Let’s face it, the Old Testament can be difficult to understand. There are long lists of names. Its stories feel culturally remote. It is seldom preached on, and even when it is, it tends to be particular well-known passages or isolated texts. Last Sunday, someone asked me after the sermon, ‘how can I get more out of the Old Testament?’ This was my answer:
- Read it. The best way to start is to familiarise yourself with what it says. Space out the harder parts (Numbers) with the parts which are more accessible (Psalms or Proverbs).
- Digest a good overview book. Vaughan Roberts’ “God’s Big Picture” is short and readable and explains how the Bible fits together with a particular emphasis on the Old Testament.
- Ask two key interpretative questions. Remember that you can always ask two questions of any passage: ‘what does this tell me about God?’ and ‘what does this tell me about human beings?’ and you are guaranteed to leave with something you can apply to your life.
- Engage with the preaching at church. If your church is preaching through a book of the Old Testament then use it as an opportunity to get to know that book, its message and content. Read the chapters ahead of time, take notes on your phone, try to remember one key lesson to apply during the week. The chances are it might be many years before you hear a sermon on Nehemiah again, so this is your big chance!
- Listen to a sermon on the whole book. Mark Dever, at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, has a sermon on every book of the Old Testament. This has now been published as “The Message of the Old Testament.” Download one of the sermons and you can become familiar with any book of the Bible in 60 minutes or less.
- Discuss what you are learning with someone else 121 or in your small group.
One final encouragement is that we are all growing together. None of us knows God’s Word as well as we ought, and so we aim to increase our understanding (and our obedience!) a little at a time. As we do this, pieces of the jigsaw fall into place and the whole becomes clearer. Happy reading!