Why Read the Old Testament: 3 Jewels
“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;”
As I meditated on this verse last week, I thought, “What an amazing promise from God!” Jesus- pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities- promises that, in Him, we are not ashamed. You might be thinking, “What a wonderful verse, where can I find it?” Answer: Isaiah.
The Old Testament is a jewel, a precious well of wisdom and hope. Unfortunately, there is a growing charge that there is no need for the Old Testament today.
This is, unfortunately, a line which is becoming more and more popular. The “Old Testament,” they say, is full of all of those obscure verses that make no sense. The Old Testament is the book where God seems angry, where He punishes the people of Israel for their sins. But God is not like that anymore…
These statements may sound logical on the surface, but the truth is very different. On the contrary, believers need to know the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. In fact, for believers, knowing and growing deeper in the Bible is the only way to truly understand the gospel of love and forgiveness. This is what Jesus provided for us in His death on the Cross and Resurrection from the dead.
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But why defend the Old Testament and encourage believers to know it deeply and intimately?
Paul often wrote about the wonders of the Old Testament. In the following verses from Ephesians, he mentions three aspects of the Old Testament that demonstrate how the entirety of it is still worth exploring, learning, and applying in our lives.
Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might cmake the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
1) We need the covenants of promise
Here, in the book of Ephesians, Paul is talking about justification by grace and he is speaking to an audience that is largely not Jewish. He says, justification is not of us- it comes from God. And this, he says, is lucky, because there was a time when people who weren’t Jewish couldn’t come to God. There was a time when only Jewish people, Paul says, had “the covenants of promise”. Every promise for good and for blessing belonged to the Jewish people by birth, all others could only watch from “far off,” as Paul puts it. But, because of what Christ has done, anyone who believes in Christ, Jewish or not, can receive the promises of God! Let’s take a look at one:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the cpath of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, (Psalm 1:1-2)
This promise from the beginning of Psalms is only one example of how God promises to bless us as we learn and trust in His Word- and it comes to us from the Old Testament! Of course, it is important to understand who the audience is in any part of the Bible and the meaning of the promises for them, but once we understand the meaning behind the verses we have a beautiful promise that we can hold onto for our lives.
2) The Law is good
This one is tricky. In Ephesians, Paul talks about, “abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law” (Eph 2:15). Does this mean that Paul is saying the Law itself is bad. No! In fact, there are other places in the Bible where Paul says the Law is good (Rom 7:12)! So what is abolished here? He is speaking about what he calls the enmity of the Law: the need to keep the 613 laws of Judaism established by the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Jesus said that this version of keeping the Law only dealt with minutae and not with the deep issues of the heart like justice, forgiveness, and mercy (Matt 23:23). If this is true, how can we apply the Law of God to our lives today?
a) Direct Application
There are many places in the New Testament that state there is a direct application of some laws for believers. For example, when Paul says that children should obey their parents, he appeals to the commandments (Eph 6:1-3).
However, obscure books like Leviticus seem to have no application for us today: what do we do with those laws?
b) Ultimate Calling
The Israelites in the Mosaic Covenant promised to follow hundreds of laws… they eventually learned they couldn’t keep them, and we need to remember that lesson too. The truth is, no one can perfectly keep God’s Law- it is perfectly holy, and righteous, and good. We, on the other hand, are totally sinful- Paul describes us in Ephesians as dead in our sins (Eph 2:5). The Israelites were the same, totally dead in sin, totally unable to meet God on the basis of obedience to the commandments.
So what can we do? How can we ever have fellowship with a perfectly holy God? Jesus did that for us! Jesus made us “alive in Christ” (Eph 2:5) by dying, by raising from the dead, and by offering that resurrection life to anyone who will believe in His Name (Eph 1:19-20). The Israelites couldn’t do it on their own. We can’t do it on our own. And every time we read the Law and the Old Testament we are reminded of the all sufficiency of Christ. In fact, in this way the Old Testament has a deep application that is irresistable, to those who seek it.
3) The Prophets are the foundation of our faith
Finally, in verse 20-22, Paul says that we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” that “Christ Jesus Himself is growing [the apostles and prophets] into a holy temple in the Lord” and “[we] are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit”. Here, Jesus is the capstone of what God is doing in redemptive history, but He is not the beginning of God’s work on earth- the prophets are. When we think of prophets, we often think of Isaiah or Jeremiah, who are in the section of the Bible called the prophets; but there are prophets throughout the Bible, beginning in the Torah with Abraham and Moses, and even in the historical books with prophets like Samuel and Elijah. All of these prophets point to Jesus and all of there work is the authoritative building that Christ moulded together in what would ultimately be God’s Word to us- the Bible.
I was raised Jewish, but when I found Christ I learned to love His Word in both the Old and New Testaments. Both are still valuable today and without either one we miss the full picture of the person of Christ and His mission to redeem the world.