Romans 1 explains that the Creator of the universe revealed Himself in the order, expanse, and perfection of the finished work of His Creation. Bible teachers identify the revelation of God through the created world as “natural revelation.” “Special revelation” is what God inspired the Bible’s authors to write. Special revelation is given through the written words of Scripture. Just as the natural order order if Creation declares God’s existence, isn’t it reasonable that God would also have an orderly plan for His special revelation, the Bible!
It is important for 21st Century readers of the Bible to understand how the books of the Old Testament were compiled and organized by the time Jesus was born. That organization itself was just as God inspired as the individual words penned by its human authors. The organization itself had a specific purpose. In this post, we will briefly explore the importance of the Old Testament’s organization to the messianic expectations of the Remnant of Israel in the 1st Century. Tailor Made
Today, most believers in Jesus are Gentiles. They are unaware that the order of the Old Testament found at the front of their Bible was vastly different than the Hebrew Bible of the 1st Century . The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) had a different name. To this day, religious Jews identify that body of Scripture as the Tanak. “TaNaK” is an acronym derived from the names of its three major divisions.
T – Torah, the Law (Genesis – Deuteronomy) N – Nevi’im, the Prophets (Joshua – 2 Kings, Job) K – Ketuvim, the Writings (Psalms – Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Lamentations)
In recent years, some Bible scholars have been exploring the connective tissue that holds the three divisions of the Tanak together. They include Dr. John Sailhamer, Dr. Michael Rydelnik, and Dr. Seth Postell.
About ten years ago, I met Dr. Postell, then a doctoral candidate studying with Sailhamer (now home with the Lord). At the meeting we were attending, Postell presented a paper that would eventually become his doctoral thesis. This was the first time I had ever heard of what Postell identified as “canonic seams.”
The First Seam (Torah & Nevi’im)
Torah – Read Deuteronomy 34. Moses is the author credited with writing the first five books of the Tanak (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). “T” stands for “Torah.” Lesser known is the internal evidence within the books that someone other than Moses, someone living hundreds of years later, edited and updated his work. Even a casual reading of Deuteronomy 33 & 34 demonstrates that Moses’ could not have written those chapters. They deal with the account of Moses’ death and burial. A statement of fact pertinent to our discussion is Genesis 34:10.
Since that time no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”
Someone, looking back over time, gave witness to the fact that the prophecy Moses gave in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 had not yet been fulfilled. Can there be any doubt that whoever finalized Moses’ work on the Torah understood the prophecy he delivered in Deuteronomy 18? Whoever it was, anxiously awaited the promised “Prophet like Moses!” But, as of his editing work, He had not yet arrived.
Nevi’im – Joshua is the first book of the Nevi’im (Prophets), the second division within the TaNaK. In the Hebrew Bible, the books of Joshua through Kings (including Job) are known as the “former” prophets. In Joshua 1:8, Joshua commands the people to continually meditate on the Torah. By doing this the Jewish people would have success as measured by God. What would be the marker of that success? Hope! Joshua found hope by meditating on the Torah and its promise of the One to come who would be like Moses.
No other prophet in all of Israel’s history spoke in person with God like Moses (Numbers 12:6-8), until Jesus arrived at His first coming. His certain arrival was the hope of all the prophets of Israel (Hebrews 11). The last chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Joshua is the first of the two “canonic seams” in the Old Testament. This seam joins the Torah (Law) and the Nevi’im (Prophets).
The Second Seam (Nevi’im & Ketuvim)
The second division, Nevi’im, is found between the first and last divisions of the TaNaK. That division therefore has two seam connectors. The first was discussed above. Now let’s look at the second seam, the one found at the end of the Nevi’im. In the Tanak, the Hebrew Bible, there are only three chapters in the book of Malachi, the last book of the Nevi’im. Chapter 3 is continued through the end of what is designated as Chapter 4 in most of the Bibles used today. Open your Bible to Malachi 4:4-6. The last paragraph of Malachai contains a similar theme to that which is found in Deuteronomy 34. Malachi points to the future terrible day of the Lord and the messenger of the soon coming Messiah. This is one side of the second seam.
Ketuvim – Finally, let’s identify the other side of the seam in the first paragraph of the Ketuvim (The Writings). The opening paragraph of Psalm 1 extols the practice of the man who meditates on God’s Word day and night. His delight is in the Law of the Lord. The result of his practice of meditating on God’s Word is that it will reveal what to look for in the coming Messianic King, the Prophet like Moses. This side of the theme echoes the message of Joshua 1.
Every book of the Tanak speaks of Messiah Jesus. Moving forward from one section to the next in an orderly fashion, additional keys to the identity of the One who was coming were placed in plain sight for anyone interested in meditating on the Hebrew Scriptures. By looking at the Bible in light of its original order, Bible students today can plainly see what fueled the messianic hope burning in the hearts of those who were anxiously waiting for the Son of God, the Messianic King of the Jews.
Making The Spiritual Stitch
The ministry God is building here at Disciple Daily is built on the ministry of others who came before me. One of the men who discipled me was Russell Kelfer. He had a teaching technique that he called “making the spiritual switch.” Russell would give a practical illustration that his students related to when he wanted to make sure we understood what Scripture taught. I am adapting Russel’s technique to make it my own for the purpose of this lesson. When a tailor uses needle and thread to join two pieces of cloth together, the technique is called stitching. Let’s make the spiritual “stitch.”
A tailor’s apprentice (disciple) knows by looking at individual pieces of cloth what they will be when they are sewn together properly. A shirt has a front, back, and sleeves. The apprentice recognizes the components of the shirt because he was taught by the tailor. The apprentice can marvel at his teacher’s skill at cutting out the pieces. But if the apprentice puts a sleeve where the neck is supposed to be, it just won’t work properly. Unless the parts are sewn together as intended, no one will benefit from the tailor’s ultimate purpose for the pieces he so carefully cut out.
So it is with the Bible. In “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible” John Sailhamer writes, “I believe the messianic thrust of the Old Testament was the whole reason the books of the Hebrew Bible were written. In other words, the Hebrew Bible was not written as the national literature of Israel. It probably also was not written to the nation of Israel as such. It was rather written in my opinion, as the expression of the deep-seated messianic hope of a small group of faithful prophets and followers.”
Here we are again at the big “SO WHAT?”! If studying and meditating on the Old Testament helped Yeshua’s first disciples recognize Him at His first coming, what are you going to do about teaching others how to look for His second coming?
For a thorough look at this subject, let me recommend The Messianic Hope, by Dr. Michael Rydelnik published by B&H Publishing. I also want to introduce you to Discipleship Tape Ministries founded by Russel Kelfer (mentioned above). Dr. Seth Postell is the Dean of Academic Affairs at Israel College of the Bible. Along with the other staff at ICB, he is doing incredible work through One For Israel. Discipleship Tape Ministries distributes the recorded messages of Russel Kelfer all over the world. You should check it out.