Outline of the Old Testament Books of the Bible
Author: Moses. Date: 1450-1410 B.C.
Contents: There are 50 chapters in the book. It contains the account of the restoration of planet earth, as well as the creation of human and animal life. It includes the Garden of Eden and the fall of man, the account of Noah and the flood, the tower of Babel, the establishment of the Israelite people with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their account, the account of Joseph’s journey to Egypt and the Jewish enslavement there, as well as the rise of Joseph as a leader of Egypt.
Genesis is a book about the beginning of many things: the world, man, sin, civilization, the nations, and Israel.
It also contains important theological themes: the doctrine of the living, personal God; the doctrine of man-made in the image of God, then of sinful man; the anticipation of a Redeemer, Gen 3:15, and the covenant promises made to the nation Israel, Gen 12:1-3; 15:18-21.
Author: Moses. Date: 1450-1410 B.C.
Contents: There are 40 chapters in the book. It begins with the choosing of Moses as deliverer and ends with the Lord indwell the Tabernacle.
The theme of the book is deliverance from Egypt and begins with the choosing of Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage in fulfillment of the promise of Gen 15:13-14.
The book records the birth of the nation Israel, the giving of the law, and the origin of ritual worship. The revelation of God is paramount throughout the book. He is the one who controls history, Ex 1; He revealed Himself in a new name, Ex 3:14; He is the sovereign of the covenant relationship, Ex 19:5; He is the faithful redeemer, Ex 6:6; 15:13; He is judge of His own people, Ex 4:14; 20:5; 32:27-28, and of His foes, Ex 7-12; He is the transcendent one, Ex 33:20, who nevertheless lived among His people, Ex 29:45. It includes the birth and protection of Moses, Ex 2; the call of Moses, Ex 3:14; 5:1; the crossing of the Red Sea, Ex 14; wandering in the wilderness; the giving of the Ten Commandments, Ex 20; and the Tabernacle, Ex 25-27.
Date of the Exodus: ca. 1446-1440 B.C. during the reign of Amenhotep II (1450-1425),
Author: Moses. Date: 1450-1410 B.C.
Contents: There are 27 chapters in the book. Its title comes from the Levitical Priesthood that was established as this time, “pertaining to the Levites.” Though the book is a manual for the priests (who were from the tribe of Levi), it contains many laws that concern all the Israelites. The book may be viewed in three complementary ways. It is a book about the holiness of God and His requirements for fellowship with Himself. Thus, it is also a book that reveals the sinfulness of man. And it may be viewed as a book about atonement, the provision of access to God for sinful man. The language of sacrifice dominates the book, with the word “sacrifice” occurring about 42 times. “Priest” is found about 189 times, “blood” about 86 times, “holy” about 87 times, and “atonement” about 45 times. The regulations found in the book emphasize holiness of body as well as of spirit. The New Testament refers to Leviticus about 90 times. The book of Exodus concluded with the erection of the Tabernacle, which was constructed according to the pattern God gave to Moses. How was Israel to use the Tabernacle? The instructions in Leviticus answer that question; they were given to Moses during the 50 days between the setting up of the Tabernacle, Ex 40:17, and the departure of the people from Sinai, Num 10:11.
Author: Moses. Date: 1450-1410 B.C.
Contents: There are 36 chapters in this book. Appropriately, the Hebrew title of the book, taken from the first verse, means “in the wilderness of,” because most of the book records the history of the Israelites in their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. The account covers the period between Israel’s departure from Egypt and her arrival in Canaan. Exactly one year after they fled from Egypt, the Israelites were gathered at Mount Sinai to receive instructions concerning the law and the Tabernacle (as recorded in the book of Leviticus). Numbers continues the historical narrative one month after the close of the last chapter of Exodus (cf. Exodus 40:2 and Numbers 1:1). The book covers the winding 39-year journey from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, through various places in the wilderness, and finally to the plains of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.
The book recounts the unbelief and discontent of the people in general, Num 11:1, their refusal at Kadesh-barnea to enter the Promised Land, Num 14:2, Moses’ own failure, Num 20:12, and the idolatrous worship, Num 25:3. Yet, in spite of repeated failure, the Israelites’ covenant-keeping God miraculously supported them during those years of rebellion and wandering and finally brought them to the Promised Land.
Author: Moses, until his death. Chapter 34 was then appended by Joshua; Date: 1410 B.C.
Contents: There are 34 chapters in the book. The English title is from the Greek Septuagint and means “second law-giving” as it reiterates much of the Law already given. The book may also be viewed as a constitution for the theocracy of Israel once she was established in the land. Its structure parallels that of a typical suzerainty treaty of that period: 1) preamble, Deut 1:1-5, 2) historical prologue, Deut 1:6-4:49, 3) main provisions, Deut 5:1-26:19, 4) curses and blessings, Deut 27:1-30:20, 5) arrangements for continuation of the covenant, Deut 31:1-33:29. Included are repetitions of many of the laws contained in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers and ends with the death of Moses, just prior to Israel entering the Promised Land. Of the 27 books of the New Testament, 17 quote from Deuteronomy.
Author: Joshua, and for 15:13-17, (cf. Judges 1:9-13), and 24:29-31 most likely added by Eleazar the priest or by Phinehas, his son. Date: 1400-1370 B.C.
Contents: It contains 24 chapters. It begins with the commissioning of Joshua to lead Israel into the promise land and ends with the death of Joshua. It describes the conquest and division of the land of Canaan and is set against the background of the corrupt and brutal features of Canaanite religion. Prostitution of both sexes, infant sacrifice, and religious syncretism were some of the evils for which God commanded the Israelites to exterminate the inhabitants of Canaan. The events of Joshua begin where those of Deuteronomy conclude. The conquest of Canaan under Joshua took place around 1400 B.C. The book emphasizes 1) the faithfulness of God to give Israel the land of Canaan, cf. Gen 13:15, 2) the importance of the written law of God, Joshua 1:8; 8:32-35; 23:6-16; 24:26-27, and 3) the holiness of God in judging the sins of the Canaanites, cf. Deut 7:1-6.
Author: Though the author of this book is unknown, the Talmud suggests Samuel, and it is possible that he may have written portions. It was written after the death of Samson and after the coronation of King Saul, but before the conquest of Jerusalem by David about 990 B.C. Date: 1050-1000 B.C.
Content: It contains 21 chapters. It begins after the death of Joshua and ends with the conclusion of the Benjamite war. The events of this book cover the turbulent period in Israel’s history from about 1380 to 1050 B.C., from the conquest of Palestine to just before the beginnings of the monarchy. It describes the rulership of Israel under various judges. The judges were military and civil leaders ruling during this time when the nation was a loose confederacy. Some of the judges ruled concurrently since each one did not necessarily rule over the entire land. Though the land had been generally conquered and occupied under Joshua many important Canaanite strongholds had been bypassed, leaving their subjugation to individual Israelite tribes. It describes this warfare, as the Hebrews tried to complete their occupation of the land. Historically, the book serves to link the conquest of Palestine and the monarchy. Theologically, it provides many examples of the principle that obedience to the law brings peace; whereas, disobedience means oppression and death. Spiritually, the faithfulness of God in forgiving His penitent people is seen even in this period when “every man did what was right in his own eyes”, Judges 17:6; 21:25.
