CANONIZATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT #7
by the late Dr. Ernest Martin (published in 1984)
This is a long detailed chapter - Keith Hunt
The Old Testament Periods of Canonization
There were five periods in the history of Israel in which
the canonization of sacred scriptures took place. The final
collection was established in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and,
of course, this latter one must be reckoned the most important of
all. But when one surveys the biblical evidence for the other
periods, a great deal of instruction in overall biblical teaching
can be the result.
In this chapter we want to give the biblical evidence for
these times of canonization. There are some plain statements
within the Bible which mention these periods but they are often
not considered important by some scholars today. Since our
emphasis in this book, however, is to focus on what the Bible
says about itself, we believe it is essential to mention these
periods which the Bible takes a considerable amount of space to
The First Canonization
It was universally believed, until modern times, that the
five books of the Law were written by Moses. The internal
indications certainly claim Moses as the author, and there are
many New Testament assurances of this fact. Simple reference to
these five books (called the Pentateuch) shows them to be
compositions written within the 40 years of the Exodus period. It
appears that Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus were composed the
first year. There can be little doubt that Moses had access to
scrolls about historical events. Some of the genealogical
portions even had titles, e.g. "The Generations" (Gen.2:4; 5:1;
The Book of Numbers was the journal of Israel's trek through
the wilderness. The last entry (chapter 36) was written by Moses
at the conclusion of those forty years, along with Deuteronomy
which was produced within the last 60 days. (Compare Deut.1:3
Deuteronomy was formulated for a special reason: it was
intended to teach Israel further laws and statutes they would
need to know when they settled in the Promised Land. Almost all
the laws in Deuteronomy pertain to an agricultural economy, not
one within a desert or wilderness environment. As evidence of
this, notice the types of animals recorded in Deuteronomy 14. In
comparing them with Leviticus 11, there are - in some instances -
different animals mentioned. In Leviticus, the animals were
generally those native to the wilderness, or animals which Israel
encountered south and east of Palestine, while in Deuteronomy the
creatures were located in more habitable and civilized areas of
the Fertile Crescent.
These variations do not show evidences of different
The Book of Deuteronomy was a re-phrasing or re-application
of the basic laws given in the wilderness which made them more
appropriate for a settled land economy.
Moses Canonized the Law
Shortly before he died, Moses authorized the first five
books of our Bible to be the divine Law of Israel. He then
delivered them into the custody of the priesthood for
safe-keeping. Moses ordained the Levitical priesthood to be the
official guardians of the Law.
"And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests, the
sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and
unto all the elders of Israel" (Deut.31:9).
The Ark of the Covenant was a wooden chest enclosing the
tables of stone, the rod that budded, plus the pot of manna
It constituted the central part of Israel's physical worship
and was located in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The scrolls
of the law were stored in specially designated sleeve
compartments attached to the sides of the Ark (Deut.31:26). By
this provision, the High Priest could consult the standard copies
left by Moses.
These original scrolls were seldom used, consequently, they
did not become ragged and torn as those read regularly in
assembly. All scrolls for public reading, however, were required
to be faithful copies of the standard ones kept in the side of
In later times, when Israel had kings, each king was
supposed to write out with his own hand personal copies of the
original "Ark Scrolls" as a surety that he would understand all
the separate laws written therein.
"And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom,
that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that
which is before the priests the Levites" (Deut.17:18).
Eventually many copies of the basic Law were made. This was
perfectly proper as long as the Temple priests supervised or
performed the copying. Of course, over the centuries, even the
standard "Ark" copies themselves had to be replaced. But it was
not uncommon for reference scrolls made of animal skins to last
in good condition for 500 years or more. The less often the
scrolls had to be used, the fewer times they needed replacing.
The standard "Ark Scrolls" were used so infrequently that the
recopying of them was rare.
In New Testament times, these standard scrolls were even
referred to as the "Temple Scriptures." Paul may have been
referring to them in 2 Timothy 3:15. The word "holy" often means
"temple," and Newberry translated it as such in his version of 2
Timothy 3:15. He believed that Paul was referring to the official
scriptures which had been deposited in the Temple by Ezra when he
completed the Old Testament revelation. All scrolls found in
official synagogues throughout the world in the first century
were in agreement with these standard "Temple Scriptures."
Newberry's suggestion may well have been right!
The first period for canonization of sacred scriptures was
in the time of Moses. It would be almost 500 years later before
another canonization took place. We will come to see that there
is a remarkable similarity to all the periods when the various
canonizations of the biblical writings occurred. Thankfully, the
men of the New Testament had the example of Ezra as a guide to
The Canonization Periods
The Book of Chronicles is the Old Testament book giving us
information of the canonizations prior to the final one by Ezra.
Indeed, this is one of the primary reasons for its composition.
There were three historical periods discussed at length by Ezra:
the times of David and Solomon; the times of King Hezekiah; and
the times of King Josiah. We shall see that these very time
periods were those when extra literature was added to the Law of
Moses for Temple use.
We are left in no doubt as to Ezra's reasons for writing the
important Book of Chronicles. Not only was he recording the three
periods after Moses when canonizations occurred, but he also
concentrated on matters relative to true worship and the fixing
of proper rituals to be observed in the Temple. Chronicles gives
us a full genealogical listing of the priests, Levites, and the
House of David, showing how Jerusalem was to be reckoned the
center of all true worship. The whole emphasis in the Book of
Chronicles (which makes it so different from the parallel Book of
Kingdoms) is upon Jerusalem as the center of God's divine
government on earth. It shows how the true authorities (the
proper priests and secular rulers) were associated with the
Temple at Jerusalem - and not in any other area of the world. It
was at Jerusalem that the standard of all religious teaching was
to be located.
This is why Chronicles gives a great amount of detail to the
history of the Ark (I Chron.13-16), the preparations for building
the Temple, and the assignments of the priests and Levites in the
Temple. And as said before, Chronicles also shows when and
especially where the canonizations of the Old Testament were
accomplished. The making of the Jewish scriptures was at
Jerusalem, and at times when it was necessary to revitalize
Temple services. This was also the case with the final
canonization. Ezra resided at Jerusalem and Temple services were
once again being authorized. By writing Chronicles, he was
demonstrating that Jerusalem was always the place to which Jews
needed to look as the source of all truth.
The next period for canonization after the time of Moses was
that of David. The Israelites had been in possession of Mosaic
teachings some 400 years. Throughout this period, they had used
the portable Tabernacle as the central place of worship. But in
the time of David, the religious system was becoming inadequate
for accommodating great masses of people. The Tabernacle had now
became ineffectual in handling the religious requirements of all
The time had come to establish a permanent building in which
a more appropriate worship and regulated services could be made.
