Old Testament Historical Books

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 nation’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.

They 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.

Their historical outline:

JoshuaThe Israelites enter and possess the land.
& 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.

Some of the best known stories

These books also contain some of Scripture’s best known and beloved stories.

JoshuaRahab hides the 2 Isrealite spies (ch. 2)
The walls of Jericho come tumbling down (ch. 6)
JudgesSamson defeats the Philistiens with amazing strength (ch. 13-16)
RuthRuth’s loyalty in following her mother-in-law (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)
Nathan’s confrontation of David’s and his repentance (ch. 12)
1 KingsThe prophet Elijah predicts a 3-year drought (ch. 17)
Elijah & the widow’s oil and resurrection of her son (ch. 17)
Elijah confronts and defeats the prophets of Baal (ch. 18)
2 KingsElisha 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 & NehemiahFrantic rebuilding of the city walls despite enemy attacks
EstherQueen Esther risks her own life to save her people (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.

What have you learned from these books? What do you need to learn?

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 ESV

Images: Ravens & Tent by Free Bible Images.org | Word cloud by Blue Letter Bible.org.

11 thoughts on “Old Testament Historical Books

  1. I am reading through the Old Testament with my children. We do one of 2 chapters each morning at the breakfast table, and they are learning so much. We have wonderful discussions about the examples that are set, both of what to follow and what not to follow, and about how God works in our lives. I think it will probably take us 2 years at this rate… maybe 2-1/2.


    1. Wow, that’s great Linda! The OT is so fascinating, and I love your idea of going through it slowly. That will enrich your childrens’ lives all their days!


        1. I know, kids have a lot to teach us. They see things in ways that we sometimes just do not catch on to!


  2. Some find no need for the Old Testament any longer. Thank you for including this. And Yes, there is so much more than just stories, laws, and begats. All points to our Savior and our need for him. God Bless.


  3. The book of Judges makes me think of today–everyone doing what was right in their own eyes. Thanks for this wonderful overview–you are an amazing scholar, my friend.


    1. No Dayle, a scholar I am not, for sure. But doing Bible school is helping me so much! I was thinking just the other day on how much these times seem like the times of the Judges. So sad. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  4. 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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