1. Bad Reasons Not to Read the Old TestamentRelated Media
On a particular Sunday I was preaching a sermon that desperately needed a good example of a pathetic excuse. I had not come up with such an illustration before I stood to preach, so I took a chance and asked the audience, “What is the weakest, most pathetic, excuse you have ever heard?” One father (and a good friend) stood up and shared this story:
“My son was on a restricted diet, so he was forbidden to open the refrigerator in his own. Late one night I could see a dim light coming from the kitchen, and when I investigated, what I feared was happening. My son was standing there with the refrigerator door open, and his hand was reaching inside. ‘Son,’ I said, ‘What are you doing?’ Without hesitation he responded, ‘I was cooling my hand.’”
Quite frankly, the excuses I have heard for why Christians don’t read or study the Old Testament are almost as laughable. My goal is to persuade you to read, study, and even teach the Old Testament, but in order to accomplish this goal I must first deal with some of the most common excuses that are offered for ignoring this part of the Bible. So in this lesson (which is part 1), let me address some reasons people offer for setting the Old Testament aside. Later, we will discuss why we should read our Old Testament (part 2), and finally (part 3) how we should read the Old Testament.
1. The Old Testament Is Out Of Date And Obsolete Because We Are Now Under The New Covenant
Some wrongly conclude that because Jesus instituted the New Covenant by His death, burial, and resurrection,1 the Old Testament is irrelevant to New Testament Christians. Paul is saying something quite different from this when he writes,
14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! (Romans 6:14-15, NET,2 emphasis mine)
But just because we are not “under law” we not excused from reading and learning from the Old Testament Law (indeed, the whole Old Testament). If this were the case, Paul would not have spoken so favorably about the Law:
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! Certainly, I would not have known sin except through the law. For indeed I would not have known what it means to desire something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, “Do not covet” (Romans 7:7, emphasis mine).
So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12, emphasis mine).
For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope (Romans 15:4, emphasis mine).
This should indicate that in order to understand the Bible we must understand the difference between the Law and legalism. Legalism is a system of rules and rule-keeping to earn salvation. Legalism seeks to provide a specific instruction for every circumstance we encounter in life. Where it does not find one in the Law of Moses, it creates one and then attaches this “tradition” to the Law of Moses. Indeed, Jesus accused His Jewish adversaries of giving their traditions a higher place than the Law, so that in keeping their traditions one might actually be encouraged to break God’s commandments.3
Legalism abuses the Law of Moses by seeking to make it the means by which men can be saved (Acts 15:1), rather than the means by which God shows men to be sinners, in need of the salvation He graciously provides by faith in Jesus Christ.4
We should not be surprised when Paul has some very strong words to say against legalism:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel– 7 not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! 9 As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell! (Galatians 1:6-9)
Paul emphatically declares that the Old Testament saints were not saved by law-keeping, but by faith, just as New Testament Christians are saved:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh, has discovered regarding this matter? 2 For if Abraham was declared righteous by the works of the law, he has something to boast about– but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6 So even David himself speaks regarding the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the one against whom the Lord will never count sin” (Romans 4:1-8).
These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. 18 God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” 19 and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there. 20 By faith also Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning the future. 21 By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and worshiped as he leaned on his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, mentioned the exodus of the sons of Israel and gave instructions about his burial. 23 By faith, when Moses was born, his parents hid him for three months, because they saw the child was beautiful and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith, when he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure. 26 He regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt without fearing the king’s anger, for he persevered as though he could see the one who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the one who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. 29 By faith they crossed the Red Sea as if on dry ground, but when the Egyptians tried it, they were swallowed up. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after the people marched around them for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute escaped the destruction of the disobedient, because she welcomed the spies in peace (Hebrews 11:13-31, emphasis mine).
There are not two ways of salvation in the Bible: salvation by law-keeping in the Old Testament, and salvation by faith in the New Testament. In the Bible, from beginning to end, salvation in the Bible is by faith.
2. The Old Testament Is Too Bloody And Violent
Let’s be honest, the Old Testament is bloody. It depicts a great deal of violence and blood shedding. All of this, we must recognize, is the result of sin. It started with Cain shedding the blood of his brother Abel.5 God took the shedding of animal blood seriously, and the shedding of human blood (murder) even more seriously.6
God required the shedding of blood as a sacrifice for sin.
