The Old Testament begins with the Pentateuch, the five books penned by Moses. From the Pentateuch, we learn of the patriarchs and Israel’s growth into a great nation. The next twelve books of the Old Testament, the historical books, begin along the banks of the Jordan River and tell the story of God’s liberated people and the occupation of the land promised to them in perpetuity. The people of Israel are forever wedded to the land of Israel; thus, the historical books of the Old Testament begin a singular story that continues today and into tomorrow.
The historical books of the Old Testament are twelve in number, record five major events, and focus on several prominent characters, most notably King David. The twelve historical books are as follows:
The conquest and settling of Canaan — Joshua and Judges tell of God’s people as they cross the Jordan River and settle into the Promised Land. When the Israelites demonstrated godly obedience, the Lord faithfully fought His people’s battles, but when the Israelites’ hearts grew cold and indifferent, they suffered multiple defeats by the hands of their enemies. Early in the nation’s history, the tribes were governed by judges. The book of Ruth takes place during the rule of the judges and reveals the ancestry of King David.
The move from tribal rule to monarchy — The books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings tell of the nation’s first three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon. During this period, the nation became increasingly unified while enjoying many years of relative peace and prosperity. After removing the crown from Saul, Israel’s first king, God bestowed special favor on David and, later, on David’s son Solomon.
The dividing of the kingdom — The books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles record the tragic dividing of the nation of Israel into two separate kingdoms, the northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah). Regrettably, King Solomon’s tolerance of sin and idolatry led to the split of the once mighty Israel into two weaker nations.
The loss of national sovereignty and the fall into foreign bondage — Despite the dire warnings of God’s holy prophets such as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, the disobedient people of both kingdoms turned deaf ears to God’s call for repentance. In doing so, they incurred the judgment of God. The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom, and the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in the southern kingdom. Under Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar, thousands of Jews were forced from their land to live as exiles in Babylon. Note: 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles contain the history of all of ancient Israel’s monarchs, while the book of Esther tells of a remarkable Jewish girl’s rise to prominence during the time of exile.
The return to the Promised Land — The final event in the historical books of the Bible is the return of God’s people from foreign bondage to their own land. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah chronicle the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple. Sadly, the restoration of Israel and its national sovereignty were short-lived, for, by the time of the birth of Jesus, the land was ruled by disdainful foreigners and their corrupt quislings, and Jerusalem’s streets were patrolled by Roman soldiers.
The twelve historical books of the Bible tell of many noble and ignoble persons who played prominent roles in Israel’s history. The most notable among these include Joshua, Moses’ successor; Samuel, Israel’s last judge and prophet who anointed both Saul and David as king; Saul, Israel’s first monarch whose disobedience cost him the crown; David, Israel’s incomparable king and a man truly after God’s own heart; Solomon, David’s son whose reign began with promise but ended in disgrace; Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from certain annihilation; Ezra, who orchestrated the rebuilding of the temple; and Nehemiah, who repaired and secured the ruined walls of Jerusalem. This, of course, is only a partial list of notable persons who, for good or bad, played prominent roles in ancient Israel’s history.
Every Christian should have, at the very least, a perfunctory understanding of Israel’s history, for these are our roots, too (see Romans 11:11–24). In the pages of the historical books of the Bible, we see God’s faithfulness, mercy, and discipline. Perhaps the most thrilling aspect of the historical books is found in 2 Samuel 7 when God announced Israel’s Messiah would come from the line of King David. About a thousand years later, God honored His promise when the Lord Jesus was born into the line of David. To be sure, the promises, wisdom, and lessons to be learned from the historical books are too good to be ignored.