With this in mind, David planned a Temple to be erected as an
honor to God as a non-portable sanctuary for Israel.
The building of the Temple entailed other elaborate
arrangements in regard to the services which would be performed
within its precincts. For one thing, priests were no longer a
handful in number as they were when Aaron was High Priest. Their
number was now so great that they could not possibly perform the
Temple rituals at once. David thought it was time to reevaluate
the duties of the priesthood.
Under directions from Samuel (I Chron.9:22) David subdivided
the enlarged priestly family into 24 divisions or courses (I
Chron.24). Instead of the priests performing their Temple
services at random, each priestly course was assigned specified
times to do their ministrations. Each course was responsible for
appointing one of its leading priests as chief priest, and to
authorize him to select certain members of that course to serve
with him at the Temple. Only those particular priests became
responsible for offering the evening and morning sacrifices at
the designated times.
The service of each priestly course lasted for one week -
from Sabbath noon to Sabbath noon. Thus, each of the 24 courses
served one week within a six month period. They repeated the
procedure for the second half of the year. Over the period of a
year, each course served in the Temple for two weeks (each week
separated by a six month span), and all 24 courses served
together at the three annual festival periods (Passover,
Pentecost, and Tabernacles).
David's organization did not stop with the priests. The
Levites and singers in the Temple were divided into 24 courses as
well (I Chron.25). This meant that, for all practical purposes, a
new religious system had come to Israel. Instead of a temporary
dwelling for God, there was to be a permanent structure. Along
with this magnificent and rich building, there were to be regular
successions of authorized personnel performing needed rituals in
the Temple. All these things required definite liturgies to be
ordained and followed.
David, under the direction of Samuel, set about arranging
all these matters into a proper order before the Temple was
constructed by Solomon. We will now see that David's work
necessarily involved canonization.
Temple Services Required Liturgies
The Levitical singers were authorized to sing appropriate
songs in the Temple. These various singers had been divided into
24 courses (I Chron.25). The times for their singing, and what
they were ordained to sing, were arranged by David with the help
of Gad, the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet (2 Chron.29:25).
David, as is well-known, was the most famous psalmist in the Old
Testament. People customarily refer to the Book of Psalms as
being of David's authorship. While this is not quite accurate -
for some psalms were written by others - David certainly composed
the great majority of the ones found within the Old Testament
canon. A notable section of psalms entirely from the hand of
David is that from Psalm 1 to 72 in our present Book of Psalms.
At the end of Psalm 72 there is a subscription to all of those 72
psalms. It informs us: "The prayers of David the son of Jesse are
ended." This does not mean that no more of David's psalms were to
be found in later portions of the Book of Psalms. The sub-
scription simply means that the preceding Psalms represented a
set of 72 Davidic songs which were to be sung in some kind of
succession by the 24 priestly courses. (Note that 72 is 3 x 24
and this number must have carried some relationship to the
priestly courses.) Notice also that some of these Davidic psalms
are titled "Korah's" (e.g. Psalms 44-49), to Asaph (Psalm 50),
and for Solomon (Psalm 72). These psalms were written by David in
honor of, or for, Korah and Asaph who were the Levites
responsible for using these assigned psalms in the regular Temple
Indeed, David wrote many psalms for various Levitical
singing groups. An example is found in I Chronicles 16:7. He
composed a psalm in commemoration of a special occasion. Of this,
Ezra says in Chronicles: "On that day David delivered first this
psalm to thank the Lord into the hand of Asaph and his brethren."
It was a psalm for Asaph but written by David.
Many of the titles of the psalms indicate to whom the psalm
was to be delivered, or they signified the Levitical families
responsible for singing those particular psalms in the Temple
Thus, the first section of 72 psalms which are found in our
present Book of Psalms (Psalms 1 to 72) was probably the original
collection ordained at the time of David. Later on, in the days
of Ezra, the totality of the Law of Moses began to be read in
synagogue services in weekly portions (about 20 verses each
week). This allowed the complete five books of Moses to be
recited, and commented on, over a three year period. These were
known as Triennial Cycle readings because they took three years
to complete. To correspond to this, another set of 72 psalms was
no doubt added by Ezra to the first group, making 144 - enough
for singing one psalm each Sabbath in the Temples services over a
three-year period. Six other psalms were added to the final
collection, making 150 in all, probably to account for the extra
month in the calendar which occurred about every third year
(Joseph Jacobs, "Triennial Cycle," Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. XII,
The point to remember is that David was probably the first
to appoint the initial 72 psalms of our present Book of Psalms to
be sung by the Levites at the Temple services. The official
singing of these psalms involved canonization, because they had
become part of the sacred services. To Ezra, singing Temple songs
in regular succession clearly entailed their official
[For more information on the design and purpose of the Book of
Psalms, see a further study in Appendix I.]
Other Works Canonized During This Period
With a permanent religious society established in Israel by
Solomon's time, there was need for additional literary works to
direct the people in their religious duties. The Bible says that
Solomon searched the books of the wise men of old to find what
their teachings were. Solomon "was wise, he still taught the
people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set
in order many proverbs" (Eccl.12:9).
This tells us that Solomon did not originate all the
proverbs for which he became famous. Certain ones now found in
the Bible were composed by several wise men preceding him. In
some cases, Solomon merely catalogued the wisdom from the pens of
ancient wise men. He openly stated that he collected many
proverbial sayings so that people might "understand a proverb,
and the interpretation; the words of the wise ones [the Hebrew is
plural], and their dark sayings" (Prov.1:6).
In a superscription to one group of proverbs (Prov.22:17 to
24:22), Solomon advised: "Bow down thine ear, and hear the words
of the wise ones." Another batch of proverbs was also "set in
order" by Solomon or his editors and given the title: "These
things also belong to the wise ones" (Prov.24:23).
Admittedly Solomon wrote many proverbs of his own,
especially those from Proverbs 10 to Proverbs 22:16. But lots of
others came from older sources that he had sought out and put in
order. It could be possible that the section from Proverbs 1:6 to
the end of chapter 9 might have been written by the patriarch
[See Appendix 2 for more information concerning the Book of
It should be understood that at the time of Solomon, there
must have been scores of books circulating in Israel - written
not only by Solomon but by other important men. Some of those
other works may have been used temporarily for divine services in
that period. On the other hand, some books of our Old Testament
may not have received their canonical status until Ezra selected
them to be among the scriptural works. We are speaking of books
such as Ruth, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. The fact is, it
was finally up to Ezra and the Great Assembly of priests to
establish which books would enter the Old Testament canon. Though
there was a type of canonization when the Temple was inaugurated,
the real canon came from Ezra.
