Bible Old Testament: The Historical Books
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1989

Acknowledgement: These books have been summarized using The New International Version Study Bible (NIV translation 1973--84, published Zondervan 1985).  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary--thus the notes reflect the devoutly evangelical flavor and point of view of that commentary.  Other sources are explicitly cited below.


Joshua

Joshua is one of the "Former Prophets" in the Hebrew Bible, a term which also includes Judges, Samuel, and Kings. It is traditionally said to have been written by Joshua (c. 1370) but some believe it was probably written at the end of the period of the Kings (c. 600), others at the beginning (c. 1050). The events it describes began traditionally in 1406 but possibly c. 1250.

Joshua tells of the crossing of the Jordan and the violent and brutal conquest of Canaan by Joshua (Greek "Jesus"; originally named Hoshea meaning "salvation"). It is a holy war waged to claim the chosen land from the idolatrous and dissolute Canaanites. 

Joshua's two spies are aided in Jericho by the prostitute Rahab, whose family is later spared during the invasion. The Jordan is crossed, the waters held back miraculously to allow the priests with the Ark to cross. At Gilgal, uncircumcised men born while in the desert are circumcised and the feast of the Passover celebrated. An angel (or the Lord) appears to Joshua and assures him of victory over Jericho, which is subsequently conquered, plundered, and destroyed including every living thing within. Achan steals some of the Canaanite devoted things for himself and the Lord punishes the Israelites for his actions by having him stoned to death. Ai also is destroyed and burned, the king's body hung from a tree. Joshua renews the covenant at Mount Ebal. The Gibeonites deceive Joshua into making a treaty with them so that they cannot be attacked. 

Hailstones fall on the troops of the five kings of the Amorites and the sun stops still to assist the conquest by divine intervention. The kings are killed and hung out in the sun. Jerusalem and the southern cities to the Negev are all conquered and destroyed with no survivors, as are the northern kings and cities. The period of conquests over the Amorites, Hittites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites lasted about seven years. The land is divided up (in considerable detail) among the tribes of Israel. Cities of Refuge are designated where accused criminals may flee to be protected while awaiting trial. Towns for the Levites are designated. Jerusalem does not remain conquered however. 

Joshua again calls for a covenant renewal for the people assembled at Shechem. Joshua dies (c. 1390) and is buried in the new homeland in Ephraim. Joseph's bones, brought from Egypt, are buried at Shechem, fulfilling the pledge made in Genesis. 

Judges

Judges = "Leaders": Written by Samuel according to tradition, probably during the monarchy (c. 1015: 1050 - 930) covering the period before the monarchy (1390 - 1050). The judges are Israel's leaders before the kings. It is a period of frequent apostasy and divine punishment as the people adopt pagan Canaanite practices and lose sight of their unique identity as God's people. "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." The principle gods of the Philistines were Dagon and Baal-Zebul (Baal the Prince; corrupted by the Israelites to Baal-Zebub "Lord of the Files"). 

More conquests occur but the Jebusites in Jerusalem cannot be dislodged. The efforts at conquest are incomplete and an angel appears and warns that the remaining Canaanites will be thorns in their sides and their gods will be a snare for them. A generation grows up ignorant of God. The Lord raises up judges but they are not heeded. They intermarry and serve the foreign gods. 

Othniel (first judge) brings temporary peace on the land. Ehud, the second judge, slays Eglon, king of Moab. Shamgar follows, then Deborah, a "prophetess," who prophesies how to defeat Jabin's army under Sisera. Sisera is slain by Jael in her tent. The Song of Deborah praises the Lord's salvation of the people and the victory. 

The Midianites oppress the Israelites. An angel (or the Lord) appears to Gideon of Manasseh, telling him to rise up and save his people. He tears down his father's altar to Baal and Asherah pole. He forms a coalition of northern tribes and defeats the Midianites. Abimelech, his son, assumes power as a corrupt Baal worshipper and is the antithesis of the Lord's appointed judges. Tola, then Jair follow, and the Israelites fall into the hands of the Philistines and Ammonites. Jephthah, son of Gilead, is victorious over the Ammonites and sacrifices his only daughter to the Lord. The Ephraimites fight the Gileadites for no good reason. Jephtha slays 42,000 Ephraimites who are distinguished because they pronounce "shibboleth" differently. Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon follow. 

