Reading the Old Testament can be challenging. Although the New Testament is some two thousand years removed from our current place in history, it feels much closer to our cultural context than the Old Testament does—which is thousands of years even further removed. Many of the Old Testament’s cultural realities feel foreign to our ears, and even the writing style does not always align with our modern sensibilities. And if the Old Testament can be difficult for us to read as adults, I have no doubt the same can be said for our children as well.
Helping your children understand the Old Testament begins with grappling with the Old Testament yourself. One of the most valuable reading tools I own is a good study bible. When you arrive at difficult or complex passages of scripture, study bible notes can help bring understanding. One of my favourites (which I have recommended time and time again) is Crossway’s ESV Study Bible. More often than not, if I find myself with a question while reading the Old Testament, I will go there first. And when your children have questions you can’t immediately answer, this can be a great place for you to go as well!
In addition, you can help your children understand the Old Testament by providing them with the same tools that are so helpful for adults. Help them first and foremost to understand that every passage of the Bible points to Jesus and to God’s plan to send Him into the world. This provides children with a foundation to approach every chapter and verse; it gives them a question to ask—“where can I see Jesus in this passage?” For younger children, many wonderful books have been written which display Jesus all over the Old Testament. One of my favourites is Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible, which genuinely helped me to see Jesus in passages of the Old Testament where I had never seen Him before. If you can teach your children to read the Bible with Jesus lenses, even difficult passages in the Old Testament can be brought into much greater focus.
Finally, help your children to realize that the Bible is a book about God—before it says anything else, it tells us about who God is and what He is like. Along with asking the question, “where can I see Jesus in this passage?”, teach your children to ask the question, “what does this passage tell me about God?” When used together, these two fundamentally important questions can provide a great deal of clarity even in the murkiest of biblical waters.
Arm yourself with the right tools, and sections of the Bible which formerly seemed impenetrable can be brought to life in entirely new ways. As you learn to apply these tools in your own reading, pass them along to your children as well. I’m confident you will find that they will be just as helpful to your children as they are to you!
All the best,