Big Picture - OT

For this Big Picture - OT study, you'll need a Bible & pad to write some notes or questions. Don't be in a hurry. Look at each event and the scriptures carefully. 

Use this map of the Bible lands to assist your study. Trace it and draw it repeatedly so you can memorize the key Bible lands, waters, and events.

When one speaks of the “big picture”, what comes to mind is an overview, general assessment or panoramic view. It provides a general sense of the landscape without all the intricate details, a broad, not finite, view of some thing. The big picture enables a general, not complex or exhaustive understanding.

When studying the Bible, it is easy to get focused upon, and perhaps even confused by, all the details in the chapters and books of the two major divisions of the Bible called the Old and New Testament.

How they are related can get lost in all the information until we back up and get a broader general view of how the Bible is put together and the important people, places, and historical and prophetic events it records.

A general understanding of the Bible (the big picture) is the purpose of this lesson. It offers a basic overview of how the Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) are comprised, related, and the key major events that each contain.

A good understanding of the big picture of the Bible better equips the student in understanding the details when reading, studying, and hearing the word of God preached and taught.

The big picture builds confidence in your ability to explain the Bible to others as you share your new and exciting faith in Jesus Christ. One important step in getting better acquainted with the Bible is to memorize all sixty-six books in order forward and backward.

This will help you locate the books quickly when involved in studying, teaching or preaching. Doing so will also help you place the books in their respective categories and audience. A little time and effort doing so will bring great reward.

This lesson begins where the Bible does – In the beginning:

The Old Testament Big Picture

1. The thirty-nine books of the Old Testament are divided into three primary sections called the law, wisdom, and prophets. When Jesus spoke of the law, psalms and prophets (Luke 24:44-45) He was referring to the entire OT (Hebrews 10:7).

A.   History books (17). The first five books of the Bible are called the law of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy spanning 4000-1500bc). The next twelve books (Joshua – Esther) give the historical account of Israel (spanning 1400-420bc).

B.   Poetic/Wisdom books (5). The next five books (Job – Song of Solomon) are wisdom literature. Great wisdom, instruct-ion, comfort and counsel are drawn from these books.

Job is considered the oldest book and is packed with insights into God’s dealing with man and the problem of suffering.

The other four books were written primarily by kings David and his son Solomon. Some psalms were written by others.

C.   Prophetic books (17). The last seventeen books of the OT are divided into two categories: The five major prophets (Isaiah – Daniel spanning 740-540bc); and the twelve minor prophets (Hosea – Malachi spanning 800-420bc).

Major and minor are designations of the relative size of the books, not a reflection of their importance. Each bears the name of the prophet who authored the book, his message, and warnings given by God, to God’s people, during the time of the historical books of 1 Kings – 2 Chronicles.

2. The Old Testament is extraordinary in its historical, geographical, archeological, scientific and prophetic accuracy. Written by 30+ authors from diverse backgrounds, over a span of 1500 years, without contradiction, the OT bears the supernatural imprint of God (Psalm 12:6-7, 2 Peter 1:19-21).

3. Geographically, the land primarily mentioned in the OT is what we now call the Middle East. Israel was placed by God at the crossroads of the major civilizations (Israel, Egypt, Syria, Babylon [Iraq] and Persia [Iran]) and their trade routes.

4. What follows is a brief overview of twelve major events that shape the Old Testament narrative. Once these major events are memorized and understood, the reading of the OT will become more comprehensible and easier to explain to others.

A.  Event 1. The Creation: The “firsts” by providence (Genesis 1:1-3:5).

1) God creates time, space, matter and energy in six literal twenty-four-hour periods called days. He did not use evolution or other theories of the origin of the universe.

2) Both dominant theories of origin (creation and evolution) look at the same evidence and, by faith, reach different conclusions. Either God created everything out of nothing to reveal His power, glory and intelligence;

or nothing exploded, for no reason, and became everything we see today. Both cannot be true. Since God was the only one present at the beginning, the accuracy of the account His word (the Bible) gives is most reliable.

3) Genesis chapter one gives us the order of the creative days and then adds complimentary information in chapter two. Notice how God repeats “after their kind” many times refuting macro-evolutionary theories. To this day, we find all living things producing only “after their kind.”

4) Adam and Eve, the first parents of mankind, lived immortally in a perfect environment free of sin and physical, mental or emotional defects or decline.

They were inclined neither to moral good nor evil, enjoying direct fellowship with God in paradisical conditions.

5) The garden called Eden was located in Mesopotamia, also known as the cradle of civilization or the fertile crescent, located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

B.   Event 2. The Corruption: The fall of man by pride (Genesis 3:6-5:32).

1) Eden was a tropical paradise free of storms and violence. A mist from the ground, not rain, watered the rich and diverse vegetation.

2) Two key trees were present: The tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). To eat from the tree of knowledge was forbidden by God.

