I have grown closer to God through my study of the Old Testament this year. Here are some of the treasures I’ve found:
Genesis: Hagar and the hidden well
When I’ve read Genesis previously, I’ve focused on Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. This time, for some reason, I was drawn to Hagar. I appreciated her experience at the well which she named Lahai-Roi, meaning “the One who lives and who sees me.” That was a significant reminder to me that God sees us all, particularly those who might be marginalized or even abused.
Later, Hagar had a remarkable experience at another well: Beer Sheba, “the well of the oath.” When she and her son, Ishmael, ran out of water, she pleaded with God to save them. In response, “God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.” The well had been there all along; God simply helped her to see it.
Sometimes, like Hagar, we need to calm our fears, look around, and see whether God has already given us the help we need.
Here are some other lessons I learned by studying Genesis:
Exodus: Liberating ourselves
I learned a lot about hardened hearts as I studied Exodus. We can easily adopt restrictive patterns of thought which prevent us from taking action and moving forward. Pharaoh harmed his nation by digging in his heels and failing to take the obvious action in response to the escalating plagues. The Israelites subsequently struggled to utilize their newfound freedom, constantly subjecting themselves to false dilemmas.
On a practical level, I was able to improve my approach to the Sabbath Day and fasting by thinking of both as a gift I choose to give rather than an obligation that has been imposed upon me.
Leviticus through Joshua: Layers of gratitude
I was delighted to learn more about gratitude by considering Moses’ final words to the Israelites before they entered the promised land. I learned that I can be grateful on many levels:
- We can be grateful for the things we enjoy that we did not build: “Wells…Which Thou Diggedst Not”.
- We can recognize that we do not deserve the blessings we have been given: “Not for Thy Righteousness”.
- We can work to help other people enjoy the same blessings: “Until the Lord Hath Given Your Brethren Rest”.
- We can adapt when blessings we previously enjoyed are no longer available: The Manna Ceased.
- And we can be grateful for blessings which we have only partially received: “There Failed Not Ought”.
Here are some other lessons I learned from these books:
Judges through Esther: Removing walls
God miraculously flattened the walls of Jericho (see Joshua 6:20), but subsequent generations of Israelites were more concerned with building walls than with removing them. For example, the physical wall Ezra and Nehamiah built around Jerusalem may have been necessary for their defense, but I was troubled by the intangible walls they erected between themselves and their neighbors. I concluded that walls may serve important purposes, but they need to be porous. There ought to be doors. We must not insulate ourselves so thoroughly that we’re unable to participate in meaningful relationships.
Here are some other lessons I learned from these historical books:
Job through Ecclesiastes: Praise Him!
I had a meaningful experience with the book of Psalms this year. I decided to incorporate video of a hymn or other piece of music in each of my posts to illustrate that the psalms are more than an ancient hymnbook. They are also the original version of many of our modern songs of worship. Here is a page listing those sixteen posts, with performances of each featured hymn:
Here are some other insights I gained by studying the poetic books:
Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel: “I shall be healed.”
A pair of pleadings from the prophet Jeremiah caught my attention:
- “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed.”
- “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned.”
In both cases, I was struck by his willingness to receive the gift he was requesting. It struck me that there is not a lot of difference between heeding a call to repent and allowing God to restore us to health. The two may actually go hand in hand. I recognized that as I plead for blessings, I also need to be willing to receive them.
Here are some other lessons I’ve learned from these three prophets:
Daniel through Malachi: “I desired ḥesed“
The Hebrew word ḥesed became important to me this year, partly because President Russell M. Nelson highlighted the term in an article called “The Everlasting Covenant,” and partly because of Old Testament passages which incorporate the term. Through the prophet Hosea, for example, the Lord said, “I desired mercy [ḥesed], and not sacrifice.” Jesus quoted that scripture at least twice during His mortal ministry.
And the prophet Micah explained that God “delighteth in mercy [ḥesed].” He is merciful to us, and He wants us to be merciful to one another.
Here are some other lessons I learned from the last thirteen books of the Old Testament:
Perhaps there is no such thing as a false dilemma — only perceived dilemmas. The day before my 15 year-old son was killed in a tragic accident, he left the following note in his scriptures: “Seldom in life do the things about which we worry the most truly pose the greatest threat to our future hope and happiness.”
Thank you for sharing those words of wisdom and that tender experience. There is no doubt that many times, when we think we are facing a dilemma, we simply need to expand our perspective and look at the bigger picture. Many of the constraints that seem so limiting at the time are quite inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Your son articulated that profound principle beautifully!
Thanks for the great year Paul! Perhaps it’s recency bias but I love your last point on HESED. I’m overwhelmed by God’s loving-kindness shown throughout the scriptures. He truly does seek to bless us with His mercy & grace, and He has consistently done so throughout millennia!
Thank you for the comment, Aaron. The concept of hesed has become important to me this year as well. I’m glad it resonates with you too.