Survey of Old Testament history


It is good to have an overall grasp of the history of the Old Testament, in order that those crisis-events which affected the whole world, for good or for evil, may be seen in their context.  James said “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world”, Acts 15:18, and Paul said that “God…hath determined the times before appointed”, Acts 17:26.  So whether it be what God does, or when He does it, all is under His sovereign control.

Note on the dating of events in the Bible.  The Old Testament gives to us sufficient information to enable us to construct a continuous chronology of the period from the creation around 4000 BC, and the death of the Lord Jesus.  Some believers feel that there may be gaps in the genealogies, giving an earlier date for creation than 4000, but this is not the case, for the following reasons:

1.     The fact that ages are given at all in the genealogies shows that the link between the fathers and sons is important chronologically.

2. The age of the father at the birth of the son is mentioned, even though in some cases that son was not the first child, which again shows that accurate chronology is important to the writer.

3. The three-fold way in which the ages are given in Genesis 5 shows that the relationship of the generations to one another is important. It also assures us that the ages given are correct, despite their size.

4. We know some at least are father/son relationships, but the formula used is the same as for the others where it is not expressly said. The Hebrew word “ab” was available to denote father/ancestor relationship, as in Genesis 4:20,21;17:5. The regular word “yalad” is always used in 450 references, except Genesis 46:18,22; Deuteronomy 4:25;23:8, but in these instances grandchildren are included.

5. It is true that there are generations omitted in Matthew 1, but they are detailed in the O.T. or else we would not know they are missing. Matthew’s object was to prove that Christ’s claim to  the throne of David is legal; he is not concerned with chronology at that point.

6. If there are generations missing in the line of the Messiah, how do we know the missing persons are of the tribe of Judah, and of the House of David? If they are not, Christ’s claim is void.

7. Jude says that Enoch was the seventh from Adam, so clearly he did not believe there were gaps between generations 1-6, which is where they are most likely to be.

Taking all these reasons together, we may have confidence that the Old Testament history is a connected one, and that the events detailed there are historical, not mythical, for those who write myths are not interested in accurate dates and factual information. We turn now to a consideration of the events in the Old Testament, which have world-wide and age-lasting significance.

THE CALAMITY OF THE FALL. Genesis 3; Romans 5:12-21.

In Romans chapter 5 the apostle explains that the one act of disobedience of one man, Adam, when he sinned, has meant certain results passing to all men. He contrasts this with the one act of righteousness, (this is the meaning of “righteousness” in Romans 5:18) of another man, the Lord Jesus when he died on the Cross, by which all may be brought into blessing. The one act of Adam as he rebelled against God and fell into sin, has meant the following things have happened:

    1.  The sin-principle is now within all men as descendants of Adam, Romans 5:12, and this means that physical death follows, for “the wages of sin is death”, Romans 6:23. 2.  Another result of having the sin-principle within is that men are all sinners by nature and practice, Romans 5:12, “all have sinned”. For the believer sin and death are both dealt with by the death of Christ, see Romans 6:1-11. 3.  The place of dominion enjoyed by Adam is now forfeited, with the result that Hebrews 2:8 says  “but now we see not yet all things put under him”. God’s answer to this is Jesus, the man who can exercise dominion  over the earth in a coming day, without failure. 4.  The whole of creation “groans and travails together in pain until now”, having been “made subject to vanity”, and experiencing the “bondage of corruption”, Romans 8:20-22, Genesis 3:17,18. God’s answer is to manifest the sons of God at the coming of Christ to reign, the proof of His ability to deliver from bondage.

THE CATASTROPHE OF THE FLOOD. Genesis 6,7,8; 2 Peter 3:1-7; Matthew 24:37-39.

It is clear from what is stated in the above passages, that the flood of Noah’s day was a worldwide event. The words of the Lord Jesus should be sufficient- “the flood came and took them all away”.

Things we learn about God from the flood:

1.  That God is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Peter 3:20. 2.   That the wrath of God is a reality, Romans 1:18, 2 Peter 2:5,9. 3.  That in the midst of wrath God remembers mercy, Habakkuk 3:2, as is shown by the provision of the ark. Those who died unrepentant however, refused that mercy. 4.   That just as by the word of God waters above and below the surface of the earth were reserved to be used in the judgement of the flood, so the earth is now kept in store by the same word, reserved unto the future day of judgement by fire, 2 Peter 3:5-7.

