Summary of the books of the Old Testament

New Testament coming soon!

As the name might suggest, Genesis deals with the beginning of everything: the universe, earth, mankind and so on. The first eleven chapters answer (if you are a believer!) the fundamental questions of where humans came from, why there is evil and suffering and who made the world. These chapters document the origins on the Jewish people. Further on, in chapters 12-15, Abraham is directed out of the chaos to settle in the chosen lands. His descendants, Isaac and Jacob, become the founders (patriarchs) of Israel. Jacob's twelve sons become the beginnings of the twelve tribes, and through one of these, Joseph, they settle in Egypt.
'Exodus' literally means 'going out'. In the 400 years or so between Genesis and Exodus, the Egyptian attitude towards Israel becomes hostile and oppressive. God chooses Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. After struggle, God delivers the Israelites from Egypt into Sinai. God gives through Moses the basic moral code for the nation's new life - the Ten Commandments.
Leviticus gives laws to bring the people closer to their God and help them reflect Him in their daily lives. The laws given concern mostly worship, sacrifice and priesthood.
The name of this book is derived from the census taking that occurred before the Israelites left Sinai. The first ten chapters continue the form of Leviticus' law giving. The remainder documents the forty years the Israelites spent in Sinai, and the rebellions against God through Moses.
'Deuteronomy' means 'the second law giving': the book is named so as Moses here reiterates many of the laws given in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy to the Israelites once they have settled. The book is presented as three sermons of Moses which cover the journey from Egypt, the rebellions and God's patience. The book ends with Moses' death.
Joshua is the new leader of Israel. The first twelve chapters document this. The rest of the book outlines territorial divisions between the twelve tribes and the conquering of native peoples.
The recurring theme in Judges is being far from and then returning to God, who is patient. This is demonstrated through the 'judges' who rally the twelve tribes to fight conquer their enemies. The book's narrative follows Israel's conquest of the land which God outlined as theirs.
Set in the same period as Judges, Ruth is the story of a woman (Ruth) who was not an Israelite, but came to be through believing in God and marrying Boaz (an Israelite). The recurring theme is family loyalty and loyalty to God through keeping his laws. Ruth is the great grandmother to David
1 Samuel
1 Samuel continues from Judges, and shows how the trouble between Israel and other tribes brought forward the need for a king. Samuel was the prophet who appointed the first two kings of Israel - Saul and David.
2 Samuel
Saul's death left Israel in a civil war, and David takes his place. David establishes Jerusalem as Israel's capital. There is intrigue between David's sons over succession of the throne.
1 Kings
The books of Kings cover about 400 years of history. The first eleven chapters of 1 Kings cover King Solomon (David's son), who built the temple in Jerusalem. Under Rehoboam, Solomon's son, the kingdom splits into Israel (under Jeroboam, one of Rehoboam's advisers) in the north, and Judah, under Rehoboam, in the south. The rest of the books of Kings cover the history of these states. The end of 1 Kings sees Elijah the prophet.
2 Kings
Elijah the prophet dies, and Elisha emerges. The rest of 2 Kings sees the states of Israel and Judah turn from God, despite a few religious revivals. Over a period of about 300 years, both states fall: first Israel, then Judah. This is understood as a punishment for turning away from God.
1 Chronicles
The author of the Chronicles books, known only as 'The Chronicler', traces the history from Adam to the return in order to prove that Judah is the true people of God. The Chronicler shows that David laid the foundations for worship.
2 Chronicles
Chapters 1-9 cover Solomon building the Jerusalem temple. The Chronicler then covers the other kings, giving particular attention to those who promoted religious reform. The overriding theme is that of Judah being the true nation of Israel. The exile in Babylon is almost over as the Persians have conquered Babylon.
The Jews are allowed to return to Israel to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. The altar was rebuilt and sacrifices resumed but progress was halted. Eventually the temple is finished. Ezra is sent from Babylon to guide the Jewish community, as intermarriage with other nations was occurring, threatening nationhood.
