A goal to read through the Bible in a year is a worthy one. However, it’s a long journey – 365 days. And around the end of January, readers hit the Bible’s first big danger zone.
What is a Bible danger zone exactly? Basically, it’s an area of Scripture where readers get bogged down with the content of the passages. Their reading stalls and they may even miss a few days. Consequently, if they can’t catch up and push through these zones, they end up quitting their Bible reading journey.
It’s super frustrating too. At the beginning, you are excited to do something big. And then these passages come your way. You end up quitting and feel like you’ve let yourself (and maybe God) down.
And when you know they exist in the Bible, it will keep you from trying the goal again because you know you’ll have to face reading through these passages.
So where are these danger zones and how can we get through them? Let’s take a look at where they are and some strategies for managing through them.
Characteristics of Bible Danger Zones
So what is it that characterizes these sections of the Bible? Three issues stand out the most that discourage readers from continuing.
Usually, these sections of the Bible have few if any stories. We love reading personal narratives about what happened to someone else. We are able to insert ourselves into the story and wonder what we would have done in those circumstances.
Additionally, we see how similar the Bible characters are to us. They have flaws just like we do and yet God used them. That gives us encouragement that He can work in our life as well.
So the stories of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, Samuel, Ruth, David and the New Testament apostles really attract us. They hold our attention as we read. Their life is a novel in our hands and in most cases, we love the outcome.
Misunderstanding the Purpose
Another characteristic of these portions of the Bible is misunderstanding why the passage was written in the first place or who it was intended for. This is common among Bible readers in that they fail to see the context behind the words.
What was going on at the time? What was God trying to communicate? To whom was he communicating? Why does this section of Scripture need to be there?
For many of these danger zone sections, these questions are hard to answer. The purpose behind the text is not obvious. It takes some digging and cross-comparison with other passages in the Bible to figure it out. That requires additional time, which many people don’t want to take.
Besides, studying the Bible wasn’t the original goal. The goal was to simply read the Bible in a year, not study it deeper.
So, if you misunderstand the purpose and won’t take the time to figure it out, discouragement sets in and you quit reading.
No Application to My Life
Perhaps the biggest reason why people stop reading the Bible in these danger zones is that they don’t see the relevance to their life. They cannot find a personal application to draw from the passage.
It’s easy to draw personal applications from the life of David, for example. His story spans much of I and II Samuel and I Chronicles and then we read his beautiful poetic writing in Psalms. Through it all, David draws us in by showing his closeness with God, humility, courage, and patience. And we even see his faults as a father, husband and leader.
In all his blessings, trials, and hardships, he maintained his faith in God and sought Him through all the ups and downs of life. We can relate to that.
It’s harder to relate to the priests of the Old Testament and why they did what they did. Most people will never function in that role. And who really cares about genealogies, or taking a census, or the dimensions of the Tabernacle, or all the ancient laws God made Israel follow or why the prophets always brought bad news?
This is how we think. If it’s not relevant to me, it’s not relevant at all. So the reading journey stops.
Tough Bible Sections to Read Through
So where are these danger zones in the Bible that stop your reading in its tracks? Here are the three main culprits.
Exodus 21 – Deuteronomy
Genesis 1 through Exodus 20 is a non-stop, fast paced, breathtaking narrative of how the world began, how God chose one man (Abraham) to start a new nation, and how he preserved that nation through the lives of major Biblical characters Joseph and Moses. It all culminates with a climatic scene in Exodus 20 of God giving Moses the Ten Commandments, the heart of the law for ancient Israel.
And then, all that fascinating narrative comes to a screeching halt.
The rest of Exodus discusses additional laws beyond the Ten Commandments that are given to Israel. It highlights the construction and furnishing of the Tabernacle and various issues surrounding the priests who would serve there.
The next book Leviticus is all about the priesthood, the various offerings that were required to be made, and more health and safety regulations for the people to follow.
A censes ensues in the book of Numbers, along with more ceremonial laws for the people and priests to follow. The book contains some important stories that are really important to the context of the Old Testament. But most people don’t make it there, having quit reading in Exodus or Leviticus.
And then there is Deuteronomy. It’s an entire re-telling of the laws given in Exodus to a new generation of people. This had to happen because of a major mess up (sin) that occurred in Numbers 13-14.
These four long books are the major stopping point. Most readers don’t make it through them. It’s probably the biggest danger zone in the Bible to face and conquer.
The book of Job is actually a fascinating story about a man who endured the worst possible life events anyone could imagine. It’s a beautiful picture of devotion to God and God seeing someone through a life tragedy.
The problem is that it’s a long book – 42 chapters. Additionally, all the narrative action happens in Chapters 1 and 2 and 40-42.
In between that, from Chap. 3 to 39, the book treats us with a conversation between Job and four of his friends. The dialogue back and forth goes on and on. And what makes matters worse, is that Job’s friends pound him relentlessly for his views about God. (In the end, God criticized Job’s friends for their incorrect counsel, even though they started out by doing some good things.)
The book discourages readers who are not into the poetic form of literature. And the conversation isn’t pretty to read either. It’s very divisive and can raise questions about who God is and why he allows things to happen to good people.
The Prophets (Isaiah – Malachi)
The final reading danger zone takes up a major portion of the Old Testament – 17 books to be exact. It starts at the book of Isaiah and runs through the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi. This section is what we refer to as prophetic literature.
