The story has been told of two men who were the sole survivors of a shipwreck. They were afloat on a life raft and after several days had given up any hope of rescue. Finally, one said to the other, “Do you think it would do any good to pray?” The other agreed that nothing could be lost by trying. Neither, however, had ever prayed. Finally, one recalled living next door to a church as a child. He had often heard their mid-week meetings through an open window. Bowing his head he began to pray, repeating his recollection of the words he had heard uttered in that church so many years ago. His fervent prayer began, “I-26, B-15, N-7. …”
We may smile at the naivete of this man and at the fact that some churches know more about Bingo games than they do about Bible study or prayer. But before we begin to feel too smug allow me to suggest that many Protestant, evangelical churches are almost as ignorant when it comes to worship. For example, we call the 11:00 preaching hour the “worship hour.” Now while preaching should lead to worship, it often does not. When the preacher is through, (while the congregants are checking their watches and clearing their throats) he pronounces the benediction and the congregation gets up and leaves.
If there are any two areas in which the church of our Lord is deficient I believe that these would be in the areas of wisdom and worship. We have studied the Book of Proverbs in order to learn how we can become wise. I am turning now to the Book of Psalms because I desire that you and I may learn to be worshippers, men and women who, like David, seek after God and yearn to know the heart of God. The greatest calling of the church and of individual Christians is not to be evangelists or teachers or exhorters or comforters, but worshippers. The central focus of our lives should not be ourselves, or even others, but God (cf. John 4:20-24; Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; 3:21). The glory of heaven is not that it will be a happy place, but that we will see God in His fullness and we will fall before Him in worship and adoration.
So, understanding a little of the background and the types of writing included in the 13 books of the Writings section of the Old Testament can help us appreciate their messages and apply their meanings in our lives.
The story of Esther is remarkable in many ways.
“This exhilarating account has all the elements of a great novel. There is the beautiful young orphan girl who rises from obscurity to become queen. She even hides a secret that could bring about her demise. Then there is the ambitious villain whose passion is to destroy the innocent. Finally the story line involves a power struggle, romantic love, and a startling expose. But in the end, the point of this true story is clear: Once again the Israelites’ God had miraculously saved them from certain destruction” (The Nelson Study Bible, introduction to Esther).
Remarkably, the book of Esther does not directly mention God. Still, His presence and power are felt strongly by readers of this inspiring book. When we face difficult choices, the message of Esther forces us to think, as Mordecai asked Esther to consider, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
“As one of the greatest collections of songs, prayers, and poetry, the Book of Psalms expresses the deepest passions of humanity. In these pages we can hear the psalmist’s desperate cry in the midst of despair, but also his ecstatic praise of his Provider and Comforter. We can hear him pouring out his soul in confession, but also bubbling over with joy. The Psalms lead us through the valleys and peaks of human experience, but in the end they guide us to the praise of our loving Creator…
“Like the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, the Book of Psalms is arranged in five sections: Book I (Ps. 1-41), Book II (Ps. 42-72), Book III (Ps. 73-89), Book IV (Ps. 90-106), and Book V (Ps. 107-150). Each book concludes with a doxology, an affirmation of praise to God found in the last verse or two of the concluding psalm. In the case of Book V, the entire last poem, Ps. 150, is the concluding doxology… Books I and II are composed primarily of Davidic psalms; Book III includes the psalms of Asaph (Ps. 73-83) and the psalms of the sons of Korah (Ps. 84-88). Books IV and V include anonymous psalms, along with a few by David and others” (The Nelson Study Bible, introduction to Psalms).
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, and it is a beautiful song in praise of God’s law. It is in the form of an acrostic. Each of the 22 consonants of the Hebrew alphabet has eight verses that start with that letter.
How does Psalm 51 flesh out the story of David?
Psalm 51:1-4, 10-11
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge…
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
After Nathan’s rebuke of David for his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, 2 Samuel 12:13 records in briefest terms David’s response: “I have sinned against the Lord.” In Psalm 51 David bares his soul and gives the emotional depth behind those brief words of repentance. The Psalms are powerful guides to the emotional life of a Christian.
“The Hebrew title of this book is…The Proverbs of Solomon. The term for ‘proverb’ is masal, which comes from a root idea meaning ‘parallel’ or ‘similar,’ and hence signifies ‘a description by ways of comparison'” (Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 1974, p. 465).
Proverbs is a book of wisdom. Where did Solomon get his wisdom?
