These summaries are written in the order you see them in English Bibles.
When we study each book in later chapters, we will learn about them in the order they were written. For example, we will learn about the book of Job after we study Genesis.
This will help us see how the Old Testament fits together as one story.
I do not expect you to memorize this information now. However, if you are taking this course for credit will need to know it for the final exam!
Every biblical tradition names Moses as the writer of these five books, except for Deut 34, which records his death. The time period covered ranges from the beginning of the universe through ca. (about) 1200 BC.
Every biblical tradition names Moses as the writer of these five books, except for the end of Deuteronomy, which is about his death. These books are about events which took place from the beginning of the universe through about 1200 BC.
Genesis: Talks about God making the universe, humanity, the Sabbath, and marriage. It describes the first sin, God’s promise of a savior, a great flood, the first sacrifices in worship, the ancestors of nations, and the lives of important people like Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Judah, and Joseph.
Exodus: This book is about how Israel became a nation led by Moses. It describes how God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and took them to Mount Sinai. The Lord gave his law to Moses there. It also tells how Israel built the tabernacle and God’s presence moved into it.
Leviticus: This book is about worship in ancient Israel, teaching Israel’s new religious leaders what to do. It told how sinful people could come near to God by keeping his laws and making sacrifices for their sins and described how the Lord’s people must treat each other.
Numbers: Describes Israel’s 40 years in the desert. When they came to the promised land, they were afraid of the people who lived there and would not go into it. God was very angry. He said they would not live there until every adult man had died. Only Caleb and Joshua, they two men who said they should trust God and go there, would enter it. The title of the book comes from two times the adult men in Israel were counted, once at the beginning of their long journey and the other near the end.
Deuteronomy: Moses talks to the children of the people who escaped from Egypt about the laws God gave them in Exodus and Leviticus. It tells about the last days of Moses’s life. The title means “Repeat of the Law.” Moses warned that not keeping this law would cause God to throw Israel out of the promised land.
BOOKS OF HISTORY: These eleven books are about events that happened during about 1200–430 BC.
Joshua: Describes how Israel’s new leader brought the people of Israel into the promised land. It talks their wars and how each of the twelve tribes got their part of the land.
Judges: After Joshua dies, Israel turns away from God. The Lord allows enemies to take their food and their land until they repent. This book tells the story of the judges God used to save Israel from their enemies. Each generation’s sins are more shocking than their ancestors’.
Ruth: Ruth was a woman from Israel’s enemy Moab during the time of the judges. She married a man from Israel and decided to worship the Lord. After he died, Ruth and her mother-in-law moved back to Israel. God helped Ruth find food and a new husband. She became the great-grandmother of King David.
1 Samuel: This book is about three people. Samuel was Israel’s last judge. Israel’s people sinned by asking for a human king to rule over them, instead of God. The Lord told Samuel to make Saul their king. Saul helped Israel defeat their enemies but also did things God said not to do. So, God told Samuel to set David apart as Israel’s next king. After David came from taking care of his father’s sheep to kill the giant Goliath, people in Israel praised David more than Saul. This made Saul try to kill David many times. Finally, Saul died during a war.
2 Samuel: After some men killed Saul’s last son, all Israel made David their king. David’s men took Jerusalem in war, and David moved there. He also brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. David won many wars. He wanted to build a temple there, but God said his son would so that because David had killed many people in war. The Lord promised David that he would have a descendant rule over Israel forever.
One day, David took the wife of one of his men for his own and had her husband killed in war. The baby David and Bathsheba had died, but they later had a son named Solomon. God told David that his family would have big fights because of David’s sin. First, his son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. Her brother Absalom killed Amnon and then tried to take his father’s place as king. David’s men killed Absalom. Solomon took David’s place as king after he died in peace as an old man.
1 Kings: David’s son King Solomon spent seven years building God’s temple. After he died, his son Rehoboam made life hard for people in Israel. Ten of Israel’s tribes turned away him. They found a new king to make the northern kingdom of Israel, and left Rehoboam with the small nation of Judah. This book tells about events in the divided kingdom, ending with the evil King Ahab of Israel and the good King Jehoshaphat of Judah.
People in the Northern Kingdom of Israel sinned against God. So, God let Assyria take them out of the promised land in 722 BC. Almost 150 years later, some of the kings in Judah sinned just as badly. God used Babylon to punish them. Babylon took people out of Judah three times over thirty-one years. Finally, Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC.
