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2. Good Reasons For Reading The Old Testament

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I confess, I’ve used this illustration before, but it is good enough to use again. My friend Chuck had just finished his medical training to be a doctor, but needed to fulfill his obligation to the United States Armed Forces. This took Chuck and his family to the Mojave Desert in California. When he had some free time, he rode his motorcycle into the desert. Unfortunately, he had a mishap. He broke one leg (the one that would have operated the brakes), and the handbrake lever broke off as well. He was able to get back on the bike and ride it, but now without any brakes.

All went well until Chuck reached the main gate of the base, where an officer was on duty to check the identification of anyone entering the base. Stopping for that officer was not really possible, so Chuck rolled past him, with the officer strongly protesting. Chuck finally came to a stop, and the officer commenced to give him a lecture, to which my friend responded (in a deep Southern accent), “Now hold on there sawgint, before you get all worked up, I think there are three things you ought to know. Number one, I’m a majah. Number two, I’m a doctah. Number three, I’ve got a broken leg.” To this the sergeant quickly responded, “Yes Sir, Major! Let me help you get to the hospital.”

If we are wise, we respond promptly and enthusiastically to do those things for which there are compelling reasons. Reading the Old Testament is one of those things for which we have many good reasons to do. In this message, I’d like to focus on a few of these reasons.

More Than 70% Of Our Bible Is Old Testament.

The Bible which I currently hold in my hands contains 1334 pages from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. The New Testament consists of a mere 29% of this Bible, leaving over 70% of it to the Old Testament. Did God give us our Bibles so that we could virtually disregard 70% of it? I think not! (The Apostle Paul would have said, “God forbid!”) Surely these proportions should give us pause for thought if we have considered the Old Testament to be of little value to us.

The Bible (Old Testament And New) Speaks Of The Wonder, Beauty, And Greatness Of The Law.

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. 6 “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? 8 Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, NAU; emphasis mine).

Open my eyes so I can truly see the marvelous things in your law! (Psalm 119:18)

O how I love your law!

All day long I meditate on it (Psalm 119:97).

So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12).

Jesus And The New Testament Writers Frequently Referred To The Old Testament As Authoritative And Applicable To Their Own Time.

Jesus and the New Testament writers quote and rely on the revelation of the Old Testament with the assumption that it applies to New Testament saints. For example, note these texts:

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).

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16, NAU).

8 Am I saying these things only on the basis of common sense, or does the law not say this as well? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not concerned here about oxen, is he? 10 Or is he not surely speaking for our benefit? It was written for us, because the one plowing and threshing ought to work in hope of enjoying the harvest. 11 If we sowed spiritual blessings among you, is it too much to reap material things from you? 12 If others receive this right from you, are we not more deserving? But we have not made use of this right. Instead we endure everything so that we may not be a hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple eat food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar receive a part of the offerings? 14 In the same way the Lord commanded those who proclaim the gospel to receive their living by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:8-14).

Out of curiosity I did an internet search with this question: “How many times did Jesus quote from the Old Testament?” Here is part of what I found:

“5. THE TESTIMONY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT TO THE INSPIRATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. Jesus has been proven to be not only a credible witness, but a messenger from God. In all His teachings He referred to the divine authority of the Old Testament (Mt. 5:17-18; 8:17; 12:40-42; Lk. 4:18-21; 10:25-28; 15:29-31; 17:32; 24:25-45; Jn. 5:39-47). He quoted the Old Testament 78 times, the Pentateuch alone 26 times. He quoted from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, [Numbers 21:4-9 in John 3:14-15]1 Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah, and Malachi. He referred to the Old Testament as “The Scriptures,” “the word of God,” and “the wisdom of God.” The apostles quoted 209 times from the Old Testament and considered it the oracles of God.” The Old Testament in hundreds of places predicted the events of the New Testament; and as the New Testament is the fulfillment of, and testifies to the genuineness and authenticity of the Old Testament, both Testaments must be considered together as the Word of God.” 2

This particular article referenced a chart of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, by Jesus and others.3 When I consulted it, I found this to be a surprisingly extensive list (several pages long). This is a very instructive and useful reference.

