I recently published an article recommending four books of the Bible frequently overlooked and/or misunderstood. But there are far more than four books matching such that description.
Once you’ve finished going through the four books I originally listed, here are four more that will teach you more about God and enrich your faith. Enjoy.
1 and 2 Kings
I know what you might be thinking: “Josh, that’s cheating! You can’t put two books in one entry!” Au contraire, my friends. 1 and 2 Kings is actually one book, originally written as a single story. The reason it’s divided into two volumes is because the ancient scrolls on which it was written weren’t long enough to fit the whole thing on just one.
Kings tells the story of Israel from the time of David’s death until the destruction of Jerusalem and beginning of the Babylonian exile in 587 B.C. This book records and interprets the history of God’s people during a time of great upheaval and sin. Although there are periods of repentance and revival, the general trajectory is steady decline.
There are, of course, many positive stories in this book. Elijah the Tishbite, Israel’s greatest prophet, appears here. The righteous kings of Judah—Hezekiah and Josiah—also show up. But this story is not about them. It’s really not even about Israel. It’s about Israel’s God, who demonstrates his wrath against his people’s sin, but who also demonstrates his faithfulness.
Israel’s God is our God as well, revealed to us through Jesus Christ. Despite the distance between us and the people of the Old Testament, we worship the same God; so even now we can learn about who our God is and what it means to be his people by reading 1 and 2 Kings.
This is one weird book. Zechariah includes some of the earliest examples of apocalyptic literature, an ancient genre of writing that relies on cryptic symbolism, weird structure and a host of other characteristics that make it hard to understand.
Zechariah was written around 520 B.C. The Jewish people had returned from the Babylonian exile several years prior, but they were in a state of disarray. The temple had not been rebuilt. They were a tiny, impoverished vassal state controlled by Persia. Spiritual vitality was low. The people wondered if God had forgotten or abandoned them.
After a brief call to repentance, Zechariah plunges into a series of visions and oracles to illustrate God’s faithfulness to his people and his promises of future restoration. These visions and oracles would retain their power even hundreds of years later. Zechariah is one of the Top 10 Old Testament books most frequently quoted in the New Testament.
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Since Zechariah contains so much weird imagery and is part of a genre utterly foreign to modern readers, you might need some help to get the most out of this book. I recommend Joyce Baldwin’s volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Mark Boda’s volume in the NIV Application Commentary, and Barry Webb’s volume in The Bible Speaks Today.
Hebrews is one of the most theologically dense and complex books in the whole Bible. It has the best Greek in the New Testament, demonstrating literary and linguistic sophistication to match its theology. No one knows who wrote Hebrews, and it originally may have been a sermon before being written down and mailed out as a letter.
This book probably was written before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D., and it was directed at a group of Christians who most likely were predominantly Jewish. The recipients were being tempted to return to Old Covenant sacrifices and rituals, some even abandoning the church and Christianity altogether.
Hebrews is a call to persevere in the faith, even when it gets difficult. But the foundation of that call is theological. Charlie Dates summarizes the argument of Hebrews perfectly: “There is nobody like Jesus.” Hebrews goes to great lengths to argue that Jesus is greater than angels, greater than Moses, greater than Old Testament sacrifices, greater than priests and so on.
Most modern Christians likely are not tempted to convert to Judaism. However, America’s increasingly pluralistic society tends to downgrade Jesus. He’s merely a “good teacher” or “one valid option among many.” But Hebrews says the opposite: There is nobody like Jesus. There is nothing that deserves our loyalty, affection and worship like Jesus does.
For a book written by a man who was the brother of Jesus and a leader of the Jerusalem church, James has gotten too small a share of attention from modern Christians. Even the great Martin Luther, in one of his less illustrious moments, called it an “epistle of straw.”
James is one of the most “practical” books in the New Testament. It doesn’t really have a single argument, instead reading like a series of instructions and exhortations. Some scholars have argued that James is wisdom literature, like Proverbs and the apocryphal books of Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon.
The intense focus on ethical instruction is what bothered Luther so much and bothers many contemporary Christians. It seems to contradict Paul’s teaching on justification by faith alone. (See James 2:18-26.) But Paul never said salvation by faith alone means Christians can live however we want, and James doesn’t say we have to earn our salvation.
James makes a crucial point: Authentic faith in Jesus Christ—the kind of faith that saves us—is a faith that produces fruit and results in good works.
American Christianity is beholden to “easy-believism,” an attitude that simply saying the right words and thinking the right thoughts is enough. James shows that belief goes hand in hand with behavior; you can’t separate them.
Joshua Sharp is a Master of Divinity student and graduate assistant in the Office of Ministry Connections at Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. The views expressed are those solely of the author.