I’ve been listening through the Old Testament lately on the drive to work, and there are just some fascinating things about how God worked with His people. I jotted down the things that came to mind and added a few that I’d had in mind previously. What a joy it would be to explore questions like these with my kids as part of their schooling when they get a little older.
The ceremonial law
The New Testament writers (not to mention the Old Testament prophets!) often allude to the Old Testament, to the sacrifices and laws. Our understanding of Scripture is hindered because we don’t know God’s commands to His people in the Old Testament.
- What are the different kinds of offerings the Lord defines?
- What instructions does God give for what can appropriately be offered for each kind of offering? For each of these, what instructions does God give for how it should be offered?
- What were the similarities between what could appropriately be offered for each kind of offering? What was distinctive about what could be offered for each kind of offering?
- What were the similarities in how each kind of offering should be offered? Which kinds of offerings had distinctives in how they were to be offered, and what were they?
- What would the diet of a priest include if the people were faithful to bring in all the different kinds of offerings the Lord prescribed?
- What were God’s stipulations for the various sacrifices so that they would be acceptable to Him? (e.g., no yeast or honey, no diseased lamb)
- What parts of the animal were burned? What parts were eaten? What parts were neither burned nor eaten?
- When are specific special steps mentioned (e.g., laying a hand on its head; not severing the wings)? When are such steps not mentioned?
- How is the modern Jewish Seder in conformity with God’s instructions for Passover? In what ways is it not?
- What does God say about fat?
- What does God say about blood?
- What were all the ceremonial uses for blood? (e.g., doorposts for first passover, Moses sprinkling the people, sprinkled seven times for a sin offering…)
- What does God say about unintentional sins? Intentional sins? (e.g. Leviticus 4) What are God’s instructions for taking things to a clean place outside the camp? To an unclean place?
- When is a sheep specified? When is a goat? When could it be either?
- What provisions does God make for the poor? (e.g., Leviticus 5)
- What are all the duties God specified as the priests’ responsibility? The Levites’? (e.g. Num. 18) What special situations came up later? (e.g., the Levites helping the priests in the time of King Hezekiah because not enough priests had consecrated themselves; a group of eighty priests confronting King Uzziah for burning incense to the LORD)
- What can we learn about what pleases God with regard to our bodies (the temple of the Holy Spirit) from God’s regulations for the temple?
- What laws did God specifically say were “a lasting ordinance” or “forever”? For which laws did He not say this? (e.g., clean and unclean foods)
- Which Levite clans were responsible for what regarding the tabernacle (Numbers 3)
- What were the prescribed years of service for the military? Priests? Levites?
Models, drawings, and calculations
There are many lists in the Old Testament, and there’s a lot we can learn by getting down and dirty with the lists and figures the Lord provides us. Here are some questions I’m interested in:
- Figure the age of the earth from the genealogies in Genesis. Where is the Bible year-by-year specific? Where do you have to make assumptions? (Don’t miss Exodus 12:40-41; 1 Kings 6:1; and Daniel 9:2.) How firm or weak can you be in your estimate from Scripture of the years from creation to the end of the Babylonian captivity? Can you estimate from Scripture any farther than the end of the Babylonian captivity?
- Map out the life spans of Adam through Abraham so that you can see the overlap. Who saw the most generations of his children’s children? What’s interesting about the year of Methuselah’s death? After the flood, how close was Noah to seeing Abraham? Who saw the most generations die before he did, as lifespans began to get shorter after the flood?
- Make a scale-model Noah’s ark
- Draw the tent of meeting (and Solomon’s temple, and the temple Ezekiel saw, and the temple John saw in Revelation), following the detailed descriptions in Scripture.
- Draw the arrangement of the camp as God specified it in Numbers 2, including the arrangement of the Levites around the tabernacle.
- Draw the arrangement of the Israelite armies by tribe when they were traveling, from God’s instructions in Numbers 2. Compare your drawing with Numbers 10. Are you surprised?
- Starting with a map of the towns and physical features of the land of Canaan, map out the tribal inheritance as described in Joshua 17-19.
Male and female
Over and over, God makes a distinction between male and female, not treating the sexes interchangeably.
- Make a list of all the (immediate) families mentioned in the Bible. How many sons are mentioned? What families have daughters mentioned by name?
- List all the families where the Holy Spirit says they had “other sons and daughters”.
- What verses show that daughters are often not mentioned specifically (Example: Jacob’s other daughters, Gen. 46:15)
- When did God specify a male lamb, and when did He specify a female? When could it be either?
- When is the firstborn mentioned generically? When does God specifically mention the “firstborn male”?
- What portion of the sacrifices were for the priests alone, and what parts were for their wives and children as well? What additional provisions does God make for priests’ families? (e.g., land in the cities; an unmarried daughter of a priest eats as part of her father’s household (Num. 18))
- What special protection was given to wives and daughters in the making of vows (Num 30)?
Building on the foundation
The study of these types of questions would provide a foundation for conversations about the character of God. What do we see about God that we hadn’t seen before — what facets of His character do we see shining in these areas? How will we live differently based on this new understanding? I look forward to knowing and loving my Lord more through such a study.
Some may be disagreeing with me, though. Is it wrongheaded to spend so much energy thinking about the Old Testament?
The Old Testament?
God is the same yesterday, today, and forever — but we often act as though we believe the Old Testament were presided over by a completely different god whose characteristics have nothing in common with His Son Jesus. But Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
And ALL Scripture is God-breathed and useful — but our actions generally demonstrate that we believe the Old Testament has almost nothing to say to us today, beyond children’s stories in Sunday School. Sometimes we even cut it out of our Bibles and just use New Testaments! But…
- When Philip shared the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), it was the Old Testament that he was teaching from.
- The Old Testament was the basis for Paul’s teaching of Christ:
…they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” – Acts 17:1-3 NASB
- Jesus spoke thus to the disciples on the road to Emmaus:
And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. – Luke 24:25-27 NASB
Jesus and the apostles held a much higher view of the Old Testament than we do today. Were they wrong?
They weren’t wrong. We need to correct our view of the Old Testament. Yes, the ceremonial regulations are no longer in effect, thank the Lord, the law having been a tutor to lead us to Christ — but the pictures are God-breathed and corrective and instructive and useful to us still.
Brothers and sisters, let’s love all of God’s words, the Old Testament and the New Testament. Let’s love the Man from Bozrah with blood-stained robes, having come from working destruction on the nations. Let’s eat the Bread who came down from heaven, and drink water from the Rock, and have the Law written not on tablets of stone but on hearts of human flesh. Let’s look and live. Let us study to know our Husband, our Kinsman-Redeemer, our Priest, our King — and let us teach our children: Behold the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world!