How do we go about finding nourishment from reading parts of the Old Testament, like laws, lists, and genealogies which are difficult to relate to modern day Christian living?
It is often a challenge to enjoy reading difficult parts of the Bible, especially found in the Old Testament. My experience is that it just takes extra discipline of the mind to engage with these parts of the word of God, but when you do that, there is often some nourishing lessons to be had. Here are a few ideas to help you in the journey.
– Not all of the Bible is easy to understand, and apply all at once. Realise we are on a journey in our understanding of the Bible, and be patient with the harder parts. Don’t feel you have to master all of the Bible immediately.
– Avoid the two extremes of either totally ignoring these scriptures, but also of looking for profound truths in every verse. Try to look for the big picture first, then relate the details to that big picture.
– Discipline yourself to ask the question why this passage was included for the first readers of it, and then relate their response to it in their situation to your situation today. How would the ancient Israelites have felt about the tabernacle, the magnificent tent in the middle of their campsite?
– Use imagination to connect with how this part of the scripture might have impacted on ancient Israelite life, and how we are faced with similar yet different challenges. Eg the food laws of Lev 11 might be boring for us to read, but imagine how that would have impacted on the Israelites in relation to the way they used to live and their distinctiveness from other nations.
– Discipline yourself to look at the context and the structure of the book. Note patterns in lists, and the flow of thought. Then ask yourself why it is written that way.
An example: What about those puzzling long list of names (12 chapters or so) at the beginning of 1 Chronicles. You probably won’t get much edification just by reading the lists of genealogies, and trying to pronounce all the names right. But a little bit of observation shows that most attention is given to the tribes of David and Levi, and the other tribes get minimal attention, but are evenly scattered around these two main tribes. Lesson- all the tribes of Israel were necessary and included- but special focus needed to be placed on the kingly tribe and the priestly tribe. This was important for Israel then- the 10 northern tribes had been scattered in the exile, forsaking the Davidic king and the Levitical priesthood. But now the inclusion of all the tribes is saying to the (post-exilic) southern tribes that all 12 tribes have their place in the people of God, while the emphasis on the two tribes shows that we must have God’s king, and we must have God’s priest. Here are lessons for us today about the unity of God’s people, and our need for God’s Saviour and King, Jesus Christ.
– Discipline yourself to skim read large sections of scripture as well as small passages, particularly the more difficult passages of the OT. This assists to see sometimes why passages are included and what contribution they make to the book.
– Learn to make connections with how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament themes such as land, priest, kingdom, Sabbath, purity, etc in the gospel, and reflect on the New Testament fulfillment and the blessings we have received in Christ.
– Get hold of a good readable introductory commentary and read it alongside your Bible- eg the “Bible Speaks Today” series.