I. Review and Overview
Get ready: This is a long lesson. We’re going to move from the Book of Joshua through to the Book of Malachi.
Don’t try to tackle all the material in one sitting. But know that when you’ve completed this lesson, you’ll have reached the end of the Old Testament. You will have read each Old Testament book in its historical context and according to the religious meaning given to that book by the Catholic Church.
By the end of this lesson, you will be able to see - in a broad outline - the entire sweep of salvation history as it’s recorded in the Old Testament. After this lesson, you’ll be ready for a far deeper understanding of the New Testament - which we will read in our next and final lesson.
Before we resume the story of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land, a brief reminder of what we’re hoping to accomplish in this Beginner’s course:
We want to give you an outline - a roadmap - to help you find your way through the Bible. We aren’t able to go verse-by-verse through every book. But if you study and re-study these lessons you’ll have a good grasp of the key themes and issues that run through each book, and a good understanding of the "story" the Bible tells - from its first page to its last.
To get the most out of these studies, be sure you read along with your Bible open and take the time to either click-on or look up all the citations we provide. We’ve selected and arranged these citations so you’ll see how the Bible is bound together by certain distinct themes and concerns, and so you’ll see how these connect one book in the Bible to the another. If you simply read all of the citations in each study you will have read a significant portion of the sacred Scripture.
Now let’s return to the story of our salvation.
II. Entering the Promised Land
A. Joshua at Jericho
We pick up the story with the career of Joshua, Moses’ hand-picked successor (Deuteronomy 31:14-15,23; 34:9).
The Book of Joshua is a bridge between the Pentateuch (the name given to the five books of Moses - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and the remainder of the Old Testament.
Joshua leads the people across the Jordan and, in a series of campaigns against the Canaanite kings (see Joshua 1-12), lays claim to much of the land God promised first to Abraham and again to Moses and the Israelites (see Genesis 17:8; Exodus 3:8).
His most famous battle was no battle at all - the siege of Jericho (Joshua 6). We all know the story: For six days the Israelites marched around the city with seven priests in the lead, carrying the Ark of the Covenant which God had ordered Moses to build at Sinai to be with the people in their wanderings (see Exodus 25:10, 21-22; Numbers 10:22; 14:44). On the seventh day, they marched around around the city seven final times, then blew a horn, gave a loud shout and watched as the walls of Jericho collapsed.
This was to be emblematic of the character of the Israelites’ conquest of the Promised Land. At every stage, it was to be won, not by military might, but by priestly and religious means.
As the Israelites were led out of Egypt across the dry bed of the Red Sea, led by the pillar of cloud, the presence of God, so Joshua leds the people across the dry land of the Jordan, behind the Ark of God’s presence (see Exodus 12-14; Joshua 3:13-14). Their crossing takes place in the same month as the Exodus (see Joshua 3:15; 5:10) and - again as with Moses and the Exodus - they’re circumcised and celebrate the Passover before crossing the waters (see Joshua 5).
The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord is crucial to the religious character of Joshua’s mission. As you will notice throughout the books of Joshua, Judges, Kings and Chronicles, the Ark is a defining symbol of God’s election of Israel as His chosen people.
The Ark contained signs of God’s covenant with Moses - the tablets of the Law, the staff of Aaron, some manna from the wilderness (see Hebrews 9:4). It was God’s dwelling place, the sign of His real presence among the Israelites.
But notice that already in Joshua, the Ark is not merely the sign of Israel’s "tribal" or "national" deity. It is a sign of the Lord of the Universe, of the one God who wants to dwell with all peoples.
As Joshua says: "This is how you will know that there is a living God in your midst…The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of the whole earth will precede you into the Jordan" (see Joshua 3:10-11).
B. Barbs and Thorns Remain
Despite Joshua’s victories, at the time of his death, Israel had conquered much - but not all - of the promised land (see Judges 1:27-36; 3:1-6).
This failure to secure the entire land will become a decisive factor in the subsequent history of the God’s people.
God had ordered Israel to drive out all the inhabitants of Canaan and to destroy all their idols (see Numbers 33:50-52). If any Canaanites were permitted to remain, God warned, they would become "as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides….and I will treat you as I had intended to treat them" (see Numbers 33:55-56).
We’re often troubled and find it difficult to comprehend how God could order or permit the Israelites to wage ethnic genocide against the peoples living in the Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 20:16-17).
Mass murder, of course, is not God’s way. What we see in these commands is an example of the divine Father’s reluctant concession, His sorrowful accommodation to His first-born son’s spiritual weakness.
Later, under the monarchy of David and Solomon and word of the prophets, Israel’s true character will be revealed - a people living among the nations as a sign of God’s providence and wisdom, a people sent to teach and convert the nations to the ways of the living God.
But at this early stage in their history, God knew that His chosen children weren’t ready, spiritually or morally, to live among the idolatrous pagans across the Jordan. He knew they could never live among them without succumbing to idolatry themselves (see Deuteronomy 20:18).
C. Judging By Their Weakness
The history we read in the Book of Judges bears this out.
The "plot" of Judges pivots on the Israelites’ repeated fall into the snare of idolatry, their giving in to the worship of the gods of the Canaanites. The entire book, in fact, is built on this "testing" of Israel’s faithfulness to its covenant with God.
The narrator of Judges tells us that God allowed the pagans to remain in the Promised Land precisely to test Israel’s faithfulness to its covenant - "so that through them [the pagans left in the land] He might….put Israel to the test, to determine whether they would obey the commandments the Lord had enjoined on their fathers through Moses" (see Judges 3:1,4).
Joshua had foreseen Israel’s weakness. At the end of his life, like Moses, he called on Israel to renew its covenant with God (see Joshua 24:13-28). He told the people they must choose - "decide today whom you will serve - the gods your fathers served beyond the river [Jordan] or the gods of the Amorites in whose countries you are dwelling" (see Joshua 24:15).
