There's currently a stigma that surrounds the Old Testament confusing us to believe that it is boring or irrelevant to modern Christianity. Quite frankly, this is something that we need to deal with. Why? Because it's an issue hindering us and we need to face it. and we have done poorly thus far.
That's the reason why I started reading Philip Yancey's "The Bible Jesus Read". It targets the topic of a stale and troublesome Old Testament that believers struggle to read. And to say that this book has helped my Bible reading or my view of the Bible is understatement.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the Old Testament. But I really only enjoyed parts of it. Yancey quotes Oswald Chambers on page 9 saying, "the Psalms teach you how to pray; Job teaches you how to suffer; the Song of Solomon teaches you how to love; Proverbs teaches you how to live; and Ecclesiastes teaches you how to enjoy." But I wonder, what are we to do with the other 34 books? How are we to enjoy those?
I'm thankful for how Yancey took the tough parts as well as the dry areas of the Old Testament and breathed fresh vision into it. I finished this 220 page book in July but sadly, I had started it in November! But the crazy thing is that it was a "page turner". I couldn't put it down at times. But it was weighty - in a good way - so I had to put it down at times to mule over what I was reading digesting. It caused me to run to the Lord and to the Word of God. I'm so thankful for this. What beautiful results of a book about the Bible and about the God of the Bible!
At first, I expected this book to be factual. Don't get me wrong, it is at some degree but this book mostly reads like a conversation. Yancey vulnerably shares his struggles with different parts of the OT and then shares the fresh revelations that he received from God as he wrestled with both the text and and the God of the text. It's so necessary to include both.
Yancey ultimately offers a new perspective into the OT, the very reasoning behind the title of the book. He shares, "when we read the OT, we read the Bible Jesus read and used. These are the prayers Jesus prayed, the poems He memorized, the songs He sang, the bedtime stories He heard as a child, the prophecies He pondered." (pg 25)
With this vision on the forefront of your minds, I want to share more of what Yancey had to say about the difficulties of the OT that we know and tend to avoid.
A Little Taste For You.
The book is made up of seven focused chapters. The first being a defense of the OT; the second through sixth being in-depth views into five books or types of books that are difficult; and the final chapter being a closing plea to see differently. Below I want to share some of the wisdom found in the 2nd through 6th chapters. I hope that you taste of the endless riches that are to be found in the OT and that you are stirred to want more.
- Job: Seeing in the Dark
In this chapter, Yancey deals with the issue of suffering and ponders why God would allow the story of Job to be told. It’s a gruesome story of tragedy but it ends so well. What is one to do with such a story? Below are some of Yancey’s thoughts and revelations on the matter:
“Although Job may help us form our questions about unjust suffering, it fails to give many answers for a very simple reason: chapters 1-2 have clearly shown that, regardless of what Job thinks, God is not on trial in this book. Job is on trial.” Page 53
“As C.S. Lewis said in his journal of grief after his wife’s death, ‘Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like.’ Deceive yourself no longer.” Page 57
“At root, Job faced a crisis of faith, not of suffering. And so do we. … God seemed absent; in one sense God had never been more present. I hesitate to write this because it is a hard truth, one I do not want to acknowledge: Job convinces me that God cares more about our faith than our pleasure.” Page 63
2. Deuteronomy: A Taste of Bittersweet
Here, Yancey takes sometime to deal with Israel as a nation and the exodus that took place out of Egypt into the Promise Land. The main theme of this chapter is that God knows our weakness and that He deals with us so graciously. Here is a beautiful reminder:
“Dust, Hapiru, ‘the dusty ones’, the old Egyptian slang word for the Hebrews – God remembers that we are dust. .. We have a God of grace, who loves even the dusty ones – especially the dusty ones.” Page 103
This chapter influenced me so greatly that it provoked me to write this blog: A Return to the Gospel: You are the God of my Exodus.
