This year I am reading the Bible from Genesis to maps.  I don’t do this every year because I tend to vary my devotional schedule.  Today I finished the Old Testament with such wonderfully encouraging words from Malachi as this:

I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence.  (Malachi 2:3, NRSV)

What a word picture, huh?  Of course, it is truth and the people have it coming.  The Lord is tired of their faithless religion and unrighteous ways so he is punishing them, and that is the problem I’m having with reading the Old Testament through this year.  I’m tired of them too and I’m tired of reading about their punishments because that is pretty much the entire story from Isaiah to Malachi:  Rebellion, sin, punishment, rinse and repeat.

I get why this is important, because as a follower of Christ I follow the same paradigm, except the focus of punishment is what Jesus took on the cross, so I need the biblical reminder of God’s punishment upon sin and the calls for me to repent.  I am not saying this material is not important.

What I’m saying is that reading it straight through beats the soul to pieces.  Therefore, I have some ideas.  Maybe we need an ordering of the Old Testament for readers--not to replace the canon but to help lift us up (I bolded that so no one would think I’m suggesting changing the Bible.  I am not.  I love the Bible, but am only addressing the needs of a reader).   The New Testament is already built that way.  You see, every Gospel has its depressing parts, but then comes resurrection and then comes the next gospel which is the birth narrative or Pentecost or Romans 8 or 1 Corinthians 13 or Philippians.  Revelation is a downer for most of the book, but then it ends on the highest happy note ever.

The Hebrew Bible could use a little help in this area–from a readers perspective, but not all the Hebrew Bible.  Torah is great because it sprinkles in things like talking donkeys and then the historical books give us David and Goliath between serious and somber narratives and law.  What we need is a redistribution.  So how about this:

1.  Let’s move Proverbs after Lamentations.  Some lighthearted reflections on the fool in his folly would help alleviate the pain of Jeremiah and Lamentations.

2.  We should move Esther after Daniel.  It fits anyway because of the timeline but more than that a story about the sad Jews winning would really help after reading Ezekiel and Daniel.

3.  Ruth could come right after Jonah, because their message is similar–outsiders are important too (Remember Ruth turns out to be a Moabite so King David has foreign lineage).

4.  Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes could come after Zephaniah.  You’re welcome.

5.  Let’s finish the Old Testament with Ezra and Nehemiah.  Instead of spreading dung on our faces, let’s rebuild the Temple and erect the wall as we wait for Jesus in Matthew.

Okay, I know some of you will not like this.   Just remember I am not suggesting that we change the canon of Scripture.  No no no.  I am suggesting a reader’s schedule for the Old Testament that allows for emotional breaks in the pounding trauma that endlessly unfolds from Isaiah to Malachi.

2 Comments

  1. This reminds me of one of the advantages of our lectionary in the Orthodox Church. Throughout the year, with readings for every day (multiple times a day if one is as strict as they are in monasteries), we go through Scripture, and not in chronological order. The readings are designed to fit the holy days of the calendar and to tell the salvific story. Turns out, we do get rest here and there, even indeed deliberately, as in readings in the middle of Great Lent that are particularly attuned to comforting us amidst the rigors of the fast.

    You have to hand it to the end of the Old Testament as it is now in the Western canon, though, Pastor Greening: it is dramatic perfection. The last of the prophets brings the story to a close on a cliffhanger. “…lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Fade to black. To be continued…

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    1. oh absolutely virgil, absolutely. malachi presents a great ending to the overall message of the prophets, so from a pure literary persepctive it fits nicely at the end (even if esther, ezra and nehemiah make more sense chronologically).

      i’m that not familiar with the orthodox church’s lectionary but will look into it. i love the revised common lectionary used by many churches for use in corporate worship. it is only slightly variant from the roman catholic lectionary. it takes the reader through the Bible in three years and breaks things up nicely as it is not in literary order of the Bible. it too focuses on holy days and seasonal times which i appreciate very much.

      thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting. you always have such wonderful insight.

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