I’m willing to bet that of all the various sections of the Bible, none is more universally feared and neglected than the Law (Genesis – Deuteronomy). Recently I wrote that when we really believe what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is saying, it will revolutionize the way we read the Bible. When our mindset shifts from “Is there anything God wants me to see here?” to “What does God want me to see in this passage?”, we will approach all sections of Scripture with expectancy, determination, and patience.
Determination and patience are especially important when reading all the Old Testament laws. Parts of these books are just bewildering. Not only do they not seem in any way relevant to us today, but it’s hard to see what possible purpose they served even in their own time.
And yet, difficult as they may be to understand, all the laws of the Old Testament are meant train us in righteousness and to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). So how can we read the Law in such a way as to be trained and equipped by it? Here is a question I’d recommend asking when reading the Law that I’ve found very helpful:
What does this law reveal about God’s character and his values?
An important principle: laws are always a reflection of the values of the lawgiver. In America, you can’t steal things that belong to your neighbor, because we value the right to personal property. You can’t drink and get behind the wheel, because we value human life. You can’t prank order a pizza to your buddy’s house because we value having absolutely zero sense of humor.
What this means for us as we read the laws of the Bible is that every law we encounter is a window into God’s heart. And since the goal of our salvation is to know God intimately (John 17:3), books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy have great potential for helping us to draw closer to him. By no means will asking the question above answer all your questions, but it will at least get you headed in a helpful direction. There are two big benefits to asking this question:
Benefit #1 – It helps us to understand and appreciate strange laws.
Let’s apply this question to Deuteronomy 22:8:
When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone shall fall from it.
Welcome to your new life verse that absolutely you should get tattooed on your chest in Hebrew.
First off, what’s a parapet? A parapet was essentially a guardrail. In this time, roofs were flat and “were used for various household activities, including sleeping in hot weather.” So there’s an obvious cultural disconnect here. No one I know has a flat roof. And even if they did, they wouldn’t use it to sleep in summer. That’s what air conditioning is for.
But what does this command teach us about God’s values? God is telling his people to take proper safety precautions. Since people were going to be on these roofs, he told them to put up parapets so that they wouldn’t fall off. And since visitors would have been among the people who went up on the roof, he’s also telling them to love their neighbors by having those parapets there. What we learn about God from this single verse in Deuteronomy is that he values human life, cares for us, and is a welcoming God. As Christians, this verse then should comfort us and motivate us to seek ways to reflect those values in our relationships.
Benefit #2 – It expands our understanding of clearer laws.
When we stop to ask what God’s laws tell us about him, we’ll also start to see that they have application that extends way beyond their initial context. Consider Exodus 20:13 – “You shall not murder.” Cut and dry, right? I’m proud to say that I have never broken this commandment. But is “not giving Law and Order a new plot line” all that this verse addresses?
Like Deuteronomy 22:8, the “You shall not murder” command reveals the value God places on human life. Let’s go deeper though. Why does God value human life? He values human life because he created us in his image (Gen. 1:27). God created us to represent him and be a brilliant picture of what he is like.
But when it comes to murder, looking like God means way more than just not doing it (still though…don’t). It means not doing everything that leads up to it. People don’t just wake up one day and decide to kill someone. Murder is the final step in a long line of sins that include bitterness, jealousy, anxiety, and ultimately anger. None of these things reflect God’s character and values. Jesus addresses this very issue about murder in Matthew 5:21-26. His point is that Exodus 20:13 goes beyond just not murdering someone and demands love and reconciliation with others.
Listen to how the Heidelberg Catechism from the 16th century extracts the values of God bound up in Exodus 20:13:
I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor- not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds- and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge. I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.
The catechism keeps going after this to stress that this command goes beyond just “not murdering”. It’s about envy, vindictiveness, hatred, and anger. In light of this, Exodus 20:13 speaks to every single scenario in which you you encounter these sinful attitudes.
Again, this question may take time to answer. But be patient enough to seek an answer to it. It won’t explain everything. But it’s a great starting point when we feel like the Law is irrelevant to our lives today.
 ESV Study Bible
 This whole idea of getting to the heart of the Law explains a lot of Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders of his day. These people knew the Law very well but had completely missed the point of it.