3. Psalms: Spirituality in Every Key
I don’t know about you, but I love the psalms. But I must confess that they at times irritate me. Why do they go from praise to frustration? What’s going on? Is God near or is He far? Stop confusing me! But here in this chapter, Yancey deals with this subject of seemingly unbalanced psalms. Here are some great insights into what is really going on:
“I must read them (the psalms) as an ‘over-the-shoulder’ reader since the intended audience was not other people, but God. Even the psalms for public use were designed as corporate prayers for them too God represented the primary audience.” Page 112
“‘The psalms do no theologize,’ writes Kathleen Norris in The Cloister Walk, ‘One reason for this is that the psalms are poetry, and poetry’s function is not to explain but to offer images and stories that resonate with our lives.” Page 113
“Many psalms convey this spirit of ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,’ a way of talking oneself into faith when emotions are wavering. The odd mixture of pslams of cursing, psalms of praise, and psalms of confession no longer jars me as it once did. Instead, I am continually amazed by the spiritual wholeness of the Hebrew poets, who sought to include God in every area of life by bringing to God every emotion experienced in daily activity. One need not “dress up” or “put on a face” to meet God. There are no walled-off areas; God can be trusted with reality… They wrestled with God over every facet of their lives, and in the end it was the very act of wrestling that proved their faith.” Page 123
4. Ecclesiastes: The End of Wisdom
In this chapter, Yancey makes an intriguing argument that wisdom among other things will not help you figure God out or to conquer Him. He then explains how even Solomon’s wisdom had an end. Here are some further thoughts:
“According to Jack Miles, ‘Ecclesiastes neither curses nor blesses God but only finds Him incomprehensible and does his best to hedge all bets, including any bet on wisdom or righteousness.” Page 151
“Most of our problems have come about, ironically, because of our desire to progress, to improve, to make life better.” Page 155
“We are discontent with our lot, whatever it is, just because it is ours..” page 157
“Unless we acknowledge our limits and subject ourselves to God’s rule, unless we trust the Giver of all good gifts, we will end up in a state of despair. Ecclesiastes calls us to accept our status as creatures under the dominion of the Creator, something few of us do without a struggle.” Page 160
5. The Prophets: God Talks Back
Joining together the likes of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, as well as the minor prophets, Yancey tackles the problem with God’s judgments in a very beautiful way. Here are some great insights in to the Prophets:
"Above all else, the prophets repeat the constant refrain of the OT, that we matter to God." page 177
"God's cries of pain and anger are the cries of a wounded lover, distressed over our lack of response. .. As He explains through Isaiah, He has no choice: if a world refuses to learn righteousness through grace, He must resort to punishment. .. Israel has nowhere else to fall than back in the arms of God's creative love. Each time, God promises to begin again: to restore the remnant, to write laws on their hearts, to send a Messiah-deliverer, to breathe life into a pile of desiccated bones. Each time, God promises never to give up, always to love. .. As if words are not strong enough to express those emotions, God asks Hosea to act out a shocking parable." Page 179
"The very word 'prophet' has come to mean a teller of the future.. I wish we could scrap that word 'prophet' and replace it with 'seer', which better conveys their role: to see what no one else can, with an X-ray vision into the present and the future. Prophets simply see better than anyone else. It becomes clear as you read the prophets that now was more important to them than later." page 182
Should You Read This Book?
Well, let's first consider your view of the Old Testament. Are you a reoccurring visitor to it's pages, chapters and books? Or do you find yourself preferring the comfort and ease of the New Testament? If you are anything like me, you desire to be someone who loves the Word of God deeply but you have your hindrances.
Secondly, I'll reiterate that one of my greatest responses from reading this book was a renewed passion to devour all of the Word of God. I pray that if you read this book, that your affections for the Bible would be stirred as well, for you were made to find life within those pages and through an intimate relationship with the God of that Book.
The Bible Jesus Read
HarperCollins Zondervan Publishing