On June 2nd, 2019, I delivered a sermon titled The Wondrous Grace of God in the Old Testament. As part of that message, I provided a simplified breakdown of the Old Testament, that I am providing below. There are many ways to divide the Old Testament. This is just one simple way of approaching it.
Overall, the Old Testament consists of 39 books. The first 17 books are historical books. The next 5 are poetry and writings. The final 17 are prophetic. The list below reflects the order that you find them in your English Bibles.
I hope you find this helpful! I will also make this available in a formatted document soon.
I. HISTORICAL BOOKS
1. BOOKS OF MOSES (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
Written by Moses, these first five books are also often referred to as Torah, Pentateuch, Law of Moses, Book of the Law, and Mosaic Books. They detail the history of mankind, from creation up to Israel's second approach to the Promised Land.
2. PRE-KINGDOM ERA (Joshua, Judges and Ruth)
These books detail Israel's time in the Promised Land, prior to a having a king. Joshua details the conquest of the Land while Judges shows their initial failure to obey. Ruth is a more personal narrative that occurred during the time of Judges.
3. KINGDOM ERA / UNITED & DIVIDED (1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings)
These books provide Israel's kingdom history. 1 & 2 Samuel detail the the ministry of the Samuel and the kingships of Saul and David. 1 & 2 Kings begins with the kingship of Solomon, followed by God's divide of the kingdom into Israel & Judah and the subsequent line of kings in both kingdoms. 2 Kings ends with the complete exile of both kingdoms.
4. OT SUMMARY (1 & 2 Chronicles)
Though primarily focused upon the kingdom years, these two books actually re-summarize the entire Old Testament, from Genesis all the way to the point of Israel's call to return to the Promised Land at the end of 2 Chronicles.
5. POST-EXILE (Ezra & Nehemiah)
These two books detail Israel's return back to the Promised Land, through the eyes of Ezra and Nehemiah. The start of Ezra is identical to the end of 2 Chronicles, showing the chronological connection between the two books.
6. EXILE (Esther)
Esther appears out of chronological order. The events in Esther take place during the exile under the Persian rulership, which would place it chronologically before the events of Ezra and after the exile at the end of 2 Kings. This book demonstrates God's sovereignty in preserving Israel in the face of its enemies who wanted to eliminate them.
II. POETRY / WRITINGS
God's sovereign use of Satan to afflict Job.
Hymns of prayers, praise and lament; includes many messianic prophecies.
Wisdom principles for life.
4. Song of Solomon
Celebration of monogamous courtship and marriage.
The vanity of our temporal life put in contrast against eternity.
HISTORICAL NOTE: The following prophetic books were all written AFTER the kingdom of Israel was divided as a result of idolatry. Thus, these books contain many calls to repentance and many prophecies regarding judgment, restoration and the future Messiah.
1. MAJOR PROPHETS (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel)
All five books are in order and take place at the time of exile or while in exile. Lamentations can be technically classified with the prior category of "poetry/writings," but it is included here since it was written by the prophet Jeremiah as the temple of Jerusalem was being destroyed. Ezekiel is a contemporary of Jeremiah but he is prophesying from Babylon while Jeremiah was mostly in Judah. Daniel's writings stretch across both Babylonian and Persian rulership periods.
2. MINOR PROPHETS (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi)
All twelve books are placed in the order of their writings. The first nine books taking place BEFORE exile and the last three taking place AFTER Israel's return from exile.