The Canonization by King Hezekiah
Circumstances surrounding the canonizations in the time of
Moses and of David and Solomon were entirely different from the
three periods to follow - those in the times of Hezekiah, Josiah,
and Ezra. In the first instance, Moses had plenty of "leisure
time" to authorize the first five books as divine literature and
to present them as the basic Law to Israel. Near the end of his
life, Moses simply put finishing touches to the Law and delivered
it for safekeeping to the official priesthood. He told the
Israelites which books were divine and then charged them to obey
them. No one argued with him about the matter.
In the reigns of David and Solomon, the only reason for
adding certain literature to the already existing books of the
Law was the establishment of the permanent Temple, with its
elaborate services, and the expanded type of religious society
that accompanied it.
There were no national emergencies facing either Moses or
David and Solomon, and the establishment of the Tabernacle and
later Temple services were accomplished in times of leisure. But
all the other canonizations were produced under entirely
different circumstances. When Hezekiah ruled, for example,
canonization was forced upon the authorities because a time of
great stress was besetting the nation.
At the beginning of Hezekiah's reign the national existence
of Judah was in jeopardy of being destroyed. Assyrian invasion
and captivity were threatening utter ruin to the nation and to
Mosaic religion. This emergency prompted Hezekiah and Isaiah to
move swiftly in placing their seal of authority upon certain
sacred books that were then found in Israel. They sought to
preserve all Temple books because it appeared as though the
Temple services and all physical components of Judah's religion
might soon be extinguished. They later came to realize that their
fears were unfounded, but we can be assured that their
expectations produced a further set of authorized books for use
by the Temple authorities.
The Historical Background
Let us consider the historical period from Solomon to
After the time of Solomon, the religious purity of the
services gradually deteriorated. Such corruption ultimately
became so widespread that idols and images of foreign gods began
to be set up all over Judah (2 Chron.31:1). The 24 specific
divisions of the priests, Levites, singers and others,
established by David for the purpose of organized Temple
services, fell into confusion and practically passed out of
existence. Things got so bad by the time of Ahaz, the
father of Hezekiah, that many Jews, particularly Ahaz himself,
thoroughly abandoned their religious duties to the God of their
Ahaz, we are told, actually stripped the Temple of its
decorations, giving them to the Assyrian king as a present (2
Chron.28:21-24). The Temple furniture was destroyed - Ahaz "cut
them in pieces" then he "shut up the doors of the house of the
Lord" (v.24) and instituted Syrian paganism as the official
religion of Judah. He "made him altars in every corner of
Jerusalem, and in every several city of Judah he made high places
to burn incense unto other gods, and provoked to anger the Lord
God of his fathers" (vs.24,25). For all practical purposes Judah
had reverted to a heathen state.
It was in this heathenized society that Hezekiah acceded to
the throne. Right from the beginning of his reign, he made a
concerted effort to reform Judaic society. He desired to purify
and rebuild the ruined Temple and to re-establish the Temple
services with the priests and singers performing their prescribed
"He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened
the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them. [They had
been defaced and nailed up. Also the Temple had to be cleansed of
accumulated filth after its sixteen years of disuse.] And he
brought in the priests and the Levites" (2 Chron.29:3,4).
"Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites
after their courses, every man according to his services, the
priests and the Levites for burnt offerings and for peace
offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the
gates of the tents of the Lord" (2 Chron.31:2).
"He set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with
psaltries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David,
and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was
the commandment of the Lord by his prophets" (2 Chron.29: 35).
"Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites
to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of
Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness" (2
Hezekiah even exceeded David in assigning certain psalms to
be sung in regular Temple services. He included not only the
performing of David's psalms (i.e. the first 72 psalms), but also
certain ones assigned to Asaph. These specific psalms were the 11
which followed immediately after David's first 72.
Because of Hezekiah's actions in re-vitalizing proper Temple
worship, he was classified as a righteous king who followed in
the footsteps of his father David. In some ways he was reckoned
to be better than David ("that after him was none like him among
all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him" - 2 Kings
Doubtless, when Hezekiah first commenced to reign he
followed the admonitions of Moses (Deut.17:18), and copied with
his hand a personal copy of the Law. Taking office at the age of
25, and supported by the prophet Isaiah, he continued to do his
utmost to reform the people and to restructure the religion of
"[Hezekiah] wrought that which was good and right and truth
before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began in the
service of the house of God, he did it with all his heart, and
prospered" (2 Chron.31:21).
Re-establishing True Worship Involved Canonization
Hezekiah and Isaiah saw the need to assign more
authoritative literature to Israel's divine library. Proverbs 25
reveals some of the canonical activity of Hezekiah and his
helpers. A new section of the Book of Proverbs begins with these
words: "These are also the proverbs of Solomon, which the men of
Hezekiah king of Judah copied out" (Prov.25:1).
Of the 3000 known proverbs composed by Solomon (I Kings
4:32), Hezekiah ordained that a new group of them be selected for
his own use. Thus, chapters 25 to 29 were added to the Temple
collection which had already been "set in order" by Solomon
himself. The source from which the men of Hezekiah obtained these
Solomonic proverbs was probably the "Book of Acts of Solomon," a
noncanonical work which contained "the rest of the acts [words]
of Solomon, and all he did, and his wisdom" (I Kings 11:41).
Significantly, most of the proverbs selected by Hezekiah's men
were designed to help a king or a ruler guide his people towards
righteous ends. Take, for example, the theme of the first proverb
in the new series: "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing,
but the honor of kings is to search out a matter." This proverb
no doubt reveals Hezekiah's own character - what was foremost in
his mind in his service to God. Notice, too, that in the next
proverb in Hezekiah's selection, the subject is again "kings."
Two following ones are also about a "king," another about a
"prince," and so on.
These five chapters of proverbs, copied by Hezekiah's men,
clearly represented an addition to the canonical literature. In
fact, the early Jews maintained that the "Men of Hezekiah" were a
group of authorized men just like the "Great Assembly" of priests
convened by Ezra and Nehemiah for the exact purpose of
canonization (Louis Ginzberg, "The Legends of the Jews," vo1.VI,
p.368). In addition to some of the proverbs, the Talmud says that
Isaiah, some of the Minor Prophets, Song of Songs and
Ecclesiastes were canonized by the "Men of Hezekiah" (Baba
Hezekiah brought up-to-date the canonical literature for use
in the restored Temple services. One of the most striking
evidences of Hezekiah's own activity in this canonization is a
sign-manual found in the Bible which is attributed to him. This
sign-manual is a combination of three Hebrew letters which occur
at the end of every Old Testament book - except the five books of
the Megilloth. Curiously, the sign-manual (which is in the Hebrew
manuscripts of the Old Testament) has not been translated in any
of the English versions.
