Tackling the Pentateuch
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
We have a guest blogger today! I'm so excited to share with you the writing of my friend, Ashley Gunter. She is a talented writer and I'm so glad she finally decided to let me share one of her pieces. We attend church together and are in the same small group. Ashley is wise beyond her years and I know you are going to be blessed by her writing.
Ashley and her husband made a commitment to read through the bible this year together. She shares with us what he is teaching her about his character through those first tough books of the bible we all like to skip or skim through.
Working My Way through the Old Testament (Part 1)
Reflections on God’s Holiness (Part 2)
For 2019, Craig and I made a resolution to read the Bible through from January to December. We have done this together once before-- the year our daughter was born (2012). I remember trying to squeeze in my reading time while she was napping. Considering she’s now going on seven years old, we figured it was past time to dig in to the Word again in its entirety.
One problem for me, though, is that I really love the New Testament. I prefer to read about Jesus. As a teenager trying to make sense of the Bible, I remember thinking, why do we even still read the Old Testament? It’s the old ways; it’s the Jewish scriptures. Christians just need the New Testament, right?
And the New Testament is much shorter than the Old. We won’t make it to the book of Matthew until October. So, the majority of our 2019 will be spent reading the Old Testament. Well, I will just have to buckle my seat belt, settle in for the journey, and ask God to help me see how He breathed every word of OLD and NEW, and how it all points the Savior.
It’s a different way to be in the Word of God, you know? Most of the time I read the Bible in isolated chunks and passages and have a preacher explaining it to me or some kind of guide or commentary helping me along. Reading the Bible cover to cover as a book is quite a different experience. To accomplish the reading in 365 days, we need to read about three chapters or so each day, (more time spent reading for me than usual) so I have to be careful not to just plow through it.
January started out great, and we were both super motivated to read because there is SO much in Genesis! I love to read Genesis and discover how connected it is to Jesus. I was struck this year how in Genesis chapter one, the first reference to the trinity is made!
Genesis 1:26: Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.
I love thinking about how Jesus and the Holy spirit were right there with God in the beginning.
Craig and I were probably on a Bible high as we finished Genesis and moved into Exodus. In contrast to Genesis, Exodus can get a little “squirrely” as my pastor would put it, and I start to get a little confused and, quite honestly, bored in parts of it. But there are also some big Bible moments I wouldn’t have wanted to blow past in Exodus. For example, reading about God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt makes it worth it. The parting of the Red Sea is a story like no other.
Then comes Leviticus and Numbers. I must admit, Leviticus was a struggle for me a lot of days. It focuses so much on the laws and rules the Israelites were to keep. And these laws are not ones that seem applicable to us today in any form or fashion. Some of them sound so bizarre. I turned to Craig one day and said, “How many times do you think God has told them not to cook a young goat in its mother’s milk?” (Exodus 23:19) Craig laughed, surprised by the question, and told me he wasn’t sure but he had also noticed it several times. What are we supposed to make of these laws? Speak to us, God, give us some insight.
These first books also spend quite a bit of time directing the very specific sacrifices the Israelites were to make for their sins (certain animals for certain sins, along with what to do with the fat portions, the blood, the meat portions, etc.). And my goodness how sinful they were! It was hard not to judge them as I read the terrible things they were doing! I was thinking, you people have God in your presence and you still worship a golden calf?! (Exodus 32) And God fed them manna from heaven and yet they complained! (Numbers 11) Perhaps I could reflect on the “golden calves” in my own life and the ungrateful heart I get sometimes in the midst of the countless ways God has blessed me.
So, back to the scriptures, when God delivered his people out of Egypt, out of slavery, and away from Pharaoh, they were wandering in the wilderness. Moses was their leader, certainly not because he nominated himself, but because God chose him and prepared him for this incredible role. (Exodus 3:1-12, 42) He did not think he was worthy, and was embarrassed by his slow speech, but God tells him not to worry. This was small potatoes, and God tells Moses that his brother Aaron will help him speak. (Exodus 4:10-17) How many times do we do just what Moses did? Tell God, no, you can use me because…(fill in the blank). I know I have missed opportunities to be used by God because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough.
