The Big Picture of the Old Testament

As I type, I am watching a group of Lander students complete their Old Testament final exam for the semester.  Some of them look like they got more sleep than others.  Some have a rough week ahead, others not so much.

I had never taught Old Testament at the university before.  I have taught different world religions courses, but this semester I got to teach Old Testament for the first time.  As I prepared for the class, I decided that I would teach it differently than traditional ways of teaching it.

I decided to implement a narrative theology approach.  The Old Testament is an account of a lot of people and a lot of events, but it is one overarching story.  The problem is that the books overlap in their messages, and the Old Testament is not chronologically ordered.  What that results in is a knowledge of individual stories removed from context.

Many people will know the story of David and Goliath, and, by itself, it appears to be a story about a young man whose bravery was able to stop someone bigger than him.  In the big picture, God is showing himself greater than all other gods in the world at the time.  Yahweh’s nation, Israel, had rejected him as king and wanted someone like all the other nations had.  Someone tall and handsome.  So they got Saul.  He was great until he came upon someone taller than him named Goliath.  The nation was saved when a younger boy who had been anointed king came down to show the strength of God’s power not his own.

Removed from context, you lose some of the big picture.

75% of their final exam was to give an essay of the big picture of the Old Testament.  We walked through 15 key points throughout the story, and they had to retell it.  The goal of the class was not that they memorized for an examination what year Habakkuk wrote his book only to have forgotten it by the time they left.  The goal was that you could go up to one of these students and say, “What is the big story of the Old Testament?” and they could give it to you.

As I prepare to grade the exams, I am delighted to see that we were pretty successful.  Teaching it in this setting reminded me of the richness of the big picture.  I was thankful for the genius way it all works together.  And I cherished walking through the book with some eager, young minds.

If you haven’t read the Old Testament lately, get into it.  Don’t stop in Leviticus either.  It’s rich stuff.  Keep going and be amazed at the wonder of the big picture of Yahweh and his people he continued to redeem.

While I am sure someone else could come up with a better summary list, here were the 15 key words we worked with and filled the story in from there.

15 Key Old Testament Points

  • 1. Creation
  • 2. Fall
  • 3. Flood
  • 4. Covenant
  • 5. Placement
  • 6. Exodus
  • 7. Commandments
  • 8. Wanderings
  • 9. Canaan
  • 10. Cycle
  • 11. Rejection
  • 12. Kingdom
  • 13. Division
  • 14. Exile
  • 15. Return