But like Moses, Joshua also predicted they wouldn’t be able to keep the covenant (see Joshua 24:19; compare Deuteronomy 31:16,24-29).
He was right. Israel failed the test. That’s the message of Judges. That’s why the history we read there seems to repeat itself in a sad cycle of sin, punishment, repentance, forgiveness, and backsliding into sin again.
D. Born in Bethlehem
But even in the midst of the corruption and weakness of His people, God continued unfolding His saving plan. That’s what we learn from the Book of Ruth, a slice-of-life story from "the time of the judges" (see Ruth 1:1).
Ruth appears at this point in the canon of the Bible as if to remind us that, beneath the big political and military events of Israel’s history, God was still working quietly, in the hidden lives of ordinary people - non-Israelites even - to fulfill His covenant promises.
During Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land, God used Rahab - a pagan and a woman and a harlot to boot - to ensure the success of His plan (see Joshua 2; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). And during the time of the judges, God again resorts to a pagan woman, the servant girl Ruth, to advance the objectives of His saving plan - in a way that also involves Rahab again.
Rahab had the faith to recognize the Israelites’ God as the true God (see Joshua 2:11; 6:25). Similarly, Ruth vows herself to the Israelites’ God, using covenantal language - "Your people shall be my people and your God my God" (see Ruth 1:16).
Ruth marries Boaz, a righteous man from Bethlehem who, as it turns out, is the son of Rahab (see Ruth 1:1,19; Matthew 1:5-6). Ruth bears Boaz a son, Obed, who will become the father of Jesse. "Jesse, as the last line of the book tells us, "became the father of David" (see Ruth 4:17,22).
This is the first mention of David in the Bible.
III. The Rights and Wrongs of Kings
A. Hannah the Handmaid
The establishment of the eternal kingdom of David, which occupies the rest of Bible - including the New Testament - is prepared by Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges.
Samuel is born in a time of political and moral chaos best reflected by the refrain of Judges - "in those days there was no king in Israel - everyone did what he thought best" (see Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).
Israel’s infidelity, symbolized by the corruption of Eli’s priesthood (see 1 Samuel 2:12-17, 27-36; 3:11-14) is punished by the attack of the Philistines, who kill 4,000 Israelites, including Eli’s wicked sons, Hophni and Phineas, and carry off the Ark of the Covenant. Upon hearing of the Ark’s theft, Eli topples back in his chair and breaks his neck and dies (see 1 Samuel 4).
Eli is succeeded by Samuel, born in answer to a barren woman’s prayers and consecrated to God (see 1 Samuel 1).
Samuel’s faithful mother, Hannah, prepares the way for Mary, the mother of Jesus (see Catechism, no. 489). Three times, Hannah describes herself as the Lord’s "handmaid," using the same term that Mary will use in vowing to bear Jesus (see 1 Samuel 1:11,16; Luke 1:38). In Mary’s great song, the Magnificat, we will hear numerous echoes of Hannah’s hymn of thanksgiving (compare 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-55).
B. Making a Monarchy
Hannah’s son Samuel grows up to be a good and holy man who succeeds in turning "the whole Israelite population" back to the Lord (see 1 Samuel 7:2-3).
But in his old age, the people demand that he appoint them a king "as the other nations have" (see 1 Samuel 8:5).
Israel’s request is sinful, blasphemous. It shows that they still have not embraced their special character as God’s chosen people, His first-born son.
"It is not you they reject," God tells Samuel. "They are rejecting Me as their king" (see 1 Samuel 8:7; 12:12,17,19-20).
Moses had predicted that the people would want a king. He even made provisions so that any Israelite king might truly serve God’s purposes - requiring especially that the king copy the entire Law of God and read it every day for the rest of His life (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20).
The Israelites, however, aren’t looking for a godly king. They tell Samuel they want one "to lead us in warfare and fight our battles" (see 1 Samuel 8:19-20). They don’t mention God or worship and they seem to have utterly forgotten Israel’s original charter to be a holy, priestly people (see Exodus 19:5-6).
In Saul, they get the kind of king they want, a man after their own heart - a warrior-king skilled in battle but with no concern for right worship or the commandments of God. Symbolically, during his first campaign Saul ignores Samuel’s instructions and offers priestly sacrifices himself - something that God presumably didn’t want His kings doing (see 1 Samuel 13:8-13).
IV. Israel’s Shepherd - Priest and King
A. The Lord’s Anointed
The Lord rejects Saul as king, although He allows his reign to play out to its bitter end. In the meantime, he dispatches Samuel to quietly anoint a successor, "a man after [the Lord’s] own heart" (see 1 Samuel 13:14) - David, son of Jesse, grandson of Ruth’s son Obed, an anonymous shepherd boy living in Bethlehem.
The Spirit of the Lord rushes upon David at his anointing (see 1 Samuel 16:13) and through a series of seeming coincidences, he winds up in Saul’s court. David is brave, but also God-fearing, as we see in the famous episode with Goliath. He knows that, as he says, "the battle is the Lord’s" and that "it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves" (see 1 Samuel 17:32-51)
As First Samuel continues, David’s humility and meekness, his faithfulness to God, stands in sharp contrast with Saul’s growing paranoia and jealousy, which causes him to hatch murderous plots against David (see 1 Samuel 18:11; 19:9-17).
Given two chances to kill his sworn enemy Saul, David refuses. Why? Because, he says, no matter what a scoundrel Saul is, Saul remains "the Lord’s anointed" king (see 1 Samuel 24, 26).
When Saul and his sons meet their shameful end at the hands of the Philistines (see 1 Samuel 31), David mourns and turns to the Lord for the guidance (see 2 Samuel 1-2:4).
After routing the remaining forces loyal to Saul, David is anointed king by all the tribes of Israel who bind themselves to him with a covenant oath: "Here we are, your bone and flesh" (see 2 Samuel 5:1).
