A Brief Chronological History of Old Testament Israel
The Babylonian Captivity was a turning point in Israel’s history (605 B.C. — 435 B.C.). The Hebrews descended from Adam through Noah and his son, Shem. Following God’s judgment of humanity in the flood and again at Babel (later Babylon), the Almighty approached Abram, a man of Ur of the Chaldees (Gen 12). God covenanted with Abram, Isaac, and Jacob, whose 12 sons would comprise the 12 tribes of Israel (Jacob’s God-changed name).
These three patriarchs spanned the time from 2135 B.C. to 1828 B.C. God brought this family to Egypt during famine, and they eventually were enslaved by the Egyptians (Genesis/Exodus). Israel was led out of Egypt by God’s appointed man, Moses, in the Exodus of 1446 B.C. The conquest of Canaan, the land promised to them by Yahweh, happened under Joshua in 1406 B.C. (Joshua). Next, the period of the Judges led to the peoples’ request for a king to rule over them. God gave them Saul (1051 BC), then David (1011 BC), then Solomon (971) with reigns of 40 years each.
Solomon built the first Temple at Jerusalem in 966 B.C. Upon his death in 931 B.C. the kingdom was divided between 10 tribes in the north (Israel) and 2 tribes in the south (Judah/Benjamin). 20 kings ruled in the north and all of them were wicked. God judged and dispersed the people of the northern kingdom at the hand of King Sennacherib in 722 B.C.
20 kings ruled the southern kingdom of Judah/Benjamin and 12 of them were wicked. God judged the southern kingdom at the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon by means of diaspora captivity which occurred in three primary waves in 605 B.C., 597 B.C., and 586 B.C. In God’s judgment of Judah, the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
This period of Jewish history is rich with courageous believers, as recorded in the prophetic books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The history books of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah also tell the story of Israel’s history between 605 B.C. and 435 B.C. We also note the inability of the nation to establish and maintain worship of Yahweh because of covenant unfaithfulness, which included numerous incidences of idolatry.
The 70 years of Babylonian exile are marked by the destruction of the Temple (586 B.C.) and its being rebuilt (516 B.C.). Judgment turned to restoration.
The first wave of Jews returned to Jerusalem and Judah in 538 B.C., following Persia’s defeat of Babylon in 539 B.C. under King Cyrus, who had been a subject in Isaiah’s 8th century prophecy (Is 44:28; 45:1). The booty extracted from Jerusalem by the Babylonians was returned to the Jews for the funding of the Temple and its services of worship (Ezra 1, 6).
Cyrus decreed the restoration of Yahweh-worship at Jerusalem with the means of returned treasure and government treasury funds from beyond the River (Euphrates). Cyrus’ motive was superstition rather than true worship. He was attempting to appease Yahweh, as he did other peoples’ gods.
Efforts were made by this first returning party to rebuild the Temple. Resistance by Samaritans stalled the project between 536 B.C. and 520 B.C. (Ezra 4).
The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were the men of God who spurred the Jews to restart the Temple building project in 520 B.C., with its completion in 516 B.C. Darius the Mede (Medo-Persia) was king at the time (Ezra 5–6) and helped enforce King Cyrus’ earlier decree for funding and rebuilding.
Esther was made Queen of Persia in 479 B.C. This Jewess, niece of Mordecai, was the chosen bride of King Xerxes (Ahasuerus). This was the time of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish people. My reader should note that resistance often rises against God’s people in most generations and in many places (Mt 5:10–12; Jn 16:2, 33). Jerusalem’s history as a city is one filled with many troubles.
Artaxerxes (I) had a long reign of 41 years from 465 B.C. to 424 B.C. In the 7th year of his reign, which was 458 B.C., Ezra the priest and scribe returned with the second wave of returning exiles.
The third wave of Jews came with King Artaxerxes’ cupbearer, Nehemiah, in 444 B.C. Upon hearing the report of distress at Jerusalem among the Jews who had already returned (Neh 1), Nehemiah made his request to return to Jerusalem in the spring (Nisan) of 444 B.C. (Neh 2). The same king (Artaxerxes I) granted safe passage and the necessary documents to rebuild the city walls and gates.
Two notable gaps of approximately 400 years each exist in the biblical history of Israel. The first is between Joseph and Moses, while the nation was growing in population at Goshen in Egypt (mid-19th century to mid-15th century B.C.). The second gap is between Malachi and the synoptic Gospels of the New Testament (5th century B.C. to 1st century A.D.). In all, Old Testament biblical history spans from Adam to John the Baptist. This is a chronological expanse of some 4,100 years with Abraham occupying the center point at roughly 2,000 years before the arrival of Jesus Messiah, the promised God-man sent from heaven to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21).
A helpful study tool in learning the Old Testament is the chronological ordering of people and events. There are a small number of dates to memorize that prove helpful in remembering the development from one man, Abraham, into the Jewish nation. Of course, the genealogies in Genesis 5, 10; Matthew 1; and Luke 3 are invaluable to this study.
4143 BC — Adam and Eve
2487 BC — Noah and the Flood
2147 BC — Tower of Babel
2135 BC — Abraham born
2036 BC — Sodom
1884 BC — Joseph born
1854 BC — Joseph before Pharaoh of Egypt
1446 BC — Moses and Exodus
1406 BC — Joshua and Conquest of Canaan
1350–1051 BC — Period of the Judges
1051 BC — King Saul
1011 BC — King David
971 BC — King Solomon
966 BC — First Temple Completed
931 BC — Death of Solomon and Divided Kingdom
722 BC — Judgment of Northern Kingdom (Israel) by Sennacherib of Assyria
605 BC — 1st Exiles to Babylon
597 BC — 2nd Exiles to Babylon
586 BC — Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and Temple; 3rd Exiles to Babylon
538 BC — 1st Returnees to Jerusalem (Zerubbabel)
536 BC — Temple Foundation Laid
520 BC — Temple Rebuilding (Haggai and Zechariah)
516 BC — 2nd Temple Completed
479 BC — Esther made Queen of Persia
458 BC — 2nd Returnees to Jerusalem (Ezra)
444 BC — 3rd Returnees to Jerusalem (Nehemiah)
435 BC — Malachi (End of Old Testament)
Life spans were very long before the Great Flood (Deluge). Some people noted in the Bible lived for 900+ years. After the flood, and in time, the life spans were reduced to 120 years (Moses), then again reduced to 70–80 years where it has remained (Ps 90:10).
The Bible has between 40–50 different human authors beginning with Moses’ writings (Pentateuch and Psalm 90). Therefore, the Old Testament authorship ranges from 15th century to the 5th century B.C. The entire New Testament was written between A.D. 35 and A.D. 95.
It is my hope that this recounting of Old Testament Israel’s history from the Bible will aid you in your studies. For those of us who love dates, in the ordering of history, we are in great debt to those who have gone before us and done the meticulous work of adding precision to this method of study.
Spokane Valley, Washington
September 20, 2022