An angel appears to Manoah and his wife and predicts the birth of Samson, who will be a Nazirite who will not use a razor on his head and who will deliver Israel. He tears a lion apart as a young man. He wreaks havoc on the Philistine wheat fields with 300 foxes, their tails set afire. They in turn kill his ex-wife and her father. The men of Judah capture him to turn him over to the Philistines. Samson however slays a thousand Philistine men with a donkey's jawbone. He becomes the leader of Israel, visits a prostitute in Gaza, and wrecks Gaza's gate in vengeance against Judah. He falls in love with Delilah, who is persuaded by the Philistines to trap him by shaving off his hair. They put out his eyes and imprison him. Eventually, he brings down the temple walls on a large crowd. 

Micah and his Levite priest and idols illustrate the corruption of religious practices. The Gibeahites in Benjamin threaten to rape a male Levite visitor but settle for his concubine instead, who dies after the brutal rape. The Levite sends parts of her body throughout all of Israel as an example. Israelites fight the Benjaminites, who are defending the Gibeahites. The Benjaminites are nearly wiped out and their towns destroyed. In order to replenish the tribe of Benjaminites, the aggrieved Israelites arrange to provide virgin wives from Jabesh Gilead (whose men had been slain for avoiding the fighting) and from Shiloh.

Ruth

A Hebrew short story set in the time of Judges, Ruth reflects a temporary peace between Moab and Israel. It was probably written during the monarchy (1050 - 930). Its theme is redemption, not by blood or birth, but through self-giving love that fulfills God's law.

Ruth is a childless Moabite widow. Her Judahite mother-in-law, Naomi, is left without husband or sons and bitterly despairs her fate. Her sister-in-law chooses to leave Naomi for her Moab homeland but Ruth vows to stay on with her. They travel to Bethlehem where Ruth meets a relative of Naomi's husband, Boaz, who serves as a "kinsman-redeemer." He helps her to glean barley. She follows Naomi's instructions, lays at the feet of Boaz on the threshing floor, and eventually becomes his wife. She bears Obed, the father of Jesse and grandfather of David. 

1 and 2 Samuel

The book of Samuel (divided by the Septuagint translators as "First and Second Books of Kingdoms") covers the period from the birth of Samuel (c.1105) to the end of David's reign (970). The unknown author, possibly Zabud son of Nathan the prophet, probably lived shortly after Solomon's death (930) and the division of the kingdom. Samuel established kingship in Israel and provided for covenant continuity in the transition from the period of judges. The monarchy he establishes is not to be an autonomous one (which would be a sinful rejection of the Lord) but subject to the law of the Lord and the word of the prophet. Saul is unwilling to submit to the theocratic requirements of the office. David represents the true, though imperfect, representative of the ideal theocratic king, a standard by which all future kings will be compared despite his many failings.

The barren Ephraimite Hannah prays for a son (Samuel) and pledges him to the Nazirite vow for life. She praises his birth and thanks the Lord in the "Magnificat of the OT." She prophecies "He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn [symbolizing strength] of his anointed." ("Anointed" is the English translation of the Hebrew word transliterated as "Messiah" and translated into Greek as "Christos"). 

She gives him to the priest Eli. The Lord appears to Samuel and he grows up to be a revered prophet. The ark is captured in battle by the Philistines after the Israelis foolishly take it in to battle at Shiloh, thinking it will somehow bring them victory. Eli's two evil sons are killed and he dies upon hearing of the tragedies. The possession of the ark brings God's wrath on the Philistines and after seven months they return it. Samuel is made leader of the people at Mizpah and begins a period during which the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israeli territory again. His sons are appointed to follow him as judges but they are dishonest and the people clamor for a king to lead Israel, like the other nations have. This violates the covenant with God but, after the people ignore a stern warning from God through Samuel, he agrees to follow God's plan to give them a king. 

