Old Testament (OT)
The 39 books (Genesis to Malachi) that comprise the OT were written mostly in the Hebrew language by 32 different authors over a period of some 1000 years from 1500 BC to 500 BC, with the main focus being the covenant or agreement between God and the Israelites. God was only approached through a priest with sacrifices introducing the concept that a life (animal or bird) had to be forfeited for sin. The OT pointed forward to the Messiah (anointed one) who would bring deliverance, and was superseded with the New Covenant or Testament, which focuses on the death of Christ for all humanity.
God speaks to us through the OT too
revelations related to the Israelites worship of God and everyday life; however, it also contained prophesies and promises for the future that they could not comprehend.
Of the three categories of OT regulations, the moral laws (eg. 10 commandments) still strictly apply today in the context that by observing them we are loving God and our neighbour as ourselves, which are the two commands Jesus gave NT believers (Mt 22:37-40). The principles behind the civil laws are still valid guides although there are limitations in today’s context. The ceremonial laws were to do with the elaborate system of sacrifices as pertaining to Israel’s worship of God, and as such do not relate to us, yet the principles of worshipping and loving God still apply.
The OT can be read in 59 hours.
Does the OT apply to us today?
The OT was given to the nation of Israel and is not binding on Christians, for Jesus put an end to the OT law (Jer 31:31-34; Rom 7:1-7, 10:4; Gal 3:23-25; Eph 2:15; Col 2:14; Heb 10:9,10). However, as Christians, we are under the law of Christ (Gal 6:2). Jesus clarified what God requires of us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself” (Mk 12:30,31). By obeying these two commands, we will be fulfilling all that Christ requires of us for “To love God is to obey His commands” (1 Jn 5:3). By loving God, we will not be worshipping false gods or bowing to idols. Loving our neighbour is outworked by not murdering them (with our words or thoughts), committing adultery against them (even mentally) or craving what belongs to them.
Jesus came to fulfill the law (Mt 5:17-19). Thus the OT is not irrelevant; its commands take on a new significance or spiritual application – if we are offering spiritual sacrifices, we do not need to offer animals.
The OT books are grouped according to the similarity of the subject matter, and not the time order in which they were written. The historical books are Genesis to Esther, and show how God is involved in human history. Included is how God created the world (as revealed to Moses), God choosing the nation of Israel to carry out His plan to save all humanity, and the laws or guidelines for correct living. The poetry and wisdom books are Job to Song of Solomon and reveal the human response to God and life. The prophetic books – Isaiah to Malachi, (are grouped as either major or minor prophets depending on their length) often speak of God’s judgment on His people because of their sin but they also predict the coming of the Messiah (Christ).