10 Old Testament passages that mean a lot to me and shape how I think about God

Posted by PeteEnns on July 26, 2016 in Christian faith and life Old Testament 10 Comments

17z11gI have to be honest: I’m not big on “top 10” lists.

I know that when I see a top 10 list—it almost doesn’t matter what it’s about —my mouse, as if taken over by some evil spirit, just slides over to take the clickbait.

And I don’t think the kinds of things I write about—like God, Jesus, and the Bible—should be clickbait alongside “top 10 shocking pencil sharpeners,” “top 10 rock stars you didn’t know died horrible power equipment related deaths,” or “top 10 things to do with Q-Tips you have to see to believe.”

Having said that, here is my list of top 10 Old Testament passages. As for my apparent caving into worldly social media strategies, I would remind you that Yahweh gave Moses  “top 10 laws you really need to obey if you want to remain in the Promised Land.”

See? You can find a prooftext for everything.

All kidding aside, these passages describe God in ways that resonate with me personally. Some make me feel very reflective, others bring a tear to my eye, and still others remind me of what this life of faith is all about.

1. …for the Lord does not see as people see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). God is not impressed with what we call success but with what is deep within us, perhaps even deeper than we ourselves can see.

2. Besides being wise, Qoheleth also taught the people knowledge…(Ecclesiastes 12:9). After Qoheleth complains for 11 chapters about the futility of life and how ultimately God is to blame, the narrator of Ecclesiastes make no attempt to cover it up with platitudes. God can handle our complaints.

3. O Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me? (Psalm 88:14). It helps to know that the Bible itself canonizes the common experience of God’s absence.

4. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26). More than once, at times of joy and sadness, when I didn’t know what to pray, this came out of my mouth. It’s good to have God’s face shine on us now and then.

5. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled… (Psalm 73:2). An honest and real comment about what it feels like when God doesn’t do what we have every biblical right to believe God should do (in this case, blessing the righteous).

6. Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message I tell you (Jonah 3:2). By giving Israel’s powerful and merciless archenemies the Assyrians a chance to repent, God surprises us by redefining our notions of insiders and outsiders.

7. Wisdom is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her (Proverbs 3:15). Money always comes in handy, but wisdom is about something of greater value: how we navigate through the bits and pieces of our day-to-day lives with true peace.

8. And the Lord changed his mind… (Exodus 32:14). I’m not sure how this works out practically speaking, but there is something both destabilizing and reassuring about the thought of someone in the Bible getting God to change directions.

9. For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told (Habakkuk 1:5). God can rescue in a manner we don’t expect—even the exact opposite of what we expect (here, God uses the Babylonian enemies to address injustice within Israel). The help may even be painful for a time.

10. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). This about sums it all up for me. Knowledge alone is overrated. To trust God, despite what you know or don’t know or think you know, is to be whole and at peace.

***The original version of this post appeared in December 2014 and was posted at OnFaith later that month. If you want to read more on how I look at the Bible, here are two of my books that God told me you need to read: The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014),  The Sin of Certainty (HarperOne, 2016).***

[I moderate comments so it may take me a few hours, or even a day, to get to them. Thanks for your patience.]


  • You mention “prooftexting,” but aren’t there thus two layers of prooftexting here? There’s the prooftexting of the text [among other texts] and the prooftexting within the specific text.

    I wonder if the motivations and methods of prooftexting done at the outer level bears correspondence to the more commonly considered prooftexting done at the inner level.

    Can not “discernment of revelation” and “prooftexting” be matter of degree than that of category?

    I suppose I could come up with some verses of the Hebrew Scripture that shape my thinking about God [the literary character of the Judeo-Christian tradition]. I think though I’d be substantially hard pressed to simply map that to any sort of thinking about God [the ontologically existent “thing”].

    Does not one have to do some degree of higher level prooftexting to receive a revealed religion?

    How can consensus be built, others be persuaded that this text is even the centering text for the framing of the questions never mind the answers?

    What happens when one pursues not just levelness of the playing field but levelness of the playing fields?

  • “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a man, that he should change his mind.” — Numbers 23:19 😉

    But I agree, I prefer the anthropomorphic deity who responds to changing circumstances and changes his own mind.

  • I’d have to say you’ve actually missed one of the best, if not the best,

    Isaiah 58 and a bit;

    “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness[a] will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard, Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungryand satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.

    Unfortunately this is one of those bits where God sounds like a communist, so he probably got it wrong.

  • It’s been my experience for sure!
    ‘The help may even be painful for a time.’
    In fact accepting help might be redefined as an act of Courage according to psychologist Robert Grant.

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