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The first five books of the Old Testament, sometimes called "the books of Moses," are also called the Pentateuch. Jewish tradition labeled these books collectively as the Torah, which means "teaching, instruction." In English Bibles these first five books are commonly called "Law." This designation is misleading. Large portions are not law at all; they are actually inspiring narratives.
The Pentateuch is one continuous narrative, but because of the physical limitations of scrolls, it was necessary to divide the narrative into five segments more easily manageable on leather or vellum scrolls. This division dates at least to the second century BC. The partitioning creates the unfortunate impression that these are distinct compositions to be interpreted separately. This is wrong. The story that begins in Genesis 1:1 climaxes with the making of the covenant at Sinai and ends with Moses's theological exposition of the covenant in Deuteronomy.
The pivotal event of the Pentateuch is God's revelation of himself at Sinai. Everything before is prologue, and all that comes after is epilogue. At Sinai the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob formally became the God of Israel, binding Abraham's descendants to him by confirming the eternal covenant (Exod 31:16-17; Lev 24:8; cp. Judg 2:1).
The theological themes developed in the Pentateuch are God as Creator (Gen 1–2); God as Judge of sinful humanity, who spared Noah (Gen 3:1–10:32); God as the one who elected his agents of blessing the world, entered into covenant relationship with them, and promised to give the land of Canaan to their descendants as an eternal possession (Gen 11:37–50:26); God as the one who redeemed his people from slavery (Exod 1:1–15:21); God as the one who accompanied his people during their desert travels, providing for their physical needs and punishing the faithless (Exod 15:22–17:7; 18:127; Num 10:11–20:29); God as the one who entered into covenant relationship with and revealed his will comprehensively to Israel at Sinai (Exod 19:1–Num 10:10); God as the one who fights for Israel against their enemies (Exod 17:8-16; Num 22:1–25:18); God as the one who would give Israel their land and promised to be with them after the death of Moses (Num 26:1–Deut 34:12).
Jewish and Christian traditions almost unanimously recognize Moses as author of the Pentateuch; however, the fact remains that nowhere does the Pentateuch specifically name its author. As was common in the ancient Semitic world, it is anonymous. On the other hand, the internal evidence suggests that Moses kept a record of Israel's experiences in the desert (Exod 17:14; 24:4,7; 34:27; Num 33:1-2; Deut 31:9). Furthermore, many statements in the Old Testament credit the Pentateuch to Moses (e.g., Josh 1:7; 8:31-32; 1 Kgs 2:3;2 Kgs 14:6; Ezra 6:18; Neh 13:1; Dan 9:11-13; Mal 4:4), and the New Testament identifies the Torah very closely with Moses (Matt 19:8; John 5:46-47; 7:19; Acts 3:22; Rom 10:5).
Technically, Genesis is anonymous, but it is one of the five books (Genesis–Deuteronomy; the Pentateuch) associated with Moses by both Old Testament and New Testament writers.
Moses, who lived in the 1400s BC, wrote Genesis, even though the events he recorded occurred long before his time and the book itself saw later editorial updates.
The God who created human beings and punished disobedience with death began his great plan of redemption with his covenant with Abraham and his descendants.
The book of Genesis is the book of beginnings in the Bible. Genesis ties together creation and human history, then largely narrowing its focus to the lives of Israel's famous patriarchs. Chapters 1–11 contain a selective history of the entire human race; chapters 12–50 tell the story of the direct ancestors of the Israelites. Within those two broad divisions, chapters 1–2 deal with creation, while chapter 3 tells of the entrance of sin into the world. Chapters 6–9 detail the great flood and the preservation of Noah and his family, after which God scattered people over the face of the earth (chaps. 10–11). God's plan for redemption centered in Abraham (12:1-3) and continued through Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, whose lives and works are narrated in chapters 12–50.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1).
"Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:6).
Food for Thought
God is the sovereign Lord and Creator of all things whose control over human history is so complete that even the worst of human deeds can be turned to serve his benevolent purposes (50:20).
Through Genesis we understand where we came from, how we got in the fallen state we are in, and the beginnings of God's plan of salvation on our behalf.
Technically, Exodus is anonymous, but it is one of the five books (Genesis — Deuteronomy; the Pentateuch) associated with Moses by both Old Testament and New Testament writers.