The sign-manual consisted of three Hebrew letters which were
brought together to form the basic root name of Hezekiah. The
letters are: het, zain and koph, and they spell the name Hezekiah
without the terminal yah.
This tri-grammaton, located at the end of 17 Old Testament
books, served a dual purpose. Not only did it indicate the person
of Hezekiah, but its meaning in translation is most interesting
and instructive. Brown, Driver & Briggs' "Hebrew Lexicon" shows
it means "to bind firmly together," "to be made firm," "to be
confirmed," or "to be bound fast" (pp.304,395). In simple terms,
HZK denoted "bound" or "confirmed." This represented the
sign-manual of Hezekiah and it could well have been his
imprimatur. It signified that any book terminated by it was bound
by the authority of Hezekiah - or the Men of Hezekiah!
This sign-manual occurs on every Old Testament book, with
the exception of the five Festival Scrolls - called in Hebrew the
Megilloth. These five are: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations,
Ecclesiastes and Esther. It is interesting that these five books
have been the ones that a number of Old Testament critics, even
from ancient times, have tried to eliminate from the biblical
canon. Remarkably, these are the very books without the
Take, for example, the Song of Songs. Some over-zealous
religious leaders have tried to diminish its authority. It has
been described as "too erotic" and "lustful." Even the name of
God, or its derivatives, is not found once in its text!
Consider also Ecclesiastes. Many have found fault with the
pessimistic nature of this book and its "worldly" approach to
theological matters. It even teaches there is no immortality of
Then there is Esther. The name of God is not found in the
book and the only indication of any religious activity is the
single mention of fasting. The book appears almost as if it were
a secular composition.
And there is Ruth and Lamentations. These books have been
considered mere appendages to important books of the canon. They
are usually, in modern English versions, taken out of the
Megilloth arrangement and attached to Judges and Jeremiah, with
little attention given to them.
These five books of the Megilloth are the only ones in the
Old Testament which lack the imprimatur or sign-manual of
But do they belong in the canon of the Old Testament? They
assuredly do! Ezra positioned them in one special section among
the Temple liturgy. Each book was to be successively read and
expounded to the people at the annual holy days.
Since the official priests were ordered to read these books
to the people each year, no one suspected that they were anything
but canonical! Indeed, most criticism concerning the canonicity
of these five books came after the Temple services ceased in 70
A.D. when the books no longer were being read at regular
intervals. Yet they formed a part of the original 22 books of the
Old Testament. The importance of reading these five Megilloth
books in order is discussed in Appendix 1.
The Sign-Manual Appears on
Books After the Time of Hezekiah
Following the canonization affected by Hezekiah, the
sign-manual seems to be a seal for the reading of divine writings
outside the regular Temple services. When later writers, such as
Jeremiah and Ezekiel, had their prophecies placed among the
sacred writings of the Old Testament, this same sign-manual was
also affixed to the end of their books. And Ezra, at the final
canonization, carefully placed the sign-manual on all books which
he and the Great Assembly recognized, omitting it only from the
five Festival Scrolls (which were being regularly read by the
priests in the Temple).
What is interesting is the fact that at the end of certain
books, the sign-manual is positioned inside an extended comment
and the trigrammaton became part of the comment. Dr. E.W.
Bullinger mentions the practice of using the sign-manual after
the time of Hezekiah:
"The use of this tri-grammaton is uniform and continuous at the
end of each book, until we come to the death of Hezekiah. Not
until after that, at the end of the Book of Kings, do we meet
with any departure from the addition of these three letters.
There, for the first time, we find a different formula. Instead
of the simple sign (HZK), we find two words, making a sentence -
instead of forming the initials.
"At the end of Kings, we have 'Be bound, and we will bind.'"
This looks as though the subsequent editors, whether Josiah,
Ezra, or others, understood the tri-grammaton as a solemn
injunction transmitted to them; and they took up the work and
carried it out in the same spirit in which it had come down to
them, and said, 'Be bound,' and they responded. 'We will bind.'
The same form [of two words] is used after Ezekiel, at the end of
the Minor Prophets, the Psalms, Proverbs and Job.
"We do not find it after the Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations,
Ecclesiastes, or Esther. We meet with it again after Daniel, and
after Ezra-Nehemiah [always as one book] (Bullinger, "The Songs
of Degrees," Things to Come, XIII , p.112).
Interestingly, after the Book of Chronicles - the last book
of the Hebrew Old Testament - we encounter the final, and longer,
form of the sign-manual. Being translated, it reads: "Be bound.
So we will bind. The Lawgiver is not straitened (or powerless)."
This comment is most instructive. Here Ezra and the Great
Assembly probably added the final sign-manual to Chronicles, the
last book of the Old Testament. In their comment, they not only
wrote, "Be bound," which was the customary usage, but they added
for extra emphasis: "We will bind." This showed that the Great
Lawgiver [God] had given the whole and complete Old Testament
revelation to the world! Thus Ezra and the Great Assembly of
priests, having concluded the writing of the Book of Chronicles,
finalized their responsibility of canonizing the Old Testament
for all future time. Only a few editorial remarks were added
Other Works Canonized by Hezekiah
We are informed in the Book of Isaiah that Hezekiah actually
wrote new psalms which were included in the singing services of
the Temple. There psalms were written at the time when he
recovered from his sickness - when the prophet Isaiah "took a
lump of figs, and laid it for a plaister upon the boil"
Because Hezekiah placed his complete trust in God to deliver
him from his severe sickness, the Bible says he was granted
another 15 years of life. For commemoration of this deliverance,
he composed a particular set of psalms. Notice Isaiah 38:9. This
begins a song which occupies the next 12 verses. It says: "The
writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was
recovered of his sickness."
After this superscription begins the regular song - a
beautiful psalm of thanksgiving to God for his protection and
deliverance. And at the very end, Hezekiah finally records:
"The Lord was ready to save me: therefore [i.e. because of God's
salvation] we will sing my songs [plural] to the stringed
instruments all the days of our life [Hebrew: lives] in the house
of the Lord" (Isa.38:20).
