Old Testament Books

The Historical Books,
with the events and some people in each book.

(To see meanings of the Bible book names, scroll down to section 6) goto6

Bible books below are in capital letters. All Old Testament books are included here.

GENESIS  Creation. Mankind disobeys God. Noah survives the great flood. God promises Abraham (around 2000 BC) that all nations will be blessed by his descendant. Abraham’s son Isaac has a son Jacob, who receives a second name, Israel. Jacob has twelve sons,¹ of which one, Joseph, is sold as a slave in Egypt and later all the brothers and their families move to Egypt. The Bible book called JOB, pondering the meaning of suffering, may have been written in these early years.

EXODUS  The descendants of Abraham are now called the people of Israel, named after Jacob. They have become slaves in Egypt. God tells Moses to bring them out. After crossing the Red Sea (around 1400 BC), God gives them the Ten Commandments.² They move about in the desert of Sinai for 40 years.

LEVITICUS    The descendants of Jacob’s sons Levi are selected to be the priests, and this book gives the rules for animal sacrifice for forgiveness of sins.

NUMBERS The book is named for a census that takes place. The book also names tribes that the had to overcome as thy neared their promised land (today called Israel).

DEUTERONOMY  The book’s name means “second law.” In it Moses reviews God’s laws at the end of the 40 years in the desert. Moses dies.

JOSHUA becomes the new leader and guides the people of Israel into the land they now name Israel.

JUDGES  These  temporary military leaders who lead the people of Israel from the 1300’s to 1100’s. One is Gideon, known for asking God to prove His command by having a flec become wet. Another is Samson, famous for strength, who is betrayed by his girl-friend Delilah.

RUTH  is a woman who lived during the time of the Judges. She is the grandmother of King David.

FIRST SAMUEL . Samuel is the last of the judges, and appoints the first of the kings, named Saul. The boy David kills the giant Goliath

SECOND SAMUEL  David becomes king, establisheS Jerusalem as the capital city, and writes many of the songs in the book of PSALMS.³

FIRST KINGS.  David’s son Solomon becomes kind, and is regarded as the author of three Bible books: PROVERBS (wise sayings), ECCLESIASTES (meaning in life), SONG OF SOLOMON (a love poem).

SECOND KINGS.  After Solomon, the people of Israel divide into two competing kingdoms. The northern kingdom is called Israel. The southern kingdom is called Judah, and is ruled by descendants of David. This book traces the events of the first six kings in each kingdom. One if the northern kings is Ahab, who with his wife Jezebel is denounced by the prophet Elijah (around 860 BC).

SECOND KINGS. This book tells about the rest of the kings, up to the time that the northern kingdom is ended by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC and the southern kingdom is ended by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BC. Prophets in the northern kingdom wrote the books of OBADIAH, JONAH, and HOSEA. Prophets in the southern kingdom wrote JOEL, AMOS, MICAH, ISAIAH, ZEPANIAH, NAHUM, HABAKKUK, and  JEREMIAH, who also wrote LAMENTATIONS.  Many Jews from the southern kingdom are deported to Babylonia.

FIRST CHRONICLES retells the story of David.

SECOND CHRONICLES retells the history of the kings from Solomon to the deportation to Babylon. Two Bible books were written by Jews who were living in Babylon during the 500’s BC: EZEKIEL and DANIEL.

EZRA. This book says that In 539 BC, Persia defeats Babylon, and permits Jews to return to Jerusalem. Around 464 BC the Jewish priest Ezra, who was living in Babylon, went to Jerusalem to urge them to spiritual revival and to more complete following of the Old Testament laws.   During this time period prophets wrote the books of HAGGAI and ZECHARIAH.

NEHEMIAH.   Around 445 a Jewish official living in Babylon came to Jerusalem to urge the rebuilding of the city walls and to act as governor.  During this time period the final prophet of  the Old Testament wrote the book of MALACHI.

ESTHER.  Around 474 a Jewish girl named Esther became queen of Persia, and foiled a plot to have the Jewish people killed.

End of Old Testament, 400 BC.

Footnotes

1 Names of the Twelve sons of Jacob (also called Israel). Their descendants were called the tribes of Israel. The first ten in this list are also names of the areas in Israel after they returned from Egypt.

Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Levi, Joseph.

The descendants of Levi were priests, and could live throughout the area. The other two tribes were named for the sons of Joseph: Ephraem and Manasseh.

