Insights on the Bible source written by Charles R. Swindoll Spoiler: Genesis Genesis Who wrote the book? Old Testament books seldom include a byline. So we look to outside sources to discover authorship. Jewish tradition and other biblical authors name Moses, the prophet and deliverer of Israel, as the author of the entire Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament. His education in the courts of Egypt (Acts 7:22) and his close communion with Yahweh—the Hebrew name for God—support this premise. Jesus Himself confirmed Moses’s authorship (John 5:45–47), as did the scribes and Pharisees of His time (Matthew 19:7; 22:24). From the Hebrew word toledoth, the first book of the Bible is titled “Genesis” in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures. The word means “beginning, origin,”¹ or generation and is a foundational theme that winds throughout the book. Moses wrote Genesis for the people of Israel, whom he led out of slavery in Egypt back to the land of their forefathers. Genesis provides a history of those forefathers—their origins, their journeys, and their covenants with God. Because the events contained in the rest of the Pentateuch are responses to the promises of God found in Genesis, such a history of God’s interaction with their ancestors would have provided encouragement and inspiration to the former slaves seeking freedom and prosperity in the Promised Land. Where are we? The first eleven chapters of Genesis paint the early history of the human race in broad strokes. After the great flood, the focus narrows to God’s dealings with one family living in Mesopotamia, a family headed by Abram, later called Abraham. From the Euphrates River (in modern-day Iraq) over to what is now Syria, events move south into Canaan (modern-day Israel) and Egypt. Genesis covers the most extensive period of time in all of Scripture, longer than the other books in the Bible combined! While the ancient history recounted in the first eleven chapters gives no indication of time span, Abram’s story begins around 2091 BC (Genesis 12:1), and the book ends with Joseph’s death in Egypt around 1805 BC (50:26). Why is Genesis so important? To the original readers of Genesis, the book was valued as a history of their people. It told them the story of how God created the world and dealt with all humanity until He initiated a personal relationship with their forefather Abraham. Genesis revealed to them the eternal promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—promises which extended to their descendants. It provided comfort and hope for the downtrodden Hebrews as they waited to return to their “promised land.” For later readers, Genesis offers a thorough background to the rest of the Bible. Here we learn ancient history and geography and are introduced to significant people and events found later in the Bible. God also reveals many facets of His nature through His dealings with people. We learn of the origin of sin, of its destructive effect on humanity, and of God’s plan to atone for that sin through a future Son of the people of Israel (Genesis 3:15; 22:18; 49:10). What's the big idea? The Bible is divided into two major parts, the Old and New Testaments. Testament is another word for covenant. Covenants figure prominently into the story of Genesis, for they help define God’s relationship with His people at various times. Sin broke the perfect peace between God and humanity (Genesis 3) and instead of enjoying the blessing God intended, humanity was burdened with the curse. But God established His plan for redemption and blessing through covenants, first with Abraham (Genesis 12:1–5), reaffirmed with Isaac (26:1–35), then with Jacob (28:1–22). These promises applied to the Israelites in Egypt and to later generations. Genesis sets the stage for the rest of God’s plan to redeem the world through His Son, Jesus Christ. How do I apply this? It’s easy to get lost in the genealogies and accounts in Genesis without seeing the big picture. Keep God, not just the people, in mind as you read through the book. Consider His character qualities. If you were an Israelite just released from slavery and reading this for the first time, would you marvel at God’s power over creation? Or His anger over sin?Or the way He fulfilled His promises to everyone? Awareness of each of these characteristics should evoke worship . . . and hope. Remember that the Lord is strong, faithful, and just. And His desire to bless His creation will one day be fully realized. Spoiler: Exodus Exodus Who wrote the book? As with Genesis, early Jewish traditions name Moses as the most likely and best qualified person to have authored Exodus. This theory is supported by a number of factors. Moses’s unique education in the royal courts of Egypt certainly provided him the opportunity and ability to pen these works (Acts 7:22). Internal evidence (material found within the text of Exodus itself ) adds support for Moses’s authorship. Many conversations, events, and geographical details could be known only by an eyewitness or participant. For example, the text reads: “Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said,” (Exodus 24:4 NIV). Additionally, other biblical books refer to “the law of Moses” ( Joshua 1:7; 1 Kings 2:3), indicating that Exodus, which includes rules and regulations, was written by Moses. Jesus Himself introduced a quote from Exodus 20:12 and 21:17 with the words, “For Moses said” (Mark 7:10), confirming His own understanding of the book’s author. The title “Exodus” comes from the Septuagint, which derived it from the primary event found in the book, the deliverance from slavery and “exodus” or departure of the Israelite nation out of Egypt by the hand of Yahweh, the God of their forefathers. Where are we? Exodus begins in the Egyptian region called Goshen. The people then traveled out of Egypt and, it is traditionally believed, moved toward the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula. They camped at Mount Sinai, where Moses received God’s commandments. The book covers a period of approximately eighty years, from shortly before Moses’s birth (c. 1526 BC) to the events that occurred at Mount Sinai in 1446 BC. Why is Exodus so important? In Exodus we witness God beginning to fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though the children of Israel were enslaved in a foreign land, God miraculously and dramatically delivered them to freedom. He then established Israel as a theocratic nation under His covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai. The ten plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the fearsome majesty of God’s presence at Mount Sinai, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the building of the tabernacle . . . these events from Exodus are foundational to the Jewish faith. And they provide crucial background context to help future readers of Scripture understand the entire Bible’s message of redemption. The frequency of references to Exodus by various biblical writers, and even Jesus’s own words, testify to its importance. What's the big idea? The overall theme of Exodus is redemption—how God delivered the Israelites and made them His special people. After He rescued them from slavery, God provided the Law, which gave instructions on how the people could be consecrated or made holy. He established a system of sacrifice, which guided them in appropriate worship behavior. Just as significantly, God provided detailed directions on the building of His tabernacle, or tent. He intended to live among the Israelites and manifest His shekinah glory (Exodus 40:34–35)—another proof that they were indeed His people. The Mosaic Covenant, unveiled initially through the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), provides the foundation for the beliefs and practices of Judaism, from common eating practices to complex worship regulations. Through the Law, God says that all of life relates to God. Nothing is outside His jurisdiction. How do I apply this? Like the Israelites who left Egypt, all believers in Christ are redeemed and consecrated to God. Under the Mosaic Covenant, people annually sacrificed unblemished animals according to specific regulations in order to have their sins covered, or borne, by that animal. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us, “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3–4 NIV). Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross fulfilled the Law. As the perfect Lamb of God, He took away our sin permanently when He sacrificed Himself on our behalf. “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10 NIV). Have you accepted His sacrifice on your behalf? Are you truly “redeemed”? If you’d like to learn about this, see “How to Begin a Relationship with God.” Spoiler: Leviticus Leviticus Who wrote the book? The content of Leviticus relates directly to Exodus, providing evidence that the same hand penned both books. The arguments that support Moses’s writing of Exodus also uphold Moses’s authorship of Leviticus (see the previous chapter). Additionally, we find more than fifty occasions when the text says something like, “The LORD spoke to Moses” (Leviticus 1:1; 4:1; 5:14; 6:1). The New Testament also refers to Moses as the author of passages from Leviticus (Matthew 8:4; Luke 2:22; Hebrews 8:5). The word Leviticus derives from the tribe of Levi, whose members were set aside by the Lord to be His priests and worship leaders. As a title, the word is translated from the Septuagint, meaning “ ‘pertaining to the Levites,’ and although that tribe as such is not emphasized throughout the book, the priestly subject matter renders the title appropriate.”1 Its content was originally meant to instruct the new nation of Israel in proper worship and right living, so that they might reflect the character of their divine King. Where are we? The Law found in Leviticus was spoken by God to Moses at or near Mount Sinai, where the Israelites camped for some time. Because God delivered these detailed laws after the original Ten Commandments, the most probable date for their revelation is 1446 BC. Whether every law was written down at that time is impossible to determine; it may be that they were codified progressively during the ensuing forty-year wandering. Why is Leviticus so important? “The book of Leviticus was the first book studied by a Jewish child; yet is often among the last books of the Bible to be studied by a Christian.”2 Today’s readers are often put off by the book’s lists of laws regarding diet, sacrifice, and social behavior. But within these highly detailed directives we discover the holiness—the separateness, distinction, and utter “otherness”—of God. And we learn how sin devastates humanity’s relationship with their Creator. God established the sacrificial system so that His covenant people might enjoy His fellowship through worship; it also allowed for repentance and renewal: When an Israelite worshiper laid his hand on the animal victim, he identified himself with the animal as his substitute . . . this accomplished a symbolic transfer of his sin and a legal transfer of his guilt to the animal victim. God then accepted the slaughter of the animal . . . as a ransom payment for the particular sin which occasioned it.1 Many years after Moses wrote Leviticus, Jesus came to offer Himself as the ultimate sacrifice, holy and perfect, once for all, fulfilling the Law and rendering future animal sacrifices unnecessary and void (Hebrews 10:10). What's the big idea? The overall message of Leviticus is sanctification. The book communicates that receiving God’s forgiveness and acceptance should be followed by holy living and spiritual growth. Now that Israel had been redeemed by God, they were to be purified into a people worthy of their God. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” says Leviticus 19:2. In Leviticus we learn that God loves to be approached, but we must do so on His terms. How do I apply this? This theme of holiness extends to the church. In the New Testament, 1 Peter 1:15–16 references Leviticus 19:2 when it says: “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” Those who are redeemed by the mercies of God offer different sacrifices today; they offer themselves (Romans 12:1). Like He did with the Israelites, God has redeemed and consecrated Christians. Jesus offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice on our behalf, taking the punishment that we deserved so that we might be forgiven. Those who place their trust in Jesus’s atoning act become God’s children, saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8–9). If you are His child, then He wants you to reflect His character. He is sanctifying you much like He did the nation of Israel. Does your life echo His? In what ways are you growing more like Christ? Spoiler: Numbers Numbers Who wrote the book? As it does for the rest of the Pentateuch, universal Jewish and Christian tradition attributes the authorship of the book of Numbers to Moses. Moses is the central figure within the book, and in at least two instances Numbers mentions him recording events by the Lord’s commands (Numbers 33:2; 36:13). The name “Numbers” is a translation of Arithmoi, from the Septuagint, titled thus because the book contains many statistics, population counts, tribal and priestly figures, and other numerical data. The Hebrew name comes from the first sentence of the book and means “in the desert of ”; it is perhaps an even more accurate description of the book’s content, which follows the Israelites through almost forty years of wandering in the desert.1 Where are we? The events of the book began in the second year after the Israelites departed Egypt, as they camped at Mount Sinai around 1444 BC (Numbers 1:1). The narrative ends thirty-eight years later “in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho” (36:13) in 1406 BC. Numbers records the people’s long wandering in the desert of Sinai, their time at the oasis of Kadesh-barnea, and their eventual arrival at the banks of the Jordan River across from the Promised Land. The Lord directed the message of Numbers toward the younger generation, children of the former slaves who escaped through the Red Sea. Except for Joshua, Caleb, and Moses, the older generation—everyone twenty years old or older at the time of the first census—died before the completion of Numbers, due to their disobedience and disbelief (Numbers 14:22–30). Moses completed the book before his death (Deuteronomy 31:24). Why is Numbers so important? Numbers takes the reader on a long and winding path through a desert of excruciating detail. The book records census results for all twelve tribes not once, but twice; it documents priestly instructions for handling the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle; and it even spells out the placement of the tribes when they camped. But through it all, we cannot doubt God’s unfailing direction over the nation. As a history of the nation not yet established in the land promised them long ago, this book unveils significant events sometimes referenced later in Scripture. Joshua and Caleb alone among the twelve spies encouraged Israel to take possession of the land (Numbers 13–14; Joshua 14:7); Moses struck a rock and water spouted forth (Numbers 20:11; Psalm 106:32); Moses lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole so that believing Israelites might be healed of their snake bites (Numbers 21:6–9; John 3:14); and Balaam was rebuked by his donkey (Numbers 22:21–34; Revelation 2:14). What's the big idea? In this book, the people of Israel tested God’s patience, and He in turn tested their endurance and faithfulness. Though the people failed many times, God showed His own faithfulness by His constant presence leading the way: through a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. More than just a history lesson, the book of Numbers reveals how God reminded Israel that He does not tolerate rebellion, complaining, and disbelief without invoking consequences. He taught His people how to walk with Him—not just with their feet through the wilderness but with their mouths in worship, hands in service, and lives as witnesses to the surrounding nations. He was their God, they were His people, and He expected them to act like it. How do I apply this? Modern readers can take away from Numbers not only a thorough history of Israel’s early days but also a renewed sense of God’s delight in obedience. He is our God, too, and He wants us to live righteously, worshipping Him through our words and works. The journey of the Israelites through the wilderness earned the apostle Paul’s notice when he penned his first letter to the Corinthian church. “These things happened,” he wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:6, “as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.” Do you see any resemblance between the grumbling, rebellious Israelites and yourself? How can you avoid following their example? With humility and sincerity, pray for a soft heart, open to God’s guiding hand. Spoiler: Deuteronomy Deuteronomy Who wrote the book? Deuteronomy means “second law,” a term mistakenly derived from the Hebrew word mishneh in Deuteronomy 17:18. In that context, Moses simply commands the king to make a “copy of the law.”1 But Deuteronomy does something more than give a simple copy of the Law. The book offers a restatement of the Law for a new generation, rather than a mere copy of what had gone before. Deuteronomy records this “second law”—namely Moses’s series of sermons in which he restated God’s commands originally given to the Israelites some forty years earlier in Exodus and Leviticus. “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel,” says Deuteronomy 1:1. Mosaic authorship of this book finds the usual support from Jewish tradition (with the entire Pentateuch) but also from within the biblical text. Several times, Deuteronomy asserts Moses as author (1:1; 4:44; 29:1). Speaking to Joshua, Moses’s successor, the Lord referred to this “book of the law” as that which Moses commanded (Joshua 1:8). And when future Old Testament and New Testament writers quoted from Deuteronomy, they often referred to it as originating with Moses (1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; Ezra 3:2; Nehemiah 1:7; Malachi 4:4; Matthew 19:7; Luke 20:28). Some obvious editorial changes were made to the text sometime after Moses recorded the bulk of it. For instance, he could not have written the final chapter, which dealt with his death. However, these and other small changes do not affect the generally accepted authorship of Moses. Where are we? Deuteronomy was written around 1406 BC, at the end of the forty years of wandering endured by the nation of Israel. At the time, the people were camped on the east side of the Jordan River, on the plains of Moab, across from the city of Jericho (Deuteronomy 1:1; 29:1). They were on the verge of entering the land that had been promised centuries earlier to their forefathers (Genesis 12:1, 6–9). The children who had left Egypt were now adults, ready to conquer and settle the Promised Land. Before that could happen, the Lord reiterated through Moses His covenant with them. Why is Deuteronomy so important? Moses addressed his words to “all Israel” at least twelve times. This phrase emphasized the nation’s unity, initiated by their covenant with God at Mount Sinai and forged in the wilderness. In the midst of widespread polytheism, Israel was distinctive in that they worshiped one God, Yahweh. Their God was totally unique; there was none other like Him among all the “gods” of the nations surrounding them. Deuteronomy 6:4 codifies this belief in the Shema, the basic confession of faith in Judaism even today. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD [Yahweh] is our God, the LORD [Yahweh] is one!” Deuteronomy also restates the Ten Commandments and many other laws given in Exodus and Leviticus. The book delivered to Israel God’s instructions on how to live a blessed life in the Promised Land. Chapters 27 and 28 specify the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience. What's the big idea? Unlike the unconditional covenant God made with Abraham, the covenant between Yahweh and Israel was bilateral—a two-way street. God would keep His promise to bless the nation if the people remained faithful. The adult Israelites were too young to have participated in the first covenant ceremony at Mount Sinai. Therefore, Moses reviewed the Law at the doorstep to the Promised Land, urging this new generation to re-covenant with Yahweh, to recommit themselves to His ways. How do I apply this? In Moses’s conclusion, he entreated the people, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days.” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20) “This” in verse 20 refers to loving the Lord your God, obeying, and holding fast to Him. That is life! Our relationship with God is to be marked by faithfulness, loyalty, love, and devotion. Think of an ideal marriage—that’s the picture of how God wants us to cling to Him (Ephesians 5:28–32). How closely do you cling to God? Pray and recommit your heart to that all-important relationship with Him. The Historical Books (Part 1 of 2) Spoiler: Joshua Joshua Who wrote the book? The book’s primary figure gives it its title. Joshua means “Yahweh saves,”1 an appropriate name for the man who led Israel, under God’s command, to victorious conquest of the Promised Land. Scholars believe that Joshua himself or a scribe under his direction penned most of the book. Early chapters include firsthand experiences (the NIV uses the pronouns “we” and “us” in Joshua 5:1, 6, for example) and military details worthy of being known and recorded by a general. Joshua 24:26 refers to Joshua writing a portion of the book himself. After Joshua’s death, the high priests Eleazar or Phinehas may have supplemented some material in this book that alludes to events after the conquest (15:13–19; 19:47; 24:29–33).2 Where are we? The events of the book of Joshua span about twenty-five years, starting soon after the death of Moses (Joshua 1:1) around 1406 BC, before the conquest commenced. The conquest of Canaan took about seven years, and Joshua’s final address and subsequent death came almost twenty years later. The book begins with the nation of Israel poised at the banks of the Jordan River, across from Jericho. It records the details of numerous military campaigns that defeated the inhabitants of the land. The book ends with Joshua’s regathering of the nation for his final exhortation. This history was written to the victorious Israelites who had settled the land. Though they were newly established as conquerors, Joshua reminded them that the conquest was incomplete: “very much of the land remains to be possessed” (13:1). Why is Joshua so important? The book of Joshua records the culmination of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land. Here we see God fulfill His promise to give the land of Canaan to Jacob’s descendants. Joshua portrays the Lord as their general, the One who would lead His people in victorious battle if they would trust and obey. Joshua recounted a story of contradictions. On the one hand, God gave the land that He had promised to the nation. On the other hand, the people failed to possess the land completely, allowing some inhabitants to remain. God fulfilled His side of the bargain, but the Israelites did not finish the job. The Canaanite peoples became a damaging influence on Israel as years went by. In this book we find accounts of faithfulness: Rahab the harlot (Joshua 2:1–21), the battle of Jericho (6:1–27), and Caleb the warrior (14:6–14). We also witness disobedience and its consequences: Achan’s sin (7:1) and the resulting loss at Ai (7:5), failure of some tribes to annihilate the enemy as God commanded, and even Joshua making a treaty with the Gibeonites without first seeking the Lord (9:1–27). What's the big idea? The book of Joshua was written to the descendants of those who conquered the land, as a historical account of how they had come to settle there. It celebrates God as general, defender, and king. It shows the geographical boundaries given to each tribe of Israel. Even more significantly, the book of Joshua serves as the connecting narrative between the days of Moses and the days of the judges, during which the book was first circulated. That which Moses began and endured in the wilderness, Joshua was able to claim victoriously in the land. God’s promises through the ages were being fulfilled before the people’s eyes. “Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). How do I apply this? The last few verses of Joshua narrate three burials: Joshua (Joshua 24:29–30), the bones of Joseph (24:32), and Eleazar the high priest (24:33). Strange as it may seem, these burials proclaim God’s character. All three men were associated with Israel’s days in captivity (Joseph long ago when Jacob’s family first settled in Egypt, and Joshua and Eleazar as young men on the long journey through the wilderness). And now all three lay at rest in the land of promise, witnesses to God’s faithfulness. God is the ultimate promise-keeper. As faithful and present as He was with Israel, so He is with us. “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (1:9). Spoiler: Judges Judges Who wrote the book? The text of Judges gives no indication as to who wrote the book, but Jewish tradition names the prophet Samuel as the author. The namesake of 1 and 2 Samuel, Samuel was the last of the judges, one of the special leaders whom God raised up during this time period to rescue His people. The judges did not oversee merely legal matters, as in our sense of the role; their tasks often included military and administrative authority as well. Why Samuel? The author of Judges certainly lived in the early days of the monarchy. The recurring statement, “in those days there was no king in Israel” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25), points out a contrast between the events happening in the book and the time of its writing. Clues within Judges suggest it was written before David established his throne in Jerusalem (1004 BC), yet after Saul was anointed king (1051 BC) (compare Judges 1:21 with 2 Samuel 5:6–7 and Judges 1:29 with 1 Kings 9:16). Also, Samuel was known to write on occasion (1 Samuel 10:25). Where are we? We think about the judges as both a period of time and a book of the Bible. The period of the judges began after the death of Joshua in the early fourteenth century BC (Joshua 24:29) and continued until Saul was crowned king of Israel by the prophet Samuel in 1051 BC (1 Samuel 10:24). The book of Judges acts as the sequel to the book of Joshua, linked by comparable accounts of Joshua’s death (Joshua 24:29–31; Judges 2:6–9). Events within the book of Judges span the geographical breadth of the nation, happening in a variety of cities, towns, and battlefields. Scholars believe some of the judges ruled simultaneously in separate geographical regions. Attempts to calculate the exact amount of time covered in Judges are inconclusive, but generally, the book begins soon after the death of Joshua and ends in the years just before the entrance of Samuel onto the scene, a period of about three hundred years. The contents of Judges were likely not written chronologically. The final few chapters (Judges 17–21) give an overview of the moral climate during those days and, rather than occurring after the period of the judges listed earlier in the book, they probably happened in and around the times of various judges mentioned in earlier chapters. Why is Judges so important? The time of the judges brought about great apostasy in