When Howard was converted, he knew there were a lot of differing ideas out there about what the Bible said. So, every time he sat down to read the Bible, he would pray first and ask God to help him understand correctly. When I met him some years later it was evident that God had honoured those prayers. Unfortunately, Howard also clearly understood that by the time I met him he was living in sin that the Bible condemned, and didn’t know what to do about it, or perhaps more correctly, didn’t want to know.
Still, if you find the Bible intimidating, prayer would be a good place to start. Understanding isn’t enough, though, as Howard had discovered. It would also be a good idea to pray after you read the Bible and ask God to help you be obedient to as much as you understood from His Word.
God didn’t intend for the Bible to be a scary book. Can I say it that way? What I mean is that there should be times when the Bible speaks to us in a way that will frighten us out of our complacency and lukewarmness, but most of the time we will find it the most fascinating book we have ever read. It tells us that our life has a meaning, that God loves us, wants to have a conversation with us and has always battled the unseen powers that are against us.
Perhaps a little introduction to the structure of the Bible will help demystify it. The Old Testament began with Moses and reached its completion in the days of Ezra. Jewish synagogues still have the books of the Old Testament written on scrolls and those scrolls are arranged a little differently than how the same books appear in our Bibles. It may interest you to know that arrangement and the reasons behind it.
The Jewish Scriptures are divided in three: first the Torah, the teachings, or the law – the books of Moses; then the Nevi’im, the Prophets; and lastly the Ketuvim (Writings). All together, they are referred to as the TaNaKh, an acronym of the first letters of each section.
When the New Testament refers to the law and the prophets it is referring collectively to the first two groups of scrolls. “It is written in the prophets” means that it is found somewhere in the group of scrolls called the Prophets.
Here are the divisions, I will elaborate a little more in the posts that follow:
Torah, or Law:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, all written by Moses.
The former prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
The latter prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve (the minor prophets).
Poetry and wisdom literature: Psalms, Proverbs, Job
History: Daniel, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah
Five special scrolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther.
You probably noticed that the books called the former prophets are books we think of as history and that the book of Daniel is grouped with the history scrolls rather than the prophets.
One other interesting point is that the last five scrolls listed were each read every year, and still are in synagogues, at specific festivals. The Song of Solomon was read at Passover; Ruth at Pentecost; Lamentations on the eve of the ninth of Av to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem; Ecclesiastes at the feast of Tabernacles; and Esther at Purim, the festival commemorating the deliverance of the Jews in Persia that is described in Esther.