Judges & The Israelite Oppressors:
|Judge||Years of Judging||Oppressor||Reference in Judges|
|Daborah & Brak||40||Canaan||Judges 4:1-5:31|
Author: Uncertain. The author is unknown to us, though Samuel is suggested by some. Date: ca. 1000 B.C.
Content: It contains 4 chapters and tells the story of Ruth. The events of the book occurred during the period of the judges (the latter part of the twelfth century B.C.). The book provides a glimpse into the lives of ordinary, though godly, people during the turbulent period of the judges. It shows an oasis of faithfulness in an age marked by idolatry and unfaithfulness. The last verses of the book trace Ruth’s descendants only to King David.
Important aspects of the book include:
- Shows that Gentiles could believe in the true God.
- Gives a partial lineage of David, and thus of Christ, and shows that Gentile blood was in the line of the One who became the Savior for all mankind.
- Boaz, as the kinsman-redeemer serves as a beautiful type of Christ, in that
a) He was a blood relative, Rom 1:3; Heb 2:14.
b) He had the price with which to purchase the forfeited inheritance, 1 Peter 1:18-19.
c) He was willing to redeem, Heb 10:7.
- The book is a moving example of the sovereignty of God in caring for His people (Ruth 2:12).
Authors: Samuel and others, maybe Nathan and Gad. Date: 930 B.C. and later.
Contents: There are 31 chapters. It focuses on three principal characters: Samuel, Saul, and David; 2 Samuel centers exclusively on David. The principal lesson of the book has to do with the effects of sin and holiness in relation to the people and their leaders. Well-known stories in the book include that of David and Goliath, 1 Sam 17, David and Jonathan, 1 Sam 18, and Saul and the witch of Endor, 1 Sam 28. Samuel was the last judge in the 350-year span of the judges. The book covers a period of about 115 years, from the childhood of Samuel to the beginning of the reign of King David. Appearing on the scene during one of the darkest periods of Israel’s history, Samuel called the people to a revival of the true worship of Yahweh. He was also a kingmaker, anointing both Saul, 1 Sam 10:1, and David, 1 Sam 16:13. Thus 1 Samuel forms the link between the judges and the monarchy.
Authors: Samuel and others. Date: 930 B.C. and later
Contents: There are 24 chapters. In the Hebrew Bible, 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel form a single book. 1 Samuel closes with the death of Israel’s first king, Saul. 2 Samuel records the history of King David’s reign, including his making Jerusalem the political and religious center of the nation, the establishing of the Davidic dynasty, David’s great military victories, his shameful sin with Bathsheba, and his mistake in numbering the people. 2 Sam 7:4-14 records the important (and still partly unfulfilled) covenant God made with David and his posterity.
Author: Some say Jeremiah but it is unknown. The author was likely one of the exiles who lived in Babylon, perhaps an unknown one, or Ezra or Ezekiel or Jeremiah (though someone other than Jeremiah would have had to write the last chapter of 2 Kings, since Jeremiah apparently died in Egypt, not Babylon; Jeremiah 43:6-7). Date: Ca. 550 B.C.
Contents: There are 22 chapters. Originally 1 and 2 Kings were one book. They are appropriately titled from their subject matter, which traces the history of the kings of Israel and Judah from Solomon to the Babylonian captivity. The purpose of this book was not only to record the history of these kings, but to show that the success of any king (and of the nation as a whole) depended on the measure of his allegiance to God’s law. Failure resulted in decline and captivity. During this time, Israel was split into the Northern Kingdom called Israel, comprised of 10 tribes, and the Southern Kingdom called Judah which was comprised of two tribes, Benjamin and Judah. Important passages in 1 Kings include the description of Solomon’s great wisdom, 1 Kings 3-4, the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, 1 Kings 8, the visit of the queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10, and the ministry of Elijah, (particularly his confrontation with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel), 1 Kings 18. 1 Kings concludes abruptly with the beginning of the reign of Ahaziah in 853.
Author: Same as above, Jeremiah. Date: ca. 550 B.C.
Contents: There are 25 chapters. Continuing where 1 Kings concluded (with Ahaziah), 2 Kings traces the decline and captivity of both Israel and Judah. Israel endured a succession of evil kings reigning during a 130-year period until the Assyrian captivity. Briefly told is the history of Judah, culminating in the Babylonian captivity. The book also records the miracle-filled ministry of Elisha. Well-known passages include the raising of the Shunammite’s son, 2 Kings 4, the healing of Naaman, the Aramean leper, 2 Kings 5, the death of Jezebel, 2 Kings 9, and the revivals under Hezekiah, 2 Kings 18 and under Josiah, 2 Kings 23. During this period Amos and Hosea prophesied in Israel, and Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah in Judah.
Author: Ezra. Though not specified by name in the book, Ezra has traditionally been assumed to be the author. Date: 450-425 B.C.
Contents: It has 29 chapters. Originally it two was one book with 2 Chron, until 180 B.C. It gives us the annals of the history of Israel from Adam to the Babylonian captivity and Cyrus’s decree allowing the exiled Jews to return. In a sense it is a “miniature Old Testament,” tracing in capsule form the flow of Old Testament history. 1 Chron is heavily weighted with genealogies and focuses on the reign of King David. Important sections include the statement of the great covenant with David, 1 Chron 17:11-14, and David’s magnificent prayer of praise in 1 Chron 29:10-19. Ezra, who led a group of exiles back to Palestine in 458, was concerned about building a true spiritual foundation for the people. To further that purpose, the author evidently compiled the Chronicles in order to emphasize the importance of racial and religious purity, the proper place of the law, the Temple, and the priesthood. Thus he omits detailed activities of the kings and prophets, stressing instead the rich heritage of the people and the blessing of their covenant relationship to God.
Author: Ezra, as noted above. Date: 450-425 B.C.
Contents: It contains 36 chapters. Beginning where 1 Chron concludes, 2 Chron records the history of the reign of King Solomon (971-931 BC) and of all the kings of Judah from Rehoboam (931 BC) through Zedekiah (586 BC). Thus the book covers the same period as 1 Kings and 2 Kings, though 2 Chron focuses only on the kings of Judah and excludes those of Israel. It records the Babylonian captivity. Disobedience to the Mosaic Law was the reason for the Babylonian captivity. The book concludes with a brief reference to the decree of Cyrus in 539 BC that permitted the Jews to return to Judea and build their Temple. Significant passages include Solomon’s prayer for wisdom, 2 Chron 1:7-12, the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, the first temple, 2 Chron 5-7, the visit of the queen of Sheba, 2 Chron 9:1-12, and the prediction of the length of captivity, 2 Chron 36:20-21.
Author: Ezra. Date: 450-444 B.C.
Contents: There are 10 chapters. The book, named after its principal character, originally formed one book with the books of Nehemiah and Chronicles. The book records the fulfillment of God’s promise to restore Israel to her land after the 70 years of captivity in Babylon, Jer 25:11. This was accomplished through the help of three Persian kings (Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes) as well as Jewish leaders such as Zerubbabel, Joshua, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra. Cyrus overthrew Babylon in October 539, and in accord with his policy of encouraging subject people to return to their homelands, he issued a decree in 538 allowing the Jews to do the same. About 50, 000 did return under the leadership of Zerubbabel, and the foundation of the Temple was laid, though it was not completed until 515 in the reign of Darius. Ezra 1-6 describe these events. Ezra 7-10 describe Ezra’s return to Jerusalem under the favor of Artaxerxes to help bring spiritual revival to the people.
