The Bible records much human history. It does not record everything that any single person did, but it provides us with much historical information. Yet, the Bible is more – much more, than “just a history book.” Every portion of the biblical record, including its historical sections, is somehow connected to God’s desire and plan to save men from sin through His Son Jesus (1 Timothy 2:3-6).
What about the history of the Old Testament books? It, too, is related to God’s intention to save sinners through Jesus (1 Timothy 1:15). While we no longer live under the Law of Moses, what is written in the portion of our Bible known as “the Old Testament” was written for our learning (Romans 15:4). Numerous New Testament references to events that happened during the Old Testament era serve to remind us that (1) those were true, historical events and not some type of myth, and (2) the Lord expects us to learn lessons from those events (for example, Hebrews 11 mentions many). Having a good, basic knowledge of Old Testament history can be a tremendous aid in learning the lessons that God wants us to learn.
Soon after I became a Christian, I was blessed to be introduced to a scheme which divides the history of the Old Testament into 12 periods. This is a manmade breakdown or analysis of that history, but it neither distorts nor adds anything to the biblical text. It is simply a way of identifying the activities that took place during various stages of history. We taught this approach to Old Testament history to our kids when they were young, and I have taught it in congregations with which I have worked extensively on three different continents. I now present it to you with the sincere hope that it can be helpful to you in getting a good feel for major Old Testament events and their proper chronological order.
Period 1 – “Before the Flood” – This is the period of history from the creation of the world to the universal flood. Biblical references: Genesis 1-7.
Period 2 – “After the Flood” – It covers the time from the flood to God’s call of Abraham to leave his homeland. Biblical references: Genesis 8-11.
Period 3 – “Patriarchal” – From the call of Abraham to the death of Joseph, the son of Jacob. Biblical references: Genesis 12-50. Note that these first three periods include all of the events in the Book of Genesis.
Period 4 – “Bondage in Egypt and Exodus” – From the death of Joseph to the time that the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea as they were leaving Egypt. Biblical references: Exodus 1-14.
Period 5 – “Wilderness Wanderings” – The 40 years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness, which went from their crossing of the Red Sea until they crossed the Jordan River to enter the land of promise, called “Canaan.” Biblical references: Exodus 15-40; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy; Joshua 1-3.
Period 6 – “Conquest and Possession” – It covers the time from the children of Israel entering Canaan to the death of Joshua. During this time the Israelites conquered the land of Canaan, possessed it, and divided its territory among its tribes. Biblical references: Joshua 4-24.
Period 7 – “The Judges” – This was the history from Joshua’s death to the time that Saul was anointed as Israel’s first human king. During this time, God delivered and led Israel through judges. Biblical references: Judges; Ruth; 1 Samuel 1-9.
Period 8 – “The United Kingdom” – This goes from the anointing of Saul as king to the death of Solomon. For 120 years the nation of Israel basically was united under three kings, with Saul, David, and Solomon each ruling for 40 years. Biblical references: 1 Samuel 10-31; 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1-11; 1 Chronicles 10-29; 2 Chronicles 1-9.
Period 9 – “The Divided Kingdom” – After King Solomon died, the Israelites divided into two nations. The Northern Kingdom was called “Israel,” while the Southern Kingdom was known as “Judah.” This period goes from Solomon’s death to the Northern Kingdom being destroyed by the Assyrian Empire. Biblical references: 1 Kings 12-22; 2 Kings 1-17; 2 Chronicles 10-28.
Period 10 – “Judah Alone” – From the fall of Israel to the fall of Judah at the hands of the Babylonian Empire. We call it “Judah Alone” due to the fact that during this period, among God’s people, Judah was the only remaining nation. When Judah fell, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. Biblical references: 2 Kings 18-24; 2 Chronicles 29- 36; portions of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.
Period 11 – “Babylonian Captivity/Exile” – The events from the final fall of the Southern Kingdom to the decree of King Cyrus which allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. During this time, a number of Jews were carried into exile or captivity by the Babylonians. Biblical references: 2 Kings 25:22-30; parts of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.
Period 12 – “Restoration” – King Cyrus of the Medo-Persian Empire allowed (not forced) the Jews to return to their homeland. This time span started with the king’s decree and ended with the close of the work of Nehemiah. During this time the Jews rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, restored proper worship, and rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem. Biblical references: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
A study of Old Testament history can be a great blessing. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition . . .” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
~ Roger D. Campbell ~