Yesterday, after nine months of determined devotion, I finally finished my first entire read-through of the Old Testament. Genesis through Malachi. “In the beginning” all the way to “lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
I won’t be stopping here, of course. The New Testament is on the other side of the page, and I’m eager to get started — but it’s worth reflecting on what I’ve noticed while reading through the L. and the P.
God’s concern for the widow, the orphan, and the poor is inescapable. I knew about this, of course: Jesus talks about it, pastors talk about it, Christians talk about it. I’ve even talked about it from time to time. I’ve always understood that it’s as much a part of the Bible as the Flood or Jonah and the whale — and I assumed it was mentioned about as often, too. But it’s not. God’s heart for the poor bleeds onto almost every page.
I’m not exaggerating about that. It was an odd day if I didn’t read about our obligation to those in need, to those less fortunate but no less loved. It’d be tough, I think, to find even three or four chapters in a row that don’t touch on the themes of justice, charity, poverty, and generosity. What this means, of course, is that if caring for the poor is that important to God, it ought to be that important to me.
Don’t get me wrong, here. This stuff has been part of my life for a long while now; certainly it’s been part of my heart if not always part of my hands. But it’s the regularity and frequency and insistence about the whole thing that took me by surprise. Like I said, it’s inescapable. It’s almost enough to make me think that these bleeding-heart, social justice, liberal emergent types may be on to something. Almost, but not quite. The second thing I noticed keeps me from going there.
I’ve been reading through the Bible on a chronological plan, which means that instead of reading the Bible in the order that Crossway prints it, I’ve been reading it in the order that the events took place through history. Sure, I’m bouncing around the pages of the Bible like my son bounces around the house after he has too much sugar, but the narrative arc is smooth and steady, progressing from beginning to end in a cronological, historical progression.
While I can’t pretend to know the Israelites’ anticipation as they waited and prayed for the promised Messiah, I honestly began to feel something of their yearning. I can’t wait for Jesus to enter the story. And I’m convinced that it isn’t simply because I’m a Christian — it’s because when I entered into the narrative and walked my way through from the very beginning, I began to understand a little bit of their cries:
How long, O Lord? How long? How long? How long? Over and over and over again, waiting for the promised messiah to come. If I didn’t already know how the story ends, the suspense would be killing me.
But I do know, and I can’t wait to turn that page and finally get to Jesus.
The entire Old T. points to Jesus. From the protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15 all the way through the major and minor prophets, the entire thing points to him. What began as the promise from God was fulfilled in the carpenter from Nazareth, who said, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). The whole thing is about Jesus and points us to Jesus.
And Jesus, of course, points us to the cross — which is why I can’t entirely sign on to the gospel of social justice. I’m not going to get all Glenn Beck on you here because (as I’ve already said) social justice is important. But here’s my point:
If the Old Testament stresses the importance of social justice while pointing all the while to the cross, then all social justice must also point to the cross. Social justice should never be the goal; the goal is to use social justice to bring people to the cross.
And it isn’t simply that social justice shouldn’t be the goal; in some respects, it can’t be. Because if it was, I would’ve finished the Bible last night. Thank God I’ve still got three months to go.