Learning to Love the Old Testament

By Mary Hazen Johnston

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    As a child, I loved to hear stories about Noah, David, and Daniel. Later, I read a children’s collection of Bible stories. Then, when I was ten, I decided to read the Bible itself from cover to cover.

    I made that attempt more than once, always with the same results. Each time I read past Genesis, I became overwhelmed by the complexity of the Old Testament and quickly lost interest.

    Then, when I was nineteen years old, I was converted to the restored gospel—and rediscovered the scriptures. Now that I had the added insight of the Restoration, the scriptures became a source of rich and unending delight.

    Still, however, the Old Testament is not an easy book to read. Its length is enough to weaken any reader’s firm resolve. Some parts of it seem repetitious, and other parts are meticulously detailed with instructions that may seem irrelevant to modern life.

    How can you get past these barriers?

    Over the years, I have discovered several ideas that you might find helpful in learning to love and understand the Old Testament.

    First, don’t try to read it from cover to cover on the initial attempt. Start instead with a familiar story—such as Daniel in the lions’ den, or David and Goliath. Or read a short book first, such as Esther. This might encourage you to read more.

    Second, skip around. If you aren’t interested in how many cubits long the tabernacle was, turn to another chapter or book. You can always return after the Old Testament has become more familiar to you.

    Third, read a short selection each day. A chapter a day has worked well for me, especially when I’m in the middle of details on diverse laws and ordinances. This approach encourages me to read slowly and carefully, discovering interesting single verses. A gem I found this way is Deuteronomy 29:29 [Deut. 29:29]. (Go ahead; look it up.) I would never have come across this verse except by reading Deuteronomy slowly, one chapter at a time.

    Fourth, study a specific topic throughout the Old Testament. This is an approach I enjoy because of the variety and freedom it affords. One of my favorite themes is the heart—broken heart, new heart, heart of flesh versus heart of stone, and circumcised heart. As I have studied these and other topics, I have gained an appreciation for the depth of the gospel taught in the Old Testament.

    Fifth, use study aids, such as indexes, Bible dictionaries, cross-references, and maps. If you want help, there are plenty of resources available.

    Sixth, appreciate all you are capable of understanding at present. Sometimes as I’m reading the Old Testament, I try to stop worrying about details until I have a general feeling of the tone and meaning of the chapter. For example, I do not claim to understand Isaiah completely, but I enjoy reading his writings. I savor the imagery of Israel’s latter-day glory, of the Lord’s great love for his people, of the promised Messiah. These descriptions give me warm, deep, tender feelings. I don’t always know what specific events Isaiah is referring to, or whether he is describing the past, present, or future—but I know that I want to be in the Zion he describes.

    Certainly, studying the Old Testament is important to a fuller understanding of the scriptures. And the harvest is worth the effort.