Old Testament Survey – History

OT SURVEY – History

Israel’s history from the time of Joshua until after their return from captivity in Babylon is covered in these twelve books.  The Hebrew Scriptures put the books in a different order.  Some of these books (Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings) are in the section known as “Prophets,” or “Former Prophets,” with the rest of them in a later section called “Writings.”  Perhaps they are considered “prophets” because their main purpose is to teach, or perhaps it is because of the way God’s message was fulfilled in Israel’s life.

There are several key themes in these books.  One is kingship.  Judges notes the lack of a king as a key reason for Israel’s sinfulness (Judges 21:25), while 1 & 2 Samuel show the rise and reign of David, the greatest of the kings, followed by Israel’s decline as the monarchy crumbles (1 & 2 Kings).  Theword of the Lord is a key theme, as God speaks through such men as Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha.  The eventual building of the Temple, replacing the Tabernacle, is a third important development.  A fourth major theme is worship.  Israel’s kings are evaluated, not on the basis of military power or economic success, but on the basis of their commitment to God—or lack of it.


After Moses died, God placed Joshua in leadership over Israel.  Joshua led Israel to go into the Promised Land and claim it, fulfilling the promise that God had made centuries earlier.  Just as salvation is not only redemption from hell, but also redemption to heaven, so God’s plan for Israel was not just deliverance out of Egypt, but also deliverance into Canaan.  The theme of the book is possession.  God had given Israel the land, and now they were to actually possess it.  Tragically, however, their lack of faithful obedience would mean that they would not possess all of it (13:1).

Joshua himself had been a military commander (Exodus 17:8-13), an assistant to Moses (Exodus 24:13), and, with Caleb, one of only two spies who believed Israel could take the Promised Land (Numbers 14:6-9).  As a result, he and Caleb were the only Israelites who left Egypt who also entered Canaan.  He was the clear choice to replace Moses as leader of Israel (Deuteronomy 34:9).

Significant Passages –

1) Joshua Called (1:1-9): God calls Joshua into His service, telling him to “be strong and courageous.”

2) Jericho Conquered (2:1-6:27): Jericho would be the first city in Canaan taken by Israel.

3) Crossing the Jordan (3:1-17): God’s promise is fulfilled as Israel enters the land.

4) The Land Divided (13-21): Each tribe is given a specific part of the land.

5) Joshua’s Farewell Address (23:1-24:28): Joshua calls on Israel to renew their commitment to serving God, who had delivered them, and confirms his own commitment (24:14, 15).


Judges covers the time between the death of Joshua and the rise of Samuel the prophet.  It is an ongoing illustration of deterioration in a society that lacks godly leadership.  The “judges” God raised up in times of crisis were not simply legal advisors, but people of action who delivered Israel from oppression by an enemy and then served as rulers.  The book continually repeats a sad cycle.  Israel deserts God to follow pagan gods; therefore God allows them to be conquered by Canaanites, who oppress them; the people cry out to God for help; He raises up a judge to deliver Israel from its enemies; all is well until that judge dies, and then the whole cycle starts all over again.

What is amazing here is God’s grace.  Whenever Israel cries out to Him, God delivers them, despite their record of failure.  And He uses unlikely people to do so.  There is Ehud, who stoops to assassinating an enemy king (3:15-23); Jael, who violates all ideas of hospitality (4:17-22); and Samson, who leads a life of sexual promiscuity.  And the Bible nowhere endorses these acts or commends the people who did them.  God used these people because of their faith (Hebrews 11:32-34) and despite their moral failures.  His gracious willingness to do so offers hope for us today.

Significant Passages –

1) Deborah as Judge (4:4-5:31): Israel’s only female judge helps Barak deliver Israel.

2) Gideon (6:1-8:32): God uses a man of weak faith (6:36-40) to lead 300 Israelites to overcome an enemy force of great number (7:12), showing that the victory is due to God’s power and not Israel’s.

