Why should I bother reading the Old Testament?
Matthew Kwok // April 5, 2019, 8:23 pm
Paul told the Christians in Rome that they would be encouraged and find hope as they read the Old Testament (OT).
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
Yet, when we encounter the OT, many of us are often daunted by it. We conclude that we have no hope of ever understanding it – let alone applying it.
In his final letter to his closest disciple, Timothy, Paul charged him to continue in what he had learned and firmly believed in – the sacred writings that he had been acquainted with in his childhood – as it would make him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
But for us, rather than finding salvation, we throw our hands up in surrender and wrongly declare that the OT must be part of the secret things that belong to God (Deuteronomy 29:29).
What does a book written more than 2,000 years ago and addressed to a foreign people group have to do with me?
I have been guilty of thinking like this: What does a book written more than 2,000 years ago and addressed to a foreign people group have to do with me?
After all, if Christianity is about placing faith in Jesus, and He is clearly found in the New Testament, why should I spend time reading and knowing the OT? With a mindset like this, I tried to put off reading the OT indefinitely.
But, God has graciously and supernaturally preserved the OT for us – both for our hope and our salvation. So we must read it also to understand how we have hope and salvation in Christ.
Immediately after the Fall in Genesis, we read of the promise made by God to Satan: Salvation will come to God’s people and He will crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15).
Hence, from the beginning, the Bible is the story of a divine rescue mission initiated by God to redeem humanity and reconcile them back to Himself, even though God knew that it will come at a great cost to Him.
God chose to work out his redemption plan through His chosen people – the Israelites – not because they were great but precisely because they were weak and insignificant (Deuteronomy 7:7), that God might demonstrate his own glory and power.
The OT focuses on the promises and prophecies that God made to Israel about a coming Saviour that will not only redeem them.
Bible scholars estimate that there are more than 400 specific promises about Jesus.
The OT focuses on the promises and prophecies that God made to Israel about a coming Saviour.
This is remarkable considering that there are over 20 OT authors writing across 2,000 years. To put things in greater perspective, a professor named Peter Stoner attempted to figure out what is the probability for any 1 person who has lived since that time to fulfil just 8 prophecies. The result: 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.
Tracing the narrative arc of the OT, you’ll find that despite Israel being corrupt and rebellious children (Isaiah 1:2) and an adulterous wife (Hosea 1–3), God remained faithful to His promise. He delivered a people totally incapable and undeserving of salvation. God fulfilled this promise by sending His Son, Jesus, to earth to die on the Cross.
However, the hope of the OT does not simply end with Christ’s first coming. God’s victory is total because sin and Satan will be completely eradicated.
Hence, the OT helps us to wait patiently for the complete fulfilment of that promise. We can look forward with hope that God will return to eradicate sin and make all things new. He is bringing us to a place where there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:1-5).
The OT gives us the assurance that what God promised, He will perform.
We often hear that Jesus is the better prophet, priest and king (John 1:9, Hebrews 10, Revelation 1:5). However, we would struggle to understand how Jesus perfectly fulfils these offices without having these aspects of His kingship revealed to us in the OT.
As we closely follow the account of Israel in the OT, we scoff at the futility of their priests, who had to offer up perpetual sacrifices for the sins of the people. We get frustrated when bad kings lead God’s people away from God. We are shocked when God’s people kill His prophets – men who were sent to proclaim truth and lead them away from sin.
The OT clearly shows us that no human prophet, priest or king is sufficient to bring us into a right standing with God. Instead, the OT shows us how much we need God to deliver us from our pervasive sin.
This perennial problem is resolved in the New Testament with the arrival of the One who saves us from sin. We must not forget that the same Holy Spirit who inspired the writings of the New Testament also inspired the writings of the OT.
In fact, the verse that we usually quote about the reliability and usefulness of Scripture, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), is actually referencing the OT which had been completed; the New Testament had not been written at the time!
The Old Testament shows us how much we need God to deliver us from our pervasive sin.
This is the same Holy Spirit who Jesus promised will dwell in His disciples to glorify Him (John 16:14).
Hence, just as we know the authors of the OT were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), we can know for certain that the Holy Spirit’s writing pointed to Christ and His redeeming work.
Furthermore, when explaining the Scriptures to His disciples at Emmaus, Jesus “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NLT).
Does this mean that every portion of the OT explicitly mentions Christ? No! But it reveals to us that the Bible is an unfolding message of God’s grace to fallen humanity. As the author of one children’s Bible put it: “Every story whispers His Name.”
Reading and understanding the OT helps us to have a better understanding of our great need for salvation, and it cannot be found apart from Christ. Therefore, when I see the hope and coming salvation in the OT, I know those 39 books are not simply for a foreign people group that lived a long time ago.
It is also for me to know that God has promised to redeem me – now and forever.