“In 1 Kings 3, we read how King Solomon received his great wisdom. When chosen to succeed his father David as king, Solomon humbly asked God to grant him wisdom so that he might be a good king in governing God’s people Israel: ‘Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?’ (verse 9). God was very pleased with Solomon’s humble and serving attitude. Notice His response: ‘Behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you’ (verse 12)…
“The book of Proverbs, as with all of Scripture, is vital to living the Christian life. It is quoted nine times in the New Testament: Romans 3:15; 12:16, 20 (Proverbs 1:16; 3:7; 25:21-22); Hebrews 12:5-6 (Proverbs 3:11-12); James 4:6, 13-14 (Proverbs 3:34; 27:1); 1 Peter 2:17; 4:8, 18 (Proverbs 24:21; 10:12; 11:31); 2 Peter 2:22 (Proverbs 26:11). Indeed, the book points to the ultimate wisdom that is found in Christ”
Here is a brief outline of Proverbs:
1:1-7 Title and Purpose Statement.
1:8-9:18 Prologue (father’s teaching, wisdom personified).
10:1-22:16 Proverbs of Solomon (Major Collection).
22:17-24:22 Words of the Wise.
24:23-34 Further Words of the Wise.
25:1-29:27 Further Proverbs of Solomon (Hezekiah’s Collection).
30:1-33 Words of Agur.
31:1-9 Words of King Lemuel From His Mother.
31:10-31 Epilogue (virtuous wife).
Why was the book of Proverbs written?
To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion—a wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.
What is the starting point?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The Proverbs were written to teach wisdom, but without a deep respect and reverence for God, the lessons will not produce real godly wisdom. The fear of God is the starting place.
The book of Job is another book of wisdom, though not everything that every character in the story says reflects God’s wisdom. The book addresses the troubling questions we face in the midst of suffering.
“Why do the righteous suffer? This answer comes in a threefold form: (1) God is worthy of love even apart from the blessings He bestows; (2) God may permit suffering as a means of purifying and strengthening the soul in godliness; (3) God’s thoughts and ways are moved by considerations too vast for the puny mind of man to comprehend, since man is unable to see the issues of life with the breadth and vision of the Almighty; nevertheless God really knows what is best for His own glory and for our ultimate good. This answer is given against the background of the limited concepts of Job’s three ‘comforters,’ Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar” (Archer, p. 454).
How does Satan accuse and test God’s people?
So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?
“Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.
“But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”
So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life.
“But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”
Job suffered horribly at the hands of Satan. Thankfully, God is in ultimate control and can turn even our most difficult trials for our good (Romans 8:28).
What was Job’s conclusion?
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
“You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.
“Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job came to see himself in perspective compared to the all-powerful Creator God. He repented and submitted to God, and God forgave him. This means Job will receive eternal life as a child of God! God’s wonderful promises far outweigh all the troubles and trials of this life (Romans 8:18). And Job received physical blessings as well.
Song of Solomon
This short love song “celebrates human sexuality within the context of marriage” (The Nelson Study Bible, p. 1097).
What does the Song of Solomon say about sexual purity before marriage?
Song of Solomon 2:7
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the does of the field, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases.
In the context of the Bible, sexual love is a special blessing reserved for marriage that helps strengthen the bond of oneness between a husband and wife. The Shulamite woman poetically charges the virgins of Jerusalem “not to awaken love until the time is right” (New Living Translation).
“This delightful book is a beautiful story of love, loyalty, and redemption. One of only two books in the Bible named after a woman, this narrative masterpiece tells the story of the salvation of Ruth, the Moabitess. Through her relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth learned about the living God and became His devoted follower. Abandoning her family and homeland, she demonstrated both her love for her widowed mother-in-law and her faith in Israel’s God. Her faith was well placed, for God not only provided for her; He also placed her in the messianic family line” (The Nelson Study Bible, introduction to Ruth).
“Ruth is one of the five books of the Writings known to the Jews as the Megilloth—the other four being the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and Esther. While the word megilloth simply means ‘rolls’ or ‘scrolls,’ this term is used specifically of the festival scrolls—that is, the books of the Writings read in the synagogues at feast times. One of the major threads running through the book of Ruth is that of harvest, specifically the smaller spring harvest—first of barley and then of wheat (see Ruth 1:22). For this reason Ruth is traditionally read in Jewish synagogues during the Feast of Harvest or Firstfruits (Pentecost)—which occurs during this agricultural period in May or June”.
Though set in the violent period of the Judges, Ruth’s story is a peaceful one that demonstrates God’s love for everyone, not just Israel. It also teaches the virtue of loyal love (Hebrew hesed) and demonstrates redemption, with Boaz serving as a type of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
How did Ruth reply when her mother-in-law told her to go home rather than abandon her homeland and make the challenging move to Bethlehem?
