Reflections on April’s readings (1)

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I (try to) post about what I’ve read.

I really, really enjoyed this month’s Bible readings. I completed the books of Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and my favourite for the month, Leviticus. I carried over to this month Numbers, Psalms, Song of Songs and Hebrews.

I shall start by shirking some of my self-imposed duties. See all those Pauline epistles?  I’ll reflect on them six months from now. Why? Because I’m a procrastinator and perfectionist. Seriously.  Lord-willing I’ll be able to tackle them to my satisfaction the next time I’ll be reading them.

Proverbs: Proverbs 1:1-7 lays out its purpose to the reader, culminating in verse 7:  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline”  (Repeated in Prov 9:10, Psalm 111:10 and Job 28:28). Though it may not seem so at first glance, it is a very God-centred book: consider for example how many times ‘the LORD’ is mentioned in 16:1-8. How many proverbs from other cultures have such a focus on the deity?

The first nine chapters contrast Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly, who both call out to passers-by (Prov 9:3, 14).  Chapters 10-29 are composed of short, pithy sayings by Solomon (10-22:16; 25-29) and ‘the wise’ (22:17-24:34). The last two chapters are by Agur son of Jakeh and King Lemuel, whoever they may be. So, one may ask the question, “Is there any rationale to the ordering of the material in the book of Proverbs?” Probably. It would have been more convenient for us modern types if all the verses on say, anger, were grouped together. But the current ordering of the book mean that in reading any one chapter, we get insight into a number of issues, a little like taking a multi-vitamin (not that it’s not beneficial to group them thematically).

A couple of quick links: One on the multivitamin nature of Proverbs: Proverbs: A mini-guide to life and another on the non-stand-alone nature of Proverbs: Proverbs, community and the culture.

Ecclesiastes: The black sheep of the Old Testament, if there ever was one. It’s hard to understand why Ecclesiastes, in all its bleakness, is included in the Bible. However, we need to remember that it is a view of life “under the sun”, that is, not one seen from God’s perspective. The Teacher, like many today, searches for meaning in life and finds it in fearing God (Eccl 12:13-14).

I wondered about Eccl 2:18-21. Did Solomon despair over what would happen to the kingdom after his death?

Psalms: I’ll be reading Psalms every month until November, so I’m taking my time. Just one extended thought for now:  Did David (or the other psalmists) ever look at what they’d written and think, “Wow, that’s a little over the top there!” How did Holy Spirit inspiration work? Did they know they were writing about the Messiah and not of their immediate/ personal circumstances (eg Ps 22:16-18)?

Leviticus:  I’m greatly indebted to Kevin DeYoung’s excellent sermon series on the book, without which my enthusiasm would have probably quickly flagged. In the 18 sermons, he not only explains what all those sacrifices and rules meant to the Israelites then, but he also points out what it means to us this side of Calvary. In the second half of A Time To Celebrate, he gives a summary run-down of how Jesus fulfills the OT types in Leviticus: highly recommended. I used to wonder how the psalmists could get so excited over the Law of the LORD (eg Ps 119). After reading Leviticus, I think I understand a little. They weren’t focused as much on the laws themselves as on the law-giving God: after all, one of the refrains of the book is “I am the LORD”.

The Jewish NT writers used a lot of Leviticus-like language, for example Ephesians 5:1-2, 1 Peter 1:18 and pretty much the entire book of Hebrews. All the obligations relating to the sacrificial system have been fulfilled in Christ, but there are some aspects that are carried forward, especially the call to holiness and being set apart for God.

Many characterise the God of the Old Testament as a harsh master; a careful reading of Leviticus will show quite the opposite.  Firstly, it was God Himself who instituted the sacrificial system (see 17:11); it wasn’t created by men trying to appease an angry God.  His mercy can also be seen in the provision made for the poorer worshippers ( for example 5:5-6, 7, 11). The person who cannot afford a sacrificial lamb may bring a pair of doves or a pair of pigeons; the person who cannot afford these may bring a small amount of flour. The lesson then and now is that there’s always hope and a way of escape from the punishment that rebellion attracts.

Go to Part 2.

Sources: Covenant Life Church, Covenant Theological Seminary, Alistair Begg, D.A. Carson, Kevin DeYoung.