Why The Old Testament Is Confusing?

For years I struggled to read the Old Testament. I didn’t have a problem with the famous stories like Noah or Moses. It was all the other books, details, numbers, and strange laws that lost my interest, not to mention my biggest frustration: it’s out of order!

I’m not suggesting God made a mistake, it’s in perfect order.  I just mean it’s out of historical, chronological order. Maybe you’ve noticed this: The book of Numbers repeats several stories from Exodus, and 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles repeat a lot of the same stories as well. Did you know that Job is one of the oldest books of the Bible even though it’s the 18th book of the Bible?

When the Old Testament was being assembled it was organized by genre, like this:

The Pentateuch, or the Books of the Law (Torah): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy

Historical Books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther

Wisdom Literature: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon

The Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi

But that’s not the historical order of events. Everything changed for me when I began to read the Old Testament in chronological order. Once I understood the order of events, the prophets and laws made more sense. 

You may already know this, but just in case you don’t, let me give you a quick overview of the story of the Old Testament.

  • God made man.
  • Man sinned, making every person born a sinner by birth.
  • God promised to use Abraham to create a nation of people, called Israel, to establish a way of life and display his love and great power. God would be known as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Abraham’s son and grandson.)
  • Egypt made God’s people (Israel) slaves for 400 years until Moses showed up and led Israel out of Egypt.
  • Israel was supposed to follow Moses to the Promised Land, but on their way, they sinned against God and ended up spending 40 years in the desert.
  • After Moses died, Joshua finally led Israel into the Promised Land, and they established a place to call home.
  • There were no kings because God wanted to be their king, so there were Judges established by God to make decisions and protect the people from their enemies, but God’s people were rebellious, turned their backs on God, and began to do wicked things.
  • God raised up a boy named Samuel to be a prophet and be a spiritual leader to Israel, but they wanted a king so God made Saul the first King of Israel.
  • Saul turned his back on God, so God made David king. David was the greatest king of Israel. 
  • His son Solomon became king after David died, and Solomon eventually turned his back on God.
  • After Solomon, Israel was split and both nations, their kings, and the people were rebellious and sinful, so God used Prophets to predict the coming of Jesus, and to warn the people that if they didn’t repent and turn from their sin, they were going to be captured and destroyed by their enemies, but they didn’t listen. 
  • Babylon attacked and destroyed Israel, and the people who weren’t killed were taken as captives and moved to Babylon.
  • While they lived in Baylon God spoke to and used certain Jewish people in miraculous ways (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Esther, etc.)
  • 70 years later, God used a man named Nehemiah to return to Israel’s home and rebuild the city.
  • Some of the Jewish people returned to their homeland, but not everyone, and they lived there for around 400 years until the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament is a story about how much God loves his people, but because humans are sinners, they keep turning their backs on God. God keeps patiently and lovingly blessing and disciplining them, trying to win their hearts, but humanity desperately needed a savior who was coming (Jesus).

If you read the Old Testament with this story in mind, it helps make sense of some of the sections that otherwise seem random or peculiar (I wrote this post to help make sense of some of the strange laws in the OT). Everything in the Old Testament is about God trying to lead a nation and point to the Savior (Jesus) who was coming.

I hope this helps.

For years I have used this Bible Reading Plan. You read some of the OT, NT, and a Psalm or Proverbs every day, but the Old Testament is in Chronological order.

Don’t get discouraged. Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening for God’s voice. 

BTW, the New Testament is out of order too, but we’ll talk about that later 😉

Why Do Christians Only Follow Some Old Testament Rules?

Have you ever wondered why Christians dismiss certain Old Testament laws but cherish others?

Maybe you’ve tried to have a conversation with someone about their lifestyle or behavior only to have a defensive accusation returned to you because you “only follow the parts of the Bible that are convenient.” Maybe you’ve had that conversation with yourself.

I understand why people are so defensive and quick to point out Christian’s hypocrisy. The truth is, over the years Christians haven’t done the best job of practicing what we preach, even worse, the loud minority has given the impression Christians experience some sick enjoyment from declaring rule-breakers hell-bound. It’s one thing to tell someone “you’re going to hell” it’s another thing to say it like you’re happy about it.

