Bible Overview – Part 5
A special thanks to Bible.org for this Old Testament Survey. It can be found in its entirety here:
Also, content from Through the Bible Book by Book Volumes I and II by Myer Pearlman was used in this study.
(Reconstruction of the Temple and Restoration of the People)
Though the book of Ezra does not name its author, Jewish tradition (the Talmud) ascribes it to Ezra along with Chronicles and Nehemiah.
Tradition holds that Ezra was the founder of the Great Synagogue where the canon of Old Testament scripture was settled. Another tradition says that he collected the biblical books into a unit and that he originated the synagogue form of worship.17
Ezra wrote between 457 BC and 444 BC
Scope: 536 – 457 BC
TITLE OF THE BOOK:
In the ancient Hebrew Bible, Ezra and Nehemiah were treated as one book and called “The Book of Ezra.”
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are closely related because they happened during the same period.
THEME AND PURPOSE:
Ezra demonstrates how God fulfilled His promise to return His people to the land of promise after seventy years of exile as announced by the prophets. As in Chronicles, Ezra, as a priest, shows the centrality of the temple and its worship to the life of the nation as God’s people. It begins with the decree of Cyrus, king of Persia, which allowed a remnant of the people to return. The people enthusiastically began rebuilding the temple, but were delayed for 18 years by enemies from the north. Finally a decree from Darius let them finish (see Ezra 1-6). Chapters 7-10 tell about the return of the priest Ezra who taught the people the law and reformed the nation’s spiritual life.
The theme can be summarized as the spiritual, moral, and social restoration of the Remnant who returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra.
Fitting with the concepts to return to the land and the temple in Jerusalem, two key words are “Jerusalem,” which occurs 48 times, and “temple,” which occurs 25 times.
Ezra 6:21-22 NKJV Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the LORD God of Israel. (22) And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the LORD made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
Ezra 7:10 NKJV For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.
Key chapters would include (1) the decree of Cyrus allowing the remnant to return, chapter 1, (2) the foundation of the temple completed, chapter 3, (3) the completion and dedication of the temple and the keeping of the Passover, chapter 6, (4) the return under Ezra and his prayer, chapters 7-9.
Cyrus (Persian king who decreed to allow the return), Ezra (priest and scribe), Jeshua (the high priest), and Zerubbabel.
CHRIST AS SEEN IN EZRA:
In keeping with the Davidic covenant and God’s promises to keep the line of descendants alive for Messiah, Son of David, Ezra and Nehemiah show how God continued to keep His promises by restoring His people to their land.
Ezra divides into two sections: the earlier return under Zerubbabel, the restoration of the temple (1-6) and the later return under Ezra, the reformation of the people (7-10). Or it may be divided:
- The Restoration; The First Return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel (1-6)
- The Decree of Cyrus (1:1-11)
- The Census of the People (2:1-70)
- The Construction of the Temple Begun (3:1-13)
- The Opposition (4:1-24)
- The Construction Renewed (5:1-6:12)
- The Temple Completed (6:13-22)
- The Reformation of the People; the Return Under Ezra (7:1-10:44)
- The Return to Jerusalem (7:1-8:36)
- The Revival of Jerusalem (9:1-10:44)
NEHEMIAH (Reconstruction of the City)
Though some believe that Nehemiah wrote the book of Nehemiah because of the words, “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah” (1:1), many believe the evidence suggests that Ezra is the author of Nehemiah and used Nehemiah’s memoirs and firsthand accounts as though quoting Nehemiah.
Also, in view of the similarities of Ezra 2 and Nehemiah, one wonders why the same author would repeat the same material in one volume.
The historical setting is simply that of the last half of the ancient Hebrew book of Ezra-Nehemiah which means it was written about 445 B.C. to 425 B.C.
Scope: 446-434 BC
TITLE OF THE BOOK:
Though originally one book, the last half of that book draws its name from the prominence of Nehemiah, contemporary of Ezra and cupbearer to the king of Persia. Nehemiah’s name means “Yahweh consoles or comforts.”
THEME AND PURPOSE:
The book of Nehemiah continues the history of the Jews who returned from exile. Nehemiah gave up his position as cupbearer to Artaxerxes, the Persian king, to become governor of Jerusalem and lead the people in repairing the city walls. Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries (see Neh. 8:2, 9), were both men of God but served Yahweh in different capacities. While Ezra was a priest and involved more with the religious restoration of returning Remnant, Nehemiah was a layman and served in a political capacity as governor in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah was also written to show the obvious hand of God in the establishment of His people in their homeland in the years after their exile. Under the leadership of Nehemiah, they accomplished in fifty-two days what had not been done in the ninety-four years since the first return under Zerubbabel. By obedient faith they were able to overcome what appeared to be insurmountable opposition.21
With the rebuilding of the walls the key element, the key words are “wall” and “walls,” used some 33 times and “build,” “building,” “rebuilding,” etc., is found more than 20 times.
Nehemiah 4:6 NKJV So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
Nehemiah 6:15-16 NKJV So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. (16) And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.
Key chapters would include, (1) Nehemiah’s prayer and God’s answer, chapters 1-2, (2) the work on the walls, the opposition, and its completion, chapters 3-7, (3) the confession of the people and their reaffirmation of the covenant, chapter 9.
Nehemiah, Artaxerxes, Sanballet, Ezra.
CHRIST AS SEEN IN NEHEMIAH:
Nehemiah surely portrays Christ in willingness to leave his high position in order to bring about His work of restoration.
Like Ezra, Nehemiah also falls into two specific issues: (1) the rebuilding of the walls (1-7) and the restoration of the people (8-13).
- The Rebuilding of the Walls (1-7)
- Preparation for Rebuilding (1:1-2:20)
- The Restoration of the People (8:1-13:31)
- The Renewal of the Covenant (8:1-10:39)
- The Obedience of the People to the Covenant (11:1-13:31)
(Protection of God’s People)
The book gives no hint of who wrote it. But whoever it was knew the Persian culture well. The account has all the marks of a person who was there for he described the events as an eyewitness. And he was probably a Jew. Possibly Mordecai (Esther’s Cousin).
The events of Esther occurred between the sixth and seventh chapters of Ezra, between the first return led by Zerubbabel and the second return led by Ezra. Esther was written sometime between 470 and 465, during the latter years of Xerxes’ reign (see 10:2-3), or in the reign of his son Artaxerxes (464-424).
TITLE OF THE BOOK:
The book takes its name from the chief character, whose Hebrew name Hadassah (Myrtle) was changed to the Persian name Ester, which probably means “star.”
THEME AND PURPOSE:
The book of Esther as a peculiar distinction in that name of God is mentioned once in the book, neither are there any references to Jewish law or religion.
Even though His name is not mentioned, we see many times where He was at work, behind the scenes, on behalf of His people.
The key word is “Jews,” which is repeated some 44 times. Thus, in concept, a key term is the word “providence,” God’s providence in caring for the Jews.
Esther 4:14 NKJV For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Esther 8:17 NKJV And in every province and city, wherever the king’s command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.
The key chapters would include, (1) Haman’s persuading Ahasuerus to decree to annihilate the Jews, chapter 3, (2) the honoring of Mordicai and the hanging of Haman, chapters 6-7, (3) the reversal of the decree that led to the deliverance of the Jews, chapter 8, (4) the Jew’s defensive victory and the inauguration of the feast of Purim, chapter 9.
Esther, Haman, Mordecai, Xerxes (Ahasuerus, Hebrew form of the name of the king of Persia).
Esther easily divides into two sections: (1) the danger or threat to the Jews (1-3) and (2) the deliverance or triumph of the Jews (4-10). Or it may be divided into three sections: (1) the danger to God’s people (1-3), (2) the decision of God’s servant (4-5), and (3) the deliverance of God’s people (6-10).
- The Danger to the Jews (1:1-3:15)
- The Choice of Esther as Queen in Place of Vashti (1:1-2:23)
- The Conspiracy of Haman Against the Jews (3:1-15)
- The Deliverance of the Jews (4:1-10:3)
- The Decision of Esther for the Jews (4:1-5:14)
- The Defeat of Haman (6:1-7:10)
- The Decree of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) and Mordecai (8:1-17)
- The Defeat Over the Enemies of the Jews (9:1-19)
- The Days of the Feast of Purim (9:20-32)
- The Declaration of Mordecai’s Fame and Exaltation at Court (10:1-3)
THE NATURE OF HEBREW POETRY
Hebrew poetry, so characteristic of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon), is unlike English poetry which emphasizes rhyme and meter. Hebrew poetry relies on other characteristics for its impact. Parallelism is the chief characteristic of biblical poetry, but it has other features that distinguish it from the typical prose or narrative we find in the rest of Scripture. First, there a relatively greater conciseness or terseness of form, and second there is a greater use of certain types of rhetorical devices. These are parallelism, rhythm, a rich use of imagery, and figures of speech.
THE THREE KINDS OF HEBREW POETRY
There are three kinds of Hebrew poetry:
- lyric poetry, which was originally accompanied by music on the lyre (the Psalms);
- didactic poetry, which, using maxims, was designed to communicate basic principles of life (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes);
- dramatic poetry, which used dialog to communicate its message (Job and the Song of Solomon).