3) There were several “one’s” that described the beginning: One command Genesis 2:16-17, one life, no death 19-20, one nature (sinless), one diet (herbs, fruits, seeds), one language, and one flesh (naked and unashamed - 2:21-25, 5:2).
4) The fall of man, causing sin and death to enter the world, occurred when Eve, then Adam, chose to obey a voice other than God’s (Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-6, Romans 5:12).

5) The first crisis occurs when Adam & Eve attempt to hide their sin from God (Genesis 3:7-19). God then provides a blood sacrifice to cover their nakedness that hints at the only means of redemption through blood (Genesis 3:15, 21).

6) Adam and Eve are driven from Eden (Genesis 3:22-24).

7) Three questions from God discover location, authority, and responsibility when others experience the effects of sinful choices: 1) Where art thou? (Genesis 3:9); 2) Who told thee? (3:11); 3) What hast thou done? (3:13).

8) The early chapters of Genesis offer many firsts: Sin (Genesis 3:1-6), children (4:1-2); worship (4:3-4); death (4:5-8); marriage of children (4:16-18). Cain marries his sister.

C.   Event 3. The Catastrophe: The flood judgment for perdition (Genesis 6:1-9:29).

1) Noah’s ark and the worldwide flood are the historical account of the cataclysmic changes wrought by God’s judgment upon earth for the depravity of man (Genesis 6:1-5).

2) Noah’s family is given 120 years to warn of pending judgment and build an ark to survive the flood. By faith, only Noah, his sons, and their wives (8 souls) escape with males and females from every species of creatures upon earth, which God brought to them (Genesis 7:1-10).

3) Both the water canopy around the earth and the great deep within the earth cause flooding for 378 days.

The flood, then subsequent ice, cause geologic and atmospheric changes such as the formation of mountains, canyons, large bodies of water, storms, and seasons.

4) A (rain)bow signifies God’s covenant (Genesis 9:8-16).

5) God gave Noah and sons the responsibility to replenish and govern the earth, ending in rebellion at Babel (Genesis 9-11).

D.   Event 4. The Call of a Nation (Israel): The fathers of promise called patriarchs (Genesis 12-50).

1) Abraham (Genesis 12:1-25:10) is the first of the patriarchs and is called out of pagan Ur of the Chaldees (Babylon) to Canaan (Promised Land). He is the first Jew.

Abraham is given an eternal covenant that promised a land inheritance and offspring to dwell in it. He dies at the age of 175 yrs. (Genesis 12:1-5, 13:14-17, 17:5, 7, 25:7).

Compare Genesis 12:1-3 with Matthew 25:31-46 to see how literally God judges others based on how they treat Jews.

This promised land is God’s. He jealously watches over it (Deuteronomy 10:14, 11:10-12). As the world struggles over this piece of real estate, remember God’s promises.

2) Abraham and Sarah begin their family the wrong way after waiting many years for God’s promise (Genesis 16:1-3, 15). The result is Ishmael from whom came the Arab / Muslim nations that oppose Israel to this day.

3) Abraham and Sarah then receive the promised son, by faith. Sarah bears a child at a very old age (Genesis 17:15-17, 21). God’s covenant rests with Isaac and his sons.

4) Isaac (Genesis 21-35:29), not Ishmael, is heir to God’s promise to Abraham by faith and covenant (Genesis 26:1-5).

5) Isaac has two sons (nations - Genesis 25:19-26): Jacob (Israel) and Esau (AKA - Edom). Jacob has twelve sons who by name be-come the twelve tribes of Israel and inherit the promise.

6) Joseph (Genesis 37-50) is the last patriarch and becomes a great leader in Egypt after being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Famine reunites the family and finds them resettled in Egypt where Jacob then Joseph die.

E.   Event 5. The Correction of that Nation: The fetters by Pharaoh (Exodus 1-12).

1) God promised the patriarchs blessing by dwelling in the promised land. However, their continual disobedience led to 430 years of sojourning and slavery in Egypt.

2) A new king (pharaoh) arises who shows no favor to the Jewish people (Exodus 1:7-8). He places the entire Hebrew nation into slavery (1:9-22).

3) God chooses Moses to confront pharaoh. A series of plagues culminating in the death of every firstborn child and the first Passover leads to the exodus (Exodus 12:29-37).

4) Moses becomes the venerated leader of the Hebrews.

F.   Event 6. The Consecration of that Nation: The flight from Pharaoh. The exodus (Exodus 13-Deuteronomy 34).

1) The Passover becomes one of seven annual feasts. It has the most significance in that it points prophetically to the day the Deliverer will come (John 1:29, 1 Corinthians 5:7).

2) At night, 600,000 men, plus women, children and livestock fled and found themselves at the Red Sea shore.

3) God’s providential leading and protection parts the Red Sea and God’s people cross on dry ground (Exodus 14:9-25).