When someone is cynical about a Christian’s morality message, it’s easy to jump to the accusation that Christians “pick and choose” which rules are important and which ones we let slide. You’ve probably had someone argue Old Testament scriptures about homosexual behavior by saying, “but the Bible also says not to eat shellfish.” It’s true, there are laws against seafood, cutting hair, tattoos, murder, and sexual immorality all in the same rule book. Does that mean Christians are supposed to obey all the laws given by God in the Old Testament? No. Let me explain.

The Old Testament has 613 laws (rules) God gave to the people (Israel), and while some of them make sense, some of them are just silly. What’s important to know is God was not giving you 613 laws, he was giving them 613 laws.

“But wait a minute,” you’re thinking. “I thought the whole Bible was inspired by God. Does that mean we get to throw out every law that is culturally irrelevant?” That’s a great question, and the answer is again, no. All laws were not created equal. When God gave Israel His commands He gave them in 3 categories:

Civil Laws

These are the laws we would describe as legal in nature. Keep in mind, not only was God teaching people how to have a relationship with Him, but he was also teaching them how to be a nation/country. In the same way, our forefathers created a constitution; God gave Moses rules to govern the land. Here’s an example:

Deuteronomy 23:19
“Do not charge interest on the loans you make to a fellow Israelite, whether you loan money, or food, or anything else.

Ceremonial Laws

These are laws that mattered because it was how a person was considered clean (forgiven) before Jesus came and died on the cross for everyone. In other words, God gave Israel instructions to follow so that it was clear they belonged to Him. Laws like: when to wash your hands, cut your hair, sleep outside of town, etc. Here’s an example of a ceremonial law from the Old Testament

Leviticus 11:3-4
You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud. ‘There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them.

Moral Laws

These are laws that stand the test of time because to break them is to go against the very nature of God. The 10 commandments, for example, are moral laws that are not dependent on society or context. It’s always against the law to steal because theft is a symptom of discontentment and greed, and discontentment and greed aren’t God’s plan for people who serve a limitless God. We don’t murder because God gives life. We honor our father and mother because God establishes authority. It has been and will always be morally wrong to break moral laws.

Here is where it gets a little confusing, (I’m assuming you’re not confused yet.)

Technically when you committed your life to Jesus Christ and asked him to be your savior, you were freed from the law. That’s what Paul said in Romans 7:

Romans 7:6
But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

What that means is no one who has committed their life to Jesus Christ is obligated to abide by any laws. You read that right. There is no obligation for a Christian to abide by a list of rules. The reason we have no rules is because following Jesus is about belief, not behavior.

If reading that last statement excited you because you received permission to do things you thought were against the rules, that’s probably confirmation you have not fully committed your life to Jesus Christ. I don’t say that to make you feel guilty; we’re all a work in progress, I just think it’s important to know that God wants you to live a Holy life because you want to not because you have to.

So back to the original question, are we supposed to obey Old Testament laws? No. Not because they are irrelevant to modern culture, but because Jesus freed us from all civil and ceremonial laws when he died on the cross, and while on the earth, He raised the standard for all moral laws. He showed up making statements like

Matthew 5:2
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!

Matthew 5:27-28
“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery. But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

In other words, Jesus showed up and said, “The problem is not what you do, the problem is what you want to do.” Jesus doesn’t want you to follow the letter of the law, He wants you to fall in love with the guy who wrote the rulebook.

Where there are teachings and commands in the New Testament made by Jesus or the Apostles, we obey them because we want to be obedient to the God we love. Not because we have to but because we want to, and if you find yourself wanting to obey less and less you don’t have a rule problem you have a relationship problem. (and just to be clear we all battle that temptation.)

Instead of asking the question, “What rules do I have to keep?” or “what things am I allowed to do?” start asking this question, “Am I willing to do anything God would ask me to do?” or “Am I willing to give up anything God would ask me to give up?” Be careful what you ask for though, I think you’ll find obeying the Old Testament laws is less challenging than total surrender.

6 Questions To Ask Every Time You Read The Bible

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’re determined to spend more time with God praying and reading your Bible, so you wake up early in the morning, brew a cup of coffee, get your Bible, and your journal (maybe a few highlighters or a pen) and start reading, determined to hear from God. 

You are ready for a euphoric experience, the way your pastor describes hearing God’s voice, but you soon become discouraged because this experience feels eerily similar to all the other experiences you’ve had before. You’re trying, you really are, but it’s boring, or confusing, or feels irrelevant, or you are too distracted to pay attention for longer than 5 minutes. 