Israel. The nation underwent political and religious turmoil as the people tried to possess those parts of the land that had not yet been fully conquered. The tribes fought among themselves, as well, nearly wiping out the tribes of Manasseh (Judges 12) and Benjamin (20–21). The pattern of behavior in the book of Judges is clear: the people rebelled through idolatry and disbelief, God brought judgment through foreign oppression, God raised up a deliverer—or judge, and the people repented and turned back to God. When the people fell back into sin, the cycle started over again. Ironically, in this book we meet many heroes of faith: Othniel, Gideon, Samson, Shamgar, Deborah, Jephthah, Ehud . . . flawed individuals who answered God’s call to deliver the Israelites in sometimes dramatic form. The book includes many of the most graphic, violent, and disturbing scenes in all Scripture—some in the name of righteousness, others in the name of evil. What's the big idea? The primary message of Judges is that God will not allow sin to go unpunished. As Exodus established, Israel was God’s people—He was their King. They had forsaken the covenant established at Mount Sinai. In Judges, He disciplined them for following other gods, disobeying His sacrificial laws, engaging in blatant immorality, and descending into anarchy at times. Yet because they were His people, He listened to their cries for mercy and raised up leaders to deliver them. Unfortunately, even these godly individuals did not wield sufficient influence to change the nation’s direction. The people’s inability to resist sinful Canaanite influences eventually revealed their desire for a centralized monarchy, led by a righteous king whom God would choose as His intermediary. How do I apply this? Memory is a gift. Remembering the past teaches us countless lessons about how to live today. The Israelites forgot. They did not remember the miraculous events that brought them to their land or the covenant that united them to their God. But God did not forget His covenant—and because of His great love for His people, He disciplined His sinful children so that they might return to Him. Have you forgotten the great works God has done in your life? Perhaps your difficult circumstances are overpowering your faith. Do you feel as if He is disciplining you right now? Know that He disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:5–11). Return to Him. Remember, trust, and obey. He is waiting with open arms. Spoiler: Ruth Ruth Who wrote the book? According to the Talmud (Jewish tradition), the prophet Samuel wrote the book of Ruth. The text itself says nothing of the author, but whoever wrote it was a skilled storyteller. It has been called the most beautiful short story ever written. The final words of the book link Ruth with her great-grandson, David (Ruth 4:17–22), so we know it was written after his anointing. The genealogy at the end of the book shows David’s lineage through the days of the judges, acting as a support for his rightful kingship. Solomon is not mentioned, leading some to believe the book was written before David ascended the throne. Where are we? The events of Ruth occurred sometime between 1160 BC and 1100 BC, during the latter period of the judges (Ruth 1:1). These were dark days, full of suffering brought about by the Israelites’ apostasy and immorality. Part of the judgments God brought upon His sinful people included famine and war. The book of Ruth opens with a report of famine, which drove Naomi’s family out of Bethlehem into neighboring Moab. Naomi eventually returned with Ruth because she heard “that the LORD had visited His people in giving them food” (1:6). Readers can identify this interlude as part of the cyclical pattern of sin, suffering, supplication, and salvation found in Judges. But this story stands as a ray of light, showing the power of the love between God and His faithful people. The author gave the reader a snapshot perspective—one family, in a small town, at the threshing floor—as opposed to the broader narratives found in Judges. Why is Ruth so important? The book was written from Naomi’s point of view. Every event related back to her: her husband’s and sons’ deaths, her daughters-in-law, her return to Bethlehem, her God, her relative, Boaz, her land to sell, and her progeny. Almost without peer in Scripture, this story views “God through the eyes of a woman.”1 Naomi has been compared to a female Job. She lost everything: home, husband, and sons—and even more than Job did—her livelihood. She joined the ranks of Israel’s lowest members: the poor and the widowed. She cried out in her grief and neglected to see the gift that God placed in her path—Ruth. Ruth herself embodied loyal love. Her moving vow of loyalty (Ruth 1:16–17), though obviously not marital in nature, is often included in modern wedding ceremonies to communicate the depths of devotion to which the new couples aspire. The book reveals the extent of God’s grace—He accepted Ruth into His chosen people and honored her with a role in continuing the family line into which His appointed king, David, and later His Son, Jesus, would be born (Matthew 1:1, 5). What's the big idea? Obedience in everyday life pleases God. When we reflect His character through our interactions with others, we bring glory to Him. Ruth’s sacrifice and hard work to provide for Naomi reflected God’s love. Boaz’s loyalty to his kinsman, Naomi’s husband, reflected God’s faithfulness. Naomi’s plan for Ruth’s future reflected selfless love. The book of Ruth showed the Israelites the blessings that obedience could bring. It showed them the loving, faithful nature of their God. This book demonstrates that God responds to His people’s cry. He practices what He preaches, so to speak. Watching Him provide for Naomi and Ruth, two widows with little prospects for a future, we learn that He cares for the outcasts of society just as He asks us to do (Jeremiah 22:16; James 1:27). How do I apply this? The book of Ruth came along at a time of irresponsible living in Israel’s history and appropriately called the people back to a greater responsibility and faithfulness before God—even in difficult times. This call applies just as clearly to us today. We belong to a loving, faithful, and powerful God who has never failed to care and provide for His children. Like Ruth and Boaz, we are called to respond to that divine grace in faithful obedience, in spite of the godless culture in which we live. Are you willing? Spoiler: First Samuel First Samuel Who wrote the book? Together, 1 and 2 Samuel form one book in the Hebrew Bible. The Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint, was the first version to divide the material into two parts. Though named after its main character, the prophet Samuel, the book does not claim an author. However, Samuel may have written, and he certainly supplied, the information for 1 Samuel 1:1–24:22, which is a biography of his life and career up to his death. First Chronicles 29:29 notes that Samuel, along with Nathan and Gad, recorded the “acts of King David.” Evidence in the writing suggests that the books of 1 and 2 Samuel were compiled by someone from the prophetic school who used documents from Samuel, Nathan, and Gad.1 Where are we? First Samuel 27:6 refers to the divided monarchy, when the ten tribes of Israel rebelled against the two tribes of Judah, which occurred after Solomon’s reign. From this we can conclude that the book came together sometime after the death of David (971 BC) and perhaps even after the death of Solomon (931 BC). Because the book contains no reference to the Assyrian invasion in 722 BC, it likely originated before the period of the exile. The events that happen in 1 Samuel took place over a period of about 110 years, stretching from the closing days of the judges, when Samuel was born (ca. 1120 BC) through the death of Saul (1011 BC). We see the birth of Samuel, his call from God and subsequent prophetic ministry, the rise and fall of King Saul, and the anointing and maturity of young David. First Samuel is set in the land of Israel, where the Hebrews invaded and settled (see Joshua). Numerous other peoples continued to dwell alongside Israel, often disrupting the peace and encouraging the Israelites to stray from their faith. Why is First Samuel so important? In this critical period of Israel’s history, the people of God transformed from a loosely affiliated group of tribes into a unified nation under a form of government headed by a king. They traded the turmoil of life under the judges for the stability of a strong central monarchy. First Samuel focuses on the establishment of that monarchy. The people demanded a king, similar to the kings of the surrounding nations (1 Samuel 8:5). Saul, the first king, though “head and shoulders above the rest” did not have a righteous heart, and his line was destined never to inherit the crown (9:1–15:35). God instructed Samuel to anoint David, the youngest son of Jesse of Bethlehem, as the next king (16:1–13). Much of 1 Samuel follows David’s exploits as a young musician, shepherd, and warrior. We witness his underdog victory over Goliath (17:1–58), his deep friendship with Jonathan (18:1–4), and his growing military prowess (18:5–30). He