1 Chronicles: Judah returned to Jerusalem seventy years after the first group of people had been taken away. This book was written after they went back to the promised land. It talked about Israel’s history to help people understand why God had sent them away. Much like 2 Sam, it tells about King David.
2 Chronicles: This book begins by talking about King Solomon. It describes the people’s sins that caused God to send Judah away. The book ends with a letter from Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who defeated Babylon. He let Judah’s people go from Babylon back to Judah to rebuild the temple.
Ezra: After King Cyrus wrote his letter, about 50,000 Jews returned to Judah. Some of the people who took their place during the seventy years they were gone did not want them to build another temple. After much struggle, they rebuilt the temple. Ezra the priest moved to Jerusalem. He found the people sinning like they did before Babylon exiled them and made them repent.
Nehemiah: Fourteen years after Ezra returned to Jerusalem, Nehemiah came to build a new wall to protect the city. The same people who did not want the Jews to build a new temple tried to stop them from making a wall. With Nehemiah leading them, they did it in forty-two days. On a later trip, Nehemiah found the people sinning in the same ways that caused God to send Babylon against them. Israel’s leaders said that they were still slaves to Persia because of their sins and repented.
Esther: Some Jews stayed in Persia after Israel built the Second Temple. The king of Persia got angry at the queen while he was drunk and sent her away. When he started missing her, he found another queen, a woman named Esther. Esther’s uncle asked her not to tell anyone that she was Jewish. Haman, a leader in Persia, hated the Jews and tried to have them all killed. God saved the Jews through Esther and her uncle Mordecai. He helped them defeat the people who wanted to kill them. Mordecai took Haman’s place to help the king.
BOOKS OF POETRY: These six books were written from about 1000–300 BC. However, Job tells the story of a man who probably lived around 2000 BC, a thousand years earlier.
Job: This book tells the story of a rich, righteous man who lived around the time of Abraham. Satan says that Job serves God only because God blesses him. So, God gave Satan permission to hurt Job to show Satan that he was wrong. Satan killed Job’s ten children, took away everything he owned, and made Job very sick. Three of Job’s friends came to see him. They sat with him for seven days without saying anything. Then, they argued with Job to try to get him to see that he must be a terrible sinner.
Job kept saying that he did nothing wrong. He knew he had a savior whom he would see after he died. Finally, God came to talk to Job. The Lord spoke about the great things he did to make the world and everything in it. Job saw that the Lord has the right to do what he wants. The Lord told Job’s friends they were wrong. After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord gave Job two times as many animals and ten children to replace the ten who died.
Psalms: This is the prayer and praise book of the Bible. A few people wrote these songs over hundreds of years. King David wrote many of them. Some were written for worship in groups and others for one person to speak to God. They show many human emotions, from great anger to praise and from deep sadness to great joy. Some songs have verses which talk about what Jesus would do about a thousand years later.
Proverbs: King Solomon wrote many of these saying about people who are wise and those who are foolish. He wrote about how God says we should respond to the problems of life.
Ecclesiastes: The writer of this book told about how he tried to have a happy life without God and failed. Then, he said his readers should begin living for the Lord while they are young.
Song of Songs: This story of the love between Solomon and his wife shows that wisdom and love are good gifts from God.
Lamentations: The prophet Jeremiah saw what happened after Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and wrote this very sad poem about it.
BOOKS OF PROPHECY: These sixteen books date from the eighth–fifth centuries BC. Some of them were written when the twelve tribes divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.
Isaiah: After he began telling Judah to repent for their sins, Isaiah had a vision of God in all his holiness. God asked who would speak for him to Judah, and Isaiah said he would. The Lord said to keep telling Judah to repent even though most people would not listen to him. God also told Isaiah about the coming messiah, who would save Jews and gentiles.
Isaiah comforted the good King Hezekiah when Assyria said they would destroy Jerusalem. That night, God killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers with a sickness. After God protected the city and saved the king’s life, Hezekiah became proud. Isaiah warned Hezekiah that God would use Babylon to judge Judah, taking them away from their land. In the last half of the book, Isaiah promised that God would save his people in a new era when the messiah will make everything right.
Jeremiah: This book was written after Isaiah, during the decline and fall of Judah. Jeremiah said the Lord would judge Judah and other nations. Judah’s people did not repent, so Jeremiah said the Lord would destroy Jerusalem unless the king surrendered to Babylon. When the king heard this, he put Jeremiah in jail until Jerusalem was destroyed. The Babylonians left only the poorest people there. They ignored Jeremiah’s warning to stay in Judah or the king of Babylon would follow them into Egypt and kill them there. Jeremiah went with them, crying on the way.
