The Blue letter Bible phone app has a great daily reading program, and seeing as how I’ve just finished the Jewish book order one, I felt compelled to share some thoughts about it.
The first five books are identical, so these books don’t feel any different than every other time you’ve done a Bible in a year scheme.
The next set of books fall under the heading “the prophets,” and that simple idea profoundly changes how you read and understand what comes next. Joshua feels less like the diary of a war hero, and more like the record of God’s goodness that a prophet was called to put down.
Judges and Samuel feel like a single book that the prophet Samuel wrote both to pass along God’s message that it’s not a matter of having a King to save, it’s a matter of having the right King. The people may need a ruler to restrain their lawlessness, but it has to be God’s king, not just any handsome guy.
This idea also helps make sense of the book of Kings by showing forest for the trees and highlighting the details which would otherwise be missed. Kings isn’t a history of the royal seed of Israel, it’s a history of the prophets in Israel. Kings is the story of Elijah and Elisha, Micaiah, the sons of the prophets, not Ahab, Reheboam, or Jehu. There are kings present, to be sure, but they aren’t at the center of the story, and they don’t provide the gravity of the narrative. This book is really about what the prophets said and how they said it.
The reading then takes a jarring jump to Isaiah, because you’re expecting a rehash of what he just read in Kings to show up in the book of Chronicles but instead you gets slapped with a fire and brimstone prophecy. On the upside, putting Isaiah here communicates that Isaiah was a real man who was right in the middle of the action—a real prophet speaking to real people during real times. It also makes a good bridge between the words of prophecy and the history of prophecy, since chapter 36 is narrative driven event. On the downside, putting Isaiah here feels wrong somehow, like taking a sip of liquid that you expect is tea and getting a mouthful of coffee instead.
The feeling doesn’t last long however, as Jeremiah is the same (Lamentations is easy to miss), and Ezekiel are both large books. You hardly miss Daniel as the minor prophets come next, since it’s relatively easy to roll through them without stopping.
Things get really interesting when you get past the twelve minor prophets. Grouping the next set of books together thematically and putting them here has a huge impact on how you understand their function, and completely changes the way they feel and the message they convey. You read through the prophetic series and come away thinking “this is what God has said.” You read the writings and immediately think, “this is what I must do in light of what God has said.” It’s similar to the words of Jesus when He urges His listeners to hear what He says then go out and do them (Matthew 7:24-27).
Psalms comes first and seems like a half way house when considered from this angle. On one hand it is prophetic, on the other it’s expressive and emotive, reminding you that life must be lived out.
Proverbs doesn’t change at all, except that you get a stronger feeling that these are truths for daily life and should be done. It’s the next book, Job, where the payoff of this reading format happens. It’s hard to undersell how much more natural and powerful Job feels when following on the heels of Proverbs and juxtaposed with it. You read the wisdom of Solomon and think, “This is what I must do,” then get to the end of it and ask yourself, “Yes, but what happens when I do all that is written here and it turns out badly for me? What happens if I do what I was told and I still suffer?” The answer comes swiftly and powerfully: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job.”
Likewise putting Ruth after Song of Songs leaves a similar impact. Ruth is the story of a woman who lost everything, whom God dealt harshly with, though she was a godly woman. Like Job. But while Job reveals what God intends by suffering, Ruth reveals God’s plan for His people in suffering. The curtain is pulled back a little further and we see the cosmic purposes of suffering as they fit into redemption.
Lamentations comes across as a reminder that life is hard sometimes, rather than a prophet weeping when God doles out a just judgment for sin even on a hard hearted and murderous people, which is neither good nor bad in my estimation. Ecclesiastes doesn’t change at all. Esther is improved as it picks up on the theme in Ruth that God has a plan for salvation during times of crisis and amplifies it, and I think is more wonderful for it. Daniel builds on the practical lessons and knowledge of how to live while suffering in hard times that Esther started, and woah hey wait a minute, what have I just imbibed?! That’s not right at all.
And suddenly you’ve realized what a mistake this whole Jewish Bible reading plan was. Or at least I did. Because setting Daniel alongside these other wisdom books eclipses not just an important idea, but the most important thing ever: the idea that this book is about Christ. It’s easy to think of Daniel as offering solid wisdom given that it starts and ends with a trial of faith, but the problem with putting it here is that it makes ignoring the prophecy about when the Christ would come possible. Reasonable even. And that’s not merely a bad idea, that’s a damning idea.
It was at this point that I perfectly understood the chief problem of New Testament Judaism in Jesus’ day. All my reading, all my enjoyment to that point had set me up for this one bright clear and shining moment of failure, that moment where I realized it’s not merely possible, but easy to become so concerned with doing what God has said that you to that you stop caring about the God who said it. That is, what God says becomes more important than the God who says it. Rules and structure and checklists take over, pushing aside the key principle of seeing Christ in the Scriptures. As Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). The people in Jesus day want to go about the business of Scriptural wisdom, but they hated the actual person of God and would rather see Him dead. Well then did He call them hypocrites.
Chronicles being the last book puts the nail in the coffin and cements this horrible mistake in place. Chronicles no longer is a book of the faithfulness of God during apostate times, it’s an encouraging promise that God is going to fix up the Jewish nation. It fosters the idea that the promised Messiah is going to put the earthly kingdom back together and bring social justice to the earth rather than deal with the sin which had separated all men from their creator.
The Christian book order cuts this kind of thinking off at the root, making it impossible. Our Old Testament is ordered as the story of what this God is doing, and who He is so that when He shows up in the New Testament nobody is surprised. And cleverly, just as the bookends of wisdom eclipse the prophecy of Daniel, so does the Bible use this trick to bookend the wisdom books with prophecy to keep them in their place. The Old Testament doesn’t end on the hope that God would shower the people with earthly riches, but in Malachi, with the promise that the messenger would turn the nation to repentance before the day of the Lord. And wouldn’t you know it, all four gospels start with a messenger named John the Baptizer.
I’d recommend everyone does this reading order in their lifetime, as it’s very enlightening, and extremely helpful to learn whey we order our books as we do. But to also be careful not to do it much more than once, because it’s also easy to fall into the same mistake the first century Jews did, as my own heart testifies to me. Make sure you’re ready with your Graeme Goldworthy books as a chaser.