Genesis, meaning beginning, covers the time from the Creation (i.e., the beginning of history) to the Israelite sojourn in Egypt, the book falls naturally into two main sections: Chapters 1-11 deal primarily with primeval history; Chapters 12-50 treat the history of the Fathers of Israel (or the Patriarchs). The first section speaks of the creation of the world, including man, man’s life in Paradise (a symbol of being in God’s presence), and his tragic disobedience of God’s commandment (the Original Sin) and Fall. It also speaks of the spread of sin in the world and its first destruction in the Flood. The latter section tells the stories of Abraham (Ch. 12-25), of Isaac and his twin sons Esau and Jacob (Ch. 26-36), and of Jacob’s family, the chief member of which, in Genesis, was Joseph (Ch. 37-50).
This book speaks of the deliverance of the People of Israel from bondage in Egypt and the making of a Covenant between God and them at Mt. Sinai. It falls into two major sections: 1) Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage, including the rise of Moses as leader of the people, the Ten Plagues, etc., and the march to Sinai, including the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies in the Red Sea (Ch. 1-18) and 2) Israel’s sojourn at Sinai, where the Covenant was made and laws governing life and worship were promulgated (Ten Commandments, Ark of the Covenant, Tabernacle, etc. Ch. 19-40). At the center of these events stood Moses, who was called to be the agent of God in delivering Israel from slavery, to be the interpreter of God’s redemptive work and to be the mediator of the Covenant.
The book of Leviticus (the title refers to the Levitical priests set apart to minister at the Sanctuary) is mostly a book of worship and falls into six parts: 1) laws dealing with sacrifices (Ch. 1-7); 2) consecration of priests to their office (Ch. 8-10); 3) laws setting forth the distinction between clean and unclean (Ch. 11-15); 4) the ceremony for the annual Day of Atonement (Ch. 16); 5) laws to govern Israel’s life as a holy people (the Holiness Code Ch. 17-26); and 6) an appendix on religious vows (Ch. 27).
Through the various rituals and laws, there breathes the conviction that the holy God tabernacles in the midst of His people during their historical pilgrimage. The nearness of God not only accentuates the people’s sense of sin, but prompts them to turn to Him in sacrificial services of worship. For God has provided the means of atonement and forgiveness whereby the community is restored to wholeness and is reconciled to Him.
The title Numbers refers to the census or numbering of the people of Israel at the beginning of this book, but could be better entitled In the Wilderness. The book can be divided into three parts: 1) Preparations for departure from Sinai (Ch. 1-10:10); 2) the journey to Kadesh, from which point an unsuccessful attack upon southern Canaan was made (Ch. 10:11-21:13); and 3) the journey from Kadesh via the Transjordan for the purpose of approaching Canaan from the East (Ch. 21:14-36).
Here we see the Forty-year Sojourn in the Wilderness, in which the people, existing only precariously, are constantly murmuring. They are pictured as faithless, rebellious, and blind to God’s signs. Yet, God was marvelously guiding, sustaining, and disciplining His people so that they might know their utter dependence upon Him and thus be prepared for their historical pilgrimage.
The basic theme of Deuteronomy which means Second Law, is the renewal of the Covenant. At the end of the book of Numbers, Israel is encamped in the Plains of Moab, preparing for an attack upon Canaan from the East. Deuteronomy is essentially Moses’ farewell address to the people in which he rehearses the mighty acts of the Lord, solemnly warns of the temptations of the new ways of Canaan, and pleads for loyalty to and love of God as the condition for life in the Promised Land. A distinctive teaching of Deuteronomy is that the worship of the Lord is to be centralized in one place, so that the paganism of the local shrines may be eliminated.
This book can be divided into four parts: 1) God’s care for Israel from Sinai to Moab (Ch. 1-4); 2) The Covenant Proof of God’s love (Ch. 5-11); 3) Moses’ explanation of the Law (Ch. 12-26); and 4) Moses’ last words and death (Ch. 27-34).
The book of Joshua is the story of the Conquest of the Promised Land. The story opens with the passage of the Jordan River and the sack of Jericho (Ch. 1-6); it then tells how the Hebrew armies moved from the Jordan Valley up into the highlands to conquer Ai (Ch. 7-8) and, through a humorous deception, to become unwilling allies of the Gibeonites (Ch. 9). This led to a great battle with the chieftains of five other Canaanite cities and the conquest of the South (Ch. 10). A final engagement in the North resulted in the complete destruction of Canaanite power in Palestine (Ch. 11). following a brief summary of Joshua’s triumphs (Ch. 12), the book describes the division of the land among the several tribes (Ch. 13-23) and how Israel entered into a Covenant to serve forever the God Whose might had been so awesomely demonstrated (Ch. 24).
Despite the initial conquest of Palestine, the process of subjugation continued and, in fact, some parts of the country were never conquered. Heroes (Judges) rose up amongst the people in times of crisis, and this book is primarily an account of their exploits.
The book opens with an account of the conquest of Canaan which is roughly parallel to that in the book of Joshua (Ch. 1-2:5); then follows the main body of the book, which, after a moralizing introduction (Ch. 2:6-3:6), relates the adventures of the individual Judges: Othniel (Ch. 3:7-11), Ehud (Ch. 3:12-30), Shamgar (Ch. 3:31), Deborah (Ch. 4-5), Gideon (Ch. 6-8) and his infamous son, Abimelech (Ch. 9), two minor Judges (Ch. 10:1-5); Jephthah (Ch. 10:6-12:7), three more minor Judges (Ch. 12:8-15) and Samson (Ch. 13-16). The book concludes with an appendix containing tales about the migration of the Tribe of Dan (Ch. 17-18) and the sins of the Benjaminites (Ch. 19-21). In all this, one clear lesson stands out: Loyalty to God is the first requisite for national success and disloyalty a guarantee of disaster.