2 Ten Commandments. There are two ways to number the Ten Commandments.  Both ways start with the command to have no other gods (Exodus 20:3) as the first commandment. The Eastern Orthodox churches and the Reformed churches (that emerged from the work of Calvin) use the phrase about not having graven images (Exodus 20:4) as the second commandment, and go on to the one about not taking God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7) as the third. The Lutherans and Catholics go directly to the one about not taking God’s name in vain as number two, and then reach a total of ten by dividing the commandment about coveting (Exodus 20:17) into two commandments, numbered nine and ten. More about different churches.

3 There are two ways to number the Psalms. To find out which your Bible uses, look up Psalm 23. If the topic is about the Lord being our shepherd, then your Bible uses system A. If it is about the earth belonging to the Lord, your Bible uses system B, and therefore your Psalm about the Lord as our shephered will be found as Psalm 22.

Systems A and B are the same for Psalms 1 through 8 and for the last three Psalms, 148, 149, and 150. For all the rest of the Psalms, system B is one number lower than system B. That is because system B combines Psalm 9 and 10 from system A into one Psalm, and calls it Psalm 9.

The numbering system on this website uses system A. System A is used in Hebrew Bibles and Protestant Bibles, while system B is generally used in Roman Catholic Bibles.

Details about the prophets who wrote Bible books.

The books written by the prophets do not appear in the Bible in the same order that the prophets lived, but rather five longer longer books (called Major prophets because their books are long) appear first, followed by twelve shorter books ( the minor prophets.) The short descriptions given below are in the order that the prophets lived, from earlier to more recent.  These descriptions are adapted with permission from an undated edition of the Contemporary English Version of the American Bible Society.

Prophets in northern Kingdom

Obadiah. around 850 BC. He warned of judgment against a nearby country called Edom. They were descendants of Jacob’s twin, Esau.

Jonah. around 770 BC. Jonah tried to refuse God’s command to preach to the people of Nineveh, but when he did preach to them, they repented.

Hosea. around 760 BC. Hosea criticized the Israelites for turning to idols instead of worshipping God faithfully, but sad that God would not give up on them.

Prophets in Southern Kingdom

Joel. around 830 BC. After a locust plague in Judah, Joel urged the people to repent of their sinfulness, and promised a glorious future.

Amos. around. 750 BC. Amos warned the rich leaders of Judah to  consider the poor rather than their own selfish desires.

Micah. around 720 BC. God will judge people for their sins, but will also forgive and give a great future. God requires justice and mercy, and a humble following of God. The prophecy that the future savior would be born in Bethlehem is found in this book.

Isaiah. between 750’s and 670’s. Isaiah told king Hezekiah not to fear when the Assyrians had surrounded Jerusalem. Many prophecies that Christians have recognized as applying to Jesus, including chapter 53 which was used to refer to Christ’s death and resurrection. Prophecies of comfort at a glorious future time.  Warnings against the nations surrounding Israel.

Zephaniah. Around 640. He warned that the coming day of the Lord will bring judgment on many, but a remnant will survive to bless the world.

Nahum. Around 620. He warned that God will destroy the people of Nineveh (the capital of the Assyrian empire) because of their cruelty in war. (They were destroyed by the Babylonians in 612 BC)

Habakkuk. around 610. He wonders about suffering and injustice, and God provides answers.

Jeremiah. During the 500’s; he was present when Judah was conquered and Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians.Tells how Jeremiah was persecuted by the rulers and people who did not accept his message that they should accept being ruled by the Babylonian empire. He prophesies a “new covenant.” He writes the book called “Lamentations.”

 

Prophets in Babylon

After the southern kingdom was destroyed in 586 BC, many of the Jews were taken to live in Babylon.  The two listed here wrote books about the things they experienced while in Babylon:

Ezekiel mid-500’s Many visions; Promises that God will give a new heart and give us the Holy Spirit
Daniel mid-500’s Many visions, including one about a “Son of Man,” which is what Jesus later called himself. Two famous stories: Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and three men who were unharmed even though they were thrown into a fire because they refused to deny God.
Prophets after return from babylon

Haggai. Soon after the return, around the 520’s. He reminded the people to give God their highest priority by rebuilding the temple.

Zechariah. Soon after the return, around the 520’s. He urged the people to keep rebuilding the temple, and recorded visions of a glorious future.

Malachi. Around the 450’s, the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah, and after Esther was queen of Persia. Finished by 400 BC. He tried to stir the people out of their complacency about their religious life by preaching about the coming “day of the Lord.” These prophecies began to be fulfilled with the coming of Jesus, and others will be fulfilled at the end of the world (judgment day).

