Why Read the Old Testament?
I love to rewatch movies. There is just something sweet and restful about knowing how a movie will end. When you know the movie will end, you can sit there and enjoy the story without worrying or wondering what will happen. I have many movies that I love, but one of my go-to movies is You’ve Got Mail. That movie is just sweet every time. I remember the very first time I watched that movie, and still every time I watch it, I am swept up in the story.
Will Joe and Kathleen be able to overcome their business feud? Will they get together in the end? It is captivating every time. However, I also love rewatching it because I know how it will end. I know that in the end they will meet in the park and Brinkley, Joe’s dog, will come running to meet Kathleen and she will start to cry because she wanted it to be Joe so badly.
Now that I have seen it once, when I sit down to watch it I can rest knowing how it will end. I still get swept up in the story, but my worry level is way down because I know the ending. But, if I only rewatched the last ten minutes of the movie, I would soon become numb to it. The ending would start to become less and less beautiful to me because I would forget the build up. The buildup makes the ending that much sweeter. I do injustice to the movie when I only watch the ending. It was never intended to be watched that way.
Only Reading the End of the Bible
I think we do the same thing with the Bible. There seems to be this epidemic going around where people only read the New Testament. This seems to be a significant shift in evangelical tradition where the Old Testament has been seen as less important, and much less necessary for the Christian walk. To be sure, the story of Jesus’s life is the center of the story that all Scripture is pointing to, but how will we ever know what it means that Jesus is the center if we have not read anything that comes before that?
Jay Sklar, an Old Testament scholar, tells a fascinating story about people who were interviewed after seeing Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. Many said that they liked the film, but that they felt that the film did not have much of a plot. These people are spot on. If nothing came before that displayed the need and anticipation of Christ’s death, then He is just a random guy who died a criminal’s death. Christ’s death has little plot if there is nothing that precedes it.
If we really believe 2 Timothy 3:16 that says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” then we will take the Old Testament much more seriously. Because I want to avoid numbing myself to the beauty of my favorite movies, I don’t watch the end over and over again. We must not do that with Scripture either.
However, I am not unaware of the struggles people have with the Old Testament; I’ve gone through them myself. But, I think it is essential to examine the reasons we tend to shy away from the Old Testament.
I Don’t Understand
Many people say that they don’t read the Old Testament because it is difficult to understand. This is a fair argument to be sure. Entering into books like Leviticus or Zechariah and trying to interpret both what they are saying and the significance of the book as a whole is difficult. There is nothing wrong with starting with the New Testament because it feels more comprehensible and straightforward.
However, I believe the New Testament will become so much more rich and robust to you if you understand the Old Testament. There are many aspects of Scripture that are difficult to understand that are worth understanding. If you are in this boat, I would encourage you to find resources, or ask someone you trust to help you walk through the Old Testament. If a movie is not understandable at the beginning, it won’t be understandable if you skip to the end.
It Isn’t Applicable
The argument that the Old Testament has no application to our lives is an interesting one. I understand it. How do the genealogies in 1 Chronicles affect how I live my life today? Should I go and offer a grain offering like Leviticus commands? These, again, are fair points to be sure. To think about this, let’s think about the life of Jesus himself.
When Jesus is tempted in the desert, he uses Scripture to back it up. When Satan tempts Jesus to turn stone into bread after fasting for forty days, Jesus meets that temptation with Scripture. He quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 which says, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” When Satan promises to give Jesus authority if he worships Satan, Jesus brings up both Deuteronomy 6:13 and 1 Samuel 7:3 by saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
Satan’s third attempt at temptation is intriguing because Satan throws Scripture back in Jesus’s face! Satan says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and ‘On their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.” As readers we think, “Oh man, how is Jesus going to come back after that? Satan just used Jesus’s own defense weapon against him!” Jesus, without missing a beat, responds to Satan and quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 and says, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Then Satan departs from him. This is important for us. Jesus not only knew enough Scripture to combat Satan’s lies, he also knew an incredibly important truth: Scripture interprets Scripture. Satan’s misuse of the Word of God did not cause Jesus to stumble because he knew it well enough to know when it is being taken out of context, and knew other passages to combat a misuse of Scripture. We must be well acquainted with the Bible, not only to combat lies, but the misuse of the true Word of God.
