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Bible Basics

Lesson 4: Old Testament Organization (Part 1)

Lessons in this series: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Overview
Lesson Index

Lesson Workbook (PDF) Click here
Bible Authors (Word Search) Click here


1. For students to understand the organization and content of the books of the Old Testament and its divisions of Law, History, and Poetry
2. To enable students to recite the books in order
3. For students to have fun learning the veracity of the Bible


Bible, Word Of God

Scripture Memorization

The books of the Old Testament in order from Genesis to Song of Solomon

OPENING PRAYER (5 to 10 minutes)

GROUP BUILDING (5 minutes)

Bible Authors (Word Search) Click here

GETTING STARTED (10 minutes)

(To begin today’s study, have the students take the short pop quiz found in their workbooks. The questions and answers are repeated below. Encourage everyone to try the best they can to complete the quiz from memory and to avoid using their Bibles, or looking beyond the quiz in their workbooks.) 

Workbook Activity

Pop Quiz

1. How many books are in the Bible? (66)
2. How many testaments? (2)
3. How many books in the OT? (39)
4. How many in the NT? (27)
5. What are the divisions in the OT? (5 law, 12 history, 5 poetry, 5 major, 12 minor)
6. What about the NT? (4 gospels, 1 history, 21 letters, 1 prophecy)

(Again, be sure everyone has a Bible. Even if they’ve missed a couple weeks, they can jump on board.)

Well let’s dig in and learn more about the Bible. Today, we start breaking down each book. The goal is to get from Genesis to the Song of Solomon, know who wrote each book, and know the main point of each book. That means 22 books in all, so we can only spend about 90 seconds on each.

Ready? Get out your Bibles and let’s flip through together.

DIGGING IN (30 minutes)


• What’s the first book of the Bible? (Genesis.)
• And what category does it fall into, law, history, or poetry? (Law.)

Genesis is the first book of the Bible, and it’s considered a book of law. The author of Genesis was Moses, but he was probably more of an editor than a writer. He wrote down the oral traditions, copying other documents that were perhaps older than he was. He did this around 1400 BC.

The theme of Genesis is "beginnings." That is what the word "genesis" means. It records the beginning of the world (Genesis 1) and the beginning of God’s covenant people, Israel (Genesis 12), with the story of Abraham.

Now find Exodus. It is the second book of the Bible, and coincidentally, it is also a book of Law and written by Moses, at approximately the same time as Genesis.

The theme of the book of Exodus is, as its name implies, the exit of a large group of people. In this case, it is the mass exit of Israelites from Egyptian slavery.

• Under whose leadership did the Israelites make the trek across the desert to the Promised Land? (Besides God, Moses is the answer.)
• What chapter records the 10 Commandments? (Exodus 20)

• What is the third book of the Bible? (Leviticus)

While the themes of Genesis and Exodus were embedded in their title, this book of law's theme is not as easy to discern. Exodus, and later Deuteronomy, give laws to the people of Israel in general; whereas, Leviticus instructs priests specifically.

The Levites were the priestly tribe of Israel who served the community. Leviticus outlines the guidelines by which the priests were supposed to serve in a holy way.

Leviticus was written by Moses at about the same time as Genesis and Exodus.

The next book of law is Numbers. While it doesn’t contain a lot of laws, it is grouped with the others because it was also written by Moses during about the same period.

• Who wants to guess at the theme of Numbers? (It’s numbers!)

It’s about a census, actually 2 of them, taken by Moses as Israel prepares to enter the Promised Land. Because it’s about Numbers, people think it’s pretty boring. But in it we have a rebellious group of people getting swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16), a talking donkey (Numbers 22), and a war (Numbers 31).

• What’s the next book of the Bible? (Deuteronomy)

Deuteronomy is the final book of the law. Its name literally means second law, and that’s the major theme of the book: second law. It was written by Moses (except for the last few verses which record Moses’ death), a little later than the other four, towards the end of the first decade of 1400 BC (1407 or 1406).

(Pause here and, despite how 1st grade it might seem, recite with them the first five books of the OT together a couple of times. You will do this with the history books and poetry books as well, and then do all 22 books at the end.)


The first book of history in the Old Testament is Joshua. Turn there.

