In his book, This Strange and Sacred Scripture, Matthew Schlimm walks us through some of the dirty laundry of the Old Testament. In the chapter, “The R-Rated Bible”, he helps the reader understand how to read well the stories of the Old Testament. I really had to pause after reading this powerful segment on “Stories Change What We Cherish”. It made me laugh but it made me really think and ask myself, “How well am I reading the Bible?”(Bold is mine for emphasis.)
“Stories pattern desires. They summon attitudes. They instill values. They evoke views of the world. They show readers what truly matters, what is worth considering and reflecting on, what people are truly like, and what hazards and opportunities the environment has in store. Consider, for example, the book of Numbers. It’s a terrible book to read. Chapters 10-25 are a mess. The stories are disjointed. People complain. Tempers run short. God sends horrendous punishments. The people still don’t learn. In many respects, the book of Numbers is like a long car trip that won’t end. The children whine. The parents don’t make things any better. The air conditioner is broken. They’re in the desert. And they never seem any closer to their destination.
‘When will we get there?’
‘In forty years.’
As we read Numbers, we shouldn’t expect to feel uplifted. We shouldn’t look for inspiration. Instead, we should expect to feel like the Israelites did out in that desert wasteland. Ironically, you’re reading Numbers well if you’re sick of the characters and want to stop reading. You are reading well because in that moment you begin to understand in new ways what things were like for the Israelites and for God. Through the trials of reading Numbers, we can emerge as better people. Someone might rattle off a cliché like ‘Count your blessings.’ Or we might admit, when we stop and think about it, that complaining is not a great way to go through life. However, many of us need something more to put our grumbling aside. When we read Numbers, something interesting happens. We are exposed to constant complaining. We are forced to suffer alongside Moses and the people. We grow sick and tired of their bitterness. And hopefully, complaints in our own mouths begin to taste like ash.” (p. 56)