TWO KEY ELEMENTS OF HEBREW POETRY
Parallelism. In contrast to English verse which manipulates sound and emphasizes rhyme and meter, Hebrew poetry repeats and rearranges thoughts rather than sounds. Parallelism refers “to the practice of balancing one thought or phrase by a corresponding thought or phrase containing approximately the same number of words, or at least a correspondence in ideas.”27 There are several types of parallel arrangement of thoughts, with three being basic.
Figures of Speech. Like the Hebrew language itself, Hebrew poetry uses vivid images, similes, metaphors, and other rhetorical devices to communicate thoughts and feelings.
Commentators have suggested Job himself, Elihu, Moses, Solomon, and others.
It is important to distinguish between the date of writing and of the events of the book. Regarding the date, Ryrie writes;
The date of the events in the book and the date of the writing of the book are two different matters. The events may have taken place in a patriarchal society in the second millennium B.C., around the time of Abraham. Several facts support this dating: (1) Job lived more than 140 years (42:16), a not uncommon life span during the patriarchal period; (2) the economy of Job’s day, in which wealth was measured in terms of livestock (1:3), was the type that existed in this period; (3) like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Job was the priest of his family (1:5); (4) the absence of any reference to the nation Israel or the Mosaic Law suggests a pre-Mosaic date (before 1500 B.C.).
TITLE OF THE BOOK:
Set in the time of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, the Book of Job derives its name from its chief character, a man called Job.
THEME AND PURPOSE:
The main theme of the book is a revelation of the source of human suffering and what happens when people try to interpret God in the light of their circumstances instead of interpreting their circumstances in light of God and His Word. This causes suffering to be prolonged.
James 5:11 NKJV Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord–that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
Job 42:10 NKJV And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
Job 42:12 NKJV Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys.
Job, a blameless and upright man, Satan, Job’s accusers, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zopher, and Elihu, the younger and wiser of Job’s friend who sought to give Job counsel.
CHRIST AS SEEN IN JOB:
Christ is seen in several ways in Job. Job acknowledges a Redeemer (19:25-27) and prays for a Mediator (9:33; 33:23).
Psalms covers four aspects of worship and praise:
- God speaking about man.
- God speaking to man.
- Man speaking to God,
- Man speaking about God.
|Book I||Psalms 1-41||David||Songs of Worship|
|Book II||Psalms 42-72||David and Korah||Hymns of Petition|
|Book III||Psalms 73-89||Mainly Asaph||Hymns of Petition|
|Book IV||Psalms 90-106||Various||Anthems of Praise|
|Book V||Psalms 107-150||David and others||Anthems of praise|
PROVERBS (Wisdom Through Precept)
According to 1 Kings 4:32, Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs.
However, the proverbs in the latter section (25:1-29:27) were selected from Solomon’s collection by King Hezekiah’s committee (25:1). Proverbs 22:17 refers to the “sayings of the wise,” and 24:23 mentions additional “sayings of the wise.” Proverbs 22:17-21serves as an introduction which suggests that these sections stem from a circle of wise men, not from Solomon himself.
Chapter 30 is specifically attributed to Agur, son of Jakeh, and 31:1-9 to King Lemuel. Lemuel’s sayings contain several Aramaic spellings that point to a non-Israelite background.
As a book of wisdom, Proverbs is not an historical book but rather the product of the school of wisdom in Israel. Solomon’s proverbs were written before his death in 931 B.C., and those collected by Hezekiah’s scribes probably around 700 B.C.
TITLE OF THE BOOK:
Proverbs obviously gets it name from its contents—short sayings or maxims that convey truth in a pointed and pithy way.
THEME AND PURPOSE:
As suggested by the title and the meaning of the term proverb, the theme and purpose of the book is wisdom for living through special instruction on every conceivable issue of life: folly, sin, goodness, wealth, poverty, the tongue, pride, humility, justice, family (parents, children, discipline), vengeance, strife, gluttony, love, laziness, friends, life, and death. No book is more practical in terms of wisdom for daily living than Proverbs.
The key word is “wisdom,” “wise,” etc., occurring some 110 times. Also important and related to wisdom are the terms, “instruction” and “taught, teach,” together occurring some 23 times.
Proverbs 1:1-7 NKJV The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: (2) To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, (3) To receive the instruction of wisdom, Justice, judgment, and equity; (4) To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion– (5) A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, (6) To understand a proverb and an enigma, The words of the wise and their riddles. (7) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
There are two lines of evidence (external and internal) that point to Solomon as the author of Ecclesiastes. For the external evidence, the Jewish tradition attributes the book to Solomon. Internally, a number of lines of evidence show that Solomon was surely the author. First, the author identifies himself as “the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1). Then, references in the book to the author’s unrivaled wisdom (1:16), extreme wealth (2:7), opportunities for pleasure (2:3), and extensive building activities (2:4-6) all suggest Solomon as the author. There is simply no other descendant of David who measured up to these descriptions.
