My brother, who attended a Bible college during a very smart-alecky phase in his life, enjoyed shocking groups of believers by sharing his "life verse." After listening to others quote pious phrases from Proverbs, Romans, or Ephesians, he would stand and with a perfectly straight face recite very rapidly this verse from 1 Chronicles 26:18: "At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar."
Other students would screw up their faces and wonder what deep spiritual insight they were missing. Perhaps he was speaking another language?
If my brother felt in a particularly ornery mood, he would quote an alternative verse: "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones" (Ps. 137:9).
In his sassiness my brother had, quite ingeniously, identified the two main barriers to reading the Old Testament: It doesn't always make sense, and what sense it does make can offend modern ears. Why, we wonder, does the Bible spend so much time on temples, priests, and rules governing sacrifices that no longer even exist? Why does God care about defective sacrificial animals—limping lambs and bent-winged doves—or about a young goat cooked in its mother's milk, and yet apparently not about people like the Amalekites? Jesus we identify with, the apostle Paul we think we understand; but what of those barbaric people living in the Middle East several thousand years ago?
Because of this, most people simply avoid the Old Testament entirely, leaving three-fourths of the Bible unread, while others extract nuggets of truth from it like plucking diamonds from a vein of coal. That technique can backfire, however—remember my brother's life verses.
Like reading Shakespeare
For a long time I also avoided the ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more