Posted in encouragement, theology

Tips for reading the Old Testament

By Elizabeth Prata

The extra time at home for many of us during this pandemic quarantine period is allowing for a more stress free, mind uncluttered, time to read the Bible. You night be venturing into uncharted waters, trying some of the books of the Old Testament for the first time. If you are, good for you! The foundations set in Genesis 1-11 are thrilling. The ‘severe compassion’ seen in Nahum is incredible, and who doesn’t love that big fish story of Jonah?

But admittedly, there are books of the Old Testament that are difficult to read for a variety of reasons. The constant woes and judgments of Jeremiah are emotionally hard to take. They were for Jeremiah, who cried fountains of tears until his eyes could produce no more, and then he wrote Lamentations! The prophetical denseness of Obadiah or Daniel are hard to follow, or the history of various nations and their old names in Chronicles makes for a lot of looking up in the atlas.

The Old Testament is filled with books of various genres. Though the Bible is one book, it contains many different genres of writing styles. There are books of prophecy, poetry, history, wisdom literature, and Law. If you’ve ever read the novel Moby-Dick, you know that that book contains switches from one genre to another. The Old Testament (and the New) are like that. So when you read an OT book of poetry like the Psalms there will be more imagery, a prophetical book will have more  symbolism. History is straight history, though sometimes the timeline jumps around. You have to prepare your mind to read differently in different books. More on that below.

The Old Testament overview: (source Ligonier)

Genesis (the history of Creation, the fall, and God’s covenantal dealings with the patriarchs)
Exodus (the history of Israel’s liberation and formation as a nation)
Joshua (the history of the military conquest of the Promised Land)
Judges (Israel’s transition from a tribal federation to a monarchy)
1 Samuel (Israel’s emerging monarchy under Saul and David)
2 Samuel (David’s reign)
1 Kings (Solomon and the divided kingdom)
2 Kings (the fall of Israel)
Ezra (the Israelites’ return from exile)
Nehemiah (the restoration of Jerusalem)
Amos and Hosea (examples of minor prophets)
Jeremiah (an example of a major prophet)
Ecclesiastes (Wisdom Literature)
Psalms and Proverbs (Hebrew poetry)

Here are the OT books divided by genre. This split-up is generally accepted. The Major vs. Minor prophets are not due to importance, but length.

books

Why is reading the Old Testament hard(er)?

First, because many churches today don’t preach from it. Congregants aren’t familiar with it.

Why does unfamiliarity of the text matter?

Ah, here’s where I explain about the mind and its ability to receive new genres or new types of information. It’s not your imagination and it’s not your lack of mental ability that sometimes people find reading the Old Testament a bit harder than the New. If you’ve ever tried to read a non-fiction book on a new subject, and you’re reading along and understanding the words themselves but can’t figure out the topic? Like, if you’ve picked up a biology book or a natural history book and you can parse each word but nothing is making sense overall?

It’s because we don’t have prior knowledge. Prior knowledge refers to all the knowledge of the world we have so far, cataloged in our memories.

Picture your brain like a bank of file cabinets. When you absorb something, your brain puts it in the file cabinet set up for that topic. There, the information you’ve just absorbed connects to information that’s already there. It’s like a ball of velcro floating through your brain, coming to settle and attach to other velcro balls in that file cabinet.

Comprehension, or understanding a text, involves constructing a relationship between what we already know about a topic and what is in the text. So your understanding, or comprehension, of a topic grows as you add more velcro balls to it. Picture a model of a molecule:

molecule

So comprehension involves drawing on prior knowledge, linking the new knowledge to the known, and classifying and organizing your new information.

Several things impact your ability to process new information. One is called concept density. When as a first or second grader and you read a lot of fiction books, there was a rhythm to it that you were familiar with. It began with once upon a time, introduced characters, presented a problem, worked through the problem, and resolved, usually with ‘happily ever after’ or some familiar ending. Reading fiction was like putting on an old blanket.

When you transitioned in 3rd grade to reading non-fiction, the rhythm, or schema, changed. There was no rhythm! Instead, you were given a lot of concepts right away, with no context. Something like, the subject of the Explorers in social studies, Magellan, Columbus, Drake, de Gama, Hudson, Vespucci…all at once and in short order. It was concept dense. Reading unfamiliar, concept dense texts is like wearing a hair shirt!