They call him God’s chosen shepherd-king (see 2 Samuel 5:2). This is the first time this image is used in the Bible to describe Israel’s leader. It will become an important image in later prophecies and in Jesus’ own self-understanding.
B. Capitalizing Jerusalem
As shepherd and king, David is a great political and spiritual leader.
Ordering his military power and strategy to religious purposes, he routes the Jebusites to establish his capital in Jerusalem.
How did he settle on Jerusalem? The Scripture doesn’t exactly tell us. Perhaps he recalled the story of Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, who celebrated a liturgy with bread and wine on behalf of Abraham (see Genesis 14:17-23).
Perhaps he understood Moses to be referring to Jerusalem when he commanded the building of a central sanctuary in "the place which the Lord, your God chooses as the dwelling place for His name" (see Deuteronomy 12:4-5,11). Although Moses never mentions Jerusalem by name, Rabbinic lore held that the city of God’s name was the city that Melchizedek ruled, which the Psalms of David identify as Jerusalem (see Psalm 76:3).
In any event, David calls Jerusalem Zion and the City of David. Once he has captured it, he retrieves the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord which, as he says pointedly, "in the days of Saul we did not visit" (see 1 Chronicles 13:3).
Dressed in a priest’s ephod, David leads all Israel in a joyous religious celebration of the Ark’s return, offering sacrifices, blessing the people and breaking bread (see 2 Samuel 6:13-19; 1 Chronicles 15:25-29).
With the Lord having been established - "taken up his dwelling in Jerusalem" (see 1 Chronicles 23:25) - David then restored the priesthood. He made the descendants of Aaron to be "officers of the holy place and officers of the divine presence" (see 1 Chronicles 24:3,5,19).
He established the Levitical priests "to minister before the Ark of the Lord - to celebrate, thank and praise the Lord, the God of Israel" every morning and evening, and also on feast days (see 1 Chronicles 16:4; 23:25-32).
As he is portrayed in the First Book of Chronicles, especially, David is both a holy priest and a righteous and brave king.
In fact, you should read the two books of Chronicles alongside the books of Samuel and Kings. They tell the same story from two different perspectives. The Chronicles aren’t simply a rewriting of the political and personal dramas recorded in Samuel and Kings.
Beginning with Adam, the chronicler gives us a liturgical history of ancient Israel, showing us that from the start God intended His people to be a priestly people, offering praise and sacrifice and living by His decrees.
Chronicles describes David as God’s ideal leader - the priest-king, the righteous ruler who composes psalms, leads the people in worship, and is a teacher of God’s wisdom. In the Davidic Kingdom, we are given a glimpse of the world as God means it to be - a communion of the sacred and secular, of law and worship, religion and culture, Church and state.
C. Everlasting Covenant
God makes His final covenant of the Old Testament with David. He promises to establish David’s kingdom as an eternal and everlasting dynasty, promises that David’s heirs will sit on his royal throne forever. He promises, too, that He will regard David’s heir as His own son.
Be sure to spend some time reading over this covenant oath (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16; 1 Chronicles 17:7-14). These are among the most important verses in all the Bible.
God’s promises here will give shape and direction, hope and drama of the remainder of the biblical narrative - all the way through the end of the New Testament.
If that sounds hard to believe, look ahead to the last page of the Bible. There you’ll hear Jesus talking about this covenant, saying that He himself is the fulfillment of that covenant: "I am the root and offspring of David" (see Revelation 22:16).
Why do we call it a "covenant" when God doesn’t use the word? Because David himself will later say that God here was swearing an "eternal covenant" with him (see 2 Samuel 23:5). David’s "covenant" is also celebrated in the Psalms of David (see Psalm 89:4-29; 132:12).
Let’s pull apart the several promises of this covenant, and review them in order:
1. The Lord will establish a house for you: "House" means royal dynasty, so this means that David’s kingdom will be a dynasty.
2. I will raise up your heir…and make his kingdom firm: David’s son will rule over his kingdom.
3. He shall build a house for my name: David’s son will build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant.
4. I will be a Father to him and he shall be a son to Me: The son of David will be adopted as God’s own son. This is the first time that the idea of divine sonship is applied to one individual. While God had referred to Israel as His first-born son, no one as yet in the Bible has been called "son of God."
5. If he does wrong, I will correct him…with human chastisements, but I will not withdraw my favor from him: If David’s son breaks His Law, God will send punishments but will never disown him as He disowned Saul.
6. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever: David’s dynasty will never end. There will always be an heir of David seated upon his throne.
D. Covenant Remembered
This covenant isn’t simply a reward to David for his faithful service.
We have to understand this as the final in the line of covenants that God has been making with His people throughout the salvation history recorded in the Bible. In effect, it is a covenant enacted to fulfill the covenant God made with Abraham.
Remember why God liberated the Israelites from Egypt? For the sake of His covenant with Abraham (see Exodus 2:24; 6:5).
God promised to make Abraham the father of a host of nations, and promised further that kings would stem from Abraham’s line of descendants. He promised that He would be their God and that they would be His people for all time, and that all the nations of the world would find blessing through his descendants (see Genesis 17:4-8; 22:15-18).
The Mosaic covenant, the covenant God made with Moses at Sinai, marked what we might describe as "the first stage" of God’s plan to fulfill His covenant with Abraham (see Exodus 33:1; Numbers 32:11; Deuteronomy 1:8; 9:5; 30:20).
The covenant with David furthers God’s covenant plan by which all the world would be made children of Abraham, blessed and beloved sons and daughters of God (see 2 Kings 13:23; Psalm 102:45; Jeremiah 33:26).
Notice the reasons that God gives for the covenant with David. It is not for David’s sake but - as the Lord repeats three times- for the sake of "My people Israel" (see 2 Samuel 7:8,10,11).
This recalls the language God used throughout the story of Israel’s liberation from Egypt (see Exodus 3:7,10; 5:1; 6:7; 7:17, 9:1; Leviticus 26:12).
