The Old and New Testaments of the Bible, comprised of 66 books, tell one cohesive story of redemption, climaxing in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Savior!
God created the world, humankind rebelled against their Creator (known as “the fall of man”), and God put a plan of redemption (salvation) into motion involving calling out a people for Himself to be a light for the nations (gentiles), and entering into a covenant relationship with them (known as the Abrahamic Covenant).
“God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4).
God rescued his people, Israel, from slavery, gave them commandments (the Mosaic law) to live by, and promised them a land of their own.
“So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).
God’s people were instructed how to live set apart (holy) lives for Him and worship Him.
“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).
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God led His people through the wilderness and remained faithful to His covenant with them even when they strayed.
“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).
God continued to communicate His commandments to His people, so that the law would be on their hearts as they entered the promised land.
“Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:1).
God fulfilled His covenant by leading His people into the promised land.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7-9).
God continued His deliverance of His, often rebellious, people by raising up 14 judges.
“Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders” (Judges 2:16).
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The ultimate Redeemer (Jesus Christ) is foreshadowed through the picture of Boaz, the kinsman redeemer, in the ancestral line of David.
“Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer” (Ruth 4:14).
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God Himself was their King, but that was not enough for the nation of Israel, resulting in them demanding an earthly king like “all the other nations”; which, like the human judges, quickly led to disappointment.
“But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king’” (1 Samuel 8:6-7).
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God appointed David to reign as the second king over Israel and entered into a covenant with him (known as the Davidic Covenant), a significant moment in the narrative of the Bible, as Jesus Christ (the King of Kings) would come from the earthly line of King David.
“Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).
God required the kings of Israel to lead in obedience to His law but the majority of them “did evil in the eyes of the Lord,” encouraging idolatry (the worship of false gods) rather than confronting it, resulting in judgment and the division of the nation of Israel into two kingdoms (Israel and Judah).
“So the Lord said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen’” (1 Kings 11:11-13).
The rebellion of the kings of Israel and Judah resulted in God allowing His people to be taken captive, paved the way for the prophets, and foreshadowed the coming King (Jesus) who would live in complete obedience to the will of God.
“The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them until the Lord removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria…” (2 Kings 17:22-23).
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As the Jews returned to the promised land after being exiled, God wanted His people to know historically where they came from and reassure them by reminding them of the unchangeable hope of the Davidic Covenant.
“When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever’” (1 Chronicles 17:11-14).
2 Chronicles focuses on the kings who lived in Jerusalem, specifically on the line of David, highlighting kings who were both faithful and unfaithful to God in hopes that later generations would choose faithfulness to God.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Roughly 50 years after the Israelites return to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile, they rebuilt the city, the temple, and their lives, focusing on three key leaders who led the reconstruction.
“What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this” (Ezra 9:13).
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Nehemiah, an Israelite serving as cupbearer for the king of Persia, heard about the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls and got permission to return and rebuild the walls; meanwhile though, Israel was –spiritually speaking – doing no better than before.
100 years after the Babylonian exile, this book focuses on the Jewish people still living in Susa, (the capital of the ancient Persian empire), and though the book never mentions God directly, it is all about God saving His people using a beautiful young Jewish woman, and later queen, named Esther.
"For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).
The only Old Testament book not about the Israelites, this book teaches us about God through the story of a righteous man named Job, whom God allowed to be afflicted by Satan to show that this world is suffering from the effects of “the fall,” God is still in control, His eyes are on every detail of the entire universe, and He can be trusted even when life hurts.
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth” (Job 19:25).
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Psalms is a collection of 150 Hebrew poems, songs and prayers, over 70 of which are written by King David, compiled as a prayer book for God’s people, but also used as a songbook by the choirs that sang in the temple following Israel’s return from exile in Babylon.
“Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds” (Psalm 72:18).
A handbook full of wisdom, linked to King Solomon (known as the wisest man who ever lived), to help God’s people learn to fear the Lord and live a moral life.
Another wisdom book, Ecclesiastes is about a teacher seeking to impart the fleeting, unpredictable nature of life and the key to living it well: which is to fear God who will one day reveal the purpose of this life on earth.
