Revealing the Divine Wisdom of God Through the Holy Scripture (Part II)

St. Niphon the Patriarch of Constantinople of Mt. Athos

St. Niphon the Patriarch of Constantinople of Mt. Athos

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

REVEALING THE DIVINE WISDOM OF GOD THROUGH THE HOLY SCRIPTURES (Part II)

OVERVIEW OF THE BOOKS OF THE HOLY BIBLE
By the Right Reverend BASIL, Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America

The Old Testament

This introduction is a brief description of each of the lofty forty-nine (49) books of the Old Testament. It is helpful to keep in mind that, like the earliest Christian community, the Orthodox Church of today continues using the Greek version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (LXX). The Septuagint--referencing the seventy finest Jewish scholars, from all twelve Jewish tribes, who made the translation from the Hebrew into Greek--became the universally accepted version of the Old Testament since the time of its appearance some three centuries before the birth of Christ. Our Lord Jesus Christ, and also Peter and Paul, used this Greek version when quoting the Old Testament in their gospels and epistles. These inspired Old Testament books tell the story of God's dealings with ancient Israel, from approximately 2000 BC until the time of Jesus.

A study of the Old Testament in the light of the authentic Apostolic Tradition will lead the reader to Him Who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets as He promised: Our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. This collection of forty-nine Old Testament Books is traditionally subdivided into four sections:

  1. The five books of the Law;
  2. The books of history;
  3. The books of wisdom and;
  4. The books of prophecy.

The Five Books of the Law

First there are books of the Law: Genesis, meaning "beginning," since it recounts the beginning of God's creation; Exodus, which means "exit" or "departure," referring to the journey of the Hebrews from out of slavery in Egypt, Leviticus, a book detailing worship as led by the priests ordained from the tribe of Levi; Numbers, whose title is derived from the book's opening account of the census or numbering of the people of Israel; Deuteronomy, meaning "second law," since it gives a detailed listing of the additional laws given by God through Moses.

These first five books of the Old Testament, known jointly as the Pentateuch (penta means "five" in Greek) describe God's creation of the world, the rebellion of Adam and Eve and the fall of man, and the history of God's people from the days of Abraham, about 2000 BC, through the days of Moses, dated by many scholars at approximately 1250 BC.

The Books of History

The second section of the LXX (70) Testament is known as the historical books. This group with the books of Joshua, the leader of the children of Israel following the death of Moses, who brings God's people into the promised land after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Judges relates to the traditions of the various Hebrew tribes and the exploits of their own particular heroes, the Judges of whom the title speaks, who ruled the nation. The book of Ruth is the charming and heroic account of a Gentile woman who placed herself under the protection of the one True God, and in the process became an ancestor of King David, and of his descendent, Jesus Christ the Messiah of Israel.

First and Second Kingdoms (First and Second Samuel), whose principle characters are Samuel the faithful prophet, Saul the first king of Judah in the south of Palestine, and Israel to the north. The books of Third and Fourth Kingdoms (First and Second Kings) open with the enthronement of David's son Solomon and ends with the fall of the kingdom, including the destruction of its capital of Jerusalem, and the exile of God's people from Palestine in Babylon.

First and Second Chronicles (First and Second Paraleipomenon) expand on the history recorded in Third and Fourth Kingdoms. The word paraleipomenon is translated from the Greek and means "that which is omitted" in the two preceding books. The books of First and Second Ezra and Nehemiah continue this chronicle of divine history, focusing on the Jewish religious community after its return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon.

The final books in the historical section of the Old Testament reveal the stories of people who lived heroic and God-directed lives under foreign domination and during the exile: Tobit, who was taken into captivity by the Assyrians; Judith, the pious and beautiful widow who saved her people from massacre by the invading Assyrian general; Esther, the Jewish queen of Persia who achieved the revocation of Haman's decree that would have allowed the persecution and mass murder of God's people; and Maccabees, the family of the Hasmoneans and their followers, the faithful people who began the revolt and fought the wars of independence against foreign armies occupying their land.

