Can you remember the last time you read Leviticus? Numbers? The story of the Old Testament in general? If you’re like most people, it’s probably been a while. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of setting out to read the Bible and then getting to books like Leviticus and losing sight of the point of the thing, getting bored, and skipping to the New Testament and the stories of Jesus or the letters of Paul.
Reading the Bible, I think, is made even harder by the fact that it’s been separated into two sections: Old Testament and New Testament. In printed Bibles there’s a whole blank page separating them and a new title page, not to mention the general connotations of the words “old” and “new.”
This can all have the tendency to encourage people to think of the Bible as two separate books. In a small and perhaps trivial but still very real way, it can add to the assumption that there’s an Old story about a covenant that we don’t live under anymore and that doesn’t apply to us, which concludes at the end of Malachi, and a whole New story that starts in Matthew and is the one actually important to us. But in reality the Bible is ONE single story, not two.
The history and events recorded in Genesis-Malachi are meant to form our understanding of God and then be carried with us as we read the progression of the story in Matthew and see how that same God continues His work by coming to earth as Jesus. If we’re going to understand the New Testament, we must be familiar with the Old. If we’re going to really know God, we must read His whole story.
It’s through the narrative arc of the Old Testament that we see the long history of God’s relationship to humans, the nature of His character, and the many complexities of what it looks like to live a life of faith. These are things that are more than applicable today, and they have personally given me a deep well to draw from in my own life of faith.
For example, when I feel despair at the thought that maybe God’s promises to me are just empty words and won’t be backed up with action, I recall the surety of His purposes as repeated throughout the book of Isaiah: “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (46:11, see also 14:24, 14:27, 46:9-10, 48:3, 55:10-11).
When I feel pressure to always have joy and a smile despite hard circumstances, I walk around in the poems of Lamentations and find that in God’s Word there are many appropriate responses to suffering.
When I’m tempted to think that if God doesn’t keep His promises quickly, He’ll never keep them, I call to mind the lives of Abraham, Joseph, and David and remember that even when the promises made to them seemed absurd and when years and decades passed between the promises and their fulfillment, God was still faithful to His word. I come back to these stories and remember that God is the One who is faithful despite human unfaithfulness.
And when I’m put to the test and feel myself failing despite my best efforts to obey and be faithful to God, I’m forced to wrestle with the mystery that David in his waiting and Abraham in his waiting both seemed to give up on the promises of God and were somehow still in the end commended as people faithful and pleasing to God.
In times of hardship and pain, I would have none of this to stand on if all I had was a knowledge of the New Testament. Of course I would know some of the character of God, but it would be only a fraction of what I know now. My confidence in a God who is faithful, unchanging, and covenant-keeping would be weak and feeble without the history and character of God in the Old testament to anchor me.
So I’d like to issue a challenge: a challenge to read the whole Bible. If you’ve never read the Bible in its entirety, I challenge you to do so, and if it’s been a while since you spent much time in the Old Testament, I challenge you to read it again. But as you do, remember that the Bible is ONE story, and it’s all connected. Don’t get mired in the details of individual laws in Leviticus or the census lists in Numbers and give up; keep in mind the big picture, and read everything in light of the context of the whole story.
As you do, may God open your eyes to behold wondrous things out of His Word (Psalm 119:28). May your faith be deepened and your knowledge of the living God increased many times over.