Ezekiel: Ezekiel came from a family of priests, so he was one of the first people Babylon took from Jerusalem. After a vision of God, he acted out how God would judge Jerusalem. Another vision took him to the temple, where he saw Israel’s leaders doing evil things. Then, Ezekiel watched God leave the temple. After Ezekiel learned that Jerusalem was destroyed, he saw a vision of a future temple where the Lord would once again live among his people.
Daniel: A man who had been taken from Judah overcame trials while working for two kings of Babylon and the Persian king who defeated Babylon. The last half of the book has prophecies about different kingdoms. In one vision, Daniel saw God give “the Son of Man” authority to rule over the whole world forever.
Hosea: The northern kingdom of Israel was unfaithful to the Lord by worshiping other gods. So, God told Hosea to marry a woman who had sex with other men. After his wife left Hosea, he found her being sold as a slave and bought her. This was a sign that the Lord would send Israel’s people away and then bring them back to himself. He loved them even when they sinned.
Joel: A swarm of locusts was like the judgment from God on the Day of the Lord. This book has a promise that God would give his Spirit to his people: men and women, young and old. They would see visions and have dreams that come true. God will save people who call to him in faith.
Amos: This was written during a time when some people in Israel and Judah were very rich and those countries had great military power. Amos preached against worshiping idols, spending lots of money on things they didn’t really need while taking advantage of poor people, sexual immorality, and politicians acting dishonestly. Only by returning to God and practicing justice would the Lord spare them.
Obadiah: God would judge the nation of Edom (Esau’s descendants) for celebrating when another nation, most likely Babylon, defeated Jerusalem.
Jonah: Nineveh was the capital of the cruel Assyrian Empire. When God told Jonah to tell the people there to repent, Jonah found a boat to take him in the other direction. A great storm came and the men working on the boat feared God when Jonah told them he was running away from the Lord. Jonah told them to throw him off the boat, and the storm stopped when they did. They began worshiping the Lord.
God caused a huge fish to swallow Jonah for three days. The prophet repented and the Lord caused the fish to spit him out. When God again told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he did, and the people repented. Jonah was very angry because God didn’t destroy such evil people. The Lord explained that he cares about even evil people who don’t know him.
Micah: The Lord would judge Israel and Judah for their idol worship, for not doing justice, and for acting like they were worshiping God without trusting him. However, the Lord would forgive people who repented. Someday, God would cause a descendant of David to be born in Bethlehem. He would save the Lord’s people and bring them peace.
Nahum: The Assyrian people of Nineveh repented after hearing Jonah’s message. That did not last, and their descendants went back to their evil ways. So, God would destroy Nineveh. The book ends by saying, “All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?”
Habakkuk: The prophet asked the Lord why he didn’t punish Judah’s sin. God said that he would send Babylon to do it. Habakkuk asked why the Lord would send an even more sinful nation to judge his people. God promised that he would destroy Babylon at the right time. Habakkuk prayed, promising to stay faithful to the Lord even when he had no food left.
Zephaniah: Zephaniah said God would judge Judah and the nearby nations. Someday, the Lord would restore Jerusalem. Then, God will honor his faithful people who experience injustice.
Haggai: After the exile ended and the Jews went back to Jerusalem, this prophet told them to finish building the Second Temple. The work had stopped for fifteen years because of what their enemies were doing to make it hard. Living to please God would bring his blessing. Looking for their own riches and ignoring the needs of the temple would bring a curse.
Zechariah: This book told the people who came back to Judah to finish the temple with a new spiritual commitment. Zechariah saw a vision where Satan showed God how sinful the high priest was. In response, the Lord made the high priest clean. In another vision, God helped Judah’s leader build an even greater temple than Solomon’s. Someday, Israel and Judah would turn away from the good shepherd sent by God. They would kill him by piercing him. When that messiah comes a second time, they will see him, repent, and be clean. The messiah will destroy God’s enemies until everyone remaining on earth worships the Lord.
Malachi: After the Jews built a new temple, God did not return to live in it. The promised land was not as great as it was before Babylon destroyed it, so the people doubted God’s love. Priests took sick animals for sacrifice and taught false things about God. Men were violent, they divorced their first wives, and they married women who worshiped other gods. God said that when he returns, he will heal righteous people and destroy the wicked. But first, Elijah would come to fix relationships between fathers and their children. If that does not work, God will curse the land of Israel.
Image via Wikimedia Commons These pages from a thirteenth century AD Hebrew Bible show items placed in the tabernacle.