“. . . without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
The magnitude of the blood shedding that we find in the Old Testament serves to indicate the magnitude of man’s sin, and of its consequences, as well as its cure. But do not suppose that while the Old Testament is bloody, the New Testament is not. The death of our Lord Jesus was, of necessity, bloody.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” 27 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).
And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. 18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed– not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ (1 Peter 1:17-19).
They were singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9).
So, too, the final conflict and the defeat of Satan and his intervention in the affairs of this world will also be bloody.7
3. The Old Testament Should Be Set Aside Because It Appears To Tolerate Things Which Our Culture Finds Unacceptable.
Let’s start out by agreeing with those who find offensive attitudes and actions in the Old Testament. Some Christians seek to handle these by putting on rose colored glasses, with lenses that gloss over the ugliness of the sin that is disclosed. Over the years I have referred to this as the “pious bias,” the desire and the effort to make things (and people) look better than they are – pious even. We look for excuses for Jonah’s desire to see his enemies (even their children and cattle) burned up at the hand of God. Esther is portrayed as a heroine,8 and Naomi is somehow not seen as the bitter old woman she is. Lot’s actions in offering his daughters to the wicked men of Sodom are glossed over by some as quickly as possible, as is Abram’s efforts to save himself by passing his wife off as his sister. The truth is, the Old Testament saints were not as saintly as we would like to think.9 Just look at some of those listed in Hebrews chapter 11, in the hall of faith.10 Some of the folks listed there I would never have expected to see in heaven.
But why didn’t God condemn these Old Testament evils, and rid the world of them? Why did He seemingly look the other way? I believe that there are several answers to this question. The first is that the Old Testament’s honest portrayal of man’s flaws and the fact that “things are not as they should be” is yet another way in which the Law set a standard that men could not meet, thus showing his need of salvation some other way than by law-keeping. In Romans 3:9-26 and 9:30-33 Paul clearly states that no one can be saved by doing good works (including keeping the Law), but only by faith in the Lord Jesus, who died for their sins and rose from the dead. The way to make the world right again would not be fulfilled in the Old Testament, but only with the coming of Christ, His sacrificial death and resurrection, and His subsequent (and still future) return to earth All of these matters are dealt with in much greater detail in the New Testament.
I am reminded of what we read in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 1:
So he healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 Then Jesus got up early in the morning when it was still very dark, departed, and went out to a deserted place, and there he spent time in prayer. 36 Simon and his companions searched for him. 37 When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 He replied, “Let us go elsewhere, into the surrounding villages, so that I can preach there too. For that is what I came out here to do” (Mark 1:34-38).
After Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, crowds of sick people (and other onlookers) began to gather in the hope of a healing, or at least for seeing a healing take place. Many had been healed the previous evening. But when morning came, Jesus was gone, and his disciples went to find Him. A crowd was gathered, waiting for more healings. Was this not an opportune time to launch His ministry by granting such healing? But Jesus made it clear that healing the sick (as good as that was) was not His primary mission. Rather He came to proclaim the gospel as His priority. This is why He moved on, without going back to heal the crowds who were expectantly waiting for Him.
So, too, God’s primary purpose in the Old Testament was not to correct every evil, but to reveal man’s sin and inability to earn salvation by good works, and to prepare the way for Jesus and the Gospel. The unjust and inappropriate things we find in the Old Testament underscore man’s sin and the need for God’s grace. Beyond this, we need to be careful what we ask for when it comes to God dealing with sin. We could be asking for God to come in judgment on the sinful world we live in, as Jonah sought it for Nineveh. God’s not dealing with man’s sin as we think He should, was really God’s grace:
But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day. 9 The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare (2 Peter 3:7-10).
