Have you ever made a resolution to read through the Old Testament at least once? I think most of us have attempted to do so at some juncture of our lives but perhaps only a small group of us have the resolve to complete all 39 books.
Most people find the Old Testament difficult to read and understand because of various reasons; cultural differences, lack of historical context, idiomatic expressions and figures of speech that do not translate directly into ways that we express ourselves now, and the fact that it was not written in chronological order.
There is a way to understand the Old Testament.
A general timeline of the Old Testament will help you to understand how the major events fit together in the bible narrative. If we can understand how the major events of the Bible fit together, we will have a better idea when a piece of scripture comes up in a sermon or when we are reading the Bible in our own personal study, we will be able to map what we are reading to the general narrative of Scripture.
We have put together a short video that walks you through the timeline of the Old Testament. The timeline can be divided into ten handles. As you watch the video, take note of the ten handles and the critical points of Israel’s history and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you, the character of God and His heart for His people.
This video does not cover every event in Scripture because the scope will be way too big for one video.
Genesis 1:1-11:26 comprises the Creation era and this era encompasses five stories: Creation, the Fall, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, and the Tower of Babel. This first handle explains human origins as the special creation of God and human purpose as God’s image-bearers.
The perfect world was disrupted when the serpent tempted Eve to take the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3. As a result, sin entered mankind. The relationship that God had with man was broken. There was brokenness between men, and men and the created world. At this point, God’s plan of redemption to restore His creation began, as well as the promise of the Saviour who will come.
God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him. Through him, all nations will be blessed. This era demonstrated God’s faithfulness and highlighted God’s character of a promise-keeping God. From Abraham’s lineage, we read the stories of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The Patriarch era begins in Genesis 11:27 and concludes in Genesis 50:26. The book of Job also occurs during the patriarchal era.
God liberated the Israelites from slavery just as He had promised Abraham in Genesis 15. He gave them purpose and formed their identity by giving them instructions to follow, warnings to heed, and a sacrificial system to honour. These boundaries provide for their physical and spiritual well-being. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy narrate the Exodus era.
God never gives arbitrary boundaries or instructions. The Book of Law fully prepares the Israelites to flourish in the land of Canaan. He will bless them if they believe His Word and obey Him by honouring the boundaries that He has established. The Book of Joshua comprises the Conquest era.
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—the Book of the Law—provided the Israelites with a roadmap for success or for failure. Failure to know the Book of the Law and live in light of God’s good character and His gracious promises characterised these people who were determined to do what was right in their own eyes. Sadly, the Israelites choose the path of disobedience and failure which results in their being diminished repeatedly by the very enemies they failed to remove from the land. The Judges era is captured by the book of Judges and the book of Ruth.
The book of Deuteronomy was written to direct the Israelites on how to live in Canaan. This navigational instruction book spoke specifically about the day when Israel would demand a king like the surrounding nations (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). That day arrived. God raised up three kings who ruled in the united nation of Israel—Saul, David, and Solomon. The story of the Kingdom era covers several books in the Bible including 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, a portion of 1 Chronicles and the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes.
After King Solomon died, the kingdom was divided. Solomon’s son Rehoboam ruled over the two southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah. Solomon’s former administrator, Jeroboam, became the king of the ten northern tribes of Israel. Jeroboam disregarded the Book of the Law and established a “new” religion.
Moses had recorded the blessings and the curses (Deuteronomy 28) that explained much of Israel’s history. God desires to bless His people, but He will not bless disobedience; terrible consequences accompany disobedience. The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom and the ten tribes scattered. A large portion of the Old Testament, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, Nahum, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah, compile the Kingdom Era.
The southern Kingdom of Judah survived until 587/586 BC after which it fell to Babylonian captivity. King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, deported the people from Judah to Babylon where they were to live in exile for 70 years. A small portion of the book of Jeremiah and the books of Lamentations, Daniel, and Ezekiel cover the Exile era.
The Israelites taken captive from the Southern Kingdom spent 70 years as Babylonian captives. God fulfilled a promise made through Isaiah and raised up a pagan king who decreed their return to Israel. The books of Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi capture the Return Era.
Without Bible literacy, people formed and acted out erroneous views about God, themselves, and history. During the Silent era, the four hundred years between Israel’s return to their land and the birth of Christ, God preserved Bible literacy by stirring up the Jews to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. He also worked in the geo-political world in the successive kingdoms of Persia, Greece, and Rome to prepare the world for the coming of the promised Redeemer.