Old Testament History = Confusing?

February 10 2017
February 10 2017

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I hear a lot about how intimidating the historical portions of the Old Testament can be. It is almost as if I can here history-buffs confess that, when it come to Old Testament history, their enthusiasm promptly dies.

I agree that 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings represents some challenging literature, but is a shame that many history lovers, even as Christians, actually do not love to study the historical setting around the kingdoms of David and Solomon, and around the period of the divided Northern and Southern Kingdoms. This is a rich period of political upheaval and cultural development, filled with stories that appear in diverse literary sources: ancient texts, classical poetry and literature, political treatises, British literature (Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton), etc. The time period of the kings and prophets was culturally invigorating to so many. And it is a testimony to the sovereignty of God to orchestrate the entire world in such a way that His progressive revelation would, ... progress.

Here are four sources that I have found to help gain a better understanding of the Old Testament world, which will encourage your reading of the historical books of the Old Testament. How strange that, to my knowledge, there is not a contemporary, succinct volume that tells the story of the Old Testament (while keeping an eye on cultural developments).

  • He covers both testaments, but in J. Gresham Machen, A Brief Bible History: A Survey of the Old and New Testament, there is a concise chronology of the Old Testament period. This is a book from the early 20th century, written by a seminary professor to make sure incoming students had a baseline of Scripture knowledge. Check out this print-on-demand edition, but this newer edition is surely to be printed more professionally.
  • Old Testament surveys can be very academic. In addition, surveys are usually organized according to the books of the Bible, so they don’t often contain a smooth chronological history of Israel. I recommend E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament. E.J. Young was incredibly popular in the 50s and 60s at Westminster Seminary, during a time when that school was on the cutting edge of intellectually-respected conservative theology.
  • There is an updated edition of Alfred Edersheim, Bible History: Old Testament. I highly recommend this book. This book reads just like a history book and is a very gripping way to see the development of the Old Testament world. I am very surprised that Edersheim has not received more attention.
  • Finally, visit Paideia Books for a copy of the S. G. DeGraaf four-volume work, Promise and Deliverance. Each volume is a free PDF (see Feeding on Christ). You’ll want to check out Promise and Deliverance II: The failure of Israel’s Theocracy. This 20th century Dutch author is very little-known except among a small band of Reformed Christian educators.


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