With these things in mind, let us move on to consider several specific evils which God might appear to be ignoring:
There are things we read in the Old Testament that should rightly trouble Christians. Why does God permit men to have multiple wives, and even concubines?11 How can we justify Abram’s foreign policy of having Sarah pass herself off as his sister,12 thereby appearing to make herself available for a foreigner to marry? How could Lot offer his virgin daughters to the wicked men of Sodom?13 How can we possibly justify a Levite thrusting his concubine outside, to be abused by wicked men, and then cutting her body into twelve pieces and sending these throughout Israel?14
As to the issue of multiple wives I would say this. Polygamy was not strictly forbidden in the Old Testament, in the way we see it in the New (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; 5:9; Titus 1:6). What we do see (and should learn) from the Old Testament examples of multiple wives is that it didn’t work well. But of all the problems God set out to deal with, monogamous marriage was not at the top of His list. It is not until the coming of Christ and the birth of the church that we are given the model for marriage in Christ and His bride, the church.15
There Are A Number Of Things Found In The Old Testament Which Our Culture Finds Totally Unacceptable, So Much So That They Reject The Old Testament Altogether.
Let’s consider three such unacceptable (politically incorrect) matters.
The Old Testament’s Definition Of Male And Female Gender Distinctions And The Prohibition Of Certain Kinds Of Sexual Behavior.16
The Bible declares that God created all mankind as either male or female, and it is as such that they are created in His image.17 He distinguishes male and female roles, and defines appropriate relationships. He distinguishes between Adam and Eve’s responsibility in the fall of mankind in the garden of Eden, and also in the consequences which fall upon all men and women because of their sin.18
God declares acts of homosexuality and bestiality to be not only sinful, but contrary to nature. Granted, our government has now ruled such behavior to be legal, and many wish it to be considered normal, but the Bible declares it to be both unnatural and sinful. It also declares it to be a manifestation of divine judgment.19 Before long, Christians may have to pay a high price for calling such behavior sin (along with many other sins, like pride and greed).20 My friend, Fred Smith, used to say this:
“You need to distinguish between sin and crime.
There are some sins that are not crimes.
And there are some crimes that are not sins.”
The truth of that statement is becoming more and more clear in our country and beyond.
Slavery Is Viewed As An “Unpardonable Sin” In Our Society, And Because It Is Seemingly Accepted In The Old Testament Some Dismiss The Entire Old Testament As Morally Deficient And Offensive.
Let’s think about this for just a second. It is true that God permitted the Israelites to have slaves. It is also true that having slaves was almost universally accepted throughout Old Testament times (and even today, in some parts of the world). It is also true that the Old Testament assumes that slavery (and many good things, such as marriage) could and would be abused, even badly abused. In such cases, we see yet another manifestation of the fallenness (sinfulness) of mankind.
But God is not entirely permissive or passive in the face of such evils. Consider what God does say in the Old Testament about slavery:
When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. 34 The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Aliens (foreigners, immigrants) are relatively powerless and vulnerable, and thus they may suffer abuse, even slavery. God required the Israelites to deal kindly with such folks, reminding them that they had once experienced the injustices and cruelty of an oppressive nation (Egypt).
You must not return an escaped slave to his master when he has run away to you. 16 Indeed, he may live among you in any place he chooses, in whichever of your villages he prefers; you must not oppress him (Deuteronomy 23:15-16, emphasis mine).
Here is an interesting command. It would seem that this instruction applies to those who were slaves in some other country, and have fled to Israel as a sanctuary. This certainly implies that runaway slaves knew that slaves fared far better in Israel than elsewhere. Runaway slaves were to be embraced by Israelites, allowed to settle where they wished, and were to be treated kindly. They were not to be given back to their (oppressive) masters.
But if the servant should declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master must bring him to the judges, and he will bring him to the door or the doorposts, and his master will pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever (Exodus 21:5-6).
Consider this: during their great time of famine, the Egyptians willingly offered to become slaves to Pharaoh (and, secondarily, to Joseph), and were grateful for being allowed to do so.21 Exodus 21:5-6 took into account the fact that some slaves, for love of family, and even their master, would choose a lifetime of slavery over freedom. All I can say is that whatever slavery might have been in other places (and that could have been desperately evil), slavery in Israel was intended to be a vastly better thing, so that some would voluntarily choose to remain slaves, while slaves from other countries could flee to Israel to gain freedom.
In The Old Testament God Commands The Annihilation Of Certain Condemned Peoples, And Our Culture Views This As An “Unpardonable Sin.”