The Persian kings involved in this period (in relation to Ezra and other portions of the Old Testament) are as follows:
King (dates); Relation to Other Books of OT (dates)
In Ezra 1-6 (although there is no mention of Cambyses or Smerdis):
- Cyrus 559-530
- Cambyses 530-522; Haggai (520)
- Smerdis 522; Zechariah (520-518)
- Darius I 521-486
In Ezra 4:6:
- Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) 486-465; Esther (465)
In Ezra 4:7-23 and Ezra 7-10:
- Artaxerxes I 464-424; Malachi (450-400)
- Darius II 423-404 Nehemiah (445-425)
Author: Nehemiah. Date: 445-425 B.C.
Contents: Having 13 chapters, the book completes the history of the returned remnant from exile in Babylon, a restoration that begun under Ezra’s leadership. It describes the decree of Artaxerxes to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, which marks the beginning of Daniel’s “seventy weeks” prophecy, Dan 9:25, concerning the first and 2nd Advent of our Lord. It also provides historical background for the book of Malachi.
Author: Uncertain. Date: ca. 465 B.C.
Contents: There are 10 chapters in this book. The events of this book cover a 10-year portion (483-473 BC) of the reign of Xerxes I (486-465 BC), a near successor to Nebuchadnezzar. Ahasuerus is the Hebrew form of his name, equivalent to the Persian Khshayarsha and the Greek Xerxes. The events occurred between those recorded in the sixth and seventh chapters of Ezra. Interestingly, the name of God is nowhere mentioned in the book, yet His sovereignty and providence are evident throughout. Esther had a regal position, queen to Xerxes. This book describes Xerxes’ / Ahasuerus’ indebtedness to Mordecai which he discovered during a sleepless night, and the miraculous deliverance of the Jews during that time. The book also explains the origin of the Feast of Purim, 2 Macc 15:36, on the thirteenth and fourteenth days of Adar (Feb.-Mar.), when Jews celebrate the deliverance from Haman.
Author: Uncertain. Suggestions include Job himself, Elihu, Moses, and Solomon. Date: Uncertain.
Contents: There are 42 chapters. The book tells the story of suffering Job at the hands of Satan’s affliction. These events may have taken place in a patriarchal society in the second millennium B.C., around the time of Abraham. This book gives us important insights into the work of Satan, Job 1:6-2:10 and the temptations that man can overcome with faith in God. It details the speeches of Job and his friends regarding Job predicament. The book wrestles with the age-old question: Why do righteous men suffer, if God is a God of love and mercy? It clearly teaches the sovereignty of God and the need for man to acknowledge such. Job’s three friends gave essentially the same answer: All suffering is due to sin. Elihu, however, declared that suffering is often the means of purifying the righteous. God’s purpose was to strip away all of Job’s self-righteousness and to bring him to the place of complete trust in Him. The best known verses in the book are Job 19:25-26.
Authors: Various. See previous lesson. Dates: Various.
Contents: There are 150 psalms in this book. It is made up of a variety of songs, laments, and praises. The Jews referred to it as “The Book of Praises,” while the LXX entitled it “The Book of Psalms” (from a Greek word indicating songs sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments). The book was the hymnal of the Jewish people. The psalms are divided into five books, each ending with a doxology, Psa 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150.
Types of Psalms:
- Messianic Psalms speak of the Person and the work of the Messiah
- Lament Psalms a cry to God for help
- Testimonial Psalms tell others what God has done
- Pilgrim Psalms sung during pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem
- Imprecatory Psalms asking for judgment on wicked men
- Penitential Psalms sorrowing over sin
- Wisdom Psalms guidelines for godly people
- Historical Psalms looking back on God’s dealings with the nation of Israel
- Nature Psalms the handiwork of God in His creative work
Authors: Solomon and Others. DATE: 950-700 B.C.
Contents: There are 31 chapters. Though the theme running throughout the book is wisdom for living, the specific teachings include instruction on folly, sin, goodness, wealth, poverty, the tongue, pride, humility, justice, vengeance, strife, gluttony, love, lust, laziness, friends, the family, life, and death. Almost every facet of human relationships is mentioned, and the teaching of the book is applicable to all people everywhere. The sayings in this book form a library of instruction on how to live a godly life here on earth and how to be assured of reward in the life to come. Thus these proverbs are not so much popular sayings as they are a distillation of wisdom from those who knew the law of God.
Author: Solomon. Date: ca. 935 B.C.
Content: It contains 12 chapters. The message of this book is three fold:
- When you look at life with its seemingly aimless cycles, Ecc 1:4ff., and inexplicable paradoxes, Ecc 4:1; 7:15; 8:8, you might conclude that all is futile, since it is impossible to discern any purpose in the ordering of events.
- Nevertheless, life is to be enjoyed to the fullest, realizing that it is the gift of God, Ecc 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-9.
- The wise man will live his life in obedience to God, recognizing that God will eventually judge all men, Ecc 3:16-17; 12:14.
Song of Solomon
Author: Solomon. Date: ca. 965 B.C.
Contents: It contains 8 chapters. It is a lyric poem in dialogue form, the book describes Solomon’s love for a Shulammite girl. The king comes in disguise to her family’s vineyard, wins her heart, and ultimately makes her his bride. It gives us examples of love inside of marriage and also gives us illustrations of the love of God, and Christ, for His people. It also symbolically gives prophecy regarding our Lord’s Second Advent.
Having reviewed the Pentateuch, Historical and Poetical books of the Old Testament, we now turn to the last portion, the Prophetical books which consists of 16 books, excluding Lamentations which is a historical/poetical out crying book that we will note in this section due to its placement. As we noted previously, this section is broken down into two groups, the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. The difference between the two is mainly the length of their writings.
The Major Prophets include:
The Minor Prophets include:
They may be further classified in regard to the time frame in which they were written in relation to the Babylonian captivity as: Pre-exilic, Exilic, and Post-exilic as follows:
- Pre-exilic: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah.
- Exilic: Jeremiah, (whose prophecies extended from pre-exilic days to exilic days), Ezekiel, and Daniel.
- Post-exilic: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
The Major Prophets.
Author: Isaiah. Date: 740-680 B.C.
The Prophet: Born into an influential, upper-class family, Isaiah associated with royalty and gave advice concerning the foreign affairs of the nation. Though usually scoffed at, he warned vigorously against foreign alliances and urged Judah to trust the Lord, Isa 7:4; 30:1-17. He also attacked the social ills of the day, because he saw abuses as symptoms of spiritual declension, Isa 1:3-9; 58:6-10. After living most of his life in Jerusalem, tradition says that Isaiah was martyred during the reign of Manasseh (696-642 BC) by being sawed in two inside a hollow log, cf. Heb 11:37.
The History: During the latter half of the eighth century Judah was about to follow the example of apostasy of the 10 northern tribes of Israel (who were captured by Assyria in 722 B.C.). King Ahaz foolishly looked to Assyria for protection, even though Isaiah told him the Northern Kingdom would shortly fall at the hands of the Assyrians, Isa 8:3-4. Hezekiah, Ahaz’s God-fearing son, instituted spiritual reforms but sought the help of Egypt in foreign affairs. Egypt fell before Sennacherib of Assyria, and only through Divine intervention was Judah saved from the same fate, Isa 37:36-37. During the reign of Manasseh, idolatrous practices were reinstated, and Isaiah warned of the inevitability of the Babylonian captivity. He also gave assurance of the preservation of the people and restoration of the nation.