Things we learn about man from the flood:

1.   He is ungodly, Jude 14,15; Genesis 6:5.

2.  He is unbelieving, doubting the truth of God’s warnings, 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:3,4.

3.   He is unresponsive, 2 Peter 3:5, (willingly ignorant),Matthew 24:39, (knew not even though Noah had preached to them for many years, Enoch had prophesied, the ark had been under construction, and Methuselah, whose name means “when he is dead it (the flood) shall be sent”, was growing very old).

4.   He is unconcerned, Matthew 24:37,38.

5.  He is unchanged, for as it was in the days of Noah so shall it be again. Matthew 24:37.


No date is given, but if the statement in Genesis 10:25 concerning Peleg, that  “in his days was the earth divided”, refers to the division resulting from the confusion of languages, then the event may have been in the year of Peleg’s birth, which was 2247BC. If this is so, then Methuselah’s name told of the crisis at his death, the flood, whilst Peleg’s told of the crisis at his birth, Babel.

Cain had built a city in chapter 4:17, but now a city, the political structure, is accompanied by a tower, a religious building, “whose top to the heavens”; in other words, dedicated to the worship of the sun, moon and stars.  In order that this wicked denial of the glory and supremacy of God be judged, and also that its reappearance be hampered, God confused the language all men spoke up to that time.  By this means He scattered men over the face of the earth, for they were forced to associate only with those who now spoke their new language.  This drastic judgement, which has consequences for us even today, shows God’s abhorrence of idolatry.  At the end of the age, men will again make Babylon the centre of their rebellion against God; see Revelation 17 and 18.

THE CALL OF ABRAHAM. Genesis 12:1-5; Joshua 24:2,3; Acts 7:2-5.

In Genesis 11 men united at Babel against God. In Genesis 12 God called Abraham to separate from Ur of the Chaldees, (the city of the moon god about 200 miles from Babylon), and also from his idol-worshipping kindred, and promised him a land for an inheritance, where the worship of the true God could be maintained.  God said to Abraham “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed”, Genesis 12:3.

These are some of the blessings resulting from  the call of Abraham:

1.   The knowledge and worship of God preserved in the earth, through the Tabernacle ritual; the Law of Moses; the testimony of the prophets, Romans 9:4; Luke 16:29.

2.  The important principle made known that it is by faith in God that righteousness is imputed, Romans 4:3,9-13.

3. The writing and very careful preservation of the Scriptures so that the knowledge of God could be accessible to all. Romans 3:2; Acts 8:28.

4.   The birth of Christ of the seed of Abraham, with all its attendant spiritual blessings to those who believe, Romans 9:5; Matthew 1:1,21. The Lord Jesus summed up these blessings in the words, “we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews”, John 4:22. Both the true worship of God, and salvation from the idolatry all around, were known by the Jews in God’s goodness.

COVENANT WITH ISRAEL. Exodus 19; Exodus 24.
The descendants of Abraham having gone to live in Egypt, and after a while having suffered persecution, God delivered them from Egypt and brought them out under the leadership of Moses, to begin their journey to the land of Canaan, the land of promise. They soon arrived at Mount Sinai, from which mount God gave to Israel His law, and entered into a covenant with them as a nation. A covenant is an arrangement between two persons or groups. The covenant God made with Israel at Sinai was conditional, that is, the benefits of being in covenant relationship with God depended upon them keeping His law. This is why the New Testament is so insistent that believers are not under law, for if they were, their blessings would not be secure, being dependant on their own efforts. Christians are under grace, and their blessings are certain, because they depend on Christ and not on believers. See Romans 6: 14,15; Galatians 3:1-14; 5:1-5.

The New Testament says the following things about the Law given at Sinai:

