- I gained an understanding of and new appreciation for the structure and artistry of the Pentateuch. I already knew that the first five books of the Bible were considered sort of a unit or collection, and I already knew that scholars generally consider them to have been written almost entirely by Moses (it's unlikely, for example, that Moses penned the sentence "So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord", but he probably wrote almost all of the rest of it!), but I never understood just how important the five books are to each other. Basically, they are the story of the birth of the nation of Israel; all five of them relate to that.
Genesis is like a prequel; it tells not only how humans got here in the first place, but why a "set apart" nation was required (rampant sin which kept messing everything up), how that nation got started (one guy, Abram/Abraham, who trusted God), and how they wound up in Egypt in slavery when God had promised them their own land (the story of Joseph).
Exodus is where the rubber meets the road; Moses is born in the initial chapters (I learned something quite interesting when reading this part!) and we see the new displaced nation of Israel, born in slavery (just like every member of the human race is born in slavery) freed from bondage to Egypt and released by God to travel to their own country. It's an epic story that has inspired people throughout history. It is also the book where Moses first finds out how to build the tent version of the Tabernacle, which later was built in a permanent form as the Jerusalem Temple.
Leviticus is where God first gives the new nation of Israel the bulk of its laws. The Ten Commandments have already been given for the first time in Exodus 20, but the bulk of the laws about sacrifices, feasts, and basic human conduct are given here. This makes for dry reading at times, but it is critical to the overall story.
Numbers starts out with a census right after Israel leaves Egypt, tells the story of how they did not make it into the Promised Land because they did not trust God, tells us about their wandering in the wilderness, and ends with another census, right before the second generation enters the Promised Land. A perfect demonstration of how distrusting what God says, what His Word says, can leave you spinning your wheels for a lifetime.
Deuteronomy is largely Moses' final address of Israel before he dies and they enter the Promised Land without him (I had some interesting thoughts about this part, too). Interestingly, a big hunk of what Moses told them was the same laws that were already detailed in Leviticus! Some of them have a slightly different nuance in this version, but it's a lot of the same stuff. Lesson learned: we need to hear God's Word over and over, and each generation needs to hear from God for themselves.
- I gained a much greater respect for the person Moses. I don't think I ever truly grasped how amazing a man he really was. How would you like to try to lead two million griping, complaining people around a desert for forty years? The guy must have been made of some good stuff! He has got to be one of the most influential figures in history; the laws he received from God and recorded, and his story, are known just about everywhere, because he somehow made the time, in the middle of leading all of those people, to write the whole thing down. Amazing!
- I learned how important these five books are to Jewish culture. Almost everything they did and still do from a ceremonial standpoint comes from these books. The major festivals, the sacrifices, even the construction of the temple and their eventual geographical locations within the Promised Land all comes back to these books. Without them, the Old Testament doesn't even make sense. With them, sometimes you understand things in the Old Testament that didn't make sense before... an easy example would be that until you understand the Mosaic laws they were operating under, the situation between Ruth and Boaz in the book of Ruth doesn't make any sense. I ran across several moments like that during my read-through. For example, Gideon sending home men in his army who were afraid makes a lot more sense when you realize that God had codified this as standard practice in the book of Deuteronomy.
- I realized how important the Pentateuch is to the New Testament. If you know your New Testament well (or if you have a good commentary or study Bible) you will recognize many, many times where the Pentateuch is quoted in the New Testament. In particular I was struck with how many times Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, but there are references to it all over the New Testament, and I'm not only talking about the obvious ones like the discussion about Abraham in Romans 4. These five books form the bedrock of the Jewish religion, and thus of Christianity as well.
I wouldn't trade this trip through the Bible for anything!