If you find yourself in any American church on the days leading up to January 1st, it's likely you know what most people's Bible goal might be for the year: to read all of the Bible in a year of course! Several months ago, I decided to tackle a chronological Bible plan. Let's set the record straight–this was not my first time trying. In fact, I had tried several times to accomplish this task but always failed around Leviticus or Numbers. A couple of years back, I did eventually trudge through the Old Testament in one year. I wish I could be proud of that, but honestly, I still left so many passages feeling perplexed, dazed, or just plain bored.
Then, after doing several in-depth Bible studies over a few Old Testament books a few months back, I realized there was so much to be uncovered in these seemingly "tricky" passages. I accepted the challenge, took a deep breath, and decided to walk to the starting line of a chronological reading plan. Why? I knew 1 Timothy 3:16-17 was true:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.1 Timothy 3:16-17
So, I began to pray, and I began to read. Suddenly, my eyes began to open to some awesome things I found over and over again in these books! The Lord showed me that I can't know the whole story of God, of Jesus, of the church, without reading these five books. Before I share those things with you, I want to take a minute to clarify what part of the Bible we are actually talking about.
The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Law, or the "Torah" in Hebrew. It's comprised of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books were extremely important to the nation of Israel and were the only books of God's Word that they had for many years. Large portions of the Torah were memorized in ancient Jewish schools, and even Western Jews today still memorize a small passage for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. As the first words God gives to humanity, I'd say these are rather important! So, let's dive into five things you're missing when you skip the Old Testament Law.
- God's Original Plan and Promise for His People
Most of us are aware of the creation story in Genesis, but we might not have caught God's original design for humankind in this very story. In Genesis 1-2, we see God not only create solar systems and animals but also man and woman. He creates them both in His image (Gen. 1: 27), sets them in the garden, and gives them the same command:
Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.Genesis 1:28
This means that men and women were created to work together! It also shows that work and having children are already a beautiful call from God to His people, not created as punishment in Genesis 3. Later, we see God's call to Abraham to make of him a large and mighty nation–a chosen nation! This covenant is important because we see God giving a beautiful promise to His people but expecting nothing in return (Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 15). As adopted sons and daughters of this family, we can also note that God freely gives us Jesus, knowing that we cannot ever be worthy of this gift. Hallelujah!
2. A Very Specific Picture of the Character of God
I believe we can see the character of God on every page of Scripture. After all, the Bible is for us to learn more about Him! However, the Torah itself is absolutely saturated with God's character. Genesis shows us He is the Creator God and the Covenant God. Exodus shows us He is a personal God, He abounds in steadfast love, and He hears us when we are suffering. Leviticus shows us He is holy. His character sets Him vastly apart from humanity, pointing us to the fact that we desperately need rescue. Numbers shows us God's justice. Our God not only judges the sinner perfectly and righteously, but He also brings justice to the marginalized and the less fortunate of society. He treasures those who are the least treasured among people. In Deuteronomy, He is the faithful God and has not left His people. He wants us to remember His faithfulness because He is faithful always!
3. Whispers of the Messiah
Friend, don't miss this: God knew from the beginning of time how mankind would rebel. He knew what would happen in His spiritual kingdom; how the deceiver would also rebel along with a legion of angels. He knew the long battle that would take place for the souls of the world, and yet, He fights for us. Let that sink in for a moment. You are so precious to Him that He fights for you. Genesis 3:15 is what Bible scholars call the protoevangelium. This just means that it's the first time we see a mention of the coming Messiah in Scripture. Genesis 3! Only a verse away from the punishment given to Adam and Eve is the promise of redemption. Skip forward to the Passover in Exodus 11. God is about to do something big for His people. In fact, before it happens, He tells His people to get ready and pay attention! Sometimes, it is so easy for us to skim past a passage like this because it seems so distant from our twenty-first century lives. After all, if your pastor asked you to sprinkle blood on your front door, you might be looking for another church! But in a society surrounded by sacrifice and death, while strange, it was not crazy. The death angel snatched up the lives of so many in Egypt. What must Egypt have sounded like that night as the firstborn of all families are found dead? And yet, not one person dies in Goshen, the land of the Israelite slaves. Not one. The blood covered them; they were saved! Just like when the blood of the Spotless Lamb was shed for us. It covers your heart; it rescues you not only from death, but also from slavery to sin. The next thing that happens to Israel in this story? Freedom. They walk out of their chains without any resistance. They walk with their covenant God toward the land He promised Abraham. Sound familiar? If you have accepted Christ's gift of salvation, you too have been freed from the bondage of sin and set on a path of sanctification, toward the glorious promise of being in God's full presence one day!