Content: Isaiah has often been called “the evangelical prophet” because he says so much about the redemptive work of Messiah. More about the person and work of Christ is found here than in any other book of the Old Testament. And interestingly, if you opened a current day Jewish Bible which only consists of the Old Testament and tried to turn to Isa 53, as we have in the Judeo-Christian Bible, you would not find it. It has been removed and renumbered. Important and favorite passages in the book, including, Isa 1:18; 2:4; 6:3, 8; 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:9; 26:3; 35:1; 40:3; 48:16; 53; 55:1; 57:15; 59:1; 61:1-3.
Great Prophecies of Isaiah still Unfulfilled:
- The Day of the Lord. Some 45 times Isaiah uses the phrase “in that day” to describe this period of apocalyptic judgment, Isa 2:10-22; 4:1; 13:9-13; 24:1-23; 32:1-20; 63:1-6.
- Blessing upon restored Israel, Isa 2:1-5; 4:2-6; 9:7; 11:4-16; 12:1-6; 14:1-3; 25:1-12; 32:15-20; 35:1-10; 52:1-12; 59:20-21; 60:1-12; 61:3-62:12; 65:17-66:24.
- Restoration of Israel to Palestine, Isa 11:10-12; 14:1-2; 27:12-13; 35:10; 43:5-6; 49:1-12; 66:20.
- Restoration of Palestine itself, 30:23-26; 35:1-10; 49:19; 60:13; 61:4; 62:4-5; 65:21-25.
- Jerusalem as capital of the earth, Isa 1:26; 2:3; 4:2-6; 12:6; 24:23; 26:1; 40:2; 52:1-12; 60:1-22; 62:1-7.
- Blessing upon the remnant, Isa 12:1-6; 25:1-12; 26:1-19; 33:24; 35:10; 43:25; 44:22; 46:13; 54:6-10; 61:6; 62:12; 66:8.
- Blessing upon the nations, Isa 2:1-4; 11:3-4, 9-10; 25:6-9; 60:1-12.
- Blessing to entire creation. Isaiah had a fleeting glimpse beyond the Kingdom Age to the new heaven and earth of the eternal state, Isa 65:17; 66:22. But like John in the Revelation, Rev 21-22, he saw a blended view of millennial and eternal conditions, cf. Isa 11:6-8 with 65:25; 66:22.
Author: Jeremiah. Date: 627-585 B.C.
The Prophet: Often called the “weeping prophet”, Jer 9:1; 13:17, or the “prophet of loneliness” (because he was commanded not to marry, Jer 16:2), Jeremiah was also the “reluctant prophet”, Jer 1:6. Yet for more than 40 years, he faithfully proclaimed God’s judgment on apostate Judah, all the while enduring opposition, beatings, and imprisonment, Jer 11:18-23; 12:6; 18:18; 20:1-3; 26:1-24; 37:11-38:28. Jeremiah began his ministry at about the age of 20 under good King Josiah, with whom he enjoyed cordial relations. After Josiah’s death, opposition to the prophet mounted. He barely escaped arrest, was forbidden to go to the Temple, and had to deputize Baruch, his secretary, to deliver his prophecies. King Jehoiakim destroyed Jeremiah’s written predictions, Jer 36:22ff. King Zedekiah permitted nationalistic-minded nobles to imprison Jeremiah; then he reduced the punishment. When the forces of Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem in 586 B.C., Jeremiah was freed and given the choice of going to Babylon or remaining in Jerusalem. He chose the latter but was soon abducted and taken to Egypt by Jews who fled there rather than face Nebuchadnezzar. In Egypt, Jeremiah prophesied a few more years, and apparently died there.
Content: Being sensitive and sympathetic by nature, Jeremiah nevertheless was commanded by God to deliver a stern message of judgment. The opposition he faced was cruel and crushing, so much so that more than once he wanted to resign from his office as prophet; yet he continued faithfully to proclaim God’s Word. The concept of backsliding / reversionism / unfaithfulness is prominent, and there are more references to Babylon (164) in Jeremiah than in the rest of the Bible together. The major themes of this book are warnings against sin and judgment, but also the message of hope and restoration. The arrangement of the prophecies in this book is not chronological.
Important prophecies include:
- The curse on Jehoiachin, Jer 22:30.
- The prediction of the Messiah, Jer 23:5-6, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. 6In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness’.”
- The duration of the Babylonian captivity, (70 years), Jer 25:11.
- The revelation of the new covenant, Jer 31:31-34.
Author: Jeremiah. Date: 586/5 B.C.
Title: This is not a prophetical book but a historical/poetical lament regarding the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. The term Lamentations is from a Greek verb meaning “to cry aloud” and accurately describes the contents of the book, which consists of five melancholy poems of mourning over the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians.
Content: The book consists of five poems, one for each chapter, the first four being written as acrostics (each verse begins with a word whose first letter is successively one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet except in Lam 3, where three verses are allotted to each letter). These four chapters are also written in what is called “limping meter,” a slow cadence of a sad song used in funerals. From 588 to 586 B.C., the Babylonian army besieged Jerusalem, 2 Kings 25:1-10. Judah’s ally, Egypt, had been defeated, and Jeremiah’s repeated warnings to the Jews had been rejected. As Babylon’s stranglehold on Jerusalem tightened, people were starving, yet they continued to turn to idols for help. Finally, the walls were breached, the city secured and plundered, the Temple, palace, and other buildings burned, and prisoners deported to Babylon. Having witnessed these horrible events, Jeremiah composed these laments.
Use: The Jews read this book publicly on the ninth day of the month of Ab (about mid-July), in commemoration of the destructions of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (by the Babylonians) and in A.D. 70 (by the Romans). The concern of the book reminds us of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, Mat 23:37-38, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38“Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39“For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”
The best known verse in the book is Lam 3:22-23, “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. 23They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Author: Ezekiel. Date: 592-570 B.C.
The Prophet: From a priestly family, Ezek 1:3, Ezekiel, whose name means “God strengthens,” spent his early years in Jerusalem, until he was taken with other hostages by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon in 597 B.C. There he settled in his own house in a village near Nippur, along the river Chebar (Nebuchadnezzar’s royal canal), in Babylonia, Ezek 3:15, 24. He prophesied for at least 22-years, Ezek 1:2; 29:17-21. His wife died in 587 BC, Ezek 24:16-18.
Content: Ezekiel’s ministry to the exiles in Babylon was at the same time as that of Jeremiah to the Jews in Palestine and of the early years of the ministry of Daniel. Ezekiel’s ministry was to keep before the exiles the sins that had brought God’s judgment on them and to assure them of God’s future blessing in keeping with His covenant. Ezek 1-24 were written before the fall of Jerusalem to remind his fellow captives that God’s judgment on the city and Temple was surely coming. Ezek 33-48 contain prophecies of the still future restoration of Israel in the millennial kingdom. Important messianic sections in the book are: Ezek 17:22-24; 21:26-27; 34:23-24. The overthrow of Gog is described in Ezek 38-39, and the millennial Temple and worship in Ezek 40-48. Some well-known passages include Ezek 1:4-28; 3:16-21; 11:17-20; 14:14; 28:11-19; 36:24-28; 37:1-28.
Author: Daniel. Date: 537 B.C.
