Earlier this month, we began a tour of the different sections of the Bible, starting with the books of Moses. Today, we’re continuing our tour with the next section of the Bible: the Historical Books.
The twelve books that comprise the “historical books” cover a large swath of history and contain some of the most important segments of the entire Bible narrative. Taken together, these books tell the story of ancient Israel’s formation, rise to prominence, collapse into moral and physical defeat, and restoration. Many of the most famous characters in the Bible—people like David, Elijah, Solomon, Ahab, Esther, and many others—make their appearance in this section, so even if you’re utterly unfamiliar with the Old Testament, chances are you’ve heard at least snippets from some of their stories.
Here are the historical books in order, along with a link to a famous story from each book:
- Joshua: Tells the story of Israel’s arrival at Canaan, the long-awaited Promised Land, under the leadership of Joshua. After a series of major battles (during which their dependence on God is repeatedly demonstrated), the Israelites establish a society in accordance with God’s law. Famous story: the walls of Jericho come a-tumblin’ down.
- Judges: Israel is repeatedly oppressed by neighboring tribes and kingdoms, and God faithfully raises up heroes (“judges”) to deliver His people. Famous story: Sampson’s rise and fall.
- Ruth: An interesting break from the preceding two books, Ruth tells the touching story of a foreign woman who is welcomed not only into Israelite society, but into the lineage of Jesus Christ himself. Famous story: Ruth meets Boaz, her future husband.
- 1 and 2 Samuel: These books describe the establishment of the Israelite monarchy, as the people cry out to be ruled by a king. In particular, they tell the story of David’s rise to power as Israel’s most famous ruler. Famous story: David defeats the giant Goliath in single combat.
- 1 and 2 Kings: Continue the story of the great rulers of Israel, although Israel’s story takes a tragic turn as the kingdom splits into two and begins a steady drift away from God, even as enemy nations like Assyria press in. Famous story: The Syrian commander Naaman is miraculously cured of leprosy.
- 1 and 2 Chronicles: A return to the story of David and his successor kings, covering some of the same ground as 1 and 2 Kings. Famous story: God saves Judah from the seemingly invincible Assyrian King Sennacherib.
- Ezra and Nehemiah: These two books skip ahead in history and document Israel’s return to their homeland after years of captivity in Babylon. Jerusalem is rebuilt and repopulated as a living example of God’s forgiveness and power to restore. Famous story: Nehemiah and the Israelites frantically rebuild the city wall as treacherous enemies plot against them.
- Esther: The fascinating stand-alone story of Esther, who risks her life to stop the genocide of her people. Famous story: Esther’s daring plan to expose Haman’s plot.
If you want a vivid glimpse at some of the most compelling storytelling in the Bible, you could do a lot worse than to start here.