Moses wrote Exodus sometime between 1445 BC and 1406 BC.
When God redeemed his chosen people Israel through his servant Moses, he entered into a covenant relationship with them and instituted a place of dwelling with them — the tabernacle.
Exodus records God's act of saving the Israelites and establishing them as a covenant community, a nation chosen to serve and represent him. Exodus describes the enslavement and oppression of the Israelites (chap. 1); the preparation and call of Moses (chaps. 2–4); the conflict between Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the gods of Egypt (represented by Pharaoh) in the 10 plagues and institution of the Passover (chaps. 5–13); the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (chaps. 14–18); their establishment as a nation in covenant with the Lord and the giving of the Ten Commandments and other laws (chaps. 19–23); Israel's rebellion (chaps. 32–34); and the Lord's provision for their ongoing relationship, symbolized by his presence at the tabernacle the Israelites built for him (chaps. 24–31; 35–40).
"That day the Lord saved Israel from the power of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. When Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and believed in him and in his servant Moses" (Exod 14:30-31).
"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides me" (Exod 20:2-3).
Food for Thought
The book of Exodus shows God at work with the goal of having close fellowship with people whom he made his treasured possession and through whom he would bless the world. He rescued the Israelites in order to make himself known, not only by the exercise of his power but also through an ongoing covenant relationship based on his capacity for patience, grace, and forgiveness. The record of what the Lord did for the Israelites provided grounds for them to recognize him as their God who deserved their complete loyalty and obedience.
Just as God delivered the Israelites who were under the protection of the blood of the Passover lamb from physical slavery in Egypt, so Jesus delivers those who trust in the death of the true Passover Lamb from slavery to sin.
Technically, Leviticus is anonymous, but it is one of the five books (Genesis — Deuteronomy; the Pentateuch) associated with Moses by both Old Testament and New Testament writers.
Moses wrote Leviticus sometime between 1445 BC and 1406 BC.
When God forgives people their sins and declares them holy, he then expects them to live in fellowship with him by following his regulations concerning separated holy living.
Leviticus sets forth God's means of grace by which a sinful people can stay in right relationship with him. Forgiveness is granted through right sacrifices offered the right way by the right priests. God's people maintain fellowship with him by living according to his regulations and being separate from the moral corruption of the world around them. Chapters 1–7 deal with the nature, purpose, and rituals of sacrifice. Chapters 8–10 describe the establishment of the priesthood. The laws concerning what was clean and unclean (chaps. 11–15) were designed to remind Israel that it was to be separate from the world. The annual Day of Atonement (chap. 16) reminded Israel of its need for purification by having its sins covered and removed. The "Holiness Code" in chapters 17–25 focuses on the moral holiness of the people. A warning about blessings and curses and instructions about consecration, or dedication, offerings close the book (chaps. 26–27).
"For I am the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, so you must be holy because I am holy" (Lev 11:45).
"The Lord spoke to Moses: 'Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy'" (Lev 19:1-2).
"You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be mine" (Lev 20:26).
Food for Thought
Leviticus is primarily a collection of laws. These laws can be divided into two groups. First are the commands. These are both positive ("You must ...") and negative ("You must not ..."). The second type of laws is case law using an example of what to do if such-and-such happened ("If a man ..."). God also gave further civil laws, moral laws, and ceremonial laws to help his people know how to live holy lives in community.
God's people are to reflect his holiness in every aspect of their lives and in all their relationships.
Technically, Numbers is anonymous, but it is one of the five books (Genesis — Deuteronomy; the Pentateuch) associated with Moses by both Old Testament and New Testament writers.
Moses wrote Numbers sometime between 1445 BC and 1406 BC.
God used Moses to lead Israel from Sinai to Kadesh. After Israel rejected him there by not entering the promised land, resulting in 40 years of wilderness wandering, God remained faithful and led a new generation to the edge of the promised land.
