If you’re like me—and millions of other people around the world—a new year often brings a renewed zeal for improvement. Whether it’s losing a few pounds or gaining a new hobby, January provides an opportunity to start over in areas of our lives that have previously been neglected or forgotten.
For many Christians, the turn of the year signals the beginning of yet another optimistic (but inevitably doomed) attempt to read through the whole Bible in the next 12 months.
I have lost track of the number of times I have encountered variations on the same theme: “I was doing really well until I got past Exodus. I just got bogged down in the books of the Law, lost interest, and stopped reading.” This refrain recurs so often that it begs the question: Is it just inevitable? Is the only way to make my resolution happen just gritting my teeth and slogging through the desert with the people of Israel? To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, “By no means!”
The problem with this approach to Bible-reading is two-fold: application and execution.
The issue most Christians run into in reading the books of the Law comes down to a matter of application. How does this apply to me? It can be extremely difficult to see how long lists of commands and Jewish sacrificial regulations can make a difference in the daily life of a modern Christian.
Let me encourage you, in these and all other passages of God’s Word, to take a step back from the text itself and ask yourself a different question: What does this tell me about God? Together with How does this apply to me?, these two questions form the most basic approach to hermeneutics, the academic term for the method of reading and interpreting the Bible correctly.
The entirety of God’s Word reflects back the character of its Author. Sometimes, like in the Gospels, God’s character is explicitly revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. But the principle remains true even in books like Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books are all about holiness: what it means for God to be holy and how far short mankind falls of that standard.
In the collections of laws and regulations, often the best answer to the question of How does this apply to me? is found in the prophet Isaiah’s command to the people of Israel in Isaiah 40:9, “Behold your God!”
When we see the impossibly high standard God puts forth in his Law for his people to follow, we understand just how seriously God takes holiness and righteousness. Jesus does not mince words when he says in Matthew, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Books like Leviticus show us exactly what is required of us to follow Jesus’ words. We know that it is utterly impossible to fulfill these commands on our own.
Rather than letting that fact depress us and weigh us down in our reading of God’s word, we are to let our sense of our own inadequacy before the Law point us to the only one who fulfilled all of these precepts perfectly: Jesus Christ. Every area we fall short in is one in which Jesus did not, and through faith in him, we can rejoice in his obedience on our behalf.
John Piper illustrates this point: “‘Behold your God!’ is the most gracious command and best gift of the gospel.” When the Law says God commands, the gospel says Jesus obeyed. “Behold your God!” is still the call of the Old Testament, but Christians understand the New Testament to join in with a harmonious “Behold your Savior!”
Understanding the glorious purpose of God’s Law for our lives enriches our Bible reading and comprehension immensely, but it does not necessarily make reading Leviticus through Deuteronomy an easier part of your annual reading plan. It can still seem like an insurmountable obstacle placed strategically early in the year—before the discipline of daily reading has become a habit.
As intuitive and straightforward as reading the Bible cover to cover may appear, there are other approaches to reading the entirety of God’s Word that may provide the structure and variety necessary to follow through on that January commitment all the way to December. Many of the best alternate approaches to a complete reading of the Bible come in the form of pre-made Bible reading plans.
For myself and many others, the structure and accountability that come with a Bible reading plan help me stay on track with what I should be reading each day. More importantly, however, many of these plans do not follow the Bible in order from Genesis to Revelation. That way, you do not feel as though you are stuck in the same book or same genre for a month. Each day—if not each separate reading in a given day—is from a different book of the Bible.
The popular “Discipleship Journal Reading Plan” assigns 4 different short readings from four separate books of the Bible for 25 days/month, moving sequentially through each book until you finish it and then beginning another. This approach not only provides readings from different genres of Scripture every day, but it allows for 3-6 make up days to ensure you have time to finish each month’s readings.
The plan I am following this year, the “52 Week Bible Reading Plan,” sorts every book of the Bible into one of seven categories—Epistles, Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, and Gospels—one for each day of the week. The plan then moves straight through one book at a time within each genre with a reading of 2-4 chapters/day. While this approach does not leave time for make-up days at the end of the month, it does ensure that the full breadth of biblical genres is read every single week.
You can find the plans listed above, and more, over at Ligonier Ministries, who have collected a list of their favorite reading plans for 2019.
Reading and understanding God’s Word is an essential discipline for followers of Jesus Christ. We can and should rejoice in its entirety, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, as it reveals the unfolding story of God’s redemption of His people. As we embark on another year of seeking to know God better, I encourage you to take advantage of a good reading plan and allow yourself to take time in reading your Bible to heed the call of the prophet and “Behold your God!”