a whole lot of Israel: reading the Old Testament

Reading the Bible isn’t easy. Let me rephrase that: reading the Old Testament isn’t easy.

Densely packed with information galore, the Old Testament is an important bulk of biblical canon. There’s a reason why we don’t just publish tons of separate New Testament books and call them the Bible. The Old Testament serves the purpose of digging deeper into who God is and His power.

If you have the patience and tenacity to read the Old Testament straight through, kudos to you. Most of us aren’t about to tackle that feat. It’s a daunting task, and it’s often hard to judge how to best approach it all.

That’s what this post is all about. I myself have been reading the Old Testament (and the entire Bible!) in a year. Speaking from experience and research, I want to help make your Bible reading experience as enriching as impossible. Don’t go into the task blind and empty-handed! Reading the Old Testament may seem like a daunting challenge, but with a few pointers, you can dive in and enrich yourself with some awe-provoking scripture.

respect separate sections.

You might notice prior to reading the Old Testament, the table of contents designates separate sections that the many books fall under. People didn’t just do that for kicks: those categories are meant to help you view each book through the appropriate lens. You’re given greater context to know what to expect and how that scripture is serving you.

The first five books are commonly called the Pentateuch. It’s what makes up the Jewish Talmud, and they work very well as a stand-alone saga. You get the entire creation story and the journey of the Israelites with Moses in the lead. There’s also many passages’ worth of law. We’ll get back to discussing those later.

Keep reading the Old Testament, and you’ll have a plethora of names and faces. Major prophets and minor prophets each get the spotlight. These books tend to read like any other story, and you’ve likely already heard the stories in some abridged format. Think of Jonah, Daniel, Esther, Ruth, Job…just to name a few.

My personal favorite are the books of poetry. These books are where many big, praiseworthy verses come from, beautifully speaking in God’s name and truth. Since they can be a quick read-over, make sure to take your time amidst these books and really consider what that author, like David in most Psalms, is trying to convey and in what circumstances. That can make the passage even more powerful.

don’t take it all literally.

Before making a resolution this year to read the whole Bible, I had often avoided reading the Old Testament like the plague. Why, do you ask? Many Old Testament verses, when taken literally or entirely out of context, can become ammunition for very ungodly motivations. They sound hateful. Crude. Ugly.

As a Western Christian, we’re drawn to reading the Old Testament as a very literal story. We’re used to books giving us all the details up front and having very clear descriptions of the characters, settings, and plots. This isn’t the case with the Bible.

Hebrew literature doesn’t use the same devices and patterns as, say, Greek literature. We don’t have every detail at our disposal. We have a lot of wiggle room in deciding what’s going on, what theme the author is intending. It’s normal to have many different interpretations and inferences made for what, at face value, looks like a very simple story. Just think: what use would Bible scholars serve if we all knew all the “correct” details about the Old Testament?

Take everything with a grain of salt while reading the Old Testament. Yes, the Bible is the Word of God, but it’s a Word dependent upon human hands. Not only that, but God works and speaks to us in mysterious ways. We don’t and won’t ever know everything.

Don’t be afraid to return to the same verse or story over and over again. Consider the ideas of many other Bible readers. You never know what you might discover, potentially expanding your current view of the Lord!

the Old Testament welcomes our King.

Maybe you’re hesitant about reading the Old Testament because it lacks a huge figure in your faith: Jesus Christ. Well, think again. He actually makes appearances, long before ever entering our earthly realm.

Take a look at these Bible verses in particular and see for yourself how the Son of God is already at work.

Jesus often quotes readings from the Old Testament in His own work.

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7Luke 4:12), which correlates with, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Another example from the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ ” (Matthew 5:21), which correlates with, “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)

In Daniel 3, you can read the story of three Jews sentenced to the furnace. But they came out of the fiery room unscathed: “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’

“‘Look!’ he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God'” (24-25).

How amazing is that?! Reading the Old Testament, you might not expect a familiar face, but it all it takes is a patient mind and heart to find Him speaking to us. When combined with the New Testament, it becomes the ultimate story of redemption.

A lot of the Old Testament is spent with God angry. The Israelites are given clear laws and commandments to follow, and generation after generation disobey God. They cannot uphold that criteria of cleanliness and purity He wants. Prophets constantly see images of destruction and death as God plans to exert His fear-provoking power.

But wait! There’s hope! A savior is coming so we don’t have to meet such an unruly demise. Through Him, our many sins are cleansed, and we can become clean for the Father. He already loves us and cares for His children, but now He welcomes us with open arms knowing we’re rejuvenated, reborn.

Admittedly, reading the Old Testament isn’t that entertaining. All those long genealogies of names and families we’ll never remember. The tediously long and repetitive nature of listing every king of Israel gets old, too. However, don’t let that completely discourage you from immersing yourself into what He has to say.

There’s so much to learn reading the Old Testament. We hear a lot of bad decisions people make, but we still have examples of that innate good we all possess. Examples of faith, dedication, compassion, and patience are all within Old Testament pages. Ways we can further praise the Lord and uphold His name. Amazing feats He completed for His children.

Ready to take the plunge and start reading the Old Testament? Let me know if you have or want to read the Old Testament and what you hope to learn and gain from the experience. Your comments don’t go unnoticed.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Author: Allie

A flower child passionate about faith, social justice, and love.

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