Listen carefully also to David’s prayer in response to the Lord’s oracle. This is his vow of allegiance to God’s covenant.
It’s filled with echoes and quotations from Moses - all stressing that, as David says: "You have established for Yourself Your people Israel as Yours forever and You, Lord, have become their God" (compare 1 Samuel 8:22-25; Exodus 15:11-13,16-17; Deuteronomy 4:7,34; 7:6; 26:17; 29:12).
The covenant with David is a continuation of the great redemptive work of the Exodus, the establishment of God’s holy people Israel - a saving work undertaken in fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham.
As David says: "He remembers forever His covenant which He made binding for a thousand generations - which He established for Jacob by statute, for Israel as an everlasting covenant" (see 1 Chronicles 16:14-18).
V. Entering the Kingdom
A. The Shape of Things Under Solomon
The Davidic covenant is the climactic event in Old Testament salvation history. Of course, the fulfillment of God’s plan awaits the coming of Jesus and establishment of the Kingdom of God, the Catholic Church.
But we can detect in the Davidic Kingdom, especially as it takes shape under the reign of David’s son, King Solomon, the qualities and character that God intends for His family on earth - an intention that will only finally be realized in the Catholic Church.
Solomon’s is a monarchy ruled over by God’s son (see Psalm 2:7), who is both a priest and a king (see Psalm 110:1,4). At the right hand of the King is his mother, the Queen, who intercedes for the people with the king and is a trusted adviser to the King (see 1 Kings 3:19-20; Proverbs 31).
The day-to-day affairs of the Kingdom are administered by a prime minister, variously called the royal "vizier," the "superintendent" or "master of the palace." He is considered to be "a father to the inhabitants" of the Kingdom (see 1 Kings 16:9; 18:3; 2 Kings 15:5; 18:18,37; 19:2; Isaiah 22:22).
The Davidic Kingdom is an international empire, a worldwide kingdom, stretching to the ends of the earth and embracing all nations and peoples (see Psalm 2:8; 72:8,11).
In an echo of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants, the Scriptures tell us that by the Davidic King and Kingdom "shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed, all the nations" (see Psalm 72:17).
The Kingdom, with its capital in Zion, Jerusalem, will become the mother of all nations, "one and all born in her" (see Psalm 87:5), all made sons and daughters of God in a worldwide family.
It is a Kingdom that rules, not by military might, but through liturgy and prayer, wisdom and law. The liturgy and worship of the kingdom is shaped by the eternal presence of God in the Ark in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah (see 2 Chronicles 3:1). Recall that Mount Moriah was where Abraham was sent to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac (see Genesis 22:2). It is very interesting that these are the only two places in the Bible where Moriah is mentioned, and Calvary, where Jesus is crucified, is one of the hills in the Moriah range.
The Temple, atop the holy mountain of Zion, is the "dwelling place….[of] the God of gods" (see Psalm 84:2,8; 1 Kings 8:27-30). In His shrine, heaven and earth meet (see Psalm 78:68-69).
Another feature of the Kingdom is the "everlasting priesthood" that God promised to Phineas, the grandson of Aaron (see Numbers 10:13). Solomon restored this by making Zadok high priest and his sons "officers of the holy place and officers of the divine presence" (see 1 Kings 2:35).
The Temple was to be more than a shrine for the chosen people of Israel. It was to be a house of prayer for all peoples. This is what Solomon prayed for - that "all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, may fear You as do Your people Israel" (see 1 Kings 8:41-43).
A new form of worship characterizes Solomon’s Temple and the Davidic Kingdom.
Prayer in the Kingdom becomes a personal encounter with the living God: "Bring me to Your holy mountain, to your dwelling-place. Then I will go into the altar of God…I will give You thanks….thanking Him in the presence of my Savior and my God" (see Psalm 43:3-5).
The liturgy of Moses and Sinai required animal sacrifices and offerings for the people’s sin. In the liturgy of Zion, the people bring "a sacrifice of thanksgiving," known in Hebrew as todah, translated as eucharistia in Greek (see 1 Chronicles 16:4,7-37).
Passover, the feast that characterized the liturgy of Sinai, recalled God’s saving deeds in the Exodus. The todah, too, is a celebration of remembrance, often involving the offering of unleavened bread and wine. It is a prayer in which the believer proclaims God’s saving deeds, gives thanks for God’s salvation, and swears himself or herself to a life of praise and self-sacrifice.
Echoes of the todah can be heard throughout the Book of Psalms, the royal prayers and songs of the Davidic Kingdom. For instance, in Psalm 116: "For He has freed my soul from death…To You I will offer sacrifice of thanksgiving…and My vows to the Lord…" (see Psalm 116: 8,17-18; 50:13-15; 40:1-12; 51:17).
In the thanksgiving sacrifices of the Davidic kingdom we see the true dimension of worship - the way God wanted men and women to serve Him from the beginning. Not in abjection and in servitude, not with the blood of animals, but with their whole hearts, their whole lives made a sacrifice of praise and thanks, their whole lives given over to the will and the heart of God:
"For You are not pleased with sacrifices, should I offer a holocaust, You would not accept it. My sacrifice, O my God, is a contrite spirit, a heart contrite and humbled" (see Psalm 51:18-19).
"Sacrifice or oblation You wished not, but ears open to obedience….Holocausts and sin-offerings You sought not….To do Your will, O my God, is my delight, and Your Law is within my heart!" (see Psalm 40:7-9).
B. Psalms and Wisdom
Look for this spirit of self-offering and thanksgiving as you read the Book of Psalms.
Traditionally associated with David, many of the psalms were doubtless written by him. All of them reflect his heart which, as we’ve seen, reflects the Lord’s own heart (see 1 Samuel 13:14).
Prayed daily, even hourly, the psalms were intended to give God’s covenant people a new heart - that heart of David, that heart of the Lord.
