When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:30
A little more than two weeks ago, I finished reading the entire Old Testament. Though I have done so before, I cannot remember having ever read the entire first testament from “cover to cover” in as little time, and without interspersing anything from the New Testament. I love the Hebrew language ( I read in English, though time and time again my attention was called to the original language), I love the narrative, the literary styles, the realness of God and the craziness of humanity. Having just completed this task myself, I have just a few observations and reflections:
1) It can be done.
Many look at the thick book laying on their table entitled, “Holy Bible” (or some derivative there of) and think, “there is no way I could read straight through this thing.” Many start with the Creation in Genesis with great intention and end up leaving Joseph stuck in a pit, only to tell themselves, “maybe next time.” Others still will make snide remarks about “Numbers” or “Leviticus” with an emphasis in their voice that reveals their premature thoughts about “how boring” these books could possibly be. However, if they stop short, they will never read about a donkey talking, the craziness of the people in the wilderness, or all the insane regulations there are dealing with household mold and (more importantly) how much heart language is really smack dab in the middle of the Torah. In a day where teenagers literally read THOUSANDS of pages about vampires or witches, it is my utmost conviction that adults (as well as these very same teenagers) can read the words of scripture.
2) It must be done.
Many who read the Bible neglect the greater portion of it for even the greater portion of their lives. However, having just completed the reading, I find myself regretting I had not done it the same way sooner. As the “news” of the four gospels is now marching through my mind and heart, I cannot imagine not having this stored reservoir of “the Bible Jesus read,” seething out of my pores. The experience is not quite the same and cannot be replicated without having actually read the Old Testament.
3) Keep this book away from children.
I intentionally wrote this point this way because I know it will be noticed. However, the more I read (and early on in Genesis as well) the more I am struck with the stories in the narrative that are not exactly bed time friendly. I found myself thinking, “we obviously trust that children will not read the Bible when we give it to them.” Whether it is the daughters of Lot, the concubine of a Levite, or the colorful language Ezekiel chooses to use to describe the wayward people of Israel (not to mention the entire Song of Solomon), the Hebrew Bible is replete with stories adults would blush explaining to their children. If this were not enough, the Hebrew Bible app that I have on my Iphone is the only one I have that contains a warning that the content may be objectionable for children under the age of 17! Obviously, I do not think children should be deprived of the Bible. Instead, I am more and more convinced that many adults are not aware of what is in there, because they do not read it.
4) The Depravity of Man.
The Bible has at its center the Glory, Majesty, and Sovereignty of God. Yet, right there in the middle of that is the darkness of the heart of man. There are some stories in the Bible that are hard to stomach and frankly, should bother us. The first one to really strike my heart this way again upon this reading was in Judges 19 which I alluded to earlier. I literally had to close the book, pray, and contemplate. And though I cannot fully explain away the horridness of some of the events that are reported in the Bible, my heart found rest in this thought: I do not have to be aware (though I am) of the greater portion of world history, of empire, genocide, or the holocaust to realize how depraved man really is. The worst of man can be found first hand in the Bible. I find this actually helpful. For if tomorrow all our knowledge were to pass away, and we only had the Bible, we would find no surprises in what man is actually capable of. This depravity is obviously starkly contrasted with God’s glory and is a resounding testimony to man’s need of redemption.
5) The Unity of scripture.
A popular book in hermeneutics is The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter. What I cannot fully explain the magnitude of, is the amazing flow of scripture and the continuity of theme. There is literally no earthly way that that many authors over the length of time we know it took to form the Old testament could have coordinated the final product with the overall theme of narrative that the Old Testament has. My faith was rejuvenated even by this very fact. As Alter has observed, it certainly is art, and it is at its very finest.
6) The Heart of the Matter.
Mark 12:32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Reading this recently again for the first time reaffirmed some of my newly rekindled convictions about the Old Testament. Just as this scribe answered Jesus, it is possible to understand the Old Testament in this way, to read “in between the lines” as it were to realize what is ultimately being said: the greatest commandments are weightier even than the sacrificial system, and it really is about the heart.
I have much more to say, and many more thoughts, but I want to go ahead and share these and hope that you might find them helpful and encouraging.