Managing Editor: David Sper
Cover Photo: Images of Nature/T. Mangelsen
©1990 RBC Ministries--Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA
Every person who truly wants to know God must read
the Old Testament. Its 39 books introduce the reader to a world of fascinating
people, amazing history, lofty poetry, and profound prophecy. The center
of it all is not a system of laws and ideals but an infinite, personal God--a God we can know.
This booklet has been written to help you know this God as He has made Himself known through the Old Testament. We encourage you to read this publication, written by David Egner, with your Bible open and pencil in hand. Our prayer is that as you work through these pages your knowledge of God will grow and flourish like a young tree planted beside a sparkling brook.
Martin R. De Haan II, President of RBC Ministries
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It begins with God.
The Old Testament story emerges like a tiny shaft of light way off in the distance, races toward us through the darkness, and bursts over us in a crescendo of light, color, and sound. It fills our minds, our emotions and our spirits with the majesty and presence of Almighty God Himself.
It's a marvelous story as it unfolds. It's Adam's story. It's Noah's story. It's Israel's story. It's our story. But most of all, it's God's story. It's the opening of His book, the explanation of His character, and the record of His mighty deeds among men from the beginning of time.
Even so, the Old Testament has been undiscovered
by many people. To them its wealth lies hidden, like a vast vein of gold
under someone's backyard.
Except for a few familiar passages cherished by millions--Genesis 1, Psalm 23, Isaiah 53--it remains a closed book even to many Christians. Comments like these may be heard:
The Old Testament is not relevant to today's world. Its ideas are old-fashioned and its language is obscure. Who needs to know about old Jewish kings and outdated laws? We need a book for today.
The Old Testament is filled with things that sound more like myths and legends than realities--serpents that talk and fish that swallow people whole. I'd rather read about things that can be proven scientifically.
I've tried to read the Old Testament but I find it boring. My mind wanders and I just can't get interested It's pretty dull reading.
Frankly, the Old Testament scares me. It's too big. Besides, there's so much killing and war. And God seems so mean. The New Testament is more full of love.
Admittedly, to a new reader the Old Testament does
seem overwhelming. It does have sections that are hard to read. And it does
contain violence. But once a person grasps some basic facts about it, the
Old Testament is not nearly as imposing or old-fashioned as it may seem.
It's exciting. It's dramatic. It's realistic. It tells us things we need
to know about ourselves and our world. And most of all, the Old Testament
tells us about God!
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Once you discover the Old Testament and begin to read and study it, you will find that it is filled with great riches. Here are some of the reasons it is a treasurehouse of wealth to its reader.
1. The Old Testament provides the foundation for the whole Bible. The Bible is made up of two Testaments--Old and New. Both are equally part of the Bible. Both tell us about God. Both inform us about basic truths we need to know. But without a grasp of the Old Testament, the New Testament cannot be fully understood or appreciated; without the New, the Old is left incomplete. The Old Testament establishes the foundation of truth, the New Testament then builds the superstructure.
2. The Old Testament tells us about Jesus Christ. We cannot fully know about Christ and His purpose for coming into our world without studying the Old Testament. It tells us about Him in word pictures and types. It predicts His coming. It puts His ministry into focus. It gives graphic previews of His sacrifice for sin. It goes beyond today to tell us of His judgment of the world and His coming kingdom of peace. In fact, the Old Testament tells us so much about Jesus that some Bible teachers have said Christ can be seen on every page.
3. The Old Testament provides the foundation for faith in Christ. The Christian faith is built on the Old Testament, Erich Sauer, in his book The Dawn of World Redemption, said this:
The Old Testament is promise and expectation, the New is fulfillment and completion. The Old is the marshaling of the hosts to the battle of God, the New is the triumph of the crucified One The Old is the dawn of morning, the New is the rising sun and the light of eternal day.
If Christianity, the "religion of Christ," may be likened to a magnificent cathedral, the Old Testament is its unshakable foundation.
4. The Old Testament helps us to know God. More than anything, the Old Testament tells us about God. It makes Him known in these ways:
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The story of the Old Testament begins at creation and ends about 400 year before the birth of Jesus Christ. Its primary setting is Palestine, but its events take place in a variety of locations--the palaces of Egypt and Babylon, the deserts of Sinai and Arabia the mountains of Ararat, Nebo, and Carmel. Although its primary emphasis is on the Jews, its story involves many peoples of the world: Egyptians, Hittites, Babylonians, Canaanites, Syrians, and a host of smaller groups. It tells of migration, military campaigns, political intrigue, and romance. It has heroes and villains; servant girls and queens; prophets and poets; judges, priests, and kings.