When the LORD your God brings you to the land that you are going to occupy and forces out many nations before you– Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you– 2 and he delivers them over to you and you attack them, you must utterly annihilate them. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy! 3 You must not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will erupt against you and he will quickly destroy you. 5 Instead, this is what you must do to them: You must tear down their altars, shatter their sacred pillars, cut down their sacred Asherah poles, and burn up their idols. 6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. He has chosen you to be his people, prized above all others on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:1-6, emphasis mine).
We must take such texts as these within the broader context of Old and New Testament revelation, and thus we must consider these additional factors:
First of all, God’s covenant with Abraham included, and indeed facilitated, His purpose of blessing Gentiles (non-Jews):
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3, NAU; emphasis mine).
While some Jews, like Jonah,22 and like the people of Jesus’ home town of Nazareth,23 wanted nothing to do with the salvation of Gentiles,24 this was God’s intention from the beginning. The annihilation which God ordered was that of a highly corrupt people (the Canaanites), whose presence contaminated the land, and threatened the Jews near them. Annihilation was to take place when Canaanite culture became a cancer on society, and thus posed a great danger for Israelites.
Second, God’s essential desire and predisposition is to graciously forgive sinners, rather than to destroy them:
6 The LORD passed by before him and proclaimed: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).
For I take no delight in the death of anyone, declares the sovereign LORD. Repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:32).
“Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but prefer that the wicked change his behavior and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil deeds! Why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11)
The Lord is not slow concerning his promise [of judgment], as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Jonah’s attempted escape (from God, and from his divinely appointed mission) was due to the prophet’s assurance that God was gracious, and that He would forgive these Gentile sinners (who were worthy of judgment):
This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD and said, “Oh, LORD, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish!– because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment. 3 So now, LORD, kill me instead, because I would rather die than live!” (Jonah 4:1-3, emphasis mine).
Third, we should note that God was not quick to bring judgment on the Canaanites, nor did He do so without any warning:
12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep, and great terror overwhelmed him. 13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit” (Genesis 15:12-16, emphasis mine).
“Go immediately to Nineveh, that large capital city, and announce judgment against its people because their wickedness has come to my attention” (Jonah 1:2).
Fourth, let us never forget that Jesus Christ bore the eternal punishment for man’s sin.
The judgment which came upon the Canaanites (and other wretched peoples) is nothing compared to the judgement our Lord bore in order to deliver sinners from the condemnation the deserve. The cross of Christ is the remedy for sin, and the only means by which God delivers sinners from eternal punishment:
For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him (John 3:16-17).
Fifth, Christians are commanded to take the good news of the saving work of Jesus (the Gospel) to the unsaved, so that they can be delivered from God’s wrath:
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news” (Romans 10:8-15).
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
4. The Real Reason Why So Many Christians Neglect And Avoid The Old Testament: “The Old Testament Is Boring.”
First, this can’t be true because the Old Testament has some of the most exciting stories in the Bible, in fact, in all of literature.
Who can honestly say that these stories are boring:
- The fall of man (Genesis 3)
- The flood (Genesis 3-6)
- The patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (Genesis 12-50)
- The exodus of Israel from Egypt, and the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 1-15)
- The military victories of Joshua
- The bizarre characters and actions depicted in the Book of Judges
- The story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz
- The intrigue of the Book of Esther
- Stories of Samuel, David (and Goliath), Jonathan, and Solomon
- Jonah and the great fish
Our kids grew up hearing us read these and many other stories of the Bible, most of which came from the Old Testament. Besides this, our grandchildren and the children of our friends still use our Mrs. G Bible stories.25 Our grandchildren still ask us to play these stories when they go to bed at our house.
Second, the most important reading we do is not likely to be exciting and entertaining.
Someone may enjoy a comic book, or a suspenseful novel, but these are seldom life-changing activities. Supreme Court Justices might not read the Constitution for entertainment at bedtime, but they would be quick to tell you how important it is to understand the Constitution. The same is true for the Declaration of Independence. If a wealthy relative of yours was to die, and you knew you were mentioned in the will, I believe you would give careful attention to its reading, and would give little thought to its entertainment value.
Third, our culture (and our flesh) has predisposed us to want instant gratification, even in our Bible reading.
