Understanding the O.T. Historical Books

The Historical books present narratives that span close to 1000 years of history and are not merely history for the sake of history, but they are history from God’s perspective and thus are theological in nature. The historical books “tell about God’s repeated in-breaking into history whether by dramatic accounts of miracles, or by God’s speaking directly to his people, or by his indirect presence visible in the providential outworking of events.”[1] God reveals himself in history in order to place himself at a real place and time on the historical timeline. Many ancient religious texts are mythical in nature, but the Bible portrays God in relationship with a particular historical people at a historical place and time. This gives credibility to the narratives and how they depict God.

God reveals himself through history, and history reveals and confirms the character of God. While history reveals “many ups and downs, twists and turns”, God remains the same in his character.[2] As God’s self-revelation, the historical books impart knowledge about God and instruction on relating with him. They are didactic in the sense that they explain who God is by recording what he has done throughout human history. By the patterns and cycles throughout the generations, people can understand God and how he relates to humanity.[3]

God uses history to lead his people, and he desires that they will learn from history so as not to repeat the failures of past generations. He continually reminds his people of past historical events where he was faithful, and so he urges them to follow him in the present and to not harden their hearts and act like those in the past who lived in disobedience and rebellion.

Thus, the historical books are strategic self-revelation by God with the purpose of showing the ways he has acted throughout history in order to fulfill his covenant promises and his salvation plan. God has a plan for history and intervenes to guarantee that his plan is accomplished. God and his overarching story should always be the primary focus when studying the historical books.[4] Andrew Hill and John Walton write,

the text continually points us to patterns, themes, and motifs that we ought to see as weaving the historical tapestry into a picture of the sovereign God of the covenant. The significance of each thread is the contribution it makes to the tapestry; by itself the thread has little to offer. The quality of its color has no intrinsic value, but its function in the tapestry helps to create dimension and hue.[5]


[1] David Howard Jr., “Introduction to the Historical Books” (ESV: Study Bible Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007), 386. [2] Ibid., 385. [3] Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 2009), 159. [4] Ibid., 159. [5] Ibid., 159.