Remember, Jesus only had the Old Testament at this point. For Jesus, the Old Testament was what he clung to in times of hardship and temptation. And of course he would, the Old Testament shows us again and again that God is faithful in times of need, that he is a promise keeping God. Knowing who God is changes everything about how we live our lives today. Jesus models that to us. The Old Testament is a window into the heart of God. Yet when is the last time we have gone to books like Deuteronomy in times of trouble and temptation. Let us model after Jesus, who was deeply knowledgeable of the Old Testament and was ready to use it when he needed to combat lies with truth.
Jesus Didn’t Say It
The idea that any word in the Bible that is not said by Jesus is not worth hearing or following is one that stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of Jesus and of Scripture. I remember I was once with some of my friends and someone jokingly said, “All I need is the red letters of the Bible,” to which my friend sarcastically responded, “Yes because those are the ones that are Jesus’s words.” I remember being completely stunned as I witnessed this encounter.
We are so quick to take Jesus’s words with more weight and gravity. I do not mean here to devalue the words of Christ. We should take it incredibly seriously that God came down as a man and had important things to say to us. The gravity of this should overwhelm us and bring us to incredible gratitude.
Since before the creation of the world, the Father has been loving His Son through His Spirit. They are eternally united. The Bible is breathed out by God. Our whole Bible should be in red ink because Jesus is not separate from the Old Testament. It all points to Him, and He was there as it was being written. Every word of the Bible is a word from Christ.
The Old Testament Show Us the Character of God
The Old Testament gives us an incredibly robust picture of the character of God. It is indispensable. The Levitical laws show us what God values. The laws give us a window into the heart of the lawgiver. Deuteronomy shows us that God’s covenant faithfulness should lead to obedience. Judges shows us that we are in desperate need of a Perfect Rescuer. 1 and 2 Kings show us that God is faithful to a faithless people, even though they turn from him again and again. Jeremiah shows us that God is faithful to deliver judgement but that he will not make full end of His people because he keeps His promises. It shows us, in the words of Charles Spurgeon, that,
History shows that whenever God uses a rod to chasten His servants, He always breaks it afterwards, as if he loathed the rod which gave His children pain.
God is consistent in his punishments and in his faithfulness to His people. The book of Psalms shows us what it looks like to cry out to God in our pain and in our rejoicing. Ecclesiastes calls us to be honest about the bleakness of living in a fallen world, and yet that there is nothing better to do but enjoy the gifts from God that we do have now. Ezekiel shows us that God delivers judgements in order to help us know that He is the Lord. Hosea shows us that God is faithful to his faithless bride. The list goes on and on.
We need this knowledge of God because just like his people Israel, we are God’s faithless bride. I remember reading Psalm 119 the same time I was reading 1 Kings. Psalm 119:140 seemed to jump off the page: “Your promise is well tried, your servant loves it.” After seeing all of the ways that God’s people had run so far from Him and not walked in His ways, reading this brought me to tears. Realizing that after centuries of God being faithful to His faithless people, that He will be faithful to me too, who is just as faithless and untrusting as the Israelites.
The Old Testament is applicable to our lives because God is an unchanging God. If we learn something new about God in Genesis, we have learned something about God that is still true to this day. And we need to know about God because God is the creator and sustainer of all things. And He is the ruler of our lives. Don’t you want to know about your ruler?
What He values and what He is like? Knowing more about this changes everything about how we live. What could be more applicable than knowing more about the maker and keeper of life? And knowing that if He has been faithful for centuries and centuries to a people that fails Him often, then He will be faithful to us as well.
The Old Testament Matters
We must let the Old Testament awaken our hearts to the beauty of what Jesus has accomplished. Yes, it can be tedious and difficult to understand, but the biblical story, the story of Jesus, is nothing without it. The Old Testament shows us more of who God is, more of His unfailing loving and faithfulness. That is worth reading.