waited patiently for the throne, often pursued and driven into hiding by Saul. The book concludes with Saul’s death (31:1–13), which serves as a natural dividing marker between 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. What's the big idea? First Samuel chronicles the beginning of Israel’s monarchy, following the lives of the prophet Samuel, the ill-fated King Saul, and God’s ultimate choice of David as king. Several themes feature prominently. Providence: God repeatedly made everyday events work for His purposes. He used Hannah’s contentious relationship with Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:1–28), led Saul to Samuel during Saul’s search for lost donkeys (9:1–27), and caused David to learn of Goliath while taking food to his brothers (17:1–58). These are but a few examples. Kingship: As the divine King, God designated a human vice-regent, David, to rule over His people. This history validates David’s house as the legitimate rulers of Israel. It also fulfills Jacob’s promise that the scepter will never depart from Judah, David’s tribe (Genesis 49:10). Reversal of human fortune: Hannah’s barrenness gave way to children (1 Samuel 1:1–28; 2:21); Samuel became prophet instead of Eli’s sons (2:12; 3:13); Saul rose to prominence though he was from a lowly tribe; and David was anointed king though he was the youngest son (16:1–13). Normal human patterns were reversed by God so that His plan could be furthered, showing His sovereignty over all. How do I apply this? God is still sovereign in the twenty-first century. He will accomplish His purposes with or without our cooperation. But as was true in the lives of Samuel, Saul, and David, our response to God’s call affects our outcome. Will we obey Him as Samuel and David did and live lives marked by blessing? Or will we, like Saul, try to live on our own terms? “To obey is better than sacrifice,” Samuel told Saul (1 Samuel 15:22). That truth still speaks to us today. Spoiler: Second Samuel Second Samuel Who wrote the book? As we noted in the previous chapter, 1 and 2 Samuel form one book in the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Bible, first divided these books into two parts. Although the book does not name a specific author, the material was compiled from documents written and collected by the prophets Nathan, Gad, and Samuel—the prophet for whom the book is named (1 Chronicles 29:29). Where are we? Second Samuel is set in the land of Israel during the reign of David and follows the course of his forty years as king of Israel (1011–971 BC). Why is Second Samuel so important? First Samuel introduces the monarchy of Israel, and 2 Samuel chronicles the establishment of the Davidic dynasty and the expansion of Israel under God’s chosen leader. The book opens as David learned of Saul’s death. His lament over the deaths of Saul and of Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19–27), David’s unlikely best friend, demonstrated David’s personal grief over their demise. The Lord soon set David over the tribe of Judah (2:4) and then over all Israel as His anointed king (5:3), uniting all twelve tribes into a tight-knit nation. The first ten chapters show David as victorious in battle, praised by the people, compassionate to the sick and poor, and righteous in God’s sight. We see David dance before the Lord in the streets of Jerusalem as his men brought the ark of the covenant back home (6:12–16). We also meet Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan to whom David extended grace, “for the sake of [his] father Jonathan” (9:7). Yet biblical writers did not overlook their heroes’ flaws. In the chapters that follow, we note that David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1–27) was followed by a series of tragedies: their child’s death (12:18), David’s daughter Tamar’s rape by his son Amnon (13:1–39), Amnon’s murder (13:28–30), David’s own political overthrow by his son Absalom (15:1–37), and Absalom’s subsequent death (18:1–33). Despite the turmoil in his later years, David enjoyed the Lord’s forgiveness and favor. His genuine sorrow and regret over his sins revealed his repentant heart, with which the Lord was pleased. What's the big idea? Key to the book and to the entire biblical record is 2 Samuel 7:16, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” This divine promise marked the beginning of an additional covenant, called the Davidic covenant, in which God promised an eternal throne to the house of David. “Because of David’s faith, God did not treat [David’s] descendants as He had treated Saul’s. Sin would be punished, but David’s line would never be completely cut off.”1 David celebrated God’s faithfulness in Psalm 89, penning these words inspired by God: “My covenant I will not violate, Nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. His descendants shall endure forever And his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon, And the witness in the sky is faithful.” (Psalm 89:34–37) God’s unconditional promise to David would be fulfilled ultimately in David’s descendant Jesus Christ. The covenant also included a continuing promise that the people of Israel would have a land of their own forever. How do I apply this? David is known as a “man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) because, though he sinned greatly and made mistakes, he acknowledged those failures and repented before God. Repent means to turn away from sin and turn toward righteousness. Our Father knows we are not perfect. So His Son, Jesus Christ, paid the price for our sins so that we can become righteous in God’s sight through faith. And although our salvation is secure, our daily sins can hinder our relationship with God. When we confess our sins, turning to the Lord in humility, He will forgive us and restore our relationship with Him. The apostle James has written what might be an appropriate epitaph for David. It can be yours, too: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:10). Spoiler: First Kings First Kings Who wrote the book? Like the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings originally were one book. In the Hebrew Bible the book of Kings continued the narrative started in Samuel. The Septuagint separated them into two parts. We derive our English title “Kings” from Jerome’s Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible. No one knows the author of 1 and 2 Kings, though some commentators have suggested Ezra, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah as possible authors. Because the entire work encompasses a time period of more than four hundred years, several source materials were used to compile the records. Certain clues such as literary styles, themes woven throughout the book, and the nature of material used point to a single compiler or author rather than multiple compilers or authors. This person assembled the manuscript while God’s people were in exile at Babylon (see 2 Kings). But he didn’t complete the work until the Babylonians released King Jehoiachin after thirty-seven years in prison (560 BC), most likely completing it within another twenty years.1 Where are we? First Kings opens describing the final days of King David (around 971 BC) and the conspiracies surrounding his succession. When David died (1 Kings 2:10), Solomon ascended the throne and established himself as a strong and wise leader. In the early years of Solomon’s reign, Israel experienced its “glory days.” Its influence, economy, and military power enjoyed little opposition; its neighbors posed no strong military threat. Shortly after Solomon’s death in 931 BC (1 Kings 11:43), the kingdom was divided into northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) entities. First Kings follows the history of this divided kingdom through the year 853 BC. Why is First Kings so important? Those kings who reigned under God’s authority—who remained faithful to the Law—experienced God’s blessings. But those kings who deviated from the Law experienced curses. First Kings reveals Solomon’s relationship with Yahweh, emphasizing Solomon’s divinely given wisdom and wealth. Solomon’s reputation reached far beyond Israel’s borders to modern-day Yemen, the queen of Sheba’s likely home (1 Kings 10:1–13). Solomon’s numerous marriages and extensive harem are the stuff of legends, but they led to his wandering faith in later years. Solomon did, however, build the temple, God’s permanent dwelling place among His people. First Kings also introduces the prophet Elijah, who pronounced God’s judgment on the evil northern king Ahab. In addition to performing other miracles, Elijah won a dramatic confrontation with false prophets on Mount Carmel (18:1–46). What's the big idea? First Kings was written “to record history but, more important, to teach the lessons of history.”2 As with other historical books in the Old Testament, the history recorded here was meant to preserve not just important events but spiritual truths learned through those events. In the books of 1 and 2 Kings, each king is evaluated by “his reaction toward his covenantal responsibility to the Law of the LORD. That was the acid test of whether he ‘did evil’ or ‘that which was right in the eyes of the LORD.’”3 Readers will notice scathing rebukes of some kings—reports not typically recorded by purely historical writers. In addition to the kings, the prophets figure heavily in this book. They are God’s spokesmen, proclaiming His word to mostly hard-hearted rulers. It is through the prophets’ eyes—always connecting the nation’s fortune with its kings’ faithfulness (or lack thereof)—that we learn the history of Israel and Judah. How do I apply this? Solomon was known as the wisest man of his day. He was arguably the wealthiest man of his time. He enjoyed God’s favor in many ways, yet his legacy is tarnished by the faithlessness he displayed in his later years. In direct contradiction to God’s command for a king not to “multiply wives” (Deuteronomy 17:17), Solomon married many foreign women. First Kings laments, “When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods” (11:4). Solomon began to rely on his fortune, his military might, and his political alliances instead of the God who gave all of those blessings to him. He focused on the gifts, forgetting the Giver. How often do you do the same? Are there any direct commands from God you are ignoring? Today, take time to recall the blessings in your life, and then thank the Lord for them. Rely on Him, not your possessions or position, as your source of strength and significance. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:7 NIV) Spoiler: Second Kings Second Kings Who wrote the book? As we noted in the previous chapter, 1 and 2 Kings originally comprised one book of history. The author is neither indicated in the text nor known by scholars. He was most likely a prophet, because many of the historical events were recorded in light of Israel’s and Judah’s faithfulness—or unfaithfulness—to their covenant with God. Ezra, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah have all been named as possible authors. Where are we? Second Kings continues the history of the divided kingdom, picking up the story around 853 BC. In 722 BC, the powerful nation of Assyria invaded the northern kingdom, scattering and taking captive the people of Israel. Only Judah remained intact. But then Assyria suffered a stunning fall to the Babylonians, who took the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in 612 BC. By 605 BC Babylon dominated Judah, had taken some captives away, and in 586 BC Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and took additional prisoners into captivity. Many people who were considered valuable to the invaders, such as the prophet Daniel and members of the royal family, were taken to Babylon early on. By the end of Kings, the people of God no longer inhabited their Promised Land. Many areas of the country had been rendered virtually uninhabitable due to the razing, burning, and other destructive tactics of the Babylonian army, while the people had been enslaved, scattered, and decimated by their enemies. The book ends with an epilogue of sorts, giving a peek into the good fortune of Jehoiachin—Judah’s last true ruler before a series of puppet kings were installed by Babylon. If Jeremiah did write much of Kings, he could not have written this section, set in Babylon, for he had been taken away to Egypt years earlier. Why is Second Kings so important? Second Kings features many unique events and people. Two people were raised from the dead (2 Kings 4:32–37; 13:20–21). The prophet Elijah left this earth without dying (2:1–18); Enoch was the only other man in the Bible to do so (Genesis 5:21–24). The waters of the Jordan River rolled back twice (2 Kings 2:8, 14). These and other miraculous events testify to God’s continuing work among His people. The time period covered by this book saw the emergence of the first writing prophets in Israel. Amos and Hosea went to the people of Israel, while Isaiah, Joel, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah prophesied in Judah, both groups calling the people to repentance and warning them of God’s coming judgments. The author devoted extensive space to Elisha’s ministry after Elijah was taken to heaven, giving special attention to the numerous miracles Elisha performed. None of the kings of Israel are described as having done right in God’s eyes; each led the people deeper into idolatry. Several of Judah’s kings were righteous, notably Joash, Uzziah, Hezekiah, and Josiah. Hezekiah held off the Assyrians by trusting in the Lord for deliverance. Josiah later instituted an even greater spiritual reformation. Neither effort, however, was enough to stem God’s eventual judgment on the nation in fulfillment of the curses of the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 28). What's the big idea? World affairs played a heavy role in Israel’s and Judah’s destinies. Yet, the author of 2 Kings directly connected the Israelites’ apostasy—led by their wicked kings—to their national destruction, pointing it out as God’s judgment on His wayward children. Despite repeated warnings from God’s prophets to turn from their ways and return to God, the people continued to live in sin. To their regret, they did not believe that God would allow their nation to be ruined by foreign invaders. Yet God did not forget His promise to David, either. God saved a remnant from among the people and kept the royal line intact so that one day His people could return to their land to await the promised Redeemer. How do I apply this? Second Kings teaches an important life lesson: actions have consequences. “Repent! Sin will incur judgment,” God warned in effect through the prophets. Israel and Judah learned the hard way that God means what He says. How will we learn? Consider your heart. Is it hard, resistant to God’s call? Or can you acknowledge your sin and turn back to Him? The Historical Books (Part 2 of 2) Spoiler: First Chronicles First Chronicles Who wrote the book? “The chronicler,” as scholars have long referred to the author of this book, is anonymous. Jewish tradition speculates that Ezra could have written 1 and 2 Chronicles, which—like Samuel and Kings—originally formed one work. But nothing within the text provides a definitive clue as to the compiler of the material. Several indications throughout the book reveal the author’s reliance on a variety of source materials—“annals,” “books,” and “records”—which are cited as dependable historical documentation. “Whoever the author was, he was a meticulous historian who carefully utilized official and unofficial documents.”1 Where are we? The time frame covered in 1 Chronicles mirrors parts of 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. The chronicler focused on David’s reign in 1 Chronicles, including and omitting different events recorded in the other biblical histories, so that his document recorded those events significant to his purpose. For instance, 1 Chronicles does not include David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), which was a well-known fact even before the chronicler began his work, and so it did not bear repeating. Chronicles was most likely written during the time of Ezra or Nehemiah, while the Jews were dispersed throughout Persia, some having returned to Israel. Archaeological evidence supports this premise. “Fragments of an actual manuscript of Chronicles found at Qumran makes a date in the Persian period (538–333 BC) almost certain.”2 Why is First Chronicles so important? Readers will note the extensive space devoted to genealogies. Why are these family lists so common in Chronicles? Scholars say that genealogies serve many purposes, among them To demonstrate the legitimacy of a person or family’s claim to a particular role or rank . . . to preserve the purity of the chosen people and /or its priesthood . . . to affirm the continuity of the people of God despite expulsion from the Promised Land.3 In addition to family history, 1 Chronicles lists priests, Levites, armies, temple officials, and other leaders of various ministries. In Chronicles, the history of Israel is told through a priestly perspective. The chronicler devoted significant attention to proper worship of Yahweh and adherence to the regulations of His Law. The author included David’s decisions on the proper manner in which to undertake moving the ark of the covenant (1 Chronicles 13, 15–16) and detailed descriptions of its return to Jerusalem. The chronicler even highlighted one of David’s psalms (16:8–36). We read the story of how David purchased the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, which he then designated as the future site of the temple (21:15–30). Though David desired to build the temple, God revealed to him that David’s son Solomon would have that honor (17:1–14). What's the big idea? Why do we need the books of 1–2 Chronicles when we already have the history of 2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings? Just as the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each offer a different perspective on the life of Jesus, so the books of Chronicles present Israel’s history with a purpose different than the other historical books. The books of 2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings reveal the monarchies of Israel and Judah—in particular the sins of the nations that resulted in the exile. But the books of Chronicles, written after the time