How to read the “difficult” Old Testament

Author: David Matthews

How to read the “difficult” Old Testament

David Matthews on how to tackle those parts of the Bible that many Christians can find either challenging or boring.

I think that most people find reading the Old Testament something of a challenge. I know that at times I do.

Pope Francis is a keen promoter of Scripture reading as part of our everyday life, even to the point of taking both sun cream and scriptures on our holidays. 

However, I do have to agree with the view that reading Leviticus on a sunny beach may not be one of life’s high points. 

How then are we to read the Old Testament? Perhaps if we could drop the rigidity of there being Old and New Testaments and see the Bible as a whole, that would be a start.

It is always helpful to refer to the Bible as ‘The Scriptures’, and to remember that when St Paul wrote to Timothy saying “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), there was no New Testament as we know it, so he was primarily referring to what we now know as the Old Testament.

Why do we read the Scriptures?

  1. Washing with water through the Word (Ephesians 5:26). Just as we need a daily shower, so we need a daily refreshing and washing through the reading of Scripture.
  2. They refresh our contact with God.
  3. They reveal Jesus.
  4. They enhance the gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy, which greatly needs renewal within Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
  5. They transmit authority for us to act for the good of others in Christ’s name.

How do we read the Scriptures?

  1. Prayerfully.  Samuel’s prayer “Speak Lord for your servant is listening” is still applicable to us.
  2. Devotionally. As we read the scriptures that Jesus and Mary knew, we are not trying to formulate doctrine or even get a decent talk or sermon out of them. Pope Benedict taught us that in the Eucharist, Christ is as much present in the reading of Holy Scripture as He is in the consecrated bread and wine on the Altar. That is a high and devotional view of scripture.
  3. Expectantly. I have been consistently reading scripture for longer than I care to remember, yet most times I do so I hear God ‘speak’ to me in a new way.
  4. Pick your material and start there. We are all acquainted with the Psalms. Proverbs are not so well known but their purpose is to teach us practical wisdom. Then there are the great Narrative stories. So make a regular if not daily start there. Remember: these Scriptures were not written in the first place to us...BUT they were written for us.

What about those “difficult” books?

The book I find particularly difficult to read is Chronicles. But sometimes with Scripture we have to keep digging until we find a place where the Lord speaks to us.

Here’s a practice “dig” for you:  read 1 Chronicles 4:11-9, try to pronounce every name and try to find a spiritual nugget that could change your life dramatically.

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