For over fifty years I have been a serious student of the Bible and have read it all numerous times. But up until this past year, I have never read it through in a chronological manner. My studies had always focused on the micro rather than the macro in that I would delve deeply into studying a particular book of the Bible, or perhaps a specific chapter, even one verse, or even tinier by focusing on one word. But having now read it ‘cover to cover’ in a year’s time I’ve come away with some conclusions (hopefully accurate ones) that I’d never seen before.
FIRST – God’s workings in my life have little to do with me, rather, they are about a bigger purpose that only He can see at the time. All the plagues that God brought upon Egypt in order to convince Pharaoh to ‘let my people go’ were to let all the nations around Egypt learn of the one true God’s power. And indeed, when the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea on their journey toward the Promised Land many nations laid down their weapons of war because they knew they were powerless in the face of this people’s God.
God didn’t save Jonah from the belly of that giant fish for Jonah’s sake but so Jonah could travel to Nineveh and convict the people to repent and turn to God. Esther did not become Queen Esther in order to benefit her but in order that she would be in a position to save God’s people. All the calamities that befell Job were not about him. They were about giving the world an example of how a person should cope when trials come. And the horrible death Jesus endured was not about him—it was about you and me.
It’s an important lesson for me to remember whenever good or bad things happen to me and I want to feel either puffed up or pitiful. There’s always a bigger reason than I can see, and I need to be thankful in both circumstances that God thought enough of me to use me in his Grand Plan.
SECOND – No wonder people were startled at the teachings of Jesus. The Old Testament teachers, kings, and prophets of God always spoke with a ‘thus saith the Lord,’ or ‘God has spoken to me’ or ‘hear now what God has to say.’ Over and over again they made sure to credit God as being the source of their words to the people. But Jesus’ manner was completely different. His words were ‘I say to you.’
He spoke with his own authority, something the religious leaders of his day did not do. Jesus even openly contradicted some of their teachings: ‘You have heard it said … But I say to you,’ and they despised him for it. They felt threatened and feared losing their power base, which led to the decision to kill Jesus.
THIRD – The children of Israel missed the point. They believed that God chose them because they were special, they were better than the people around them. The truth, though, is the only thing that made them special was that God chose them, a choice made as a manifestation of his grace.
God needed a vehicle to show the world how he deals with mankind and all its frailties. And the children of Israel were a perfect vehicle. It’s by studying their history in the Bible that we gain such a full understanding of all the facets of God’s nature.
There have been times in my life that I thought God chose Americans over other nationalities because of who we are, because we are more special in his eyes than anyone else. I now see this as a very arrogant attitude. Has God blessed America? Absolutely! But God has blessed every nation that has ever existed.
The only thing that can make a person special is when they acknowledge God as the creator of the universe and make a decision to live their life in devotion and obedience to him.
FOURTH – The outward display of devotion to God has never been the most important thing to Him. I’ve often heard it explained that under the Old Law the emphasis was on the outward acts of worship—burning incense, making animal sacrifices, washing hands, etc., and that the New Law (Testament) focuses on the heart. I no longer believe that to be the case.
What God has consistently asked for, since the beginning, is a changed heart in the lives those who are devoted to him. Jesus made this abundantly clear when he talked about people who looked and acted in a pious manner but in their hearts were full of corruption and were very far from God.
There have been too many times in my life when I practiced a ‘check-the-box’ religion, making sure I did the things that people expected a faithful Christian to do: dress a certain way, talk a certain way, go to church a certain number of times, etc., but my heart wasn’t what it should have been.
Don’t get me wrong. Those devoted to God should act and look differently from those who are not devoted. God does, and has always, demanded obedience. But it’s really easy to look and act right and be dead to God on the inside.
If you’ve never read through the Bible in the manner I did in 2019 I really encourage you do to so. It’s so easy now with all the Bible’s available on tablets and phones and most of them have a reading plan that you can use. It’s not too late to start (even though you’re a few days behind).
By setting aside 15-20 minutes a day you can read the whole Bible in a year.