Sometimes as I read these chapters, I thought about how lucky Moses was because God spoke directly to him. How amazing would that be? Moses had so clearly found favor in eyes of God.
But then there were many days in my reading that I felt sorry for Moses because he was leading such an ungrateful and sinful group of people. Some of them even had the nerve to tell Moses they had been better off as slaves in Egypt! (Exodus 14:12) His own wife Miriam and brother Aaron spoke out against him, blaming him for their hardships. (Numbers 12). God stood up for Moses in a big way. He struck Miriam immediately with leprosy. But sweet, humble Moses prayed to God on her behalf, and God allowed her to be healed, eventually. Wow. And I thought the Old Testament wasn’t interesting…
God gave Moses the ten commandments to help him govern these unruly people with some basic right from wrong principles. (Exodus 20) You see, up to this point, Moses had been trying to mediate everyone’s disputes, and they numbered in the thousands. He was beyond worn out and needed some help. (Exodus 18) If the people would heed these ten rules, much of the strife among them would be solved. I was amazed to read that the commandments were written on the tablets by the very finger of God! (Exodus 31:18).
God also instructed Moses to build a temple. Exodus 25:8 "Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.” This verse is incredible! God wants to live among His people! But there is a catch. God is so Holy, that anyone who looks on his face will die. (Exodus 33:20) He often appeared in a cloud before the temple was built. (Exodus 13:21) These Israelites better listen and listen well, because this temple is going to need to be built exactly as God instructs. And there are a lot of instructions.
Tedious is the best word I know to describe how I feel about reading this next part. After many chapters and days of reading the laws and the extremely precise instructions from God to Moses about how the temple should be built, Craig and I were feeling frustrated with it. It sort of felt like we were wasting our time reading all of these specifications. Should we skip to the good part? We were ready for some action.
This part of the Bible, The Pentateuch, doesn’t just say that God told his people to build a temple for Him, and leave it at that. It lists every seemingly minute detail down the very exact cubits of measurement and building materials, specific colors and fabrics and adorned with specific jewels by certain craftsmen, and who was allowed to be near it along with many other details. It’s a quite a lot, and honestly, I understand why many people give up on their Bible reading plans when they hit this part of scripture. It can be tough to get through.
One evening Craig and I were talking about what we could take away, pull out from, learn from these endless chapters that described the temple. What is the message to us today from this very monotonous part of the Bible?
We began to talk about why the temple needed to be this exact way, and that lead us to reflect on just how HOLY GOD IS. These books in the Bible establish the power and fear of God, but maybe even more so his holiness. All of the rules and sacrifices were the only way the people of the Old Testament could strive, in their sinful natures, to be reconciled to God. We are too sinful to come into the presence of God without a sacrifice to make us clean before Him.
We connected it to the New Testament at this point. We can come to the Father, only because we have the Son. The Israelites didn’t have the Son.
John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Hebrews 13:12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
I grew up in a small Baptist church, and we used to sing “There is power in the blood.” I knew the old hymn by heart and sang it enthusiastically, but I don’t think I fully grasped the need for the blood sacrifice until I spent some time in the Old Testament. The desperate need for a savior becomes so apparent, and how thankful it makes my heart for Jesus.
It was so much harder for the Israelites to be reconciled with God. A shock for me recently came in Leviticus when I read how the sons of Aaron (brother of Moses) were obliterated just outside the temple because they did not follow the instructions God gave.
Leviticus 10:1–2 “Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.”
I think my mouth dropped open a little bit. I’d been following Nadab and Abihu for awhile now, but they forgot, even for a moment, how Holy God is.
So, then, what does all of this point to? How does it relate to us today? God is God and we are not. He is Holy, and we are sinful. It points to Jesus because we need a Savior. Ultimately, God gave the ultimate sacrifice for us. The only sacrifice that could cover every sin. We could never approach him otherwise. We could never get ourselves clean enough. Only He could do it. His sinless, Holy, one and only Son.