The psalms teach God’s royal sons and daughters how to pray - how to praise, thank, petition, and pledge faithfulness to their Father. The psalms teach God’s people the history of their salvation and of God’s faithfulness to His covenant plan (see Psalms 78; 105-106; 135-136).
Underlying all the varieties of psalms is the Father’s desire to instill in His children a love for His ways and His Law: "You will show me the path of life, fullness of joys in Your presence" (see Psalms 16:11).
The psalms teach God’s people to seek His wisdom in His Law (see Psalms 37:31; 90:12). In this, the psalms are closely tied to the other great spiritual legacy of the Davidic Kingdom - the biblical wisdom literature.
The Psalms are associated with David. The Bible’s wisdom literature - the books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, Wisdom and Sirach - is associated with David’s son, Solomon, who traditionally is held to be the author of four of the books.
The wisdom of Solomon was a divine gift (see 1 Chronicles 1:7-12). And his reputation for being a wise man drew the Queen of Sheba and "all the kings of the earth" to seek audiences with him and to pay him tribute (see 1 Kings 10:1-13, 24-25).
Think of the wisdom books as recording the kinds of things that Solomon told the Queen and the kings of the nations.
Read in their place in the Bible, the wisdom books function as a sort of fatherly instruction - God the Father, through His divine son the king, teaching His worldwide family how live. This is seen most clearly in Proverbs, which is presented as the advice of a father to his son (except for Proverbs 31 which is said to be a Queen Mother’s teaching to her son, the king).
As you read the wisdom literature, understand that, like the psalms, these books are designed to instruct and to form the children of God’s worldwide family.
This is the meaning of the strange passage in David’s prayer of thanksgiving for His covenant - "This too You have shown to man" (see 2 Samuel 7:19). The phrase in Hebrew is "torah ‘adam" - literally, "the law of mankind." This is what wisdom is - God’s law, given through His king, for all men and women.
The Davidic Kingdom was established to be a universal, worldwide, eternal kingdom. The wisdom literature aims to effect the moral and spiritual formation of this kingdom. It is the charter of the new human family that God wants to create through His covenant with David.
The wisdom books are meant to instruct people like Job, a righteous non-Jew who, in his extraordinary sufferings, seeks saving knowledge and redemption: "Whence, then, comes wisdom" he cries, "and where is the place of understanding?"
He finally arrives at the answer: "The fear of the Lord is wisdom" (see Job 28:20,23,28).
This is the refrain you will hear running beneath all the practical counsel and advice found in these books: "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord" (see Proverbs 9:10)
Of course "fear of the Lord," doesn’t mean cowering in fright before the Lord. It means reverence and awe, the loving trust of a child: "All wisdom is fear of the Lord. Perfect wisdom is the fulfillment of the Law" (see Sirach 19:17).
The Law given to Moses is seen in the wisdom literature as the perfect reflection of divine wisdom. At times, you will even see Wisdom depicted as divine Person - a communication of God, who "created her…poured her forth upon all His works" (see Sirach 1:7-8; Proverbs 8).
VI. Two Nations Under God
A. North-South Divide
The Kingdom disintegrated after Solomon. Actually, the wise king himself had sowed the seeds of its destruction.
There was always a dark underside to Solomon’s wisdom - his insatiable appetites for wealth, power, and women.
He overtaxed the Israelite tribes to finance great building projects and to build up a huge army (see 1 Kings 9; 12:3). He took in an extraordinary 666 gold talents every year (see 1 Kings 10:14). It’s interesting to note that 666 is the number of the evil beast in the Bible’s final book, which adds that "wisdom is needed" to understand what that means (see Revelation 13:17-18).
Like his father David, Solomon also had a weakness for women. Remember, that Solomon was born to Bathsheba, the wife David took after adultering with her and then having her husband killed to cover up his sin (see 2 Samuel 11-12:25).
Solomon’s lusts far eclipsed his father’s. Although God’s law forbade intermarriage with non-Israelites, "King Solomon loved many foreign women" - he had 700 wives and 300 concumbines. "And," the Scripture adds, "his wives turned his heart…to strange gods" (see 1 Kings 11:1-3).
When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam refused the pleas of the tribes to lessen their tax burden. They rebelled. Ten of the twelve tribes, led by Jeroboam, split-off and established a Northern Kingdom, leaving Rehoboam to reign over two tiny tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the South.
The fracturing of the Davidic Kingdom is a crucial fact that you have to keep in mind as you read the remainder of the Bible, especially the prophets.
From this point out, when you read about "Israel," think: "Northern Kingdom" - the ten tribes who seceded under Jeroboam. Sometimes Israel or the Northern Kingdom will be referred to as "Ephraim" or "Samaria" or "Joseph."
And when you read about "Judah" or "Benjamin," or the "House of David," think: "Southern Kingdom" - the two tribes that continued to worship in Jerusalem.
You will also read the phrase "all Israel," especially in Chronicles (see 1 Kings 12:1; 1 Chronicles 13:6,8; 15:3; 2 Chronicles 12:1; 18:16). This refers to the Kingdom as God established and intended it - before the division under Rehoboam - the kingdom of David that God promises He will one day restore.
"Thus," the Scripture tells us, "Israel has been in rebellion against David’s house to this day" (see 1 Chronicles 10:19; 1 Kings 12:19).
That means that by Jeroboam’s schism the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had severed themselves from God’s covenant with David - the covenant under which for all time David’s son was to be King of all Israel, and all Israel was to worship at the central sanctuary in Jerusalem.
The covenant with David didn’t justify Solomon’s outrageous and cruel behavior. God’s covenant was never meant to put the Davidic king above the Law of Moses.
David explained this to Solomon himself (see 1 Kings 2:2-4: 8:25; 9:4-5; Psalm 132:12). God’s promise was not a blank check. If Solomon or any Davidic king violated God’s Law he would be punished - although his kingdom would not be wiped out (see 2 Samuel 7:15-15).
