Have you ever been in the midst of reading your bible when you think to yourself, “I’ve read this before somewhere else…”? I remember the first time, other than the synoptic gospels, when I thought this about the passage I was reading. I was doing an exegesis (that’s basically a really fancy, really detailed bible study/book report in biblical studies) for a passage in Joel. When I read 3:10, “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’” (NKJV) I got completely sidetracked from my exegesis and read through most of the other Minor Prophets trying to find the other location of that phrase. By the end of the afternoon my homework was not finished, but I had found where I read that phrase in the bible: Micah 4:3, “He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their sears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (NKJV) in this case it was the same phrase but used in a reverse direction of action.
From that day on I started making notes in the margins to let myself know where the other doppelganger verse was for two reasons: 1) so as not to get completely sidetracked for half a day again, and 2) just to keep track. It was a fascinating word search within the Word, a giant puzzle drawing me in for more.
This phenomena is actually not a phenomena at all. The bible tells us it is repeating itself point blank. In Matthew, “this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” or some version of this phrase appears 16 times. Paul quotes or paraphrases passages from the Old Testament 184 times. The New Testament is full of quotations, paraphrases, and references to the Old Testament books.
To top it all off, Jesus Himself says He came to fulfill the Law and the prophets (aka the Old Testament) in Matthew, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Mtt. 5:17) After Jesus resurrected He met two of His disciples walking along the road to Emmaus. During their conversation on the road Jesus explained Himself, “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:27) Again, Jesus told His disciples before His ascension that, “all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” (Luke 24:44)
By the time you get through reading the New Testament you have read a good chunk of the Old Testament and get a pretty good picture of its overarching theme. Turns out, the Old Testament is not about the Israelites (which was my assumption after 12 years of Sunday school). It is in fact about Jesus. This revelation makes the bible so unified, so coherent, so integral. (See previous post Integrity to discover the full weight of integral in this sentence.)
Here’s what I mean. In Genesis chapter one we have a poetic description of creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. … Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. … Then God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ … Then God said” (Genesis 1:1, 3, 6, 9 NKJV) All in all the phrase “Then God said” happens nine times over the course of the creation poem in Genesis 1.
Fast forward to John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, and all things were made through Him … In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness” (John 1:1-5 NKJV) John echoes Genesis 1 and the creation poem but John takes the mystery of the poem further than the author of Genesis. John here implies that the words spoken by God are actually Jesus. Somehow the action of speaking sparked a creative interaction between the Father and the Son that resulted in creation. When God spoke, “Let there be light.” (Gen. 1:3) Jesus became the light shining in the darkness (John 1:5) and somehow that light brought life to the creation (John 1:4). John takes this imagery even further, into the nativity, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NKJV)
Jesus is the Word God spoke in the beginning. He is the only Word spoken, the only begotten Son. Truth because He is the Word, and full of grace because He became flesh.
There is another passage that describes the word of the LORD bringing life, Ezekiel 37. God brings the prophet Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones. God says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!’” (Ezk. 37:4) Ezekiel starts prophesying over the bones, God gives more words to Ezekiel and he keeps speaking the words over the bones until, “there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.” (Ezk. 37:7-8) When the bones are finished becoming bodies God tells Ezekiel to, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on theses slain, that they may live.”’” (Ezk. 37:9) Ezekiel is obedient, prophesies to the breath. Life is breathed into the bodies and they are alive. God tells Ezekiel the meaning of this experience, “These bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’” (Ezk. 37:11) God then tells Ezekiel words of hope and promises of life and restoration that echo the future resurrection of Jesus to prophesy over the people of Israel.
What does the bible look like initially? Like a book full of dusty Sunday school stories and dense Pauline theology that has run on sentences that can go on for chapters. There are words like “righteousness” “sanctification” and “propitiation” that contain a meaning in there somewhere. The bible can look like dry bones in the face of the living, breathing, tear soaked reality of despair and loneliness in our times. It seems like hope is lost and we are cut off from God and from each other.
However, when you read the bible and all its references back and forth, back and forth, these references become sinews that tie the meat of the texts together over the bones of the overarching themes of love, loss, and redemption until constructed before you is the person – Jesus.
The bible, often called the word of God, in a way, is the Word of God, the Word from the beginning. The bible is Jesus, it’s about Jesus, from Jesus to us. His life is breathed into it by the power of the Holy Spirit and He breathes His life into us when we read it. Our hope is in Jesus, and we can remind ourselves of this hope every day by reading the word of God and therefore spend time in the Word, no longer cut off from God. As we find healing and renewal through being in Christ, we are no longer cut off from each other.
The Word is in the Man, and the Man is in the word, and when we are in the word we are in the Word, and when we live out what is in the word, we live in Christ.