Read an Excerpt
Survey of the Old Testament: Everyman's Bible Commentary
By Paul N. Benware
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1993 Paul N. Benware
All rights reserved.
INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT
THE IMPORTANCE OF STUDYING THE OLD TESTAMENT
A person will never properly understand the New Testament Scriptures if the Old Testament Scriptures remain a mystery to him. Yet for the average Christian the pattern, unity, and progression of the Old Testament remain vague or unknown. Although almost everyone knows about Noah and the ark, Moses and the Red Sea, and numerous other stories found in the books of the Old Testament, the Old Testament itself often seems fragmented and is seen only as a loosely knit group of stories. But to understand God's ways and His purposes in this age, as well as His plans for the future ages, requires a clear comprehension of the Old Testament.
For example, there are about 350 direct quotes or clear allusions from the Old Testament found in the New Testament book of Revelation. This amounts to about fifteen Old Testament references per chapter. It is no wonder that for many who do not have a good grip on the Old Testament, Revelation is essentially a closed book. Or who can really appreciate the apostle Paul's discussion about Israel in Romans 9–11 if there is no understanding of Genesis 12 and Jeremiah 31? Comprehending the Old Testament is crucial to understanding the New Testament.
Great doctrinal truths are developed in the Old Testament. For example, significant revelations concerning the attributes of God are recorded. The New Testament, of course, concerns itself with the Person of God, but it is the Old Testament that gives us our basic understanding of God's majesty, power, holiness, and sovereignty. His love, goodness, and wisdom are the subjects of many psalms and numerous prophetic declarations. What can rival Isaiah 40 on the greatness of God or Psalm 23 on the loving care of God?
Perhaps it is our lack of understanding of the Old Testament that has brought about a basic deficiency in our knowledge of God and, as a result, our walk with Him.
The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be unworthy of thinking, worshiping men The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.
After serious study of the Old Testament, one is inclined to walk with more reverence before our majestic God.
So much foundational truth is found in the Old Testament-truth that the New Testament writers assume we know and understand. An almost endless list of doctrinal truths and meaningful facts could be given to validate the importance of the Old Testament to the New. Yet so often, students of the Scriptures wrestle with truth found in the books of the New Testament because they fail to recognize Old Testament background.
THE PURPOSE OF THIS SURVEY BOOK
The purpose of this study is to assist the Bible student in seeing the pattern, progression, and unity of the Old Testament Scriptures and to be able to think through the entire Old Testament. A person must see the "big picture," and then he can begin to relate the various parts to this comprehensive view. Also, it is the purpose of this book to develop the central, unifying theme of the Old Testament, which is God's covenant promises to the nation of Israel.
THE APPROACH OF THIS SURVEY BOOK
The Old Testament is made up of thirty-nine books. These books contain the history of the nation of Israel, the laws of God for Israel, insightful and inspiring poetry, and the messages of numerous prophets. To observe how these books relate to one another our study will begin with and will emphasize the eleven "foundational books." These eleven books develop the story line of the Old Testament. Since these foundational books form the chronological and historical basis for the other twenty-eight books, the great emphasis in this study of the Old Testament will be placed on them. Once we work our way through the foundational books, the other books will be linked to this historical base. This approach will aid in our awareness of the pattern and progression of the Old Testament Scriptures (see chart "Order and Classification of the Books of the Old Testament," pages 16–17).
Another emphasis of this study will be to develop the central, unifying theme of the Old Testament, which is God's covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants. God's great covenant promises to Israel are the "glue" that holds the Old Testament together. In fact, the whole of the Bible is unified by God's covenant relationship with Israel, which also includes the Gentiles. It is unlikely that a full comprehension of the "New" covenant, based on the death of Jesus Christ, can exist without understanding its Old Testament context.
When the chronological framework is understood and the unifying theme is observed, the Old Testament makes sense. The fragmentation is gone, and the unity, pattern, and progression can be appreciated.CHAPTER 2
OVERVIEW OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Old Testament is the story of the nation of Israel, a nation unique and distinct from all the nations of the earth because God Himself entered into a covenant relationship with them. It is the story of a nation designed by God to bring glory to Himself and salvation to mankind—a story of the great spiritual victories and defeats of men and the amazing faithfulness and grace of God.