God instructs him to anoint the Benjaminite and donkey herder Saul as the new king. God changes Saul's heart and the Spirit of God comes on him. Some are skeptical of the new king's abilities. Samuel writes down the new regulations of kingship to clarify the role of the king versus the God of Israel. Saul slaughters the Ammonites that besiege Jabesh Gilead, after which the people are united in their support for him. He is formally made king at Gilgal. Samuel warns that the people and the king must follow the Lord. 

At Gilgal during battle, Saul violates Samuel's instructions to wait seven days for him before making a burnt offering. As a result Samuel advises him that his kingdom is doomed to fail. Saul's son Jonathan shows great courage in battle and, with the help of a divine earthquake, routs the Philistines. Saul unwisely declares that his men cannot eat all day. Jonathan defies the ban, eating honey and Saul condemns him to death. He is rescued by Saul's men. Saul fights the Amalekites but violates the command of God to put their king Agag, their cattle, and their sheep to death. Samuel rebukes him, tells him that the Lord has rejected him as king, and slays Agag. 

Samuel follows the instructions of the Lord and travels to Bethlehem, where he secretly anoints Jesse's youngest son, the shepherd David. David is unknowingly called to Saul's court because of his fame as a noted harpist and warrior and plays for Saul, giving him relief from his evil thoughts. David slays the giant Philistine Goliath, armed only with a sling and his faith in God. Saul is jealous of David and he tries unsuccessfully to kill him. He offers his daughter's hand, hoping that David will die fighting the Philistines, but David is victorious and takes Michal in marriage. Saul plots again to kill David, but Jonathan warns his friend and David flees. 

At Nob, the priest Ahimelech gives David consecrated bread for nourishment [an incident used by Jesus to illustrate the subordination of ceremonial law to doing good and saving life.] David leaves his parents with the king of Moab. Saul has the priests at Nob killed for assisting David. He pursues David into the desert, where David spares Saul's life in a cave. Saul concedes that David is to be king but David remains wary. Samuel dies and is mourned. Nabal denies David and his men food, but his wife Abigail provides for them--Nabal dies and David takes her as a wife. David again spares Saul's life in a sneak attack. David flees to the Philistines in Gath. 

Saul asks a witch at Endor to conjure up Samuel's spirit, who fortells Saul's death that day. David leaves the Philistines and battles the Amalekites while Saul fights the Philistines. Saul kills himself after being wounded and his sons are killed (c. 1010). This ends 1 Samuel.

David mourns the deaths of Saul and his sons, expressing his grief in a lament. As God instructs, David travels to Hebron in Judah where he is anointed king of Judah. David wars with his contender, Saul's son Ish-Bosheth, who is manipulated by Abner. After David concludes an treaty agreement with Abner, David's warrior Joab finds and murders Abner to avenge his brother Asahel's death. David condemns Joab's action and maintains his own innocence. Ish-Bosheth is murdered in his home by two Benjaminites and present his head to David. But David orders them put to death for killing an innocent man in his own house. With no viable contenders from the house of Saul, David is finally anointed as king by all of Israel.

In 1003, David conquers the Jebusites and takes Jerusalem ("the fortress of Zion"), calling it the "City of David." He again defeats the Philistines. He has the ark brought to Jerusalem and dances in celebration. Michal rebukes him and lives out her life childless. 

David is told through Nathan's prophecy from God that "...I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.... Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me.... " David gives a prayer of wonder and thanks to God. 

Many victories follow, with Joab in charge of the army. Jonathan's lame son, Mephibosheth, is given back Saul's lands and belongings. Joab defeats the Ammonites. 

David spots Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, from the roof of the palace as she bathes. He has her brought to him, after which she conceives. David unscrupulously arranges for her husband to die in battle so and afterwards claims her as his wife. Nathan condemns his action, telling a parable about how a rich man robs a poor man of his only ewe, and predicts calamity for David's house (Absalom's rebellion). David confesses his sin. Bathsheba's new infant dies but in time gives birth to Solomon (named "Jedidiah" by God through Nathan). 