The Prophet: Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge,” was a statesman in the court of heathen monarchs. Taken captive as a youth to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C., he spent the rest of his long life there as a governmental official and as a prophet of the true God. He claimed to have written this book, Dan 12:4, and Jesus Christ identified him as a prophet, Mat 24:15; Mark 13:14. Throughout his life he was uncompromising and faithful to his God.
The History: In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar took Daniel and others as captives to Babylon. Because of the events recorded in Dan 2 of the book, Daniel was given a place of prominence and responsibility in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. After the king’s death, Daniel apparently fell from favor but was recalled to interpret the writing that appeared at Belshazzar’s feast, Dan 5:13. When Babylon fell to the Mede Empire, Daniel was made one of three commissioners under Darius, Dan 6:1, and lived until the third year of Cyrus (536). His ministry was to testify, in his personal life and in his prophecies, to the power of God. Though in exile, the people of Israel were not deserted by God, and Daniel revealed many details about His plan for their future. He also traced the course of Gentile world powers from his own day to the second coming of Christ.
Content: Dan 2:4-7:28 are written in a form of Imperial Aramaic while the rest of the book is in Hebrew.
Important prophecies in the book include the following:
- The course of Gentile kingdoms (the future of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, Dan 2; 7.
- Details concerning Medo-Persia and Greece, Dan 8.
- More details concerning Greece, Dan 11.
- The prophecy of the 70 weeks of years, Dan 9:24-27; and the activities of Antichrist, Dan 11:36-45.
Among the doctrines mentioned in the book are:
- Personal separation, Dan 1:8; 3:12; 6:10; 9:2-3; 10:2-3.
- Angels, Dan 8:16; 9:21; 10:13, 20-21; 11:1.
- Resurrection, Dan 12:2.
- Antichrist, Dan 7:24-25; 9:27; 11:36.
Favorite stories include those of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, Dan 3, and the lions’ den, Dan 6.
The Minor Prophets.
We now turn to the 12 “Minor Prophets” whose writings were also very important but not as extensive as the “Major Prophets.” We break the Minor Prophets down into three groups:
Prophets of Israel:
Prophets of Judah:
Author: Hosea. Date: ca. 710 B.C.
The Prophet: All that we know about Hosea is what is told in the autobiographical sections of the book itself. Like his contemporary, Amos, he prophesied to the Northern Kingdom, Israel; sometimes called Ephraim, after the largest tribe, while Isaiah and Micah were ministering to the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Material prosperity and spiritual bankruptcy characterized the time under Jeroboam II, 782-753 B.C., when Hosea began his ministry, 2 Kings 14:23-17:41. Judgment seemed remote, but by 732 B.C. Damascus had fallen to the Assyrians and by 722 Samaria, the capital of Israel, fell and the people were deported. Some of the specific sins Hosea denounces are listed in, Hosea 4:2, 4, 11-13; 5:2; 6:8-9; 7:1, 5; 8:14; 10:1, 4; 13:2.
Content: Hosea 1-3 detail his domestic life; whereas, the remainder of the book records excerpts of his messages delivered during his 50-year career as a prophet. In the prophetic section three themes dominate: the sins of the people, the certainty of judgment, and the assurance of God’s loyal love. The overall theme of the book is God’s steadfast love for Israel in spite of her continued unfaithfulness, vividly depicted by Hosea’s marital experience. Hosea married Gomer only to discover that she was unfaithful. Though separation followed, Hosea’s love, like God’s for His people, persisted, and reconciliation eventually ensued. Three views have been proposed concerning Hosea’s marriage: 1) merely an allegory, the book contains no factual history of an actual marriage; 2) Hosea married a woman who was already a harlot, perhaps a temple prostitute; 3) Gomer became a harlot after her marriage.
Author: Joel. Date: 835 B.C.
The Prophet: Joel, whose name means “Yahweh is God,” apparently wrote during the days of young King Jehoash, 835-796 B.C., who was under the regency of priests when he ascended the throne of Judah at the age of seven, 2 Kings 11:21. Though some date the book after the Exile, the enemies of Judah are not identified in the prophecy as Arameans, Assyrians, or Babylonians, as would be the case if the book were written after the captivity, see Joel 3:4, 19. His prophecy was occasioned by a severe drought and an invasion of locusts, which Joel saw as a punishment for the sins of the people. He also depicted this invasion of locusts as an army, a harbinger of a future military campaign in the Day of the Lord.
Content: The Day of the Lord, the major theme of this prophecy, involves God’s special intervention in the affairs of human history.
Three facets of the Day of the Lord, are discernible:
- The historical, that is, God’s intervention in the affairs of Israel, Zeph 1:14-18; Joel 1:15, and heathen nations Isa 13:6; Jer 46:10; Ezek 30:3.
- The illustrative, whereby an historical incident represents a partial fulfillment of the eschatological Day of the Lord, Joel 2:1-11; Isa 13:6-13.
- The eschatological. This eschatological “day” includes the time of the Great Tribulation, Isa 2:12-19; 4:1, the second coming of Christ, Joel 2:30-32, and the Millennium, Isa 4:2; 12; 19:23-25; Jer 30:7-9, encompassing 1,007 years.
Author: Amos. Date: 755 B.C.
The Prophet: Amos was a southerner of Tekoa, a village 10 miles south of Jerusalem, who traveled north to Bethel to preach on what was virtually foreign soil to him. Though a layman, not a professional prophet, he had a direct call of God to his work, Amos 7:15. By occupation he was a sheep breeder, perhaps a master shepherd with others in his employment. Amos’s preaching in Bethel, a center of idol worship and the residence of the reigning king, Jeroboam II, aroused such opposition that he returned to Judah, where he committed his message to writing. That writing shows that he was a man of affairs, not an untutored rustic. At that time Uzziah, king of Judah, 791-740 B.C., reigned over a prosperous nation, but was under the influence of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, 793-753 B.C., whose kingdom then was outwardly at the pinnacle of power but inwardly was idolatrous and corrupt, cf. 2 Kings 14:24-25. Material prosperity and social evils further characterized the times, Amos 2:6-8; 3:10; 4:1; 5:10-12; 8:4-6.
Content: Attacking the social evils of the people as well as their paganized worship, Amos issued an urgent call to repentance as the only escape from imminent judgment. Israel’s privileged position, he declared, should have been an incentive to righteous living, certainly not an excuse for sinning. Some favorite and important verses include: Amos 3:2; 3:3; 5:24; 9:11.
Author: Obadiah. Date: 841 or 586 B.C.
Content: Obadiah prophesied against Edom either in connection with the invasion of the Philistines and Arabians during the reign of Jehoram, from 848-841, 2 Chron 21:16-17, or the Babylonians during the years 605-586, 2 Kings 24-25. Edom stands judged, and her doom is certain, because of her pride in rejoicing over the misfortunes that befell Jerusalem. The Edomites are Descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin. The Edomites were in constant conflict with Israel, the descendants of Jacob. They rejected Moses’ request to pass through their land, Num 20:14-20, they opposed King Saul, 1 Sam 14:47, they fought against David, 1 Kings 11:14-17, opposed Solomon, 1 Kings 11:14-25, and Jehoshaphat, 2 Chron 20:22, and rebelled against Jehoram, 2 Chron 21:8. From the thirteenth to the sixth centuries B.C., they settled in Mount Seir, a mountainous region south of the Dead Sea, of which Sela, Petra was the capital. So rugged is the terrain that the valley in which Petra is located can be reached only through a narrow canyon guarded by towering mountain walls 200-250 ft. high, see Obadiah 3-4. During the fifth century B.C., the Nabataeans dislodged the Edomites from their territory, causing them to withdraw to Idumea in southern Palestine. Herod the Great was an Edomite.