Always true to His word, God punished Solomon’s sin by permitting Jeroboam’s rebellion (see 1 Kings 11:31-39).
The Northern tribes almost immediately went into apostasy. Jeroboam built altars to false pagan gods at Bethel and Dan. He even reenacted the great sin of the golden calf incident (see 1 Kings 12:28-29; Exodus 32:4).
B. Raising Prophets
Jeroboam’s idolatry, unfortunately, sets the pattern for the remainder of Kings and Chronicles. Don’t worry if you can’t follow the succession of kings and reformers in the remaining books of the Bible. Try to focus on the patterns of sin, punishment, and reform.
Notice that David is the measure for every king (see 2 Kings 16:2; 22:2).
And pay attention, especially, to how God still tries to "father" His family despite their weakness, their faithlessness and their disarray.
The period of the divided monarchy is when God begins to raise up prophets to speak His word to His people, to decry their violations of the covenant, to call them to repentance, to turn back to God. They also play a vital role in helping strengthen the hope of the tiny remnant that remains faithful.
So we see Elijah prophesying in the Northern Kingdom, speaking against the wicked King Ahab and his idolatrous wife Jezebel, engaging in a dramatic showdown with the false prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 17-2 Kings 1:16). His work is continued by Elisha (see 2 Kings 2-13).
Also in the middle of the eighth-century, around the time of the reign of Jeroboam II (see 2 Kings 14:23-29), Hosea decries "the calf of Samaria," and scorns temple prostitution and other outrages of the Baal cult (see Hosea 4:14; 8:4-6; 10:5-6; 13:1-2).
Amos, too, during this period decries the infidelities and economic injustices in the northern Kingdom as well as the sins of the nations (see Amos 1:3-2:3).
Amos reminds us that even though Israel and Judah seem far away from Him now, God still desires to fulfill his Fatherly plan for "the whole family that I brought up from the land of Egypt" (see Amos 3:1).
The Northern Kingdom was destroyed in 722 B.C., overrun by the vicious Assyrians. An Assyrian document from the period describes the deportation of nearly 30,000 Israelites.
The Bible tells us why it had to happen: "This came about because the Israelites sinned against the Lord their God…because they venerated other gods….[and] they rejected the covenant which He made with their fathers" (see 2 Kings 17:7-18).
C. Good Kings, Bad Kings
While Israel fell, the Southern Kingdom of Judah enjoyed a brief period of relative peace and religious fidelity under good King Hezekiah, guided by the prophet Isaiah and the fiery preaching of the prophet Micah (see Jeremiah 26:17-19).
But both saw the moral and religious corruption of the North spreading in the Southern kingdom. When the Assyrians invaded Judah in 701 B.C., Isaiah saw them as God’s instrument - "My rod in anger against an impious nation" (see Isaiah 10:5-6).
Things actually did get as bad in Judah as in Israel. Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, built altars to false gods in the temple, "immolated his son by fire," and shed "so much innocent blood as to fill the length and breadth of Israel" (see 2 Kings 21:1-9,16; see also 2 Kings 16:3; 17:17).
Because of Manasseh’s sins, God vowed to "bring such evil on Jerusalem and Judah that, whenever anyone hears of it, his ears shall ring" (see 2 Kings 12:15).
Around this time, the prophet Zephaniah warned of "the day of the Lord," a punishment for the wickedness and the pagan practices that defiled Judah (see Zephaniah 1:4-6, 14).
But it would take a generation before that would happen.
Under the reign of the good king Josiah, "the book of the covenant" was found in the Temple (see 2 Kings 22:8). Read the story - so far have the people fallen, it’s as if they had forgotten that the Law was ever given to their forefathers.
Josiah is zealous for reform and the people swear to live by the "terms of the covenant." He sets about cleansing the temple of cult prostitutes and other abominations. Finally, he orders the celebration of the Passover. Incredibly, it’s the first time the feast had been celebrated since the time of the judges (see 2 Kings 23).
In all this, Josiah had the vocal support of one of God’s great prophets, Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 1:1-6:30).
Things were looking up in Judah. So much so, that Nahum could prophesy the destruction of Judah’s dreaded enemy, the savage Assyria, and issue this oracle: "Celebrate your feasts, O Judah, fulfill your vows! For nevermore shall you be invaded…" (see Nahum 2:1).
But as Jeremiah recorded in vivid detail, the reforms of Josiah were short-lived. Josiah’s son Jehoiakim "did evil in the sight of the Lord - just as his forebears had done" (see 2 Kings 23:37). The spiritual state of Judah under Jehoiakim is well documented by the prophet (see Jeremiah 7-20).
D. Punished by Babylon
In 597, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon overran Jerusalem, executing God’s judgment on Judah for the sins of Manasseh (see 2 Kings 24:3-4).
Before the invasion, the prophet Habakkuk had predicted that Babylon would be raised up by God to punish Jerusalem - "the city, rebellious and polluted….Her priests profane what is holy and do violence to the Law" (see Habakkuk 1:6; 3:1,4).
After ten years of Babylonian occupation, Judah’s King Zedekiah tried to mount a rebellion. Babylon responded with overwhelming brutality - crushing the city, destroying the Temple, and sending thousands off into exile (see 2 Kings 24-25; Jeremiah 52).
All of this too, Jeremiah records (see Jeremiah 34). A legend preserved in Scripture has it that Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant so that it wouldn’t be defiled by the Babylonians, prophesying that it would not be found again "until God gathers His people together again and shows them mercy" (see 2 Maccabees 2:4-8).
In its pathos and despair, the destruction of Jerusalem is also rendered poignantly by an eyewitness in Lamentations, a book traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah.
Among those carted off from Jerusalem were the prophets Ezekiel and Baruch, the latter being Jeremiah’s secretary. Baruch sought to strengthen the exiles, promising an end to the exile and the restoration of Jerusalem (see Baruch 4:30-5:9).
