For 14 of those 20 years, I can't recall if I'd actually read the bible outside of church and on my own. It's not that I didn't know that I was supposed to read the bible. It's just that, when I tried, I would get two sentences in and start to yawn and my eyelids would get heavy. Not really sure WHAT to read, I would pull the "I'll just open it up and wherever it lands, that's what I'm supposed to read" card. And when that plan didn't provide me with anything that made sense at the moment, I kind of lost interest. I'd just wait for Sunday mornings or when I went to bible studies for someone to pick the passage and explain to me what things meant. For many years, I did not understand the depth of importance there was to read and know the bible for myself (And I thank God for His grace throughout all of that time!).
I knew all of the common old testament bible stories (or so I thought lol) and of course I knew about the gospel story. I think I tried doing that whole "Bible In a Year" plan, but, honestly, all of that jumping around was confusing and I really wasn't comprehending nor retaining the things I'd read. I'd rather just wait for Sundays.... Someone else would pick the scripture to read and then explain it.
I can't tell you what happened, or even when it happened, but at some point after those confusing 14 first years, I started reading the different letters of the New Testament. Most likely a desire to search for practical instruction and application, I found interest in the things Paul was saying to the different churches. I came to LOVE the New Testament over the years. Reading and re-reading different books like John and Romans, really understanding what Jesus did and how I have a brand new life, and learning how to live my new life through books like James and 1&2 Peter. I had really discovered a whole new world! The New Testament had opened up my eyes but the Old Testament still did a good job of making them close and making me snore lol.
The New Testament provided so much illumination and revelation for me, and still does. In contrast, the books of the Old Testament, namely the Historical books and the Prophets, were BORING to me. And because I thought they were so boring, I stopped trying to read them. I felt like, if I'm not under the law anymore ANYWAY I could really just focus my studying on the New Testament and be good. These days I see how flawed and flat out wrong that logic is lol (Thank God for grace!).
A little before the start of 2016, I really started to have a desire to KNOW what the Word of God says. I've sat in many sermons and classes where the teacher or preacher would link events from the New Testament to ones that happened in the Old Testament and would provide more illumination of who God is or why "this and that" is so important. And even though the Holy Spirit has graciously gave me revelation about things in the New Testament, I couldn't imagine how much I was missing out on just because I didn't KNOW what happened in the past. Being that the entire bible is about Jesus, to me, knowing Him really means knowing what happened throughout the whole thing.
When 2016 hit I decided that I was/am going to read what happened in the Old Testament. Surprisingly, it's been MUCH easier and more edifying this time around. I wanted to share some things that I did differently that could probably help someone who also feels the same way.
Before I share, I want to be clear that I'm not talking about STUDYING the bible. I'm just talking about reading to know what happened. I believe some of these tips can help with studying as well but that is quite a bit more involved. I'm speaking to my situation and the pursuit of, at least, surface-level knowledge of the bible as a whole.
- Don't forget the bible is a book. One of the things that really differentiates the bible from any other book is that most teachers would advise a new believer to NOT start at the beginning. It is advised to start at a book like John, then Romans, then work their way through the other gospels and then Acts or something like that. It's not advised for someone just coming into the knowledge of Jesus to start at Genesis and read on because they could get confused with all of the laws in Exodus and Leviticus and miss what Jesus has already done for us through His sacrifice. Very understandable. What ends of happening sometimes, though, is that we miss quite a bit of information when we don't read the bible like we do other books. I'm namely speaking about things like epilogues and forewords, and in my bible's case, the Preface.
- Start at the beginning. When I used to read the Old Testament, I would start at whatever random book and verse I would land on or was given on Sunday or in Bible Study. When we read regular books, we don't jump into the story at Chapter 4 and expect to know what's happening. We wouldn't understand the characters or why they did the things they did. The same goes for the bible (at least the beginning of a section*).
