When you set out to read the Bible from cover-to-cover there are obstacles you envision in your path—rocky mountain peaks in the distance that you know you’ll need to traverse. Unfortunately, for many of us, those mountains aren’t as ‘in the distance’ as we’d like them to be. And they have daunting names like Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They terrify, even when we know the challenge they raise is nothing more than simple recitations of names, instructions and numbers.
Let’s not kid ourselves; even the most impassioned Bible-reader knows there is a sort of fear about having to read through these books. I remember the story of a lady who was asked if she had ever read the Bible from cover-to-cover: “I have never read it through, though I have read much of it consecutively. Three times I have started to read it through, but each time I have broken down in Leviticus. I have enjoyed Genesis and Exodus, but Leviticus has seemed such dull reading that I have become discouraged and have given up.”
Reputation and Reality
Strangely, the fear that surrounds these books of the Bible—and which prevents many people even trying to read the Bible cover-to-cover—is often based on stories people have heard about what it's like to read these books, rather than actual experience.
Since the beginning of this year, I've been trying to read the Bible cover-to-cover. It wasn't a New Year’s Resolution, but God had been helping me realise my need to re-prioritise and re-focus my ‘quiet time’ with Him.
Up until now, I too had been living in fear of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I used to speed and skim through them to get to the book of Joshua (an obvious favourite). But this time, I committed myself to reading each page—without trying to rush through them—and I discovered something interesting. Two things, actually.
Firstly, even when reading those passages which were recitations of lists, construction components, and instructions, I found myself unusually captivated. It struck me that, even if what I was reading was just a carpenter’s instruction guide (for building the tabernacle), these were still the words of God. Because “all Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16).
David Mathis describes this as “The X-Factor in Bible Reading”:
“The Bible is no magic book, but a strange, enigmatic power stirs when we reach for the Scriptures. Something influential, though invisible, is happening as we hear God’s words read or spoken, and when we read or study. Something supernatural, but unseen, transpires as we see the text in front of us and take it into our souls. Someone unseen moves.”
The second thing I discovered was that there were fewer lists and less repetition than I had been expecting. True, Leviticus does have lots of instructions for building and sacrifice, but it also takes us into the spiritual life of the Israelites. It shows us the methods and practices God set up to set apart his Holy people. Numbers might start with a lot of organisational information, but it also lets us ride along with disobedient Israel in her wilderness wanderings (with poor Caleb and Joshua tagging along).
No doubt I will encounter further mountainous Biblical regions in my journey, but already the way ahead looks much flatter and more attractive than when I first started out. The ranges that I thought I saw in my path turned out to only be hills, and the benefits of the journey have been far greater than the inconvenience posed by those hills. As I continue down this path, I go with the expectation that God will join me; that he will reveal new pastures in which I can rest; and that he will lead me hidden streams from which I can drink.