A Panorama of the Old Testament


Staff member
A Panorama of the Old Testament
By Dr. David L. Cooper

The word, panorama, means, literally, “seeing all.” A panorama of the Old Testament is, therefore, a view of all the books constituting it. To see the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament in their relation one to the other, and to realize the circumstances out of which any one particular book grew, or for what purposes it was designed by the Almighty is immediately to get a glimpse of their beauty. The chart appearing above is designed for that purpose. My earnest hope is that God may use it to stimulate an interest in the study of the Old Testament, for whatever was written aforetime was given for our learning and our comfort (Rom. 15:4). It is my firm conviction that, if the average Christian could see the intelligent unfolding of the Scriptures and the recorded events in their relation one to another and in their proper perspective, he would delight to read the Old Testament and would receive a great blessing therefrom. It is with this thought in mind that I have made the present diagram.


The heavy line running through the center represents the chronology of the centuries, beginning with the creation and closing with the end of Old Testament history. Above this line are arcs thrown over the various periods into which Israel's history divides. Each closed with some outstanding epoch or event which prepared the way for the succeeding period.

Below this line are bent arrows upon which are written the names of the book or books that give the history of the period or epoch indicated. At the bottom of the chart are the names of the books giving the duplicate account of the history covered by those mentioned above. These are I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, which present the spiritual interpretation of this history. The main historical books of the Old Testament are Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, and I and II Kings. These narrate the events of history which God has seen fit to preserve to us. There are many invaluable spiritual lessons that may be drawn from these books when properly understood.

The history as recorded in the Bible divides into the following epochs: Universal History, Beginnings of Hebrew History, Wilderness Wanderings, Conquest of the Land, Period of the Judges, The Monarchial Period, The Babylonian Exile, Post-Exilic Period.

The first period, Universal History, covers 2083 year record of which is found in Genesis 1:1-11:26. Thus half of the Old Testament period is covered by these eleven chapters. They deal with ancient history, indeed, but every statement is freighted with great significance. This period was brought to a close by the call of Abram to a life of separation. He was living in a heathen environment, which was not conducive to the development of his spiritual life. Melchizedek, king of Jerusalem in Palestine, was Priest of God Most High and was reigning over what might properly be called the kingdom of God at that time. The Lord wanted Abram to enjoy the advantages of spiritual fellowship with this High Priest. He therefore called him out of Ur of the Chaldees and brought him into fellowship with Melchizedek. This is a momentous fact and proved to be one of the turning points in history.

Abraham, Melchizedek, Job, and the heathen king of Babylon, Hammurabi, seem to have been contemporaries. Three of them were servants of the true God and played a great role in the unfolding of the scheme of redemption.

The beginnings of Hebrew history are to be found in the last thirty-nine chapters of Genesis. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are the leading characters. The book which begins so very gloriously — “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” — closes with this plaintive moan — “in a coffin in Egypt.”

God created the Jewish nation for His glory (Isa. 43:1-7) He allowed them to grow to nationhood in Egypt under a thoroughly organized government. When, however, the time drew near for the fulfillment of the promise, the Lord sent Moses to be the deliverer of His people and to lead them into the land which He gave to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By His mighty power He delivered them, brought them out to Mount Sinai, and gave them His matchless Law, entering into a covenant with them. They chose a covenant of works rather than to remain upon the basis of grace. Humanly speaking, this was the fatal mistake which determined the entire career of Israel for centuries. At Sinai she made the Tabernacle, the temporary abiding place of the Almighty, where He met with His people. The Book of Leviticus was spoken from the door of the Tabernacle on the first day of the second year after Israel left Egypt. Numbers gives the historical account of her wanderings during the thirty-seven years from the time of her first arrival at Kadesh-barnea to her return to the same place in the fortieth year. From here Israel started for the Promised Land, going around the territory of Edom, and finally reached the Plains of Moab, east of the Jordan, opposite Jericho. It was at this place that Moses delivered, in his three final orations, his farewell address to the people whom he loved. These constitute the Book of Deuteronomy.

