By Dawn Wilson, Crosswalk.com
It’s easier to devour the Gospels, apply the Epistles, and linger in the Psalms than to dig into unfamiliar biblical books. Yet Augustine said, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New Testament.”
A benefit of studying all of scripture is seeing the faithful hand of God throughout Israel’s history, and the need for the promised Savior. Jesus said all scripture bears witness of Him (John 5:39; Luke 24:27).
Some people have never read the Bible cover-to-cover. It’s hard to quote something that’s never been read! Unfamiliar books include nuggets of truth for insight, growth, and change. Here are nine suggestions from the Old Testament and one from the New.
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1. Ezra: A Call to Return, Revival, and Restoration
This book is attributed to Ezra the scribe, a direct descendent of Aaron, the chief priest. Ezra led a second group of Jews from exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem. Originally combined with the book of Nehemiah, the two books were officially separated in the early centuries following Christ’s birth.
Beyond this story about God’s people, don’t miss the motivating truth about this man called to lead them. Ezra was zealous for the Lord and His law. He studied the scriptures, purposed to obey God, and faithfully taught the Word. He continually reminded the Jews about their identity and that God had not forgotten them. The Lord would keep His promises. Ezra’s leadership, prayers, and message of hope set the stage for spiritual revival and reformation.
Ezra was also a powerful intercessor, praying in regards to God’s great mercy in light of the Jews’ “evil deeds and “great guilt.” In Ezra 9:13, he declared, “you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved….” Such recognition of sin and God’s mercy, along with genuine repentance, could even spark revival today.
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2. Amos: Confronting Hypocrisy and Injustice
God called this prophet from the fields in southern Judah where he shepherded a flock and grew sycamore figs. A simple man, Amos connected to the voiceless and oppressed in society and spoke out against injustice. He prophesied during the reigns of Kings Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel, but his prophesies primarily confronted the pride, hypocrisy, and moral decay in the northern kingdom.
Sick of his unloving, unjust countrymen’s lifestyles, he blasted their hypocrisy and sense of privilege. He called Jews to remember God, embrace biblical justice, care for others, and throw off their pride, idolatry, materialism, and self-righteousness.
Amos reminds us to live out what we believe in love and service, coming to the aid of those who struggle and suffer around the world. Spiritual consecration, prayer, and God-honoring service are all evidence we truly know the Lord.
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3. Zephaniah: A Call for Purity and Righteousness
This prophet came from royal stock. His family tree hailed back to his great-great grandfather, Hezekiah, one of Judah’s best kings. He prophesied in Jerusalem and made many references to temple worship. Familiar with both political and religious traditions, his message carried a great deal of weight for his countrymen. He prophesied at the end of King Josiah’s reign in Judah, sometime after Josiah’s high priest discovered the lost scrolls.
In childhood, Zephaniah grew up under wicked kings: Manasseh and his son Amon. Zephaniah had to deal with many evils—idolatry, child sacrifice, and murder—along with temple desecration, which likely contributed to Zephaniah’s hatred of religious hypocrisy. He grew into a strong man of God, ready to proclaim God’s message of judgment for sin and calling Israel to reflect, repent, and return to God.
Many scriptures refer to the “day of the Lord”—not only concerning Zephaniah’s day, but eventually in the whole world. Zephaniah also spoke hope to his people, reminding them that God would dwell among, save, and rejoice over His people (Zephaniah 3:17).
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4. Nahum: God Judges but Remembers Mercy
Other than his message about God’s justice, not much is known about Nahum. He likely lived in southern Judah near another prophet, Micah—who also spoke of justice. Nahum is considered a sequel to the story in Jonah. For a time, the Assyrians heard Jonah’s message of repentance and received God’s mercy, but that all changed during the time of Nahum. The Assyrians conquered Israel in the north and bullied Judah in the south; so God instructed Nahum to announce His plan to judge wicked Nineveh.
The Assyrian Empire was ruthless, and Nineveh was its capital. Israel’s evil King Manessah ruled in Judah at the time, and Nahum preached during this especially dark and idolatrous period before Manessah turned to the Lord.
Nahum—whose name means “comfort”—also held out a ray of hope for the faithful remnant in Judah. His message was to declare God’s slowness to anger, goodness, and power to restore. This can encourage us, too. God is still at work in the darkest of times.
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5. Numbers: Learning to Walk the Walk
Along with the other four books of the Pentateuch, tradition attributes Numbers’ authorship to Moses. He is central to the book in recording events in detail. There are so many details—statistics, census data, and other data—some people avoid the book altogether. Moses also records the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert after leaving Egypt.
The book’s events begin at Mt. Sinai and end in the plains of Moab. Because everyone 20 years and older died as a result of unbelief and disobedience, Moses earnestly addressed the younger generation before his death. As an extra surprise, readers who brave all the details in this book will discover numerous significant events mentioned later in scripture, showing biblical continuity.