Add to that you were given lots of new vocabulary, all at once. Circumnavigate, passage, voyage, navigate, expedition, maroon, fleet, scurvy… phew. It’s a lot. With all the new information and all the unknown vocabulary, you have nothing to ‘hang your hat’ on so to speak. All this new information is floating in your brain as a velcro ball but it has no place to attach.

Talking about vocabulary and concept density, how about this example:

“There’s a bear in a plain wrapper doing flip-flops around the 77 and passing out green stamps.”

You likely know each word in that sentence individually, but as a whole? It doesn’t make sense. You understand how to read it mechanically but you can’t create meaning out of it unless you have prior knowledge of CB radios (concept) and trucker lingo (vocab).

That sentence means that there is a policeman in a plain car on Rt 77 driving up and down passing out tickets.

So is there hope for reading the Old Testament? Or the New, if you’re completely new to Christianity? Yes and for one huge reason.

The Holy Spirit. It’s His ministry of Illuminating the Bible to our minds. Here is the definition of illumination. (Please read this great article for what illumination is, and is not.)

Illumination is that ministry of the Holy Spirit whereby He develops in the believer a clearer understanding of, a stronger certainty in, a deeper love for, and a greater obedience to the meaning of the text of Scripture. Source

The Holy Spirit makes the Bible clear to us. Not perfectly, and it’s hard work, but the LORD didn’t inspire the scriptures and then trick us by making it too hard to understand. Mary was a young teenaged peasant girl who understood the Old Testament’s presentation of us as sinners and her need for a coming savior. (Luke 1:46).

The Reformers rebutted the Roman Catholic’s assertion that lay people couldn’t understand the Bible, saying “the Bible was clear enough for all believers to study and understand (the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture), and that the Holy Spirit was given equally to all who are born of God (the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers”). source.

There are two new vocabulary words for new concepts for you: Illumination and Perspicuity.

Here is an example of John the revelator attempting to put into words something completely new, in relating what he was seeing in the  apocalyptic vision in the Book of Revelation. In this first set he makes a direct comparison that readers will understand because they can connect the new to the known. We all know what trumpets, furnaces, and emeralds are like:

a loud voice like a trumpet
The hair of His head was white like wool, as white as snow
His eyes were like a blazing fire
His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace
His voice was like the roar of many waters.
His face was like the sun shining at its brightest.
The One seated there looked like jasper and carnelian
a rainbow that gleamed like an emerald encircled the throne

In this second set, he tries to make a direct comparison but struggles, saying instead ‘something like’ because what he was trying to comprehend was SO out of the realm. Still, connecting the new to the known is possible, even with things in the Bible that are nearly incomprehensible:

And before the throne was something like a sea of glass, as clear as crystal
And I heard what sounded like a voice from among the four living creatures, saying…
something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea.
And the locusts looked like horses prepared for battle, with something like crowns of gold on their heads
And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire

Tips:

What you can do is, read the Old Testament! Pray before you begin, for help from the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit. Then just read. If you don’t understand, that is OK. If you ever lived or adventured where there is a lot of snow, you know the first time you walk through thigh-high snow it’s hard. You’re cutting the trail. The second time you benefit from the broken trail and it is easier.

That’s how it is with reading unfamiliar texts. You have to start somewhere, sometime. Cut the path. The things you don’t understand the first time you will gain a bit more clarity on the second, and so on. The more you tread the path, the more you will find your non-comprehension turning to comprehension.

Reading the Old Testament or even the New Testament is hard. It takes work. The Holy Spirit’s illuminating ministry doesn’t drop huge swathes of clarity to your mind as we sit there and go ‘Ohmmm’. We participate in our relationship with Christ by being diligent and studying the scriptures. Even Peter said there are things in the scriptures that are hard to understand. (2 Peter 3:16.) We won’t attain perfection but the sanctification process drives us ever forward in weaving a tapestry of understanding.

What to read? I’d suggest starting with Ruth or Jonah. Both are short and straightforward. Neither require a lot of knowledge of of history. Jonah can be paired with Nahum, which is the second part of the prophecy of Jonah, or, ‘what happened after’. If you read Ruth and the first 11 chapters of Luke you may see the similarities of the types being presented. Pairing some books is one way of connecting new to the known.

