Why I Love the Old Testament
When I was a little kid, my dad would tell me stories before bedtime. Most often, they were recounts of the biblical heroes of faith. As you can guess, these heroes were mostly from the Old Testament. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that an overwhelming majority of preaching and teaching in the church occurs out of the New Testament. Before I comment further, I want to make absolutely clear my commitment to the New Testament as the new covenant under which we as Christians are privileged to live. Along with the Hebrews writer, I am eternally grateful to our God that we no longer live under the Sinai Code.
However, just because we are no longer subject to the Old Testament doesn’t mean we should ignore it. In fact, I believe many churches have ignored the Old Testament in their adult teaching and preaching, and to their detriment. I have a great passion for teaching and preaching out of the OT, and this is why:
1. The OT is three-quarters of our canon.
By almost any measure, the OT constitutes about 75% of the Bible. That means the OT accounts for three-quarters of all the literature God has ever directed towards his people. Imagine having only 25% of the owner’s manual to an important piece of machinery. Imagine having only 25% of Shakespeare’s works or John Wayne’s movies (gasp!). Imagine the history books only being able to account for 25% of our past. To ignore three-quarters of anything is to miss so much. How much more so the Word of God!?
2. The OT stories are powerful teaching tools.
Paul labeled “all Scripture” to be God-breathed and “profitable” for instructing and equipping God’s people (2 Tim 3:16-17). I love teaching through the medium of story; there is something about a story that connects better in our culture than raw theology. Want me to prove it? Many of us (myself included) often find ourselves at a loss to adequately communicate what grace is, but we can point to both Old (David and Mephibosheth) and New Testament (Prodigal Son) stories that dynamically illustrate the nature and beauty of grace. If a picture is worth a thousand words, one story has to be worth at least 500. Similarly, we can be told that God’s judgment is swift and terrible, but stories of the Flood, the Ten Plagues, and the Exile are better suited to fill our hearts with reverence for the holiness of God (cf. 1 Cor 10:11).
Along these lines, the church can see in the OT warnings against “modern” sins. I am convinced, along with Ecclesiastes, that there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9). Satan’s tactics today are no different than those he used in the OT. They are merely dressed in different robes. As just one example, whenever Israel suffered spiritually, it was always due in large part to a lack of strong, faithful leadership in the nation. This should warn and inspire the church to invest in strong, faithful leadership, or we too may end up like Old Testament Israel.
3. The OT stories show us God in action.
I recognize not every act or attitude of God from the OT applies today. But the core character of God never changes (Mal 3:6). The New Testament writers constantly appealed to the Old to illustrate how God deals with his people. Witnessing God’s patience with Abraham gives me hope. Reading of his punishment of David, a man after his own heart, challenges me not to presume on God’s grace. God “remembering” Noah in the ark gives me hope that God will remember me in my lowly estate. His warning to Ezekiel to only speak what God gave to that son of man is a warning to me also; woe to myself if I speak other than the Word of God. The history of the OT is exactly that, “His Story,” a record of what God has done. Knowing that history reminds me of what God is doing now, and what he will do in the future.
4. The OT fills us with gratitude for the New Covenant.
Whenever I read Leviticus, I’m thankful that animal sacrifices are no longer our means of coming to God. The blood and entrails and carcasses…no thanks. I am grateful that we have access to simpler medium of coming before God: prayer. In other ways, I’m constantly reminded that those in the OT had it worse spiritually than we do. It would have been nice to witness the mighty acts of God, but the OT bears out that such acts never fostered long-term faithfulness. Rather, we are beneficiaries of having the canon of Scripture, a written record of what God has done. OT Israel didn’t have that. We are better for having the entire inspired Word at our disposal. Finally, only the New can offer full atonement for sins and immediate access to God, something that wasn’t possible in the Old. Which leads me to my final point…
5. The OT points the way to Christ.
In so many places, a large number of them unexpected, the OT points the way to the old rugged cross. Some early Christian writers admittedly went a bit over board in “finding” the pre-incarnate Christ in various OT passages. But nonetheless, the witness to the Anointed One of God indeed saturates the OT’s pages. From the protoevangelium of Gen 3:15 to the promise of God’s Messenger in Mal 3:1, Jesus is a part of every book of the Old Testament. Jesus himself claimed, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms,” (Luke 24:44 NIV). And while I can only speak for myself, finding Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament makes my soul sing with immense joy over the redemptive plan of God.
If you are a preacher, let me encourage you to preach more from the Old Testament. If you are a church leader, advocate for more exposure of the Old Testament in your church education program. If you are a Bible student, read more from the Old Testament and pray faithfully that God will use it to help you better understand the New. In all things, let us affirm the value of “all Scripture,” the whole counsel of God.
Father, thank you for the Old Testament. Some of us have neglected it over the years, and we repent of that. May we value it as your very breath. May you use it to correct, teach, equip, and inspire your people. In all things, may you use it to point the way to the grace found only in your Son. In his name.
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