The book shows God’s people failing Him many times, yet the Lord continued to manifest His faithfulness. In the desert, He taught the Israelites how to walk with Him and live with integrity in front of the surrounding nations. Even today, God expects us to “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk” of faith.
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6. Obadiah: Be Careful How You Treat God's People
If you want a quick read, turn to Obadiah—the shortest book in the Old Testament. Obadiah had a dire message for one the Israelites’ enemies, the Edomites—descendants of Esau. Edom likely joined with stronger nations in invading Jerusalem, or perhaps just plundered Jerusalem after their attacks. Sadly, Edom rejoiced in Israel’s fall to Babylon (Psalm 137:7), and Obadiah pronounced God’s judgement.
Pride was at the root of Edom’s persecution of God’s people. Edomites taunted, pillaged, and deliberately hurt the Israelites; and God would not stand by and let His people suffer forever. Obadiah, in setting out God’s case against the nation, said that Edom (also called Mount Seir) would virtually disappear from history (see Ezekiel 35:3-9).
Similarly, today God observes the plight of the Jews and the persecution of Christian saints. The warning to Edom might be given to all the enemies of God’s people: “Pride goes before destruction!” (Proverbs 16:18a)
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7. Judges: Sin Never Goes Unpunished
Judges, likely authored by the prophet-writer Samuel—Israel’s last judge—was more than a collection of military and administrative “stories” from Israel’s history. The phrase, “in those days there was no king in Israel” occurs throughout the book; so Judges describes a character-rich period of history after Joshua’s death and before Saul’s anointing as King, a period of nearly 300 years.
Judges offers an overview of Israel’s moral decline and apostasy, the political and religious upheaval as the Israelites attempted to possess yet-unconquered lands God had promised them, and even tribal infighting in Israel (Judges 12; 20-21). A cycle repeats throughout the book: idolatry and rebellious unbelief followed by God’s judgment through Israel’s enemies, and then a deliverer—a judge raised up by the Lord—to call God’s people to repentance.
This is not a “happy” book; there are numerous disturbing stories. But there are many spiritual giants as well, including Gideon, Samson, Othniel, Shamgar, Jephthath, Ehud, and wise Deborah. Judges’ primary message is this: God will never allow sin to go unpunished. That’s why we need a Savior!
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8. 2 Chronicles: Be Wise and Learn from History
This is a book for history buffs. Along with 1 Chronicles, this book is a compilation of official and unofficial documents, the record of the history of God’s people. The history in 2 Chronicles extends from the beginning of King Solomon’s rule to the exile of Judah to Babylon. The author, likely Ezra, focused on telling the story of King David’s descendants and the centrality of the Holy City, Jerusalem, to their lives.
Solomon established his authority, unified Israel, and set about to put down early rebellions against his throne. He also built a glorious temple in Jerusalem. Israel’s history during these years included kings who “did right in the sight of the Lord,” others who “did evil,” and some who strayed and then repented. Solomon, on the other hand, started off following God but fell into sin.
While there are some who like to erase history, those who are wise will learn from it. Remember God’s blessings. Remember the consequences of sin. Use it all to grow in faith and obedience.
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9. Zechariah: Find Hope in Our Faithful Father
Grandson of a priest, Zechariah prophesied to Judah after their return from Babylon. Young Zechariah, a contemporary of Haggai, was a priest-prophet, familiar with Israel’s worship practices. He encouraged the struggling Israelites as they tried to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
His name means “Yahweh remembers,” and this book is full of hope! Some have called Zechariah a mini-replica of the book of Isaiah, because it contains clear Messianic passages, picturing both the first and second coming of Christ. The Messiah will be Israel’s Savior, Judge, and King. Though God’s people are judged for sin, they will be purified and restored.
This final book in the Old Testament teaches us to look to the faithfulness of the Father and find hope in Him in the midst of turmoil and a wicked culture. With the Messiah’s arrival on the scene in the New Testament, that encouraging focus escalates!
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10. 2 John: Biblical Love is Founded in Solid Truth
Along with 3 John, this book is one of the least-read and quoted books in the New Testament, in spite of its brevity. Church tradition ascribes the book to John, likely the “elder” mentioned in verse one. The book came at a time when enemies of biblical truth—false teachers and heretics—rose up to plague the early church.
John wanted to draw believers back to the solid teachings of Christ, and to God’s commandment to love Him and others (Matthew 22:36-40; John 13:34). John reminds readers of the eternal truth of scripture, and the importance of abiding and walking in Christ’s teachings.
While the apostle focused on love, it isn’t the squishy, “tolerant” kind of love so prevalent in society today. Biblical love is solid and truth-based, and for the believer, love is evidenced in submission and obedience to God’s commands. John, the beloved disciple, certainly echoed his Master who said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, and also publishes LOL with God and Upgrade with Dawn and writes for Crosswalk.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach.
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