I’ve had countless people describe this exact scenario to me. I’ve even experienced it myself more times than I care to admit, but what’s the alternative? Is there anything you can do to guarantee that your time with God feels beneficial, rewarding, or helpful?

Yes! 

Daily Faith + Life uses a simple 3-step approach to help people learn and love the Bible: Read God’s word, Learn God’s Truth, and Listen for God’s Voice. Using this process helps you to be inspired by the Bible but not depend solely on inspiration to gauge effectiveness, because let’s be honest, some days don’t feel inspiring.

So what can you do on days when your time with God doesn’t feel inspired? How can you hear God’s voice, even when it doesn’t feel like he is speaking to you?

German Minister George Mueller, known for his prayer life, had a set of questions he asked after reading the Bible to help him begin praying. These questions are a great way to assess and apply what you read each time.

1. Is There Any Example For Me To Follow?

The stories in the Bible were written to teach us and give us an example to follow. (Romans 15:4). As you read, does anyone do something worth emulating? You probably won’t need to build an ark, but do you need to obey God in the face of peer pressure or criticism? You probably will never slay a giant, but is there an obstacle in your life you have been hiding from? You may feel the need to defend yourself from lies, but should you instead stay silent like Christ when he faced his accusers?

2. Is There A Command For Me To Obey?

It’s easy to feel like you’re supposed to read between the lines of the Bible to find hidden meanings and codes that need to be cracked. In the search for deeper meaning, we can miss the power of the words on the page. The reality is, most of the New Testament can be literally applied to your life right now. As you read, do you see any instructions or commands that you need to act on? Do you need to forgive or love someone who hurt you? Do you need to be more generous towards God with your money? Do you need to confess to a friend? 

3. Is There Any Error For Me To Avoid?

There are certain verses and stories in scripture that are loud sirens warning us to avoid danger. As you read, do you notice any cautionary tales or warnings? For example, Samson assumed he could always control his sin until it was too late. Do you assume the same thing? The Apostle Paul warned Timothy to not let anyone look down on him because of his young age? Have you been discounting yourself because of your age?

4. Is There Any Sin For Me To Forsake?

The Bible “exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (2 Timothy 4:12), which means that while you read the Bible, the Bible is reading you, convicting you of the things in your life that pull you away from God. As you read, does any sin come to mind that you need to repent and turn from?

5. Is There Any Promise For Me To Claim?

The Bible is filled with as many as 7487 promises. While you can’t copy and paste every promise for your life, so many of the promises in the Bible are available to anyone who has placed their faith in Jesus. As you read, are there any promises that you can stop and pray about? I have a habit of circling certain promises I come across, Like “The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.” (Psalm 84:11) Then I will stop and pray, “God, help me to do what is right, so I can experience all the good things you have for me.” 

6. Is There Any New Thought About God?

The Bible is not like other books you read. It is “living, breathing, and active” which explains why you can read something you’ve read 100 times before but notice something different this time and wonder, “How have I never seen that?” As you read, is there something you never knew before? Is it something you could stop and thank God for?

Yes, occasionally a Bible will fall off a bookshelf to a particular verse. And yes, some days your time with God will feel incredibly supernatural, and you will be certain that you heard from God. Most days, though, it’s the routine of time with God, and the practical application of the verses you read that will allow you to experience his presence and guidance.

The Secret To Enjoying Your Quiet Time With God

I’ve never met a Christian who was completely satisfied with the quality and quantity of their time with God. We all feel the need to pray more and pray more powerfully. But how?

Routine.

It’s much more exciting to have a Bible fall off a bookshelf or have an angel visit in a dream, but the best way to connect with God is to create a consistent time and place. If you create a place to meet with God, God will meet you there.