The book of Ruth speaks of the marriage of Ruth (a Moabitess a foreigner) to a Hebrew man and how, on his death, she chose to return to Judah with her mother-in-law, Naomi, to share the fortunes of her husband’s people, rather than remain in the security of her native land (Ch. 1). There, her loyalty and kindliness won her the love of Boaz (Ch. 2-4:12), and, through her marriage to him, she became the great-grandmother of David the King (Ch. 4:13-22).
First and Second Samuel.
The two books of the Samuel (1st and 2nd Kings in the Orthodox Bible) are concerned primarily with the history of Israel during the times of the Prophet Samuel, King Saul and King David. Originally one unified work, Samuel was early divided into two parts (1st and 2nd Samuel).
The books can be divided as follows: 1) The last Judges, Eli and Samuel, and the Philistine oppression (I Sam. 1-7); 2) Samuel and Saul, the institution of the Monarchy, and Saul’s rejection (1 Sam. 8-15); 3) Saul and David; David befriended at first by Saul, but later persecuted (I Sam. 16-31); 4) David, King over Judah after the death of Saul (2 Sam. 1-4); 5) David, King over all Israel and nearby conquered nations (2 Sam. 5-20); and 6) Appendices (2 Sam. 21-24).
The theme of this work is the institution of the Israelite Monarchy and its perpetuity in the dynasty of David, from which one day will be born the Messiah. The last days of Eli are described because they introduce Samuel. Samuel is described because he institutes the Monarchy in Israel. Saul is described because he demonstrates for all time what the Israelite King must not be. David is described because like him and from him will come the desire of the everlasting hills the Messiah.
First and Second Kings.
Like the two books of Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings (in the Orthodox Bibles, 3rd and 4th Kings) were originally one. First Kings begins with the enthronement of Solomon and the death of David (Ch. 1-2) and recounts the history of Solomon’s reign (Ch. 3-11). It then continues with the history of the Kings of the Divided Monarchy (Southern Kingdom of Judah, with its capital at Jerusalem, and the Northern Kingdom of Israel, with its capital at Samaria) through the reigns of Ahab of Israel and Jehoshaphat of Judah (Ch. 12-22). Here also we encounter the dramatic story of Elijah the Prophet (1 Kings 17-2 Kings 2).
Second Kings continues the story of the Hebrew Monarchies. Chapters 1-17 describe the period from the reigns of Ahaziah of Israel and Jehoshaphat of Judea until the Fall of Samaria and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by Assyria in 721 B.C. Included here are the stories of the Prophet Elisha, heir to Elijah. Chapters 18-25 continue the history of the Kingdom of Judah from the Fall of Samaria until the Fall of the Kingdom and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., with the subsequent Deportation to Babylon.
The purpose of the two books of Kings is to show the causes of the Fall of the Kingdom. The catastrophes of 721 (Fall of Samaria) and 587 (Fall of Jerusalem) are seen as a just punishment for the failure of the majority of the Kings of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms to practice monotheism and observe the unity of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem as demanded by the Law. Israel, not God, had been unfaithful to the Sinai Covenant. If Israel is to resume her God-given mission, she must repent and leave the future to God’s unswerving faithfulness and to His steadfast love.
First and Second Chronicles.
First and Second Chronicles (1st and 2nd Paralipomenen in the Orthodox Bibles) were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible and can be seen as part of a larger history including the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. These books are a theological history of the dynasty of David and of the Temple until the Fall of Jerusalem. The purpose of these books were to focus attention on Israel’s hope the dynasty of David, and on Israel’s glory the Temple of the True God on earth, in Jerusalem.
These books can be divided into four basic parts: 1) (1 Chr. 1-9) a summary of Israel’s history from Adam to David, presented by a series of genealogies; 2) (1 Chr. 10-29) David as a great Monarch and the Founder of the Temple and its ritual; 3) (2 Chr. 1-9) King Solomon and the building of the Temple; and 4) (2 Chr. 10-36) the history of the Davidic Kings and their association with the Temple.
Ezra and Nehemiah.
These two books form part of a larger history which includes 1st and 2nd Chronicles (mentioned above). The theme of these books are the religious and political reorganization of Judah after the Return from the Babylonian Exile in the time of the Persian Empire (Kings Cyrus, Darius I, Ataxerxes I and Ataxerxes II). Attention is focused on the importance of the Temple and religious reforms for the preservation of the Jewish State.
The books can be divided into four parts: 1) The return of the first exiles in 537 B.C., followed by the rebuilding of the altar in 536 and the Temple in 516 (Ez. 1-6); 2) the return of a second group of exiles in 458, led by Ezra the Scribe, and the marriage reforms introduced by him (Ez. 7-10); 3) the return of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in 445 (Neh. 1-7); and 4) the religious reforms and the renewal of the Covenant instituted by Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh. 8-13).
The book of Esther is concerned primarily with the story of Esther, the Jewish wife and Queen of the Persian King Ahasuerus. The story portrays the foiling of a plot by Esther and her adoptive guardian, Mordecai, hatched by the evil Haman against the Jews. This account, which shows God’s love and care for His people, is greatly venerated by the Jews as the basis for their Feast of Purim.
This book can be divided into four parts: 1) (Ch. 1-2) the setting of the scene in the Court of the King; 2) (Ch. 3-7) the development of the plot and its overthrow by Esther and Mordecai, resulting in the hanging of Haman and his sons; 3) (Ch. 8-10) the destruction of the enemies of the Jews and the institution of the Feast of Purim; and 4) (Ch. 11-16) further additions to the story.