Ezekiel, too, sought to comfort the afflicted, promising a future salvation for all Israel - prophetic promises we’ll look at in greater detail below.
E. Writing in Exile
Although the prophecy of Daniel was written nearly 350 years later, the story it tells is set during the Babylonian captivity.
Daniel lives in Babylon and is a seer for Nebuchadnezzer and succeeding kings in Babylon. These parts of Daniel (see Daniel 1-6) are similar to three curious books included among the Bible’s historical books - Tobit, Judith, and Esther.
In their place in the canon, these books become meditations on how Israel’s faith and religious identity are to be preserved outside the Promised Land - in the exile, in the face of undeserved suffering, in the face of persecution. In each of these books, notice how it is ordinary Israelites - a widow, a blind man and his son and young bride, a young virgin - who are the heroes, keeping the faith alive and saving the people.
For instance, Tobit is set among exiles from the North living in Ninevah circa 721. It shows how an Israelite family protects and nurtures the faith.
Tobit’s long concluding hymn of praise, promises that God is a "Father and God forever" and that, though He has scourged the exiles for their iniquities, in His mercy He will restore them from among the nations where they’ve been scattered (see Tobit 13:4-5).
VII. After the Exile
A. Restoration and Rebuilding
Jeremiah prophesied that the exile in Babylon would last 70 years (see Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10). It actually lasted a little more than half that long. In 538 B.C. Babylon was defeated by the Persians, led by King Cyrus.
Cyrus issued an edict to let God’s people return to Jerusalem and even helped fund the rebuilding of the Temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzer (see Ezra 1:2-4; 6:3-5; Isaiah 44:24,28; 45:1-3,13).
The remnant that returned to Jerusalem was not necessarily the most pious and God-fearing people. The prophet Malachi gives us a unique window on the spiritual state of the returning exiles - decrying the corruption of the priesthood and the moral laxity of the ordinary people.
The full story of the return of Judah and the restoration of Jerusalem is told in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. If you want to reconstruct the history of this period, read the books in this order: Ezra 1-6; Nehemiah 1-7, 11-13; Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 8-10.
The first order of business was rebuilding the Temple, which you will sometimes see referred to as the Second Temple, the first of course being the one that Solomon built. Work on the new Temple was urged on by two prophets of the restoration era - Haggai and Zechariah (see Ezra 5:1-2; Haggai 2:1-9; Zechariah 1:16).
When it was complete, Ezra led the people in a solemn renewal of their covenant with God (see Nehemiah 8-10).
The ceremony includes a long prayer by Ezra that recounts the history of God’s covenant love and His saving plan, beginning with the creation of the world (see Ezra 9:6-10:1).
Ezra’s prayer gives us a keen summary of the message of the biblical history - "In Your great mercy You did not completely destroy them and You did not forsake them, for You are a kind and merciful God….O our God, great, mighty, and awesome God, You Who in Your mercy preserve the covenant….In all that has come upon us, You have been just, for You kept faith while we have done evil" (see Nehemiah 9:31-33).
This was a period of renewed national pride and optimism in Judah. The prophets Obadiah and Joel foresaw the exaltation of Zion and a coming judgment on the nations (see Obadiah 5 and Joel 4). The prophet Jonah preached the unthinkable - the conversion of Ninevah, the capital city of Israel’s most dreaded foe.
B. Persecution and Revolt
The relatively benevolent Persian Empire was struck down in 331 B.C. by the Greeks under Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great.
The Holy Land came under the control of a series of increasingly hostile foreign kings. The history of this period, which closes out the Old Testament period and takes us to about 100 years before Christ, is told in the two books of Maccabees.
Maccabees, like the other books in the Bible, aim to give a religious interpretation of the history of the period.
The message is a familiar one - how God uses foreign kings to mete out punishment upon Israel for violating the Law, and how Israel is saved by returning to the covenant faith of its fathers (see 2 Maccabees 6:12; 7:32-38; 1 Maccabees 2:20,27,50; 4:10).
The most notorious of the "Hellenistic" kings of this period was Antiochus IV, who rose to power in 175 B.C. He called himself "Epiphanes," literally "God Manifest."
Antiochus began a vicious persecution of the Jews under the guise of a false ecumenism - claiming to want to erase religious distinctions among the peoples of the kingdom, trying to make all "one people, each abandoning his particular customs."
Antiochus desecrated the Temple - rededicating it to the Greek god Zeus and bringing in prostitutes to celebrate Greek fertility rituals. He burned any copy of the Law he could find, forbid the Israelites from observing the sabbath, made them eat and sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and forced them to stop performing the ritual act of the covenant - the circumcision of newborn sons. The penalty for violating Antiochus’ edit was torture and death (see 1 Maccabees 1:41-50, 57, 61-62; 2 Maccabees 7:1-11).
In the face of hardship and persecution, many in Israel abandoned the covenant and the ritual laws. But many others refused to abandon God, preferring "to die rather than to…profane the holy covenant." (see 1 Maccabees 1:11,14-15, 52).
Indeed, we see in the Maccabees the beginnings of a new definition of Israel - not according to ethnic or tribal identify, but according to faithfulness to the covenant: "Israel was driven into hiding, wherever places of refuge could be found" (see 1 Maccabees 1:53; Romans 9:6-8).
Not all who are of Israel are Israel. Israel was now made up of those who kept the faith - even if it meant dying for the faith.
The stories of the martyrdom of the 99-year-old Eleazar, and of the mother forced to watch her seven sons tortured before she herself was executed too for refusing to eat pork, are among the most moving in the Scriptures (see 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42)
C. Hasmonean Times
The Israelites, led by the Judas Maccabeus, the son of an aged priest, staged a series of revolts and battles against Antiochus and later occupying powers.
Judas was a skilled warrior and a pious man. He purified the Temple, and taught the people to pray for the souls of the faithful departed, and to hope for the resurrection of the dead (see 2 Maccabees 10:1-8; 12:38-46).
