Finding my way, sharing my finds
Last year for New Years, I resolved to read the entire Bible in one year. I figured that if I was going to profess to be a Christian, I should know what was written in our holy text.
Initially, I worried about whether I’d have the stamina, especially given that my memory of trying to read the Bible pre-rediscovering religion was that it was really dry with a lot of names listed.
But not one to back down from a challenge (even if that challenge was self-delivered), I forged ahead. And now I’m pleased to report that I can now cross this Bucket List item off my list!
I definitely don’t think I would have made it had it not been for the wonderful Bible that Forest Hill Church gave me when I first joined a few years ago. In the back of their Bible, there’s a one-year Bible Reading Plan, which really breaks down the book into digestible pieces. Plus, each day has you reading something from the Old Testament and New Testament, so it gave me some nice variety. I’ll share the schedule at the bottom of this post.
And I really loved how the English Standard Version of the Bible also had an introductory paragraph to each of the 66 books of the Bible, giving me a preview of what I was about to read, the historical context that the book was written in and what modern day critics say today about the book.
I definitely enjoyed some books more than others. Perhaps some of my favorite books were: Genesis, Ruth, Proverbs, Matthew, James and Colossians. And some of my least favorite were Leviticus, Judges, Isaiah and Jeremiah. But what I ultimately took away was that although some books were more enjoyable and seemingly more relevant to my life than others, they all had gems to offer.
I definitely walked away feeling like if more Christians read the Bible on a daily basis, the world would be a better place – not just for them as individuals but also for anyone who came in contact with us Christians. There really is an incredible plethora of wisdom in the Bible. And, having read the entire Bible now, I can honestly say that it is so much better than what is portrayed in the media, or by non-Christians or even by extremist Christians. This book is powerful and I would definitely encourage anyone to take the time to read it for themselves instead of assuming what’s in it.
During the next four blogs, I’ll provide a breakdown of the 39 Old Testament books and the 27 New Testament Books of the Bible, along with my thoughts on each and also one of my favorite passages from each. Today, I’ll look at books 1 through 17: Genesis to Esther. Enjoy!
*Disclaimer* I am not a pastor and I did not go to seminary. I’m merely sharing my thoughts and reactions to each book in the Bible so that maybe the Bible will become a little bit more digestible for those who have never read it.
1. Genesis: Some of the most well-known Biblical stories come to life in this book, including Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark and Cain and Abel. It was one of the more enjoyable Old Testament books for me to read. And holy cow — the story of Lot… well that story is about as scandalous and vulgar as anything you’d find on an adult website. Seriously, it made me blush.
2. Exodus: This book talks about how God fulfilled his promise to Abraham to multiple his descendants. It chronicles how they’re delivered from slavery in Egypt and lead to the Promised land. It also talks about how Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, helping form a covenant between God and his people at Mount Sinai. It also chronicles in painstakingly repetitive detail how the Jews kept losing faith in God and kept forgetting all that He’d done for them, even going so far as to worship a Golden Calf instead.
3. Leviticus: This book basically goes over all of the rules that Moses receives from God, about everything from sacrifices to worship, the priesthood to feasts and Holy Day. It’s a long book with some things I didn’t feel like were very relateable in my own life and I definitely was tempted to skim in more than one place.
4. Numbers: This book talks about how God’s people traveled from Mount Sinai to the border of the promised land. But after they refused to take possession of the Land, God makes them wonder the wilderness for forty years. Once again, the Jews’ indecisive and complaining is described in painstakingly repetitive detail. But that repetitiveness definitely helped me see how I can be fickle with God myself at times. There is also a lot of Census data from the different tribes, which I admittedly skimmed over.
5. Deuteronomy: This name literally means “second law” so it’s pretty much just a retelling of Moses teachings and the events of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. It does have an extended review of the Ten Commandments but as someone who can sometimes have a short attention span, the repetitiveness was difficult to swallow at times. Then again, if you missed any important plot points in the previous three books, it’s a good review.
6. Joshua: After a number of victories under Joshua, Israel is able to conquer the land and divide it among the 12 tribes. These battles make it clear that God fights for his people when they are strong and courageous and put their full trust in him. At the end of the book, Joshua charges people to stay faithful to God and to keep close to him.
7. Judges: This book was about as judgey as one might expect and definitely one of the more repetitive books. It basically chronicles this cycle of people doing “what was evil in the sight of the Lord” and “Everyone doing what was right in his own eyes” and God getting mad at them for their disloyalty and sending them into slavery by some oppressor and then, after a time, sending a redeemer (a judge) who not only rescued them but also encouraged them to repent of their evil ways. And the cycle continued like this many, many times in this book. I felt like I was being punished for my sins just reading through it at times – but it definitely left a lasting impression: Don’t do what’s right in your own eyes. Follow God’s lead.
8. Ruth: Aww, this is a really sweet (and short!) book in the Bible. It basically talks about a young Moabite widow who takes in her widowed Israelite mother-in-law out of love and abandons her own culture to be with her mother-in-law. Then, after being faithful for a time, this young widow finds love again and she and her mother-in-law are taken care of for the rest of their lives.