“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Song of Songs
A collection of Hebrew love poems, expressing the intensity of sexual love expressed by constant seeking and finding, points the reader to the wonder of knowing fully and being fully known, possibly even pointing to God’s love.
“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave” (Song of Songs 8:6).
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The first of the major prophets, Isaiah, a prophet to Judah during the reigns of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, approximately 150 years before Judah’s exile into Babylon, warned the nation of the consequences of their rebellion and idolatry, but also declared and foretold the grace of God in prophecies about the coming Messiah.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
The second of the major prophets, Jeremiah, continued on the heels of Isaiah’s message, calling the nation to repent and return to God up to and beyond the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586 B.C.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity…’” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
Lamentations is thought to also be written by Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” and this book lives up to its English name in that it’s entirely laments written about the tragedy of the Babylonian capture and destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; though through it all God was faithful.
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Ezekiel, whose message focused on the glory of the Lord and ended in a promise of future restoration for Israel, was both a prophet and a priest, a contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel, and one of 10,000 Jews taken captive by the Babylonians.
“Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind” (Ezekiel 39:28).
Daniel, a prophet throughout the 70 years of Babylonian captivity, was exiled to Babylon as a teenager and indoctrinated in the ways of the Babylonians, but God was with Daniel and used him and his faith to encourage the exiled Jews.
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:20-22).
Hosea, the first of the twelve minor prophets, is well known for being instructed by the Lord to marry an unfaithful woman to show, by example, the faithfulness of the Lord in spite of the unfaithfulness of His people.
“When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord’” (Hosea 1:2).
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Like Hosea, Joel used something physical, in this case a drought and a plague of locusts, to depict God’s judgement in “the day of the Lord.”
During a time of national security, prosperity and peace under the reign of Jeroboam II, God used Amos to deliver a warning about the neglect of sincere worship and justice, promising God’s silence if the people failed to listen to the prophets.
“’The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord’” (Amos 8:11).
The prophet Obadiah, in the shortest book in the Old Testament (only 21 verses), prophesies judgment for and deliverance from Israel’s enemies, and promises that Israel will one day fully possess its inheritance and the true King will reign on earth.
“But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance” (Obadiah 1:17).
This famous book and infamous prophet, who gets swallowed by a great fish, teach us great things about our patient and compassionate God, who cares deeply about even rebellious and wicked people.
“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2b).
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Micah prophesied punishment for Judah, for flaunting its riches and oppressing the poor, and for the false prophets, who led God’s people astray, all the while prophesying that a future Messiah and deliverer would come (from the town of Bethlehem) to prove His faithfulness to His people.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).
Approximately 125 years after Nineveh repented following Jonah’s warning, Nahum preached that God would again judge Nineveh, “the city of blood,” if they didn’t repent; though God is patient and merciful, He is also jealous and just.
“The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3).
Habakkuk questioned the Lord regarding His choice to allow Judah, though rebellious and unfaithful, to be judged by the Babylonians; though in spite of his confusion regarding God’s decisions, Habakkuk still trusted the Lord.
“Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).
Zephaniah repeated the prophetic promise of judgment and destruction if Judah would not repent and turn back to the Lord, but also foretold of a remnant that would see the deliverance of God.
“But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the Lord” (Zephaniah 3:12).
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The Babylonians had destroyed the temple, and upon Judah’s return from captivity, Haggai stirred God’s people to remember their covenant with the Lord, put Him first, and rebuild His temple.
“’The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the Lord Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Haggai 2:9).
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Haggai and Zechariah prophesied together, and while Haggai motivated God’s people to rebuild the temple, Zechariah, challenged them to complete the work in view of the coming Messiah.
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
The chronological last book of the Old Testament contains Malachi’s warning against unfaithfulness and spiritual apathy, and a prophetic message regarding the coming Messiah.
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Now that you've read the Old Testament, click here to see our one-sentence summaries of every New Testament book!
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Kristi Walker has been a missionary in Berlin, Germany for over 15 years working with an international church as the Director of Student Ministries. She is the author of two books - Disappointment: A Subtle Path Away from Christ and Convinced. Applying Biblical Principles to Life’s Choices.