The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament by John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas (Intervarsity Press, 2000)
The cultural and historical background of the Old Testament is a mystery to most Christians, leading to many misinterpretations. This book begins with Genesis 1 and goes through the entire Old Testament, section by section, giving crucial sociocultural, historical, and geographical information. It is a treasury of facts that brings the text to life and enables Bible students to penetrate many of the barriers to Old Testament understanding.
It is well informed, accurate, easy to use, and clearly written. It also includes a brief introduction to each Old Testament book, and occasional long notes on special issues. I refer to it often.
Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament by D. Brent Sandy and Ronald L. Giese Jr. (Broadman and Holman, 1995)
This book is a reliable and important guide to the wide variety of literary styles used in the Old Testament to convey the Word of God. Since God chose to reveal himself in human language, he had to use human literary conventions. The book examines 10 genres: narrative, history, law, oracles of salvation and announcements of judgment (prophecy), apocalyptic, lament and praise (the Psalms), proverb, and nonproverbial wisdom.
Many mistakes are made in Old Testament interpretation when texts are flattened and the genre is ignored. The book includes a chapter on how preachers and teachers can best use each genre.
The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry Into the Old Testament by Sandra L. Richter (IVP Academic, 2008)
Understanding the Old Testament is like organizing your closet. The big rod is God’s redemptive story. There are five hangers—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David—and each has a covenant with God. Each covenant deals with a people, place, and presence. Adam had all three and lost them. Each successive person got a little back. David was the apex, but still lacked a full restoration of Eden.
A sixth hanger, Jesus the Messiah, foretold in the Old Testament through many prophecies and foreshadowings, finally restored Eden.
This is an entertaining book that shows how easy it is to understand the big picture of the Old Testament. It includes helpful maps and charts. The author is preparing a DVD to be used with the book in church settings.
Gary Hall is professor emeritus of Old Testament at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University.