But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.
“Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.”
Ruth demonstrated the beautiful quality of loyal love, not only to Naomi, but to God. She had come to know, worship and trust the true God through her marriage into Naomi’s family, and even though she was now a widow, she firmly committed to not go back to the ways of paganism.
Lamentations does not state who its author was, but tradition says it was Jeremiah, the prophet who said, “Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jeremiah 9:1).
“The five chapters of Lamentations are five poems with ch. 3 as the midpoint or climax. Accordingly, the first two chapters build an ‘ascent,’ or crescendo, to the climax, the grand confession of 3:23, 24: ‘Great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion.’ The last two chapters are a ‘descent,’ or decrescendo, from the pinnacle of ch. 3…
“The poetry of the book enhances its purpose and structure. Chapters 1 through 4 are composed as acrostics of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each verse or group of verses begins with a word whose initial letter carries on the sequence of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. This would be similar to an English poem in which the first line begins with A; the second begins with B, and so on. One purpose of this device was probably to aid in memorization of the passage. The acrostic also suggests that the writer has thought things through and is giving a complete account of the subject” (The Nelson Study Bible, introduction to Lamentations).
Even when God displays anger, is there hope?
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”
God is faithful and merciful, and even His discipline is a sign of His love. Trials should bring us to repentance and deeper trust in Him.
“The purpose of Ecclesiastes was to convince men of the uselessness of any world view which does not rise above the horizon of man himself. It pronounces the verdict of ‘vanity of vanities’ upon any philosophy of life which regards the created world or human enjoyment as an end in itself. To view personal happiness as the highest good in life is sheer folly in view of the preeminent value of God Himself as over against His created universe… It is only God’s work that endures, and only He can impart abiding value to the life and activity of man” (Archer, p. 475).
How does Solomon sum up the lessons he learned, many of them the hard way?
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.
Without a proper reverence for God and without obeying His beneficial laws, we can’t have a relationship with God. And as this book shows, without a relationship with God that transcends this temporary, futile world, our lives are meaningless. But as children of God, our lives can be complete and full of true and lasting joy.
Esther, a Jewish orphan living in Persia, through extraordinary circumstances became wife of the king! As mentioned in the introduction to this lesson, God had placed her there to save her people.
Even though God’s name is not mentioned in the book, is it clear that Mordecai and Esther trusted in God?
And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.
“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?”
Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
Various theories have been proposed about why Esther does not mention God. One theory is that “the author may have written the book in the form of a Persian state chronicle in order to explain to the Persians the Jewish celebration of Purim” (The Nelson Study Bible, introduction to Esther). Whatever the case, the theme of the whole book and the implications of passages such as the above clearly show God’s hand at work in saving His people.
Daniel was taken captive by the Babylonians and was trained to become an official in the Babylonian court. During his long life he continued to serve God in spite of the dangers, and after the fall of Babylon also served in the Persian government.
“The basic theme of this work is the overruling sovereignty of the one true God, who condemns and destroys the rebellious world power and faithfully delivers His covenant people according to their steadfast faith in Him” (Archer, p. 377).
Daniel’s prophecies are foundational in understanding other prophecies, such as the book of Revelation. Jesus Christ also quoted Daniel in His Olivet Prophecy (Matthew 24:15; Daniel 9:27).
God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a dream about a massive image to reveal “what will be in the latter days” (Daniel 2:28). What did Daniel tell Nebuchadnezzar about the meaning of the dream?
“And wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold.
“But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.
“And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others.
“Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay.
“And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile.
“As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.
“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.”
“Daniel, interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a colossal human image, spoke of a series of ‘kingdoms’ to arise on the world scene. The first of these, said Daniel, was the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar himself (Daniel 2:28-38). It was to be followed by three other kingdoms (verses 39-40). Comparing history with other prophecies, we can understand that these four kingdoms were, in order, the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greco-Macedonian and Roman empires.
“Speaking of the fourth and final kingdom, the Roman Empire, Daniel said it would be ‘strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others’ (verse 40). Rome indeed proved to be more dominant and enduring than its predecessors, swallowing up their remnants in a reign that lasted for centuries.
“However, Daniel also revealed fascinating prophetic details of this kingdom. He said the legs and feet of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represented a kingdom, later shown to be the Roman Empire. The image had feet and toes composed ‘partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron.’ This indicated that ‘the kingdom shall be divided’ and ‘partly strong and partly fragile.’ Also, ‘just as iron does not mix with clay,’ the components of this kingdom would not adhere firmly together for long (verses 41-43).
