The Bible is not merely a magnificent book written over hundreds of years by a variety of people in a variety of literary styles. It is God’s Word and it teaches us about his character, how to live according to his laws, and how his redemptive plan makes sense of our lives and of the world.
And yet, despite all of these amazing aspects of the Scriptures, many of us read only snippets of the Bible in passing. Even those who devote time to study and meditate upon Scripture can struggle to devote this time equally to all parts of the Bible. Modern Western Christians tend to gravitate toward the New Testament and particularly the Gospels, leaving large portions of the Old Testament to “the experts.”
But when we do this, we are missing out.
Why read the Old Testament?
As a pastor of a church, I often hear people express frustration when trying to read through the entire Old Testament. Certain books seem inaccessible, confusing, or boring and so people often struggle through or simply skip over them. (The most common culprits are Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets).
And yet, as Paul writes, “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Paul believed that every part of Scripture is sacred and beneficial to us. If we take these words seriously, when we cut out, skim, or skip books of the Old Testament then we are in fact missing out on a key part of our spiritual “diet.” (Like when I tried to skip over my vegetables when I was a kid!)
Having said that, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. How do you find a good introduction or commentary on a book that seems inaccessible? How do you learn to understand the book as a whole and where it connects into the overall story of God? And how do these ancient texts become meaningful and applicable in your daily 21st century life?
Your guide to the Old Testament
My favorite resource for studying the Old Testament that has been developed in the past decade is The Bible Project website. Created by Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins, this non-profit animation studio provides short (3- to 12-minute) illustrated video explanations of biblical books, themes, and topics. Every video is embedded into a summary page that includes the major topics in the videos and even downloadable handouts.
The Bible Project videos (and the other content on the website) are great for adults and teens with easy-to-understand explanations and engaging visual graphics. Use this website as a resource for your personal study, group learning, and family discussions.
Make video a part of your Bible reading
With over a hundred video options available on The Bible Project site, it might feel overwhelming to know where to begin. If reading the Bible is a new experience for you, I recommend beginning with the “How to Read the Bible” series. Pay special attention to “The Bible as Jewish Meditation Literature,” which is particularly helpful in understanding how the Bible is written to highlight symbols and repeated imagery.
Next, everyone should watch the “Tanakh/Old Testament Overview” video. Even if you are familiar with many of the books in the Old Testament, this video can help you understand how the Hebrew Bible (in contrast to the Christian Bible) is organized, and the logic behind the Jewish canonization process. You’ll learn how all parts of the “Tanakh”—the Hebrew Bible—interact with each other. The video then provides an eloquent and beautifully illustrated 10-minute summary of the entire Old Testament.
Explore each book
Once you know how all 39 books work together, then you can dive into individual books and their respective videos. If you are reading through the whole Bible in a year or doing an in-depth study of a few Old Testament books, I recommend that you watch The Bible Project video for each biblical book before you start reading. These videos provide a quick overview of the book with its key themes and verses and will connect this book to the ongoing history of Israel and God’s redemptive plan. These videos are a perfect frame for understanding any book you want to read and dive into.
For example, the video for the book of Deuteronomy outlines the entire book and then breaks it into two- to three-chapter chunks so that you know the goal and key ideas for each chapter. The book of Deuteronomy (like Leviticus!) is often skipped over by Bible readers since it consists of long speeches and numerous laws, but The Bible Project team makes this book accessible and highlights its very relevant meaning and beauty for Christians.
Likewise, the two videos for the book of Ezekiel, which last only 15 minutes in total, clearly explain the often complex visions of this exilic prophet. For example, the first video asks a big question of the book of Ezekiel: “What is God’s glory doing in Babylon?” and goes on to make the prophet’s visions intelligible, explaining how they both answer the question and connect to the promises of the New Testament.
As you get more comfortable with this website, you’ll find yourself also feeling more excited about diving into new books and topics in the Bible, even ones you have never explored before. The Bible is a treasure-trove of wisdom, encouragement, and worship. Journeying through its many, varied pages will prove to be a light in the darkness and bread for your hungry soul. Bon Appetite!
The Bible Project
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