Note several factors concerning the writing of these psalms
by Hezekiah. He said he composed several "songs," not only the
one song recorded in Isaiah. He directed that "we" sing his new
"songs" all the days of "our lives." This indicates that the
nation of Judah - in the persons of the official Temple singers -
would carry on the singing of these psalms of Hezekiah in future
times. And importantly, notice that Hezekiah left directions that
all the singing of his songs should be done on "stringed
instruments in the house of the Lord." This indicates that the
special psalms of Hezekiah were to be sung in an official
capacity in the regular Temple services. They were to take their
place alongside the psalms of David, Asaph, and the other
psalmists of Israel.
The reason Hezekiah wrote these particular psalms is given
in verses 19 and 20:
"The living, he shall praise Thee, as I (Hezekiah] do this day:
the father to the children shall make known thy truth ...
therefore, we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all
the days of our lives in the house of the Lord" (Isa.38:19,20).
Hezekiah wrote psalms so that fathers could tell their
children, from generation to generation, of the glorious
salvation of God - if only God's people would trust him. Hezekiah
intended his psalms to be of permanent value to the people of
God. This is why he had them canonized, making them a part of the
regular Temple services.
Which Psalms Were Hezekiah's?
A good number of untitled psalms are found within our
present Book of Psalms. Any of these, if they would fit the
context of Hezekiah's time might have been written by him. The
Bible does not make it entirely clear which ones came from
Hezekiah, but James W. Thirtle and others think they have
discovered the true psalms of Hezekiah. These are the enigmatical
15 "Degree Psalms," which now comprise Psalms 120-134.
Biblical commentators have long speculated as to the
authorship of these untitled "Degree Psalms." Why are they called
psalms of "Degrees," and when were they used in the Temple
services? These questions may be answered in the solution offered
"The Songs of the Degrees are 15 in number. They correspond in
number with the 15 years added to Hezekiah's life. Ten are by
Hezekiah (corresponding to the number of "the Degrees" by which
the shadow of the sun went backward on the sun-dial of Ahaz, 2
Kings 20:8-11). Five are by others (four by David and one by
Solomon)" (Thirtle, "The Titles of the Psalms," p.827).
Some commentators maintain that these psalms were sung on
the 15 steps (assumed by combining Ezekiel 40:22 with 40:31)
leading up to the Holy Place of the Temple: the first degree
psalm as the priest stood on the first step; the second psalm on
the second step, and so forth. Thus the fifteenth psalm would
have placed the priest at the threshold of the Holy Place. This
may well be true.
Jewish scholars believe the degree psalms were read in the
autumn near the Festival of Tabernacles, some suggesting that
their reading started on the first of the seventh month (the Day
of Trumpets) and continued for 14 more days until the 15th of
Tishri (i.e. the first day of Tabernacles) was reached. Thus, the
readings would have symbolically directed Israelites towards the
opening of the Millennial Age (that the Feast of Tabernacles
depicted) when all on earth would prepare to approach the "Holy
Place," as did the priests in the Temple services.
The Bible, however, nowhere clearly gives confirmation of
these suggestions. It does show, however, that Hezekiah wrote
psalms which found a place in the regular Temple services. This
indicates they probably became a part of the Bible. And of all
the psalms in our present biblical collection, the 15 degree
psalms seem the most likely to be the ones composed by Hezekiah.
Isaiah Helped in Canonization
Before concluding our discussion on the canonization in
Hezekiah's time, let us notice something about Isaiah In the
middle of the last century an Englishman, Ferrar Fenton, was
translating the Bible into English. He gave an interesting
observation concerning the role of Isaiah the prophet in matters
involving the canonization of biblical books. Here is what he
"In my study of the Historical Books of the Bible I had
frequently wished for some clue to their writer, or writers....
One day whilst reading the Second Book of Chronicles in the
Hebrew, I met that solution in its 32nd chapter and the 32nd
verse, like a sudden flash of electric light, in the following
words: 'The remainder of the actions of Hezekiah and his
beneficent rule, are recorded in the Visions of Isaiah-ben-Amotz,
the Prophet, upon the History of the Kings of Judah and Israel.'
"The flood of mental light from those three lines dispelled my
perplexities, and enabled me to see the great object of the
six-sectioned History, by discovering its writer. Wondering that
none had previously seen this ... I took down the Authorized
Version, and found that its translators had entirely, by
inserting the little word 'and' after the name 'Isaiah the son of
Amoz,' altered the structure and purport of the sentence as it
stands in the original Hebrew, and thus destroyed the key it gave
to the moral object and lessons of the historian, and to the
identity of the writer of the Six Books [Joshua/Judges and the
Book of Kingdoms]. A renewed study of those six books confirmed
in my mind the accuracy of my conclusion by enabling me more
clearly to see the unity of style and aim of their writer,
Isaiah, which undoubtedly was for them to serve as an
introduction to Isaiah's prophecies" (Fenton, "Translation of the
Fenton may be right in his evaluation. However, to be exact,
the statement in 2 Chronicles 32:32 does not say the Book of
Joshua/Judges was among these writings of Isaiah. It merely says
Isaiah wrote "the history of the Kings of Judah and Israel." If
this is a reference to our canonical book, then it can mean that
Isaiah wrote the Book of Kingdoms (our present Samuel and Kings).
Another reason that Joshua/Judges should not be included among
Isaiah's writings is the reference given by the apostle Peter
(Acts 3:24), which indicates that the Prophets' Division of the
Old Testament (the one that had as its composers "the prophets")
specifically commenced with the writings of Samuel. This
indication agrees with Jewish tradition which makes Joshua/Judges
a work of Samuel, not Isaiah. In I Samuel 9:9 we read: "He that
is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer." Samuel was
the first to be called a prophet in an official capacity since
the time of Moses.
Thus, with Joshua/Judges located within the Prophets'
Division (and at the very start of it), it is highly probable
that Samuel was the book's author. Recall that it was he who
first established the schools of the prophets throughout Israel -
at Ramah, Bethel, Jericho, and Gilgal (I Sam.10:5,10; 19:20; 2
Kings 2:3,5; 4:38). This means that there were no men called
"prophets" before Samuel.
On the other hand, Isaiah could very well have been the
author of the book which followed Joshua/Judges - i.e. the Book
of Kingdoms, as Fenton suggests. [Recall that the Book of
Kingdoms is now divided into our two books of Samuel and two
books of Kings.] Several commentators, among them the early Old
Testament scholar Moses Stuart feel that this reference to Isaiah
(2 Chron.32:32) certainly relates to the writing of our present
Book of Kingdoms (Stuart, p.170). Observe also that in the Book
of Chronicles Ezra speaks of the fact that Isaiah had written
"the rest of the acts of Uzziah" (2 Chron.26:22). The only place,
apart from Chronicles, in which the events of Uzziah's life are
recorded is in the Book of Kingdoms. This implies that Isaiah was
the author of that book. Also note that 2 Kings 18-20 is
identical with Isaiah 36-39, which again shows common authorship.
