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Series 3 - The Great Teachings of the Bible and What They Mean for You: Exploring the Bible

Hello, friends! This Bible study series on "Exploring the Bible" provides an overview and background material about the major sections of the Bible. This lesson will look at the historical books of the Old Testament known as the Former Prophets. These are the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, which tell the history of God's dealing with the children of Israel. There are many lessons we can learn from both the mistakes of the people and the good examples we find in these books.

We pray this lesson will give you practical and helpful information you can use in your further studies of God's inspired Word.

Lesson 2: The Former Prophets

The six books called the Former Prophets tell part of the history of God's chosen people, the 12 tribes of Israel. These stories are written for our benefit—including examples of what we should and shouldn't do.

Exploring the BibleThe stories of King David and his son Solomon are central to the Former Prophets. David learned through many trials and overcoming sins to become a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). And God gave Solomon great wisdom and made him the world's most powerful king at that time. Consider the hard-won wisdom David shared with his son before he died:

"Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying:

"'I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn; that the Lord may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, "If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul," He said, "you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel"'" (1 Kings 2:1-4).

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The United Church of God Bible Commentary on Joshua introduces the book this way:

"Jewish tradition attributes authorship of this book to Joshua, whose name it bears—a view accepted almost universally by Bible commentators. Later editors evidently made a few additions, such as the description of Joshua's death.

"Traditionally, the Old Testament is divided into three sections: the Law, Prophets and Writings (or Psalms, so named from the first book of that section). In fact, Jesus Himself confirmed this three-part division (compare Luke 24:44). According to the Jews, who have preserved the Hebrew Scriptures (Romans 3:1-2), the book of Joshua is the first book of the section called the Prophets. It deals with Joshua's tenure as Israel's leader and the Israelites' conquest of the land of Canaan.

"Joshua first appeared in Exodus 17:9 as the man Moses chose to lead the battle against Amalek. He was Moses' assistant and accompanied him part of the way up Mount Sinai when Moses met with God (Exodus 24:13; 32:15-17). He had a special relationship with both Moses and God (33:11; Numbers 11:28). He was Ephraim's representative sent to spy out the land of Canaan and, along with Caleb, brought back a favorable, though unpopular, report about the land (Numbers 13-14). God specifically chose him to succeed Moses as Israel's leader, who would lead them into the Promised Land (27:12-23). In Deuteronomy 31:7, he is told by Moses to 'be strong and of good courage,' and God states it Himself in Deuteronomy 31:23. Now, as Joshua takes over as leader of the tribes of Israel, God repeats the exhortation several more times (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, 18).

"The Hebrew name Joshua or Yehoshua (meaning 'The Eternal Is Salvation') occurs in the Greek New Testament as Iesous—transliterated into Latin as Iesus or Jesus."

Do symbols and types in the book of Joshua correspond to the New Testament picture of Jesus Christ?

Hebrews 3:14-19
For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?
Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness?
And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?
So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

Hebrews 4:1-11
Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.
For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: "So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest,'" although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; and again in this place: "They shall not enter My rest."
Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, "Today," after such a long time, as it has been said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts."
For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.
There remains therefore a rest [Sabbath-rest, New International Version] for the people of God.
For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

Joshua 1:13
"Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, 'The Lord your God is giving you rest and is giving you this land.'"

Joshua 21:44
The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand.

Joshua served as a type of Jesus Christ leading His people into a spiritual Promised Land, inheriting the Kingdom of God and overcoming evil along the way. Hebrews 3 and 4 specifically compare the entry and settling of the physical Promised Land with resting on God's weekly Sabbath and with entry into God's Kingdom, calling all three things God's rest (see also Joshua 1:15; 11:23; 14:15; 22:4; 23:1). As you read the book, look for other parallels.

Joshua chapters 1 through 12 recount the conquest of Canaan, the Promised Land. They show that God was the source of Israel's victories, which was powerfully demonstrated when He supernaturally caused the walls to fall down at Jericho (Joshua 6). Chapters 13 to 21 explain how the land was divided up and settled, and chapters 22 to 24 give Joshua's farewell speeches and the renewal of God's agreement and promises with the children of Israel.


The UCG Bible Commentary for Judges gives this introduction:

"The second book of the Prophets, Judges spans the approximately 325 years from the death of Joshua, some 25 years after Israel's entry into the Promised Land, to shortly before the coronation of Israel's first human king, Saul. Though it may have been written by various authors, adding to the storyline as events transpired—e.g., the Song of Deborah and the parable of Jotham—it was probably put into its final form by the last of the judges, Samuel, in the 11th century B.C. The Talmud states, 'Samuel wrote the book which bears his name and the book of Judges' (Baba Bathra 14b).

