Books of The Law: An Overview

The first five books of the Old Testament are often overlooked as boring and tedious. And let’s face it, all the lists of names and seemingly senseless laws account for a lot of their content. They can be hard to understand and even to wade through. Until we realize just how rich they really are!

They are often called the Books of The Law or the Books of Moses, after their commonly accepted author. Each of the books stands as a separate unit, but together they form a larger and united unit, meant to be read as a whole. They were most likely written between 1450-1410 B.C. 

Purpose of the Pentateuch:

Moses wrote the Pentateuch to prepare Israel for faithful service to God in the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land.

In application to our faith, and in the larger picture of Scripture, the Pentateuch illustrates the partial fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

Considered the cornerstone for the rest of Scripture, the books of The Law are foundational because they:

  • Introduce God’s plan for humanity’s redemption.
  • Lay the foundation for our understanding of who God is.
  • And offer much useful teaching on how we should behave toward God and in society.

These books, like all of Scripture, “were written for our learning, that through perseverance and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope,” (Romans 15:4 WEB).

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 

1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV

The five books

Genesis (Book of Beginnings)

Name: Genesis is a Greek word meaning ‘beginnings’ or ‘origins’.

Key words: Beginnings, Generations

Main theme: Man’s sin and the initial steps taken for his redemption. Including the promise of a Redeemer and the choosing of the nation, through Abraham, from which that Redeemer would come.

Genesis covers creation, the fall of man, God’s covenant with Abraham and promise of redemption, the formation of civilizations, and God’s covenant relationship with the chosen nation of Israel. Its final and 50th chapter closes with God’s people in slavery to the Egyptians.

Exodus (Book of Redemption)

Name: Exodus is derived from the Greek esodos, meaning exit, leave, or departure.

Key words: Redemption, Deliverance

Main Theme: The redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt. And the history of Israel from the death of Joseph to the erection of the tabernacle in the wilderness.

Exodus begins with the birth and rising of Moses (the central character) as the Isrealite’s deliverer. It recounts God’s delivering them from 400 years of slavery in Egypt and leading them through the wilderness toward the Promised land. And continues with God issuing instructions for building the tabernacle, how they were to worship, and the 10 commandments. The book concludes with God’s glory descending on his tabernacle in the 40th chapter.

Leviticus (Book of Holiness)

Name: Taken from the Greek leuitikon it means ‘belonging to the Levites’, God’s chosen priests.

Key words: Access, Holiness

Main Theme: How can sinful man approach or draw near to a holy God?

The 27 chapters of Leviticus expand on the instructions given in Exodus, outlining how God’s people were to worship, celebrate, sacrifice, eat, and live. Focusing on God’s holiness, and holiness as a requirement for his people, it presents a moral core upon which much of our Christian theology is built.

Numbers (Wilderness Wanderings)

Name: Based on the two times the Israelites were numbered in chapters 1 and 26.

Key word: Wanderings

Main Theme: Unbelief hinders us from entering into the abundant life.

The 36 chapters of Numbers primarily document Israel’s nearly 40 years of wandering through the desert. An 11 day journey which became a 38-year trek of suffering, agony, defeat, and death because of their disobedience. But during which God continued to provide for them in spite of their sin and rebellion. And patiently prepared them for their conquest and settlement of the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy (Reiteration and Reviewing)

Name: Derived from two Greek words: deuteros meaning ‘second’ and nomos meaning ‘law.’

Key words: Covenant, Remember

Main Theme: Deuteronomy is a review and expansion of the law given at Sinai.

It served to remind the Isrealites of all that God had done for them and what he expected of them. And called on them to keep their covenant with him by obeying the law after they entered the Promised Land.

The book closes with the appointing of Joshua as leader. And in the 34th and final chapter, with the death of Moses.

They point to Christ

The Pentateuch is also rich in prophecies, symbols, and types that point to Christ. From Adam to Joseph in Genesis. Through the Passover, feasts, and the tabernacle in Exodus. With the sacrificial offerings and the high priest in Leviticus. The serpent lifted up and the daily manna found in Numbers. And in Deuteronomy, Moses who like Christ was prophet, priest, and king.

These five books point to Christ, which should come as no surprise. For he is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. The subject of the Bible from start to finish.

They set the stage for Christ

The Pentateuch’s special importance is in setting the stage for Christ. For his incarnation, and thereby also for our salvation.

Have you ever read through these important books, or have you avoided them? Then try reading them again, through new eyes. Remember each book’s main theme as you read – and I think you’ll be amazed at just how very much they have to teach us!

Look for the promises of our Redeemer in Genesis. Exalt in the fact that we have a redeeming and liberating God as you read Exodus. In Leviticus, rejoice that God has made a way for us sinful people to draw near to his holiness. Use Numbers as your own personal journey toward greater belief. And in Deuteronomy, be thankful that God always remembers, and will never break his covenant with us.

Have you been guilty of overlooking these books as boring or tedious?

Which of these main themes most surprises you? Which one most speaks to our heart? And which Pentateuch journey do you want to begin with?

The Bible is the portrait of Jesus Christ.

John Stott

Images: Bible on table by Jon-Mark Smith. | Bible & lamp by Aaron Burden | Bible book icons: Genesis | Exodus | Leviticus | Numbers.

2 thoughts on “Books of The Law: An Overview

  1. A wonderful review, Sheila, capturing the essence of each book yet presenting the unifying factors, especially that Jesus is revealed in the prophecies, symbols, and types recorded in these books I remember the first time Joseph was presented to me as a type of Christ. The list of similarities is quite astounding!


    1. Thanks Nancy. I find I learn a lot through these Bible posts I’m doing. Sometimes I think we can get in a rut of just reading our Bibles. Which is good, but without taking the time to dig in, study, and analyse the Scripture, we can lose sight of the bigger picture of what God is saying and of his future plan. My personal goal, lately, is to take the time and make sure I really undertand what I’m reading. Otherwise, wading through some of the books of The Law can pretty tedious! But when I realize that Christ is all the way through them – wow – it is astounding!


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