I meet a lot of people who are confused by the Old Testament. I mean I can see why — there are great men of faith, like Abraham or David, who made outrageously dumb mistakes, there are laws that don’t apply to us anymore while there are others we should respect, there are war stories that make us confused about God, and there are prophecies that sound like really weird poems read aloud by artists in small coffeehouses.
To be sure, I have plenty of friends who read much of the Old Testament but don’t get much out of it, nor do they remember a lot of the things from it because of some of those issues. We can’t dismiss the O.T., though, because through it we see God’s plan of redeeming mankind slowly unfold. It builds up to the climax of the Bible, which is God coming down into mankind via Jesus Christ and dying for your sins so that He could show you His awesomeness through a loving relationship with you. Great. Everyone gets that part. But how do we see the big picture of this redemptive plan? The Old Testament is important for building up to this point, but where do we start reading it?
Most people, especially ‘younger’ Christians, tend to think going from Genesis to Jesus is the best way to go. Well, it’s not. Let’s cut to the chase. Your journey into the Old Testament should begin with Luke 24:44-45.
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,…”
So not only is Jesus the climax of the Bible, He is also the center of it, as in the entire Old Testament revolves around Him. Well no wonder He quoted so many Old Testament verses in the Gospels: He knew exactly what they meant! If that’s the case, then we can say the Gospels/Jesus will tend to reveal a lot about the Old Testament.
Since the New Testament talks a great deal about Jesus, then we can also say that the New Testament lights up the Old Testament like a flashlight. Have you ever read Hebrews? Go back and read Numbers; the Jewish priesthood, sacrifices, and how Jesus fits into all that makes much more sense now. How about Romans? Well, that pretty much helps you understand the deep holiness behind the laws of Leviticus, and why God established them in the first place. Remember the idea about seeing the ‘big picture’ with all this? It’s getting a little easier at this point.
That is why theologians call the Bible progressive. Now before all you political junkies get all riled-up about the wording, let me tell you the definition of “progressive” here is much different than the way mainstream culture knows. Here, “progressive” means that God, who is outside of time, reveals His whole plan of coming into human history and saving mankind step-by-step through His Word, meaning that as you read later stuff, the earlier stuff makes more sense as a whole. As you go higher up the stairs, you can see more of the ground floor all at once. As you see more of the ground, you begin to understand you are in a house (or a crappy college apartment) and appreciate it for what it does. It’s the same with the Bible. As we see the ‘big idea’ of God’s Word, His plan to glorify Himself by saving mankind through His grace, we can appreciate and better understand the Old Testament while we are reading it.
At this point, you are probably going to want to dig in to the O.T. with this new concept in your head. That is wonderful. Let’s recap just to set a few things straight:
1. Start by making sure you know your Savior’s story. If you don’t, read one of the Gospels like Luke or John, and take care to absorb what they say.
2. Pay attention to Jesus’ words. You may find yourself in Isaiah, Psalms, Malachi, or another Old Testament book because of something He said. As you dive into the Old Testament, definitely read the introduction of your study Bible for the book (or google it), because knowing the historical context helps here, too !! I’m a big fan of commentaries, by the way…
3. You will still come across some confusing verses, but remember that the O.T. reveals and sets the stage for Jesus, and that the authors wrote Scripture solely because of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21). So as you take the historical context and our salvation in Jesus into account, frequently ask questions about the ‘whole picture’ of God’s redemption while you read. What common patterns and themes do you notice in the O.T. about how God works? What events foreshadow what God does later on in human history? How does what I’m reading now relate to Jesus?
*** A great book on all of this (which I am currently finishing up) is According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy.
This is a lot of information, but keep in mind that it is all a lot like baseball. The actual game of baseball, the center of the sport, is like Jesus. Everyone watches this, and everything depends on it (just like Jesus). There is always pre-game and training (the Old Testament), but you can’t really focus on training or know what to train without a complete understanding of how to play baseball (back to Jesus). Now in-between and after games there is always the coach’s word or the announcer’s commentary on ESPN, reflecting back on the specific game and discussing any important news leading up to the game (this is like the New Testament reflecting back on Jesus and the O.T.). While the center of this entire structure is the game of baseball itself, utilizing all the elements involved means you will grow to love the entire sport as a whole as time goes on (we will further understand Scripture, appreciate how glorious God’s Word really is, how much we need Him, and how much He loves us).
Of course, God is way cooler than baseball.