3) Samson (13:1-16:31): God prepared Samson before birth and gave him great strength so that he might “begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (13:5), who were long-time enemies of Israel.  His strength enabled him to do some amazing deeds, but his weakness for women was an ongoing problem that led to his ultimate defeat.
Key Verse (21:25): “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”


Set during the time of the judges (1:1), this story of faith, loyalty, and love stands in contrast to the violence and strife characteristic of that time.  Although Israel’s faith was not strong at the time, this story shows that the faith of some people remained strong.  God is at work here, ordering the affairs of everyday life in order to bless His people and achieve His purposes.  It is not just a story of romance, but of some of the ancestors of David, Israel’s greatest king, and ultimately of Jesus, David’s descendant.

The story tells of a family that leaves Israel for Moab during a time of famine—perhaps due to oppression by a foreign power.  The sons marry Moabite women, but their father dies and they die, leaving their mother Naomi and their wives.  When Naomi returns home to Bethlehem in Israel, Ruth insists on going with her and taking Naomi’s family and faith as her own (1:16, 17).  Since it is harvest time, Ruth goes out to glean in the fields.  She meets Boaz, the owner of the field where she is gleaning.  He is a relative of Naomi and is impressed with all that he has heard of Ruth and her care for Naomi.  He redeems Ruth’s inheritance, according to the culture’s practices, and takes her as his wife.  So God answers the prayer of Boaz (2:12), provides Ruth a husband, and blesses Naomi with a grandson.  When God steps in, the ordinary events of life are blessed and take on greater significance.


This book tells the stories of three very different leaders in Israel’s history—Samuel, Saul, and David.  Yet, as with the rest of Scripture, the point of the story is to show God’s interaction with His people.  God gives a son to Hannah in answer to prayer.  That son is Samuel, whose name means “asked of God.”  Then, when the people ask for a king, God has Samuel anoint Saul as king.  And when Saul proves unfit for that high calling, God raises up David and has Samuel anoint him as Saul’s successor.  The book takes place about a thousand years before the time of Christ, during a time when Israel was not walking faithfully with Him.  When Samuel is a boy, growing up at the Tabernacle in the midst of Israel’s worship, his first task is to announce God’s judgment against Eli the priest and his sons.  When Israel asks for a king, it is as much so as to be like other, pagan nations as it is because of the moral failures of Samuel’s sons.  And although Saul starts out with promise, he soon sees David as a rival, is afflicted by an evil spirit, and begins to seek to kill David.  The book ends with Saul dead and the kingdom in crisis.

Significant Passages—

1) The birth and call of Samuel (1:1-3:21):

2) Israel asks for a king (8:1-22): Samuel’s sons were not godly men, but were in line to succeed him as leader of Israel.  Because the people did not want such leaders and because they wanted to be like other nations, they asked Samuel to give them a king.  Samuel saw it as a personal rejection, but God said it was a rejection of Himself, since He had functioned as their king.

3) Saul chosen as king (9:1-10:26): Saul started out as a humble leader of God’s people.

4) Saul fails (15:1-35): Rather than obey God’s directions fully and simply, Saul instead did some things that were similar, yet different, and therefore disobedient.  From this point on, Samuel never again saw Saul, but continued to grieve over him.

5) David and Goliath (17:1-58): One of the best known stories in the Bible tells of David, as a young man, facing Goliath, a boastful Philistine giant.  Though David is smaller in size and lacking in military experience, his faith motivates him to face Goliath and his skill enables him to kill Goliath.

6) Saul turns against David (18:10-27:12): Much of the latter part of the book deals with Saul’s drift away from God, his jealousy toward David, and his various efforts to kill David.

7) Saul’s death (31:1-13): Here is a tragic end to a life begun with promise, yet sidetracked by sin.


This book follows the career of David from when he becomes king on the death of Saul until the end of his reign.  The first ten chapters tell of David’s successes and Israel’s growth.  But chapter eleven tells of his sin with Bathsheba, and his life and reign begin to decline from there onward.

