With guidance from the 'Overview of the Books of the Bible', by the Right Reverend Basil, Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America, in the 'Orthodox Study Bible'
The Old Testament consists of forty-nine books. These divinely inspired books tell the story of God's dealings with ancient Israel, and are traditionally subdivided into four sections: 1) The Five books of the Law; 2) The books of history; 3) The books of Wisdom; 4) The Books of Prophecy. Like the earliest Christian communities, the Orthodox Church continues to use the Greek version, used and quoted by Christ Himself and His apostles, known as the Septuagint ( LXX ).
The Five Books of the Law
Genesis, meaning 'beginning', recounts the beginning of God's Creation, and His relationship with man. Exodus, which means 'exit' refers to the journey of the Hebrews, out of slavery in Egypt. Leviticus is a book detailing worship, as led by the priests ordained from the tribe of Levi. We then have Numbers, who's title is derived from the book's opening account of the census, or numbering of the people of Israel. Deuteronomy gives a detailed listing of the additional laws given by God through Moses.
These first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch, describe God's creation of the world, the rebellion and fall of Adam and Eve, as well as the history of God's people from the days of Moses, through to the days of Abraham. ( Dated by scholars at around 1250BC - 2000BC )
The Books of History
The second section of the LXX Old Testament begins with the book of Joshua, the leader of the children of Israel following the death of Moses, who brings God's people into the promised land after there forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Judges relates to the traditions of the various Hebrew tribes and the exploits of their own heroes, the Judges whom the title speaks, who ruled the nation.The book of Ruth is the heroic account of a Gentile woman who placed herself under the protection of the One true God, and in this process became an ancestor of King David, and of his descendant Jesus Christ the Messiah of Israel. First and Second Kingdoms ( 1 & 2 Samuel ) whose principle characters are Samuel, the faithful Prophet, Saul the first king to rule over God's people, and David, Saul's successor. The books of Third and Fourth Kingdoms ( 1 & 2 Kings ) begins with the enthronement of David's son Solomon, and ends with the fall of the kingdom - including the destruction of its capital Jerusalem, as well as the exile of God's people from Palestine to Babylon. First and Second Chronicles ( 1 & 2 Paraleipomenon ) expand on the history recorded in the previous books. The word Paraleipomenon means 'that which is omitted.' First and Second Ezra and Nehemiah continue this chronicle of divine history, focusing on the Jewish religious community after its return to Jerusalem ( from exile ) in Babylon. The final books in this historical section, reveal the stories of people who lived heroic and Godly lives under foreign domination, during the exile. Tobit was taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Esther was the Jewish queen of Persia, who achieved the revocation of Hamam's decree that would have allowed persecution and mass murder of God's people. The Maccabees were the faithful people who began the revolt and fought the wars of independence against foreign armies occupying their land.
The Books of Wisdom
The holy and uplifting Psalms, were used as the hymnal in Ancient Israel, and are still used for this same great purpose today in the Orthodox Church. The book of Job explores the depths of a man's unshakable faith in the face of tragedy and suffering. Proverbs is a collection of moral and religious instruction, taught to young people as they returned from exile in Babylon. Ecclesiastes tells us about the preacher who seeks to understand the meaning of human existence in this life. The Song of Songs is a collection of poems, emphasising ( prophetically ) God's love for His beloved bride, His Church. The Wisdom of Solomon, as well as the Wisdom of Sirach consists of lessons to young people on ethical and religious themes. In general, these moving books of wisdom proclaim that blessedness and joy is possible only through faith in, and obedience to the One true God.
The Books of Prophecy
Hosea gives the message of God's own redeeming love for His chosen people, even when they spurn Him and turn to false idols and gods. Amos is the shepherd called by God to denounce a self-satisfied nation for its social injustice, abhorrent immortality and its shallow and meaningless piety. Micah speaks of of peace reigning over all who do justice, who love kindness and who walk with God in humility. Joel is the prophet who foretells the outpouring of the Holy and life-giving Spirit upon all flesh. Obadiah prophesies the return of the exiles from Babylon, and Jonah unwillingly accepts God's command to preach His mercy and forgiveness to a foreign nation. Nahum prophesies the defeat of the powerful Assyrian enemy, and Habakkuk deals with the personal question How long, O Lord, shall I cry out to you, and You will not hear me? ( Heb 1:2 ) Zephaniah prophesies the dark days of Judah's destruction, but promises comfort and conciliation to those who wait patiently for the Lord and serve Him. Haggai, following the return of the exiles, exhorts them to rebuild the destroyed Temple in order to unify their disrupted religious life, and more importantly, to prepare for the long awaited Messiah. Zechariah prophesies the image of the messianic Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for the flock. Malachi exhorts God's people to faithfulness and asserts the fatherhood of God over all nations. Furthermore, he foretells that God will appoint a forerunner, similar to the ancient prophet Elijah ( Elias ) who will appear before the Messiah and prepare the world for the coming of the Lord. Isaiah exhorts the people of God to place their confidence in the Lord. He also tells us of a Son that will be born of a Virgin, and the suffering servant ( the Messiah ) - who would be led as an innocent sheep to the slaughter, and by whose stripes we would be healed. Jeremiah severely criticises God's people, for abandoning their faith in the one true God and turning to the false worship of idols. Baruch was appointed to be read on feast days as a confession of sins. In Lamentations the author Jeremiah mourns the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The Epistle of Jeremiah is addressed to those who were about to be carried away into exile, in Babylon. Ezekiel, the prophet of the exiles, assures his hearers of the constant comforting presence of God amongst them, even in exile and servitude. Finally, Daniel begins with the heroic story of Susanna and ends with the account of Bel and the serpent.
These forty-nine divinely inspired Old-Testament books, serve as an introduction and a foresight to St John the Baptist's preparation of the world, for the coming of the Christ, who is Isaiah's Suffering Servant, Zechariah's Prince of Peace, and the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the flock.
Continuing this series centred around the Old Testament Scriptures, the next post will be on the purpose of Genesis, and its Creation account.