Themes - p2

The Wisdom Literature

I've finished the History books! That always feels like a very significant step on the journey through Scripture.

Next come the Wisdom books, which are probably my favourite in the Old Testament. I've been looking forward to starting Job for weeks!

Perhaps that sounds strange? Job has a pretty gloomy reputation. But the raw honesty of books like Job, Ecclesiastes and the Psalms has been life and death to me in dark times over the years. I've never been content with a faith that shies away from those realities.

The Wisdom books take the reality of the human condition very seriously. And they also take God very seriously. There's a spring of life in the coming together of the two.

So, on to Job...

The first time I read the book of Job - about twelve years ago - I was expecting it to be only a couple of chapters long. I had assumed that the children's version was all there was to it. I was bewildered as chapter after chapter of poetic dialogue sailed over my head.

In fact, that bewilderment partly accounts for this whole project!

In an attempt to get to grips with the arguments of Job, I condensed the book into a two-page script. That summary was one of the first things I ever published on the internet!

I'll have a head-start as I get underway tomorrow...

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The exiles return

These shorter books are passing quickly! Ezra and Nehemiah are done, and Esther will be finished in a week. That will be the end of the history books!

Somewhat appropriately, I've just passed 10,000 words for the project.

After the run of evil kings leads inexorably to the exile, it's a relief to find a new start for Israel in these recent books. But you can't quite escape the comparison with the great heights of earlier generations.

The Israelites felt the contrast themselves: in Ezra 3 the older people weep for the glory of the former temple even as the new foundations are laid.

This seems a very unresolved new beginning.

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More kings

My stats tell me that chapters full of unfamiliar kings are the least popular. I lost more Twitter followers than I gained each day between the middle of 2 Kings and the middle of 1 Chronicles. But here we go again...

For your encouragement: 2 Chronicles is a little easier going than 2 Kings. 2 Chronicles focusses on the kings of Judah, who are a better bunch than the kings of Israel on the whole. And there's generally more about each king in 2 Chronicles so the summaries won't be quite so abbreviated.

Only three more weeks...

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One Year!

A year ago today I put the finishing touches to the Bible Summary website and published my summary of Genesis 1 to zero followers.

365 summaries and over 50,000 characters later I published my summary of 1 Chronicles 28 to 19,513!

As many of you saw, the number of followers rocketed under the gaze of the media coverage shortly after I began, and continued rising steadily for a few weeks. But the hype inevitably gave way to the reality of a three-and-a-half year commitment, and in the recent months the increase in followers has mirrored the fortunes of Israel - levelling off and even falling sometimes.

Not that it's ever been about the number of followers, though. I've reached this one year mark with my focus very much in the same place as when I started: first and foremost the project is a way to discipline and deepen my own Bible reading.

It's been an eventful year for me more generally - not always an easy time to stay disciplined. Your retweets, replies and encouragements have helped a lot with keeping me motivated, so thank you!

The storm of newspaper articles and TV interviews had hardly died down last year when we found out that my wife was pregnant. Our son, Samuel, was born in July! There have been some pretty hard things along the way too, and the story that I've been summarising has become deeply entwined with everything that has gone on.

I think that's part of the point of reading Scripture: it's supposed to get bound up with our lives.

I've read through the Bible start-to-finish several times before, so one of the big surprises for me has been how much of a difference the process of summarising has made. I've been forced to notice all kinds of details and themes that I would usually gloss over without really understanding.

One of the biggest pay-offs has been with unpopular books like Leviticus and 2 Kings. The commitment to come up with (hopefully) evenly weighted summaries has meant that I've had to spend time with commentaries - understanding the geography, customs and genealogies that don't naturally interest me very much. My understanding of those books has increased dramatically!

The other pay-off has been in seeing the big picture. I've noticed things in summarising that I'm amazed I hadn't spotted before. For example, I don't think I appreciated how strongly these early books emphasise covenant. I knew in theory that 'covenant' was an important Old Testament theme, but I hadn't really felt the weight of it.

And that's just scratching the surface. Who knows what the impact of the project will have been by the time I finish!

Looking forward, I'll be starting 2 Chronicles on Wednesday, then on towards the Wisdom Literature (some of my favourite books!) This time next year I'll be in Isaiah, and in two years time I'll be on the home stretch. It all seems very doable now!

So here we go... 12 months down, 27 to go...

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One of the most frequent questions I got asked when I started Bible Summary was what was I going to do with all the lists of names.

Well, here I am right in the middle of them, and yes they are some of the trickiest chapters I've done. (Which is only partly due to the fact that my own genealogy has recently gained a generation and I'm consequently a little sleep-deprived.)

The first challenge is actually reading the chapter! It's amazing how easy it is to switch off when trying to read all the begetting. I frequently find that my mind has wandered and I'm thinking about something completely different.

The second challenge is in understanding what's going on. You'd think it would be pretty straightforward - some guy, his son, his son, his son - but these chapters are full of family branches. It can be incredibly hard to follow all the relations. I've spent more time in commentaries as I've read these chapters than almost any so far.

Then finally there's the business of summarising. I've obviously got to miss people out and it's a lot harder with these chapters to decide what to emphasise. I've been trying to understand the point of each genealogy and highlight that. (For example: 1 Chronicles 1 takes us from Adam to Israel; 1 Chronicles 2 shows us Judah's line to David.)

These are never going to be anyone's favourite chapters (Jabez and his best-selling prayer notwithstanding) but this has always been an exercise in engaging more deeply and deliberately with what's there in the Bible. The commitment to write a summary probably pays off most with difficult and unpopular chapters.

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No let up

1 and 2 Kings have been hard work!

Elijah and Elisha have provided some fireworks, but for the most part the last few weeks have just been long chapters and evil kings.

Most people seem to think that Leviticus is the hardest book in the Old Testament but I'd take Leviticus over 2 Kings pretty much every time.

I'd be looking forward to moving on in a week or so but I'll only be moving on to 1 and 2 Chronicles. This must be the toughest stretch!

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An extraordinary, familiar drama

That wraps up 1 and 2 Samuel. I've enjoyed these books!

For all the extraordinary events along the way, David's life is a very human drama. It's challenging and also hopeful to see this 'man after God's own heart' get so many things wrong. Perhaps that's the reason why the stories of 1 and 2 Samuel are among the most famous in the Bible.

But I'm getting a bit previous. Although we've had David's 'last words' in 2 Samuel 23, he's actually still with us for another two chapters.

So, on to 1 and 2 Kings...

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A cinematic cliffhanger

That brings us to the end of 1 Samuel.

The book has already had its share of Hollywood plotlines (see 1 Sam 19 just for starters!) and now it ends at this awful moment of cliffhanger - our hero is exiled, Saul is dead, the Philistines have invaded, all seems lost for Israel. Can there really be any hope?

Part 2 is on its way...



Reaching Ruth is a relief after those last chapters of Judges! Ruth is set in the same period as Judges and both books anticipate the time of the kings, but they could hardly be more different in tone. Ruth is a beautiful tale of loyalty and God's provision.

I want to be particularly careful with shorter books that the chapter summaries work as a whole, so I've already planned the summaries for the next four days. It will be interesting to see whether that makes a difference.

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Chris Juby

I summarised all 1,189 chapters of the Bible on Twitter - one tweet per chapter, one chapter per day for over three years.

Click ☰Summaries above to view the archive.

Find out about the project here, you can buy the Bible Summary book on Kindle or in paperback, and feel free to get in contact if you have any comments or questions.

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