Question: "What are the Writings? What is the Ketuvim?"
Answer: The Old Testament opens with the Pentateuch. These five books, written by Moses, tell of creation, the fall of man, the patriarchs, the birth of the Jewish nation, the mass exodus of God’s people from Egyptian captivity, their forty-year wilderness wanderings, and the giving of God’s law. Following the Pentateuch are the historical books. As the name implies, the historical books tell the intriguing story of the Jewish people and the land given to them in perpetuity by God. Following the historical books is the Ketuvim [כְּתוּבִים], which may be translated as “Writings” or “Hagiographa.” The Ketuvim is broken down into three subsections: the poetic books (Sifrei Emet), the five scrolls (Hamesh Megillot), and what are simply known as “the other books.”
The poetic books of the Ketuvim, sometimes classified as wisdom literature, include Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. Collectively known as Sifrei Emet or “documents of truth,” the book of Psalms is “God’s hymn book,” Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings, and Job offers divine reasoning behind the question of human suffering. Many of the psalms pull back the curtain of time by revealing the coming of Israel’s long-awaited and highly anticipated Messiah. Proverbs, a treasury of God’s wisdom, also points to Jesus, the Author of Wisdom. The book of Job, perhaps the oldest book of the Bible, gives deep insights into the mind of God while providing readers with a prophetic look at the One who will redeem His people from the ravages of sin and suffering.
Another subsection of the Writings is the Hamesh Megillot, that is, “Five Scrolls.” These books are the Song of Solomon, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes. It should be noted that Ruth and Esther are also listed among the historical books. The Song of Solomon vividly describes married love and is linked to God’s passionate love for His people. Ruth is a love story that offers a foreshadowing of our great Kinsman-Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Esther reveals the providential hand of God in the affairs of humankind; Lamentations is a mournful dirge about the fall of Jerusalem; and Ecclesiastes is a philosophical work that wrestles with human folly and the meaning of life—and its perceived lack of meaning.
The other books in the Writings or Ketuvim are Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles. Daniel, whose story takes place during the Babylonian captivity, is a book of prayer, purpose, principle, power, and prophecy. Both Ezra and Nehemiah are post-exilic books that detail the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple. Finally, 1 and 2 Chronicles are vital in the understanding of Israel’s monarchy and the tragic dividing of God’s people into two weaker nations. It should be noted that, in the Jewish tradition, Ezra and Nehemiah were one book, and 1 and 2 Chronicles were also considered a single book. These five books, like Esther and Ruth, are also listed among the historical books.
The apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV). Briefly, then, what are the benefits and blessings that come with systematic study of the Ketuvim? Is time spent with these ancient writings truly profitable for today’s Christian?
From the poetic books, we can know about the praiseworthiness of God; experience comfort in times of grief; learn to apply godly wisdom to matters of marriage, child-rearing, morality, and money; and understand why bad things sometimes happen to good people.
In the five scrolls, we see the invisible hand of God working providentially for the good of His people, learn of our Kinsman-Redeemer who rescues us from sin, encounter the passion of God’s love, learn how man’s folly cowers in the shadows of God’s perfect wisdom, and enter the grief of a heartbroken preacher whose people have turned their backs on God.
In the other books of the Ketuvim, we meet a courageous, uncompromising prophet who remains pure and undefiled despite his surroundings; discover our spiritual roots in ancient Judaism; come to know a great king from whose line came the King of Kings; and learn how God’s discipline is always followed by mercy, hope, and restoration.
To be sure, there is much profit in studying the Old Testament books that make up the Writings, or Ketuvim.