4) God then proves Israel as they wander, murmur, receive the law at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20), experience miracles, blessings, and chastisements. After 40 years they reach the Jordan River where they behold the Promised Land.

5) Moses beholds but cannot enter Canaan, and then dies.

G.   Event 7. The Conquest by that Nation: The fighting for possession (Joshua).

1) The book of Joshua records Joshua's call to replace Moses as the leader of the Jewish nation and his conquering of the people of Canaan (Joshua 1).

2) Joshua sends two spies to survey the land in preparation for its conquest (Joshua 2). God then begins and confirms their advance with a miraculous parting of the river and conquest of the fortified city of Jericho (Joshua 3-6).

3) Canaan is conquered / divided among the twelve tribes.

H.   Event 8. The Consequences to that Nation: The failures cause problems (Judges 1-1 Samuel 7).

1) Judges marks a dark and disheartening period in the history of the Hebrews. After Joshua’s generation die, the next generation walks away from God resulting in cycles of judgment/restoration (Judges 1:1-12, 2:6-3:15).

2) Samuel is the last great judge of God’s people. In Samuel’s elder years the people foolishly seek a king like other nations to replace him (1 Samuel 8).

I.   Event 9. The Kingdom United: The first kings presiding.

1) God grants the ill-advised request of the Jewish people and appoints Saul to be king for 40 years (1 Samuel 9-31).

2) David is then anointed and becomes the greatest of Jewish Kings through whose lineage Jesus would be born. He also reigns 40 yrs. (1 Samuel 18-1 Kings 1).

3) David then anoints his son Solomon who become a great king until he chooses riches and honor over God’s wisdom. Solomon reigns 40 years and dies. His foolish son Rehoboam causes the kingdom to split (1 Kings 1-13). Ecclesiastes records Solomon’s regrets.

J.   Event 10. The Kingdom Divided: The fall of a nation prophesied.

1) The united kingdom of Israel lasted 120 years. The rest of 1 Kings records the dividing of the kingdom: 10 northern tribes (Israel) and 2 southern tribes (Judah).

2)  As Israel’s apostasy deepens, God raises up prophets to warn and call them to repentance. Some speak their messages (e.g. Elijah) others write (e.g. Isaiah, Hosea).

3) Civil war between the northern and southern tribes ensues. The two tribes of Judah remain more committed to the Lord, but later follow in apostasy and judgment.

4) The prophets to Israel are Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah.

K.   Event 11. The Captivity: The fetters for preservation.

1) At the end of 2 Kings, both nations are taken into cap-tivity (10 north tribes in 722bc by Assyria, Judah in 586 by Babylon). 1 & 2 Chronicles enhance 1 & 2 Kings (all four books cover the same period of time - Kings places emphasis on Israell (10 north tribes) and Chronicles emphasizes Judah (2 southern tribes).

2) Due to rebellion, idolatry, and their refusal to repent, God caused heathen nations to conquer the Jewish people and deliver all twelve tribes into captivity for 70 years. (2 Chronicles 36:11-21).

3) The northern tribes being mixed among the Assyrians created a people despised by Jews, called Samaritans.

4) The major prophets during the captivity are Jeremiah, Lamentations (from Jerusalem/Judah), Ezekiel (from Babylon), and Daniel (from Persia: end of captivity).

5) The prophets proclaim the reason for judgment, but also future restoration, as a kingdom united, under the Son of David who will reign, as King of kings, over them.

L.   Event 12 & 13. The Comeback: The freedom to possess (Ezra – Esther).

1) God keeps His promises. While His prophets proclaim-ed judgment, they also proclaimed future restoration.

2) After 70 yrs. of captivity, Cyrus the king of Persia decrees freedom for the Jews allowing them to return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:20-23).

3) The final historical books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther capture this three-phase return to Jerusalem and the struggles associated with rebuilding the city.

4) While Ezra & Nehemiah focus on the struggles in Jerusalem, Esther records life during this time in Persia.

5) The three final (post-exilic) prophets of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are messengers to those returning to rebuild Jerusalem. They motivate God’s people to faithfully complete the task amidst their trials.

6) Event 13 is often called "the silent years". At the end of Malachi (420bc) no more prophecy is spoken, nor scripture written. The Old Testament writings are complete. Many uprisings occur during this time. Rome seizes power from the Grecians, who took it from the Media-Persians.

7) Two religious sects who play a key role in the gospels form: The orthodox Pharisees and liberal Sadducees.

8) The silence and spiritual darkness breaks when angels proclaim the birth of Jesus the Christ, and the prophet John the Baptist preaches repentance and faith to Israel.

MEMORY VERSE (memory verses help you recall important thoughts from the Bible to assist in your spiritual growth and in helping others)

  • Hebrews 10:7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.


1. Name and briefly explain the three major sections of the Old Testament:




2. Write how the “big picture” old testament study has helped you better understand your Bible and how you can use this knowledge to help others: