Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition: A Journey from Ancient Context to Contemporary Relevance


This proven Old Testament text with a wealth of full-color images helps readers connect the world of the Old Testament with today's world. Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition, newly revised, includes a book-by-book survey, new maps and graphics, and other updates throughout.

Unique among Old Testament surveys, Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition not only provides an orientation to the world of the Old Testament, but also builds a bridge between the original audience and modern ...

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Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition: A Journey from Ancient Context to Contemporary Relevance

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This proven Old Testament text with a wealth of full-color images helps readers connect the world of the Old Testament with today's world. Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition, newly revised, includes a book-by-book survey, new maps and graphics, and other updates throughout.

Unique among Old Testament surveys, Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition not only provides an orientation to the world of the Old Testament, but also builds a bridge between the original audience and modern readers, demonstrating why the ancient message is important for faith and life today. It goes beyond basic content to help students understand what the Scriptures mean and how to apply them personally.

Taking readers progressively through the Old Testament, this text: (1) presents the details of the content, focusing on the story line, historical background, and literary information that address the original setting and audience; (2) focuses on theology perspectives and on issues of the author's purpose and the universal message of the text, building a bridge between the original audience and today's audience; and (3) develops an understanding of the relevance of the Old Testament writings to today's Christian, showing how they can be applied in personal faith and practice.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780310498209
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication date: 2/11/2014
  • Edition description: Special
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 203,345
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

John H. Walton (Ph D, Hebrew Union College) is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament; Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context; Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan; The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament; and A Survey of the Old Testament.

Andrew E. Hill (Ph D, University of Michigan) is professor of Old Testament studies at Wheaton College in Illinois. He is the coauthor with John Walton of A Survey of the Old Testament and the author of Malachi in the Anchor Bible commentary series. His articles have appeared in such scholarly publications as Hebrew Annual Review, Journal of Biblical Literature, and Vetus Testamentum.

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Read an Excerpt

Old Testament Today

By John H. Walton, Andrew E. Hill


Copyright © 2013 John H. Walton and Andrew E. Hill
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-49820-9



About the Old Testament

The Old Testament can be considered a book, a part of a book, and a collection of books. It is a book to the extent that its parts form a single whole. This book is often referred to today as the Hebrew Bible since it constitutes the Scripture of the Jewish people. As history progressed and Jesus Christ came, taught, died, and rose again, a whole new round of Scripture was formed to document the life of Christ and the rise of the church and to explore the theological and practical implications of what Christ had done. This New Testament was joined with the Old to become the Christian Bible, and so the Old Testament has become part of that book.

We also understand that the Old Testament is a collection of books—thirty-nine books by various authors written over the span of a millennium. These books share a common religious perspective, but they vary widely in the types of literature they represent and the functions they serve. In the pages of these books, the reader will find consideration of origins, tribal and national histories, collections of laws, collections of poetry, philosophical discussions, and prophetic sermons. But in all of these and through all of these, the reader will find theology—or, more appropriately put, God. Although the genres (types of literature) may vary, each is theological throughout. So, for instance, the discussion of origins is not about science, it is about God. The presentation of history is not concerned with facts or events in themselves; it is concerned with God's role. And perhaps most important, rather than simply being thoughts and opinions about God, the Old Testament is God's presentation of himself: his self-revelation.

The Big Story Line/Plotline

God made the world operational and put people into it. Adam and Eve disobeyed his command, resulting in their being driven from the Garden of Eden and thus losing access to sacred space. Thus begins the story of dislocation. Over time the "Eden problem," sin, became so pervasive that God sent the flood to destroy all but Noah and his family. The Tower of Babel represents the next step, as people imagined that God had needs and saw themselves as providing the way for God to come down and have his needs met. This misperception of God can be called the "Babel problem."

Consequently, God chose Abraham to be the ancestor of a chosen people through whom he would reveal himself and correct the distortion represented at Babel. He brought Abraham to the land of Canaan, where his family lived on the brink of extinction for three generations before going down to Egypt. There they lived for more than four hundred years and became a large nation. God brought them out of great oppression in Egypt, and they began their journey back to the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. After stopping at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law—God's next phase in revealing himself—they were waylaid in the wilderness for a generation because they lacked the faith to let God lead them into the land.