Who were the prophets? They were God’s messengers to the people. They brought messages of hope in dark times, promises of God’s provision and, in some cases, information about events yet to unfold.
But they mostly brought warnings of God’s judgment. Why? Because the people were sinning and needed to be corrected. Through the ministry of the prophets, God was always trying to draw people back to Himself.
For the most part, the prophets were despised. No one wanted to hear the messages of doom and gloom. Most of them faced harsh lives and some were brutally executed for their devotion to God.
Three of these books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel are so long they seem to have no end. There are very few stories in the prophets, except for Daniel and Jonah which have an extended look at their lives. And the writing is all done in “prophet-eze”, wording and description that is difficult to follow. If a reader hasn’t stopped yet, it’s very possible this is the section where it happens.
How do We Get Through These Areas?
There are some ways to approach these sections to keep the train moving. They are challenging but can be conquered. Here are some strategies for approaching these or any section of the Bible you find difficult to read.
Always figure out who it was written to
Truthfully, all the Bible was written to everyone for all time. That includes us today. But each writer did have an original audience for whom the text was written.
For example, the original audience for the Old Testament law was the nation of Israel. The law was given to them as a guardrail for their daily living and interaction with God. The law served as the path to a healthy existence, physically and spiritually. And it taught them they could only come to God through faith, not by any good work they could do.
Similarly, New Testament writers (like Luke, John and Paul) devoted their writings to specific churches or individuals.
However, the content contains relevance to us today even if we were not the original intended audience. Knowing who it was originally written for can help you understand some of the meaning behind the text. It will enlighten you and keep your attention in these sections of Scripture.
It’s all relevant and gives us a complete picture of God
Does all the Bible have immediate, obvious application to today’s believer? Probably not. The New Testament teachings of Jesus and the doctrine of the apostles written thereafter, serve as the basis for the Christian life and the role of the church. We are living in the “new covenant era” that the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah spoke of in his book (see Jeremiah 31).
But just because we are not required to maintain all the Old Testament laws given to Israel, doesn’t mean we can’t find relevance in them. Just because we don’t offer actual animal sacrifices at a temple doesn’t mean understanding this historical worship ritual doesn’t add value to our lives. And just because we don’t have prophets today predicting what will happen in the future with 100% accuracy, doesn’t mean we learn from their messages of old.
The truth is, all the Bible has relevance. At the most basic level, it gives us a complete picture of who God is and what his vision was and is for mankind. Without these large, difficult portions of Scripture, we would have a distorted view of God and misunderstand how we are to relate to Him.
So learn to appreciate these difficult sections. They are there for a reason – to point us to God. We’d lose our way without them. You can learn from them.
Connect the Timeline Dots
The Bible is not structured in a chronological reading order. The books are grouped together around similar content. So, in the Old Testament for example, we read what’s considered the Law first (Genesis – Deuteronomy), then the history books (Joshua – Esther), books of poetry (Job – Song of Solomon) and finally the Prophets (Isaiah – Malachi).
So it’s helpful to connect the dots from what you are reading to the historical timeline context in the Bible.
For example, many scholars believe the events of the book of Job occurred before the life of Abraham, which we read about in Genesis. David wrote down his psalms as the events of his life unfolded in I and II Samuel. And most of the prophets brought their message to the people during the time of the kings, which we read about in Kings and Chronicles. So understanding the timeline is important.
This strategy of connecting the dots is especially helpful when reading the prophets. We have a record of each king of Israel and whether they served God or not. God instructed the prophets to bring messages to these kings and the people who lived under their reign about their good or bad behavior.
So this goes back to the first point of knowing who the message was for. If you link the prophetic messages to their intended audience and what they were dealing with and experiencing at the time, it makes the content come alive.
Find one thing each day
This last piece of advice is all about application. If you are reading the Bible just to read the Bible, you are missing the point. You are engaging in a good activity, but you are missing the much larger purpose.
Every day you read, make it a point to find that one thing that you can apply to your life. Read and apply, read and apply, read and apply – day in and day out. It’s the way you spiritually grow.
It won’t be easy to do everyday. You may run across a confusing passage, a genealogy section, laws that aren’t applicable to the believer today, literary styles you can’t connect with or prophecies that don’t make sense. All that stuff is in the Bible and can discourage you from continuing.
But you still can find a personal application in those places if you open your mind and try. If you are just reading to be reading, you won’t. It requires slowing down and allowing God to speak to you every day you read.
So even if it’s just one verse a day that speaks to you, great! Let that fuel you to read again the next day. Build the anticipation that God is going to speak to you everyday, no matter what you are reading. The truth of the matter is that He will if you are open to listen.
Keep the End Goal in Mind
The sections of the Bible we highlighted are challenging. However, you can navigate them successfully. How do we know? Because thousands and thousands of people take on this challenge every year and succeed. Some of them have told us about their story. It’s doable.
Any time you set a goal, it’s always important to keep the end goal in mind when moving through the day to day journey. Because, with any goal, there are obstacles along the way to overcome. Knowing your endpoint keeps you motivated in the present.
But the biggest goal to keep in mind is this – drawing closer to and building your relationship with God. That’s worth reading through these challenging sections. So don’t skip them. Don’t give up on your journey when they hit the calendar. God has something for you to know about him in every day’s reading.
Leave a Comment or Answer a Question Below: Do any of the three sections listed above drag you down? What other sections do you have trouble getting through? What other helpful tips would you give to someone struggling with these difficult portions of the Bible?