• Guess who wrote it? (Joshua.)
• Who likes war movies? What’s your favorite war movie?

Well the book of Joshua would make a great war movie. The main theme of this book is the conquest of the Promised Land by the Israelites. Joshua probably wrote it in approximately 1350 BC. Again, the last few verses tell of Joshua’s death, and would have been written by someone else.

• Who knows the next book of Old Testament History? (Judges)
• Does anyone know how many judges Israel had? (12)

You might not know who many of the judges were, but you’ll recognize the names of Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. Judges is filled with stories about how these people rescued the nation of Israel, after falling captive to foreigners because of their own sin. The key message of Judges is found repeated throughout the book: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25).

The author of Judges is a little more unclear, but a pretty good guess is that Samuel wrote it around 1000 BC.

Ruth is next. It is possible that Samuel wrote Ruth as well, though some doubt that. It was certainly written about the same time, though: 1000ish BC.

• Can anyone sum up the story of Ruth?

 Summary of Ruth

• Ruth is a Moabite
• Ruth’s husband dies but she sticks with he mother-in-law, whose husband had also died
• Even though they lived in Moab, they moved to Bethlehem together
• Ruth met a guy named Boaz, the kinsman redeemer, and they eventually marry
• Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of King David and is in Christ's lineage

One of the life-lessons in Ruth is that no matter how important you think you are, if you are faithful, God can use you. Never forget that.

1 & 2 Samuel
Originally one book, 1 and 2 Samuel was probably authored by a few people, most notably Samuel, the prophet Nathan, and Gad. It was likely completed just after David’s reign as king, around 930 BC.

1 Samuel covers the events of Saul’s reign as a king and 2 Samuel covers the events of David’s reign as king. These two books are packed with stories you probably know, like David & Goliath (1 Samuel 17), David ripping off a piece of Saul’s cloak while he’s using the bathroom (1 Samuel 24), Saul talking to a fortune teller (1 Samuel 28), David dancing uncontrollably in the streets (2 Samuel 6), and David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11).

1 & 2 Kings
Also originally one book, 1 and 2 Kings takes over where the Samuels leave off. 1 Kings goes from Solomon’s reign to the division of the kingdom into two parts. 2 Kings goes from that point to the deportation of Judah into captivity.

• Who can name some people mentioned in these books? (Solomon, Hezekiah, Elijah, Elisha, etc.)

After the kingdom divided into Israel and Judah, each nation had kings of their own.

Israel had 20 kings, and all of them were evil. Israel went into captivity in 722 B.C.
Judah had 20 kings as well, and some of them were God-fearing. Judah went into captivity in 586 B.C.

The other interesting thing about 1 and 2 Kings is the intersection that occurs in these books with Old Testament history and the prophets. Not only do we read about some prophets, like Elijah, but when we study the prophets in more detail next week, we can know the events recorded here are exactly what the prophets are speaking about.

For example, Jonah is alive around the same time as Uzziah, a king in Judah. In the year king Uzziah dies, Isaiah becomes a prophet. Hosea prophesizes in Israel when Israel is taken captive by the Assyrians. This overlap is not obvious with the way our Bibles are structured because the Old Testament isn’t completely chronological.

Because of this intersection, it is believed that possibly Jeremiah or a group of prophets wrote 1 and 2 Kings.

1 & 2 Chronicles
• Where have you heard the word “chronicle” before? (The Chronicles of Narnia, as a newspaper title, etc.)
• What do you think the word “chronicle” means? (A record of events.)

1 and 2 Chronicles are just that, a record of events. And, in many ways, they are repetative. 1 Chronicles covers the same events as 1 & 2 Samuel, and 2 Chronicles covers the same events as 1 & 2 Kings.

It is widely believed that Ezra wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles around 450 BC after his return from Babylonian captivity.

Ezra & Nehemiah
Speaking of Ezra, he also authored the next two books of Old Testament history, Ezra, and Nehemiah. They were written abou the same time as 1 & 2 Chronicles.

In the Hebrew Bible, Ezra and Nehemiah were one book. This is true because:
  1. Combined with Esther they make up the post-exilic, or post-slavery, books of history;
  2. They were both written by Ezra; and 
  3. Their theme, rebuilding, is common.

