Before I begin, full disclosure: I am not an Old Testament scholar. I’m writing strictly based on what I’ve learned through my own readings of the Old Testament. I don’t have any special training and I’ve sat under the same teaching as most of you my entire life. So these are observations from an “average reader”, if you will.
I also quickly want to thank my parents for making all of their children begin reading the Bible, start to finish, every year from the time we were old enough to read. That training has proved invaluable in my life and the older I get, the more and more thankful I am for the way they raised us.
I will start by covering things to avoid when reading the Old Testament, things to do when preparing to read the OT, and then spend a few posts drawing observations from several ‘less-familiar’ OT passages.
Now to begin….
Things to avoid when reading the Old Testament:
- Getting bogged down in lists
- We all know about the seemingly endless genealogies in the beginning of the Old Testament (just today I read the first five chapters of 1st Chronicles, all of which are almost exclusively this). Don’t feel as though you have to mentally sound out each name when you read these. That could take hours and has almost no value to the average reader. Don’t be afraid to scan down through these – but be careful. There are very often surprising nuggets buried in these passages and you don’t want to miss them by simply skipping down to the end of the chapter.
- One of my favorite examples of this is in Numbers 7. The tabernacle has just been built, anointed, and consecrated and each of the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel are bringing an offering. One leader a day brings his offering and each of the offerings are the same. Six verses are dedicated to each offering – which means there are twelve identical (except for the name of the leader and the tribe) paragraphs in a row. And then there is a helpful summary paragraph at the end that states how much in total was given as an offering. Once I read the first two and realized they were all the same, all I needed to do was scan down and note the name of the tribe and look out for if there were any differences in the offerings (there weren’t) which turned an 89 verse chapter into only a couple minute read.
- Becoming too detail-oriented
- This is a generalization and should be taken as such, but the Old Testament should be read with the bigger picture of what’s going on very much in mind. Of course this is true of the New Testament as well but in the OT you are almost always in the middle of a story or prophecy or group of instructions. By pulling back and thinking about what is going on in the greater scheme of things, you will better understand the meaning and importance of what is being said.
- Reading as if you were the Jewish recipient
- Much of the Old Testament does not apply directly to us today. It was part of the Old Covenant between God and His people Israel. If you go into reading the OT with the expectation of finding something that will relate directly to you and your life today, there is a very good chance you won’t find anything. That’s okay, the Bible wasn’t written with that purpose in mind.
- Assuming that since you aren’t an Israelite, much of the OT isn’t relevant to you.
- This is absolutely not true. The God of the OT is the same as the God of the NT. The Lord is unchanging, eternal, and sovereign and He has given us both the OT and the NT. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in later posts.
Next time I’ll go over things to do when reading the Old Testament.