Six months ago, I learned that I’d have to take an “Old Testament Competency Exam” during orientation. I’d heard that the (“required”/remedial) OT Survey class is actually a great course, so my prayer this morning was: God, if I should take this class, please help me to fail this test. If I should take a different class, please help me to pass it. I’ll find out in a few hours how I actually scored on the test, but I was pleasantly surprised to confidently answer questions that I would have been flummoxed by a few weeks ago.
This test–or whatever grade I may get in the survey course–will matter very little in the throne room of God. However, I’m thankful for the incentive to know God’s word, therefore God’s redemptive plan, and therefore God himself more vividly. The Old Testament review has reminded me how valuable that first section of the Bible is, how much it teaches us about “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” I learned a fair amount about the broad sweep of the OT, a good amount of new material about the prophets (who are largely unfamiliar to me), and walked away with a new set of hard data: Who the prophets prophesied to.
I truly recommend this last part. If Tim Tebow improved his speed, he could get a little bit faster (but he’s already fast). If he improved his strength, he could get a little bit stronger (but he’s already strong). If he improved his throwing, he could potentially be a much better quarterback, because that’s his weakest attribute. Similarly, most of us are familiar with the beginning and end of the Bible, but know very little about the prophets in the middle. This is a great section of Scripture for us to know about, because there is so much potential to grow in our weakest area. Looking back on studying for this exam, I recommend the aspect that was most helpful to me, learning one thing about each of the prophets: Who they were prophesying to. Toward this end, I want to pass on one suggestion and two tools.
- A Suggestion: The best preparation for this exam was reading through the Old Testament. It took me about 8 months (I’d already started, for purely devotional purposes, when I learned about this test), but taking my time helped me savor and comprehend the vivid characters and big picture. The New Testament is vital to the Church, but if you’ve never read through the Old Testament, it’s a great way to get to know God better.
- A Tool: Like I said, the most beneficial part of this process was learning who the prophets prophesied to. A website I discovered in my Greek class, Quizlet, has become an invaluable tool for memorizing information, so I made a set of 16 flashcards that simply matches each prophet with his audience. You can check those out here. I recommend, in the “Study” category, using the “Learn” feature, and using trial and error. It will continue to test you on the cards you miss each round until you get them all right.
- Another Tool: You’re also welcome to the flashcards I actually used to study for the exam. Using Arnold and Beyer’s Encountering the Old Testament, I assigned three important words to each book and made another set of flashcards. Before using the cards, make sure to check out this explanation to see what each of the terms is meant to remind you of in the book.
I hope at least one of these is helpful as you seek to know God’s word and God himself. Many of us have neglected the Old Testament, especially the prophets, but as we will pick up more understanding from these texts, we will have a better sense of our Creator, Redeemer, and Lord.