While all the Old Testament (OT) books were written many centuries prior to Jesus’ birth – they span from about 1,400 B.C. to 430 B.C. – through history, poetry and prophecy, they all point and direct us to Jesus and the salvation that all people have through faith in him.
The Old Testament consists of 39 books (one way to remember this number is that there are 3 letters in the word “old” and 9 in the word “testament”) that fall into one of the following categories:
- Historical books (The first five books of the OT plus Joshua, 1&2 Kings etc.)
- Poetical books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs)
- Prophetical books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Malachi etc.)
They were written in Hebrew. Below is Genesis 1:1 written in Hebrew:
בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
In the following paragraphs you will see that books of the OT that have been italicized and highlighted. These are books and/or chapters of books that are recommended for initial reading.
The first five books of the OT (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) are historical books. They contain the accounts of the creation of all things, the first wedding/marriage, the beginning of sin/destruction and the first promise of a Savior. They include the history of the Jewish nation; the history of Abraham the father of the Jewish people, their enslavement in Egypt and their flight to freedom. They also include the God given laws that were to govern them. Quite a lot of stuff!
The books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth and 1&2 Samuel take you with the Jewish people into the Promised Land. You witness their struggles with their external enemies and their internal enemy – sin. You witness them fall, God’s grace in sending prophets to witness to them concerning God’s will, God’s forgiveness, and you see them repent and blessed by God.
From 1&2 Samuel to 1&2 Chronicles you have the history of the Kingdom of Israel and later the history of the divided kingdom – Israel to the North and Judah to the South.
The poetical books are dispersed throughout the Old Testament. The most famous of them is the book of songs – Psalms. The book of Psalms contains psalms/songs that fall into many different categories. Some of them are listed below:
- Penitential Psalms – Psalms 32 and 51.
- Messianic Psalms – Psalms 22.
- Prayers – Psalms 80 and 90.
- Praise Psalms – Psalms 100 and 117.
- Thanksgiving Psalms – Psalm 118.
- Word of God Psalms – Psalm 119 (longest chapter in the Bible).
The book of Proverbs is just that – a book full of proverbs – wise sayings describing and sharing wisdom. The book of Ecclesiastes is also a book on wisdom, the focus of which is the meaninglessness of life without God.
The prophetical books are divided into Major Prophets (major reads too!) like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Minor Prophets like Hosea and Amos. Throughout these prophetical books you will find two clear teachings: sin and repentance (the promise of a Savior). Rejoice as you read Isaiah 53. Enjoy reading the history of the world, the history of salvation.