Someone encountering the Bible for the first time might feel intimidated by what seems to be an impenetrable forest of words. It may not be a good idea to start with Genesis and read the whole Bible straight from beginning to end, although that is what I did as a young teenager. I would recommend starting with the Gospels, although Jesus’ life and teaching really only make sense in the context of the Old Testament.
An actual forest can indeed be impenetrable. The undergrowth may contain a whole lot of brambles. And the forest may seem altogether inhospitable, especially if one is unable to see the majesty of the mature trees through all the undergrowth. And yet the brambles and the undergrowth have their place in the forest community along with all the other plants and animals and microorganisms. A forest is not just a collection of trees. It is an interdependent community of living beings, soil, air and water. It has to be seen and understood as a whole.
The same is true of the Bible. Some passages, especially in the Old Testament and in the Book of Revelation and, indeed, the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, are like brambles – most unpalatable. And much of the Bible can seem impenetrable, dark and without any clear meaning.
Just as one needs to become thoroughly familiar with a forest, approaching it from all angles, in order to know it as a whole, so we need to become thoroughly familiar with the Bible in order to discern the message which it has for us as individuals and as a people of God.
My familiarity with the Bible has come through years of reading the daily Bible verses selected and published by the Moravian church and also through worship and Bible study whilst I was a member of the Laufdorf group of the Laurentiuskonvent, an ecumenical intentional community north of Frankfurt-am-Main.
The messages which come through to me from the Bible are fairly straightforward really. All through the Old Testament God is calling on the people of Israel to do justice and to depend on God rather than on horses and chariots in the face of their enemies. God calls on their leaders to make peace rather than go into battle. The prophet Micah tells the people of Israel: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) And at Zechariah 4:6 we are told: “It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
The New Testament tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth, who came “to bring good news to the poor … to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” (Luke 4:18,19) Jesus taught his disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) And in his Sermon on the Mount he tells us: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)