The entire Bible is inspired for our education, correction, and advancement of sanctification. All of it is profitable. (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So, go for it! Just read, plunge in and wade in the waters of truth and refreshment!

Posted in theology, encouragement

Glory Be!

By Elizabeth Prata

*Jesus came for God’s glory. (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus said this over and over. He came for us, of course, to seek and save the lost, but Jesus came to increase God’s glory. God is passionate about His glory, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.” (Isaiah 42:8)

God’s glory is increased when He redeems sinful man to Himself. It is the single greatest act of a Holy God. Redeeming. Sinful. Man. THAT is the expression of His highest glory in the most glorious act, and that His Son would incarnate (not just for 33 years, but forever) and live a human life and die a horrendous death, and in between would seek God’s glory at every moment. This is something admirable to ponder.

Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Think on the admirable things.

1 Corinthians 10:31 – “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” This verse is saying that even if we are not missionaries leading thousands to Christ, even if we are not fiery preachers speaking before thousands, even if we are not teachers publishing hundreds of books, we, the small and mundane, should do everything we do for the glory of God. The small tasks, the routine, the everyday, are glorious to Him if performed with Him in mind as the utmost audience. Do all with an awareness that you are doing it for God. And it will be a fragrant aroma unto Him.

and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Ephesians 5:2).
So think on the admirable things.

glory hebrews verse

*A version of this post first appeared on The End Time in 2011

Posted in encouragement, theology

Thinking about reunion

By Elizabeth Prata

I have worked in a school almost exclusively my entire adult professional life. I was a teacher, a daily substitute, a long-term substitute, and now I’m a teacher’s aide.

I love kids very much. They are my favorite people. I love how they are so open, and loving, and funny. I love their quirks, and their knock-knock jokes, and their earnest attempts to please. I love how when they arrive at school they’re all dressed and combed and tucked in. By the end of the day they’re a wreck, ketchup stains on the shirt, shoes untied, hair bow gone, things spilling out of unzipped backpack as they plod to the door at car riders. Life hits little kids hard.

I love helping them in any way throughout the day. When a friend  hurts their feelings, I cheer them when they cry. To see that smile break through is heart-melting. When they struggle with tying their shoe, or can’t open a mustard pack at lunch, or when the door is too heavy, I can help them. When they need help sounding out a word or adding some numbers, I can help them. I can smooth their path throughout the day, in big or little ways, as they contend with all the little-kid obstacles in front of them.

After the two-week Christmas break or on the first day of school, when we haven’t seen our kids for a long while, it’s exciting to be reunited.

They come thru the door from the car or the bus, down the long hallway, and they spot us on duty. They start running. They throw themselves full bore around our waist and fling their arms around us. We hug back, and look down into their little faces, smiling ear to ear. “I love you!” “I missed you!” we say. We bend down to hear all their little stories about the puppy they got or the tooth they lost. Hugs pile-up as the momentum of the kids streaming back into the school increases, and we love it. We eagerly look down the hall to see the next child come through the door, listening for the door squeak to know it’s opening again. The relief we feel when we see they are safe and happy and back in our school again is a precious feeling.

When the National Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, it was a surprise. The kids left school on a Thursday in advance of a three-day weekend due to Friday being a Teacher Work Day. But then the leaders decided to close school for disinfecting and to comply with guidelines for no gathering, so as not to spread the virus. We’d said goodbye on Thursday like usual, but then it felt like we fell off a cliff. We took for granted that we would see them again a few days later. We cling to the school year calendar as a given, in cement. But it wasn’t. For the first time, it was an unexpected closure, and not for a snow day.

Had we known we would not see our children for over a month, would we have given a more fervent goodbye? Looked a little longer in their eyes as we said ‘see you later!’ Hugged them a little tighter? We have regrets. We can’t wait to see them again.

One thing that is common to all of us educators and bus drivers is that we MISS THE KIDS. We long for the day when we are reunited and see their little smiles and know they are back into a routine. Kids thrive on routine. We want them to thrive and learn, and know they are loved by the other adults in their life.

OK, all this earnest emotion and angst and feels is for a reason. If we who work with children feel so eager to see ‘our kids’ again, imagine how Jesus feels. He is a Father, waiting to reunite with his children. He is a Teacher, we are His kids, and He is longing to see us, be with us.

In Matthew 23:37 Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, saying He had longed to gather His children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings..

