A common refrain in my 6th grade Bible class around this time of year is “Ugh…we’re in the book of Numbers? It’s so boring. Do we have to read it?”
In some ways, I totally get it. For the first 20 some years of my Christian life, I ignored 4/5 of the Pentateuch. Numbers is a difficult book to read if we come to it with the wrong assumptions, like:
1) The Bible’s about me.
Actually, the Bible isn’t about me. The Bible is about God’s dealings with individuals like Adam and Noah, and with nations like Israel, Edom, and Moab. The Bible is about God’s determined future for angels, demons, Satan, and the Anti-Christ. The Bible is about God’s work in history and His promises in the future. If we open the book of Numbers expecting it to talk about us, we’ll be really disappointed. We’ll never understand or finish it. When we study the Bible, we marvel at Him.
The worst and most common question people ask when they open the Scriptures is, of course, “What does this have to do with me?”
Sorry, but this is a really bad first question. It ruins everything. It obliterates any and every chance we had to rightly divide Scripture. In fact, dare I say, asking the question itself could be sinful. How could it be sinful?
A Bad Friend
Well, let’s pretend you took a friend out to coffee and, as your pal was sharing a really heartfelt story, you interrupted and asked, “Well, what does this have to do with me?”
“Well, nothing,” your friend might reply. “I was just telling you about my tough day.”
“Eh, that’s nice. But what does this have to do with me?”
Wow! Rude! You were obviously never interested in your friend in the first place. It’s pretty clear that this get-together was all about you, and, maybe, this friendship was you-centered as well.
When God shares what He’s done in the past and what He will do in the Bible, whether in Leviticus, Numbers, or Obadiah, we should listen and marvel. We should worship. We should thank Him. We shouldn’t, however, make it about us. That’s selfish and prideful.
You and I should deeply care about God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. We should be fully invested in God’s war with the Philistines, Egypt, Og and Sihon, and Edom.
When we go to the Bible, we want to learn about God.
2) All that matters to God is my personal relationship to Him.
Please don’t misread me. Your personal relationship to God does matter to Him! Christ, however, is so much more than your personal Savior.
He’s the Seed of the woman who will crush His enemy’s head eschatologically in Revelation 20. He’s the True Israelite who perfectly obeyed the Law of Moses, secured Israel’s future blessings, and became the Mediator of a New Covenant for Jews and Gentiles. He’s the One “high and lifted up” in Isaiah 6, and the Rising Star of Balaam (Num. 24:17).
God isn’t just working through individual relationships with Him, though those are extremely important. Through Christ, though, He is also working towards His desired end for the whole world and the cosmos. In other words, preaching the Gospel is primary, but it is through repentance and belief in the Gospel that all of Israel’s Kingdom promises — literal, physical promises connected to their land — will be fulfilled. This will bring blessing to ALL nations (Gen. 12:2-3), not just you and me. We’ll rejoice in the Kingdom knowing that God’s redemption plan wasn’t just about my justification, but the restoration and submission of all things under the Lordship of Christ (Col. 1:20).
Your personal relationship matters to God, but so does the future of Israel, the purity of the universal church, and the eventual restoration of the earth to its Edenic state.
3) Reading the Bible is a waste of time if there isn’t a command for me to immediately apply to my life.
If we come to difficult books in the Old Testament expecting to immediately apply its commands to our lives, we’ll eventually do one of these two things: we’ll either throw out our Old Testaments or we’ll allegorize it till it’s no longer recognizable.
Israel and the Church are both God’s people, but are distinct from one another. Israel was commanded to remain loyal to God and stay in the land; the Church is commanded to remain loyal to God and go into all the world. The Theocratic nation of Israel was commanded to worship God at the Temple in Jerusalem, celebrating feasts, and making sacrifices that look forward to the Messiah’s coming; the Church is commanded to worship God in Spirit and truth and regularly celebrate the Lord’s Table, which looks back at Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
I am not Old Testament Israel, and I am not under the Old Covenant, so how do I apply the Old Testament?
Sometimes the application is learning Truth. I can learn much about God and His unchanging nature when He gives commands, disciplines His people, or works miracles on the behalf of others.
Sometimes we worship God for what He’s done for Israel. That’s a wonderful application! Unless the right dominoes had fallen at the right time, you and I would still be hopeless and without God in the world. Genealogies, often skipped over, are wonderful in this way. You and I can worship God for allowing Moses to mediate on behalf of His people: if God hadn’t shown this grace, they would’ve been destroyed, making God a promise-breaker, and leaving us Gentiles high and dry. No Israel, no Jesus, no salvation.
Sometimes, we find a timeless command or principle in the Old Testament that correlates with God’s nature. The command to love God with our heart, soul, and mind in Deuteronomy is repeated by Jesus in the Gospels, which is reiterated in a number of ways by Paul in the New Testament. These we can apply readily.
Our job isn’t to make the Bible relevant to us. Our job is to become relevant to the Bible. We put ourselves into and submit under its worldview, not the other way around.
If we recognize 1) the Bible is about God, 2) God is way more than just my Savior — He’s bringing all things under Christ’s Lordship, 3) we are to be relevant to the Bible, not the other way around, all of Scripture will become useful and fruitful to us, including books like Leviticus, Numbers, and the Minor Prophets.