David's oldest son Amnon, the crown prince, rapes his half-sister Tamar. Her brother Absalom has him murdered and flees. Joab arranges for a widow to make an appeal to David that convinces him to bring Absalom back, though isolated from the king. After two years, David takes him back, though Absalom shows little sign of repentance. Absalom gradually becomes assertive, gets a chariot, and "...steals the hearts of the men of Israel." In Hebron, Absalom announces himself to be king. David flees Jerusalem, leaving ten concubines behind. Absalom returns to Jerusalem, where he lays with his father's concubines, symbolizing assumption of royal power. 

While Joab prepares for battle, David begs him to "be gentle" with Absalom. Absalom's army is defeated, he catches his head in a tree, and Joab stabs him to death with three javelins. When David hears of his death, he cries "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom. If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!" Joab rebukes him for not honoring his victorious men. David crosses the Jordan and returns to Jerusalem as king, forgiving those who turned against him. Some of the Israeli's desert him and follow the Benjaminite Sheba, but Joab pursues him and brings back his head. 

Other events in David's reign are summarized: The Gibeonites ask for redress against for Saul's killings and David grants them the death of seven of Saul's male descendants. David sings to the Lord his Song of Praise (Psalm 18) David takes a census of his fighting men, an act offending the Lord because of the implied lack of faith in the Lord (in I Chronicles it is said to have been incited by Satan) and bringing a plague on Israel. He purchases the threshing floor for an altar (the eventual site of the temple) and the plague stops. 

1 and 2 Kings

This single book was divided by the Septuagint translators ("Third and Fourth Books of Kingdoms"). It completes the history of the period of the monarchies up to the defeat and exile at the hands of the Babylonians. It was written traditionally by Jeremiah but probably derives from records of the prophets used by a single Judahite author living in exile (which extended from c. 586 - 538). It covers the period 970 - 561. It presents a selective history of the kings in the light of God's covenants, slighting important historical figures such as Omri and Jeroboam II, and instead emphasizing important deviations or adherence to the covenants (or important prophet interactions). Only Hezekiah and Josiah receive unqualified approval. David is used as the measure by which all others are compared. Many prophecies are shown to come true, and Elijah and Elisha are given greatest prominence. The author was trying to explain to his people in exile the reason for their condition of humiliation while offering hope for all of Israel. 

Solomon is made king by the aging David (970), requesting that Joab be punished (who along with Shimei is later executed). His brother Adonijah, who tried to be king, is also executed after he asks for David's concubine Abishag. God grants Solomon's request in a dream: " I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be." But this reward, and others promised, is contingent on his obeying God's statutes as had David. Solomon decides to split in half the child contested by two prostitutes, revealing the true mother. 

Solomon establishes a great empire, ruling from the Egyptian border to the Euphrates River, providing great wisdom and peace. The temple is begun in 966 and built in seven years. The ark is placed in the temple and it is consecrated and dedicated. His palace is also constructed, being completed c. 946. God appears to him again and warns him to "...walk before me with integrity and uprightness like David [or]...Israel will be cut off from the land I have given them...." 

The Queen of Sheba visits from Arabia and is overwhelmed at the splendor of the riches Solomon has amassed and his great wisdom. Solomon takes many wives including foreigners. God is angered and tells him that he "...will tear [the land] out of the hand of your son." He raises up adversaries against Solomon, culminating in Jeroboam I of Ephraim. In 930, Solomon dies and is succeeded by Rehoboam. He refuses to compromise with Jeroboam I and the Northern Kingdom (Israel) rebels against him and what becomes the southern kingdom (Judah). 

A man of God sent from Judah to Jeroboam I prophecies against Israel and Jeroboam's evil pagan ways. Jeroboam tries to motion to have him seized but his hand miraculously withers and the altar is split. The prophet, however, is killed by a lion on returning after himself disobeying the command of God. God through the prophet Ahijah foretells the disaster that will fall upon Jeroboam and his sons. His son Nadab succeeds him, followed by the evil Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Tibni, Omri, and Ahab. The capital of the northern kingdom shifts to the hill of Samaria purchased by Omri, who establishes a citadel-like city similar to Jerusalem.

Rehoboam also does evil and practices pagan rites. The temple is plundered in 926 by the Egyptians. The evil Abijah succeeds him, followed by Asa, who attempts several reforms, followed by Jehoshaphat. 

Ahab (874-853) was the most evil king of all, promoting Baal worship, and marrying the Phoenician Jezebel. The prophet Elijah is sent by God from Gilead (in Northern Transjordan) to Ahab to oppose these pagan practices. He prophecies drought and famine to Ahab. The ravens miraculously feed him in the Kerith Ravine. When he visits a widow at Zarepath, her depleted stores of food and oil are miraculously replenished and he restores to life her recently deceased son. Obadiah, in charge of Ahab's palace, conceals 100 prophets in caves to save their lives from Jezebel. Elijah summons Ahab and his Baal prophets on Mount Carmel and challenges them to show the power of Baal, which fails to materialize. But his own altar is miraculously set ablaze by God, after which he commands the slaughter of the prophets of Baal. Jezebel threatens Elijah's life and he flees south. The Lord appears to him as wind, earthquake, and fire and directs him to anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet. 

Ahab defeats Ben-Hadad of Aram and sets him free, an act condemned by a prophet of the Lord. Jezebel arranges the murder of Naboth so that Ahab can have his vineyard. Elijah condemns Ahab's act, saying "...dogs will lick up your blood..." Ahab enlists Jehoshaphat's alliance in an attack on Ramoth Gilead but the Judahite prophet Micaiah correctly foretells disaster. In battle, Ahab is hit by an arrow and dies in his chariot. His son Azahiah follows (853) as another evil king [end of 1 Kings]. Elijah foretells Azahiah's death and is saved from his men by fire falling from heaven. After Azahiah's death, his brother Joram is made king. Elijah parts the waters of the Jordan with his cloak. While walking with Elisha, they are separated by a chariot of fire and he is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. 

Elisha also makes the waters of the Jordan divide. Elisha miraculously provides oil to a widow to save her sons from slavery. A Shunammite woman's son dies and is restored to life by Elisha. He also feeds 100 men with only twenty loaves of bread. Namaan of Aram comes to Elisha because of his leprosy and is cured by washing in the Jordan as instructed. Elisha makes a lost axehead float. The king of Aram tries to have Elisha captured but when they attack, the Lord surrounds Elisha's town with chariots of fire, blinding the Arameans. Samaria is besieged by Aram and the people resort to cannibalism. The Arameans hear sounds of a great army created by the Lord and flee. Hazael murders the king of Aram Ben-Hadad and becomes their king. 
Jehoshaphat of Judah leads a righteous life and is succeeded by his son Jehoram. He allies with the northern king Joram to fight Moab. Ahaziah succeeds him briefly followed by his mother Athaliah, who tries to secure her throne by ordering the killing of the royal family. But she is put to death after seven years of reign and Ahaziah's son Joash becomes king of Judah (835). He strips all sacred objects from the temple and palace in Jerusalem to pay tribute to the attacking king of Aram, Hazael. He is succeeded by Amaziah. 

Elisha anoints Jehu to be northern king, succeeding Joram (841), and instructs him to destroy the house of Ahab. Jehu slays Joram and his nephew Ahaziah (king of Judah), who is visiting. Jezebel is thrown out from her window and dogs eat her body, fulfilling Elijah's prophecy. Jehu also causes seventy descendants of Ahab to be beheaded in a campaign of terrorism that also leads to the killing of all prophets of Baal. He is succeeded by his son Jehoahaz, then his son Jehoash. Elisha dies and later, a dead man returns to life when his body contacts Elisha's bones. 

Amaziah of Judah is attacked by Jehoash of Israel, who breaks down the wall of Jerusalem and plunders what remains, taking hostages to Samaria. Amaziah is killed and succeeded by Azariah (Uzziah), then his son Jotham, then his son Ahaz (735). Jehoash is succeeded by Jeroboam II followed by his son Zechariah. Shallum follows, then Menahem. Pul king of Assyria invades the land and is given tribute by Menahem. His son Pekahiah succeeds him, followed by his assassin Pekah. The king of Assyria, Tiglath-Plieser invades and deports many to Assyria (King Ahaz of Judah had appealed to him for help and paid tribute to him). Hoshea kills Pekah and becomes king (732). He is attacked by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser, who captures Samaria and deports the Israelites to Assyria (722), causing the downfall of the northern kingdom (Israel). The king of Assyria (primarily Sargon II) resettles the captured land (now collectively called Samaria) with Babylonians and other foreign peoples. Priests from the exiled Israelis are sent to the new "Samaritans" to teach these hybrid peoples the ways of the old religion--but the religious practices they adopt do not conform to the Mosaic law.

Ahaz of Judah is succeeded by Hezekiah (715), who lives righteously and rebels against the king of Assyria. But he is attacked by Sennacherib of Assyria and forced to pay tribute. When he resists the Assyrian attack on Jerusalem, Isaiah prophecies Sennacherib's defeat. That night, the angel of the Lord strikes down 185,000 of Sennacherib's men (plague?) and the Assyrians withdraw. Hezekiah falls ill the Lord puts off his death in response to his appeal because of his faithful service. He receives envoys from Babylon and shows them his remaining treasures, which Isaiah foretells will be taken away by the Babylonians. 

Manasseh succeeds his father Hezekiah (697) and reverts to evil practices and idolatry. His prophets foretell disaster. His son Amon follows and after his assassination, his son Josiah (640). Josiah rediscovers the Books of the Law and the Covenant and renews the covenant with the Lord. He reinstates the celebration of Passover, destroys pagan temples, and abolishes pagan priests. He is killed in battle by forces of the pharaoh Neco and is succeeded by his son Jehoahaz, who rules for only three months and is then sent to imprisonment by Neco in Egypt. His brother Jehoiakim (Eliakim) succeeds him and initially pays tribute to Neco but later becomes vassal to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar [probably after the latter defeats Neco in the pivotal battle of Carchemish (605)]. His son Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) succeeds him (598). In three months, Nebuchadnezzar lays siege to Jerusalem and in 597 takes the city, plunders its treasures, and captures the king. 18,000 Israelites are sent into exile to Babylon. Zedekiah (Mattaniah), another son of Josiah, is made king by Nebuchadnezzar. But after nine years of reign, he also rebels (possibly to renew alliance with Egypt) and again Nebuchadnezzar attacks. After two years of siege, Jerusalem falls and is virtually destroyed (586). Zedekiah's sons are killed, he is blinded, and he and the people still remaining are taken into exile.

In 561, Jehoiachin is released from Babylonian imprisonment and treated with hospitality by the new Babylonian king, Evil-Merodach. This final event in Kings offers hope for the exiles and the line of David. 

1 and 2 Chronicles

The Hebrew title is translated "the events (or annals) of the days (or years)". The Septuagint translators divided it into two books and called it "the things omitted" [i.e., a supplement to Samuel and Kings]. By tradition, Ezra wrote Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah and it was probably written c. 450, if not by Ezra then a contemporary. It draws selectively on and duplicates many other sources, especially Samuel and Kings. It is a narrative "sermon" for postexilic Israel. It considers whether the old covenants still apply. It emphasizes continuity with the past (for example, by use of genealogies), God's sovereign acts of election, the law and the prophets, the theme of immediate retribution, and hope for the Messiah to come. David and Solomon are presented in idealized form, omitting many of the problematical details. 

The book opens with extensive genealogies, including David's line through Zerubbabel and beyond. Saul dies because he is unfaithful to God. Various retellings of Davidic history are given. The Levites, singers, gatekeepers, officials, and officers are listed. David gives Solomon his plans for the temple in an idealized account of their transition. (end of Book1). 

Solomon has the temple built, furnished, and dedicated.... Rehoboam fortifies cities of Judah.... The account of Jehoshaphat King of Judah especially illustrates the immediate rewards and punishment for actions.... Hezekiah's religious reforms and devotion are emphasized (for example, the Passover celebration).... The exile in Babylon ends when Cyrus king of Persia, moved by God, decrees that the exiles may return to their now purified land and build a temple in Jerusalem. 