The Books of Wisdom

The third section of the Old Testament is known as the books of Wisdom. The magnificent Psalms is the hymnal of both ancient Israel and of the Church. The book of job, which in the canonical Greek LXX comes between Psalms and Proverbs, probes the depth of a man's unshakable faith in the face of tragedy and innocent suffering. Proverbs is a collection of moral and religious instruction taught to young people after their return from exile in Babylon. Ecclesiastes tells of the preacher who philosophically seeks to understand the meaning of human existence that the good man can find in this life The moving Song of Songs by Solomon is a collection of lyric poems, written in the language of human love and courtship, which also speaks prophetically of God's love for His beloved Bride, His Church. The Wisdom of Solomon promises reward and immortality to the righteous, praises wisdom and condemns the folly of idolatry. The Wisdom of Sirach consists of lectures to young people on ethical and religious themes.

These Seven Books of Wisdom Literature--The Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Sons, the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Sirach--proclaim that happiness (or "blessedness," in the language of the Holy Bible) is possible only through faith in and obedience to the One True God.

The Books of Prophecy

The Fourth and final section of the LXX Old Testament includes the books of prophecy, which appear in an order different from the Hebrew and Vulgate collections.

Hosea gives a message of God's own redeeming love for His chosen people, even when they spurn Him and prostitute themselves to false gods. Amos is the simple shepherd called by God to denounce a self-satisfied nation for its grave social injustice, abhorrent immorality and its shallow and meaningless piety. Micah foretells the day when nations shall beat their swords into plow-shares and their spears into pruning hooks. He speaks of peace reigning over all who do justice, who love kindness, and who walk humbly with God. Joel is the prophet who foretells the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh. Obadiah prophesies the return of the exiles from Babylon. Jonah unwillingly accepts God's command to preach His mercy and forgiveness to a foreign nation.

Nahum prophecies the defeat of the powerful Assyrian enemy. Habakkuk deals with the perennial question, "How long, O Lord, shall I cry out to You, and You will not hear me?" (Hab. 1:2). Zephaniah prophesies the dark days of Judah's destruction, but promises comfort and conciliation to those who wait patiently for the Lord and serve him. Haggai, following the return of the exiles, exhorts them to rebuild the destroyed temple in order to unify their disrupted religious life and, more importantly, to prepare for the coming of the long awaited Messiah.

Zechariah prophesies the image of the messianic Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for the flock. Malachi exhorts God's people to faithfulness and asserts the fatherhood of God over all nations. He foretells that God will appoint a forerunner, similar to the ancient prophet Elijah (or Elias) who will appear before the Messiah and prepare the world for the coming Day of the Lord.

Isaiah exhorts the people of God to place their confidence in the Lord, and to lead private and public lives which manifest this reliance. From Isaiah, we hear the prophecies of a Son to be born of a virgin, and of the Suffering Servant--the Messiah--Who would be led as an innocent sheep to the slaughter, and by whose stripes we would be healed. Jeremiah severely criticizes God's people for abandoning the One True God and turning instead to the worship of idols. Baruch was appointed to be read on feast days as a confession of sins. In Lamentations, the author Jeremiah mourns the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The Epistle of Jeremiah is addressed to those about to be carried off into exile in Babylon.

Ezekiel, the prophet of the exiles, assures his hearers of the abiding presence of God amongst them, even in exile and servitude. Finally, Daniel writes an apocalyptic or mystical end-time prophecy which is filled with difficult and often obscure signs and symbols. In the Greek LXX, Daniel begins with the heroic story of Susanna and ends with the fascinating account of Bel and the Serpent.

These forty-nine (49) God inspired Old Testament books divided into four sections--books of the law, of history, of wisdom and of prophecy--which serve as an introduction to John the Baptist's preparation of the world for the coming of the Messiah, Who is Isaiah's Suffering Servant, Zechariah's Prince of Peace, and the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the flock. (Source: The Orthodox Study Bible)

(To be continued: Next: New Testament)

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The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"-Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George