I have had the same New Year’s resolution for the past several years: read through the Bible in the year. The first time I did this from start to finish was in 2011, when I read from cover to cover.
In reading different translations, languages, and reading plans, it’s amazing to me how the Scriptures naturally give me different things to focus on, like a new discovery every year. One year, I focused on people and names, which made the genealogies come to life. Another year, I took note of verses that were funny out of context–which has since become an entertaining and ongoing collection of mine.
This year, primarily listening to the Bible through my phone app, I’ve been hit by specific wording found over and over through the Old Testament books of history: So-and-so “did what was right”–or evil–“in the eyes of the Lord.”
The list of those who did evil in the eyes of the Lord is pretty long. In some instances, it was groups of people–specifically the Israelites at various low points (Judges 2:11, 3:7 and 12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, and 13:1; 1 Samuel 12:17; 2 Chronicles 29:6).
But many leaders of Israel also did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord, including
- Saul (1 Samuel 15:19)
- Solomon (1 Kings 11:6)
- Judah (1 Kings 14:22)
- Nadab (1 Kings 15:26)
- Basha (1 Kings 15:34)
- Jehu (1 Kings 16:7)
- Zimri (1 Kings 16:19)
- Omri (1 Kings 16:25)
- Ahab (1 Kings 16:30, 21:20)
- Ahaziah (1 Kings 22:52, 2 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 22:4)
- Jehoram (2 Kings 3:2, 2 Chronicles 21:6)
- Joram (2 Kings 8:18)
- Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:2, 23:32)
- Jehoash (2 Kings 13:11)
- Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:24)
- Zechariah (2 Kings 15:9)
- Menahem (2 Kings 15:18)
- Pekaniah (2 Kings 15:24)
- Pekah (2 Kings 15:28)
- Ahaz (2 Kings 16:2, 2 Chronicles 28:1)
- Hoshea (2 Kings 17:2)
- Manasseh (2 Kings 21:2, 6, 16; 2 Chronicles 33:2, 6)
- Amon (2 Kings 21:20, 2 Chronicles 33:22)
- Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:37, 2 Chronicles 36:5)
- Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:9, 2 Chronicles 36:9)
- Zedekiah (2 Chronicles 36:12, Jeremiah 52:2).
Most of these leaders had hearts that were “not wholly true to the Lord,” another common phrase used especially in 1 Kings (see 11:6, 15:3 and 14, etc.), and instead worshiped idols and allowed the Israelites to do the same.
The list of those who did right in the eyes of the Lord is much smaller: David (1 Kings 15:5), Asa (1 Kings 15:11, 2 Chronicles 14:2), Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:43, 2 Chronicles 20:32), Jehoash (2 Kings 12:2), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:3, 2 Chonicles 25:2), Azariah (2 Kings 15:3), Jotham (2 Kings 15:34, 2 Chronicles 27:2), Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:3, 2 Chronicles 29:2), Josiah (2 Kings 22:2, 2 Chronicles 34:2), Joash (2 Chronicles 24:2), and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:4).
So then the question was what were these men doing that made them righteous to God?
Though some of these did not completely get rid of idol worship during their reign (some didn’t partake themselves, but they did not tear down places of worship for other people), it seems like they believed there was one God, Yahweh, and did their best to follow him.
So then I got to thinking: if the Bible were written today, who would “do right in the eyes of the Lord?” And I even prayed over it a lot as I was reading or listening to Scripture: God, do I do right in your eyes? Would you say “And Taffy did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”? If not, what have I done that you do not approve of? Or if you would say I do right in the eyes of the Lord, again, what have I done to earn that honor? I don’t worship other gods or objects, but maybe there’s some modern equivalent that I’m blind to.
I kept going through the year of Scripture reading, and I kept going back to this prayer. Then, as I was listening to Romans, it was as if Paul directly answered my question: he explains, referencing Psalm 14,
“‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:11-12).
To someone not familiar with biblical teachings, this can be confusing. What about the men who were “right in the eyes of the Lord” in the Old Testament? Weren’t they righteous? Weren’t they seeking for God? It can also sound discouraging: why try when you know that not even the best of us are good? But when I heard this, I knew exactly where Paul was going.
He continues to say that
“The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (21-22).
The beauty is that Jesus is right, and we have opportunities of salvation–of being good, of being right–because of Him. We don’t have to get it right. In fact, we never will; we fail all the time. But Paul says that just as there is no righteous person, there is also no distinction in faith.
Jesus is the only one who is “right in God’s eyes,” and as long as we put ourselves into Him, we also become “right in God’s eyes,” because all He sees is His Son.
So then, a newcomer to Scriptures might think they can do what they want and not worry about pursuing righteousness because Jesus has it covered. Well, earlier in Romans 6, Paul addressed this thought too, and his answer was “By no means!” He says later in the chapter that we should not use our lives in Christ for unrighteousness but should present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness, being raised with Jesus in new life, ripe for good works. And in order to do that, we do need to do our best to follow the teachings and examples given to us throughout Scripture.
The following may seem like an elementary thought, and, yes, when I heard this in my daily Scripture reading, I felt a little silly. I had been hearing the phrase “right in God’s eyes” over and over and then asking over and over if I were also good enough. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t in the hall of infamy and instead on the short list of righteous people.
But in reality, I had been missing the point. It wasn’t about me at all. And just like that, I understood what discovery God was showing me in my readthrough of Scripture this year.
As you contemplate your resolutions for 2021, consider reading through Scripture and see what discovery God gives you too!