But what about the part of the Book of Kingdoms that records
events after the time of Isaiah? This should give little problem.
It was perfectly possible for later canonizers to bring the book
up to date. The Talmud says that Jeremiah wrote the Book of Kings
(Baba Bathra, 15a), but this could mean that Jeremiah was the one
who finished the book. The composition of the main body of the
work, however, seems to be Isaiah's.
Why was the Book of Kingdoms written by Isaiah? There was a
good reason for it. As Fenton said, the historical books
preceding Isaiah are a perfectly good introduction to Isaiah's
In the original order of the Old Testament, the Book of
Kingdoms immediately precedes that of the prophet Isaiah. Would
it not be natural for Isaiah to present a running history of
Israel's obedience and their later rebellions and punishments
before relating his prophecies of what would happen to them
should they continue following in the footsteps of their
If this solution by Ferrar Fenton is the true one, as seems
most likely, the position of the Book of Isaiah following the
Book of Kingdoms, as in the canonical order of the Old Testament,
makes good sense and gives a reason for the writing of the Book
of Kingdoms. This would help confirm Isaiah, along with Hezekiah,
as one of the great canonizers of Scripture.
The Period of King Josiah
The time of King Josiah in the history of canonization is
almost as significant as that of Hezekiah. The ominous conditions
which prevailed with Hezekiah were again extant in Josiah's day.
Only the actors had changed. Instead of the Assyrians threatening
the existence of Judah, this time it was the Babylonians. And
instead of Ahaz's evil, which blanketed Judaic society prior to
the reign of Hezekiah, this time it was that of Manasseh and
Amon. In some ways, the latter apostasy of Manasseh exceeded that
of Ahaz. "So Manasseh made Judah and Jerusalem to err, and to do
worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the
children of Israel" (2 Chron.33:9).
The re-introduction of Gentile paganism during the long
reign of Manasseh was accomplished at the expense of Mosaic
religion. The Temple services, carefully reinstituted by Hezekiah
and Isaiah, again were neglected - and finally ceased altogether.
Manasseh (like Ahaz before him) stripped the Temple of its
furniture. Even blocks of masonry and ceiling rafters were
removed and used in other buildings until the Temple structure
itself became practically an empty hulk (2 Chron.34:8-11).
The Book of Chronicles shows that the religious condition of
Judah during Manasseh's reign was near the low point, but with
the two-year rule of his son, Amon, the situation even worsened.
"Amon trespassed more and more" (2 Chron.33:21-23). However, he
was finally murdered by his own servants (2 Chron.33:24-25). At
this point, Josiah, a mere child, was thrust onto the stage of
Josiah was one of the most remarkable men of the Old
In his short life, the Bible states he maintained
extraordinary character, even though his father and grandfather
had been two of the most evil kings that the house of David ever
produced. Despite the religious depravity of the environment into
which he was born, Josiah displayed a righteousness rivalling
that of David and Hezekiah. In fact, the Bible says he even
excelled those kings.
"And like unto him (Josiah] was there no king before him, that
turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and
with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; neither
after him arose there any like him" (2 Kings 23:25).
Long previously, in the reign of Rehoboam, a prophecy had
been uttered about a certain Josiah who would destroy the heathen
altars in the land of Israel (I Kings 13:1-3). That Josiah had
The Re-Establishment of Temple Services
Josiah acceded to the throne at eight years of age. When he
was 20 he began to "purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high
places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten
images" (2 Chron.34: 3). Six years later, having cleansed the
land of idolatry, he ordered that the Temple - which lay
practically in ruins - be completely repaired and restored to its
former splendor. He also ordained that all the priestly functions
be reinstated. The whole religious environment in the land of
Judah was renovated by Josiah. It seemed to be a renewal like
that of Hezekiah.
Then, a significant event took place. While the Holy Place
of the Temple was being repaired, Hilkiah, the High Priest - and
the father of Jeremiah - came upon the neglected scroll of the
Law (the standard copy placed in the sleeves of the Ark).
Recognizing the importance of his find, Hilkiah had this
archetype copy taken to King Josiah.
After thoroughly reading it for several days and noticing
especially the curse-warnings within the Law, Josiah rent his
clothes in repentance for himself and for the people of Judah. He
discovered that even in his reformation he had not been
accomplishing things in the precise manner required by the Law
(2 Chron.34:19). Endeavoring to do his best was not good enough
for Josiah. He wanted to perform all the religious duties as
prescribed by Moses.
In the Law which he had been reading were statements that if
the people forsook God and his Law, then God would forsake them
and send them into captivity. Josiah was terror-stricken when the
impact of these warnings became clear to him. He saw immediately
that time was running out for Judah. With the new-found Law in
his midst, he pursued his reforming policies with even greater
diligence. His zeal gained for him a promise from God that there
would be peace in Judah for the remainder of his life!
"Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself
before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and
against the inhabitants thereof, and humblest thyself before me,
and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me: I have even heard
thee also, saith the Lord. Behold, I will gather thee to thy
fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace,
neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon
this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same (2 Chron.
(WHAT A STUPENDOUS EXAMPLE IS JOSIAH TO ALL CHRISTIANS AND TO ALL
LEADERS - INDEED HOW WE NEED LEADERS TODAY LIKE A JOSIAH - Keith
These words constituted a promise of peace and safety for
Judah during the lifetime of Josiah. Those who shared Josiah's
enthusiasm for reform received these promises with great joy.
With Josiah being only 26 years old, they fully expected the
curses of Deuteronomy 28 to be delayed at least 40 or 50 years.
Josiah Dies in Battle
Even though the rumblings of Babylonian armies were already
being heard in the north, the people of Jerusalem felt those
armies would not approach them as long as King Josiah lived. But,
the promise depended on Josiah being prudent about his own
A few years later, Josiah ventured north to confront the
Egyptians and the Babylonians at the place which later became
known as Armageddon. Within days, shock seized the Jews - they
received news from a messenger that Josiah had sustained a severe
wound from a chance arrow. But they were paralyzed with horror
when the next messenger reported that Josiah had died - at the
youthful age of 39. The prospect for two or three decades of
God's protection, in which the God-fearing Jews had taken
comfort, vanished overnight. Since Josiah was dead, nothing lay
ahead for the Jews but certain drought, plague, invasion and
Protection for Judah Ceases
All hopes for the peace of Jerusalem appeared lost. The
evils of Deuteronomy 28 were then expected to occur. Not only had
an excellent king been taken from them, but his death meant the
prophesied captivity upon the Jewish nation could then occur.