Author: Jonah. Date: 760 B.C.
Content: The theme of the book shows that the God of the Hebrews has concern for the whole world.
Jonah is the story of a reluctant prophet sent by the Lord to prophesy repentance to the loathed Ninevite people. He was an accredited prophet from Gath-hepher near Nazareth. In 2 Kings 14:27, Jonah is connected with the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel, 793-753 B.C., who had succeeded in reestablishing the power of Israel over most of the territory north of Judah previously controlled by David and Solomon.
A number of miracles are recorded in the book:
- The calming of the sea before the crew lost their lives, Jonah 1:15.
- The provision of the great fish and the preservation of Jonah in the fish, Jonah 1:17.
- The disgorging of Jonah on land, Jonah 2:10.
- The preparing of the plant, Jonah 4:6.
- The worm, Jonah 4:7.
- The wind, Jonah 4:8.
- The salvation of many Ninevites.
Jesus Christ treated Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish as factual, Mat 12:39-41 and used it as a prophecy for His death, burial, and resurrection; three days and nights.
Author: Micah. Date: 700 B.C.
The Prophet: Whereas Hosea prophesied to the northern tribes of Israel, and Isaiah to the court in Jerusalem, Micah, a Judean from Moresheth in the SW of Palestine, preached to the common people of Judah. His name means “who is like Yahweh?” Micah ministered during the reigns of Jotham, 750-732, Ahaz, 736-716 and Hezekiah, 716-687 B.C., Micah 1:1. Though for the most part a good king, Jotham did not remove the idolatrous high places from his kingdom. Ahaz, a wicked king, 2 Kings 16:2-4, adopted a pro-Assyrian foreign policy, and during his reign the captivity of the northern tribes took place. Hezekiah, one of Judah’s best kings, was anti-Assyrian and withstood the siege of Jerusalem that Sennacherib led in 701, 2 Kings 18:13-19:36. For peasants and villagers, these were days of harassment from enemy armies, of hardship because of exploitation by the wealthy, Micah 2:1-13, and of oppression by the rulers, Micah 3:1-4, and false prophets, Micah 3:5-8. Micah, as Amos, cried for social justice.
Content: Three important quotations from Micah are found elsewhere in the Bible. One saved the prophet Jeremiah’s life, Jer 26:1, a quote of Micah 3:12. The priests and scribes quoted Micah 5:2 in answer to Herod’s question about the birthplace of Messiah, Mat 2:5-6. And Christ quoted, Micah 7:6 when He commissioned the disciples the first time, Mat 10:35-36. Micah 4 is one of the most important descriptions in the Bible of the future glory of Israel and Micah 6:8 is one of the favorite verses. The major sections of the book are introduced with the word “Hear”, Micah 1:2; 3:1; 6:1.
Author: Nahum. Date: 663-612 B.C.
The Prophet: Nothing is known of Nahum, whose name means “consolation”, except that he came from Elkosh, which was possibly Capernaum. His message against Nineveh was given to Judah, since the Northern Kingdom, Israel, had already been taken captive.
Content: Nahum 1 contains a magnificent description of the character of God, especially Nahum 1:2-8. Reading Nahum 2, you can almost hear the noise of the battle of Nineveh. The theme is Nineveh will be destroyed! Almost every verse from Nahum 1:15-3:19 describes that event, which took place in 612 B.C. The Ninevites, (Assyrians) converted through the preaching of Jonah more than one hundred years before Nahum wrote, had not transmitted their knowledge of the true God to their children, and the people had quickly reverted to their cruel and heathen practices. They had destroyed Samaria, the Northern Kingdom, Israel, in 722 B.C. and nearly captured Jerusalem in 701. Nahum briefly describes Nineveh’s wickedness in Nahum 3:1, 4. God had to destroy such an apostate people.
Author: Habakkuk. Date: 606-604 B.C.
The Prophet: Though nothing is known of the prophet himself, whose name means “embracer,” because of his love for God, we know something of his times. Prophesying just before Nebuchadnezzar first invaded Judah in 605 B.C. who took Daniel and others as captives to Babylon, Habakkuk was commissioned to announce the Lord’s intention to punish Judah by this coming deportation into Babylon. The reigning king in Judah, Jehoiakim is described by the prophet Jeremiah as: “your eyes and your heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion”, Jer 22:17; cf. Hab 1:2-4 and 2; Kings 23:34-24:5.
Content: The best-known verse in Habakkuk is Hab 2:4b, “But the righteous will live by his faith.” quoted in Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38. Not only because it was the heart of God’s answer to Habakkuk’s questions, but because the New Testament shows that its truth is central to the doctrine of justification by faith. Another favorite verse is Hab 2:20, “The LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.” Hab 3 is a great psalm of praise, scarcely equaled anywhere else in the Old Testament. Overall the book presents a picture of a man who trusted God, yet was perplexed.
Habakkuk’s questions were two:
- Why did God permit the increasing evil in Judah to go unpunished, Hab 1:2-4?
- How could a holy God justify using the Babylonians, a people more wicked than the Jews, to punish the Jews, Hab 1:12-2:1?
The answer to the first question is recorded in Hab 1:5-11, and to the second in Hab 2:2-20. Thus the book is a theodicy, a defense of God’s goodness and power in view of the existence of evil.
Author: Zephaniah. Date: ca. 625 B.C.
The Prophet: Zephaniah, of noble birth, Zeph 1:1, apparently helped prepare Judah for the revival that took place under good King Josiah in 621 B.C., 2 Chron 34:3. For more than half a century, times had been evil under kings Manasseh and Amon, and Zephaniah called his people to repentance. Reform came, but, after Josiah, the leaders and many of the people reverted to their old ways.
Content: Judgment is the central theme of Zephaniah’s message. The immediate fulfillment occurred when Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar, captured Judah. The ultimate fulfillment will yet occur in the Day of the Lord, during the coming tribulation years. Zephaniah also predicted the doom of heathen nations, both immediately, as Nineveh, which fell in 612 B.C., cf. Zeph 2:13, and in the future, Zeph 3:8. The book closes with a glorious description of the future Millennium, also an aspect of the Day of the Lord.
Author: Haggai. Date: 520 B.C.
The Prophet: Haggai, whose name means “my feast”, was the first prophetic voice to be heard after the Babylonian Exile. He was a contemporary of Zechariah, (and of Confucius), and his ministry was to call the people to finish the Temple, whose completion had been delayed for 15-years. These prophecies were given between August and December 520 B.C., and the Temple was completed four years later. Haggai likely returned to Jerusalem from Babylon with Zerubbabel.
Content: The book contains four appeals, each introduced by “the word of the LORD came.” It is addressed to all the people, Hag 1:13; 2:2, to encourage them to rebuild the Temple. But it is also particularly addressed to Zerubbabel, the governor, and to Joshua, the high priest, Hag 1:1; 2:2, 21.
Author: Zechariah. Date: 520-518 B.C.