Under the command of Joshua, the Israelites returned to the land and, in a series of battles, God won them control of the land. Joshua divided the land among the tribes, and they began to settle in. Over the next several centuries, known as the period of the judges, there was no king. Each tribe had its own tribal leadership, but they constantly fell prey to the surrounding nations. God allowed this because of the failure of the Israelites to be faithful to God in their beliefs.

Finally, the people initiated a move to a monarchic form of government. The first attempt, in which Saul was crowned king, failed because of unrealistic and theologically misguided expectations of the king and his role. At Saul's death, Israel was just as bad off politically and spiritually as when he came to the throne. The second attempt was more successful. David was chosen by the Lord to be king, his dynasty became established through a covenant with the Lord, and Jerusalem was made the capital city. As the empire of David expanded, Israel finally came into control of the land that had been promised to Abraham nearly a millennium earlier. He successfully passed this empire to his son Solomon, but Solomon's misjudgments and excesses in both political and theological terms eroded the empire as well as the support of the people. After Solomon's death in 931 BC, his son Rehoboam retained control of only a small section of the kingdom from Jerusalem south, while God gave a new dynasty control of the much larger northern kingdom. The southern kingdom was now designated "Judah" and the northern kingdom, under Jeroboam, was designated Israel.

For just over two hundred years, this situation continued. The Davidic dynasty remained in control in Judah, while the northern kingdom, Israel, experienced a series of dynastic lines. When the Assyrians extended their control across the ancient world in the middle of the eighth century, Israel joined a coalition against the Assyrians and eventually lost the war. The capital city, Samaria, was destroyed in 722 BC, and the northern kingdom was assimilated into the Assyrian Empire. Judah remained an independent nation but was for the most part under Assyrian control. During this time there were kings who were faithful to the Lord (such as Hezekiah), but for the middle fifty-five years, Manasseh forged a regime that accepted not only Assyrian rule, but foreign religious practice as well. The Assyrian Empire lasted for another century until it weakened and was taken over by the Medes and the Babylonians.

Already as the Assyrian Empire receded, the prophetic voices in Judah, such as Jeremiah, were calling on the people to return to the Lord and were warning of impending doom at the hands of the Babylonians. The Assyrian Empire breathed its last gasp in the fall of Carchemish in 605 BC and the Babylonians began to exert their control into Judah. For several years it is uncertain whether Babylon or Egypt would have the greatest influence, and the kings of Judah rock back and forth. Eventually Babylon prevailed as the army under Nebuchadnezzar moved west to punish the rebellious King Jehoiakim. His son Jehoiachin was taken into exile in Babylon along with many others in the administration, but the kingdom was left intact. In the next decade, however, the lure of rebellion became too strong, and King Zedekiah joined a conspiracy against the Babylonians. This time there was no mercy. The result of the Babylonian invasion in 587 was the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, the massive deportation of the Israelites, and the incorporation of Judah as a Babylonian province. The prophets' warnings had come to pass, and for the first time in over four hundred years, there was no king on David's throne.

The seventy years spent in exile are given very little treatment in the text. Prophetic voices such as Ezekiel and Daniel continued to speak, but no historical literature discusses the situation in either Israel or Babylon. When the Babylonian Empire falls to the Persian king Cyrus in 539 BC, a new policy of tolerance allowed the exiles to return to Israel and rebuild their temple. In this postexilic period, they had no king, but a governor ruled the small state of Yehud on behalf of the Persian king. Under the leadership of individuals such as Ezra and Nehemiah, the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt and the people recommitted themselves to the covenant and the Lord. Yet they remained a state under Persian rule until Alexander the Great overthrew the Persians and they become part of another empire. As Daniel had indicated, empire followed empire as the people waited for their deliverance and the return of a Davidic king, their Messiah.

Reorientation: Old Testament as Revelation, Scripture, and Authority

If it is true that the Bible is God's self-revelation, we must move beyond the superficial levels of description in the previous paragraphs. It is not enough to say "The Old Testament is a collection of thirty-nine books written in Hebrew (and Aramaic) that became the Scriptures of the Jewish people as well as Christians," although this certainly is true. But that is what the Old Testament is—we need to be reoriented to what the Old Testament does.


