Experiencing the Old Testament is more like riding a bicycle and less like reading "Harry Potter."
Often dismissed as complicated and perplexing, the ancient text is a valuable collection of stories and teachings about creation, fall, covenants and temples. "They provide powerful examples of faith and obedience. They also show the consequences of forgetting, disobeying or opposing God. Prophecies in these books bear witness of the Savior's birth, atonement, second coming and millennial reign" (Old Testament Class Member Study Guide).
So, how do we access these insights from the book's 1,184 pages? Here are some suggestions from general authorities, scholars and Old Testament enthusiasts:
Seek the Spirit: In a 1999 address about studying and teaching the Old Testament, then-Elder Henry B. Eyring emphasized the importance of the Holy Ghost and testimony: "The words of God given by prophets will be received only by those with the spirit of prophecy, a gift of the Spirit, which both follows from and confirms the testimony of Jesus Christ."
Focus on the Savior: Elder Eyring encouraged church educators to "think more often and more carefully" about Christ. "I can make you a promise if you do that: The Spirit will come and you will sense less of the sordid wickedness of the people, of their abominations, and more of the love of their God … " James Ferrell, author of "The Hidden Christ," suggests looking for parallels between Christ and Old Testament figures. The similitudes are everywhere. "After a while, you just sort of give in and say, this is no accident," he said. "There's a message here."
Ask questions: "You will be taught more easily as you approach the scriptures if you search with a question and with a determination to act on the answer," Elder Eyring said. Ferrell says the Old Testament can't be read like a novel. Readers have to be curious and pose questions. He suggests asking the following of words, verses, passages and stories: What's the context? Why was this included? What are the patterns? How is this story about Christ? What does this have to do with me?"It's not like reading Harry Potter," he said. "It's different. … The Lord won't provide answers if there aren't questions being formulated."
Keep at it: Not everything in the Old Testament makes sense at first. Some stories can even cause readers to "take pause," Ferrell said. But he's had enough experience to know that good answers will come. "I don't worry about them … because I know something amazing is going to come out of it," he said. If you get stuck, move on. "How do you ride a bike? You get on it," says Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, a BYU professor of church history and doctrine. "If you fall, you get on it again. You have to hang in there."
Study latter-day scripture: President Marion G. Romney in 1980 encouraged members to make the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price part of their Old Testament study — "to learn from other scriptures what the most righteous people who were on the scene had to say. Such men as Abraham, Moses, Lehi and Nephi qualify as specialists on Old Testament matters." In particular, he recommended reading 2 Nephi 25-33: "In these chapters Nephi sifted out the important from the unimportant. He also explained how these teachings are important to us who live in the latter days."