I’ve known many Christians who did not wish to study the Old Testament. When I was much younger, I was teaching from Exodus and a gentleman told me, “Justin, you need to quit teaching from the Old Testament; we need teaching from the New.” I was stunned. In my young thinking, I assumed that if the book was in my Bible–and Exodus still was the last time I checked–the book deserves study.
As I’ve grown older, my understanding of Scripture has–prayerfully–matured, and I am still convinced, more than ever, that the Old Testament merits serious attention from Christians desiring to know the will of God.
We know that the Old Testament is not the standard by which we live (Rom 7:1-6; Gal 3:23-25; Heb 7:11-28). Therefore, no part of the Old Testament Law has a binding effect on us today. That’s precisely why we do not bring one week-old males before the church to have them circumcised. That’s precisely why we don’t bring in animals to sacrifice them for our sins.
What value, then, could the Old Testament possibly have for the Christian? Why should we even bother studying from the Old Testament?
The Old Testament Reveals Sin
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet'” (Rom 7:7).
The Old Testament makes perfectly clear the problem we humans have with sin. So many Old Testament characters fell into sin: Eve fell into transgression when Satan tempted her in the Garden. Fearing that he might die if Pharaoh discovered that Sarah as his wife, Abraham lied when he went into Egypt. When David went on his roof and found Bathsheba bathing, he called her to him, committed adultery and then killer her husband to cover up the affair. Solomon, the wisest man ever to live, had 1,000 women and he fell away from God to follow their idols. From the Old Testament, we learn what sin really is.
A newspaper editorial once asked, “What’s wrong with the world?” G. K. Chesterton wrote back, “I am.” The Old Testament shows us what’s wrong with the world–we are.
The Old Testament Warns of Disobedience and its Results (1 Cor 10:6-11; Heb 2:1-4).
Think of the punishment those in the Old Testament received for their sin: Adam and Eve faced punishment because they both ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3:16-24). Because he lied to Pharaoh, Abraham was driven out of Egypt where he had gone to escape a severe famine (Gen 12:14-20). David brought severe heartache on his family because he committed adultery with Bathsheba and sinned to cover it up (2 Sam 12:7-18a). Because of Solomon’s idolatry, the kingdom was divided (1 Ki 11:9-13).
We learn from the Old Testament, then, that when God says something, he means it–it’s not for us to debate, it’s not for us to do what we choose, but God expects obedience and disobedience brings punishment.
Bill Cosby used to tell of “The First Parent.” Cosby said: Whenever your kids are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even God’s omnipotence did not extend to His kids. After He created heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. And the first thing He said to them was, “Don’t.” “Don’t what?” Adam replied. “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.” “Forbidden fruit? Really? Where is it?” “It’s over there,” said God, wondering why He hadn’t stopped after making the elephants.
A few minutes later, God saw the kids eating the forbidden fruit, and He was angry. “Didn’t I tell you not to eat that fruit?” God asked. “Uh huh,” Adam replied. “Then why did you?” “I dunno,” Adam answered.
God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own.
God continues to punish sin–not in an immediate sense as He often did in the miraculous age, but we all face punishment for our sin.
The Old Testament Points to Christ
Jesus Himself said to the Jews, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn 5:39).
So much of the Old Testament tells us much about Jesus. When Jesus encountered two men on the road to Emmaus who did not understand His death and resurrection, He said, “’How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Lk 24:25-27). Peter used the Old Testament to explain to the crowd at Pentecost Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:25-28).
I would dare say that one could not understand the New Testament without the Old. The Old Testament presents the problem of sin and the promises of God to deal with that problem. Without the Old Testament we could not adequately appreciate the extent to which God went through to secure our salvation.
The Old Testament Instructs in Salvation
Paul told Timothy, “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). When Timothy was an infant, the Old Testament would have been the only Scriptures available, thus Paul obviously speaks about the Old Testament as making Timothy wise for salvation.
How could the Old Testament, which makes no allusion to how we obtain salvation in the New Testament age, make us wise for salvation?
The Old Testament presents quite graphically the universal nature of sin.
Adam and Eve, the first couple, sinned after being placed in the Garden, and sin has been a problem ever since. Abraham, the father of the faithful, twice lied about his relationship with Sarah. David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and killed an innocent man to cover his tracks.
The Old Testament presents the inadequacies of the Law to deal with sin.
God commanded the Day of Atonement as a yearly ritual for the Israelites (Lev 16:29-34). If the Old Testament was adequate to take away sin, why did the high priests have to perform the Day of Atonement year after year?
The Old Testament told of a Messiah who was coming to take away sin once and for all (e.g., Is 53:4-7). We know this refers to Jesus, for the New Testament informs us it does (Acts 8:32-35).
Paul also told Timothy that the Scriptures make one “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Obviously salvation cannot be divorced from faith in Christ. “I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn 8:24). When the jailer in Philippi asked Paul and Silas what to do to be saved, they responded, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). The Old Testament produces faith in Christ, for the Law and the Prophets point to Jesus over and over.
The Old Testament Provides Examples of Righteousness
Hebrews 11 tells us of the great men and women of faith in the Old Testament and illustrates righteousness by their actions. Thus, not only does the Old Testament warn us of the evil effects of sin, but it graphically tells us the wonders of obedience to God.
Think of the great examples of righteousness in the Old Testament. We remember Abraham’s lying, but we are far more familiar with his taking Isaac atop a mountain and trying to sacrifice him. We remember David’s affair with Bathsheba, but we also remember his killing Goliath, because he had great faith in the power of God. We remember Noah’s building the ark as God instructed; we remember Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers; we remember Hezekiah’s restoration of Jewish worship.
The Old Testament provides us several positive examples; examples we need to follow.
The Old Testament Gives Us Hope
“Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom 15:4).
How does the Old Testament give us hope?
We see God’s faithfulness throughout the pages of the Old Testament.
God promised Abraham that he would become a great nation; God promised David that one from his own loins would be the Messiah; God promised Noah that He would save him and his family from the Flood; God promised the Israelites that they would go into Babylonian Captivity but that they would return home. As we see God’s faithfulness established in the Old Testament, we can rest assured of God’s faithfulness today.
We see that many of the great characters of the Old Testament struggled with sin.
Abraham lied; David committed adultery; Solomon went into idolatry; Jonah refused to obey when God told him to go to Nineveh. We see, therefore, that even those who desperately wanted to do right struggled with sin, and I have the hope that I can continue to grow and overcome the temptations I have.
The Old Testament Reveals the Nature of God
God revealed Himself to Moses (Ex 34:6-7). The Old Testament reveals God as the Creator, as compassionate, as forgiving, and as just.
The Old Testament Shows the Unfolding Purpose of God (1 Pet 1:10-12)
The Old Testament gives the grand sweep of the history of the world and God’s dealings with mankind. It would be impossible to place Christ and the church within this history without the context of the Old Testament.
As you study Scripture, don’t forget the Old Testament!