1.   It is holy, Romans 7:12, and spiritual, Romans 7:14.

2.   It is weak through the flesh, Romans 8:3.

3.   It works wrath, Romans 4:15.

4.   It entered so that the offence might abound, Romans 5:20.

5.   It cannot justify the sinner, Galatians 2:16.

6.   It is the ministration of death, 2 Corinthians 3:7.

7.   It is ended as a way of becoming righteous, by the death of Christ, Romans 10:4.


Having given Israel His law, and led them through the wilderness, as recorded in EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS AND DEUTERONOMY, under Joshua the land was entered and divided out, as recorded in the book of JOSHUA. After his death, a period of decline followed, as recorded in the books of JUDGES AND RUTH. Then God raised up Samuel, and in his days as judge, Israel wanted a king, and God allowed them to choose Saul, who was of the tribe of Benjamin. This is recorded in the 1ST BOOK OF SAMUEL. After 40 years of his rule God rejected him from being king, and chose David, of the royal tribe of Judah. Jacob prophesied in Genesis 49:10 that the sceptre would not depart from Judah, which was another way of saying that the right to rule was to be Judah’s. The apostle Paul referred to these events in his address in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, Acts 13:14-43. He compresses four statements about David into one verse. As he does so, he shows his mastery of Old Testament history, as Stephen had done in Paul’s hearing in Acts 7, in order to gain the ear of his highly critical Jewish audience. In fact Paul picks up where Stephen was forced to break off because his audience were becoming agitated. It is vitally important for preachers to have credibility with their audience, not to draw attention to themselves, but that the truth they announce may be promoted in a God-honouring way.
Let us note briefly the four different ways the apostle handles the O.T. record in Acts 13:22.
“I have found David”, a direct QUOTATION from Psalm 89:20. David’s name.
“David the son of Jesse”, a DEDUCTION from 1 Samuel 16. Davids father, and hence his tribe.
“a man after mine own heart”, an ADAPTATION of Samuels words in 1 Samuel 13:14, rephrasing them into the form in which they were originally spoken to Samuel by God. (Remember Paul is speaking as an inspired prophet of God). David’s character.
“which shall fulfil all my will”, an IMPLICATION from the negative things that are said about Saul in 1 Samuel 13:13,14. Davids work.
Having skilfully built up a description of David, Israel’s first proper king, Paul is now able to announce that it is of this man’s seed that God has raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus. Acts 13:23. Thus it is that the Lord Jesus is described as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Revelation 5:5. As the Lion He is the man of war, like David, defeating His enemies when He comes again, Revelation 19:11. As Shiloh, Genesis 49:10, He is the peace-bringer, as Solomon was, and shall reign as Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6,7.

CARRYING AWAY OF ISRAEL AND JUDAH. 2 Kings 17; 2 Kings 24,25,

Following Saul’s death, David reigned over Israel as recorded in the 2ND BOOK OF SAMUEL, and also in the 1ST BOOK OF CHRONICLES. Then followed the reign of Solomon. At his death the kingdom was divided into two, with the descendants of David reigning over the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, known as “Judah”, and various kings reigning over the 10 tribes, known as “Israel”, or “Ephraim”. The reign of Solomon and the kings of Judah are recorded in 2ND CHRONICLES, and the reigns of all the kings from Solomon onwards, both of Judah and Israel, are recorded in 1 AND 2 KINGS.
Prophets sent to the ten tribes were JONAH, HOSEA, AMOS. Those sent to Judah were ISAIAH, MICAH, NAHUM, JOEL, JEREMIAH, HABAKKUK, ZEPHANIAH, OBADIAH. EZEKIEL and DANIEL prophesied after the carrying away, and HAGGAI, ZECHARIAH and MALACHI, after the return from Babylon.
Israel, the 10 tribed nation, was the first to go into captivity to Assyria, whilst Judah was taken into captivity to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar.

It is this latter event which is of such importance, for two things happened:
1. The people of Israel no longer had a king over them of the tribe of Judah, see Hosea 3:4,5.
2. Dominion was transferred into the hands of Gentiles, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar, and ending with the Antichrist. This is known as “the times of the Gentiles”, see Luke 21:24.
This period of Gentile rule was symbolised by the various materials of which the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was made, Daniel 2. He was the head of gold, and he was to be followed by the Medes and Persians, then came the Grecian empire, then Rome. The final form of Gentile rule is a future world- empire of ten kingdoms, with the Beast, or Antichrist at its head. He will accept from Satan what the Lord Jesus refused, namely world dominion, Mathew 4:8-10.
Nebuchadnezzar saw a stone cut out of the mountain without hands, and it fell on the feet of the image of Gentile dominion, and crushed it to powder. Then the stone became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. All this signifies the destruction of Gentile rule by Christ when He comes to earth again, and then He will set up His kingdom which shall last for 1000 years in its mediatorial form, and then He shall give it up to God, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, having shown that it is possible for a man to rule effectively for God. Then God shall be all in all- The perfect, eternal age will have dawned.

And there were great voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord,
and of His Christ;
and He shall reign for ever and ever”.
Revelation 11:15.


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