• In Ezra, what is being rebuilt? (The Temple.)
• In Nehemiah, what is being rebuilt? (The walls of Jerusalem.)

One key to remembering the difference is in the name Nehemiah. Knee-High-Miah, can refer to the height of the wall as it grew.

Turn to the last book of Old Testament history, Esther. This is the second book we’ve listed named after a woman.

• Do you remember the first? (Ruth.)

Even though it falls in the Bible after Ezra and Nehemiah (it may have been written after them), the events it speaks of are actually a quarter-century before Nehemiah.

The basic story of Esther is how she uses her beauty and influence for the good of God’s people instead of for selfish gain. Uniquely, there is no mention of God’s name in the book, although His presence is obvious.

Esther was written sometime around 430 BC by Ezra, Nehemiah, or Mordecai, Esther's older cousin.

Now, before we continue, let's recite the twelve books of history in order a couple of times together. (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.)


Turn to the book of Job. This is the first of the five books of poetry.

• How many of you like poetry?

Whether or not you think you do, chances are you do. Modern day poetry is most often formed around music. This was also true in ancient Israel. They communicated in verse, both with and without music. While Job is odd in that it was written well before the rest of the books of poetry, and in that Job lived during the time of Abraham, not David, much of the book is written in Hebrew verse. Because of the timing of the book, many believe Moses wrote Job, although it is not certain. Job was written around 1400 BC.

• Can anyone tell us the story of Job? (A man loses everything, suffers immensely, trusts God throughout, gets back more than he had before, etc.)

The book of Psalms is probably the most popular of the poetry books. A lot of our worship songs are born out of the Psalms. In fact, the word "psalm" actually means sacred song or poem used in worship. Witten between 1440-500 BC. 

• The Psalms have many different authors. How many can you name?

 Author  How many they wrote
 The Sons of Korah


• Who can find the longest Psalm? (Psalm 119)

Turn to Psalm 119. Notice that each stanza begins with a Hebrew letter of the alphabet. In fact, you might have a heading above each section in your Bible. Two psalms earlier is Psalm 117, the shortest psalm

Unlike the other books of the Bible, we should not refer to each Psalm as a chapter. Many complete Psalms were put together into one book, so it is not Psalms chapter 117, it’s the 117th Psalm, or Psalm 117.

• What’s the next book of poetry? (Proverbs)
• Who wrote Proverbs? (Solomon)

This book of wise sayings was written around 900 BC.

The next book of poetry is Ecclesiastes, also written by Solomon, also around 900 BC, near the end of his life. The theme of Ecclesiastes is the meaning of life. The answer is found at the end of the book, after exploring all manner of philosophy and morality.

• Someone find and read Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

Even though Solomon’s original audience was the people of Israel, that’s wisdom we can all live by.

Song of Songs/Song of Solomon
The last book of poetry, and the last book for today, is Song of Solomon. Some people call it Song of Songs. The first title includes a reference to the author of the book, Solomon.

The theme of this book is a love relationship between Solomon and his wife. It is also viewed as a metaphor for God and his people, Israelites. The use of the husband-wife metaphor is not unique to Song of Solomon. As we’ll see next week, it’s also used by the minor prophet Hosea.

Song of Solomon was likely written early in Solomon’s reign, around 950 BC.

Now, let's recite the five books of poety in order a couple of times together. (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon.)

MAKING IT REAL (10 minutes)

Good job! Let’s review quickly: (Call on one person to answer the following questions.)
• How many books of law are there? (5)
• What are they? (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.)
• How many books of history? (12)
• What are they? (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.)
• And how many books of poetry? (5)
• What are they? (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.)

Good job! Let’s say them all in order together. Don’t forget, we’ll have another quiz next week!

(Recite the names of the books together—Genesis through Song of Solomon.)

That takes us over halfway through the Old Testament. It’s a lot, but you did a good job digging through it. Try to learn all those in order by next week. All we have left for the OT is the prophets, which are a little less familiar to most of us.

Again, good job! We’re going to learn this stuff together! Let’s pray, and then relax our brains!

CLOSING PRAYER (2 minutes)

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