In his book The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson tells the remarkable story of a woman named Elizabeth Dabney. Mother Dabney and her husband moved to Philadelphia in 1925 to pastor a church in downtown. The neighborhood was rough, and the church wasn’t having much success, so Mother Dabney prayed and asked God to give her husband some type of spiritual victory or success to help give the church some momentum. She felt like God wanted her to go to the Schuylkill River at 7:30am the next morning, so she woke up and went the next day. When she arrived she felt like God said to her, “this is the place” Mother Dabney responded to God that day by praying this prayer,

“Lord if you will bless my husband in the place You sent him to establish your name if you will break the bonds and destroy the wall of partition, if you will give him a church and congregation I will walk with you for 3 years in prayer both day and night. I will meet you every morning at 9am sharp; you will never have to wait for me. I will stay there all day and devote my time to you. Furthermore, if you will listen to my prayers and breakthrough in the wicked neighborhood, I will fast 72 hours each week for 2 years. On the days I am fasting, I will not go home, I will sleep in the church.”

Mother Dabney followed through on her promise to God, and God followed through on His promise to her. God did miraculous, incredible things all because one person decided, “I want to get really close to God.”

What is your plan to hear from God? Do you have a place? Do you have time? Do you have a plan? Every day won’t feel magical, but if you create a place to meet with God, God will meet you there.

Listen to a sermon I preached recently on creating a time to meet with God.

P.S. My new book Daily Faith: 101 Devotions and Stories To Help You Connect With God releases tomorrow. I can’t wait for you to read it.

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5 Ways You Can Enjoy Reading The Bible More

I know at the beginning of the year a lot of people make a goal to read more of the Bible or read the entire Bible in a year, so I thought I would share a few of the methods and strategies that have helped me consistently read the Bible over the years. 

1. Use A Reading Plan

Since the creation of the Bible app, more and more people are using reading plans, so you may already be doing this, but if not, I highly recommend it. There are thousands of different plans available and they are all free. A reading plan helps you have a plan and stick to it instead of randomly deciding what to read each day.

I have used the “Bible In One Year” plan for the last 2 years, and I really like it because I read a little bit of the Old Testament, Psalms/Proverbs, and the New Testament every day.

If you use the Bible App you can view their reading plans here. 

2. Use A Hardback/Paperback Bible

I will admit I am old school when it comes to reading the Bible, and I prefer to use a paper Bible instead of a smartphone or tablet. This is a preference and not requirement, of course, but I prefer paper for 2 reasons: 

#1 – I’m already looking at a screen for everything else in my day, so the paper Bible is a nice change of pace. (It also allows me to put my phone away for my devotion time.)

#2 – While the Bible app allows you to highlight and take notes, there’s still something powerful about flipping through my Bible and seeing all my notes and markings in the margins. The notes in your Bible tell a story. In a lot of ways, it’s a timeline of your life and faith.

Again, this is just a personal preference, but I encourage anyone who is wanting to create a better Bible-reading habit to at least start with a traditional paper Bible before you try an audio Bible or smartphone app. 

3. Read in Chronological Order

This is advice for people who are trying to read the Bible in a year. For years I struggled to complete my plan until I started reading the Bible in Chronological order. You may not know this, but the Bible is not ordered by historical events, It’s ordered by theme and book size. For example, the book of Job which is in the middle of the Old Testament is one of, if not the oldest, book in the Bible.

A chronological plan helps the Bible make sense, and makes the Bible feel a little more like one big story.

4. Get Ahead

I must admit I struggle to read the Bible on the weekends. For years, I would fall behind on the weekends and then end up so far behind I would quit, because I would never be able to catch up. I decided a few years ago to get ahead so that a missed day didn’t make me feel so guilty (more on that in a second)

So for example, in my reading plan, on a given day, I might read Genesis 1, Psalm 1, and Matthew 1-2, but I decide to go ahead and read Psalm 2 and 3 because they are short. Over the course of a month, a few extra chapters here or there make a big difference and keep you current when you go through slumps or holidays. I especially try to do this in the New Testament letters, if they are short enough to complete the entire book in one sitting (Philippians, Ephesians, Galatians, etc.)

Once you fall behind, it’s so discouraging and intimidating to try and catch up, which leads me to my last piece of advice…

5. Don’t Get Discouraged

The point of reading the Bible is not to check a task off a list, it’s to spend time with and get to know God. Just the act of opening God’s word is spiritual, so if you don’t feel like your time with God was magical or incredibly inspirational don’t be discouraged. If you fall behind because you get stuck in Leviticus, don’t be discouraged. If it takes you longer than a year to read a yearly Bible plan, so what? It’s not a race or a requirement to read a certain amount of the Bible. Just read as much as often as you can, and the more God’s word gets in you, the more what comes out of you will change.

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