Bobby 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