As I have recently been reading through the Gospel of John, I have been impressed with how many times we are told that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying at the time. Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that they would not understand His words at the moment, but that they would understand them later on.26 Why is it we think that we must have instant understanding and immediate application for our Bible reading? It may well be that we are storing up vital truth, the meaning and application of which may very well become evident later.
Fourth, if we conclude that something is boring it may tell us something about ourselves that is not flattering.
I want to be careful not to be judgmental here, but I am reminded of how the Book of Proverbs looks on what gives us pleasure. What we find pleasurable will tell us much about who we are.
Carrying out a wicked scheme is enjoyable to a fool,
and so is wisdom for the one who has discernment (Proverbs 10:23).
Folly is a joy to one who lacks sense,
but one who has understanding follows an upright course (Proverbs 15:21).
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding
but only in disclosing what is on his mind (Proverbs 18:2).
She obtains wool and flax,
and she is pleased to work with her hands (Proverbs 31:13).
In a moment we will talk about why the Old Testament should give us pleasure, but it seems to me that some who are bored with the Old Testament are unwilling to do the work which is required to discern wisdom:
3 Indeed, if you call out for discernment–
raise your voice for understanding–
4 if you seek it like silver,
and search for it like hidden treasure,
5 then you will understand how to fear the LORD,
and you will discover knowledge about God (Proverbs 2:3-5).
We are inclined to pursue instant gratification, even when it comes to reading and studying the Bible. We are preoccupied with discovering “what’s in it for me.” All too many “Bible studies” are guided by the question, “What does this text mean to you?” I believe that we should begin, rather, with the question, “What did this text mean to the ones to whom it was first written?”
We need to read Old Testament texts from the recipient’s point of view, and only later seek to apply it to our own lives.
Some Old Testament saints actually had oxen (or sheep, or goats), and so they understood these texts differently than you or I (city folks) would:
You must not muzzle your ox when it is treading grain (Deuteronomy 25:4).
Where there are no oxen, the feeding trough is clean,
but an abundant harvest is produced by strong oxen (Proverbs 14:4).
“The first of the firstfruits of your soil you must bring to the house of the LORD your God. You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 34:26).
The principles behind these words apply to us, but we should first consider how these words applied to the Old Testament farmers who first received them.
All of this is to say that we really do not have good reason to ignore (or reject) the Old Testament Scriptures. We might do well to read and meditate upon Psalm 119, to remind ourselves of how godly Old Testament saints looked upon the Law. We might do well to consider how Jesus and the New Testament saints looked at the Old Testament. This we will seek to do in the next lesson.
1 Luke 22:20.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible citations are the from NET Bible.
3 Mark 7:1-13.
4 Romans 3:19-26.
5 Genesis 4:3-15.
6 Genesis 9:3-7.
7 See Revelation 8:7-8; 11:6; 14:20; 16:3-6.
8 Worse yet, Mordecai is portrayed as a hero.
9 I was pleased to see that J. I. Packer agrees on this point. He writes this about Abraham: “Plainly, then, Abraham was not by nature a man of strong principle, and his sense of responsibility was somewhat deficient. But God in wisdom dealt with this easygoing, unheroic figure to such good effect that not merely did he faithfully fulfill his appointed role on the stage of church history, . . . he also became a new man.” J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 93.
10 See especially Hebrews 11:31-32.
11 See 2 Samuel 12:7-8.
12 See Genesis 20, especially verses 11-13.
13 See Genesis 19:1-8.
14 See Judges 19:22-30. When I was preaching this passage, I had to ask three men to read this Scripture before one would agree to do it. And this one man said something like this when he stood up to read the passage: “I know that we normally read the passage and then pray, but today I would like to pray first, before I read the passage.”
15 See Ephesians 5:22ff.
16 The mere use of the word “perversion” (found in Leviticus 18:23) is regarded as inappropriate and unacceptable.
17 See Genesis 1:26-27; Leviticus 18:23; Romans 1:26-27.
18 Genesis 3.
19 See Romans 1:24-27.
20 See Romans 1:22-32.
21 See Genesis 47:19-25.
22 See Jonah chapters 1-4.
23 See Luke 4:16-30, especially verses 24-29.
24 See also Acts 10-11, 15:1ff.; 22:21-22.
26 This is especially true in John 13-16. See 13:7; 15:29; 16:4, 16-33.