The Old Testament Made Simple (Part 1) – Preface

After I became a Christian at age twenty, I tried to read the Old Testament and found large portions of it to be almost incomprehensible. Yahweh—also translated as “Jehovah”—seemed much different from the Heavenly Father Jesus talked about. Indeed, Yahweh seems so different that some early Christians insisted he could not possibly be the same God that we see in the New Testament. Some Christians today seem to feel the same way, as do many non-Christians.

Yet with time and education from some older and wiser Christians—none more influential than the late Dr. Gene Scott—I came to understand and appreciate the lessons Yahweh was trying to teach his people. (Dr. Eugene Scott was for many years the pastor of Faith Center in Glendale, California. That is where I began listening to his teaching.) He is the same Heavenly Father that Jesus talked about, but in the Old Testament Yahweh was dealing with people who were at a much different level of spiritual maturity than those of Jesus’ time. That difference made all the difference.

This book, in combination with Part 2, explores each book of the Protestant Old Testament except Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.

Each short chapter provides a summary of a significant topic or storyline in the Old Testament, and includes thought-provoking—and discussion-provoking—questions. Most of these questions have no right or wrong answer. Some may be impossible to answer, but are nevertheless worth thinking about and discussing.

This book did not require a lot of biblical interpretation, since I am mostly conveying what the Old Testament says rather than what it means. Nevertheless, some interpretation was necessary—perhaps more than I realize. So I will share my philosophy on interpreting scripture. I primarily rely upon two rules.

I borrowed the first one from the law—the doctrine of pari materia (Latin for “on the same subject”). This rule recognizes that lawmakers do not intentionally pass laws that contradict each other, and therefore an interpretation which leads to that result is probably wrong. This doctrine requires courts to interpret laws so that they are consistent with each other whenever possible, so long as they address the same general subject or have the same general purpose.

A similar approach is useful in biblical interpretation. We can be reasonably certain that the Old Testament writers did not intend to contradict themselves or each other. Because I believe that those authors honestly reported what they knew or believed to be true, I make every effort to reconcile scriptures that might appear to be in conflict.

The second rule I follow is that every verse should be interpreted in light of the context in which it appears. What was the author’s main point? Who was his audience? In some cases, when and where was the book written? What do the verses preceding and following that verse talk about? We will get much closer to a verse’s true meaning if we understand the context in which it appears.

Some of the chapters in this book cover only a chapter—or even less—of the Old Testament, while others are drawn from multiple chapters or multiple Old Testament books. Each chapter of this book lists the Old Testament source(s)—under the chapter title—from which it is derived. When the sources include multiple books of the Old Testament, I have provided abundant footnotes so that those who wish to grade my homework, or simply delve more deeply, can easily do so. I have generally omitted footnotes when the chapter relies on a single Old Testament book, unless I am using a direct quote or providing additional information from outside that source. If you believe the extensive footnotes in some of the chapters interfere with your reading enjoyment, I sincerely apologize. I simply feel that the clarity they often provide is worth the minor inconvenience.

All biblical quotations in this book are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation. Italics are in the original, and indicate that the word is implied in—but not literally part of—the original Hebrew. You will also notice that “Lord” almost always appears herein with small capitals—Lord—when it is in a quotation from the Old Testament. This is how the NASB renders it, so I have retained that style in the quotations. Similarly, while modern usage no longer uses capital letters for pronouns that refer to God or Jesus Christ, the NASB does, and I have retained that style in the quotations.