What are the big events of Old Testament history?

In attempting to evaluate whether events recorded in the Old Testament rate as “big” I want to avoid subjectivism. “Big” should not just be what rates as “big” to me; we must reach for some objective standard–what the Bible itself rates as “big.”

Here are three objective criteria for what should be considered a “big” event:

  • An event recorded in detail that takes the biblical author more than two chapters to tell.
  • An event recorded by more than one biblical author.
  • An event that had lasting effects
  • An event that the New Testament points out as significant.

By these criteria, the following certainly qualify as “big” events in the Old Testament.

  1. Creation (Gen. 1 – 2)
  2. The Fall (Gen. 3)
  3. The Great Flood (Gen. 6 – 9)
  4. The life of Abraham (Gen. 12 – 25)
  5. The life of Jacob (Gen. 25 – 36)
  6. The life of Joseph (Gen. 37 – 50)
  7. The Exodus from Egypt (Exodus – Deuteronomy)
  8. The conquest of Canaan (Book of Joshua)
  9. The life of David (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Chron. 10 – 29)
  10. The building of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 5 – 8; 2 Chron. 2 – 7)
  11. The life of Elijah (1 Kings 172 Kings 2)
  12. The life of Elisha (2 Kings 2 – 13)
  13. The fall of Israel to the Assyrians (2 Kings 17)
  14. The deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians (2 Kings 18 – 19; 2 Chron. 32; Isa. 36 – 37)
  15. The fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (2 Kings 25; 2 Chron. 36; Jer. 39)
  16. The return from Babylonian exile (2 Chron. 36; Ezra; Nehemiah; Zechariah; Haggai)

Of course, there are many other events of the Old Testament besides these. But these are the “big” ones. Old Testament literacy would assume that you know at least these events in some detail.

Want to go deeper?

The following are recommended to help you learn the “big picture” of the Old Testament.

Recommended for purchase:

Wilbur Fields. Old Testament History: An Overview of Sacred History & Truth (College Press, 1967; reprint: 1996)

Eugene H. Merrill. Historical Survey of the Old Testament (2nd ed., 1991) – Supports the accuracy of the Old Testament, presenting it as God’s revelation to the world through Israel, the chosen people.

Eugene H. Merrill. Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (1996) – One of the best books on the history of Israel from a conservative perspective.

Online resources:

The 12 Periods of Old Testament History with book and chapter references

Alfred Edersheim. Bible History: Old Testament (1890 edition)