Old Testament Survey – Books of the Law


The first five books of the Bible are often called “Law” because they contain the law that God gave to Israel through Moses, along with the story of how it came to be given.  Moses is considered to be the author (Deut. 31:9, 24; Acts 7:37, 38).


The name is from the Septuagint and means “origin, source, or birth.”  About 250 B.C. the Old Testament was translated out of Hebrew into Greek.  Josephus the historian says it was done by 72 priests, and “Septuagint” is from the Greek word for “seventy.”  Jesus and Paul quoted from the Septuagint translation.

Genesis is the book of beginnings.  It tells of the beginnings of the heavens and the earth, the beginnings of man, the beginnings of man’s sin, and the beginnings of God’s plan to provide a solution to the problem of sin.  The first eleven chapters tell of the creation of the world and of man, the origin of sin and its destructive effects, and Noah’s flood and its aftermath.  Chapters 12 through 50 introduce Abraham and his family, through whom God would ultimately redeem man.

Significant Passages:

1) Creation (1:1-2:3): If man just happened by accident, he would have no ultimate purpose or value.  There would be no basis for knowing right or wrong.  But God created man “in His own image” (1:26, 27).  Man is special—higher than animals or plants or anything else on earth.  Man has the ability to plan, to communicate, to wonder, to think, and to feel.  Because we have a Creator, we are obligated to Him, just as a child is obligated to his parents.  And God has given man responsibility to care for the earth (1:28; 2:15).  God is the owner (Psalm 24:1) and we are the managers.

2) Marriage (2:18-25): Marriage is first of all God’s idea and not man’s.  God’s intention is for the wife to complete her husband and so she has value first of all as a companion.  God’s plan is for one man and one woman to marry for life (Matthew 19:3-6).

3) The Fall (3:1-24): When Eve begins to doubt that God’s instructions are for her own good, she falls into sin.  The snake promises that she will be “like God” (5), and sin always appeals to us based on our desire to be “like God” and set our own rules.  The tragic results of sin can be seen here.  It leads to broken relationships between man and God, man and other people, man and himself, and man and the world we live in.

4) The Flood (6:1-9:29): As time passed, a growing population brought growing sin (6:5).  God chose to cleanse the earth and start over through Noah and his family.  Noah is an example of a godly and faithful man witnessing to God’s purpose amidst an unbelieving culture (Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20).

5) Abraham (12-23): God called Abraham out of a comfortable but pagan culture (12:1-3) and Abraham answered the call, despite not knowing where it would lead (Hebrews 11:8).  God made a covenant with Abraham, granted him a son in his old age, and tested his faith.  Abraham’s life of faithful obedience would become an example for all believers (Romans 4:1-25).

6) Isaac (24-26): God provided a wife for Isaac (24:1-67).  Isaac had twin sons (25:21-26).  He was a peaceful man (26:12-22).  God renewed His covenant with Abraham through Isaac (26:23-25).

7) Jacob (27-36): The younger of Isaac’s sons was sometimes dishonest, using people in order to get his own way.  Yet God continued His covenant with him and changed him into a godly man.

8) Joseph (37-50): His brothers hated him because he was Jacob’s favorite son.  They sold him into slavery, yet that act of hatred would eventually lead to God working out His purpose (50:20).


After 400 years in Egypt Israel had become a slave nation.  God raised up Moses to deliver Israel (Hebrews 11:23-29).  That deliverance came through a series of plagues as God displayed His power to the leader of Egypt so that he would allow Israel to leave.

Significant Passages:

1) Birth and Call of Moses (2:1-4:17): Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, left Egypt, and was reluctant to return.  God answered his objections and promised to use him in order to achieve God’s purposes.

2) Plagues and Deliverance (7:14-14:31): God used ten plagues to convince Pharaoh to allow Israel to leave.  The final plague led to the Passover, which became an annual feast for Israel.

3) The Ten Commandments (20:10-17): These instructions were the basis for God’s law for Israel.  They begin with the nation’s response to God (3-11) and conclude with relations with one another (12-17).

4) Design and Construction of the Tabernacle (25-40) – The Tabernacle was a complex tent where the priests would offer sacrifices to God for Israel.  It symbolized God’s presence among His people.