Significant Passages—

1) David mourns for Saul and Jonathan (1:1-27): Even though Saul had failed as a leader of God’s people, David still respected him for the office he had held.  And he mourned for Jonathan, his friend.

2) David is enthroned as king of all Israel (5:1-5): David would become Israel’s greatest king.

3) David brings the Ark to Jerusalem (6:1-23): By this act, David not only honors God, but also establishes Jerusalem as Israel’s chief city, spiritually.

4) David’s plan to build a house for God (7:1-29): David wanted to replace the Tabernacle with a building far grander.  But God rejected that plan and said He would allow Solomon build it instead.

5) David’s sin with Bathsheba (11:1-27): A simple walk on the palace rooftop leads to lust, adultery, and murder.  James 1:13-15 describes how sin works in such a way, leading step by step into far more destructive results than we typically imagine.

6) Absalom’s rebellion (15:1-18:33): David did well as a king, but poorly as a father (see 1 Kings 1:6).  Absalom was proud, vain, and manipulative.  And he almost deposed David as king.


The death of David, the glories of Solomon’s reign, and the breakup of the kingdom are the focus of 1 Kings.  It is a story of great achievement and tragic decline, a story that would be completed in 2 Kings.  As the story begins Israel is a stable and united kingdom under David.  His son Solomon leads Israel in a time of great prosperity and growth.  But Solomon’s son foolishly brings on the breakup of Israel, which also sets God’s people on the path to conquest and captivity by other nations.

Significant Passages—

1) David’s death and the struggle for succession (1:1-2:46): Though David had promised that Solomon would succeed him, there was a struggle in which Adonijah sought to rule, but lost his life.

2) Solomon’s prayer for wisdom (3:4-15): When God offers him literally anything he desires, Solomon expresses his need for wisdom.  Noting that he could have asked for wealth or power instead, God promises to give him those things, too.

3) Dedication of the Temple (8:1-66): After fulfilling David’s dream of building a house for God, Solomon leads Israel in a lavish act of worship.  His prayer (23-53) is the longest prayer recorded in the Old Testament.

4) Solomon’s failure (11:1-13): His marriage alliances with pagan kingdoms brought foreign worship to Israel and weakened Solomon’s commitment to God.  As a result, God would split the kingdom.

5) The kingdom divides (12:1-33): Solomon’s son Rehoboam follows him but foolishly listens to the wrong advice.  When the northern tribes leave, Jereboam their king leads them into idolatry.
6) Elijah challenges Baal worship at Mt. Carmel (18:1-46): Elijah has already called for a drought in judgment against Israel’s unfaithfulness to God—and as a challenge to Baal, the pagan fertility god.  This story tells of a showdown between the two faiths that was resolved with a miracle, yet failed to produce any lasting change of heart on the part of God’s people.


This book completes the story of the decline and fall of Israel and Judah, both of them due to their ongoing unfaithfulness to God.  After Elijah’s dramatic exit, Elisha becomes God’s chief prophet among His people.  The story goes on to tell of the reigns of the kings of each kingdom and how they fell, with Israel first defeated by Assyria (722 B.C.) and then Judah defeated by Babylon (606 B.C.).  Israel’s kings were invariably unfaithful to God and promoted other gods.  Some of Judah’s kings were faithful and some were not.

Significant Passages—

1) Elijah taken up to heaven (2:1-18): When a chariot and horses of fire appear and take Elijah to heaven, Elisha calls for a double portion of the spirit of Elijah.

2) Naaman healed (5:1-27): Word of God’s power through His prophet has spread to other lands.  So Naaman, a soldier of Aram, goes to Israel looking for healing from his leprosy.  Jesus would cite this story as evidence of God’s care for the heathen, too, and not just for Israel (Luke 4:27).

3) Jereboam II rules (14:23-29): Jereboam was a strong ruler of Israel, though ungodly.  Israel was corrupt, with the rich abusing the poor.  After Jereboam’s reign, the nation fell apart.

