For at least four years in a row, I attempted to read the Bible cover to cover. I started out strong, reading Genesis and taking notes. But somewhere in Leviticus or Numbers I began to sputter and lose steam, and—for four years in a row—I gave up before getting out of Deuteronomy. I just couldn’t get into the Old Testament the same way I could in the New.
But this year I undertook a chronological Bible reading plan. I am now nearly done reading Deuteronomy, and what’s more, I have enjoyed my study of these first five books of the Old Testament.
If you’re like me, you may have tried and failed with Old Testament reading plans. Perhaps the passages don’t make sense to you or you don’t see their relevance in light of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Let me encourage you—one reluctant Leviticus reader to another—to make a study of these amazing books by telling you why you should read the Old Testament.
1. The Old Testament provides a “big picture” of the redemption story.
Since we live anno domini—in the years after Jesus came to earth—we look at the world through the lens of Christianity. Our understanding of redemption is based on Christ. But the story of redemption begins in Genesis 3 and stretches beyond our lifetimes! In order to full grasp the weight of what God did through Jesus, we need to read the Old Testament. God’s covenant with Israel, His faithfulness those who call on His name and His promise to “bless all nations of the earth” through Abraham (Gen. 22:18) all point to the hope of the Messiah: our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Understanding the full story of redemption increases our appreciation for the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. In the Old Testament, animals were sacrificed as a temporary covering for sin. Every time a person sinned, an animal had to be sacrificed to make “atonement” for that transgression. When Jesus died, He was the ultimate sacrifice; the only perfect Lamb. The detailed accounts of the sacrificial rituals in Leviticus show us how important holiness is to God, and how blessed we are that Christ makes us holy by His blood.
2. The Old Testament maximizes the significance of the New Testament.
The Old Testament explains the who, what, why and how of the salvation story. In the gospels and epistles of the New Testament, we see references to the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple, the priesthood and many other articles integral to Old Testament worship. In understanding the role these items and actions played, we are brought to a deeper level of appreciation for the good news of Christ.
For example, the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies in both the tabernacle and the Temple. This place was shielded by a veil and only a priest could enter. God’s presence hovered over the “mercy seat” on the Ark, dwelling with Israel in this specific, consecrated place.
In his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul tells us that our bodies are temples of God’s Holy Spirit. Paul was building a word picture in that passage, describing how holiness applies to our daily lives. God’s presence no longer dwells behind a veil in a temple; it dwells within us! Understanding the Old Testament significance of this passage increases the impact of New Testament theology.
3. The Old Testament gives us a glimpse of faith-filled lives to emulate.
If you need an example of faith to follow, look no further than the Old Testament. Lives of faith are inscribed on the pages of Genesis, Exodus, Kings, Chronicles and Ruth. These stories reflect the reality of being human: the intersection of sinful nature and God’s redemptive purpose. The failures of man—Abraham’s lie, Sarah’s laugh, Jacob’s deceit, David’s adultery—are consistently redeemed by a patient, loving, faithful God. Reading these stories gives us an example to follow for our own lives, but they also give us hope for forgiveness when we fail.
The Old Testament can be tough to navigate at times, but don’t give up! Investing time and effort in a study of it will yield insights you may have never encountered before. Grab your journal, a commentary or Bible dictionary, and a reading plan, and prepare to be amazed by the history of God’s faithfulness—the same yesterday, today and forever.