4. Nuance of the Hebrew language
Every once in a while, I forget that I'm reading a translation of the Bible. When things don't make sense the first time, I fail to remember that it may simply require a little digging into the original languages. The more I have done this, the more I have grown to love the vibrancy of Hebrew! I remember the first time I traced the Hebrew word for justice, mishpat. It is used over 200 times in the Old Testament. In his book, Generous Justice, Tim Keller defines the word mishpat as, "acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status...but mishpat means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means to give people their rights." Take a look at Deuteronomy 10:17-18,
For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreign resident, giving him food and clothing.Deuteronomy 10:17-18
To really meditate on this Hebrew word is to meditate on how God's justice is totally perfect! It also reminds me that executing justice is not only the conviction of wrongdoing, but also having attentive eyes and hearts to those who are marginalized and to act. Mishpat is scattered all throughout the Torah and for good reason! We are introduced to this perfectly just God quickly. Do you recognize this familiar passage?
Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.Micah 6:8
It is almost a basic definition of mishpat for us. When we journey this life with our Heavenly Father, we will experience His mishpat, and we will mercifully and actively care for those around us.
5. Connections Between the New Testament and Old Testament
This one might be hard for you to see at first, but be patient! As you begin to read further into Scripture, you'll begin to remember promises you had read previously. You'll watch the thread of God's words weave in and out of the story and let me tell you–it is fascinating. If you've never done something like this before, read the book of Exodus, then read Hebrews right after.
Hebrews 3–the true and better Moses is Jesus. (Exodus 3)
Hebrew 3:14–great High Priest; He intercedes for us. (Exodus 29)
Hebrews 6--Abrahamic covenant. (Exodus 28)
Hebrews 8–Jesus is the new and better covenant. (Exodus 24:3-8)
Hebrews 10--Jesus was the once for all sacrifice (Exodus 38)
Hebrews 11–a beautiful outline of faith beginning with the Old Testament
Another great example is Romans 9. In Romans, Paul tells Gentiles that we are now adopted sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ. Chapter 9 points us back to God's calling to Abraham and His nation, Israel, as written in the first five Old Testament books. These are God's people, but we have now been adopted into their family. Although they have been promised so much (Romans 9:4, Gen. 17:2, Exodus 4:22, 40:34, Deut. 4:14, Deut. 29:14), we too have been given the opportunity to be a part. Romans 10:12 states:
Since there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord of all richly blesses all who call on Him.Romans 10:12
Do you want to know the promises bestowed on God's people? Would you love to unlock a new dimension to your New Testament reading? Start digging in the Old Testament!
A problem we run into at times is that our Western eyes begin to cross a bit at all of the cultural differences you might see in the Bible. The beauty of the century we live in today is the vast amount of knowledge and research we can find with just a few clicks! There are a multitude of biblical scholars that have done so much work for us to better understand the Bible! This isn't to say the Law is necessarily the easiest to read; however, if we're honest with ourselves, the best things in life require a little work–children, a career we love, deep friendships. What if we poured into our relationship with God the same way we have poured into these other areas of our lives? What if there was nothing more important to us than knowing our Heavenly Father? I am confident God will meet with you when you sit down; there will not be a "missed date" or a "reschedule." God desires for us to know Him! An effective study of the Law allows us to see the story of God and man from the beginning. Friend, it might be hard at times, but oh how sweet it is to keep going.