The Bible consists of sixty-six component parts. These are divided into two distinctive major collections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. But each of these two Testaments, the one consisting of thirty-nine books, the other twenty-seven, is found to be arranged in a manner which reveals the presence of a marvelous Divine design running through the whole.
Take the Old Testament first. We start with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These are marked off as a separate group. They are written by Moses. They are all historical. They are known as the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch.
Next we find Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. We stop at Esther without going on to the Book of Job, because we are conscious that with Job we come to a different kind of literature. Joshua to Esther are the twelve which make up the main groups of books in the Old Testament and they are historical. There is a subdivision in these twelve. Joshua to 2 Chronicles record Israel’s occupancy of Canaan, while Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther concern the period after the expulsion from the land, and the repatriation of the “Remnant”.
These seventeen historical books are sub-divided into five (pre-Canaan), nine (in Canaan) and three (post-Exile).
The five middle books are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. There is no doubt that these books belong together and make up the third distinctive Old Testament group. These five are not historical. They are individual and experiential. The historical books are national, but these are not, they are personal and deal mainly with the problems of the individual human heart.
The remaining seventeen are prophetical books. They are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Mica, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. The first five books are rightly termed the “Major Prophets” while the remaining twelve are known as the “Minor Prophets”.
It is in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel that we find the basic ethical features of all Old Testament prophecy and the scheme of Messianic predictions. The twelve “minor” prophets, though they amplify various aspects, do not determine the main shape of Messianic prophecy. They conform to the general frame already formed for us in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.
Lamentations has a positional significance. It is the centre-point of the major prophets. It divides Isaiah and Jeremiah on the one hand from Ezekiel and Daniel on the other. In other words, it intersects between the greatest two pre-exile prophets and the greatest two of the post-exile prophets. It divides them positionally and it divides them historically.
Thus thirty-nine books of our Old Testament fall into this orderly grouping of seventeen historical, five experiential, and seventeen prophetical with the individual human heart placed right between the two seventeens, at the very heart of the Old Testament.
Is this accident or design? Think of it: over thirty writers contributed to the Old Testament, spaced out over twelve hundred years, writing in different places, to different parties, for different purposes, and little dreaming that their writings, besides being preserved through generations were eventually to be complied into that systematic plurality in unity which we now find in the Old Testament. Behind human writers there was a controlling Divine design.
2 Timothy 3:16 – All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.