Do I need to read Leviticus and the Old Testament?

Have you ever felt stuck in your Bible reading plan once you arrived at tough parts of the Bible? This is the episode for you! Hear as Nick Turner asks Adam Howell: “Do I need to read Leviticus and the Old Testament?”


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Why does God seem different in the Old Testament vs New Testament?

Is the God of our Bible one of wrath or love? Nick Turner and Adam Howell sit down to unpack the question: “Why does God seem different in the Old Testament vs. the New Testament?”

Video Transcript

Nick: Hey guys, my name is Nick. Thank you so much for joining us on Upstream, which is brought to you by Boyce College. I’m here with Dr. Howell who teaches classes in Old Testament interpretation. Today, we’re going to be talking about the Old Testament. I hear a lot of people say it’s very difficult to read the Old Testament and sometimes it can be boring, but books like Leviticus, do I really have to read them?

Dr. Adam Howell: Yes. Yes you do. Yes, you should. Now, I’m an Old Testament guy, so that’s easy for me to answer quickly. But you’re right. A lot of times the Old Testament can seem challenging and difficult. Yet, it’s Scripture. So this is part of God’s revealed word to us, even a book like Leviticus.

One of the ways I find helpful to break down this answer is thinking in terms of head, heart, and hands. What is the Old Testament teaching us to know with our heads? What is the Old Testament teaching us to feel with our hearts? And then, what is the Old Testament teaching us to do? Or how do we live our lives?

Just thinking about the head, what is it that we are to learn? We’re to know that God is a sovereign creator (Genesis 1). We’re to know that sin has marred God’s creation. We’re to know that that God has a plan to redeem his creation.

All the way back in Genesis 3:15 we’re hearing that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. There’s a plan in place from the beginning that a sovereign creator is going to redeem his creation. That’s knowledge. I’m getting a little excited right now because my heart swells at those truths even now. I’m loving those truths, but that’s what we are to know. We’re to know about the human condition and how God intends to fix that, particularly, through his son, Jesus Christ. Those are all things that we are to know with our heads. And we learned some of those things in the Old Testament.

Secondly, if we think about our hearts, as I mentioned a moment ago, just our hearts swelling when we hear these truths. And what about the Old Testament? Well, Deuteronomy 6:5 says that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” And I’m going to have to go to the Hebrew here, with all your veriness. We use “might” in English and that’s right. With all our Gusto. Love the Lord with all your heart, your soul and your gusto. That’s kind of the idea there.

Love is part of this, but I also, with the heart, want to talk about longing. The Old Testament gives us this picture of something coming. In fact, there’s someone. Our Messiah is coming.

And the Old Testament is pointing towards Jesus Christ as the Messiah, as the one who will come and fix all that has gone wrong with the world. The Old Testament is pointing to that. And so, as we read the Old Testament through, we’re hearing this regular resonating message that someone is coming.
And so the Old Testament produces in us that longing for the Old Testament saints. That same longing that is derived from the Old Testament for them is the longing we can derive from the Old Testament for our Messiah to come again. We’re longing for the second coming. With that same resonating, longing that we find in the Old Testament, but we have to read the whole thing. We have to read large swaths of it to get that picture of everything pointing to Christ. But that also, I think, is a reason that we should read the Old Testament.

Now, when it comes to our hands, the question is based on what we know about God and how we love God, how now are we to live?

The first place that I want to think about is Leviticus 1–10. What you get there is a series of stipulations and regulations about sacrifices and offerings and various things, but what you’re really getting in all of that is, here’s how to approach God in worship.

You are to approach God in worship with exclusivity. You are to approach God in worship in a certain way. And what we find is that reverence, that principle of the reverence for how God has to be approached in worship, it transfers to our lives today as well. We are to worship God with exclusivity.

The second thing that I would comment on here is the concept of love your neighbor as yourself. I don’t have time to go through the whole passage today, but Leviticus 19:18 is where we hear this first. Now, we hear that, and we kind of think of the New Testament, love God with all your heart and all your soul and love your neighbor as yourself, the two commands that summarize the whole of the law. Jesus and Paul both went to this verse to say this is the summary of the law; to love your neighbor as yourself.

And so, in this doing, we approach God and worship a certain way. But we’re to live in a way that we love fellow image bearers. That we love our neighbor as ourselves. We find that principle also in Leviticus. So how do we live?

And then lastly, I want to think about the concept of holiness. As we think about holiness, the process of God making us more like Christ, making us look more like Jesus, making us more holy, that process is called sanctification. Now we usually think of sanctification as a New Testament idea, right?

We become believers, faith in Christ, and now through progressive sanctification, we become more and more holy until we see Jesus. But that concept of be holy, go be holy as I am holy, we find that in Leviticus 11. And what you’re getting in Leviticus is that concept that God has redeemed his people from Egypt, that he’s made them his people. And now he’s given them a law. He’s given them instructions that are born in love. That’s born in flourishing. You are my people, now, here’s how you live in order to flourish. And one of those things is, I want you to go be holy. I want you to be different from the rest of the world because I am holy.

And so what happens is, as we are made more and more into the likeness of Christ through progressive holiness, we are showing the rest of the world the character of God, who is holy. We don’t hold to a doctrine of sanctification so that we can eventually someday earn our salvation. We are being made more into the likeness of Christ so that the world will see Christ, so that the world will see God.

And so that concept, again, it’s a principle form in Leviticus, but it continues on. And what we find is, the same thing Peter says to his audience, be holy for, I am holy. He quotes this passage and says, don’t be conformed to the world. He says, be holy, because when you do, and as you become more like Christ, you are displaying God’s character to the world and that’s what God wants the world to see so that they’ll run to him.

You asked the question, “do we need to read Leviticus or books that are maybe difficult in the Old Testament?” And I would say absolutely. Because there are things we are to know about God, this world, and us, and how to navigate this world, that we learn. There are things that our hearts are to feel and love and swell with joy and delight in God that we find in the Old Testament. And it also gives us some of these key principles about what to do or how to live in light of that love we have from God.

Nick: Thank you so much, Dr. Howell, just for shedding so much light on the Old Testament and encouraging us to read.

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We’ll see you next time on Upstream.