9. 1 Samuel: This book records the establishment of Israel’s monarchy around 1050 BC. It talks about how Samuel led Israel for many years as a prophet, priest and judge. After the people demand a king, God directs Samuel to anoint Israel’s first king. But then Saul turns from God so David is anointed by Samuel to succeed him. This includes such iconic stories as David vs. Goliath. The book closes with the death of Saul in battle.
10. 2 Samuel: This book recounts David’s time as king of Israel. And although David had a lot of success during his reign, his kingdom and his own family kind of fall apart after he commits a sin against Bathsheba and Uriah. Basically, David was having an affair with the married Bathsheba and, when she began pregnant with his lovechild, David tried to get his army’s soldier Uriah (and also, the husband of Bathsheba) to come home to cover up the affair. But when Uriah refuses to come home from battle, David has him killed instead. Oh how the mighty have fallen, right? But David, who is said to be a man after God’s own heart, does a lot of heartfelt prayer and repentance and gets back into God’s good graces. Also, *spoiler alert,* the Davidic Covenant described in this book established the eternal rule of King David’s line, which later will include the birth of Jesus Christ.
11. 1 Kings: So King David is dead and now his son, Solomon, is reigning in his place. But Solomon is unfaithful to God, which leads to general apostasy among the people. And his son’s harsh policies lead to a revolt of the northern tribe, which basically results in the division of Israel. After this key moment, the northern tribes are called Israel and the southern tribes are called Judah. Oh and another Golden Calf appears in this book – seriously, what is it with these people and Golden Calves? But God is still making attempts to show he cares about his people, despite all of this unrest. For instance, he sends prophets (most notably, Elijah) to warn his people to not serve other gods.
12. 2 Kings: So this book continues the general theme of disobedience that began in 1 Kings. But the people are just not heeding the warning and so, ultimately, Judah’s sins are punished by Babylonian conquest around 605 BC. Ultimately, Jerusalem falls in 586 BC. Honestly, at this point in the Bible, it definitely feels like: Grim, grim and more grim outlooks for the future of God’s people. I definitely got a sense of the futility in the way that God’s people were living and definitely got bored with the repetitiveness of this people describing how the Jews keep shooting themselves in the foot by being unfaithful to God. Still, there are some pretty awesome parts too – like when Elisha helps a widow who needs to sell enough oil to prevent her children from being sold in slavery and God performs a miracle by pretty much giving her as much expensive oil as she can find vessels for. As a result, her sons are saved from a terrible fate.
13. 1 Chronicles: I must have read Chronicles before I got sober because this book sure does have a lot of lists of a lot of names. It basically describes several genealogies, emphasizing David and Solomon. Then it talks about the history of the kingdom under King David as well as his specific plans for constructing a temple, which would ultimately be built by his son Solomon. Because of its subject matter, there is a lot of overlap between this book and previous books in the Bible. But I do love David’s Song of Thanks in Chapter 16 – there are a lot of gems in that.
14. 2 Chronicles: This book continues 1 Chronicles’ history of Judah (the southern kingdom of divided Israel). It was written after people started coming back from Babylonian exile in 538 BC. Although it recalls some of Solomon’s reign, it mostly focuses on Judah’s fall into sin, which led to the exile in the first place. The book ends on a good note, however, talking about how God remained faithful to his people with the decree of Cyrus several years in the future, which allowed the Jewish exiles to return to their Promised Land. About this time in the Bible, I’m starting to understand why the Gospel in the New Testament means the Good News – because things are pretty bleak for God’s people still.
15. Ezra: This book starts where 2 Chronicles ends. The context is that Persian King Cyrus has sent exiles led by Zerubbabel back to Jerusalem (538 BC). The temple is rebuilt and Ezra helps lead the second of three waves of returning exiles. But by the time Ezra arrives, people are once again falling into a sin. (Seriously, people, get it together already). So Ezra preaches God’s word and encourages the people to repent. Ezra is ultimately successful in persuading the sinners, which is credited to God’s hand being upon him.
16. Nehemiah: So Nehemiah is an Israelite who is also a trusted official and he was sent by the Persian King Artaxerxes to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He also went back to Jerusalem with the third wave of returning Jewish exiles. Although he faced a lot of opposition, Nehemiah was able to rebuild the walls, thanks to wise defensive measures he took, personal example and courage. In other words, his faithfulness to what God had placed on his heart carried him through difficult times. Of course, the Jews being who they were back then, still kept falling into sin. So this book also chronicles how he asked Ezra to help with turning the Jews away from sin by reading from the Law.
17. Esther: This is a unique book in the Bible because the book never actually mentions God’s name but obviously, divine intervention was involved in Esther’s life. Basically, Esther is a Jew living among the exiles in Persia and she ends up becoming queen of the empire in about 480 BC. This is a big deal, especially given that Haman (who was a Persian official) had tried to eradicate the Jewish minority. The book also helps explain the origins of the Jewish observation of Purim, which celebrates Israel’s survival and God’s faithfulness. It was a good read.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this review of the first 17 books of the Bible. Again, these are just my thoughts and my reactions and I do encourage you to take the time to read the Bible yourself to see what these books mean to you. If you’d like to follow a schedule to ensure you too can finish the Bible in a year, check out this schedule that I followed.