“Then, describing Jesus Christ’s return and His overthrow of all human kingdoms and governments, Daniel says, ‘in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed…it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever’ (verse 44).”
“The Book of Ezra, and then of Nehemiah, tells what happens when a small contingent of Jews returns to resettle the Promised Land. Despite opposition from neighboring peoples, discouragement, and even lapses into sin, a Jewish presence is restored in the Holy Land and another temple erected on the site of Solomon’s earlier edifice. There, in a tiny district of what was once its own land, the little Jewish community struggles to survive and awaits God’s promise of a coming Messiah, God’s agent, who will see that all the ancient promises made to Abraham are fulfilled” (Lawrence Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion, 1991, introductory notes on Ezra).
God restored the Jewish nation to set the stage for the first coming of Jesus Christ. The restoration described in Ezra and Nehemiah is just a small foretaste of the great return of all Israel that will take place when Jesus Christ returns.
What was Ezra’s mission?
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.
Ezra was from a priestly family, and he was also a scribe who copied and studied the law. He diligently studied the Scriptures so he could live by them and teach them.
In the Hebrew Bible, Ezra and Nehemiah together were one book. Nehemiah chapters 1 through 6 tell about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Chapters 7 to 13 talk about the even more important work of restoring the people to God: “…the wall of the city would mean nothing without the wall of the Law surrounding the people” (The Nelson Study Bible, introduction to Nehemiah).
What happened a few days after the wall around Jerusalem was completed?
So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.
Under Nehemiah’s leadership, they completed the wall in 52 days, finishing on the 25th of the sixth month (Nehemiah 6:15). A few days later at the beginning of the seventh month they celebrated the Feast of Trumpets and were taught from the Scriptures. Their sadness at learning they had not obeyed God’s laws was followed by gladness at being able to understand and obey, including being able to rejoice in God’s festivals. They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day (Nehemiah 8:18). This eighth day of “solemn assembly” came to be called Shemini Atzeret, this day we now call the Lord’s day.
The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles were originally one book, the last book in the Hebrew Bible. They cover the same historical periods as 2 Samuel (1 Chronicles) and 1 and 2 Kings (2 Chronicles). In fact, “the chronicler made use of the books of Samuel and Kings for about half of the narrative” (The Nelson Study Bible, p. 659). But the compiler of Chronicles, traditionally Ezra, had a different emphasis and perspective. Writing to the Jews who had returned from captivity, he wanted to emphasize the continuity with their past and encourage them.
“The remnant was returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple because of the promises God had given to David many years before (see Ezra 7:10-23). God’s promises were still in effect—even though the people had been in exile… The theme of Chronicles is that God Himself established David’s kingdom (29:10, 11) in fulfillment of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Through the Davidic covenant, David’s kingdom itself embodies the promise of the future kingdom whose ruler is the great Son of David, Jesus Christ” (ibid., pp. 659-660).
Why does 1 Chronicles leave out stories of many of David’s weaknesses? It seems the purpose was to focus on encouraging the readers to follow David’s good examples.
What was King David’s desire for his son Solomon and the people?
1 Chronicles 22:19
“Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God. Therefore arise and build the sanctuary of the Lord God, to bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the holy articles of God into the house that is to be built for the name of the Lord.”
1 Chronicles 28:9-10
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.
“Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong, and do it.”
David stresses the importance of a right relationship with God. Having a right heart was the key to making the work of building the temple (or rebuilding it) truly successful and meaningful.
“2 Chronicles opens with the reign of King Solomon and the building of the temple (chapters 1-9). After recounting the revolt of the northern tribes under Jeroboam, chapters 11-36 deal with the history of the southern kings of Judah up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.” (Eerdmans’ Family Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1978, p. 84).
The story of 2 Chronicles is the story of Judah’s decline and departure from God, leading to their captivity. But the book focuses extra attention on the righteous kings, such as Hezekiah and Josiah, who instituted reforms and sought to lead the people back to God.
What happened when Josiah’s men found the Book of the Law that had been lost during the reigns of unrighteous kings?
2 Chronicles 34:14, 19, 21
Now when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses…
Thus it happened, when the king heard the words of the Law, that he tore his clothes…
“Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for those who are left in Israel and Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book.”
Josiah’s repentance and reforms delayed the punishments that Judah’s sins had incurred. “All his days they did not depart from following the Lord God of their fathers” (verse 33). However, soon after Josiah’s death the nation returned to its rapid downhill slide.
The book describes Judah’s captivity and the destruction of the temple, but ends on a positive note. The proclamation by Cyrus, king of Persia, allowing the Jews to return and rebuild the temple was a powerful fulfillment of prophecies by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:10) and Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28-45:1).