The Bridegroom anticipates His bride,

For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5).

He is waiting for us until that time, (Hebrews 10:13). He is expectantly waiting for the Father to say ‘go get your Bride’. And when God does, the picture of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son comes to mind,

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20).

He runs to us.

He is going to rejoice over us with gladness; He will quiet us by His love; He will exult over us with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 32:41).

No matter how lonely you feel in your place during this isolation time, remember that as much as you long to see your adult kids, grandkids, colleagues, extended family, students…Jesus longs to see you even more! He anticipates that great reunion, when we will look up into His face as the children we are, and eagerly tell Him of our lost tooth or our new puppy, and He indulgently has all the time in the world to listen, love, and be with us.

rejoice verse

Posted in encouragement, theology

Encouragement: You’re not a bird

By Elizabeth Prata

morning 4

It’s a beautiful day out there. The birds are singing, they’re building their nests. They don’t know there’s a pandemic. They don’t know to quarantine. But the Lord takes care of them, dumb beasts though they are. How much more does He take care of His children? He gives good gifts. He brings all things about for the good of those who love Him. He sent His Son for us so we could have a relationship with Him (if we repent).

Even the ‘negative’ things are to give us the gift of reflection so as to humble ourselves, rely on Him all the more. He gave the wandering Hebrews clothes and shoes that didn’t wear out during Exodus. (Deuteronomy 29:5). He gave them bread when they were hungry. (John 6:31). He gave them water when they were thirsty. (Exodus 17:6). Will He do less for His children on the other side of the cross? Continue reading “Encouragement: You’re not a bird”

Posted in encouragement, theology

I don’t want to go back to my normal life

By Elizabeth Prata

These days are certainly strange. Mandated home sheltering, no going out except for minimal and pressing reasons, economy shuttered, the world staggering from a virus that sweeps through a population like wildfire.

For many people, it’s strange to be at home for these lengthy times. No school, no work, being apart from extended family, uncertain financial future.

People say, “I want my normal life back!” Continue reading “I don’t want to go back to my normal life”

Posted in encouragement, theology

Be like the poppies

By Elizabeth Prata

100_1908 poppies

I took that picture 15 or 20 years ago. It’s still one of my favorites. I had it enlarged and framed. It hangs on my living room wall.

It’s a photo of a B&B along Water Street in Lubec, Maine. The street is so named, as you might guess, because it faces the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, it’s on a narrow inlet and a stone’s throw across the inlet is Canada. The town is in a region of Maine that Mainers call Downeast. Far away and the edge of nowhere, but a small city that enjoys the spring and summer, short as it might be. The town is very close to the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the north pole. Continue reading “Be like the poppies”

Posted in encouragement, theology

You are not alone

By Elizabeth Prata

As we are forbidden to gather today to worship our Lord with joy and companionably as a Body, we might be feeling sad. I know I am. We might be feeling worried about elderly parents or grandparents we cannot visit. We might be anxious about not being able to get to our adult children who live far. We ourselves might be lonely in our abode, alone and not being able to see our friends in person.

I think of Hagar often. She was badly used, rejected, mocked, and cast out. She ran off, and sat down all alone in the wilderness. Yet, despite being alone, the Lord (in a pre-incarnate visit) personally attended to her. He reassured her. Continue reading “You are not alone”

Posted in encouragement, theology

Emotional Fallout of the COVID-19 Lockdown

By Elizabeth Prata

golden hour2

Introduction

Today is one week since we heard that school would be closed for a lengthy period, and a week since the President called a National State of Emergency, a week since coronavirus patients started exponentially increasing.

I haven’t seen (too much) complaining about government asking churches to suspend operations. I’ve seen churches comply in the spirit of Romans 13:1. Continue reading “Emotional Fallout of the COVID-19 Lockdown”

Posted in encouragement, theology

Encouragement for those alone: You are not alone

By Elizabeth Prata

“May you live in interesting times”.

You may have heard this phrase attributed to the Chinese as an ancient blessing. It’s actually a curse, that living in UNinteresting times is more of a blessing than so-called interesting ones, which usually involve war, famine, or other disruption of some kind.

It never was a Chinese saying at all, whether curse or blessing. The closest the phrase came from is remarks made by Frederic R. Coudert at the Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, 1939: Continue reading “Encouragement for those alone: You are not alone”