Pointing to Jesus
The historical books pick up the story of God’s passionate pursuit of his sinful people that began in the Torah. God had promised Abraham he would make his descendants “a great nation,” and that he would bless them and “all peoples” through them (genesis 12:1–3). In the book of Exodus, we saw that through God’s blessing Abraham’s descendants had become a numerous people (exodus 1:6–7), and at the end of the book of Deuteronomy, they were poised to enter the Promised Land.
The historical books pick up the story with the conquest and settlement of the land in the book of Joshua, and then we hear about the period of time between the death of Joshua and the rise of kingship, a period of great moral depravity, spiritual confusion, and political division (the book of Judges), but not devoid of examples of covenant loyalty (the book of Ruth). In Samuel and Kings, as well as Chronicles, we hear about the rise of kingship, so promising during the time of David and the early reign of Solomon, but then going downhill. God made a covenant with David that he would have a descendant on the throne “forever,” but because of the sins of his descendants, the last king to rule in Jerusalem was carried off in chains to Babylon in 586 bc.
Ezra–Nehemiah and Esther tell us that even so, God was not done with his people. The former tells us about the return of some Jewish leaders to Jerusalem and the building of the temple and a wall as well as the reestablishment of the Law. Esther tells us that God through his providence still watches over his people who chose not to return to the land. But at the end of the story, God’s people are still living under an oppressive government. As we saw in Nehemiah 13, the story of the Old Testament ends on a note of discord not celebration. As the last prophets of the Old Testament announced, more was yet to come (see daniel 7, zechariah 14, malachi 4, and more).
Of course, Jesus is that “more”! The story of God’s pursuit of his sinful people culminates and climaxes in the work of Jesus on the cross. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the fulfillment of the promise to David that he would have a son on the throne forever. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise that God would reach the world through his descendants (see galatians 3:15–29). As Christians, the story of the Old Testament historical books takes us ultimately to the gospel.
History is told in such a way as to teach God’s people life lessons. As we read the stories in Joshua through Esther, we should be warned, encouraged, inspired, and motivated in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ as we live out our faith empowered by the Spirit.
Some Things to Keep in Mind as You Read and Study the Historical Books
Joshua through Esther—the historical books of the Old Testament—are a rich mine of theological insight and guidance for life.
From the time of the entry into the Promised Land through the period of Judges and into the monarchy and finally in exile and restoration, God worked in history to form a people for himself. Second, we need to remember that the retelling of these stories is shaped in order to make a point about God and ourselves. We highlighted the big themes, but always ask what purpose a particular event plays in light of the overall story. Third, keep in mind that these stories intend to impact our lives. After summarizing some Old Testament events (1 corinthians 10:1–5), Paul tells the reader “these things occurred as examples” for Christian life today.
Ask yourself what lesson you can learn from the Old Testament stories. But most importantly, keep in mind that these stories are an integral part of a much bigger drama that leads us to Jesus.