Led by Judas and his brothers, the Maccabees - against all odds - ousted all foreign powers from Jerusalem.
Beginning with the high priest John Hyrcanus (see 1 Maccabees 16), Israel enters into a period of about 100 years of independence under the leadership of priests.
The period is known as the Hasmonean dynasty, named for the great, great grandfather of Judas Maccabees. During this period we see the rise of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, Israelite sects that will figure prominently in the Gospels.
Under the Hasmoneans, it seemed, the prayer that began the Maccabees’ history - "May God bless you and remember His covenant with His faithful servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" - had been answered (see 2 Maccabees 1:2).
But there was a problem - actually a series of problems - with the Hasmonean dynasty.
Most critically: What happened to the promise God made to David? Did He grant David an everlasting throne or didn’t He?
Just before Jerusalem fell, Jeremiah had again reaffirmed that God’s covenant with David was eternal: It could no more be broken than the sun and moon could cease to shine, he said.
Jeremiah even said that David’s descendants would outnumber the stars in the heavens and the sands of the sea, another echo of God’s promise to Abraham (see Jeremiah 33:14-23,26; Genesis 22:17).
But that prophecy was nearly a half-millennium old by the time of the Hasmoneans. The Hasmonean priests weren’t kings and they weren’t descended from the line of David or even the tribe of Judah. They weren’t even descendants of Aaron, as the Law of Moses required for priests.
Early on, the people seemed to sense the problem. They agreed to live under this form of priestly, theocratic rule "until a true prophet arises" (see 2 Maccabees 14:41).
But as time wore on, and as the Hasmoneans sought to consolidate and legitimate their power, popular expectations of a new prophet had waned.
Still, in this period there were growing numbers who searched the Scriptures, recalled the writings of the prophets - the many powerful promises that they had made that seemed to have been only partially fulfilled.
Their search grew in intensity after Pompey invaded in 63 B.C. and claimed the Holy Land for the Roman Empire - historical events not recorded in the Bible.
There were numerous strands of prophetic expectation in the period between the Old and New Testaments, all reflected in the debates in the Gospels about whether Jesus was the Messiah.
Many looked forward to the fulfillment of Moses’ ancient prophecy - that God would raise up a prophet like him (see Deuteronomy 18:15-19). But the interpretation of this prophecy and others always pointed back to God’s promise to David.
As the New Testament period begins, the people were waiting for God to raise up a Son of David and restore the Davidic Kingdom (see John 1:21; 7:42).
D. The Consolation of Israel
The people were waiting on the promises of the prophets. They had taught Israel to hope for "a new David," who would be their savior, their "Messiah" - "one anointed" as David had been with oil and the Holy Spirit (see 1 Samuel 16:13).
Isaiah, for instance, prophesied the coming of a son of David, a child born in the line of David, who would gather together God’s scattered people into a new kingdom that would rule the world from Zion, by the Law of God (see Isaiah 2:2-3; Amos 9:11).
Micah said a child would be born in Bethlehem, that he would be the ruler and shepherd who would lead all the return of all "the children of Israel." Moreover, Micah said, the new king would rule "to the ends of the earth" (see Micah 5:1-4).
Daniel, in a prophecy written around the time of Antiochus’ persecution, saw a heavenly vision of the Davidic son ruling from on high: "He received dominion, glory and kingship - nations and peoples of every language serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away. His kingdom shall not be destroyed" (see Daniel 7:14).
Isaiah said that this son of David would be called "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace" and would reign "from David’s throne…both now and forever" (see Isaiah 9:1-7; 7:14; 11:1-5,10; Jeremiah 23:5-6).
Ezekiel, too, had seen a great vision of the new David - a shepherd king who would rule over Israel forever in the land which God had promised to Abraham.
He said God would in those days make a new covenant with the people, an everlasting covenant of peace, and would dwell forever among them in the sanctuary.
"My dwelling shall be with them," God promised through Ezekiel. "I will be their God and they shall be my people" (see Ezekiel 34:24-30; 37:23-28; 16:59-63).
Ezekiel was not alone in speaking of a new covenant, although only Jeremiah would use that actual term.
Isaiah looked forward to the day when God would "renew the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David."
He even implied that the Messiah would himself be a new covenant, given the name "a covenant of the people" (see Isaiah 55:3-5; 42:6).
Hosea evoked the messianic images of the Song of Songs, predicting that the Messiah would come as a groom comes for his beloved, that a new covenant would be made that "espoused" Israel and God forever (see Hosea 2:18-25; Isaiah 5:1-7; 54:4-9; Jeremiah 2; 32; Ezekiel 16:23; Song of Songs 3:2,11).
Finally, the prophet Jeremiah made this sweeping promise - that God would reunite the Northern and Southern kingdoms, gathering them from all the lands to which they had been banished:
"The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (see Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:36-41).
On the threshold of the New Testament, the devout and the righteous looked to these prophecies, awaiting the consolation of Israel - the coming of the new son of David, the resurrection of his fallen Kingdom (see Luke 1:69; 2:25,38; Mark 11:10; Isaiah 40:1; 52:9; 61:2-3).
VIII. Study Questions
1. Why did God permit some Canaanites to remain in the Promised Land, according to the author the book of Judges?
2. What was wrong about the Israelites asking Samuel for a king?
3. Before David made Jerusalem his capital, at what other important moment in salvation history was Jerusalem mentioned?
4. What are the different perspectives of the Books of Kings and Chronicles?
5. What are the six points of the Davidic Covenant that we identified?
6. How does the covenant with David further the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham?
7. Why is Mount Moriah significant in salvation history?
8. What is the todah?
9. What are some other names that the Bible uses to describe the Northern Kingdom? The Southern Kingdom?
10. What did Ezekiel prophesy about the "new David"?
11. Who is the only prophet who used the word "new covenant"?Article URL: http://www.salvationhistory.com/studies/lesson/genesis_to_kingdom_come/