"Moses and Joshua were, of course, the first of Israel's judges. But once in the Promised Land, others followed. The judges were military men and governors whom God led to deliver Israel from foreign oppression and who then had a responsibility to 'judge' the people in concert with the priests and Levites (Deuteronomy 17:8-9). Each judge acted in a capacity similar to the later kings of Israel, except no hereditary line was involved. No judge after Moses and Joshua exercised authority over all Israel, but each functioned within a limited geographical area for a particular period of time.

"As for general themes, the book of Judges shows that Israel's national existence depended on her obedience…

"Judges is a book about people set on 'doing their own thing' ('In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes'—Judges 21:25; also 17:6; 18:1; 19:1). The absence of a human monarch allowed the people a great deal of personal freedom. But such freedom without adherence to God's moral instructions inevitably leads to anarchy and confusion. 'There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death' (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25)…

"Bible scholars have a problem with Judges because 'there is general agreement that the problem of harmonizing the chronological data presents insurmountable difficulty' (Soncino Commentary, introductory notes to Judges). Some 50 different methods of calculating the chronology of Judges have been offered. This is because many of the judgeships overlap, the last chapters of the book are out of sequence, and many scholars—dating Israel's conquest of the land too late—do not allow the full amount of time between the conquest and the beginning of the monarchy."

What cyclical pattern was repeated again and again in the book of Judges?

Judges 2:16-23
Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them.
Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so.
And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them.
And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way.
Then the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He said, "Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not."
Therefore the Lord left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.

This cycle of sin and its consequences, repentance and God's deliverance is a theme of the entire Bible. God wants us to recognize that, on our own, we humans choose sin, which brings automatic penalties, and that we desperately need God's deliverance and must not drift away from God in the good times.

The two depressing incidents described in Judges chapters 17 to 21 seem to be out of sequence with the rest of the book. "Clues within the text support the theory that the events described in these latter chapters actually took place early in the period of the judges… These sordid events…are purposely placed at the end of the book as a fitting epitaph to a degenerate time" (Nelson Study Bible, introduction to Judges).

1 Samuel

The UCG Bible Commentary for 1 Samuel says:

"After Judges, the next books of the Prophets section of the Hebrew Bible are Samuel and Kings… Though Chronicles also belongs to the Writings—in fact, concludes that section—most of it overlaps Samuel and Kings in great detail…

"The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book in the Hebrew canon. Samuel certainly wrote parts of the book bearing his name. In 1 Chronicles 29:29 he is mentioned as an author. However, he is dead after 1 Samuel 24 (his death is recorded in 1 Samuel 25:1). According to Jewish tradition, Nathan and Gad were the other authors."

The key figures in 1 Samuel are Samuel the prophet (chapters 1-7), Saul the first king (chapters 8-15) and David (chosen to be the next king but on the run from Saul in chapters 16-31).

Why did Israel want a king?

1 Samuel 8:4-5
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations."

Disgust and worries about the corruption of Samuel's sons and the desire to be more like the more powerful nations around them caused the Israelites to ask for a king. God said this was a rejection of Him (since He was their real King) and warned them of the bad consequences including heavy taxation they would experience, but He allowed a monarchy to be set up.

How did Saul disqualify himself as king?

1 Samuel 13:13-14
And Samuel said to Saul, "You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.
"But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you."

Saul had been an impressive choice for the first king, tall and handsome yet humble (1 Samuel 9:2, 21). However, he let fear, impatience, lack of faith, growing pride and selfishness lead him to disobey God (see 1 Samuel 13:5-12 and 15:1-34 for details of Saul's sins).

What did God see in David that we should seek to have as well?

Acts 13:22-23
"And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, 'I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.'
"From this man's seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus…"

God looks on our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7), and David's heart was set on obeying, following, pleasing and thinking more like God. David's sins are not hidden, but he was fervent in repenting and changing once he faced up to his sins (see David's prayer of confession and repentance in Psalm 51, for example).

2 Samuel

"Second Samuel recounts the triumphs and defeats of King David. From his rise to the throne to his famous last words, this biography describes a remarkable, divinely-inspired leader. As king, David took a divided and defeated Israel from his predecessor King Saul and built a prominent nation. Like most political biographies, Second Samuel highlights the character traits that enabled David to succeed—his reliance on God for guidance (2:1), his sincerity (5:1-5), and his courage (5:6, 7). But the book also describes the tragic consequences of David's lust (12:1-23) and pride (24:1-17). By presenting both the strengths and the weaknesses of David, the book gives a complete picture of a very real person—a person from whom we can learn" (Nelson Study Bible, introduction to 2 Samuel).

What did God promise David?

2 Samuel 7:16
"And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever."

What is the ultimate fulfillment of this Davidic covenant?

Luke 1:30-33
Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.
"He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.
"And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."

God's promises to David were both national and spiritual. Not only would his physical descendants continue to reign, but Jesus Christ and David are prophesied to rule for eternity in the Kingdom of God. See "God's Covenant With David" in the booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy for more details of this amazing promise.

1 Kings

"The two books of Kings cover 400 years of Israel's history: from the death of David to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC…

"1 Kings can be divided into two parts:

"Chapters 1-11: Solomon succeeds his father, David, as king of Israel and Judah. His golden reign includes the building of the temple in Jerusalem.

"Chapters 12-22: the nation divides into northern and southern kingdoms. We are given the stories of the kings ruling each area, including Jeroboam (Israel), Rehoboam (Judah), Ahab (Israel), Jehoshaphat (Judah) and Ahaziah (Israel).

"The prophets of God stand out as brave spokesmen, at a time when the people are turning to other gods. Elijah is the greatest of them all" (Eerdman's Family Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1978, p. 83).

How did Elijah present the spiritual choice facing the people of Israel during this period?

1 Kings 18:21-24
And Elijah came to all the people, and said, "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people answered him not a word.
Then Elijah said to the people, "I alone am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
"Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it.
"Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God." So all the people answered and said, "It is well spoken."

After the prophets of Baal failed, how did God respond?

1 Kings 18:36-39
And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word.
"Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again."
Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.
Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!"

Throughout the period of the kings God's people were constantly being tempted to forget God and His laws and to worship the gods of the nations around them. The temptations today may be somewhat different, but the results are often the same, as people forget God and serve money, status, entertainment and selfish desires. God calls on people of all ages to remember His laws and to follow Him for our good.

2 Kings

"2 Kings continues the history of the two Israelite kingdoms where 1 Kings left off. It also has two parts:

"Chapters 1-17: the story of both kingdoms from the mid-ninth century until the defeat of the northern kingdom by Assyria and the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. During this time the prophet Elisha, Elijah's successor, stands out as God's messenger.

"Chapters 18-25: the story of the kingdom of Judah, from the fall of the kingdom of Israel until the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587 BC. This includes the reigns of two great kings, Hezekiah and Josiah.

"In the two books of Kings, the rulers of Israel are judged by their faithfulness to God. The nation succeeds when the king is loyal. When they turn to other gods, they fail. The northern kings are all failures according to this standard, but for a time the kings of Judah did a little better. The fall of Jerusalem and the exile of many Israelites was a major watershed in the history of Israel" (Eerdman's Family Encyclopedia of the Bible, p. 84).

Why were people of the northern 10 tribes of Israel deported from their land?

2 Kings 17:7-8, 13-18
For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the Lord had cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made…
Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, "Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets."
Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God.
And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them; they followed idols, became idolaters, and went after the nations who were all around them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them that they should not do like them.
So they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.
And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.
Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone.

The southern kingdom of Judah later went into captivity for similar reasons (2 Kings 24:3-4; 19-20), though God did bring some of Judah back to the Holy Land after 70 years to fulfill His prophetic purpose (2 Chronicles 36:21). These captivities were meant to show the seriousness of sin and to teach us all to treat God's laws and way of life with utmost respect. Prophecy shows that a worse time of trouble and captivity is coming in the end times (Jeremiah 30:7-9).

God's laws are given for our good, and even His punishments and the restoration He has planned are for our eternal benefit. We are to learn the lessons of biblical history so we don't repeat the mistakes.


Apply Now

All Scripture is for our learning (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and the examples are for our admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11). Pick one of the judges or kings and read what the Bible says about this person. Write down two or three things you learn from this person's example. These can be things to do or NOT do. Think about situations in your life when you can apply these lessons.

Next Lesson: Lesson 3: The Major Prophets and You

Questions about this lesson? Feedback about this lesson?

Related Resources:

The Bible and Archaeology

Profiles of Faith... Joshua: God Is Salvation

Profiles of Faith... Rahab: From Harlot to Heroine

Jericho: The Lesson of Not Coming Into Sin

Profiles of Faith... Gideon: When a Few Make a Majority

Samson: Accomplishing God's Purpose—the Hard Way

Profiles of Faith... David—A Man After God's Heart

The Heart of a King

Israel's Golden Age from the booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy

Profiles of Faith... Solomon: Lesson From a Wise King

Profiles of Faith... Jeroboam: King of the Northern Ten Tribes

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Israel from the booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy

History Proves the Accuracy of Bible Prophecy from the booklet You Can Understand Bible Prophecy