As I believe I’ve mentioned before once or twice, reading the Bible is not easy. Not in any sense of the word. Particularly not, for me and I think for many of us Christians, the Hebrew Scriptures.
For one thing, parts of it downright shock me. So much blood from so many animals. So many reasons to stone people. So many people getting struck dead for getting too close to the Holy, or getting killed in plagues or battles for wandering too far away.
And when I’m not shocked by these scriptures, I’m just as often bored. With all those lists of names and numbers, parts of it feel about as fun as reading the telephone book. Or there’s the wacky rollercoaster Israel gets on of bad kings and somewhat better kings, or those ever-popular descriptions of how to build and decorate things, conveniently measured in cubits.
So why, some would ask, do I keep reading? Why not just mentally assign the brutal or boring parts of Scripture to the recycle bin, especially since as a Christian I have the Gospels and epistles to read, action-packed and chatty by comparison?
Well, because you wouldn’t pick up a novel in the middle and read from there, would you? Reading the Bible that way doesn’t make any more sense. The New Testament is the Christians’ version of the end of the story of God and God’s people. Reading only the new part means you miss the full impact of the many Old Testament characters, allusions, and symbols woven everywhere into the text. Delete all of them and you wouldn’t be left with much.
Now, realizing this doesn’t necessarily help us enjoy the Old Testament. We might take it in like cod liver oil, faithfully, but with a shudder and a grimace. And that would be sad, because in those parts where our eyes are glazing over, there is beauty too if we have eyes to see.
Let me tell you what helps me actually enjoy the Old Testament.
I think about the fact that Jesus read it too.
I imagine child Jesus, with luminous eyes, soaking these stories in day and night. We know he came from a devout family. We know these words filled him like bread. No doubt, as Scripture itself teaches, his family talked with him about them sitting at home and walking along the road, while rising in the morning and lying down at night.
I imagine Jesus listening with total attention to these same stories, laws and histories and lists of names and decorating plans and all. I can see the wheels in his head turning. He knows, because of Who He Is, the beautiful way all this fits together. He knows it all points to his Father’s nature. But how to explain this? How to make people understand the intricacy of the tapestry, how organically all the pieces build a Kingdom?
I imagine him pondering these things day and night, on holy days and ordinary days, reading also the world around him, the signs that show up in wheat fields and fig trees and clouds.
When I can keep this image in my mind, suddenly every word becomes delicious. I long to read as Jesus read: hungrily, longing for his Father’s presence to be made known in the world. Jesus read these very words, the ones that seem brutal and boring to me, and he pieced them together into teachings that, along with his presence and his sacrifice, would lift heavy burdens from ordinary people, would set the world in motion following him wherever he led.