When we say that the Old Testament is God's revelation of himself, we are affirming that in the Old Testament God is telling us his story. So begins our quest in the Bible. We need to know God, and the Bible is his story. When we first come to know someone, we become acquainted by relating parts of our stories to one another. The first pages we open include our name, our hometown, and other basic information. As acquaintances become friends, they unfold more and more of their stories to one another. They discover likes and dislikes, past history, present struggles and joys, and future hopes and dreams. We gauge how well we know a person by how much we know of their story. When people come to love one another, they want to know every story, and they delight in hearing those stories over and over again.

How can we come to know God? By relating stories to one another. God relates his story through his Word, the Bible. We relate our stories through prayer. God's story is intended to help us to know him. When we see his attributes in action, we come to understand the implications of those attributes. If I were to boast of a friend's kindness, my assessment would be most persuasive if I were able to tell of some of the incidents in which that kindness was evident in unique ways. Once in an initial conversation with a real estate agent, we discovered that we had a mutual acquaintance. My statement that this mutual acquaintance was a good friend could have been understood at various levels. But when I elaborated by saying that his family lived at our house for three weeks while their house was being remodeled, the person had a lot better idea of the level of our friendship. So it is with God. It is not enough to say simply that he is sovereign, just, faithful, loving, gracious, compassionate, or anything else. We know God by hearing his story and by others telling us of things he has done. We know God by seeing his attributes in action and thereby gaining insight into the warp and woof of his character. The Bible accomplishes this for us, and that is why we refer to it as God's revelation of himself.

If we had no revelation, we would only be able to guess what God was like. We would have to infer from the world around us or from philosophical deduction or from the circumstances of human experience. Like ancients who had no revelation, moderns who refuse to acknowledge the Bible as God's revelation are mired in this bog of uncertainty. If they believe there is a God, the world around them might suggest he is arbitrary or distant. Human experience might suggest to them that he is cruel or meddling. Speculation might conclude that he is like a genie in a bottle, a cosmic cop, or a kindly grandparent.

Only revelation can correct these misperceptions. Without the Bible we would know nothing about God with any confidence. Only revelation can offer information outside of ourselves by which we can form a confident and accurate image of God in our minds. As we proceed through our orientation to the Old Testament, one of the most important tasks we will face is to understand how God's story is presented or advanced through each book and how the different genres function to offer us this story.


In many ways in various places—from Sinai and the prophets in the Old Testament to the statements of the apostles in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20–21—the Bible presents itself as God's self-disclosure. It is because we accept these claims of the Bible to be God's revelation, God's story, that we label it Scripture. It is not like any other book; it is not just good or classic literature; it is not just a repository of traditions; it is not just entertainment. Once we label it as Scripture, it is no longer just anything. Yet even among the books that the major religions of the world label as scripture, the Bible holds a unique position. Even most other scriptures are not revered as the self-revelation of deity—they are simply seen as sacred books. If we were left with a Bible that was just a sacred book, our confidence in our faith would be badly compromised. If the Bible were reduced to being the wise thoughts of spiritual people about God, our hope would be shattered.

But how can we be so confident that the Bible is revealed Scripture? Normal responses include reference to fulfilled prophecies and historical accuracy—these have an important role to play, and they help but fall short of offering absolute proof. Skeptics can always find examples of prophecies that don't pair up well with fulfillments or historical statements that can be undermined. Moreover, even if everyone agreed that every historical statement was above reproach, that would not prove the book was God's revelation of himself. In the end, the confidence we have derives from Christ. The Old Testament was the Bible to him—his basis for teaching who God is, what he is like, and what he did. If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, his testimony seals our acceptance of the Old Testament as revealed Scripture.


The implication of the belief that the Bible is God's revelation of himself is that we must accept it as authoritative. At the center of this authority is not what the Bible tells us to do, although its commands and instructions cannot be ignored. The center of its authority is found in what it tells us to think and believe. It is true that if the Bible says something happened, we believe it happened; if the Bible says someone existed, we believe he or she existed; these are implications of its authority. But the core of its authority is to be found in what it tells us God is like. We are compelled by its authority to accept this picture of God, place it in the center of our worldview, and make it the basis for everything we think and do. Its picture of God is true, and this picture demands our response. In our reorientation to the Old Testament, we need to come to know the Old Testament not merely as laws and history, psalms and prophecy, but as God's authoritative revelation of himself. If we can do this, the end result will not just be that we will be educated; we will be transformed—godly people living holy lives committed to imitating and serving the God we have come to know through the Bible.

