Following the Bible’s law books, the historical books often read more like exciting narratives than mere factual accounts. And this is because they focus mostly on Israel’s relationship to God. Covering nearly 1000 years of Israel’s history, the events of these 12 books occurred from approximately 1400 – 425 BC.

Starting with Joshua, which deals with the Israelite’s entry into and possession of the Promised Land, they go on to cover their disobedience and rule by judges. Followed by the establishment of Israel’s monarchy and subsequent division into two kingdoms. Continuing with the nation’s moral collapse and consequent deportation from the land, the books conclude with the Israelites eventual return to Jerusalem. Although in our Bibles Esther is the final historical book, chronologically they end with Ezra and Nehemiah.

Purpose of the historical books:

The historical books, like all of the Old Testament, served to prepare the way for the arrival of Israel’s Messiah, or Savior. And to show God’s steadfast commitment to keeping and honoring the pact he made with the Israelite nation, beginning with Abraham.

These historical books cover five main historical events.

  1. Israel’s settlement in the land of Canaan, in the book of Joshua.
  2. Their transition from a tribal federation to a monarchy, in 1-2 Samuel.
  3. Israel’s division into 2 kingdoms, due to King Solomon overworking the people and introducing foreign gods, in 1 Kings.
  4. The moral collapse, military defeat, and subsequent exile of both kingdoms, in 2 Kings.
  5. The return of a remnant of the Isrealite people to the Promised Land, in Ezra and Nehemiah.

Historical outline the books:

BOOKMAJOR HISTORICAL HAPPENINGS
JoshuaThe Israelites enter and possess the land.
Judges
Ruth
The people disobey God.
He allows them to be oppressed by neighboring nations.
God raises judges (or heroes) to save them.
1 SamuelGod raises Samuel as Isreal’s spiritual leader.
Saul rises to kingship.
David defeats Goliath. Saul”s death.
2 Samuel The life and monarchy of King David.
1 KingsHistory of the monarchs.
The nation is divided into 2 kingdoms:
Israel (Samaria) in the north and Judah in the south.
2 KingsSpiritual decline of the nation.
Israel deported to Syria.
Judah deported to Babylon; Gentiles moved into the land.
1 ChroniclesA retelling of David’s life and death.
Preparation of the temple.
2 ChroniclesA retelling of the kings’ lives.
Building of the temple.
The temples’ destruction (during the Babylonian invasion).
EzraReconstruction of the temple.
Spiritual and religious restoration.
NehemiahRebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.
The spiritual & religious restoration occurring in the nation.
EstherGod protecting his people during exile.

These books also contain some of the Bible’s most well-known and most beloved stories.

BIBLE BOOKFAMOUS ACCOUNTS
JoshuaRahab hides the 2 Isrealite spies (ch. 2).
The walls of Jericho come tumbling down (ch. 6).
JudgesSamson’s amazing strength in defeating the Philistines (ch. 13-16).
RuthRuth loyally follows her mother-in-law from Moab to Israel (ch (ch. 1).
Ruth marries Boaz & becomes King David’s ancestor (ch. 4).
1 SamuelKing David defeats the giant Goliath (ch. 17).
2 SamuelDavid sins with Bathsheba & murders her husband (ch. 11).
The prophet Nathan confronts him with his sin & David repents (ch. 12).
1 KingsThe prophet Elijah predicts a 3-year drought (ch. 17).
Elijah increases a widow’s oil & meal and brings her son to life (ch. 17).
Elijah confronts and defeats the prophets of Baal (ch. 18).
2 KingsThe prophet Elisha increases a widow woman’s store of oil (ch. 4).
Elisha heals the Syrian comander Naaman of leprosy (ch. 5).
1 ChroniclesKing David errors in transporting God’s ark (ch. 13).
The ark is brought to Jerusalem (ch. 15).
2 ChroniclesKing Solomon’s great wisdom, prosperity & fame (ch. 1, 8).
Solomon builds God’s temple and God’s glory fills it (ch. 5).
God delivers Judah from Assyrian King Sennacherib (ch. 19).
Ezra-NehemiahThe frantic rebuilding of the city walls while enemies try to stop them.
EstherQueen Esther risks her own life by entering the king’s presence (ch. 5).
Esther reveals Haman’s evil plot and saves her people (ch. 7-9).

But the Bible’s historical books contain much more than good stories, riveting as they are. They relate numerous lessons for us on avoiding sin and disobedience. And on the rewards and benefits of faithfully obeying and following the Lord.

But mostly they are yet another example of God’s faithfulness in keeping his Word, and his sovereignty in directing the affairs of nations. The historical books accurately portray him as the omniscient and omnipotent God who is worthy of our trust, adoration, and service.

Which is your favorite book, character, or story – and why? What have these books most taught you?

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14

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Photo by Dan Kiefer on Unsplash.

2 thoughts on “Old Testament Historical Books

  1. Habbakuk is my favorite OT book. I love how God listens to his questions and answers him. In the end he states that no matter what he will still praise God.

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