of the exile, focus on those elements of history that God wanted the returning Jews to meditate upon: obedience that results in God’s blessing, the priority of the temple and priesthood, and the unconditional promises to the house of David. David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:10–19 summarizes the themes the chronicler wished to communicate: glory to God, gratitude for gifting David’s family with leadership of the nation, and the desire that David’s descendants continue to devote themselves to God. Remaining faithful to God would reap blessing. When the book was written, David’s descendants no longer ruled as monarchs over Israel. But the chronicler desired the people to remember the royal Davidic lineage, for God had promised a future ruler would rise from that line. After the seventy-year exile in Babylon, Jewish political and social power resided more with the religious rather than political rulers. Telling Israel’s history through a priestly and kingly lens was intended to prepare the people for a future Messiah. How do I apply this? Read David’s magnificent prayer in 1 Chronicles 29. Consider your own spiritual heritage. Would you like to model such godly strength and character as his to your own children? What steps do you need to take in order to echo truthfully David’s attitude in verse 11, “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours” (NIV)? Knowing that He tests the heart and is pleased with integrity (1 Chronicles 29:17), ask the Spirit to fill you daily and guide your steps that future generations might be blessed. Spoiler: Second Chronicles Second Chronicles Who wrote the book? A post-exilic (after the exile) Jewish scholar compiled material from many historical resources to chronicle the history of his people. This person is not named and remains unknown, though Ezra has been cited as a possible candidate. Whoever “the chronicler” was, he utilized official and unofficial documents to write this historical account. As noted earlier, 2 Chronicles originally was joined with 1 Chronicles as one book, separated into two books since about 200 BC when the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, was translated. Where are we? Second Chronicles covers the time from Solomon’s ascension to the throne (971 BC) until the southern kingdom of Judah was finally carried into exile in Babylon in 586 BC. The focus of the book is on Judah. The author was more concerned with telling the story of David’s descendants, who reigned over Judah, than with the history of the northern kingdom of Israel. The centrality of Jerusalem, where the temple was located, falls in line with the book’s overarching focus on the priesthood as well. Again, 2 Chronicles was probably written in the fifth century BC, “following the return of a small group of Jews to Judah following the fall of the Babylonian Empire. Intent on rebuilding the temple and resettling the Holy Land, the little community soon found itself in a struggle simply to survive.”1 The Jews eventually rebuilt the temple but languished for years in their fight to reclaim the land. Against this backdrop, the chronicler portrayed Jewish history, focusing on the blessings God bestowed when leaders were faithful to His Law. Why is Second Chronicles so important? The book opens with Solomon establishing his throne over a unified nation, solidifying his authority and squashing early rebellions (1 Kings 2). He then built the magnificent temple of God, using the plans God gave to his father, David. Six of the nine chapters devoted to King Solomon focus on the temple construction, a task reserved for him since before his birth (2 Chronicles 2–7). When the kingdom split under the rule of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, the Levites from all over Israel sided with Rehoboam and flocked to Jerusalem to continue their priestly duties (10:1–19). But a cycle of righteousness and corruption characterized the throne. Some kings were completely evil, disregarding God’s Law and leading the people into sinful behaviors. A few kings, such as Solomon, started off as righteous but fell away. Others strayed but repented, such as Manassah (33:1–25). A few kings, such as Hezekiah and Josiah, were honored with the epitaph “he did right in the sight of the LORD” (29:2; 34:2). Throughout 2 Chronicles, faithfulness was rewarded; betrayal was judged. A history lover will enjoy the numerous mentions of secular historical figures during this time period. From Tilgath-pilneser of Assyria, to Sennacherib of Assyria, to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, non-Jewish foreign leaders played prominent roles in the political fortunes of Judah. What's the big idea? The post-exilic Jews needed a reminder of who their God was and how He worked. History provided the best lesson for them. “The author uses the history of Judah to demonstrate that God blesses His people when they remain faithful and joyfully worship the Lord.”2 One writer stated that: History itself is a call to worship and an invitation to hope. If the struggling community of Jews in Judah will put God first as did godly generations of the past, and show their commitment by a similar zeal for worship, the Lord will surely show His faithfulness to them. The line of David will yet again take Zion’s throne and the kingdom of God be established over all the earth.3 How do I apply this? As it did for the Israelites, history can jog our memories. Can you remember times when God blessed you? Such memories are blessings in themselves, as well as encouragements to press on in holiness, with hope and confidence. If you are hard-pressed to recall specific times when God worked in your life, consider your devotional habits. A prayer journal that recalls prayers asked and those answered can act as your own “history” manual. God wants us to remember His works, so we, too, can praise Him for His goodness and have hope for our future! Spoiler: Ezra Ezra Who wrote the book? Jewish tradition has long attributed authorship of this historical book to the scribe and scholar Ezra, who led the second group of Jews returning from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:11–26). Ezra 8 includes a first-person reference, implying the author’s participation in the events. He plays a major role in the second half of the book, as well as in the book of Nehemiah, its sequel. In the Hebrew Bible, the two books were considered one work, though some internal evidence suggests they were written separately and joined together in the Hebrew canon (and separated again in English translations). Ezra was a direct descendant of Aaron the chief priest (7:1–5), thus he was a priest and scribe in his own right. His zeal for God and God’s Law spurred Ezra to lead a group of Jews back to Israel during King Artaxerxes’s reign over the Persian Empire (which had since replaced the Babylonian Empire that originally exiled the people of Judah). Where are we? The book of Ezra records two separate time periods directly following the seventy years of Babylonian captivity. Ezra 1–6 covers the first return of Jews from captivity, led by Zerubbabel—a period of twenty-three years beginning with the edict of Cyrus of Persia and ending at the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (538–515 BC). Ezra 7–10 picks up the story more than sixty years later, when Ezra led the second group of exiles to Israel (458 BC). The book could not have been completed earlier than about 450 BC (the date of the events recorded in 10:17–44). The events in Ezra are set in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. The returning exiles were able to populate only a tiny portion of their former homeland. Why is Ezra so important? The book of Ezra provides a much-needed link in the historical record of the Israelite people. When their king was dethroned and captured and the people exiled to Babylon, Judah as an independent nation ceased to exist. The book of Ezra provides an account of the Jews’ regathering, of their struggle to survive and to rebuild what had been destroyed. Through his narrative, Ezra declared that they were still God’s people and that God had not forgotten them. In the book of Ezra we witness the rebuilding of the new temple, the unification of the returning tribes as they shared common struggles and were challenged to work together. Later, after the original remnant had stopped work on the city walls and spiritual apathy ruled, Ezra arrived with another two thousand people and sparked a spiritual revival. By the end of the book, Israel had renewed its covenant with God and had begun acting in obedience to Him. Ezra also contains one of the great intercessory prayers of the Bible (Ezra 9:5–15; see Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 9 for others). His leadership proved crucial to the Jews’ spiritual advancement. What's the big idea? Ezra’s narrative reveals two main issues faced by the returning exiles: (1) the struggle to restore the temple (Ezra 1:1–6:22) and (2) the need for spiritual reformation (7:1–10:44). Both were necessary in order for the people to renew their fellowship with the Lord. A broader theological purpose is also revealed: God keeps His promises. Through the prophets, God had ordained that