Over The Centuries, Christians Have Consistently Turned To The Pages Of The Old Testament For Comfort, For Instruction, And For Words Which Even More Precisely Than Our Own Express The Thoughts Of Their Hearts.4

Many people have a regular routine of reading through the book of Proverbs – some once a month, a chapter each day. There is a great deal of practical wisdom contained in Proverbs. My wife, Jeannette, and I have personally experienced the wisdom contained in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. We had just finished seminary are were ministering in Dallas, Texas. We were wondering if it was time to buy a home. My father gave me very sound advice, which went something like this:

“I think you should wait until your ministry is clearly evident, then buy a house that corresponds to your ministry.”

My dad’s advice sounded very much like this proverb, which I discovered as I was reading through the Bible:

Establish your work outside and get your fields ready;
afterward build your house (Proverbs 24:27).

How often Christians return to the Book of Psalms for comfort, encouragement, and for fuel for worship. The Psalms also contain a great deal of doctrine. Here we can learn much about the character of God, and of His ways. The psalmists say it so much better, so much more precisely, than we can, and so we spend a great deal of time in the Book of Psalms. Rightly so.

The Scriptures Assert The Inspiration, Authority, And Relevance Of The Old Testament For Both Old And New Testament Saints:

5 Every word of God is purified;
he is like a shield for those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words,
lest he reprove you, and prove you to be a liar (Proverbs 30:5-6).

The sum of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting. Shin (Psalm 119:160, NAU).

Your word is a lamp to walk by,
and a light to illumine my path (Psalm 119:105).

Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The Old Testament Defines Key Terms, Concepts, And Activities That Will Be Addressed In The New.

I have heard statements like this from highly respected scholars: “The prophecy which we see today is not the prophecy of the Old Testament, or even of the New. It is prophecy that is on the analogy of what we find in the Bible.” Evangelicals are telling us this, but in so doing they are re-defining key terms and concepts that the Bible has defined differently. One claiming to be a prophet in the Old Testament was tested by two things in Deuteronomy 13 and 18: (1) what they prophesied must come to pass,5 and (2) their ministry must lead men to worship the God of Israel alone, and not some other god or gods.6 If a so-called prophet failed either of these tests they were to be stoned. The “new” definition of prophecy actually inclines us to expect some “prophecies” to fail. As for me, I’ll stick with the old (biblical) definition.

Key theological concepts like sin, judgment, atonement, reconciliation, propitiation, and redemption are defined in the Old Testament so we will recognize their ultimate disclosure in the New. We cannot really read and understand the New Testament apart from a working knowledge of the Old.

The Old Testament Points Us Toward Jesus, And Is Foundational And Preparatory To The Gospel.

Jesus referred to the Old Testament as bearing witness to His identity as Israel’s Messiah:

16 Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read” (Luke 4:16-21).

You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me (John 5:39).

25 So he said to them, “You foolish people– how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the [Old Testament] scriptures (Luke 24:25-27; see 24:44-45).7

I am reminded of the account of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39. The eunuch was perplexed by the words of Isaiah 53, which pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. It was this text which opened the door for Philip to explain the gospel and lead this Ethiopian official to Christ.

The Apostle Paul based his evangelistic ministry to the Jews on the Old Testament prophecies pertaining to Israel’s Messiah, showing that Jesus fulfilled those prophecies:

1 After they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ” (Acts 17:1-3). 8

What is significant for us to note is that when Paul preached the gospel to Gentiles, he based his message on the fact that the God whom He proclaimed was the God who created the world:

For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands. . . (Acts 17:23-24).

I believe that New Tribes Mission, along with many others (now) have come to realize that one cannot preach the gospel, beginning with the New Testament. They must preach the gospel from the beginning, starting with the fact that God is the Creator of the universe.9

Finally, while one must deal carefully with Old Testament prototypes of New Testament fulfillments, there are clearly persons (like Joseph) who in a unique way prefigure and thus anticipate Christ. Some of these prototypes would not be evident unless the Scriptures made this clear (see, for example, Matthew 2:15 and Hosea 11:1). But in this way the Old Testament prepares the reader for the coming of Christ.

The Old Testament Sets Forth Things As They Were At The Beginning, And Thus Informs Us How Things, Like Marriage, Were Meant To Be, Or Will Someday Be Again.

In other words, the Old Testament presents us with the ideal, for which we should strive. The adversaries of Jesus were more interested in the exceptions, which they believed justified divorce, but Jesus focused on than the ideal, as revealed in Genesis:

4 He answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” 8 Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way. 9 Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery” (Matthew 19:4-9).

Thus, the way in which God first created Adam and Eve is viewed as a pattern for husband/wife relationships.10

The God Of The Old Testament Is The God Of The New, And God Does Not Change.

This is a point that is very powerfully set forth by J. I. Packer, in his excellent book, Knowing God.11 Whatever differences there may be between Old Testament times, New Testament times, and today, God never changes.

“For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6, NAU).

All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change (James 1:17).

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, share the same attributes, and thus our Lord is absolutely right when He likens the Father and the Son:

20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes (John 5:20-21; see also 5:36).

37 If I do not perform the deeds of my Father, do not believe me. 38 But if I do them, even if you do not believe me, believe the deeds, so that you may come to know and understand that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 10:37-38).

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content.” 9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves’” (John 14:8-11).

Jesus enables us to “see” the Father, whose likeness is revealed in Him.

Man Has Not Changed In His Essential Nature.

In terms of their nature, Old Testament saints are no different than New Testament saints.

Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! (James 5:17)

29 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have participated with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 By saying this you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets (Matthew 23:29-31).

“You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did! (Acts 7:51).

When we observe weakness or a lack of faith in the Old Testament men and women of faith, we can readily see ourselves in them. Thus, when the Old Testament reveals their sins, it reveals ours as well. And when it shows us how God graciously endures their weaknesses,12 we are assured that He does the same with us.

The Temptations We Face As Humans Today Are Really The Same As Those Faced By Old Testament Saints:

9 What exists now is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing truly new on earth. 10 Is there anything about which someone can say, “Look at this! It is new!”? It was already done long ago, before our time (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10).

6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. 7 So do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 And let us not be immoral, as some of them were, and twenty-three thousand died in a single day. 9 And let us not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by snakes. 10 And do not complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel. 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:6-11).

No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The Old Testament Sets Forth Examples, From Which We Can And Should Learn Today.

5 But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were cut down in the wilderness. 6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. 7 So do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 And let us not be immoral, as some of them were, and twenty-three thousand died in a single day. 9 And let us not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by snakes. 10 And do not complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel. 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:5-11, emphasis mine).

12 But these men, like irrational animals– creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed– do not understand whom they are insulting, and consequently in their destruction they will be destroyed, 13 suffering harm as the wages for their harmful ways. By considering it a pleasure to carouse in broad daylight, they are stains and blemishes, indulging in their deceitful pleasures when they feast together with you. 14 Their eyes, full of adultery, never stop sinning; they entice unstable people. They have trained their hearts for greed, these cursed children! 15 By forsaking the right path they have gone astray, because they followed the way of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, 16 yet was rebuked for his own transgression (a dumb donkey, speaking with a human voice, restrained the prophet’s madness). (2 Pet. 2:12-16, emphasis mine)

17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land sprouted with a harvest (James 5:17-18; see also 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Hebrews 4:11; 11:13-16; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 1:7).

With all these things in mind, we have to acknowledge the importance of the Old Testament to the New Testament believer. This is not a portion of the Bible that God intended for us to ignore. And thus, in the next message I will suggest some of the ways that we should read and apply Old Testament texts and truths.

1 My addition. I don’t know why our Lord’s reference to Moses and the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:5-9) in John 3:14-15 would be omitted, so I included it.


3 This chart is found in the ESV Study Bible.

4 I must confess that I have never before noted the possible relationship between this observation and the words of Romans 8:26-27, but I believe the Old Testament, especially the Book of Psalms, may put into beautifully powerful words what we are feeling in our hearts, especially in difficult and trying times.

5 Deuteronomy 18:22.

6 Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20.

7 See also Genesis 3:15; 12:1-3; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; 52:13—53:12; Micah 5:2.

8 See an extended example of Paul’s evangelism, based upon the Old Testament Scriptures in Acts 13:13-49.


10 See Genesis 2 and 3 as referred to in 1 Corinthians 11:8-10. See also Ephesians 5:31.

11 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (20TH-Anniversary Edition), InterVarsity Press. Chapter 7: “God Unchanging.”

12 See Psalm 103.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Bible Study Methods, Bibliology (The Written Word), Christian Education, Christian Life, Old Testament, Spiritual Life

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