The Significance of the Order of the Bible

The Significance of the Order of the Bible

September 04, 2011 Back

Many often wonder if there is any significance to the order of the books in the Bible. Some ordering has more significance than others, but in general, the answer is yes. The order is as follows, and we will go through the entire list:

Books of Moses:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
 

Prophets:

Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 12 Minor Prophets (Hosea, Yoel, Amos, Ovadiah, Yonah, Micha, Nahum, Habakuk, Tzefaniah, Hagai, Zecharyah, Malachi).

Writings:

Psalms, Proverbs, Job.
 

Scrolls:

Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther. Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles.

The ordering of the Pentateuch is obvious as it goes more or less chronologically, at least by book this is definitely the case. The same is true of the early prophets. The book of Joshua takes place right after the death of Moses, which closes Deuteronomy. Judges comes right after Joshua historically, in the pre-central government days when Israel was still a loose confederacy of tribes and lacked a monarchy. Then comes Samuel, telling the history of the Saul and David years, followed by Kings, or the history of the first commonwealth and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah all the way up until the destruction.

At this point, chronology stops, because the exilic and post-exilic books of Hagai, Zecharyah, Malachi, Ezekiel, Daniel, Esther, Lamentations, and Ezra-Nehemia are not ordered according to a timeline. The five scrolls of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Song of Songs, and Esther are ordered as a group within Writings according to the calendar and when they are read during the year beginning with the Song of Songs, read on the Shabbat coinciding the Passover. Since Passover is the beginning of the Jewish year (no, this is not Rosh Hashanah actually, which is the beginning the universal year as counted by the Jews), Song of Songs is listed first among the 5 scrolls, followed by Ruth read on Shavuot two months later, Lamentations two months after that on Tisha B’av, Ecclesiastes read on Sukkot, and Esther on the final month of Adar on Purim.

Daniel, and Ezra-Nehemiah are placed at the end because they are historical accounts whereas the prophets of Hagai, Zecharyah, and Malachi contained in the book of 12 minor prophets called the Trei Asar, although occurring at around the same, are of a much different length and written in a prophetic style and were therefore included with the 12.

Jeremiah is sandwiched between Isaiah and Ezekiel because Jeremiah is a book of chastisement, and the other two are primarily comforting books. The editor didn’t want to begin or end on a bad note. Isaiah comes first for chronological reasons. Ezekiel is an exilic prophet.

Proverbs was stuck in the back due to its length and the fact that it is not read on a holiday, Job for the same reasons, and Psalms was placed as the first book in the Writings sections because of its popularity. That covers all the books except one, by far the most important when it comes to the theological message of book-order in the Jewish Bible. That is the Book of Chronicles.

Chronicles is basically a rehash of the book of Kings except it starts all the way back at Adam and is sans the history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the 10 lost tribes, without emphasizing the bad deeds the Davidic dynasty ever committed. It is essentially history as it should have happened from beginning to end instead of history as it actually occurred. Why write it and place it last?

Above all, the Bible is a book for the perfection of humanity rather than a history book. It uses history for this goal but should not be read from the perspective of a historian. The Bible, if it is going to effectively communicate its message, must have a  book that sums up everything as it should be. That book is Chronicles. The final chapter of this book is especially significant. The final paragraph of this chapter reads like a depressing saga, as if the reader is moping. It talks about the final Davidic king, Zedekiah, and how he refused to repent and only got himself exiled by rebelling against Babylonia. How all the vessels of the temple were looted and/or destroyed, how young and old were murdered within, and how God had made all this happen.

But then, suddenly, everything changes. In the final two verses of the Jewish Bible, Persia comes to power and Cyrus issues a decree. Anyone who wants to go home to Judah – go home and rebuild your temple. The Jews get another chance at history with the final word “and go up!” said by Cyrus. The Bible ends not with the word of a prophet or a man of God, but a Persian king who recognized the God of Israel and sent His nation home. The message is clear. Even though the Bible is finished, the Jewish people will go on.

The Christian Bible, excluding the New Testament, ends with Malachi and the scary verse involving Elijah the Prophet coming back and smiting the world with terrible destruction. Since Christianity is highly eschatologically focused, it makes sense that they would want to open up the New Testament with a message of the end of days rather than with a proclamation that the Jews may return to their homeland.

So the significance of Biblical order as far as theology is concerned is in what you place last. Chronicles, or Malachi. Our Bible closes with Chronicles and the promise of the continuation of history and its eventual coming to fruition.

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