4) The fall of Israel (17:1-41): Hoshea, king of Israel, failed to pay proper tribute to Assyria, the strongest nation of the time.  So Assyria defeated Israel, took many Israelites captive, and scattered them around in other lands that Assyria had conquered.  But the writer makes clear (7-23) that Israel fell because of their unfaithfulness to their covenant with God.

5) Hezekiah reigns (18:1-20:21): Hezekiah one of the most godly kings of Judah.  He resisted Assyria’s threats and ruled during the time of Isaiah’s service as God’s prophet.

6) Josiah’s revival (22:1-23:30): After years of neglect, apparently, Josiah had the Temple cleaned up and restored.  In the process, the Book of the Law was discovered, which led to revival in Judah.  Josiah was a godly king, but Judah’s revival would be only temporary.

7) Fall of Jerusalem (25:1-26): Just as with Israel more than a century earlier, Judah’s unfaithfulness led to political defeat.  Babylon defeated Zedekiah, one of Judah’s worst kings, and the nation went into captivity in Babylon for the next seventy years.


The two books of Chronicles repeat much of the history covered in the books of Samuel and Kings, but tell it from a different viewpoint and for a different purpose.  Jerusalem and the Temple are prominent in Chronicles, while the palace is important in Samuel and Kings.  Kings focuses on political history, while Chronicles focuses on religious history.  The key to these differences lies in the date and purpose of the books.  Where the books of Samuel and Kings are written much earlier, the books of Chronicles were written after the return from captivity in Babylon.  Ezra may well have been the author.  As the people returned to Jerusalem to re-establish their relationship with God there, the writer saw the need to remind them of their own history and purpose so that they would understand more clearly just who they were and what God expected of them.  After the division of the kingdom, the writer ignores the northern kingdom, since his desire is apparently to remind God’s people of their previous “days of glory” when they walked obediently with God.  The writer tells history in order to inspire and encourage.

Significant Passages—

1) Genealogies (1:1-9:44): From the beginning God had revealed Himself to man through interacting with various people—especially the nation of Israel.  Most of the names here will be meaningless to many of today’s readers, but they serve as a reminder that God has always sought to work through people.  This list of names focuses on David’s line, since he was Israel’s greatest king.

2) Defeat and death of Saul (10:1-14): This event sets up David to become king.

3) The Ark is brought to Jerusalem (15:1-16:6): After earlier tragedy due to failing to follow God’s directions for transporting the Ark of the Covenant, now it is successfully and properly moved.

4) God’s covenant with David (17:1-27): Though God will not allow David to build the Temple, He appreciates David’s intent and renews His covenant with Him.

5) David’s improper census (21:1-30): David apparently wished to celebrate Israel’s military might.  His mistake lay in forgetting that God ultimately was all the military might Israel needed.  When God punishes Israel for David’s sin, he buys a piece of land in order to present a special offering to God.  It was on that same piece of land that the Temple would eventually be built.

6) David’s address about the Temple (28:1-19): David acknowledged God’s plan, surpassing his own.


Continuing the story of 1 Chronicles, this book carries on with the story of the family of David.  First Solomon, then his descendants serve as king of Israel.  The story ends not with the fall of the southern kingdom, but with permission by the king for God’s people to return from captivity and reclaim the land.

Significant Passages—

1) Solomon’s reign (1:1-9:31): Solomon’s grandest achievement was building the Temple.  His reign was a time of great wealth in Israel.  The writer ignores Solomon’s failures.

2) Reformation under Asa (14:1-16:14)

3) Reformation under Jehoshaphat (17:1-20:37)

4) Reformation under Joash (23:1-24:27)

5) Reformation under Hezekiah (29:1-32:33)

6) Reformation under Josiah (34:1-35:27)


Ezra was a descendant of Hilkiah, the high priest who discovered a copy of the Law during the reign of Josiah (2 Chron. 24:14).  He was a priest who was unable to serve during the captivity, so gave himself to a study of God’s word.  He helped set off revival in Israel by reading Scripture to the people when they celebrated the completion of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall (Nehemiah 8:1-18).  Because this book begins with verses identical to those that close 2 Chronicles, Ezra is widely considered to be the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles, besides this book.  As significant as Ezra is, however, he does not even appear in this book until chapter 7.