After Malachi was written, the Jews noticed that God was no longer giving them inspired writings.  The books written up to that date then were together called the “Hebrew Scriptures,” because they were written in Hebrew.

Four hundred years later, Jesus arrived, and those who believed in Jesus accepted the value and God-inspired nature of the Hebrew Scriptures, calling it the “Old Testament.”  Around AD 90 or 100, Jewish scholars made a formal list of those books that had always been regarded as their Hebrew Bible, and the Christians have accepted this list “as is.”

 

5 Details about Kings and Prophets during the Period of Two Kingdoms (about 930 BC to 586 BC), as recorded in the Old Testament books called Kings (1 & 2) and Chronicles (1 & 2). The kings are listed below, with the prophets who lived about the same time; prophets in Italics are those who wrote Old Testament books.

 

Northern Prophets Northern Kings Southern Kings Southern Prophets
AhijahElijahObadiahElisha

Jonah

Hosea

Jeroboam
Nadab
Baasha
Elah
Zimri
Tibni
Omri
Ahab
Ahaziah
JoramJehu
Jehoahaz
Jehoash
Jeroboam
Zechariah
Shallum
Menahem
Pekahiah
Pekah
HosheaThe northern kingdom was ended by Assyria
in 722 BC.  Assyria itself was ended by the
Babylonians in 612 BC.
Rehoboam
Abijah = Abijam
AsaJehoshophatJehoram
Ahaziah
Athaliah
Joash
Amaziah
Uzziah = Azariah
Jothan
Ahaz
Hezekiah
ManassehAmon
Josiah
Jehoahaz
Jehoiakim
Jehoiakin
Jehoiachin
ZedekiahThe southern kingdom was ended by Babylon in 586 BC
ShemaiahJoelAmos

Isaiah (thru Manassah)

Zephaniah,

Nahum

Habakkuk

 

Jeremiah (thru
Zedekiah)

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The meanings of the names of the Bible books.

GENESIS. From a Greek word that means “beginnings.” (Our word genetics comes from the same Greek word).

EXODUS. From two Greek words: “ex,” which means “out,” and “odos,” which means “path.” This book tells about the “path out” of Egypt, as Moses leads the people of Israel away from their period of slavery in Egypt, into the desert, on the way toward their promised land, which they will call Israel.

LEVITICUS. This book is named after the Levites (the descendants of Levi, one of Jacob’s 12 sons), because the book provides instructions for what the priests are supposed to do.

NUMBERS is an English word, given to this book because it tells how many people there were in each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

DEUTERONOMY is from two Greek words: “deutero,” which means “two,” and “nomos,” which means “law.” Forty years after Moses gave God’s law to the people of Israel, he gave it for a second time to the children of those who had heard it the first time.

The five books listed above belong together. They are called “The Five Books of Moses,” because for thousands of years it has been accepted that Moses was the author except for the last few lines which tell us about Moses; death. In Hebrew, these five books are called the “Torah,” which means “teaching.”  In Greek, these five books are called the Pentateuch: “penta” means “five,” and “teuch” means “scroll.”

PEOPLE. Many of the Bible books are named after people:
JOSHUA became the leader of the people of Israel after Moses died.
RUTH was a woman from a nearby country named Moab who married a Jewish man. King David was their great-grandchild, so Jesus also came from their family.
SAMUEL was one of the first major prophets. God led him to select the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David.
EZRA, NEHEMIAH, AND ESTHER are explained in the first chart, above.
JOB was a man who kept his faith in God despite suffering.
The books by the prophets are named after their authors.

JUDGES is the English word chosen by English translators for the temporary military leaders who led the Israelites before they had kings.

KINGS of course is about the kings.

CHRONICLES is an English word that means a “record of historical events.” These two volumes retell the entire story of the Jewish kingdoms, starting from the death of king Saul, through the destruction of the kingdoms by Assyria and then by Babylonia.

PSALMS is from a Greek word that means “to play on a harp.” The 150 poems in this book have been sung for thousands of years.

PROVERBS means wise sayings.

ECCLESIASTES is from the Greek word that means a person who speaks at an “ecclesia,” which is “a gathering of people.” Ecclesia is translated as church, so “ecclesiastes” can be translated into English as “preacher;” that’s also the meaning of the Hebrew title. The preaching in the book has to do with the lack of fulfillment in a life without God.

SONG OF SOLOMON in some Bibles is called SONG OF SONGS; both of these are based on its first verse, “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.”

THE BOOKS BY THE PROPHETS are titled by the name of the prophet, except for Lamentations, which is written by Jeremiah.

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