The fact that the order of the Old Testament canon is different in the Hebrew Bible from the Christian Bible shows that the books can be grouped in a number of ways. The Hebrew Bible gathers them as Law, Prophets and Writings. Chris Wooldridge has worked out a “Covenant-literary” ordering which is similar to that in the Christian Bible but with a few minor differences.
The first cycle (the Pentateuch) deals with the creation of the world and the calling of Israel. Particularly prominent is the Transcendence of God in the Law, just like the Word which called the Creation into existence.
Genesis establishes the patriarchs, new Adams and their Messianic genealogy. Exodus separates Israel as a fledgling nation from all others and baptises her for mediatory ministry. Leviticus concerns the priestly laws for Israel’s purification, an expansion of the prohibition set upon Adam. In Numbers, God allows a faithless generation of Israelites to perish in the wilderness as a judgment for their grumbling against Him and their idolatries. Finally, in Deuteronomy, a new generation of Israel is gathered together to hear the Law read aloud once again.
(Note that these five Covenantal titles relate to Moses. For Israel, Leviticus-Numbers-Deuteronomy are a threefold Ethics, with a purified Israel the minister of Sanctions against Jericho in Joshua, and Judges as her failed Succession. See the charts in Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key).
The second cycle covers the Hierarchy of Israel once the promises to Abraham are fulfilled. After Joshua leads Israel to victory and establishes her in the land, the priesthood fails as holy guardians so judges are required. Faithful rulers are few and far between.1It is interesting that out of the twelve judges, seven were appointed by Israel, and the letters to the seven “lampstand” Asian churches in the Revelation comprise the Hierarchy section of that book.
In Judges, there were long periods when there was no ruler. Without priesthood or kings, the people served themselves. Ruth, set during the time of the Judges, turns Israel’s fortunes around. It sees the Abrahamic promises of a fruitful land and fruitful womb cut off but restored by the kingly wisdom of Boaz (Ethics). Naomi is like Israel, leaving Canaan due to famine but returning to a fruitful land. Ruth also establishes the Messianic genealogy of David.
In Samuel, we finally see a king ascend the throne and conquer the idolatrous Canaanite nations. In Kings, however, the Succession fails, the kingdom of Israel is divided and idolatry reigns.
Interestingly, the central three books in this cycle describe the “miraculous” births of Samson, Obed and Samuel, who are separated in the literature, but were actually contemporaries. Architecturally, the represent the three furnitures in the Holy Place: Obed the table of the servant-king, Samson the “sunrise” lampstand, and Samuel who slept before the Ark as the prophetic Altar of Incense. The Messianic line is flanked by two Nazirites.
Song of Solomon (Succession)
The third cycle consists of the wisdom literature, the result of the meditation of Abrahamic kings upon the Law.
Job, who was very likely a faithful Edomite king2See James B. Jordan, Was Job An Edomite King? (descended from Esau), is a book rich with Creation imagery and deep wrestling. The man is accused by “serpents” and eventually comes face to face with the God who tames dragons to receive a more abundant inheritance. The book begins in the court of God in heaven without Job and ends with Job vindicated in the court of God on earth.
The Psalter, as Hierarchy, is the response of the “sons of God” in His earthly court. Proverbs gives us the wisdom of the king in an ideal world, and Ecclesiastes reveals that wisdom is not enough: prophetic vision is required. Song of Solomon is a portrait of paradise restored, Adam and Eve qualified and glorified, reinstated in the Garden-sanctuary in a “Shekinah” marriage between heaven and earth.
The fourth cycle concerns Israel’s atonement for her idolatries, where the curses fall but all are turned into future blessings through the renewal of the Covenant. It is the Hierarchy cycle on a greater scale, and covering a greater geographical territory.
Isaiah sees Israel entering into the death of exile and returning to a “washed” Land as a new creation. Jeremiah deals with the judgment of God coming upon the rulers of the nations and Lamentations is a deep reflection upon the pain caused by the judgment (Testing). Ezekiel, the “atonement” book of this “atonement” cycle, ordains a new High Priest in exile, destroys the Temple and builds it up again, this time including the surrounding nations in its worship, much like the resurrected Tabernacle of David in the book of Samuel. Finally, Daniel sees the next 500 years from beginning to end, in a two-fold “head and body” book in which the events in the life of Daniel prefigure Israel’s destiny, leading up to the inheritance of all the Old Covenant saints in the first century.
The Twelve (Succession)
The final cycle deals with the end of the old covenant and the future inheritance of the righteous. Chronicles mimics Genesis, rich in genealogies and recapping the history of Israel. Solomon’s Temple is constructed at the beginning of Chronicles and destroyed at its end.
Ezra, the priestly book, describes the exodus of Israel from Babylon and the Division of marriages to pagans. Nehemiah, the kingly book, covers the struggle to build a new Jerusalem. Esther, as Conquest, is the victory of Israel over not only Canaan but every province of Persia. It is the “bridal” version of Joshua, where Eve ascends by faith and becomes a co-regent. Esther fulfils the prophecies of Ezekiel 38-39, so it is fitting that they both appear at Sanctions.
Finally, the Twelve Prophets are not like the sons of Abraham according to the flesh, but prophetic sons of God — much like the difference between the twelves names inscribed on the shoulders of the High Priest and their glorious counterparts on his breastplate. The theme of the Twelve is the coming Day of the Lord, a testimony which ends the threat of a curse if Israel does not remain faithful. Of course, the New Testament ends with a blessing for those who would persevere under Israel’s final judgment.
Regarding Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah…
The reason these books are grouped together is that they have always been recognised as belonging together historically, with Ezra and Nehemiah sometimes even being viewed as a single work. The book of Ezra begins by repeating the final verses of Chronicles, strongly suggesting continuation in that order. Chronicles also clearly belongs at the beginning, being a book of genealogies like Genesis.
The close correspondence between this final cycle and the Pentateuch bears mentioning again. Ezra, just like Exodus, is a book largely concerned with Temple-building and Covenant renewal. The connection between Leviticus and Nehemiah is less obvious, but perhaps they are Ethical bookends. Leviticus ends without the “wine” of Glorification (finalising with curses) and Nehemiah begins with the cupbearer to the king. Leviticus concerns the holiness of the tent of God, and Nehemiah 11:18 contains the first mention of Jerusalem as a holy city, a place where the genealogy of not only the priests but all the men of Israel was now required, prefiguring the New Covenant priesthood of all believers.3Notes by Chris Wooldridge and Michael Bull.
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|1.||↑||It is interesting that out of the twelve judges, seven were appointed by Israel, and the letters to the seven “lampstand” Asian churches in the Revelation comprise the Hierarchy section of that book.|
|2.||↑||See James B. Jordan, Was Job An Edomite King?|
|3.||↑||Notes by Chris Wooldridge and Michael Bull.|