10 Old Testament Passages that Shape How I Think about God

These verses from the Hebrew Bible depict a God who is both challenging and encouraging.

Peter Enns writes, speaks, and teaches on the Bible and Christianity. He is the author of numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It and The Evolution of AdamHere, he lists 10 passages from the Old Testament that have shaped his thinking about God. See also his corresponding list of 10 passages from the New Testament.

1.1 Samuel 16:7

 . . . for the Lord does not see as people see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

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. Ecclesiastes 12:9

Besides being wise, Qoheleth also taught the people knowledge. . . . 

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. Psalm 88:14

O Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me?

It helps to know that the Bible itself canonizes the common experience of God’s absence.

4. Numbers 6:24-26

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.

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. Psalm 73:2

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled. . . .

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. Jonah 3:2

Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message I tell you.

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. Proverbs 3:15

Wisdom is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

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. Exodus 32:14

And the Lord changed his mind. . . .

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. Habakkuk 1:5

For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told.

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. Proverbs 3:5

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.

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.

An earlier version of this post appeared at Patheos.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Peter Enns
Written by

  • Michael Anderson

    Great list!

  • nwcolorist

    Concerning the Lord changing his mind, yes, that can be a two-edged sword. Another OT scripture along those lines is Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”