Joshua then took the leadership of the Chosen People and led them into Canaan. In a marvelous way they took the city of Jericho, which was delivered miraculously into their hands. They continued the conquest of the land for six years, taking the hill country which is in the central portion of the land.

After Joshua's death the people began to fall away from God. This period is known as the time of the Judges. The history of these 450 years largely centered around six cycles of events consisting of apostasy from God, of being delivered into the hand of a foreign oppressor, of a cry for liberation, and of the Lord's raising up a judge to deliver them from the oppressor and to restore peace. During this period, every man did that which was right in his own eyes. The historical record is found in the Book of Judges. The Book of Ruth constitutes an appendix to this account, which shows in a most beautiful manner the home life of the peasant class. The period ended with the judgeship of Samuel. The historical record, as shown on the chart, concludes with the seventh chapter of I Samuel.

Then began what is known as the monarchial period when Israel, desiring to be like the nations around her, clamored for a king. The Lord granted this request, but it was not in accordance with His highest and holiest plan. The kingdom was established in the year 3023 A.H. The reign of Saul was a failure, although it lasted for forty years. David, whom the Lord chose to succeed Saul, reigned most brilliantly, although his sin of taking Bathsheba as his wife was a terrible blight upon his career. It was he who really laid the foundations for the Hebrew monarchy. Considered from every standpoint, he was a mighty sovereign. The greatest thing that could be said about him was that he was a man after God's own heart, who sought to do His will, and who penitently turned from his sins. He was succeeded by his son, Solomon, whose reign from an outward standpoint was glamorous. Solomon, by contracting foreign marriages, established friendly relations with kings of the surrounding countries. His was an era of peace and prosperity which the people of Israel had never enjoyed. Nevertheless on account of heavy taxation, to maintain such a splendid court the people were burdened beyond endurance.

Upon the death of Solomon, the ten tribes in the north revolted and established a government of their own, which finally was centered at Samaria. A worship rivaling that at Jerusalem was established at Bethel and Dan. Eventually, heathen practices and teachings permeated this kingdom. When Israel sinned beyond remedy, the Lord allowed the Assyrian monarch to invade the territory and to overthrow the government. This event occurred in the year 3406 A.H. The kingdom of Judah, with its capital at Jerusalem, continued for one hundred and fourteen years beyond this time but was finally overthrown in the year 3520 A. H. by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.

During the period of the united kingdom, there was an outburst of song in the form of psalms. Solomon wrote the Proverbs, which is a book of practical wisdom. Ecclesiastes is really Solomon's biography in which he tells how he sought pleasure in every way — except the right one — but did not find it. Finally, he came to the conclusion that man's greatest happiness is wrapped up in doing the will of God (Eccl. 12:13). There were only a few prophets during the period of the united kingdom. Most of them lived during the time of the divided kingdom; that is, between 3143 A.H. and 3406 A.H. In the concluding days of the kingdom of Judah, however, two prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, arose and spoke boldly in the name of the Lord. We do not have any record of the ministry of Ezekiel prior to the fourth year of Zedekiah, although the inference of Ezekiel 1:1 might imply that he did perform some kind of ministry prior to that time; but on this point we cannot be dogmatic. Most of his labors were accomplished after the exiles were taken to Babylon.

Daniel was the outstanding prophet of the Exile. His book stands out as the principal portion of the prophetic word dealing with the Times of the Gentiles and the conditions and personages who will be the chief actors upon the stage in the last days of this dispensation.

After the conclusion of the seventy years of Babylonian captivity, those Jews who wished to return to the land of their fathers did so under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the prince of the House of David, and Joshua, the High Priest. The account of their return is found in Ezra and Nehemiah. The prophets of this period are, however, Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi. It was by the inspiration and the labors of the first two of these men that the discouraged exiles were inspired to rebuild the Temple.

A study of the Old Testament is absolutely essential to the proper understanding of the message of the New. May the Lord use this chart and this brief survey to stimulate such an interest in His precious Word!