Ezra

Ezra and Nehemiah were two separate compositions combined into one in the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint. They were divided by Origen ("I and II Ezra") and in subsequent translations. They also contain many lists. Ezra was composed c. 440 and Nehemiah c. 430. Ezra contains first person extracts from the memoirs of Ezra but may have been compiled by a contemporary author. According to tradition, Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in 458 and Nehemiah in 445. Ezra and Nehemiah are written in late Hebrew except Ezra 4:8-6:18, which are in Aramaic. See Chronicles for author.

Cyrus follows his policy of placating the gods of his subject people and decrees that the Israelites may return with their treasures to Jerusalem and build a temple (538). A list of returning exiles is provided. Rebuilding of the altar and temple are begun by Zerubbabel and other priests, but their efforts are thwarted by opponents who appeal to the new Persian kings, Xerxes and Artaxerxes. Their efforts are resumed with permission of King Darius and the temple is completed in 516. Ezra arrives (458) with a letter from King Artaxerxes authorizing him to return with any interested Israelites to teach the Law of his God. A list of families with him is given. Ezra deplores intermarriage and the people vow to separate themselves form their foreign pagan wives. 

Nehemiah

Nehemiah prays when he hears of the trouble of the returned Israelites, probably when the temple rebuilding was delayed, and Artaxerxes sends him to Jerusalem (445). He urges the rebuilding of the walls and gates, which proceeds despite opposition and is completed in 445. Ezra reads the law to the people and the people praise the Lord and confess their sins. In 433, Nehemiah is appointed governor of Judah by Artaxerxes. The people agree to a binding written agreement not to intermarry, buy or sell on the Sabbath, and adhere to other aspects of the Law. The new inhabitants of Jerusalem are selected by casting lots. The Wall is dedicated. People of foreign descent are excluded from Israel and proper support for the Levites is arranged.

Esther

Esther describes events taking place c. 460 during the reign of Xerxes. The author is inferred to be a Jewish resident of a Persian city, writing after 460 and before 331. It describes the institution of the annual festival of Purim. Haman, the "Agagite" and probably king of the Amalekites, tries to renew the long-standing war with Israel. Their enmity was first described in Exodus and continued with Saul's attack on Amalek in which King Agag was killed. The Amalekites therefore symbolize the powers of the world arrayed against God's people. There are no explicit references to God or worship and Esther has been criticized by some as being secular. 

Xerxes (who ruled from 486 - 465) gives a banquet in Susa in 483, possibly in preparation for the disastrous campaigns against Greece. Queen Vashti disobeys his order to appear before him and is expelled. In searching for a new queen, Xerxes selects Esther (Hadassah), daughter of the Benjaminite Jew Mordecai, a descendant from Saul whose family had been carried into exile by Nebuchadnezzar. She conceals her Jewish roots at her father's request. Mordecai learns of a plot to assassinate Xerxes and through Esther warns him. Later Haman (probably king of the Amalekites) visits but Mordecai repeatedly refuses to bow down to this representative of Israel's old enemy. Haman is enraged and, after casting lots, calls for a war to destroy all the Jews in Xerxes' kingdom. Xerxes consents to the request but declines the money offered by Haman. He issues a decree ordering the destruction of all Jews, young and old, to occur in eleven months. 

Mordecai pleads to Esther to use her influence to secure their deliverance. Esther requests permission of the king to give a banquet and invites Haman, who accepts. He is again enraged by Mordecai's disobedience, this time his refusal to stand in his presence. He plots to have Mordecai hanged and has a gallows constructed in the courtyard. The noise keeps Xerxes awake and he asks to have his chronicles read to him. He learns that Mordecai has not been rewarded for his good deed. Coincidentally, Haman appears and learns that it is Mordecai who will be honored rather than himself. At Esther's banquet, she pleads with Xerxes to grant amnesty to her and her people. Haman clumsily tries to obtain her forgiveness but, when Xerxes learns Haman intended to hang Mordecai, Xerxes orders Haman instead to be hanged. Esther is given the estate of Haman. Xerxes issues a new decree in effect countering the first and providing for the right of the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies. When the day finally comes, the Jews strike down 75,000 of their enemies throughout the kingdom and have Haman's ten sons hanged. This day is celebrated thereafter as Purim and Mordecai rises to rank second only to Xerxes.