GOD'S DEALINGS WITH MANKIND
The Old Testament is divided into two distinct parts, each covering several thousand years of history. The first is Genesis 1–11 and is a record of God's dealings with mankind generally. During those years, there was no special group such as the church or the nation of Israel. God's dealings were with individuals. Since we do not know the exact date of the creation of the universe, we cannot say with certainty, as some do, that Genesis 1–11 covers two thousand years. It could be several thousand years more (but not millions or billions of years). Much is not recorded about these early years of man, but four important events are included—the creation account, the Fall of man, the great Flood of Noah's day, and the division of mankind at the Tower of Babel. These events are briefly recorded so that we understand where this material universe came from, where sin and evil came from, and why the world of mankind is so fragmented. But the first few thousand years of human history are passed over quickly in order to get to the main emphasis of the Old Testament, which is the selection of Israel as God's chosen nation.
GOD'S DEALINGS WITH ISRAEL
The second distinct part of the Old Testament covers about 2,000 years. This part begins with Genesis 12 and includes all the rest of the Old Testament. Genesis 12 is the cornerstone chapter of the Bible. It is here that God selects a man by the name of Abraham and enters into an eternal, unconditional covenant with him and his descendants. God made many promises to Abraham. These promises included personal blessings to Abraham and his descendants and blessings that would include all the rest of mankind.
The Abrahamic Covenant
In this covenant, God promised that from Abraham He would make a great nation. The first four foundational books (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Joshua) record the formation of the nation of Israel. In order to have a nation, three basic elements must be present—people, law, and land.
Genesis 12–50 records how God began to populate this new nation. In these chapters God's dealings with Abraham and his family make it abundantly clear to all that God is the giver of life and He guarantees the "people element" of a nation. When Genesis ends the nation has grown to about seventy-five people, which is not usually thought of as a "great" nation. But during the 275 years between Genesis and Exodus, a population explosion took place. By the Exodus, the nation's population had grown to more than 2 million. The people element of the nation was completed.
The Mosaic Law
Next, in order to function as a legitimate nation, Israel needed a code of laws to live by. Israel had become enslaved to the Egyptians during the period between Genesis and Exodus, but was miraculously set free by God and His human leader Moses. After their mighty deliverance, recorded in the book of Exodus, the people of Israel journeyed to Mount Sinai, where they received their constitution, laws covering all aspects of life. They camped at Mount Sinai for about a year, receiving the law and constructing their portable worship center, the Tabernacle.
The Promised Land
When the year at Mount Sinai was completed, Israel left to possess the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. This land was part of the covenant God had made with Abraham about four hundred years before. With the taking of this land, the third and last element would be fulfilled, and Israel would begin her role as a "great" nation. However, the third foundational book, Numbers, records a terrible moment in Israel's history. At that time, Israel refused to believe and obey God, which kept her from possessing the land. Instead of living in Canaan, Israel wandered aimlessly in a wilderness region for almost forty years.
When that period of discipline was over, Israel headed to the east side of the Jordan River and prepared to cross into her land. It was at this time that Israel's great leader Moses died. Just before Moses' death, God chose Joshua to lead the nation. He led Israel across the river and into the land of the wicked Canaanites. He directed the armies of Israel in the destruction of the main strongholds of the Canaanites. This period of warfare lasted from five to seven years. With the breaking of Canaanite power, the people of Israel could lay claim to the entire land. Israel now had people, laws, and a land. The period of the formation of the nation was over (see chart "Eras of Old Testament History," page 23).
Joshua then divided the land, giving each of the twelve tribes of Israel a clearly delineated area. It was now the task of each individual tribe to complete the conquest of the land by eliminating every single Canaanite living in its tribal area. God had specifically commanded them not to intermarry with the Canaanites, not to make treaties with them, and not to allow any to live among them. Unfortunately, Israel once again chose not to obey.
The National Rulers
When Joshua died, Israel entered a new era in its national life. God did not replace Joshua with a new leader for His people. It was God's intention that the newly formed nation be a theocracy (God ruling) with no single human leader. God would govern through the law given at Sinai and through the priests as the interpreters and enforcers of the law. But the theocracy turned out to be a failure because Israel would not obey her own constitution. The fifth foundational book, Judges, records these years, known primarily for their defeat and failure. During the more than three hundred years of the theocracy, judges had to be raised up again and again in crisis situations. The judges would deliver Israel from her enemies and bring in a time of obedience and peace. But those times eventually gave way once again to sin, unbelief, and idolatry. Another judge would be raised up by God, and the cycle would repeat itself.
