The Neviim [נְבִיאִים], translated as “Prophets,” is the second of the three major divisions in the Hebrew Bible. The Neviim follows the Torah and precedes the Ketuvim. The Neviim is comprised of two subsections, the Former Prophets or Neviim Rishonim [נביאים ראשונים]; and the Latter Prophets or Neviim Aharonim [נביאים אחרונים]. The New Testament has one prophetic book, the book of Revelation.
In the Neviim, the Former Prophets include Joshua through 2 Kings; these narratives are also classified as historical books. The Latter Prophets contain the writings of three major prophets as well as the works of the twelve minor prophets. Here is the complete listing of the Neviim:
As a classification or title, Prophets may be confusing to Christian readers who typically think of prophets as those who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote with pinpoint accuracy of future events. Indeed, fifteen such prophetic writers are included in this section of the Old Testament. But, according to Jewish tradition, the Neviim also serves to tell the story of the Jewish people and the land given to them in perpetuity by God. For this reason, many of the writings classified as historical books are also included in the Neviim.
As the Neviim tells ancient Israel’s thrilling story, let us examine the sequence of historical events chronicled in these twenty-one books:
• Under the leadership of Joshua, Moses’ successor, the twelve tribes cross the Jordan River to occupy Canaan, the land forever promised to God’s people.
• When God’s people act in obedience, victories over their enemies come easily, but when God’s people rebel and fall into idolatry, they suffer defeat.
• Initially, the people are governed by tribal judges. Despite the title, judges were rulers and military strategists rather than legal experts or court officials. Among the judges are Gideon, Deborah, Samson, and Samuel.
• Samuel, the last of the judges and a prophet of God, anoints Saul, a Benjamite, as Israel’s first king. Initially, Saul shows much promise as Israel’s ruler, but when Saul acts disobediently, he loses God’s favor and forfeits the crown.
• David succeeds Saul as Israel’s king. Hailed as a man after God’s own heart, Israel flourishes under David’s rule. During King David’s reign, Israel is at its pinnacle. By and large, his leadership is marked by peace and plenty. About a thousand years later, Israel’s Messiah, a descendant of King David, is born in Bethlehem. By God’s grace, Israel’s greatest king gave the world its King of Kings.
• As David nears the end of his life, he decrees that his son Solomon, whose mother is Bathsheba, will wear the crown. Like Saul, Solomon shows much promise as Israel’s king, but a lifestyle of excess and a tolerance of idolatry result in dire national consequences. The once mighty nation is divided into two weaker kingdoms upon Solomon’s death.
• Despite the warnings and calls for repentance by God’s holy prophets, the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah, are overtaken by foreign powers, Assyria and Babylonia. These are the darkest days in ancient Jewish history, yet God’s discipline is always tempered by His mercy. In time, the Jews in exile return to rebuild Jerusalem and its centerpiece, the temple.
While the Neviim is an immensely valuable historical record, these books are not limited to an understanding of the past. On the contrary, God pulled back the curtain of time thus allowing His holy prophets to peer far into the future—and what they saw is amazing. Because the future is not hidden from God, today’s diligent Bible students who study the writings of God’s prophets can know tomorrow’s headlines.