The Old Testament was written over a period of 1000 years (1400-400 BC) by about 30 different authors. Its historical record extends from creation to the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon. It is made up of 39 books, which may be divided into three major sections: history, poetry, and prophecy. The following chart shows you how the numbers 12 and 5 will help you remember the main segments of the Old Testament:
First, we will see how God is made known through the four phases of Old Testament history by looking at representative incidents from each phase. As we see how God worked directly in the lives of the people in a supernatural and life changing way, we will learn more about His nature and character.
Second, we will show you how you can see yourself in the Old Testament. God has not changed, and neither has man. Therefore,what happened in Old Testament days is representative of what happens with us today as well. In that sense, the Old Testament is neither old-fashioned nor outmoded. Rather, it is a book with a great deal to say about God to contemporary man.
In today's world of stunning scientific advances and tense world conditions, we need to know all we can about God as He is made known in the Old Testament. We need to know a God who is bigger than our world and more powerful than any ruler in it, a God who keeps His Word, a God who rescues the lost, a God who meets the deepest needs of the mankind He brought into existence.
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For further study. Look up the following passages from the Old Testament. Using the example we just gave as a pattern, ask yourself what the following incidents reveal
In the early chapters of Genesis we are told of Adam and Eve's decision
to disobey God. In that act we see our own willfulness and our readiness
to break His commandments. Here are several other ways we may see ourselves
in the first five books of the Old Testament and Job:
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For further thought. Using the approach we used above, read these incidents from Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, and ask yourself what those passages tell us about God:
Seeing Ourselves. The people of ancient days were very much like us. Consider, for example, the following:
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Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will save you (1 Kings 12:4).
But Rehoboam refused, and the nation divided.14 The Northern Kingdom, whose first king was Jeroboam, went its own way. Its rulers and many of its people served the pagan gods of the land. There were some good kings in Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Interestingly, the two nations later formed a political alliance to combat Syria and later Assyria.15 There was royal intermarriage, and wicked people ruled both lands: in Israel, the house of Omri;16 in Judah, the wicked Athaliah.17 The time of the kings was also the time of the prophets. These men fulfilled a twofold purpose:
Forthtelling--They pointed out the sin in the land and called for repentance.
Foretelling--They looked beyond the days of Israel's failure to the coming of her Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom.
In the days that followed, God raised up a number of prophets to proclaim His truths and call the nation to return to them. Some of these men spoke to Israel, some spoke to Judah, and others spoke to foreign powers.
The day of God's judgment finally came. The two nations decayed from within, and each was defeated by a powerful outside force. The Northern Kingdom fell to the cruel Assyrians in 722 BC.18 Its people were forced to intermarry with other captives, and it soon lost its ethnic, political, and religious identity.
The Southern Kingdom lasted another 150 years, with flashes of glory such as during the reign of Azariah19 and Josiah.20 It finally fell to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in 586 BC.21
Seeing God. As we look at the period of Israel's kings, we see God at work in ways that help us know Him better. An example is the anointing of David as king and his activities before he ascended the throne (1 Sam. 16-31). We learn that:
For further thought: Using the approach just followed, see how God is made known in these incidents from the times of the kings:
Seeing Ourselves. The times of Israel's kings also show us ourselves. Observe how these incidents echo God's work in our own times.
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For further thought. Using the same line of thinking demonstrated above, consider how God is made known through these incidents from the days of Israel's exile and return:
Seeing Ourselves. We can see ourselves in the era of exile and return in the following representative ways:
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|Genesis||Beginnings||Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph||Eden, Palestine, Egypt||Creation, Fall, Flood, Call of Abraham|
