Reading the Old Testament

open-bible.JPGBobby Valentine is one of my favorite bloggers. He has posted an impassioned plea for ministers to preach from the Old Testament. Here’s a link to this post: Preach from the “Old Testament” #1. He followed this post with a sample sermon titled The Gracious and Compassionate God (Exodus 34). These two excellent posts set me to thinking. I agree that the ministers in our midst need to do more preaching from the Old Testament. I hasten to add that we all probably need to spend more time reading the Old Testament, as well.

Perhaps you’ve heard the classic exchange, which begins with the question: Why did you climb that mountain? The reply which promptly follows is: Because it was there!

That is how some people approach reading the Old Testament. There is a sense in which I respect this attitude towards reading God’s Word. We should want to read the Old Testament simply because it is there, but mainly because God put it there! Since God doesn’t do anything without a purpose and plan, we can be sure that there is great value in reading about what He has done in the lives of people of old. Beyond this, through the years, I’ve gleaned a number of what I believe to be good reasons for reading the Old Testament. Some of these are:

(1) The Old Testament is the only reliable history of that period… Although it was not written primarily as a history book, all of the historical information is accurate. In days gone, some critics of the Bible called into question its mentioning of the Hittites. These critics even went so far as to say that such references must have been to mythological characters. But, many 20th century archaeological discoveries have provided ample evidence of the existence of such a people. Thus, by reading the Old Testament we get an accurate picture of life amongst some of our earliest ancestors.

(2) the Old Testament was written to teach us… This is the unambiguous statement of Romans 15:4, which reads: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Through the Old Testament we learn to bear up under the burdens of life. When we read through the pages of the Old Testament, we are reminded over-and-over that God always wins. Thereby, we are taught that it is very wise to choose God’s side of things. We are also taught to wait on the Lord, who will comfort us in all our afflictions. He has and always will come to the aid of His people! Thus, we have hope—the desire and expectation that God will work all things together for our good.

(3) The Old Testament provides wisdom for life’s decisions… There is an old saying which states that a smart person learns from his mistakes, but the wise person learns from the mistakes of others. Examples of victories and defeats are chronicled in the Old Testament. Faithfulness and unfaithfulness are set in stark contrast. The contradistinctive results of obedience and disobedience are vividly portrayed. The combined weight of the experiences and observations of God’s people who have gone before us all teach us that, after everything is said and done, the whole [duty] of every human being is to fear God and keep his commandments. (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)

(4) The Old Testament provides a background for the New Testament… Peter’s discussion of baptism in 1 Peter 3:20-21 dramatically illustrates this point. He draws his explanation directly from the pages of the Jewish Scriptures. He tells about Noah and his family, eight souls in all, experiencing God’s hand of deliverance through water. Use of this story shines a bright light on the centrality of faithfulness and obedience, not ritualistic compliance. Noah and his family trusted God enough to take Him at His word and build the ark. They obeyed the Lord and entered the ark at His command, thus escaping to the God’s place of refuge from wrath against sin.

Next, Peter states that this water symbolizes baptism that now saves. Peter is clearly suggesting that when a person is baptized into Christ he or she escapes into the refuge of Christ and is thereby safely sheltered from God’s wrath against sin. His further explanation makes it clear that this is not a ceremonial cleansing or ritualistic observance. Instead, it is based upon a pure hearted person’s faith full plea to God for deliverance, just as He delivered Jesus Christ by resurrecting Him from the dead.

Understanding baptism against this backdrop is much easier. Long before it was a topic of debate amongst us, it was a simple, faith-filled act, which mirrored Noah’s full confidence in God’s promises and obedience from the heart to His will.

There are many, many similar examples. Knowing the background of the Jewish Festivals helps us to understand their significance when they are noted during the life of Christ. The Old Testament tells us the reason that blood is for atonement. It tells us about the coming Messiah and His kingdom. Certainly, there would be much less confusion about the New Testament book of Revelation if we were more familiar with the Old Testament prophets. Attempting to fully understand all of the New Testament without referring to the Old Testament would be a little like trying to understand a novel by reading only the final chapters.

(5) The Old Testament will make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus… Speaking of Timothy’s childhood, when his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois had imparted their faith to him, Paul reminded him of the source of such faith. He wrote: “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Jesus Christ is the personification of the grace of God. Through Him we are saved. Reading through the pages of the Old Testament and then reflecting on just how it is that God fulfilled His eternal purposes in Jesus Christ, whom He declared to be His Son by the resurrection. This gives us some insight into how unschooled, ordinary men, could stand before the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem and proclaim that, “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Read any good books (in the Old Testament) lately?

© Bill Williams, September 27, 2006

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
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7 Responses to Reading the Old Testament

  1. Bill, My favorite is I & II Samuel, because I love to read about David, but I enjoy them all, especially Isaiah. There are so many examples for us today, like David who was an insignificant little shepherd, but God promoted him, because he had a heart for God. How about Elijah who did such powerful things but then blew it with fear? There’s so much to learn from the OT. Great reminder!

  2. Bill I have been out of town and away from ANY computer for the last several days (since Sunday). Thus I have not been able to keep up with what is going on. I thank you for you very kind words about my blog. It is my prayer that our brotherhood will rediscover both the power and the relevance of the Hebrew Bible. Keep on blogging!!!!

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  3. Greg England says:

    I’m reading through the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles again. Love those stories! Through my years of preaching, I’ve done a LOT of it out of the OT. Where else do you find stories of people getting their head nailed to the ground? You gotta love those stories!

    The character lessons and the view of God from that perspective are priceless. I appreciate Bobby’s blogs (and told him so) and his insistance that we see the God of grace there as well. I’ve had several people over the years (one just this summer) mention to me they love “going to church” but want nothing to do with the God of the Old Testament.

    I didn’t see the History Channel special on Exodus, but I did see an interview w/ the director and he said historians have missed the evidence of the Exodus story because they used the wrong source. He said, “When we went back to the Bible as our source, we found overwhelming evidence…”

  4. Kathy says:

    I’m studying Isaiah in my daily study right now. There is absolutely no way to escape the grandeur, magnificence and power of God when reading this book.
    Also, so many of our newer music comes word for word from the Old Testament and one of my favorites, straight from parts of Isaiah 6.
    ===========
    1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
    “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

    4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

    5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

    6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

    8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
    And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

    In these few short verses Isaiah brings us to adoration and worship of God, seeing His great glory. He then gives us the example of our unworthiness in front of the majesty of God, crying out in confession. God then shows His grace and mercy searing the very sin from Isaiah’s lips so when the LORD says, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah was ready, heard God’s voice and was prepared to answer in purity of heart and lips, “Here am I. Send me.”

    I pray that process lives in all our lives, recognition and worship of God, confession of our fallen state, redemption given by God, which brings us ready to “Go!” for Him.

    I agree with Bobby Valentine and share his love for the OT! The Old Testament is so rich in presenting God in all His multi-faceted Spirit – it is a book(s) that drive us to our knees in worship – we cannot avoid it when reading the OT.

  5. jel says:

    thanks for this post!
    I’m going through 1st Samuel, right now.

  6. Mag says:

    I’m behind! Bloglines has been a couple days behind updated blogs. Ugh. *stomps foot*

    Beth Moore’s Daniel study? Man! There can’t be an OT book more culturally relevant to Americans than that book. I have so overlooked it. (I love Isaiah, too…)

    If you get an opportunity to do a church wide study on her Daniel study –try to get the whole body together to hear her videos.

    Just do it!

  7. Pingback: Reading the Old Testament (2) « SPIRITUAL OASIS By Bill Williams

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