Expectations and Procedures

Most people come to the Old Testament with certain expectations. Some are skeptics and expect myths or legends. Some are believers who have had bad experiences with the Old Testament —frustrated by its laws, bored by its history, or confused by its prophecy. Many have written off the Old Testament as irrelevant to the modern world, and many have concluded that the God of the Old Testament is a tyrant. Some expect moralizing stories of saints and sinners, while others want to find mystical guidance for life. These expectations coupled with our past experiences with the Bible have given us a collection of assumptions about the Old Testament. Whether those presuppositions are insubstantial and blurred or extensive and dogmatic, we must be willing to recognize them and set them aside as we approach the text as if for the first time.

One of the ways we can readjust our expectations is to learn to study the text with an eye toward the big picture. Imagine a large tapestry portraying an expansive view of the countryside with harbor and shore on one side and steep mountain ranges on the other. In the middle is pictured a castle surrounded by a forest. This landscape is also a snapshot of a momentous historical event, for the castle is under siege. The battlements and towers of the castle are not only festooned with flags and banners; they are swarming with the fully armored defenders who look out on the encampment of the enemy. One can see scattered throughout the forest the tents of the would-be conquerors, including the grand pavilion of their king and the line of tethered horses anticipating the upcoming clash. Over by the sea the harbor is busy as an army disembarks from dozens of ships loaded with supplies and weaponry. And through the mountains on the other side, yet another army wends its way to the aid of one of the combatants. But at the center and focus of the tapestry is the lowered drawbridge of the castle where the king of the besieged fortress leads a sortie out to engage the enemy, perhaps to catch him unaware and unprepared, turn the tide of the war, and gain a victory for his demoralized people. As his proud white horse gallops across the drawbridge, the banner flaps in the wind and the sun glints off each spear but mostly off the golden crown that indicates the royalty of the one who leads the charge.

Excerpted from Old Testament Today by John H. Walton, Andrew E. Hill. Copyright © 2013 John H. Walton and Andrew E. Hill. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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

I. Fundamentals
II. The Pentateuch a. Introduction to the Pentateuch and its Time i. Summary of biblical story (13 pages)
ii. Summary of ancient Near Eastern history (11 pages)
b. Introduction to the Literature and Theology of the Pentateuch i. Literary Background (15 pages)
ii. Theological Flow (plotline) (3 pages/4 pages)
iii. Theological Topics (20 pages)
c. Introduction to the Books of the Pentateuch i. Genesis ii. Exodus iii. Leviticus iv. Numbers v. Deuteronomy d. The Pentateuch Today: Relevance and Application (23 pages)
III. Old Testament Narrative (specify from the Former Prophets and Writings?)
a. Introduction to the Old Testament Narrative and its Time i. Summary of the biblical story (20 pages)
ii. Summary of ancient Near Eastern history (18 pages)
b. Introduction to the Literature and Theology of Old Testament Narrative i. Historiography in the ancient world (6 pages)
ii. Theological Flow (plotline) (9 pages/11 pages)
iii. Theological Topics (7 pages)
c. Introduction to the Books of Narrative Literature i. Joshua ii. Judges iii. Ruth iv. 1 and 2 Samuel v. 1 and 2 Kings vi. 1 and 2 Chronicles vii. Ezra/Nehemiah viii. Esther d. Old Testament Narrative Today: Relevance and Application (14 pages)
IV. Wisdom and Psalms a. Introduction to Wisdom and Wisdom Literature (5 pages)
b. Introduction to the Literature of Psalms (20 pages)
c. Introduction to the Theology of Wisdom Literature and Psalms (14 pages)
d. Introduction to the Wisdom Books and Psalms i. Job ii. Psalms iii. Proverbs (include “Proverbs and Truth”?)
iv. Ecclesiastes v. Song of Songs e. Wisdom Literature and Psalms Today: Relevance and Application (26 pages)
V. Prophets and Prophetic Literature a. Introduction to Prophecy and Prophetic Literature (18 pages)
b. Introduction to the Theology of the Prophetic Books (10 pages)
c. Introduction to the Books of Prophetic Literature i. Isaiah ii. Jeremiah iii. Lamentations iv. Ezekiel v. Daniel vi. Hosea and Amos vii. Joel and Obadiah viii. Jonah ix. Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah x. Haggai and Zechariah xi. Malachi d. Prophetic Literature Today: Relevance and Application (20 pages)
VI. Epilogue

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