Over the years I have been encouraged, coached, goaded and shamed into trying to read through the Bible. All methods, so far, have failed. We are to thirst after God's word.
Not so thirsty here.
Quite a few times, I began with good intentions, reading (and rereading and rereading) through the poetic drama of Genesis and onto well-known narratives throughout Exodus (you know, there’s a movie).
But I hit the wall when I turned to Leviticus. I mean, those ancient Hebrew laws, on and on.
I lose it among the payment of sheep for infractions and then all those washing rituals. I mean, come on. How does this relate to me? We have antibiotic soaps these days.
And as for developing a thirst, let me tell you that one of the worst courses I ever took at Wheaton College was the required Old Testament class.
Heading into our sophomore year in college, Mike and I were IN LOVE and facing the same general education requirements so it seemed to make sense that we would take them together. We did not consider how awkward this might become if we broke up but we didn’t so…
We studied slides of fine art in Art Appreciation. (“We appreciate this! We really really do!”) We dissected the classical in Music Appreciation and attended professional opera. (nose bleed seats) And we sat together, in the front row, in Dr. Heiksen’s OT Archeology class.
The class met at 7:30 AM during the snowy winter months so it was still dark outside. The course was a snore. The only person more bored than me was Dr. H. himself.
More than a few times, we would enter the lecture room and face two armchair desks. In one sat the professor and on the other was a tape player. We knew, after the first week, what came next. Dr. H would slip a tape into the player and his own droning lecture would come forth. He might lean an elbow on his desk and doze off. I rarely checked the room behind me but I’m pretty sure we all joined him.
I don’t remember most of what we were to "learn" in Old Testament, but two things stand out.
1) I ended up with a really good textbook on Christian Apologetics (why in Old Testament?) to which I still refer. There are all sorts of cute little doodles and “I love you, Mike” and ”ZZZZZZ again” in the margins in blue highlighter.
2) It is only one of two courses in all of my college education where I got a better grade than Mike. Now here’s what’s funny (to me) about that. We worked together in Old Testament. On tests we were within 1 or 2 points of each other. We created an extra credit presentation for the course. And when the smoke had cleared, I got an A and Mike got a B.
It’s a fluke but still, I got the better grade so I’m good with this. But it was yet another reason I crashed early in the Old Testament reading plans.
The last time I tried, steeled to preserver, I actually made it almost to the end of Deuteronomy before I caved. This time, I excused myself…a well-developed skill..because my husband was ill and well, I had a lot to do.
But there are plotters around me.
I have two really good friends who continue to challenge my lack of commitment to the scriptures. One is a New Testament wizard who can bring up the right word from Paul or Peter, or Jesus, to match any situation.
The other’s pores leak Old Testament. She smiles but cringes at any suggestion that the Old Testament is less relevant today than the New. SHE can back up her resolve with verses from… have you heard of this?...Nahum and Zephaniah.
Then, of course, the hub, who is retired and has a bit more time on his hands, has become quite the Bible reader, along with his WWII tomes and all things Malcolm Gladwell.
You can see, I’m surrounded and I know this is not an accident. SO, I brought this up in my small group and, gulp, asked them to pray for me, pray that I would develop not just a habit but a hunger for God’s word.
I confessed to them and now to you: I am a voracious reader of the newspaper. That ritual is a part of my morning routine. I do not feel dressed and ready for the day until I’ve perused the daily news.
I’ve heard this same thing from my more spiritual friends as it related to a quiet time with God and His word. I know that this SHOULD be something I want to do. But I don’t so I asked the group to help me. I knew that this would make me accountable to someone other than myself, who is not such a taskmaster.
New Testament friend suggested that I pray before I begin my reading and ask God to guide me to something I need. What a concept. I placed a Bible on my desk at school and scheduled a regular reading time.
So where to start? “Well, I think I’ve read Genesis quite a few times and I’m trying to develop a real hunger so, selfishly, I should find something that speaks to me right now.”
Right now, I’m living within a bubble of God’s grace. He’s showing us so much mercy and He's blessing us every day. The Psalms? Quickly I discovered that many Psalms cry out and ask God to help.
Then, Mike was listening to The Messiah and I recognized a passage from Isaiah. Ok, I’ll try that.
Did you know, I did not, that the first 10 or so chapters of Isaiah are all about God’s judgment on His people for their transgressions?
Not where I am right now.
Proverbs? Not right now. Levitius? Oh, come on! I’ve read through it but I don’t think it will make me want more. Lamentations? Short but all sad and grieving. Not at this time.
“Ok,” I reason. “Pick-and-choose is not working. Pray some more.”
Then, wouldn’t you just know it? I found a book at the lake that summarized the Old Testament. When did I buy this book? Why did I buy this book?
Timelines. Photos. Maps. Literary analysis. I landed on a chapter about Joshua. Then, I grabbed my Bible, turned to Joshua, and I was hooked.
What an adventure! (What a screenplay this would make! )
Did you know, for example, that after Joshua led the children of Israel across the Jordan River, before they went into battle, he gathered all the men so they could be circumcised? What it would be like, witnessing this as he sold it to his soldiers.
Then, wisely, they rested until they were healed. And that’s when manna stopped falling from heaven. I had known when it started but never really wondered when it stopped. It stopped as soon as the people were ready to get their own food.
God’s pretty cool that way.
Joshua is an edge-of-your-seat narrative and then onto Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles.
I’m moving through so many of the stories that were the substance of Sunday School instruction. I can recall the flannelgraphs.
Solomon, once the wisest of men, fell as many do. His two sons, Rehoboam and Jeroboam led their part of the divided Kingdom.
Relevancy: So, Solomon, you named these boys so similarly. To make it hard to keep them straight? Reminds me of identical twins, African Americans, one of whom was in my class. They were named Ken and Kent; either their parents had no imagination or they had a really good sense of humor. This brothers were also dark skinned and I wondered if they ever traded places. They certainly could have gotten away with it.
Also as we (!) read through these historic books, we see that it was not modern men who invented that weakness to strut in your own greatness and fall fall fall. The ancient kings displayed the same frailty; it usually involved the wrong women.
As King Solomon said, late in life, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the son.” Ecclesiastes 1:9.
By the way, I had an ‘aha!’ moment as I traced the divided kingdom. Israel to the north was eventually destroyed and taken into captivity. It ceased to exist. Judah, to the south, was also taken captive but its captor encouraged them to continue their religion and culture. (did not know this)
SO, THAT’S why Matthew begins his Gospel with that long long long geneology of Jesus, tracing him back to Abraham. He came through the line of Judah, the people who continued their faith.
I know. All you biblical scholars are giving me a “duh.” Ok with me. It’s lightbulb time here.
So now I’m ready for Isaiah because I have the context and my chart.
I’ll be reading.