Thus, "all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah" (2 Chron.
It is no coincidence that from this time forward Jeremiah
began his series of prophecies about the imminent captivity of
Even at the critical moment of Josiah's death, Jeremiah
composed an important work about the significance of that event.
"And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and
the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this
day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold [said the
author of Chronicles], they are written in the lamentations" (2
This is a remarkable reference to the writing of an Old
Testament book: the Book of Lamentations. It was a prophetical
song, to be sung in the minor or mournful key. The composition
was written to commemorate the slaying of Josiah, and it carried
with it a prophecy of the destruction to come. Jeremiah even
referred to the death of Josiah in the Book of Lamentations. "The
breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord [Josiah], was
taken in their pits, of whom we said, under his shadow we shall
live among the heathen" (Lam.4:20).
Jewish history since the time of Ezra mentions that this
Book of Lamentations was commissioned to be sung in the Temple as
an "ordinance" (Josephus, Antiq.X.78; cf. Baba Bathra 15a). It
was ordained that Lamentations was to be sung each year on the
10th day of the month Ab - the anniversary of the burning of the
Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. Even now, Jews read this composition of
Jeremiah annually in commemoration of that destruction.
There is also another writing of Jeremiah which was written
in mindfulness of Josiah's death. This was Psalm 89. The latter
part of the psalm speaks about a great calamity that had occurred
to Judah. An anointed person had been cast off (Psa.89:38). His
crown had been destroyed (vs.39,44) and the covenant of
protection given to David and his descendants seemed to be broken
(v.39). The king had recently been killed in battle (v.43) and
while only a youth (v.45). The enemies of Judah were now in much
rejoicing (vs.41,42,51) and the strongholds of the country were
to be broken down (v.40).
This lament is found at the end of Psalm 89 and it describes
the historical situation that existed in Judah at the death of
King Josiah. Indeed, the previous 18 psalms (comprising the
"Asaph Division" - the third book - of the Psalms) had as their
general theme the destruction of the land of Israel, Jerusalem,
and the Temple. It appears that Jeremiah wrote Psalm 89 to
conclude the "Asaph Division" to the Book of Psalms. This, again,
shows an authorization of scripture by Jeremiah.
The final touches of the canonization which started in the
time of King Josiah took place in Babylon after the Jews had been
taken captive. Jeremiah had first gone to Egypt, but he returned
to be with the Jews in Babylon (because he recorded events which
happened in Babylon some 26 years after the final captivity -
Jeremiah 52:3134). Jeremiah was then able to hand over to Daniel
(the Jewish prince in Babylon) any remaining prophecies which he
had written (or other books which he had rescued from the
Temple). Thus, the canonization which began in the time of King
Josiah ended with the final activities of Jeremiah in Babylon.
Daniel and the Sacred Writings
After Jeremiah's departure from the scene, Jerusalem and
Judah continued in a desolate state for many years while the Jews
remained in Babylon. But the preservation of the various books
was not, during this period of captivity, left to unauthorized
members of the Jewish community. We read that Daniel (who was of
royal stock - "of the king's seed, and of the princes" -
Dan.1:3), had been given a high literary position in Babylon.
"]Daniel] was well favoured, and skillful in all wisdom, and
cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had
ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they
might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans"
Lange's Commentary amplifies the meaning of this verse.
Daniel's "learning" was "all literary knowledge." The phrase
"skillful [cunning] in knowledge" signifies that he was adept in
"various fields of knowledge as contained in books." Daniel was
one who had "acquaintance with literature" ("Daniel," pp.59,61).
In effect, Daniel was chosen to be one of the librarians -
later the chief librarian - in the court of Nebuchadnezzar at
Babylon. The nature of Daniel's work brought him into contact
with all types of literature which existed at the time. This
included works which had been rescued from the Temple at
Jerusalem. He was familiar with "the Law of Moses" (Dan.9:11);
the "prophecies of Jeremiah" (Dan.9:2); the "prophetic books of
Israel" (Dan.9:2) and certain other prophetic "books" which
contained judgments upon the nations (Dan.7:10). There was also a
work called "The Scripture of Truth" (Dan.10:21) which became a
part of Daniel's own book and is recorded for us from Daniel 11:2
to 12:4. This latter prophecy is the most detailed prediction
found anywhere in the Bible and it contains considerable
information about events even future to us!
The Prophet Daniel was a very important link to the story of
biblical canonization because he was the responsible person
through whom the divine books of the Temple were preserved at
Babylon. This enabled them to be returned to Jerusalem by Ezra in
Ezra's Final Canonization
We now come to the period of Ezra and the Great Assembly.
Although we have previously mentioned some reasons for the final
canonization during Ezra's time, there are other observations
that should be mentioned which can give us a better understanding
of the subject.
There is one point which should never be forgotten: all of
the canonizations preceding that of Ezra are only of historical
interest to us. But the question of exactly which books represent
the complete Old Testament today, can only be answered by
understanding the canonization of Ezra and those 120 priests who
comprised the Great Assembly. It is Ezra's final work which is
the most important.
The reason for this should be apparent. While we can know
when and by whom many of the books or portions of books were
written, there are others about which we are uncertain. What
about the books by Hosea, Joel, Job, Amos, parts of the Psalms or
Proverbs? Until the time of Ezra, we have no certain knowledge of
how and when they were reckoned as canonical - or if they ever
were in early times.
Furthermore, though various suggestions as to which books
David, Solomon, Hezekiah, etc. saw fit to canonize have been made
in previous pages of this book, this was mainly possible because
of hints given in Ezra's Book of Chronicles. It was Ezra (the
"Second Moses") who gave to the Jewish world the official (and
final) Old Testament to be read in the Temple and synagogues.
This makes the canonization by Ezra the most important of all.
EZRA EDITS THE WHOLE OLD TESTAMENT
There is a most important aspect of the Old Testament's final
canonization. This concerns certain editing in the Bible for
which Ezra was responsible.
At first it might seem almost irreverent to suggest that
editing the Bible could be permissible to anyone - regardless of
how important his office. Some might say: "Leave the Bible alone;
don't touch a single letter of it!" This may appear proper to us
today, but Ezra felt that the Old Testament needed editing to
allow the Jewish nation of his time to have the complete and full
revelation of God in the Hebrew language.
