The Bible is God’s message to the human race, so you’d expect it to be a special book. But did you know that it’s also a great read?
It has to be said, it’s not always easy: it’s an ancient book, and most of us can’t read it in its original languages so we have to read it in translation, so its style takes some getting used to. But when you do get used to it, it’s a book which is fascinating, colourful and always uplifting.
First, the ground rules. Being God’s book, the Bible should be read with reverence. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word” (chapter 66:2). And it should be read with an open mind, ready to learn: “The Lord gives wisdom: out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).
Of course it’s actually not one book but a collection of 66 books, written by the hand of many different people in widely differing circumstances over a period spanning thousands of years. Within these books you can find virtually any genre you care to name. It’s a book of many colours!
Here are just a few examples:
David was a hero in every sense of the word: strong, courageous, charismatic, and also a man of deep faith in God. The account in the books of Samuel of his adventures as he rose from shepherd boy to be King of Israel would not be out of place in a Boys’ Own magazine.
For instance, read 1 Samuel 26. David and his band of outlaws are on the run from the insanely jealous King Saul. Saul and his army are closing in on David, but with breathtaking audacity David and a loyal friend sneak into Saul’s camp in the middle of the night, and David finds himself with an opportunity to kill his enemy in cold blood. What should he do?
Proverbs are little snatches of wisdom which we can use in our everyday lives. For instance, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.”
The Bible contains an entire book of proverbs. They range from pithy memorable two-liners (for example “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility”, Proverbs 18:12), to involved treatises on different moral issues. For example Proverbs 6:6-11 is a poem about the results of diligence and the results of laziness.
Ecclesiastes is a richly poetic book that asks and answers the age-old question: what is the meaning of life? Many sages and thinkers throughout history have mused on this question, and philosophers are famous for thinking about everything and never coming to conclusions – but the book of Ecclesiastes is different, it approaches the question from God’s perspective and it comes to a clear and definite conclusion. You can read it for yourself in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.
The book of Esther was traditionally read aloud at the Jewish festival of Purim, which can be a boisterous and noisy event. It’s a curious fact that there is no direct reference to God in the book of Esther, and one explanation that’s been suggested for this is that it’s to avoid any danger of accidentally showing disrespect to God during the public readings.
The story of how the Jewish queen saved her people from destruction at the hands of their implacable enemy Haman is very serious, but you can imagine the audience laughing and cheering as time and again the dastardly schemes of the wicked Haman are turned on their head. For instance, read Esther chapter 6.
The book of Ruth is the heart-warming story of a destitute Moabite widow and a rich Jewish landowner who are brought together by their mutual devotion to God. Incidentally, they became ancestors of Jesus Christ.
Ruth is just four chapters long, it doesn’t take long to read the whole book.
The book of Psalms is the Bible’s song book. The Psalms were originally meant to be sung, although we have little idea what the music would have sounded like. But even in our different language, you can’t fail to appreciate the beauty of the poetry in the Psalms. Musicians over the centuries have been setting the Psalms to music in different styles, from Medieval chants to modern devotional ballads. When words are set to music, they hold the attention and they’re memorable. In the 150 Psalms you will find the whole spectrum of emotion – there are Psalms that praise God for his greatness and goodness, Psalms which plead for help in distress or depression, Psalms which plead for forgiveness and Psalms which rejoice in forgiveness, Psalms of thanksgiving and Psalms designed to teach all about God and His ways.
One of the most well loved Psalms is Psalm 23, in which the Psalmist sees himself as a sheep in God’s flock.
As well as being a devoted and tireless preacher, the apostle Paul was a highly educated academic with a brilliant mind. Probably nowhere do we see the sheer power of his intellect better than in his Letter to the Romans, where with precise, methodical, inexorable reason he considers the question: How can we be righteous?
Scholars say the language in the Letter to the Romans is of a complexity that you wouldn’t normally find outside a university text book, so you shouldn’t expect it to be an easy read – but when you make the effort, this wonderful letter yields profound lessons.
For instance, read, re-read and ponder chapter 8 verses 1-11.
The ultimate life story is of course that of Jesus Christ. The four Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each present an account of his ministry from a slightly different perspective. Together they present a picture of the perfect man – a beautiful character, merciful and forgiving but zealous for truth and right – the man who showed us what God is like. And it’s much more than a biography: the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the story of how God offers salvation to the world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Matthew chapter 5 is the beginning of a discourse that’s sometimes called the ‘sermon on the mount’ – it gives a good flavour of Jesus’ teaching, which is as challenging and inspiring today as it was when the sermon was first delivered on that Mediterranean hillside.
The world is full of books written by every kind of ‘guru’ which promise to enable us to achieve, enjoy and fulfil our lives. You can find books to help you do anything, from losing weight to combatting phobias to getting rich.
As a ’self help manual’ the Bible is in a league of its own: what other book promises to show you the meaning of life, how to get true contentment and fulfilment, how to achieve your maximum potential in life, and how to go on and live for ever?
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16).