This book is a rule book for the priests, and for the whole nation of Israel, on how to be a holy people.  The name is from the fact that the priests are of the tribe of Levi.  The word “holy” appears 87 times and “atonement” 45 times.  It presents a God who is holy—a moral holiness not found in the gods of the other nations of the time.  It discusses the different types of sacrifices and offerings that people were to bring to God (1-7), the priests (8-10), holiness in daily life (11-22), various feasts (23), and guidelines for life in the land God would give Israel (24-27).  The sacrifices were performed day after day, year after year, reminding Israel that sin cuts people off from God’s presence and leads to death.  The sacrifices ultimately pointed ahead to Christ, who died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3).

But the book is not just about religious ritual.  It provides laws for daily living, such as laws about what foods to eat or not to eat, and laws about personal cleanliness.  God had promised that if Israel would obey His instructions, He would keep them from sickness (Exodus 15:26; 23:25).  He did so, not by magic, but by using natural laws that we often now understand, at least in part.  Israel’s obedience to God’s instructions would make them pure and set them apart for God—which is what “holy” means.


At the beginning (1) and towards the end (26) the people of Israel are counted, which gives the book its name.  It begins with Israel leaving Mt. Sinai, where they have received God’s law, and ends with them about to enter Canaan, the Promised Land.  But in between are thirty-eight years of complaining, unbelief, and rebellion.  Out of the entire generation that left Egypt, only three people—Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, would still be alive at the end of this book, and only two of them, Joshua and Caleb, would enter the land God had promised to give to Israel.  Numbers is a sad and tragic book.

The most significant event in Numbers occurs at Kadesh-Barnea (13:1-14:45).  In preparation for going into the land God has promised, Moses sent twelve spies, one from each of Israel’s tribes, to look it over.  After forty days they returned to Israel and reported that the land was fruitful and productive.  But ten of the spies worried about the people who lived in the land and were sure that Israel would not be able to defeat them.  Only Joshua and Caleb believed that Israel, with God’s help, could take the land.  The people believed the ten who doubted and thought they would have been better off to have stayed in Egypt.  God spoke to Moses, suggesting that He destroy Israel and start over with Moses.  But Moses intervened for Israel.  The punishment for Israel’s lack of faith in God was that they would remain in the desert until that generation died off and then God would give Canaan to their children.


At the end of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness and as they prepared to enter Canaan, Moses reviewed and restated the Law which God had given at Mt. Sinai.  The people who had left Egypt had now died, so their children needed a review of the Law and a renewal of their relationship with God.  The name of the book means “second law,” since it is the second time the Law was explained to Israel.  At this point it is applied specifically to Israel’s settled life in Canaan, which is about to begin.

Jesus quoted more from Deuteronomy than from any other book in the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy is organized according to the standard patterns for ancient treaties and covenants.

I.                    Introduction (1:1-5)

II.                  Historical Prologue (1:6-4:49)

III.                Requirements (5:1-26:19)

IV.                Curses and Blessings (27:1-30:20)

V.                  Succession Arrangements and Public Reading (31:1-34:5)

The word “obey” occurs 10 times, but “love” occurs 22 times.  The highest motive for obeying God is love for God (6:4, 5) and not just fear of punishment or hope of reward.  Similarly, Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

Significant Passages –

1) Ten Commandments Restated (5:1-21): Note the difference between 5:15 and Exodus 20:11, each of which explains Sabbath keeping.  Exodus explains why, of all days, the Sabbath is special.  In contrast, Deuteronomy explains why it is that Israel is to keep a special day.

2) Basic Statement of Faith (6:4-9): First of all Israel must recognize God for who He is.  They are not to worship a collection of many gods, but the one true God.  And they are to pass that faith on from generation to generation, teaching their children about God on every occasion possible.

3) Promise of a Coming Prophet (18:18-22): God would continue to provide spiritual leadership for His people.  After Moses would come Joshua.  There would be numerous prophets through coming years.  And the ultimate fulfillment of this passage would be Jesus.

4) Blessings and Curses (28:1-68): Israel’s faithfulness to God’s Law would bring strength and riches, but unfaithfulness would bring sickness, poverty, captivity, and national shame.  Tragically, Israel seems to have spent more time exploring and experiencing the curses listed here than the blessings.

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