Significant Passages—

1) Exiles allowed to return (1:1-4): Isaiah 44:26-45:13 even predicts the name of the king who would allow the Israelites to return home after the 70 years of captivity.  Yet, as remarkable as it is to be allowed to return, only a relatively few people return; most remain in Babylon.

2) Temple restoration begun (3:8-13): Some shout for joy, but others, who had seen the first Temple, weep (12, 13).  Did they weep for joy or because this new Temple was so much less than the first?

3) Adversaries hinder the work (4:1-24): Neighboring nations, who did not share Israel’s faith nor love for God, made every effort to stop the rebuilding of the Temple.

4) Temple completed and dedicated (6:13-22): Once opposition had been overcome and the people completed their restoration of the Temple, it was then time to use it in celebrating the Passover.

5) Ezra returns (7:6-10): Ezra was a scribe who took seriously his study of God’s law.

6) The problem of mixed marriages (9:1-10:17): The problem here had nothing to do with race, but everything to do with different religions.  God has consistently sought to steer His people away from inter-marrying with people of other religions, lest those of other faiths lead Israelites to reject Him.


Nehemiah holds no religious office, yet he helps considerably in Israel’s task of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and getting reestablished in their own land sometime after their exile.  Though he already holds a position of trust and respect in the kingdom, he does not hesitate to leave that position in order to serve God and help his people.  He is a man of prayer, leadership, and commitment to God.

Significant Passages—

1) Nehemiah learns of Jerusalem’s sad state (1:1-11): His brother and some other men from Jerusalem report the broken down state of the wall of Jerusalem.  Nehemiah responds by praying.

2) Nehemiah authorized to go to Jerusalem (2:1-8): When the king sees Nehemiah’s sadness, he inquires as to the reason.  His respect for Nehemiah is such that he immediately authorizes him to return to Jerusalem and carry out on the rebuilding project.

3) Nehemiah inspects the damage (2:12-16): On his return to Jerusalem, Nehemiah first inspects the damage to the wall before seeking to enlist the help of others for rebuilding.

4) Enemies offer ridicule and opposition (2:17-20; 4:1-8): Whether due to their own unbelief, worries about growing Israelite power, or simple hatefulness, these people seek to stop the rebuilding project.

5) Rebuilders of the wall (3:1-32): Different groups are each assigned to rebuild a portion of the wall.

6) Wall is completed (6:15-19): The job is completed in only 52 days.

7) Restoring worship (8:1-18): Once the wall is completed, Ezra reads the law publicly, Nehemiah declares a holy day, and the people celebrate the Feast of Booths.

8) Dedication of the wall (12:27-43): Two choirs march around the wall in a joyful act of dedication.

9) Renewal completed (13:1-31): Some things are restored, others are removed, all to honor God.


This book tells the story of a plot to exterminate the entire Jewish nation during the reign of the Persian king, Ahasuerus (Xerxes) and how the plot was foiled.  In the process, it also explains the origin of the Feast of Purim.  The book does not mention God by name, yet His providence is its theme.  Perhaps the omission of His name suggests a certain embarrassment on the part of the author, since the story takes place among the Jews who chose to stay in Persia even after they had permission to return to their own land.  At any rate, the book shows God at work, preserving His people.  And it makes an excellent story—full of intrigue and suspense.

The story itself begins with a six-month long display of the king’s power.  When his queen refuses to be a part of the display, she is deposed and he seeks another queen.  Esther is chosen, but her identity as a Jew is kept from the king.  Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, saves the king from assassination.  But Haman, a court official, hates Mordecai, who will not bow to him.  He seeks, therefore, to destroy all the Jews.  Esther risks her life to expose Haman, who is then executed himself.  The Jews fight back against their enemies, Mordecai is promoted, and the Feast of Purim is instituted to remember these events.

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