The Old Testament order of books in Western Bibles may well seem unhelpful in outlining the coherent story of God. The Jews grouped their writings together as ‘the Law’ (the first five books of the Old Testament known as the ‘Torah’ or Pentateuch), ‘the Prophets’ (which include some of the historical books such as Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings as well as the major and minor prophets) and ‘the Writings’ (including Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah and 1 & 2 Chronicles.) This helps us to see God’s story from the beginning of creation through to the return from exile. By ending with 1 & 2 Chronicles, we see a summary of Judah’s history with the hopeful conclusion of Cyrus’ proclamation to rebuild the temple (2 Chron 26:22-23), leaving the Old Testament on a ‘cliffhanger’, so to speak, as the people were left waiting for the true temple proclaimed in the Gospels, Jesus Christ. Just as the last book of the Jewish Old Testament begins with a genealogy, so the next book (Matthew’s Gospel) begins with a genealogy – this time connecting the Old Testament to the awaited Saviour.
The Torah contains the story of the beginnings of the world, the creation of man and the problem of sin, the story of how Israel came to be and charts their fortunes, establishing the worship of Yahweh as the one true God. The law and religious codes for God’s people are given here. The prophets show how Israel left God’s ways and were challenged to repent and return through these spokespeople from God and what happened throughout history. The Writings contain poetry, philosophy, history and stories and are still chanted publicly in the synagogue during the religious festivals of Sukkot, Purim, Passover, Shavuot and Tisha B’Av.
The scope of the Old Testament therefore covers a much longer time period than the New Testament and can be difficult for us to relate to with a modern worldview. Nonetheless, we see how the Bible as a whole speaks of God’s story in history – a story that is continuing through the ages!