Numbers answers the questions: How did Israel get from Mount Sinai to the border of the promised land? and Why did the journey take so long? The book contrasts God's faithfulness with Israel's disobedience. Numbers opens with a census that reveals God had blessed Israel with the strength necessary to conquer the promised land (chaps. 1–2). This is followed by organization of the nation for worship (chaps. 3–4), instructions for preserving the purity of God's people (chaps. 5–6), and the building of the tabernacle (chaps. 7–9). As Israel traveled, they grumbled against Moses and his leadership (chaps. 10–12). Spies were sent into the land, but Israel rejected God's plan to bring the nation into the promised land (chaps. 13–14). Thus Israel was condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation died off and God again brought the next generation to the edge of the promised land (chaps. 15–36).
"Whenever the cloud was lifted up above the tent, the Israelites would set out; at the place where the cloud stopped, there the Israelites camped" (Num 9:17).
"I, the Lord, have spoken. I swear that I will do this to the entire evil community that has conspired against me. They will come to an end in the wilderness, and there they will die" (Num 14:35).
Food for Thought
A key turning point in Numbers is when the Lord commanded Moses to send a leader from each of the 12 tribes to scout out the land of Canaan. Ten of these leaders came back and said it would be impossible for Israel to take possession of the land. Joshua and Caleb brought a minority report that Israel certainly could possess the land (chaps. 13–14). The majority ruled, with the result that Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.
The experience of the Israelites in the book of Numbers shows there are consequences to disobedience, but God's grace remains, and his redemptive plan and desire for his people will not be stopped.
Moses (1:1,5; 31:24-26).
Moses wrote Deuteronomy sometime before 1406 BC; however the book saw later editorial updates.
Through Moses's great speeches near the end of his life, God reminded Israel on the verge of entering the promised land about his mighty acts, his covenant, and his many commandments.
Deuteronomy consists of Moses's four farewell messages to a new generation of Israelites. The setting is 40 years after the exodus from Egypt. Israel is poised to enter the promised land. In these farewell messages Moses pleads passionately with his people to keep God at the center of their national life once they begin to take possession of the land. In Moses's first address (1:6–4:40) he recounted Israel's journeys in the wilderness and stressed the need for obedience. In his second address (4:44–28:68) Moses taught lessons from the law, giving instructions for life in the land of Canaan. His third address (29:1–30:20) focused on covenant renewal and blessings and curses. Moses's final address (31:1–29) was his farewell message. The Song of Moses is recorded in 31:30–32:52, his blessing on Israel in chapter33, and his death in chapter 34.
"Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deut 6:4-5).
"For I am commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess" (Deut 30:16).
"I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the Lord your God, obey him, and remain faithful to him. For he is your life, and he will prolong your days as you live in the land the Lord swore to give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Deut 30:19-20).
Food for Thought
A chief task of the people of God is conveying to the next generation who God is, what he has done, and his requirements. Moses charges Israel with taking to heart their confession of faith, the Shema (6:4-5). He further enjoins them to keep God's Word before them, letting it shape everyday conversations and actions within the family (6:7-9).
God's words are not empty expressions but are a matter of life and death.CHAPTER 2
THE HISTORICAL BOOKS
The Historical Books in the English Bible are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. This continuous narrative traces the history of Israel from the conquest of Canaan by Joshua (about 1400 BC) to the restoration of the Jews during the Persian period (about 400 BC) — about a thousand years of Israel's history. These books cover the years of Israel's conquest and settlement of the promised land under Joshua, the leadership of the judges over the tribes of Israel, the reigns of the kings during both the united kingdom and the divided kingdoms, the fall of the northern kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians, the captivity of the southern kingdom in Babylon, and the Jews' return to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile.
At first, the books of 1 and 2 Samuel were one book, as were 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah. The Septuagint — the oldest Greek translation of the Old Testament — was the first to divide the books. Our English Bibles follow the Septuagint and arrange the Historical Books in a loosely chronological order. The Hebrew canon arranges the Historical Books differently. The Hebrew canon consists of three divisions (Law, Prophets, and Writings). Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings are in the Prophets. Within this division they are designated the Former Prophets (the Latter Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Minor Prophets). First and Second Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah occur in the Writings as the final four books of the Hebrew canon, with Chronicles coming last. The books of Ruth and Esther also appear in the Writings in the Hebrew Bible.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Bible Guide"
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Table of Contents
Reading the Bible for Transformation,
The Historical Books,
The Books of Poetry and Wisdom,
Song of Songs,
The Old Testament Prophets,
The Gospels and Acts,
The New Testament Letters,