While reading Joshua 1:8 the other day, I remembered something interesting I discovered while in seminary. Placed right at the front of various Old Testament books was a message from God.
Of course, this isn’t some sort of hidden, secret Bible code. It’s not numerology or some sort of word twisting. Rather, it’s something that’s in the ordinary language and that relates to how the Jews organize the Old Testament.
To understand the beauty of it all, we first need to have a basic understanding of the organization of the Old Testament, or the Tanakh.
The Three-Part Organization of the Tanakh
The Jewish Bible is called the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament), and it is divided into three parts:
- Torah (aka, The Law/Teachings, the Pentateuch) – begins with Genesis
- Nevi’im (aka, the Prophets) – begins with Joshua
- Ketuvim (aka, the Writings) – begins with Psalms
The Tanakh gets its name from the first letter of the three sections: TaNaKh.
The books found in each section are as follows:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon (Songs), Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Chronicles
Take note of the first book of each section because that’s vital!
The Not-So-Hidden Message of the Old Testament
As read Joshua 1, God reminded me of this three-part structure and how the beginning of each section reveals a message from God to us. First, Genesis (the Law):
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
– Genesis 1:3 (ESV)
Notice that God spoke here. God said words. Thus, at the very beginning we have God speaking something, making his words and his will known. In this case his will was to create light (and later the rest of creation).
Now let’s turn Joshua (the Prophets):
8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
– Joshua 1:8 (ESV)
At the beginning of Joshua we have directions to meditate on God’s word. Again, God’s word is in focus here. Why meditate on it? Because God wants his word and will to be known.
Now let’s look at the final section by looking at Psalms (the Writings):
1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
– Psalm 1:1-2 (ESV)
Just as with Joshua, we have an edict to mediate on God’s word along with a promise to the one who does. Again, God clearly wants his word and will to be known and followed.
So let’s put all this together.
The Old Testament is comprised of three parts. Each section begins with God’s word. I believe God is trying to say something here.
Furthermore, there’s a pattern to it:
- Genesis (Torah): God speaks, reveals his word
- Joshua (Nevi’im): God tells us to mediate on his word
- Psalms (Ketuvim): God again tells us to heed his word
So the message from God, essentially, is this:
Here is my word → listen to it → listen to it
Are we getting the point?
Oh, on a related note, the Gospel of John, which begins by quoting Genesis 1:1, also begins with the word of God, this time the Living Word: Jesus. The final book of the Bible, Revelation (also written by John), closes with the Living Word.
So, are we seeing the message?
Bringing it Home
While the tripartite structure is a human creation, I believe God foresaw it and providentially guided the process so that this message would be included. God wants to reveal his word. God wants us to listen to his word. God wants us to learn from and meditate on his word. God will bless those who do.
But it’s not just the written word. God wants us to know, follow, and obey the Living Word: Jesus!
As you look at your life, are you heeding God’s word, the written and living ones? Are you reading, learning, and applying the Bible? Are you seeking, drawing closer to, and following Jesus?
God’s message is simple:
This is my word. Listen to my word. Listen to my Word.