Ezra's additions were not vast changes in the text of the
Old Testament. These were small edits, mostly in earlier portions
of the Law. His editorial comments were mainly restricted to
simple parenthetical expressions explaining to the Jews of his
time the contemporary geographical names of ancient places and
towns that had been, changed over the years.
Reference to a good biblical handbook will give the majority
of these editorial remarks. One can be found in Genesis 36:31-39
which records the names of Edomite kings down to the time of King
Saul. This section could not have been written by Moses because
he would hardly have known the names of Edomite kings living 300
years after his death. Such indications as Judges 18:30 which
records events 700 years after the period of the Judges is a
further example of editing.
Ezra simply went through the early books of the Old
Testament and brought them, in some important sections, to
relevance with accurate "modern" geographical or historical
facts. Moses did the same thing when he originally wrote the Law.
He adopted the principle of bringing earlier historical documents
of his time up-todate. Even Moses introduced into the ancient
records geographical terms familiar to Israelites of his time
This procedure adopted by Moses also gave Ezra the authority
to do the same.
The prophet Samuel did a similar type of editing in his day.
This occurred when the people demanded a king. "Then Samuel told
the people the manner of the Kingdom, and wrote it in the book
and laid it up before the Lord" (I Samuel 10:25). Samuel wrote
"in the book" the manner of how a king was to govern, and what
the rules of his kingdom were to be. Samuel wrote it not just in
any book, but in "the book" which was "laid up before the Lord."
The only writing in existence with Samuel which was placed before
the Lord was the Law of Moses. Thus the section about a king in
Deuteronomy 17:18 was not written by Moses. This was the addition
to the Laws that Samuel the prophet put in. "And it shall be,
when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall
write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is
before the priests the Levites." Prof. Kirkpatrick remarks
pertinently that Samuel:
"wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the Lord. Literally,
in the book. Possibly this important chapter [concerning the
kingdom] was added to 'the book of the law' kept by the side of
the ark 'before the Lord"' (The First Book of Samuel, vol. IX,
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, p.112).
This seems certain. Samuel inserted the rules concerning
kingship into the Law of Moses - the books which were preserved
in the sleeves of the Ark (see also Deut.31:26). It is evident
that the Law did not contain the rules of the kingdom prior to
Note that when the people calmored for a king in Samuel's
day, they presented no appeal to the Law of Moses for support.
Samuel himself was upset by the mere suggestion of having a king.
Had the rules concerning the kingdom been already within the Book
of Deuteronomy, there would have been no need for Samuel to
"This narrative [in the book of Samuel] ... shows no indication
of the law in Deuteronomy [concerning the kingdom] having been
known in fact, either to Samuel, or to the people who demanded of
him a king: had such been the case, it is incredible either that
Samuel would have resisted the application of the people as he is
represented as doing, or . . that the people should not have
appealed to the law, as a sufficient justification for their
request" (Samuel R. Driver, "A Critical and Exegetical Commentary
on Deuteronomy," 3rd ed. ICC, p.213).
Samuel took authority to write out the rules concerning the
kingdom and he placed them in "the book which was laid up before
the Lord." This example of Samuel gave Ezra even further
historical precedent for adding a few editorial remarks to the
Law of God in his time.
Ezra Adds Final Touches
One more example will show Ezra to be the most important
editor of the Old Testament. At the end of Deuteronomy, we find
some remarks concerning the death of Moses. "So Moses the servant
of the Lord died there in the land of Moab ... but no man knoweth
of his sepulchre unto this day" (Deut.34:5,6).
It is hardly possible for Moses to have recorded his own
death and then, in some curious prophecy, tell later people that
his burial place was unknown "unto this day." These are editorial
remarks added by Ezra at the final canonization.
Proof that the editor could be none other than Ezra is found
in Deuteronomy 34:10. "And there arose not a prophet since in
Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face."
It was promised (Deut.18:15-19) that there would arise one
more major prophet like unto Moses in power and authority. That
prophet was to be so great that his words would be like those of
Moses. But of all the prophets who preceded Ezra, not one of them
was the lawgiver (like Moses) or the maker of the New Covenant
with Israel as a new Moses. So Ezra was informing his readers in
his time through this editorial comment that none of the earlier
prophets (such as Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel) was the prophet
ordained to be like Moses. The Jewish people in the fifth century
B.C. were being directed by Ezra, the compiler of the Hebrew
Bible, to look forward to a future time for the coming of the
great prophet. The Jews in the time of Christ were doing just
that (John 6:14 and 7:40), and Christians came to believe that
the prophet was Christ.
It should be mentioned that even after Ezra's death, some
later members of the Great Assembly (the authorized supreme
religious court of the nation) carried the genealogical tables of
important priestly families down to the time of Alexander the
Great (Neh.12:11, 22; Josephus, Antiq. X1.302).
Lost Books of the Old Testament
In conclusion, let us notice some books which are mentioned
in the Old Testament but are not found in the pages of our Bible:
"The Book of the Wars of the Lord" (Num.21:14).
"The Book of Jasher" (Josh.10:13; 2 Sam.1:18).
"The Book of the Acts of Solomon" (I Kings 11:14).
"The Book of Nathan the Prophet" (IChron.29:29).
"The Book of Gad the Seer" (I Chron.29:29)
"The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shiloite" (2 Chron.9:29).
"The Visions of Iddo the Seer" (2 Chron.9:29).
"The Book of Shemiah the Prophet" (2 Chron.12:15).
"The Book of Jehu the Son of Hanani" (2 Chron.20:34).
"The Sayings of Hosai" (2 Chron.33:19).
Do these "lost books" belong in the sacred canon of the Old
Testament? They do not! The last seven of these ten books were
referred to by Ezra in the Book of Chronicles, and it was he who
was responsible for canonizing the complete Old Testament. He
mentioned these historical documents to support the truth of what
he wrote in the Book of Chronicles, but he did not include any of
them as a part of divine scripture. These were simple books of
history which contained truthful records of the past (much like
First Maccabees in the Apocrypha), but Ezra did not accord them
divine status. This is significant! If Ezra did not reckon them
as canonical, neither should anyone else. This is the case with
all other books mentioned in the Bible but not found within the
present biblical canon!
This chapter by Ernest Martin is especially detailed as to what
the Old Testament says to us on canonization. I believe he has
put it all together correctly. I recommend the reader studies
what he has written a number of times to fully grasp how the Lord
finally canonized the Scriptures, as we find them today, in the
section of the Bible, Christians call the Old Testament - Keith
This study entered on this Website December 2008