I am a lover of good stories. Stories with intricate plot lines, great character development, and beautiful prose. Stories that pull you in from the very first page and communicate all that is good, true, and beautiful. The most beautiful story I have ever read is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. The perfect Author weaves a story line, both beautiful and intricate, to communicate the depths of His perfect love, mercy, grace, justice, holiness, wrath, and omnipotence. This story encompasses all of Scripture–from the first moment God speaks light into existence in Genesis to Revelation, when every tear will be wiped away. To fully understand the beauty of God and His grand and glorious story, we need both parts of the Bible– the Old and New Testament.
There are many reasons that people avoid the Old Testament and spend most of their time reading the New Testament. Some may find the lists of laws, censuses, and historical narratives boring and completely inapplicable or are intimidated by all that they don’t understand. But in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul reminds a young pastor named Timothy that all, not some, but “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” In the time that Paul is writing to Timothy, the “Scripture” he is talking about here is mainly the Old Testament because the New Testament had not even been completed yet! Paul explains to Timothy that not only is the Old Testament God-breathed, but it is profitable. Because all of Scripture is divine revelation from God and was written for our good, we need to be sure that we are reading Scripture in its entirety.
But Why Should I Read the Old Testament?
So, yes, we should be reading the Old Testament. But why? What can we learn from a story about a left-handed judge (Judges 3) or a heroine who drives a tent peg through a man’s head (Judges 4)? What do the seemingly endless and strange lists of laws in the book of Leviticus have to do with anything? Why is there so much gruesome violence and despicable sin in Israel’s history? Can we really learn from the incredibly flawed people that God chose to use–liars, cheaters, prostitutes, adulterers, doubters, cowards, and murderers?
The books of the Old Testament hold a treasure trove of fascinating and true stories that reveal the character of God, recount the ugly details of man’s sinfulness, and display God’s redemptive plan. These narratives aren’t fables to teach us a moral of the story while entertaining us along the way, but instead, the laws, historical accounts, prophecies, and poetry of the Old Testament are written encounters of God’s presence in the history of the world and reveal to us His faithful character in the midst of unfaithful and fully corrupt people. When Israel forsakes the Lord and turns to idols, God remains steadfast. When His people are the targets of genocide, He providentially delivers them. When God’s chosen leaders break God’s law or doubt His promises, He remains faithful to the covenant He made with His people. All of the wonders and glories of God’s character are emblazoned across the books and chapters of the Old Testament, and He shares it with us that we might know Him, and to know Him, we must take up and read. Scripture was written for us that we might come to know, worship, and love Him with “all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] might” (Deut. 6:5).
How the Old Testament and New Testament Work Together
Often, people view the Old Testament as distinctly separate from the New Testament. We have the new covenant in Christ now, so why do we need to continue reading the law that was a part of the old covenant? As a modern-day believer, comprehending God’s purpose in giving His people so many laws can be difficult. Throughout the whole book of Romans, Paul outlines our relationship to the law and explains to his audience that “the law came in to increase the trespass” in order that grace may increase (Rom. 5:20), but that by no means makes the law sinful or gives us license to sin. In Romans 7, Paul explains that the law was given to make us aware of our sin that was leading us to death and point us to the one who could deliver us from our bondage to it. It reveals the rebellion that we have rooted deep in our hearts ultimately to point us towards someone greater–Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the law. In our human sinfulness, we could not fulfill the requirement of holy perfection that God requires in order to be reconciled to Himself. When Christ came and lived a perfect life and willingly laid His life down as the atonement for sin, He fulfilled the law, freeing us from its demands. We no longer have to vainly try to keep the law laid out in Leviticus in a desperate attempt to be righteous because He has made us holy before God. In order to truly understand the new covenant, we need to understand the function of the law in the Old Testament.
Another way that we see continuity between the Old and New Testament is through the unchanging character of God. There are often objections to what some call “the God of the Old Testament” and much prefer “the God of the New Testament”. Many read the Old Testament and often label Him as cruel, capricious, grumpy, angry, and mean, but see God as loving, gracious, and merciful in the New Testament. However, the author of Hebrews reminds us that He “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). There is no distinction in the character of God between the Old and New Testament. Just as God brings the plagues upon the Egyptians in just retribution for their oppression of the Israelites, He brings justice upon the wicked in Revelation. When God faithfully keeps the covenant He made with His people despite their constant rebellion, so He keeps His covenant with us despite our sinfulness. When God withholds destruction from Nineveh in the book of Jonah, we receive a glorious view of the depths of His mercy that we see also woven throughout the gospels as we read about the many people that Jesus healed. In the Psalms, we read of God’s steadfast and unfailing love and we see this love displayed for us on the cross. The truth of the unchanging character of God is one that we can and should find great comfort in because no matter what the circumstances of our world or our own personal lives, we can rest assured that He is constant and will never change.
Perhaps my favorite way that the Old Testament and New Testament work together is to display God’s salvation plan, and we see hints and glimmers of this plan woven throughout the books of the Old Testament and the lives of the people God used along the way. In the very beginning in Genesis 3, we are given a small preview of God’s plan. God addresses Adam and Eve after they sin and tells them of the terrible consequences they have brought on themselves and all of mankind, but when He addresses the serpent, He gives Adam and Eve a glimpse of hope in what is to come: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). As history progresses and the people of God wait for the one who will bruise the head of the serpent, He leaves small tastes of the glory of the deliverer that He promised. When Abraham lays Isaac upon the altar prepared to sacrifice his one and only son, God provides a substitutionary ram– a shadow of the perfect, ultimate sacrifice that is to come (Gen. 22). Moses led the oppressed Israelites out of Egypt, splitting the sea in two that the people may pass through– a promise that one day, the veil of the temple would be torn in two, providing salvation, complete access, and reconciliation with God Almighty (Ex. 14:19-31 and Matt. 27:51). When David, a lowly shepherd boy, slew Goliath, God painted for us the great victory that His son would one day win over sin and death (1 Sam. 17). God crafts a beautiful story, doesn’t He?
Though the narratives of the Old Testament may be more challenging for us to understand, we must remember that they are a part of the inspired word of God and are profitable for our spiritual lives, giving us a deeper knowledge of our Creator, the one who knows and loves us perfectly. Face the challenge head-on, and be blessed by all that you will learn along the way!