Historical Books

(Arthur T. Pierson, D.D.)

Genesis, as the name implies, traces the Beginning or origin of all things of creation, man, marriage and the family, the state and the nations; of the Sabbath, of temptation and sin, sacrifice and salvation; of law and government; of language and literature, the mechanic arts and fine arts; of worship and work, promise and prophecy. Particular prominence is given here to the beginning of the history of God’s covenant people.


Exodus tells of the Exode, or Departure from Egypt. The Ten Plagues, ending in the death of the firstborn, prepared for it; the Passover, with the sprinkled blood, signalized and commemorated it; and the passing over of the Red Sea completed it. Sinai, with the giving of the Law, revealed to Israel the Holiness and Authority of Jehovah their Leader. The two main divisions are, 1: Historical, chapters 1-18; and 2: Legislative, 19-38.


Leviticus is the book of Atonement, with sanctuary, sacrifice and offering, and Levitical priesthood. Sinai’s thunders made Israel quake and fear to come near: here they are taught how to approach God acceptably and worship and serve Him. The great truth here made plain is Mediation.


Numbers traces the forty years’ sojourn to the Wilderness. Two Numberings of the people are recorded. The host is organized, equipped and on the march. Warfare is a necessary condition of their pilgrimage through an enemy’s country, and of possession of the promised land.


Deuteronomy, or the Second Law, shows Obedience as a necessity to continuance in God’s favor and in their new heritage. Mount Gerezim and Mount Ebal stand as permanent types of the blessing and the cursing which are the solemn sanctions of God’s Law. This book is one of exhortation to duty, and it brings us to the farewell address of Moses, and the appointment of Joshua as his successor.


Joshua is the book of Entrance, the counterpart of Exodus. Possession is by dispossession, the Land is to become the heritage of Israel by Driving out the Canaanites, and the extent of territory depends on the measure of faith in appropriation. Even promised good must be claimed.


Judges reveals Anarchy. To correct it, God raises up fifteen occasional rulers; and there are six conquests of Israel by their foes, with as many deliverances wrought by these heroes. Even in the Land of Promise there are relapses into idolatry and impiety, and captivities follow as both a consequence and a correction. We see God’s people passing through six cycles of declension and discipline, correction and restoration.


Ruth is a pastoral idyl. It hides a typical meaning, hinting the double nature of the Redeemer, who must be a kinsman, to have the right to redeem, and yet belong to a higher family, not involved in the ruin, to have the ability to redeem.


The two books of Samuel present the Kingdom during the days of Samuel, the Prophet-Judge, and of Saul and David, his co-temporary kings.


The two books of Kings follow the history of the monarchy as it reaches its summit of splendor under Solomon, and its division, decline and fall under Jeroboam and Rehoboam. Here we have the double captivity; of Israel under the Assyrians, and of Judah, a hundred and thirty years later, under the Chaldeans.


The two books of Chronicles emphasize the Theocracy, and deal with Judah only; as in Kings, idolatry is seen to be treason against God as King, here it appears as apostasy against Jehovah, the covenant God. The earlier history is written from a prophetic point of view; Chronicles from the priestly. One is more like a civil; the other, an ecclesiastical history.


Ezra and Nehemiah are also companion books, and show the return from captivity, with the rebuilding of the Temple and of the City, respectively. Nehemiah is the model of organization and reconstruction. The book of Nehemiah, after a break of twelve years, continues the narrative of Ezra. Both present a picture of Reformation and Restoration.


Esther, last of the historical books, is the romance of Providence. It reveals the unseen Hand of God behind the acts and affairs of men, with the final awards of evil and good, and His all-comprehensive plan, which takes in even the sleeplessness of the King, Yet divine Providence leaves room for human resolve and freedom, as in Esther’s devout and desperate decision. Haman is a singular example of poetic retribution, hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai.