Glimpsing the mind of God in the Hebrew Scriptures

In seminary, Pastor George Koch thought he was just checking off the Old Testament requirement. Then the professor left him and his classmates frightened and awe-struck as he showed them the face of God.
man in front of wall
Rev. Dr. George Byron Koch

By Rev. Dr. George Byron Koch

Many followers of Jesus have a single dramatic moment when they became his follower. Others gradually got there over the years without a moment

I’m in an odd additional group where I was a follower, then wasn’t, then was again – a dramatic moment – then was again, then was again, and... each time not leaving but having my faith surprised, encouraged, strengthened, widened, and... you get the idea. More like a dance than a walk of faith. Maybe you too?

Boy, was I in for a shock! 

So, I have stories – lots of them – of how God encountered me so many times over the years. This is one of those encounters:

My seminary was part of a consortium of nine different denominational seminaries, and through a series of unavoidable coincidences – which I believe God orchestrated! – I ended up in an Old Testament course, not in my own seminary but, in a seminary I knew nothing about with a professor I had never heard of for an entire academic year!

I wasn’t happy about this because my view of the Old Testament – like that of many Christians – was that it was, well, old. Most of what we knew and loved about God came from the words of Paul and of course Jesus and his disciples. The Old Testament was referenced by them here and there, and we were taught some of the stories about Adam and Eve, Moses, Noah, and of course Isaiah. But this always felt like history and culture from the olden days more than the vital teachings and miracles of the New Testament.

Boy, was I in for a shock! 

The professor whom I had never heard of – Dr. Duane Christensen – turned out to be one of the world’s most renowned scholars of the Old Testament, regarded as such by both Christian and Jewish scholars. He wasn’t a stereotypical academic at all. He was brilliant and passionate, and he had and shared insights that shook our worldviews. We students all went quickly from bored just trying to get through this class to meet my degree requirements to frightened and awe-struck. We all called it the white-knuckle class because we gripped our desks as he opened the Old Testament Scriptures to us and showed us the face of God!

Not only did we see the creation, the laws, and the prophecies, but he also showed us structures in the text and across books and centuries, some as simple as poetic forms like chiasmus, often invisible in the English translations, but strikingly obvious in the Hebrew. A key example is Genesis 22, the sacrifice of Isaac. We had to read it every single day for the entire academic year. Jewish scholars consider this THE key text in all of Scripture, and it has a physical structure in the Hebrew which focuses the entire story on Isaac’s question to his father, “Look. Here’s the fire and the wood. But where’s the lamb for a burnt offering?” I’ll let you ponder that. It shook us. Every day.

icon of the sacrifice of isaac

Elsewhere there are hidden structures in the numbers quoted in the text. For instance, the ages of the patriarchs break down into by series of descending prime numbers and ascending squares that – when added together – all equal 17 and imply the existence and age of Israel. He also showed that all the ages in the genealogies are divisible by 7. Those ages – and this math – are discussed by Rashi and Maimonides.

Did the authors of the texts know this and were playing with what is called gematria1 or is this the visible fingerprint of the divine author? Perhaps. But I came to this class with a degree in physics, a minor in mathematics, with a history of being published in the field of number theory. I am the author of one of only three known equations that produce prime numbers: I wasn’t impressed. 

I challenged him and said I could find other notable sequences in the same numbers and his revelations were simply being read into the text rather than being a meaningful discovery. There are lots of crazy theories out there about the Bible. I figured this was just one of them.

But he took my critique seriously and respectfully and asked me to explain it and show him what I was describing. I said it would take a little work on my part, but I would do it and get back to him.

I spoke with and wrote to friends who were also math enthusiasts and explained the challenge. They all immediately agreed that I was right, and we set about to discover alternate sequences in the same number set. 

The words of Scripture were not just old boring dusty history. They are God revealing himself to us, asking us to learn to listen, and do as he tells us.

We failed. He was right and I was wrong (ouch!), and this deepened my astonishment at the nature and content of the Hebrew Scriptures. As he taught us more and more deeply throughout the year, I began to see a mind behind the Scriptures – the Author – which so far exceeded even the sum of all the smartest people who ever lived that I knew, and I knew that God wrote the Bible – using human authors – but leaving evidence of the true Source in a thousand ways beyond the skill and minds of those through whom he wrote.

The words of Scripture were not just old boring dusty history. They are God revealing himself to us, asking us to learn to listen, and do as he tells us.

Today I serve at New Jerusalem House of Prayer, the first messianic Anglican congregation in North America. We teach about the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, about the feasts and festivals which God said we are to do “for all generations,” and not just until Messiah comes. We seek to live out the “one new man” that is neither male nor female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, but one, one in our love for God and each other. You can read more about this adventure at

For me, God met me in a class I didn’t want to take with a professor I knew nothing about on a topic I considered old and tired at best. There I saw God’s face and began the renewed, surprising, and joyful journey that he set me upon. 

Dr. Christensen and I became good friends and stayed in touch until his passing to glory. But I know I will see him again and thank him again for opening my eyes and my heart to God’s deeply revealing word.

The Rev. Dr. George Byron Koch is the senior pastor of New Jerusalem House of Prayer (formerly Resurrection Church) in West Chicago, Illinois. In a previous life he was a civil rights activist, a rock-n-roll engineer and producer, and a senior vice president at Oracle. He earned a Master of Divinity from Church Divinity School of the Pacific in 1992, and a Doctor of Ministry from King’s College and Seminary (now King's University) in 2003. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics in 1968 from Elmhurst College.


[1] Gematria (guh-mey-tree-uh): a cabbalistic system of interpretation of the Scriptures by substituting for a particular word another word whose letters give the same numerical sum. Also included in this interpretive system is the value of numbers on the letters themselves. ( 

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Article published on 05/11/2023