According to Jewish tradition, Solomon wrote the Song in his early years, expressing a young man’s love. He wrote the Proverbs in his mature years, manifesting a middle-aged man’s wisdom. He reportedly wrote Ecclesiastes in his declining years, revealing an old man’s sorrow (cf. 12:1).
Perhaps Ecclesiastes is the record of Solomon’s regret for and repentance from his grave moral lapses recorded in 1 Kings 11. The Book of Ecclesiastes, then, would have been written just before Solomon’s death and subsequent division of his kingdom that occurred in 931 B.C.41
TITLE OF THE BOOK:
The name Ecclesiastes stems from the title given in the Greek translation, the Septuagint. Greek term, ecclesiastes, means “assembly” and is derived from the word ekklesia, “assembly, church.” “The Hebrew title is Qoheleth, which means “one who convenes and speaks at an assembly,” or “an ecclesiastic” or “preacher.”
THEME AND PURPOSE:
The basic theme is the futility of life apart from God. In the development of this theme, four key purposes emerge.42
First, in seeking to demonstrate that life without God has no meaning, Solomon is seeking to demolish confidence in man-based achievements and wisdom; he shows that all of man’s goals or the “way that seems right to man” must of necessity lead to dissatisfaction and emptiness.” Solomon recorded the futility and emptiness of his own experiences to make his readers desperate for God. He sought to show that their quest for happiness cannot be fulfilled by man himself in the pursuits of this life.
Second, Solomon affirms the fact that much in life cannot be fully understood, which means we must live by faith, not by sight. Life is full of unexplained enigmas, unresolved anomalies, and uncorrected injustices. There is much in life that man cannot comprehend nor control, but by faith, we can rest in the sovereign wisdom and work of God. Much like the Book of Job, Ecclesiastes not only affirms that man is finite, but that he must learn to live with mystery. Life down here on earth, “life under the sun,” cannot provide the key to life itself for our world fallen, bankrupt. In view of this, man must have more than a horizontal outlook; he must have the upward look to God, fearing and trusting Him. Enigmas and injustices must be left in His hands to resolve.
Third, Ecclesiastes presents a realistic view of life that counterbalances the optimism of Proverbs. It shows there are exceptions to the laws and promises of proverbs, at least from the standpoint of this life. Proverbs 10:16 affirms that justice is meted to the righteous and the wicked, but Ecclesiastes 8:14 observes that this is not always the case, at least not in this life. Are these contradictions? No, because Proverbs is noting the general laws of God without noting the exceptions that occur because we live in a fallen, sin-ridden world. Ecclesiastes points out that while a righteous order exists, as affirmed in Proverbs, it is not always evident to man as he views life “under the sun” from his finite perspective.
Fourth, Solomon showed that man, left to his own strategies will always find life empty, frustrating, and mysterious. The book, however, does not mean that life has no answers, that life is totally useless or meaningless. Meaning and significance can be found, he explained, in fearing God. Frustrations can thus be replaced with contentment through fellowship with God.
Ecclesiastes 1:2 NKJV “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
SONG OF SOLOMON (A Royal Wedding)
Though some critics reject King Solomon as the author and take 1:1 to mean, “which is about Solomon,” the internal evidence supports the traditional belief that Solomon is its author. The contents of the book agree with all that we know about the abilities and wisdom of Solomon, and there is no compelling reason not to regard him as the author.45 Solomon is mentioned seven times (1:1, 5; 3:7, 9, 11; 8:11-12), and he is identified as the groom. Verse 1 asserts that Solomon wrote this song as one of many (in fact the best of the many) songs which he wrote (1 Kings 4:32 tells us he composed 1,005 such songs). Note that the text does not simply say, “The Song of Solomon” but “The Song of Songs, which are Solomon’s.”
About 965 B.C.
The Song was probably written early in Solomon’s career, about 965. At this point, Solomon had sixty queens and eighty concubines (6:8), but later in his life, he would have seven hundred queens and three thousand concubines (1 Kings 11:3).
TITLE OF THE BOOK:
Regarding the title of this book Ryrie writes:
This book has been titled several ways: the Hebrew title from verse 1, The Song of Songs, which means “the most superlative, or best, of songs”; the English title, also from verse 1, The Song of Solomon, which designates the author; and the Canticles, meaning simply “songs,” derived from the Latin.46
THEME AND PURPOSE:
The Song of Solomon is a love song filled with metaphors and imagery designed to portray God’s view of love and marriage: the beauty of physical love between man and woman and the sanctity of marriage.
Eastern culture is given to a plainness of speech in the most intimate matters,
Song of Solomon 7:10 NKJV (10) I am my beloved’s, And his desire is toward me.