His chosen people would return to their land after a seventy-year exile. Ezra’s account proclaims that God kept His word, and it shows that when God’s people remained faithful to Him, He would continue to bless them. Hence, the book emphasizes the temple and proper worship, similar to Chronicles (which was also written during these days). How do I apply this? God moved the hearts of secular rulers (Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes) to allow, even encourage and help, the Jewish people to return home. He used these unlikely allies to fulfill His promises of restoration for His chosen people. Have you encountered unlikely sources of blessing? Have you wondered how God can really work all things together for the good of those who are called by His name (Romans 8:28)? Take time today to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and mercy in your life. Recommit to Him your trust, your love, and your obedience. Spoiler: Nehemiah Nehemiah Who wrote the book? Jewish tradition identifies Nehemiah himself as the primary author of this historical book. Much of the book is written from his first-person perspective. Nothing is known about his youth or background; we meet him as an adult serving in the Persian royal court as the personal cupbearer to King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:11–2:1). This prestigious position reveals something of Nehemiah’s upright character. Though he remained in Persia after the exiles had been allowed to go home, he was highly interested in the state of affairs in Judah (his brother Hanani [1:2] had returned there earlier). The book of Nehemiah could be read as a sequel to the book of Ezra, and some scholars believe the two were originally one work. It is possible that Ezra compiled Nehemiah’s original accounts with other material to create the book of Nehemiah. However, most scholars believe the book was written by Nehemiah. Where are we? The book of Nehemiah opens in the Persian city of Susa in the year 444 BC. Later that year, Nehemiah traveled to Israel, leading the third of three returns by the Jewish people following their seventy years of exile in Babylon. (The previous chapter on Ezra describes the earlier two returns.) Most of the book centers on events in Jerusalem. The narrative concludes around the year 430 BC, and scholars believe the book was written shortly thereafter. Nehemiah is the last historical book of the Old Testament. Although the book of Esther appears after Nehemiah in the canon, the events in Esther occurred in the time period between Ezra 6 and 7, between the first and second returns of the people to Israel. The prophet Malachi was a contemporary of Nehemiah. Why is Nehemiah so important? Nehemiah was a layman, not a priest like Ezra nor a prophet like Malachi. He served the Persian king in a secular position before leading a group of Jews to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the city walls. “Nehemiah’s expertise in the king’s court equipped him adequately for the political and physical reconstruction necessary for the remnant to survive."1 Under Nehemiah’s leadership, the Jews withstood opposition and came together to accomplish their goal. Nehemiah led by example, giving up a respected position in a palace for hard labor in a politically insignificant district. He partnered with Ezra, who also appears in this book, to solidify the political and spiritual foundations of the people. Nehemiah’s humility before God (see his moving intercessory prayers in chapters 1 and 9) provided an example for the people. He did not claim glory for himself but always gave God the credit for his successes. What's the big idea? Nehemiah recorded the reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem, Judah’s capital city. Together, he and Ezra, who led the spiritual revival of the people, directed the political and religious restoration of the Jews in their homeland after the Babylonian captivity. Nehemiah’s life provides a fine study on leadership. He overcame opposition from outsiders as well as internal turmoil. He exercised his administrative skills in his strategy to use half the people for building while the other half kept watch for the Samaritans who, under Sanballat, threatened attack (Nehemiah 4–7). As governor, Nehemiah negotiated peace among the Jews who were unhappy with Persian taxes. He exhibited a steadfast determination to complete his goals. Accomplishing those goals resulted in a people encouraged, renewed, and excited about their future. How do I apply this? The book of Nehemiah shows us the kind of significant impact one individual can have on a nation. Nehemiah served in secular offices, using his position to bring back to the Jews order, stability, and proper focus on God. God uses all manner of people in all manner of places doing all manner of work. Do you feel you must be “in ministry” in order to serve God? Be encouraged; He is not limited by your vocation. In fact, God has placed you where you are for a purpose. Have this attitude about your work: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). Spoiler: Esther Esther Who wrote the book? The unknown author of the book of Esther was most likely a Jew very familiar with the royal Persian court. The detailed descriptions of court life and traditions, as well as the events that occurred in the book, point to an eyewitness author. Because his perspective was pro-Jewish, scholars believe he was a Jew writing for the remnant that had returned to Judah under Zerubbabel. Some have suggested Mordecai himself was the author, though the accolades for him found in the text suggest that another person, perhaps one of his younger contemporaries, was the author. The book is named for the “star” of the story, a young Jewish girl named Hadassah who was taken from her guardian, Mordecai, and forced to compete for the affection of the king. This unlikely contestant for a beauty pageant was crowned queen of Persia and renamed Esther, meaning “star.” Where are we? The events in the book of Esther occurred from 483 BC to 473 BC, during the first half of the reign of King Xerxes, who chose Esther as his queen. During this time period, the first remnant of Jews who had returned to Judah were struggling to reestablish temple worship according to the Law of Moses. But Esther and Mordecai, along with many other Jews, had chosen not to make the trek back to Judah. They seemed content to stay in Susa, the capital city of Persia, in which the story is set. The book was written no earlier than 470 BC and probably no later than 424 BC, during the reign of Xerxes’ son Artaxerxes. Why is Esther so important? Esther is the only book in the Bible not to mention the name of God. But that is not to say that God was absent. His presence permeates much of the story, as though He were behind the scenes coordinating “coincidences” and circumstances to make His will happen. Much like the book of Ruth, this book stands as one of the most skillfully written biblical books. Using eight feasts to systematically build and resolve suspense, the author constructed the story chiastically—using a Hebrew literary device in which events mirror each other inversely. Early listeners to the story would have recognized significant events and followed the rising tension with understanding. Haman, the king’s evil second-in-command, was a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites, who were ancient enemies of God’s people (Numbers 24:7; 1 Samuel 15:8). He cast the lot, called “pur,” in order to determine the day that the Jews would be exterminated (Esther 3:7–9). The feast of Purim, still celebrated by Jews today, commemorates the Jews’ deliverance from Haman’s plot (9:24–32). What's the big idea? While the primary purpose of the book of Esther was to relate the dramatic origins of the feast of Purim, a greater theme shines through the story. The sovereignty and faithfulness of God permeate each scene. Nothing is truly coincidental, the book of Esther says to us. God’s sovereignty is best summarized in Mordecai’s exhortation to Esther: “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). When events seemed out of control to Esther and Mordecai, when the king dictated ruin for their people, when evil was poised to triumph . . . God was at work. He worked through their dark days (Esther was taken to the harem [2:1–16]), their faithful obedience (Esther risked her life before the king [5:1–3]), and their victories (Esther revealed Haman’s plot and the Jews’ destruction of their enemies [7–9]). This message is clear: God is sovereign even when life doesn’t make sense. God is also the great Promise Keeper. Mordecai said to Esther: “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:14). Mordecai’s words reflected his faith that God would honor His eternal covenant with Abraham and David. How do I apply this? Life can be hard. Difficult times happen, and pain cannot be avoided. When life doesn’t make sense, do you turn to God or away from Him? Let the book of Esther encourage you that God is always present. Jesus called us “friends” ( John 15:15), and the Spirit is our “Helper” (14:26). Trust and obey, as Esther did. And watch God silently weave all events for His glory . . . and for our good.