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HOW TO STUDY THE BIBLE: PART III
THE OLD TESTAMENT
STUDENT NAME_________________________ DATE___________
A. Introduction: We are considering how to effectively study the Bible. In the previous lessons, we have made these major points:
1. The number one key to studying the Bible is reading the Bible.
a. You must develop and follow a systematic reading program. Begin with the New Testament.
b. Your goal in reading is to become familiar with the Bible. Understanding comes with familiarity.
2. Systematic, regular reading also helps you see and understand context.
a. The Bible is not a collection of independent verses, and it cannot be studied as such.
b. Each verse somehow fits with every other verse and with the overall theme of the Bible -- God's desire for a family and the lengths to which He went to obtain one through Jesus Christ.
c. In addition, everything in the Bible was written by someone to someone about something. To accurately interpret a verse, you must determine those three things.
3. Once you begin to systematically read the New Testament, the next key to effectively studying the Bible is to learn the structure of the Bible.
a. In the last lesson, we dealt with the structure of the New Testament. The New Testament records the life of Jesus from His birth to His ascension, as well as the work of His disciples after He went back to heaven and sent them out to preach.
b. In this lesson, we want to deal with the structure of the Old Testament.
B. The Old Testament is primarily the story of God's dealings with the Hebrew people (the Jews, Israel) up until the birth of Christ.
1. The Old Testament consists of thirty nine books written by twenty eight authors.
a. Remember, the Holy Spirit gave them the words. II Tim 3:16
b. The Old Testament covers a period of over two thousand years.
2. Three types of books are found in the Old Testament: historical (first seventeen books), poetical (next five books), prophetical (next seventeen books). There is overlap. Some poetry is found in the historical books, some history in the prophetical books, etc.
a. The historical books include: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.
1. Eleven books are primary history. They advance the story line of the Hebrew people.
2. Six are secondary history. They repeat or amplify the storyline found in the primary books.
b. The poetical books include: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon.
c. The prophetical books include: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
C. Let's consider a brief survey of the history covered in the historical books of the Old Testament.
1. GENESIS 1-11--These chapters deal with creation and early human race in general, including the fall of man, the flood of Noah, and the Tower of Babel.
a. In Genesis 12, God chose a man named Abram (later called Abraham). God called him from his homeland and led him to Canaan (modern day Israel and Palestine). God promised the land to Abraham and his descendents forever.
b. God further promised to make a great nation of Abraham, and to bring the Savior through his family. Abraham became the Father of the Hebrew people.
c. The rest of the Old Testament deals specifically with Abraham and his descendents up until just prior to the birth of Christ.
2. GENESIS 12-50--Abraham had a son, Isaac, who had a son, Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons who became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.
a. During Jacob's lifetime, the family went down to Egypt to live during a time of famine.
b. They remained there for the next four hundred years, much of the time as slaves.
c. While in Egypt, they grew from just seventy five people to possibly two or three million.
3. EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS, DEUTERONOMY--God supernaturally delivered Israel from Egypt under the leadership of Moses.
a. God led them back to Canaan, but at the edge of the land, the people refused to enter in.
b. As a consequence of their rebellion, the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan for the next forty years until that rebellious generation died off.
4. JOSHUA--When they returned to the edge of the promised land, Moses died.
a. God raised up Joshua to lead the people into the land of Canaan.
b. Over the next seven years, Israel conquered much of the land, and it was divided up among the twelve tribes.
5. JUDGES, RUTH--Over the next four hundred years the Hebrew people, the Israelites, fell into worshipping the gods of the people who lived around them.
a. A cycle began. God would allow their enemies to conquer them. The people would repent of their sin, and God would raise up a judge (political, military leader) to deliver them from their enemies.
b. This cycle was repeated over and over. Four major judges: Deborah, Gideon, Samson, Samuel.
6. I and II SAMUEL, I and II KINGS, I and II CHRONICLES--During this period, Israel demanded that God give them a king like the nations around them, and He did.
a. Saul was their first king, followed by David, and then Solomon.
1. Israel prospered under David and Solomon. But, Solomon, in his later years, moved away from God.
2. Upon his death, civil war broke out and Israel was divided into two kingdoms: Israel (the northern ten tribes) and Judah (the southern two tribes).
b. Over the next two hundred fifty years every king who ruled Israel, the northern kingdom, was wicked. And, the people followed their leaders. God finally allowed the nation of Assyria to conquer Israel and scatter the people.
c. Judah survived for four hundred years. Out of twenty kings, eight were righteous. Once again, the kings set the moral tone for the nation.
1. Judah was eventually conquered by Babylonia (which had conquered Assyria).
2. Babylonia took all the leaders, artists, musicians, and promising Hebrew children into captivity in Babylon for seventy years.