It starts to make sense when you read the stories at where they start. Then you can connect to/with the characters (or not if you don't like them lol) and really understand where they are coming from and more importantly where God is coming from with His actions towards them. Definitely helps to understand God's character when you read from the beginning.
- Take time to understand some of the relational explanations. From an early attempt to read the books of Chronicles, I will be the first to say that when I see a bunch of names together with the word "begot" between them, I have been quick to skim through in the past. That had developed into a bad habit of doing it in other books of the bible as well, even if there weren't that many names listed. Listening to my First Lady teach Sunday school and break it down sometimes made me realize that if I just understood some of the basic relationships of the people I wouldn't be so lost in the importance of the story.
For example, Genesis 11:27-29 reads "This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor and Haran. Haran begot Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah."
Okay, let's break this down a little. Terah had 3 sons, Abram, Nahor and Haran, but his son Haran died. Before Haran died, he had a son named Lot. We see here, that Lot is Terah's grandson and Abram's nephew. That part alone puts into perspective the relationship that Abram had with Lot and why he took Lot with him when God told him to 'Get out of your country to a land I will show you' (paraphrased). Abram was probably like a father to Lot because Lot's father had died. His uncle was probably the next best thing for him. Plus Abram didn't have any kids at the time (v.30) so having Lot there probably filled a void for him.
Also, we see here that Nahor married Milcah, the daughter of Haran. Haran was Nahor's brother. Milcah was his niece. I'll leave that there lol
All of those names do help to tell the story, we just have to take the time to break it down and we will understand it that much better.
- Take a second to understand TIME. I will admit that I have assumed that certain things written either happened RIGHT after each other, or a long time between each other. Slowing down and not just skipping over numbers made me realize that the bible is pre-tty clear at times about lengths of time.
I think the easiest example I can give of this is with the story of Noah and the ark. Noah was 500 years old with 3 sons before God told him to build the ark (Genesis 5:32). It doesn't say the floodwaters were on the earth until Noah was 600 years old (Gen. 7:8). That means it took 100 years (max.) for Noah to build the ark. He didn't just build it in 3 months and start floating. The rain didn't even start until the second month and seventeenth day of his 600th year (Gen 7:11).
If you read through the entire 8th chapter of Genesis, you will see quite a bit more time "one hundred fifty days", "the seventh month", "the tenth month", forty more days, another 7 days, another 7 days, all the way with an end summary that "It came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth". And then it goes to say "And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dried. Then God spoke to Noah, saying, 'Go out of the ark...'" (Gen 8:14-16). So Noah wasn't just in the ark for 40 days and 40 nights like many of us (raises hand!) had assumed to believe. He was on the ark for about a year and a week! All of that should give us a new perspective on understanding the story.
- Read it in a way that you will understand. My last tip is a short one. One of the realest things I've learned about reading/studying the bible is to read it in a way that makes sense. And I don't mean changing things to fit what I want them to say (no!). I mean not making things so formal, I guess that is what I'm trying to say lol.
FOR EXAMPLE, the saying "As the Lord lives" (or some variation) is said quiiittteee a bit in the Old Testament. I've pretty much translated that into "I swear to God!" It may be a small change but it helps bring the stories alive to me and understand the tone of what people are saying.
I pray that these tips will help you to read the bible with better understanding and a little more excitement as a result of that understanding. If I'm honest, having read through the Historical Books, many times I felt like I was reading Game of Thrones LOL. It's been just as exciting and action packed for me! (I used to watch the GoT series. Never read the books)
On a more serious note, just reading to know what happened has already connected many things for me in the New Testament! It's been so exciting to notice symbols or numbers and places that make things come full circle and bring new illumination. I pray the same happens for you if you have been in the same predicament I had.
*sections: The Pentateuch, the Historical Books, Poetical and Wisdom Books, The Prophets, The Gospels, The Acts of the Apostles, The Letter of Paul, The General Epistles and Revelation. They should be outlined in the Table of Contents. If not, you might want to invest in a more detailed bible.
** All of the reference verses in this post came from the New King James Version of the bible.