The beautiful book: Old Testament

In the first of a new series of articles on the Bible – the most beautiful of books – Dave Kitchen, author of the exciting new title Bible in Ten tells us what he loves most about the Old Testament.

26 February 2023

Unexplored corners

My mother loved me unreservedly but could never quite get her head around this life she’d brought into the world. To her, I was this strange child who didn’t do what she expected. My brother played football on sunny afternoons; I’d be in a corner looking for whatever other people might have missed. At one time, I had a very fine store of old washers, rusty nails and small coins… one of which turned out to be quite valuable. (A 1919 Kings Norton penny if you’re wondering.)

Much later, when I was taking exams, I was just about the only one who got higher marks on the Old Testament rather than the New Testament. That wasn’t because I was brilliant but because others didn’t spend much time on the obscure bits of the Bible.

But I just love digging in unexplored corners… and I still do. Of course, I discovered those long lists in places like Joshua and Numbers, and today I know why they are there. Back then, it was the poetry that thrilled me first. Here’s the heart of Psalm 30 from my introduction to the Psalms in Bible in Ten:

I was as low as it gets… you lifted me.
I needed help so badly… you healed me.
I was staring over the edge… you held on to me.
That’s why I sing, that’s why I feel secure:
Because I called and you answered,
Because you took my tears and made me dance again.

Dark realism and shafts of hope

In my eyes, that’s heart-stopping. But it wasn’t just the poems, although there are plenty of them. The prophets sounded so modern, especially in the new translations that have come tumbling out one after another during the times I’ve lived in. And they still sound current and relevant. At the end of my introduction to Habakkuk, I sum up what he learnt in forty words.

Bad things happen. Sometimes the hooligans take over the country. And it may actually be the selfishness of the people who live there that helps this to occur. But the wheel turns and, wherever you walk, God walks with you.

‘The prophets sounded so modern, especially in the new translations… they still sound current and relevant.’

So often the Old Testament seems to be a mixture of dark realism lit up by shafts of hope. What fascinates me is how God responds, especially to those prophets. Mind you, when I wrote Bible in Ten, I wasn’t looking forward to writing a piece that tried to make Jeremiah fascinating in less than ten minutes. In fact, I wasn’t looking forward to reading those 52 chapters full stop. But I was wrong.

Jeremiah had a tough time – anyone who gets thrown into jail, threatened with execution and is left to drown in mud at the bottom of a well deserves at least some sympathy. But God doesn’t do much of that. Where we might, as friends, do a little sensitive soft-soaping, God does something altogether more robust.

Not what you want to hear

He listens, of course, but he doesn’t always say what you might want to hear in the short term. In chapter 15, after one of Jeremiah’s fairly regular bouts of complaining, God essentially tells him that the position of prophet is still available when he eventually gets the moaning out of his system and stops talking nonsense. At that point, he’ll find the strength he needs.

God always hears us, puts up with our miserable moments and then just waits until we are ready. It might mean we don’t hear what we want to hear but it does mean that, when we’re ready to go again, so is God.

‘God always hears us, puts up with our miserable moments and then just waits until we are ready.’

Always something waiting to be found

There’s no getting away from it – the Old Testament is long. But that is, in fact, one of its joys. There’s always something waiting to be found. Try a random flip of the pages in Proverbs once a day for a month. I promise you’ll uncover unexpected wise words you never knew were there.

Here are just three I discovered:

What is far worse than being a complete idiot?
Being a complete idiot and not realising it.

Arguments are like cracks in the walls of dams: sort it out before it goes any further.

When you’re doing the right thing, you are like sunlight at dawn: making things lighter and then a bit brighter still.

One of the bumps that anyone needs to get over with the Old Testament is that it wasn’t originally written for us or indeed anyone like us.

Take Leviticus. It’s a handbook with some 300 rules for the people in charge of the Jewish religion 3,000 years ago. So it’s not a novel in a list of anyone’s 50 Best Beach Reads. But it’s important in a world where human sacrifice was commonly practised and God is calling his people to a different kind of thinking. If you see Leviticus as the next step on a road to a new way of doing things, it begins to make sense.

If you see Leviticus as the next step on a road to a new way of doing things, it begins to make sense.’

This, for me, is its essence:

God walks with us, holds us when we are sorry, accepts what we are able to give however great or small. No one needs to look over their shoulder at what someone else can bring or do. Stay safe; stay healthy; treat each other well. And let the rules guide you, not strangle you.

An utterly life-like saga

When I was first ferreting around the dusty corners of the Old Testament more than half a lifetime ago, I was staggered by all sorts of things. They’d only given me a carefully edited version of Samson’s story in Sunday school. King David had featured but no mention was made of Bathsheba.

The unvarnished truth is that the good and the bad jostle together in the pages of the Bible to create a saga that is utterly life-like, even if it sometimes looks eye-wateringly barbaric. I was hooked and, even when I didn’t fully understand, I wanted to know more.

‘I was hooked and, even when I didn’t fully understand, I wanted to know more.’

The reward for keeping reading was the beauty I came upon in so many corners. Song of Songs doesn’t get much airtime in the pulpit but it is extraordinary and heartwarming so let me finish by tempting you with my summary of it in 34 words:

Love can’t be bought, can’t be sold,
It can’t be drowned by oceans and floods.
It cannot even be broken by death.
If there is one thing that will win through,
It is love.

Bible in Ten launch in Cardiff

Dave signing copies of his Bible in Ten at the launch in Cardiff. He was delighted with the turnout.

Dave said: ‘We had to adjust the seating twice because we had about 100 there with £700 worth of books sold. Even better, people are coming back for second and third copies.’

David Kitchen is an award-winning writer, broadcaster, teacher and storyteller who has been making the Bible come alive for longer than he cares to remember. In Bible in Ten he combines his down-to-earth writing skills with almost 50 years’ experience in church leadership and worship. His hobbies include music, poetry and playing crawling-up-stairs games with his grandson.

Bible in Ten

For anyone who wants to crack open the Bible, Dave Kitchen provides a lively introduction to every single book in ten minutes or less. Bible in Ten is for everyone who wants to be connected with all that is unexpected, beautiful and astonishing in the Bible.

Did you have a Christian grandparent?

Parenting for Faith is conducting a huge survey about Christian grandparenting, to help inform a new book and course. If you had at least one Christian grandparent, we’d love five minutes of your time to answer our questions about how they impacted your faith.

Welcoming Ukrainian families

Last week our Parenting for Faith lead Anna Hawken (back row, right) had the honour of meeting King Charles when he visited Milton Keynes, because of her involvement in hosting a Ukrainian family fleeing the war. In May 2022 she delivered a podcast about her family’s experience. With the situation in Ukraine far from settled, there is a still a long waiting list of people wanting to come and stay with families here. If you’re thinking of opening your home to Ukrainian visitors you might be interested to listen to the podcast.

Pray with us

In the words of this prayer for Ukraine from Martyn Payne:

Lord God of time and eternity,
creation longs with groaning
for your children to come of age.
Forgive us for the suffering and death
that we continue to bring upon your world.
Stir up in us an urgent desire for peace and justice,
particularly in Ukraine at this time.
Comfort the bereaved,
speak peace to the fearful,
have mercy on the displaced,
and strengthen those who bring help,
so that violence and aggression
will not have the last word in this conflict.
In the name of the Prince of Peace

For daily prayers and news from around our ministries, please follow BRF on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.