7. EZRA, NEHEMIAH, ESTHER--While the Hebrews were exiled in Babylon, Persia conquered Babylonia.
a. At the end of seventy years of Jewish exile, King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Israelites to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple. The Hebrews remained under the dominion of Persia.
b. Over the next four hundred years Israel remained under foreign control as Persia was conquered by the Greeks and then the Greeks by the Romans.
c. God did not speak directly to His people during this period. It is known as the Silence Era (between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament).
D. The rest of the Old Testament books, the poetical and the prophetical, were written during the time period covered by the historical books.
1. The poetical books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon), contain three types of Hebrew poetry.
a. Lyric poetry which is meant to be accompanied by music. (Psalms)
b. Instructional poetry which teaches principles of living. (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon)
c. Dramatic poetry which is a narrative that tells a story in poetic form. (Job)
2. Most of the prophetical books were written during the period of national decline described in II Kings.
a. The prophets spoke for God to Israel urging them to stop sinning and come back to the Lord.
1. The prophets also predicted (prophesied) what would happen if the people did not repent.
2. These prophets and their books included: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah.
b. The books of Daniel and Ezekiel were written while Israel was in exile in Babylon.
c. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were written after Israel was allowed to return to the land.
d. In modern times, the prophetical books have been divided into two groups: the major prophets and the minor prophets. These divisions have nothing to do with the importance of the prophets and their writings, but rather with the size of their books.
E. To effectively study the Bible you will eventually have to read the Old Testament through, preferably several times. Consider these points about reading the Old Testament.
1. Don't tackle the Old Testament until you have become familiar with the New Testament.
2. Once you do turn your attention to the Old Testament, don't forget about the New Testament.
a. Daily Bible reading (or as close to that as possible) should be a part of every Christian's life The Bible is food for our spirit. Matt 4:4
b. We should feed mainly on the New Testament, especially the epistles, because that is the part of the Bible specifically written to Christians about doctrine and behavior.
c. This is not a rigid law, but rather, a profitable guideline. The Holy Spirit can and does led us, and He may lead you to focus on something else for a particular season in your life.
3. When you read the Old Testament, use an easy to understand translation or paraphrase such as THE LIVING BIBLE, THE NEW LIVING BIBLE, etc.
a. The Bible survey books we mentioned in the last lesson can be very helpful as you read through the Old Testament.
1. Remember, don't just read the survey books. Read the Bible, too.
2. But, the charts, timelines, maps, and lists of people found in the survey books can help you keep things straight as you read.
b. Read the historical books through first (possibly several times) to become familiar with Israel's history.
c. Then read the prophetical books after you understand the historical setting (context) in which they were written.
d. The poetical books can be read at any time. Many people get great benefit out of reading Proverbs and Psalms everyday.
F. Some people find the Old Testament not only difficult to read, but disturbing to read because of all the “scary stuff”. Keep these thoughts in mind as you read the Old Testament.
1. One reason the things we read in the Old Testament scare us is because we wonder -- Is that going to happen to me? Is God going to do that to me?
a. This is where knowing and understanding the context is so important.
b. Much of what we see in the Old Testament which is distressing to us is God's judgment on His people when they were in gross idol worship after He had given them mighty demonstrations of His love for them as well as years of warning through the prophets. Or, it is His judgment on idol worshipping enemies coming against His covenant people.
c. You cannot take a verse spoken to Israel in idol worship or Pharaoh resisting God and apply it to Joe Christian who is doing his best to serve God but fails from time to time.
2. In the Hebrew language there is a verb tense which is permissive rather than causative.
a. God is said to do what He in fact only allows. Example: God brought sickness among the people = God allowed sickness among the people.
b. The tense is similar to an idiom in English. Take the phrase, “It's raining cats and dogs”. We know that phrase does not mean dogs and cats are falling from the sky, but rather, “It's raining heavily”. The Hebrews understood “God did” to meant “God allowed”.
3. The Bible is progressive revelation. In the Old Testament, we do not yet have the full, complete picture of God which is revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ. Heb 1:1-3; John 14:9
a. For example, the Trinity is not clearly stated in the Old Testament. There are hints, but they are often veiled and easy to miss without careful study.
b. In the Old Testament, one of God's main purposes was to show Himself as God Almighty to Israel and to the rest of the world. That is one reason we see so many fierce demonstrations of His power. In the New Testament God clearly shows His love through Jesus Christ.
4. Once you have a clear, full picture of God as revealed by the New Testament in Jesus, filter the Old Testament through that picture.
a. If you have ten verses from the New Testament which clearly say one thing and one verse from the Old Testament which seems to contradict them, it means you do not yet have full understanding of that one verse. Don't throw out the ten clear verses. Put the one which seems to contradict on the shelf until a later time when understanding comes.
b. We must learn to read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament.
1. The Book of Job scares a lot of people. But, the New Testament tells us what we should get from the Book of Job -- that God is a merciful God who delivers His people from bondage. James 5:11; Job 42:10
2. If you didn't get that out of Job, you didn't read it right.
G. Conclusion: We still have more to say about how to study the Bible, but we've gained still more understanding about how to approach the Bible as we study.