Basic Biblical Timeline (Part 1-OT)

It occurred to me recently that we know so many Bible names and hear so many stories, but it is difficult to put them all in their correct places. This article will not solve all your timeline woes, and the dates I give are not meant to be exact dates of exquisite historical accuracy. I am trying to give you basic ranges that will give you a framework upon which you can build your knowledge a bit at a time.

One of the confusing things about both the Old and New Testaments is that though there are parts of them that are chronological, the books in both tend to be grouped by topic rather than by historical order. Thus, when you read the stories or letters of the Scriptures, it is easy to lose sight of the historical thread that weaves them all together. So, let's try to put some of the key Biblical pieces in order.

(10, 000-4000 BC) God created the world.    [Genesis]

OK, I realize this seems to have gotten off on a rough start. You have to be thinking, "A 6000 year range, this is not going to be helpful." I promise we will get more precise as we go. There are several factors at work. First, there just aren't any other records to cross-check. In the Scriptures there are not a lot of exact dates given (though there are some), but as civilizations grew and records were kept it becomes easier to date events in the Bible against other historical records. Second, some things cannot be known. For instance, Adam and Eve lived for some time in the Garden of Eden before they sinned and were thrown out. Because they were sinless and therefore not subject to death, they could well have lived in the garden for hundreds or thousands of years in harmony with and obedience to God. Or, Satan could have appeared to Eve as a serpent three days after Creation was completed. No one knows the amount of time between Genesis 2 and Genesis 3. Godly, wise, highly educated men are on both sides of the argument.

After Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, they began having children and Earth's population multiplied rapidly. Humans lived an extraordinarily long time, people had many children, and the population exploded. Unfortunately, almost immediately most people turned from God and became vile and wicked. God was so angry at the wickedness of mankind that He decided to destroy the Earth. He did this by...

(3000-2300 BC) Universal Flood (Noah's Ark)    [Genesis]

Once again this is a big range, but we are starting to narrow things down a bit. Roughly in this range God destroyed the world as previously known with a cataclysmic flood. Noah and his family were spared, not because they deserved it or had earned it in any way, but because God was gracious and kind. After the floodwaters receded Noah and his sons and their wives began anew the process of populating the earth.

(2000 BC) Abraham-father of God's people     [Genesis, Job]

After hundreds of years when the Earth's population was again on the rise, God called a man named Abraham out of the land of Ur to be the father of a special nation of people. God used Abraham to begin the Jewish nation (also called Israelites and Hebrews). Abraham had a son named Isaac; Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob loved God and followed Him. Later in life God changed Jacob's name to Israel. Jacob/Israel had twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. These twelve sons became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The eleventh son, Joseph, is the one about whom we know the story of his special coat. Joseph was sold by his brothers (out of jealousy) into slavery in Egypt. God blessed Joseph, and he rose miraculously to a position of great authority in Egypt. When the rest of the extended family (all of Joseph's brothers now had families of their own) was caught in a terrible famine, Joseph was able to use his influence to move the whole family to a region of Egypt called Goshen. There the family lived and grew exponentially for a period of four hundred years. In the middle of that time a new ruling dynasty of Egypt came to power and enslaved the Jews/Hebrews/Israelites. So, at the end of their four hundred years in Egypt God's people were numerous and strong, but oppressed and enslaved.

[Roughly during the beginning of this period, or perhaps even before this period the book of Job was written. Job was a man who loved and followed the true God, but as far as we can tell had no connection to the chosen people of Israel]

(1446) Moses-The Escape from Egypt    [Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy]

God used a man named Moses who was an Israelite but had been raised in the Egyptian royal court to lead the Israelites out of Egypt towards the land that God had prepared for them, Canaan. Through many nomadic, wandering years God established and organized his people. During this period He gave them the Law (the standard by which they were to live) and moved them all the way to the edge of the Promised Land (Canaan).

(1400) Inhabiting the Promised Land    [Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel]

After Moses died God chose a successor to Moses as the leader of God's people, Joshua. Joshua was a mighty warrior who led God's people in many battles to carve out a place for themselves in the land of Canaan. After Joshua died Israel declined morally and socially and fell into a pattern of wandering away from God, worshipping other gods, being enslaved or oppressed by foreigners, being delivered by God through the work of great heroes, following God for a time, and then wandering away from God again. These mighty heroes were called judges. They were not kings, and they were not exactly prophets. They were just gifted deliverers and leaders. This pattern repeated itself for hundreds of years up until the time of Samuel. Samuel was somewhat like the other judges, but he was a mighty prophet as well.

(1035) Monarchy    [1&2 Samuel, 1&2  Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk] 

Samuel serves as a sort of bridge between the time of the judges and the time of the Israelite monarchy. The Israelites had begun to grow discontent with their lot in life. They did not like to be ruled by God indirectly through human leaders (called a Theocracy). They wanted to have a visible leader like all the countries around them. The Israelites clamored for a king, so God decided to allow them to have one. Saul was made king by Samuel. Saul got off to a fairly good start. He was a successful military king, and he did free them from the grip of their neighbors/enemies. However, Saul's relationship with God left something to be desired. He eventually became tormented by demons and very mentally unstable. God told Samuel to anoint a new king while Saul was still living. David was a humble shepherd, but God chose him as the next king. David served Saul faithfully for quite some time as a musician and a warrior while Saul still reigned. However, as Saul grew more deranged, he repeatedly tried to murder David. Saul was eventually killed in battle, and David became king. Under David's rule the kingdom of Israel grew and flourished. Though David had sinful moments and made some bad choices, he loved and followed God till his death. David's son, Solomon, followed David on the throne. Solomon was extremely gifted. He was the wisest man ever to live. Solomon was used greatly by God as a ruler and a writer of Scripture. Solomon built a beautiful Temple for the worship of God. However, as Solomon grew older he drifted away from God. God did not destroy Solomon for David's sake, but after Solomon's death, the kingdom fell apart. The nation experienced civil war for the next several hundred years. The nation split into northern and southern sections. The north was known as Israel. The south was known as Judah. Each had its own ruling families. God sent prophets to both. Both had good and bad kings, but generally Judah (the south) was much more faithful to God.

Ultimately, however, both Israel and Judah would rebel against God and be destroyed. Jerusalem (the holy city) and Solomon's Temple were destroyed. God allowed all of his people to be carried away as captives to other lands.

(722 BC) Exile    [Esther, Daniel, Ezekiel, Malachi]

God allowed His people to languish in captivity for quite some time. Israel had been captured and carried off much earlier. Judah was preserved for longer but they were exiled as well around 586 BC. Through a succession of captors (Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians) God's people were captives. Many completely assimilated into the culture of their captors, but some remembered God and continued to worship Him even in captivity.

(538 BC) Return to the Promised Land    [Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah]

After many years in exile God allowed his people to return in freedom to their land. There were several waves of people over a period of many years led by several different men. God's people had to fight against the people who had inhabited Canaan while they were in captivity, but slowly Israel regained their land. A new temple was rebuilt, the Law was again the standard for life, and proper worship of God was re-established.

The people of Israel would live this way in the land of Canaan for the next several hundred years. They would serve God and become more and more established in their religion and traditions as they waited for the coming of the promised Messiah.

There was a period of roughly four hundred years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament-the coming of Jesus as the Messiah.

[I relied on on several sources for this compilation. I consulted the NASB MacArthur Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible by Crossway, Gleason Archer's Survey of the Old Testament, and my seminary notes.]


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