Thirty-Nine Keys to the Old Testament

A Practical Guide to Bible Study

by William W. Orr A.B., M.A., Th.B., D.D.

Copyright @ 1961

Scripture Press Foundation Wheaton

~ out-of-print and in the public domain ~

No Evidence of a Current Copyright for the Printed Book Found

During online Internet searches of the Library of Congress database in Washington D.C.,
performed on 7-5-2005, no evidence of a current copyright was found for this publication.

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Look at it this way. The Old Testament is a library of 39 inspired books. They are divinely given to be a source of wisdom and instruction. Together they form a mosaic of GOD's revelation to the particular age of which they are a part. With the New Testament they form a complete and perfect message to the entire family of humanity for all time.

All 39 books are necessary. Not one can be omitted, or revealed truth would suffer. Together they form themselves into a composite whole; they produce a picture of GOD's perfect will and purpose. You may think of them, for instance, as a picture puzzle with all the pieces interlocking one with another. Omit one and the picture is incomplete.

And yet, for all their individual importance they are also beautifully interdependent. Genesis depends upon Exodus; Joshua quite naturally introduces Judges. Ezra and Nehemiah must be read and understood together. The Psalms shed brilliant understanding on the entire period.

You see, each book has its own separate character.

Genesis is the book of beginnings; Joshua the book of conquest. Esther tells of GOD's providence in a strange land. The book of Proverbs gives easy-to-be-remembered wisdom for life. No two books treat the same subject. Individually they add their part to the whole of truth.

Therefore, no book can lightly be omitted from earnest study, or the student will fail to appreciate the complete message of GOD. This includes the books which, being little known and understood, are often passed over. Occasionally the reason is that the book is merely unknown. To know the heart of the book is to stimulate interest. When you know that Haggai was a post-exilic prophet and, more than likely, that the city of Jerusalem would never have been completely restored after the exile without the ministry of this energetic prophet, there is vital interest created in knowing the message of Haggai.

This then is the value of the "Keys": To present the heart of the book, the reason for its writing, and the essential message of the chapters as you begin the study. Of course the key merely opens the door. As you enter in, you will find treasure, blessing immeasurable and instruction inexhaustible.


The Bible is the most priceless possession of the human race. Why? Because it is the Book come from GOD, containing GOD's unique and complete revelation to man. In the very nature of the case the Bible must needs be inerrant, infallible and eternal. And it is! Such claims are satisfactorily proved by many evidences. Over the centuries a multitude of men and women have placed their entire confidence in the truthfulness of the Bible. Some have died rather than renounce its veracity. More have lived godly, unselfish lives by means of its precepts. It stands head and shoulders above every other book. It welcomes investigation. It challenges any test. It is impervious to destruction. It is applicable to every race. It is perennial in its appeal. It is the Book of books from the King of kings.

The Old Testament comprises almost three quarters of the entire Bible. It is largely the work of over 30 men, inspired of GOD. Approximately eleven hundred years were spent in its composition. It is mostly the story of the fortunes of a rather small, semi-obscure race of people called the Jews. GOD, however, has chosen this race as a means of revealing His will and character, and as a vehicle to convey spiritual truth to the world. The Old Testament is in itself incomplete. Being progressive in character and prophetic in vision, it anticipates and demands the complementary accomplishments and unfolding and explaining of truth in the New Testament.

The New Testament is, however, utterly dependent upon the Old. Linked together by hundreds of direct quotations, indirect references, and fulfillments of types and figures, it is the second and final half of the whole of GOD's revealed truth. Conversely, the Old is likewise dependent upon the New. For all the problems, unexplained difficulties, and unanswered questions which the Old Testament leaves high in the air, are brought safely down and completely solved before the final book of Revelation closes.

Each Old Testament Book has its own particular character. In the sacred canon of GOD's appointment, each book has its separate ministry. For instance:

- The book of Job explains the mystery of human suffering.
- The book of Proverbs furnishes pegs upon which to hang the short, easy-to-remember gems of wisdom for life.
- The book of Psalms offers lyrics to sing for every conceivable mood of the heart.

It is of value to know the inner nature of the individual book before you attempt to study it. You should know who wrote it, why he wrote it, the people to whom it was written, the main divisions, and the chief characters.

There Is No Substitute for the simple reading of the Scriptures.

It is not sufficient to know "about" the book or its contents. These facts may be helpful and enlightening. But the book must be read and reread. It is always best to read the particular book at a sitting, if possible. In this way the reader can catch the entire message. But if this is not always convenient, the reader should remember that the chapter divisions are "manmade", and sometimes do disparagement to the complete thought of the writer.

GOD Is Interested in the use of His Book. To this end, He offers divine aid in its understanding. No study should therefore be undertaken without first calling on the HOLY SPIRIT of GOD for His incomparable illumination.

Our Plan is a survey course through the Old Testament.

What does this mean? We aim to present the books, one by one, so that you may see them as a whole. First examine the book in its major divisions and over-all message so that you may later examine the details more easily and efficiently. Our study might be likened to an arrival into a new city. First, you might climb a high building or neighboring mountain to chart the main divisions and intersecting streets. Later, you will more leisurely drive through and become acquainted with the shopping and residential areas and the people. We urge that you undertake to teach the material you are now studying. This is a most successful way of fastening the truths before you into your memory. Do not be concerned that your class should be large or even adult. Be prepared to teach any who will listen. Ask the LORD to supply you with a class, or as a last resort, teach an imaginary class. But teach.

Be Assured that the material you are now handling will live eternally. When great skyscrapers and giant bridges have crumbled into the dust of the centuries, the Word of GOD will still be as bright and shining as it is today.

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