After three centuries of repeated failure, Israel demanded a human king. Even though this was a repudiation of God's ruler-ship, He allowed Saul to become Israel's first king. With Saul's coronation Israel entered a third era in her history—the period of the monarchy. The next four foundational books (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings) record the next 450 years of Israel's history. First and 2 Samuel tell the stories of Israel's first king, Saul, and Israel's greatest king, David. It was with King David that God made a marvelous covenant, much of which is fulfilled in David's "great son," the Lord Jesus Christ. David's son Solomon reigned after the death of David and was the third and last king to rule over all of Israel's twelve tribes.
The Divided Nation
Because of Solomon's sinful ways, God judged the family of David by dividing the nation into two separate kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom, Israel, consisted of ten tribes. The Southern Kingdom was called Judah and was made up of two tribes ruled by the family of David. For two centuries these two kingdoms coexisted, sometimes as friends and other times as foes. But the time of the divided kingdom came to an end when, because of sin and idolatry, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the nation of Assyria. The Southern Kingdom existed alone for more than one hundred years. It lasted longer because it was blessed with the presence of some godly kings. But, like the North, the Southern Kingdom went into idolatry. This time God used the nation of Babylon as His rod of discipline. Many people from the Southern Kingdom, including Daniel and Ezekiel, were deported from Judah to Babylonia. The nation lived in captivity for about seventy years.
The Partial Restoration
Finally, in fulfillment of His promise, God restored many of the people to their own land. The final period in the Old Testament history of Israel is recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah, the final two foundational books. This 150-year period focuses on both the political and spiritual restoration of Judah, and on several great men who were used in that restoration.
With the end of the book of Nehemiah, the story of the Old Testament comes to a close. Some four hundred years would go by before the Scriptures would pick up the story again. The years of silence would be broken by an angelic messenger, Gabriel, who would announce the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus the Messiah, the "great son" of David. God had not forgotten or gone back on His covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants.
This is a brief overview of the basic story of the Old Testament. Now our task is to look with greater care at each of the foundational books and then link to them the rest of the books of the Old Testament.CHAPTER 3
INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS
Authorship and Date of Genesis
The book of Genesis is part of the sacred Scriptures. Ultimately, therefore, God is the author and the source of all this recorded truth. Every Scripture is "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16). But God did employ men to write down His message. Each human author used his own writing style, vocabulary, background, and personality as he wrote the truth of God. These men were "carried along" by the Holy Spirit of God in their efforts (2 Pet. 1:20–21), thus guaranteeing the accuracy and the authority of the writings. Genesis and the other Old Testament books are, therefore, documents with dual authorship—God's and man's.
Moses was the human author of Genesis and the other books of the Pentateuch. (Pentateuch is a Greek word commonly used for the first five books of the Old Testament.) These five "books of the Law" were written by Moses alone, with the exception of Deuteronomy 34, which records the death of Moses. (For a further discussion of the Mosaic authorship of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch, see Note A, "The Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch," page 283.)
The writing of Genesis, and the rest of the Pentateuch, most likely took place after the Exodus and before Israel's entrance into the land of Canaan, probably during the days of Israel's forty-year wilderness wandering. This author holds to an early date for the Exodus (about 1445 B.C.) and so assigns the date for the writing of Genesis at about 1425 B.C.
Purpose of Genesis
Genesis is the book of beginnings. It was written, first, to tell us clearly and definitely that God created all things directly. The entire organized universe was brought into existence by the powerful, all-knowing, creator God. Second, Genesis was written to record the beginning of many other elements that exist in our world today. The beginnings of such important matters as marriage, languages, nations, sin, and worship are recorded. A third purpose of the book is to relate how Israel, through Abraham, was selected from among the peoples of the world to become God's chosen nation.
Excerpted from Survey of the Old Testament: Everyman's Bible Commentary by Paul N. Benware. Copyright © 1993 Paul N. Benware. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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.