateuch
The Samaritan Pentateuch
The Literary Characteristics of the Pentateuch
The Significance of Moses

2. Authorship
The Case for Mosaic Authorship
Possible Sources Used by Moses
Alternative Views of the Formation of the Pentateuch
Recent Critical Approaches to the Pentateuch

3. Genesis
Purpose and Scope
Literary Structure
Problems in Genesis 1-11
The Beginnings of the Nation of Israel

4. Exodus
Purpose and Scope
Literary Structure
Liberation Theology
The Significance of the Plagues
The Passover
The Date of the Exodus
The Numerical Size of Israel
The Sinai Covenant
A Comparison with Other Ancient Law Codes
The Tabernacle as God's Dwelling Place

5. Leviticus
Purpose and Scope
Literary Structure
The Meaning of the Sacrificial System
The Role of the Priests and Levites
The Meaning of "Clean" and "Unclean"
The Day of Atonement
Holy Living
The Challenge to Obey

6. Numbers
Purpose and Scope
Literary Structure
The Organization of the Tribes
Rebellion at Kadesh Barnea
Forty Years in the Wilderness
The Enigmatic Role of Balaam
Preparation for the Promised Land

7. Deuteronomy
Purpose and Scope
Literary Structure
The Centrality of the "Shema"
The Covenant Curses: Paradigm for the Prophets

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