Nehemiah organises the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem for secrity. Ezra reads the laws from the Torah and the people promise to obey them in the future. Chapters 11-13 see Nehemiah bring about some social reform.
The Purim story of Esther is set in a Persian palace. Esther the Jew becomes a Persian queen and saves the Jews from extermination.
Job describes Satan bringing tragedy into a righteous man's (Job's) life. Job discusses with friends issues affecting his life, human suffering, God's fairness and goodness, and the inadequacy of traditional answers.
Centuries of worship and experience developed these poems, prayers and songs. Traditionally associated with David, they cover themes from anger to praise to joy to guilt.
The first nine chapters of Proverbs are given as a parent giving advice to a child. The subsequent chapters each give a proverb in styles more recognised today. Themes involve righteousness, self control and justice.
The author of Ecclesiates 'The Teacher' examines aspects of life - wealth, success, pleasure and so on - concluding that they are 'meaningless' as death becomes us all. The Teacher does however suggest the enjoyment of what God has given, and to "Fear God and keep his commandments".
Song of Songs
This 'song' is a conversation between lovers: a man and a woman; also a group of friends. It also shows the thoughts of the lovers. Song of Songs is about the wonder of sexual love, but is often seen as a metaphor for God's love of his people.
Isaiah covers about 300 years of history. It is set in the northern kingdom of Israel, where Isaiah warns people in Jerusalem of the judgement that will fall on them as the turn from God. He advises kings on taking God's guidance rather than political intricacies. The chapters from 40 to 55 concern the Jewish exile in Babylon - and how God will soon do something to deliver them. The late chapters of Isaiah are in Jerusalem as temple has been rebuilt: warnings to the returned community that they are slipping back into the old patterns of behaviour. There is a vision of God, his greatness, and a plan to bless all nations though the Jews.
The unpopular prophet Jeremiah warns of God's judgement in the closing years of Judah.
Possibly written by Jeremiah, Lamentations is a funeral song for the destroyed Jerusalem. Each chapter is a poem, which vary in mood from anguish to God's love, and how it will return.
Ezekiel the prophet was an exile in Babylon. His message is very similar to that of Jeremiah. The book is full of visions and symbolism. Once his prophecy of Jerusalem's destruction was complete, Ezekiel's message turns to one of comfort: God will return his people to his country one day.
Daniel was an exile in Babylon who worked in the court, but refused to renounce his faith in God. God blessed him, and he was respected by the Babylonians and Persians due to his ability to interpret dreams. The second part of the book is full of visions and symbols.
Hosea's broken marriage gave him a deep insight into Israel's relationship to God: the covenant at Sinai was like a marriage of a people and God, yet, like Hosea's wife, Israel had left God.
Joel calls people to turn back to God, and speaks of an outpouring of God's spirit.
Amos speaks of God's wrath against the nations surrounding Israel. He also uses the social injustice, hypocrisy and so on as signs that God has judged the northern kingdom of Israel.
Obadiah tells of the punishment of the long term enemies of Israel, the Edomites.
Jonah is commanded by God to preach to the Ninevites, who turn to God. Jonah is furious that God has shown mercy to such people. God tries to demonstrate his compassion.
Micah worked at about the same time as Isaiah. He condemned the evil of the leaders of his time. God must punish his people, yet there will be a time when a descendant of David will lead Israel.
Nahum prophecies the destruction of Nineveh, as, although God is 'slow to anger', he will not leave wrongdoers unpunished.
Habakkuk questions God about cruelty and wickedness. God promises that one day he will punish all injustice. Habakkuk concludes with his trust in God, 'no matter what'.
Zephaniah deals with God's judgement and punishment of Israel and her enemies. Beyond this, there is hope.
A contemporary of Zephaniah, Haggai rallied the Jews who were returning to Israel, asking them to put God first in order to solve their problems.
Zechariah also encourages the people of Israel to complete the rebuilding of the temple. His messages come as visions and prophecies.
After Haggai and Zechariah, the state of Israel deteriorated once more. People were disappointed, leaders corrupt, and people disobedient to God. Malachi looks forward to when injustice will be dealt with and God will bless the righteous.