The Prophet: Zechariah’s father, Berechiah, probably died when his son was young, making Zechariah the immediate successor of his grandfather, Iddo, Neh 12:4. Iddo was a priest who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel and Joshua and was, according to tradition, a member of the Great Synagogue, the governing body of the Jews before the Sanhedrin. The name Zechariah, used in the Old Testament of 27 other people, means “Yahweh remembers.” This Zechariah was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai, Ezra 5:1; 6:14.
Content: The book is one of consolation and hope, beginning with a call to repentance and concluding with prophecies concerning the return and reign of Christ. During the reign of Cyrus, more than 50,000 Jews returned to Palestine from Babylon in 538 B.C. They laid the foundation of the Temple in 536, but opposition stalled the work for about 15-years, Ezra 1:1-4; 4:1-5. Darius Hystaspes, Zech 1:1, who came to the throne in 521 B.C., confirmed Cyrus’s decree, and Zechariah, like Haggai, encouraged the people to finish the Temple, which they did in 516 B.C. Zechariah predicted more about Messiah than any other prophet except Isaiah. Prophecies concerning His first coming include: Zech 3:8; 9:9, 16; 11:11-13; 12:10; 13:1, 6; and prophecies to be fulfilled at His second coming include Zech 6:12; 14:1-21.
Author: Malachi. Date: 450-400 B.C.
The Prophet: Malachi means “my messenger” and could simply be a designation of an anonymous writer. More likely it is a proper name. He is not mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament.
Content: Malachi rebuked the people for their neglect of the true worship of the Lord and called them to repentance, Mal 1:6; 3:7, using a question-and-answer method, 23 in all. About 100-years had passed since the return of the Jews to Palestine. The city of Jerusalem and the second Temple had been built, but initial enthusiasm had worn off. Following a period of revival under Nehemiah, Neh 10:28-39, the people and priests had backslidden and became mechanical in their observance of the law. Though lax in their worship, Mal 1:7, and delinquent in their tithing, Mal 3:8, they could not understand why God was dissatisfied with them.
Between the Testaments:
At the conclusion of the book of Malachi we have approximately 425 silent years until the 1st Advent of Christ.
The term, “silent years,” frequently employed to describe the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament writings, is a misnomer. Although no inspired prophet arose in Israel during these centuries, and the Old Testament was regarded as complete, events took place that gave to later Judaism its distinctive ideology and providentially prepared the way for the coming of Christ and the proclamation of His gospel.
For about a century after Nehemiah’s time, the Persian Empire exercised control over Judea. The period was relatively uneventful, for the Jews were permitted to observe their religious institutions without molestation. Judea was ruled by high priests, who were responsible to the Persian government, a fact that both insured the Jews a large measure of autonomy and degraded the priesthood into a political office. Jealousy, intrigue, and even murder played their part in the contests for the distinction of being high priest. Johanan, son of Joiada (Neh. 12:22), is reported to have slain his brother Joshua in the Temple itself.
Persia and Egypt were engaged in constant struggles during this period, and Judea, situated between the two nations, could not escape involvement. During the reign of Artaxerxes III (Ochus) many Jews were implicated in a revolt against Persia. They were deported to Babylonia and the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Alexander the Great
Following the defeat of Persian armies in Asia Minor (333 B.C.), Alexander marched into Syria and Palestine. After stubborn resistance, Tyre was taken, and Alexander moved southward toward Egypt. Legend states that as Alexander neared Jerusalem he was met by Jaddua, the Jewish high priest, who told him of Daniel’s prophecies that the Greek army would be victorious (Daniel 8). The story is not taken seriously by historians, but it is true that Alexander dealt kindly with the Jews. He permitted them to observe their laws; he granted them exemption from tribute during Sabbatical years; and when he built Alexandria in Egypt (331 B.C.), he encouraged the Jews to settle there and gave them privileges comparable to those of his Greek subjects.
Judea under the Ptolemies
After the death of Alexander (323 B.C.), Judea was first subject for a time to Antigonus, one of Alexander’s generals who controlled part of Asia Minor. It subsequently fell to another general, Ptolemy I (by now master of Egypt), surnamed Soter, or Deliverer, who seized Jerusalem on a Sabbath day in 320 B.C. Ptolemy dealt kindly with the Jews. Many of them settled in Alexandria, which continued as an important center of Jewish thinking for many centuries. Under Ptolemy II (Philadelphus), the Jews of Alexandria translated their law, i.e., the Pentateuch, into Greek. This translation was subsequently known as the Septuagint, from the legend that its seventy (more correctly seventy-two, six from each of the twelve tribes) translators were supernaturally inspired to produce an infallible translation. In later years the entire Old Testament was included in the Septuagint.
Judea under the Seleucids
After about a century, during which time the Jews were subjected to the Ptolemies, Antiochus III (the Great) of Syria wrested Syria and Palestine from Egyptian control (198 B.C.). The Syrian rulers are known as Seleucids because of the fact that their kingdom, built on the ruins of Alexander’s empire, was founded by Seleucus I (Nicator).
During the early years of Syrian rule, the Seleucids allowed the high priest to continue to govern the Jews in accord with their law. Strife broke out, however, between the Hellenistic party and the orthodox Jews. Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) allied himself with the Hellenizing group and appointed to the priesthood a man who changed his name from Joshua to Jason and who encouraged the worship of the Tyrian Hercules. Jason was displaced in two years, however, by another Hellenist, a rebel named Menahem (Gk., Menelaus). When the partisans of Jason contended with those of Menelaus, Antiochus marched on Jerusalem, plundered the Temple, and killed many of the Jews (170 B.C.). Civil and religious liberties were suspended, the daily sacrifices prohibited, and an altar to Jupiter was erected on the old altar of burnt offering. Copies of the Scriptures were burned, and the Jews were forced to eat swine’s flesh contrary to their law. A sow was offered on the altar of burnt offering in contempt for the Jewish religious conscience.
The oppressed Jews were not long in finding a champion. When the emissaries of Antiochus arrived at the small town of Modin, about fifteen miles west of Jerusalem, they expected the aged priest, Mattathias, to set a good example to his people by offering a pagan sacrifice. He not only refused, but he also killed an apostate Jew at the heathen altar, along with the Syrian officer who was presiding at the ceremony. Mattathias fled to the Judean highlands and, with his sons, waged guerrilla warfare on the Syrians. Although the aged priest did not live to see his people freed from the Syrian yoke, he commissioned his sons to complete the task. Judas, surnamed “the Maccabee,” took the leadership at the death of his father. By 164 B.C. Judas had gained possession of Jerusalem. He purified the Temple and reinstituted the daily offerings. Soon after the victories of Judas, Antiochus died in Persia. However, struggles continued between the Maccabees and the Seleucid rulers for about twenty years.
Aristobolus I was the first of the Maccabean rulers to take the title, “King of the Jews.” After a short reign he was succeeded by the tyrannical Alexander Jannaeus, who, in turn, left the kingdom to his mother, Alexandra. Alexandra’s reign was a relatively quiet one. At Alexandra’s death a younger son, Aristobolus (II), dispossessed his brother. Thereupon, the governor of Idumaea, Antipater, espoused the cause of Hyrcanus, and civil war threatened. Consequently, Pompey marched into Judea with his Roman legions to settle matters and further the aims of Rome. Aristobolus sought to defend Jerusalem against Pompey, but the Romans took the city and penetrated to the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Pompey did not, however, touch the Temple treasures.