|Exodus||Redemption||Moses, Pharaoh, Joshua||Egypt, Sinai, Wilderness||Contest with Pharaoh, Wilderness Wanderings|
|Leviticus||Holiness||Moses, Priests||Wilderness||Day of Atonement|
|Numbers||Journey||Moses, Joshua, Caleb||Sinai, Wilderness||Census, Spies, Failure|
|Deuteronomy||Remembrance||Moses||Wilderness, Moab||Commands Given|
|Joshua||Conquest||Joshua, Achan, Caleb||Jericho, Ai||Conquest of Canaan|
|Judges||Anarchy||Gideon, Jephthah, Samson||Palestine||Conflict with Enemies|
|Ruth||Kinsman-Redeemer||Ruth, Naomi, Boaz||Moab, Bethlehem||Ruth Marries Boaz|
|1 Samuel||Israel's First King||Samuel, Saul, David, Jonathan||Palestine, Philistia||Saul Anointed, Goliath Slain|
|2 Samuel||Israel's Second King||David, Joab, Absalom||Palestine, Jerusalem||David's Sin, Absalom's Rebellion|
|1 Kings||Kingdom Divided||Solomon, Jeroboam, Elijah||Jerusalem, Samaria||Temple Dedicated, Kingdom Divided|
|2 Kings||Kingdoms Fall||Elisha, Jehu, Hezekiah||Palestine||Invasions|
|1 Chronicles||David's Reign||David, Nathan||Palestine||David's Rule|
|2 Chronicles||Collapse||Solomon, Ahab, Hezekiah||Palestine||Decline, Exile|
|Ezra||Restoration||Cyrus, Ezra, Zerubbabel||Babylon, Jerusalem||Return, Temple Rebuilt|
|Esther||God's Care||Esther, Mordecai, Xerxes||Babylon||Israel Rescued|
|Job||Suffering||Job, Friends||Uz||Job Afflicted|
|Psalms||Songs||David, Asaph, Others||Jerusalem||Worship, Praise|
|Proverbs||Wise Walk||Solomon||Jerusalem||Wise Sayings|
|Ecclesiastes||Futility||Solomon||"Under the Sun"||Musings|
|Song of Solomon||Love Song||Husband, Bride||Palestine||Lover Returns|
|Isaiah||Salvation||Isaiah, Hezekiah, Sennacherib||Jerusalem||Vision of God, Fall of Samaria|
|Jeremiah||Judgment||Jeremiah, Baruch||Jerusalem, Egypt||Judah's Fall|
|Ezekiel||God's Glory||Ezekiel||Babylon||Prophetic Statements|
|Daniel||God's Rule||Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar||Babylon||Lion's Den, Fiery Furnace|
|Hosea||God's Love||Hosea, Gomer||Northern Kingdom||Gomer's Unfaithfulness|
|Joel||"Day of the Lord"||Joel||Judah||Locust Plague|
|Amos||Judgments||Amos||Northern Kingdom||Preaching of Judgment|
|Obadiah||Edom||Obadiah||Edom, Petra||Destruction of Edom|
|Jonah||Missionary Outreach||Jonah, King of Nineveh||Nineveh||Jonah Flees, Nineveh's Revival|
|Micah||God's Pardon||Micah||Samaria, Judah||Predictions of the Fall|
|Nahum||Woe to Nineveh||Nahum||Nineveh||Predictions of Nineveh's Fall|
|Habakkuk||Live by Faith||Habakkuk||Judah||Judah's Fall|
|Zephaniah||Desolation, Deliverence||Zephaniah||Judah||Judgment, Restoration|
|Haggai||Building Resumed||Haggai, Zerubbabel||Jerusalem||Temple Finished|
|Zechariah||God the King||Zechariah||Jerusalem||Prediction of Messiah's Return|
|Malachi||Sin, Grace||Malachi, "My Messenger"||Jerusalem||Judgment, Christ's Return|
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People in Old Testament times believed that the most intimate knowledge
of a person comes through knowing his name. For that reason, a study of
the names of God in the Old Testament is a good way to learn what He is
God made Himself known through many names We will look at the three most common ones in the Old Testament: Elohim, Jehovah, and Adonai. The compounds of those names, such as Jehovah-Jireh, will be studied in later booklets of The Knowing God series.
This name for God appears 2,570 times in the Old
Testament and 35 times between Genesis 1:1 and 2:4 The name "Elohim"
speaks of God's mighty power and strength. We would expect it to appear
often in the opening verses of Genesis because God's power as Creator is
The name "Elohim" tells us that there is no greater power than God in heaven or on earth. It also tells us of His self-sufficiency; that is, that His power comes exclusively from Himself and is not bestowed on Him by anyone else.
This is God's personal name. It is what He calls
Himself (see Ex. 3:15). It is composed of a four-letter Hebrew construct
roughly equivalent to our YHWH. The name "Jehovah" occurs 6,823
times in the Old Testament.
The ancient Hebrews regarded this name as being so sacred that they even refused to pronounce it, substituting the word "Adonai" whenever it appeared.
The Masoretes, the 8th-century AD Jewish scholars who copied the Hebrew Bible, carried this same deep respect for the name "Jehovah." Before a scribe would copy it, he would go to his chambers, bathe, and put on a clean robe. In some chapters, such as Deuteronomy 28, he would have to go through this cleansing ritual 40 times!
The name "Jehovah" is more personal than "Elohim." It describes God in His relationship with His people--His presence with us and His interaction with us. "Jehovah" expresses the love of God, His concern for the sins of His people, His pledge to keep His covenants, and His promise to redeem.
This name, which is used for God some 300 times
in the Old Testament, is made up of two parts: adon, which means "Lord"
or "Master," and the ending ai, which means "my." Thus
the name "Adonai" could be translated "my Lord" or "my
Master." It suggests the relationship between the Sovereign Master
and a submissive servant (see Gen. 15:2,8).
