This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative
How to Read: The Gospels
How to Read: Parables
“The Law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.” – Psalm 19:7
Unfortunately, the Law stipulations found in the first five books of the Bible tend to cause modern readers’ eyes to gloss over. It is the infamous graveyard for many who determine to read through the whole Bible in a year from Genesis to Revelation. This is detrimental not only to the effectiveness of the Old Testament but to a proper understanding of the Gospel. Those that skip through the seemingly irrelevant details in the Law have a nearly impossible time understanding the glory and beauty of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
In order to glean the fruit from studying Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, you need to keep a few concepts in mind:
1. The Role of the Law in Israel’s History
Unfortunately, Christians tend to view the Law in a rather negative light due to a misunderstanding when they read the Apostle Paul’s writings. The Law was a tremendous gift for the nation of Israel. When the Law was given to Israel, they were a people only recently delivered from slavery with no national identity or cultural standards. The Law not only helped form community life for this young nation but also allowed them to be in relationship with the Living God.
Even for the nation of Israel, the Law was never a means to salvation. In other words, Israel was not expected to keep the entire Law in order to be delivered from God’s judgment. On the contrary, much of the Law was specifically for the times that Israel disobeyed God’s righteous commands.
If you look at other ancient cultures you will also find a variety of law codes similar to the Law we know from the Old Testament. Rather than these other law codes weakening the status of the Law, it is actually strengthened. The Law of Israel was unique in many ways. One of the most powerful is that there is hardly any class distinction in Israel’s Law. All the other cultures had a variety of different punishments for people based on their wealth and standing in society. If you study the law codes of other ancient societies, you will learn that women and slaves were simply viewed as property rather than people. If you were a male and of noble standing, you were virtually immune to any type of real punishment for breaking the law. On the contrary, the Old Testament Law displays the fact that God does not show favoritism based on human standards.
2. The Role of the Law for Christians
As Christians, we need to understand that the Law IS the Word of God. It is just as inspired as the Gospels we looked at a few days ago. With that being said, the Law is NOT God’s direct command to us. As is apparent by looking at modern society, we do not follow many of the specific commands laid out for Israel. This does not mean we are disobedient to God as we are under a new covenant (or promise) ushered in by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
With all of that being said, there are certain parts of the Old Testament Law that are binding on Christians today. These aspects of the Law are repeated for us through the writings of the New Testament. Many would be surprised to learn that Jesus’ famous statement to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind was originally stated in Deuteronomy 6:5. You may also be surprised to know the second greatest commandment Jesus speaks about – loving your neighbor as yourself – is also a direct quote from Leviticus 19:18.
A good rule to remember is that if a concept or teaching is not directly support by the New Testament, it is no longer binding for Christians today. On the other hand, if a teaching IS directly supported, it is a sin for us to disobey it.
3. The Gospel is Revealed Through the Law
The purpose of the Law is to ultimately point us to Jesus. As we read through the many regulations and rituals that God required Israel to perform in order to approach Him, we should be in awe of our privilege as Christians. As you read about the Passover lamb being sacrificed on behalf of the nation, your heart should be moved into worship as you consider the final Passover Lamb sacrificed on behalf of all nations in the person and work of Jesus. As you study the role of the priest and his connection between God and man, you should be reminded of the final high priest who intercedes on behalf of His people (see Romans 8:34).
The Law was a shadow of things to come. As you read the Law, allow your heart and mind to worship King Jesus. He is our merciful high priest and perfect atoning sacrifice. He is the one through whom we approach God. It is only by a foreign righteousness – that of Christ Jesus – that we can come before God with boldness and confidence.
Have you ever read through the entire Old Testament Law? What do YOU find most beneficial about it? Let me know by leaving a comment!