The Simple Perspective Shift That Will Help You Understand–and Enjoy!–the Old Testament

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Keith Ferrin shares four ideas to help you understand and enjoy the Old Testament through a "novel" perspective.

At our gathering last week, someone said this:

"God seems so different in the Old Testament. I look at what happens and it doesn’t seem to fit with what I read in the New Testament."

Others nodded their heads. Similar statements about the people, events, and customs have shown up in the Facebook Group or directly to me via email. The people seem petty. The laws seem tedious. The lists seem unnecessary. The leaders seem mean. God seems, well, different.

Bottom Line: For most people, the Old Testament is more confusing and less enjoyable than the New Testament.

After four decades of hanging out with Jesus, and four previous Bible read thrus, I finally made a shift that has really helped some things fall into place. (Never said I was a quick learner.)

The Old Testament is a novel, not an article.

I feel like a light has come on. During this year’s read thru, I am realizing how important a “big picture” perspective is when it comes to reading, understanding, and enjoying the Old Testament.

If you want to develop this “novel” perspective, here are four ideas to get you started:

1. Recognize your New Testament “default” perspective.

Let’s face it, we spend loads more time in the New Testament. We read it more. Our pastors preach on it more. Small groups discuss it more. Books reference the New Testament more.

Because of this, the way we approach the New Testament becomes our “default.” And we bring that default into how we read the Old Testament.

2. Don’t try to “get something” out  of every story or chapter.

This has been incredibly freeing. In the past, I almost felt guilty (at best) or stupid (at worst) when I couldn’t figure out what God was trying to “teach me” as I read a story in the Old Testament. This is due to what I mentioned in the first idea about our default perspective.

While getting a big picture perspective is certainly necessary when reading the New Testament, more often than not the stories, chapters, and even individual verses, have much to teach us.

As a result, we assume the same is true about the Old Testament. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes a single verse or story in the Old Testament stands alone quite well. That said, in my experience, this happens much less frequently than in the New Testament.

3. Read for themes more than lessons.

This goes hand-in-hand with the last idea. To look for a “lesson” in every story or chapter of the Old Testament is to miss the point. The Old Testament is God’s story of how He worked in and through a very imperfect, messy group of people called the Israelites to eventually lead to the birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventual second coming of Jesus – the Beginning and Ending of the Story itself.

I don’t find grace on every page in the Old Testament, but I cant’ miss it when I sit and read 20 pages. I don’t find mercy in every verse in the Old Testament, but I cant’ miss it when I read a whole book. I don’t find God’s justice and redemption and patience in every story in the Old Testament, but I cant’ miss it when I read the whole story.

When you read an article, you look for the lesson or nugget of truth. When you read a novel, the lesson is found when you get lost in the story. The Old Testament is a novel, not an article.

4. Notice the “connecting” verses.

Just this morning, I found myself knee-deep in Leviticus. If you’re not familiar with Leviticus, here’s the nutshell version: Take some Law. Mix in some more Law. Toss in a dash of Law. Top it all off with Law Frosting.

Truth be told, Leviticus is the single most popular reason why most people don’t finish a Bible read through.

Reading through all these laws for the sake of reading them is tedious. And if I was just reading a “chapter a day,” the tedium would continue for weeks! But I noticed something when I sat down this morning and read for an hour. Every so often, there is a “connecting verse” that brings me back to the Why that is so frequently hidden in the list of Whats.

One example:

I am the Lord your God. If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord.” (Lev. 18:4-5, NLT)

And another:

I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so you would no longer be their slaves. I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high.” (Lev. 26:12-13, NLT)

These connecting verses remind us of why God is doing all this. He is our God. He wants to walk with us. He wants to guide us. He wants to free us. He wants to protect us. He wants to bless us. He wants to be with us.

It all comes back to His desire to be in relationship with us. Beautiful.

Question: What one idea could you share for gaining a “novel” perspective?

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