4 Reasons to Read the Old Testament
I have read through Genesis many times. That’s not meant to be impressive, because a number of those times were when I attempted to read through the Bible in a year, only to give up a month or so in. Through-the-Bible-in-a-year programs usually go really well, until about halfway through Exodus. Then we get bogged down with specific laws for Israel and chapter after chapter describing how to build the Tabernacle. If we manage to make it through Exodus, we find ourselves in Leviticus, and then Numbers, and by that point many have thrown in the towel.
There are portions of the Old Testament that people love. One of the most common answers I get when asking teens where they are reading their Bibles has been Proverbs. The Psalms are well loved, and rightly so, for the way they speak directly to our emotions. But there are sections that confuse and challenge us. Wiping out all the Canaanites? Nine chapters of genealogies in 1 Chronicles! I mean, genealogies are one thing, but nine chapters! Then there’s poetry that doesn’t rhyme, imagery that doesn’t make sense to those living in the technology age, and prophets addressing a political scene that many are unfamiliar with, and before we know it we are back in the familiar territory of one of Paul’s letters.
Then there’s the word “Old” itself. Why should we read the “Old” testament when we have the “New”? Isn’t Christ the fulfillment of all of that? Isn’t the moral instruction and teaching on grace enough for believers in the church age? I would argue that a spiritual diet that only includes the New Testament is lacking for several reasons.
All Scripture is profitable
2 Timothy 3:16-17 is probably the most famous passages of Scripture on the topic of Scripture. It informs us that all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable. All Scripture, that includes both Old and New. And the Old Testament accounts for between 2/3 and 3/4 of your Bible. That’s a lot of profit to go without. Oh, and by the way, when Paul said “Scripture” he was primarily thinking of the Old Testament. That was his Scripture. Although much of the New Testament had been written by the point Paul wrote 2 Timothy (his last letter), the word Scripture was strongly associated with the ancient writings of Moses and the prophets. We hear Scripture and think primarily of the New Testament. Paul probably thought primarily of the Old.
Granted, this reason is almost more of a command than an actual reason. “Why should I read the Old Testament.” “Because it’s good for you!” “But why is it good for me?” Well, let’s look at that.
The New Testament highly values the Old
The New Testament quotes the Old over and over again, over 250 times. In addition, there are many allusions to the New Testament that don’t necessarily have a formal introduction. This might sound like another command like the first point. “Read the Old Testament because Paul did!” But if you want to really understand how Paul, and Peter, and James, and especially the author of Hebrews (whoever he may be) thought, you need to know your Old Testament. The New Testament was written by people who grew up studying their Old Testament faithfully. Once Christ came, rather than reading it less, they read it more, because they wanted to understand God’s plan. They realized that looking back at God’s previous revelation explained and interpreted what was going on around them, and they constantly pointed back to the Old Testament when preaching to unbelievers and teaching believers.
Paul, Peter, and Luke didn’t view Christianity as ignoring the Old Covenant, but as building upon it.The New Testament often assumes a knowledge of the Old Testament! The great irony is that the believer who ignores the Old Testament because he has the New is going to find it harder to understand the New Testament than the believer who studies both.
The Old Testament points to Christ
The story of Jesus Christ doesn’t begin in Matthew 1, it begins in Genesis 1. All of the Old Testament is designed to prepare the way for Christ, from prophecies concerning his birth, life, death, resurrection, and second coming to the sacrificial system that prepared the thinking of Israel to be able to recognize “the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). It shows Abraham ready to sacrifice his “only begotten” son and a strange visitor who wrestled with Jacob whom Jacob later identifies as God Himself (Genesis 32:30). Christ Himself, when talking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
In the Old Testament we read of the Levitical priesthood, which was never able to make the worshippers pure because goat blood can’t wash away sin, and we long for the perfect priest who can make us holy once for all. We read of the kings of Israel, and are discouraged when the golden standard for kings, David, shockingly commits adultery and then murder. We then watch with disappointment as his descendants spiral further and further away from God, and we’re left longing for the perfect king who will keep us accountable to follow God. And we watch prophet after prophet give us revelation about God and yet be ignored, and we long for the perfect prophet who will share with us a direct knowledge of God, for He comes from God and is God. And then we come to Matthew, and we are introduced to the perfect priest, king, and prophet that we have longed for. This is one of the many ways the Old Testament points to the Christ, but hopefully it shows that all of Scripture contributes to the story of Christ as the climax of God’s plan.
The Old Testament shows us who our God is
The Old Testament is rich in theology proper, the study of Who God is. Watch the Father in wrath wipe out mankind with a flood because of their great wickedness, but in mercy and grace save one family. Watch him lavishly bless one man who responded in faith to the promise that God would make a great nation of Him. See His wisdom and sovereignty as an innocent youth is sold into slavery, wrongly accused of a crime, and then ends up the second most powerful man in the world who saves his family. See the heart of God torn in two over His people as He angrily pronounces “The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all” and then in the next verse say “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? ... My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:6-8) Observe godly men such as Job, Habbakuk, and David as they wrestle through their questions over why God is doing what He is doing and eventually come to rest, not in an easier situation, but in a clearer view of Who it is they are following. Oh believer, read your Old Testament, for in it we find the grace, wisdom, sovereignty, justice, and faithfulness of God!
God speaks through His Word, all of it. Although many of the specific ordinances of the Old Covenant have been fulfilled in Christ, that does not mean it does not have tremendous value for us today. Will studying your Old Testament take a lot of time and effort? Absolutely. But it’s worth it to hear the voice of God.
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