Mark Antony supported the cause of Hyrcanus. After the murder of Julius Caesar, and of Antipater (father of Herod), who for twenty years had been virtual ruler of Judea, Antigonus, the second son of Aristobolus, sought the throne. For a time, he actually ruled in Jerusalem, but Herod, the son of Antipater, returned from Rome and became king of the Jews with Roman support. His marriage to Mariamne, granddaughter of Hyrcanus, provided a link with the Maccabean rulers.
Herod was one of the cruelest rulers of all time. He murdered the venerable Hyrcanus (31 B.C.) and put to death his own wife, Mariamne and their two sons. From his death-bed Herod ordered the execution of Antipater, a son by another wife. In Scripture Herod is known as the king who ordered the death of the innocents of Bethlehem because he feared as a rival One who was born to be King of the Jews.
Jewish Religious Groups
When, following Alexander’s conquest, Hellenism challenged the thinking of the Near East, some Jews clung more tenaciously than ever to the faith of their fathers, while others were willing to adapt their thinking to the newer ideas emanating from Greece. Ultimately, the clash between Hellenism and Judaism gave rise to a number of Jewish sects.
The Pharisees were the spiritual descendants of the pious Jews who had fought the Hellenizers in the days of the earlier Maccabees. The name Pharisee, “separatist,” was probably given them by their enemies to indicate that they were nonconformists. It may, however, have been used in scorn because their strictness separated them from their fellow Jews as well as from the heathen. Loyalty to truth sometimes produces pride and even hypocrisy, and it is this perversion of the earlier Pharisaic ideal that is denounced by Jesus. Paul reckoned himself a member of this orthodox group within the Judaism of his day (Phil. 3:5).
The Sadducean party, probably named for Zadok, the high priest appointed by Solomon (1 Kings 2:35), denied the authority of tradition and looked with suspicion on all revelation later than the Mosaic Law. They denied the doctrine of resurrection, and they did not believe in the existence of angels or spirits (Acts 23:3). They were largely people of wealth and position, and they cooperated gladly with the Hellenism of the day. In New Testament times, they controlled the priesthood and the Temple ritual. The synagogue, on the other hand, was the stronghold of the Pharisees.
Essenism was an ascetic reaction from the externalism of the Pharisees and the worldliness of the Sadducees. The Essenes withdrew from society and lived lives of asceticism and celibacy. They gave attention to the reading and study of Scripture, prayer, and ceremonial cleansings. They held their possessions in common and were known for their industry and piety. Both war and slavery were contrary to their principles.
The monastery at Qumran, near the caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found is thought by most scholars to have been an Essene center in the Judean wilderness. The scrolls indicate that members of the community had left the corrupt influences of the Judean towns to prepare, in the wilderness, “the way of the Lord.” They had faith in the coming Messiah and thought of themselves as the true Israel to whom He would come.
The Scribes were not, strictly speaking, a sect but rather members of a profession. They were, in the first instance, copyists of the law. They came to be regarded as the authorities on the Scriptures, hence exercised a teaching function. Their thoughts were usually akin to those of the Pharisees, with whom they are frequently associated in the New Testament.
Herodians believed that the best interests of Judaism lay in cooperation with the Romans. Their name was taken from Herod the Great, who sought to Romanize the Palestine of his day. The Herodians were more of a political party than a religious sect.
Roman political oppression, symbolized by Herod, and the religious reactions expressed in the sectarian reactions within pre-Christian Judaism, provided the historical framework into which Jesus came. Frustrations and conflicts prepared Israel for the advent of God’s Messiah, who appeared “when the fullness of the time came” (Galatians 4:4).
From Malachi to Matthew B.C.
- 300-30 Apocryphal books written
- 333 Alexander the Great conquered the Persians
- 323 Alexander the Great died
- 280-200 Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) translated
- ca. 200 Great wall of China built
- 167 Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the Temple in Jerusalem by offering swine flesh on the altar
- 165 The Temple was cleansed and restored to proper use by Judas Maccabees
- 63 Pompey entered Jerusalem
- 63 Julius Caesar assassinated
- 37 Herod the Great appointed to govern Palestine
- 20 Herod the Great began rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem
1 Esdras (3 Esdras) ca. 100 B.C.
Narrates the same historical material found in Ezra, Nehemiah, 2 Chron.
1 Maccabees ca. 140 B.C.
A historical work recounting the patriotic revolt of the Maccabean family against Antiochus Epiphanes and his successors
2 Maccabees ca. 100 B.C.
Claims to be the work of a certain Jason of Cyrene and covers part of the same period as 1 Maccabees, with heavy moralizing against Greek paganism
Tobit (Tobias) ca. 150 B.C.
A tale of Jewish piety, recounting the recovery from blindness of Tobias (a righteous Jew)
Judith ca. 150 B.C.-ca. 100 B.C.
A fictional narrative about a beautiful and devout Jewish widow named Judith, who saves her city from Nebuchadnezzar’s invading army by cutting off the head of Holophemes, an Assyrian general
Additions to Esther ca. 115 B.C.
Passages inserted into the Septuagint (Greek) text of Esther: Mordecai’s dream (before Esther 1:1); a royal letter ordering the extermination of all Jews in the kingdom (follows Esther 3:13); prayers of Mordecai and Esther (follows Esther 4); Esther’s dramatic audience before Ahasuerus (adds 14 verses to Esther 5); a royal letter telling of Haman’s death, praising the Jews, and permitting them to defend themselves (follows Esther 8:12); interpretation of Mordecai’s dream and a final word, the meaning of the feast of Purim (following the last chapter of Esther)
The Prayer of Azariah and The Song of the Three Young Men ca. 150 B.C.-ca. 50 B.C.
An eloquent prayer, an account of miraculous deliverance, and a psalm of praise (follows Daniel 3:23)
The Story of Susanna (Daniel and Susanna) ca. 150 B.C.-ca. 50 B.C.
The tale of how Susanna was cleared of false charges of adultery by the timely intervention of the young Daniel (placed in different ancient versions either before or after the canonical text of Daniel)
Bel and the Dragon ca. 150 B.C.-ca. 50 B.C.
Two legends designed to ridicule idolatry: (1) By scattering ashes on the temple floor, Daniel proves that the priests of Bel are really the one consuming the offerings made to Bel; (2) Daniel destroys a dragon worshiped in Babylon by feeding it a strange mixture, which causes it to explode. Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den, where he is later fed by the prophet Habakkuk, who has been angelically transported to Babylon by the hair of his head
The Wisdom of Solomon (The Book of Wisdom) ca. 50 B.C.
Sets forth the truth of immortality by contrasting the destiny of the wicked and the righteous; a lengthy praise of wisdom; a narration of Israel’s history in Egypt and the wilderness with a discussion on the origins and evils of idolatry
Eccleslasticus (Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach) ca. 180 B.C.
A collection of aphorisms or wise sayings similar to the book of Proverbs
Baruch (Including the Letter of Jeremiah) ca. 150 B.C.-ca. 60 B.C.
A work professing to have been written in Babylon by Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch, it contains prayers and confessions of Jewish exiles, with promises of restoration.
The Prayer of Manasses ca. 175 B.C.-ca. 25 B.C.
Professes to be the penitential prayer of Manasseh, the wicked king of Judah (follows 2 Chron. 33:19 in the Septuagint)
2 Esdras (4 Esdras) ca. A.D. 100-ca. A.D. 250
Addresses the problem of evil; the Roman Empire and the coming of Messiah; Ezra’s rewriting of sacred literature.