To summarize: "Elohim" speaks of God's unlimited power, "Jehovah" speaks of His love and holiness, and "Adonai" speaks of His right to rule over us. These names and their compounds give us a clear picture of what God is like and how He wants to be known. When we acknowledge His unlimited power at work in our lives and in the world around us, when we come to grips with His untainted holiness and experience for ourselves His overwhelming love, and when we establish a servant-Master relationship with Him, we are truly on the way to knowing God.
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If we are to know God through the Old Testament,
we must spend some time looking at its relationship to His Son, Jesus Christ.
That relationship goes two ways (1) the Old Testament teaching about Christ,
and (2) Christ's use of the Old Testament.
1. The Old Testament Teaching About Christ. From the opening pages of Genesis through the Prophets the Old Testament predicts the coming of a Redeemer-King, Jesus Christ, and tells us of His work among men and before God. That teaching takes two major forms: prophecy and types.
Prophecy. The prophecies about Christ touch many aspects of His life and ministry. Here is a brief sample of the more than 300 Old Testament prophecies about Christ.
Types. The work of Christ was also predicted throughout the Old Testament in typology. Here are some primary examples:
2. Christ's Use of the Old Testament. The way Christ used the Old Testament showed that He considered it to be the authoritative Word of God.
He Accepted Its History. Jesus regarded the Old Testament record as a straightforward presentation of fact. In teaching or in conversation, He referred to the following people, confirming their existence:
He Accepted Its Authority.
When in controversy with the religious leaders of Israel--the Pharisees
(Matt. 23:2,3) and the Sadducees (Matt. 22:29)--Christ turned to the Old
Testament as His final court of appeal.
He Used It as an Ethical Guide. Jesus used the Old Testament as authoritative in telling people how to live Examples are the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-22) and the lawyer who asked about the greatest
commandment (Matt. 22:35-40).
He Used It in His Teaching. The following verses are examples of Jesus' use of the Old Testament in His teaching:
Sometimes the critics of the Old Testament claim that Christ actually refuted it during His ministry. They point to those occasions when He referred to Old Testament passages dealing with the Sabbath rules (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Mark 2:28) or the cleansing of foods (Matt. 15:1-20). The "you have heard . . . but I say to you" section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-48) is another example. On close examination, it becomes clear that Christ was not repudiating the Old Testament. Rather He was explaining or clarifying it. This is especially true of the Law, which He said He did not come to destroy but to fulfill (Matt. 5:17-20).
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What, then, was the Old Testament written to tell
us? What did its writers from long ago have to say that relates to our contemporary
They told us about God. They said that He is not like the pagan gods. He is not carved from wood or hewn out of stone as a crude extension of man himself. The God of the Old Testament is a living God of tremendous complexity and awesome power--a God who is vitally interested in and concerned for every man, woman, and child.
God made Himself known in the Old Testament as the eternal, self-existent One. He created our world and all that is in it. He made us to be independent people with minds to think, wills to make moral choices, and emotions to feel the heartthrob of life. And He made us with a deep thirst for a satisfying relationship with Him.
When, in Adam, we made the wrong moral choice and disobeyed God, He would have been just in destroying us. But in mercy He began to reveal, with unfolding clarity throughout the Old Testament, a way of rescue. He promised the coming of a Messiah-King who would pay our penalty for sin and open the door to a restored relationship with Him.
The message of the Old Testament, then, is that we can satisfy our thirst for peace with the true and living God. And the way to that peace is through faith in the Messiah-King He sent to redeem us from our sin.
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In this booklet, we have been trying to make the
Old Testament come alive to you and to help you know God. So now, what is
your response to Him?
If you are a Christian, you should be more eager than ever to know God as revealed in the Old Testament. You have seen that the Old Testament is not a book to be afraid of but a book that brings you face to face with God. He has made Himself known in the power of creation, the goodness of salvation, the grace of His covenants, and the righteousness of His judgments. The challenge before you now is to know Him better through digging deeper into the Old Testament, and to respond to Him by submitting to His will as revealed through the Scriptures.
If you are not a Christian, what is your response to God as made known in the Old Testament? True, it shows Him to be a holy God who hates sin. But it also shows Him to be a loving God who accepts the sacrifices offered to Him. Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, came to be our sacrifice for sin. He died for us, paying the penalty we should have
Friend, He died for you. Will you now receive Him by faith, trusting Him and Him alone as your personal Savior The Old Testament prophet said:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all (Is. 53:6).Trust Christ as your Savior today It's the first and most important step in knowing God.